Vanity and veganism, what do they have in common? Well, besides cartoons depicting baby chicks, a lot…
Let’s start with society. Which cartoon above, the body acceptance cartoon or the animal cruelty cartoon, do you think is condoned by our society? This is a great illustration of f**ked up priorities…believe it or not, our Western society would rather have you hate your body, and not care about killing baby chickens! We know this, but how often do we contemplate how wrong these subliminal messages are?
Just a note, I am going to writing and defending my point from a female perspective, but I acknowledge that men are also under pressure to look a certain way and receive messaging from media that can also lead to body dysmorphia and eating disorders. However, women still bear the brunt of these unrealistic societal beauty ideals.
My inspiration for this post came from my latest literary read Mirror, Mirror off the Wall by Kjertin Gruys, a feminist scholar and teacher with a Ph.D. in sociology. She explores the relationship between physical appearance, markets, and social inequality. My reasons for reading this had more to do with my own history of low self-esteem and trouble with physical appearance than with veganism (obviously) until I came upon this quote in Chapter 5 (I’m reading this on a Kindle, so I am unsure of the page number):
“Indeed, our ability to suppress instincts in favor of ethics is perhaps the most defining characteristic that separates human beings from other animals.”
This literally stopped me in my tracks. I could not believe how succinctly she had just argued for veganism, yet she could not connect the dots between her argument and the juicy cheesesteak (barf) burger she writes about eating in a later chapter.
How have we become so blind? It is my argument that as long as you allow corporations and industries to tell you how to look, what to strive for, and what to eat, you are incapable of thinking for yourself and caring about others (people, animals and planet) on a deeper level. If this seems harsh, let me explain…
I first want to start with the fact that Gruys is so focused on one ‘acceptable’ societal issue, that she failed to recognize that social inequality and business based on physical appearance in the west is only a symptom of a deeper rooted problem: enslaving and exploiting animals for our own desires.
Think about it, if our society thinks it is acceptable to use another being as a means to an end (unethical according to Kant’s theory of morality which states that it is immoral to use another person merely as a means to an end, and that people must, under all circumstances, be treated as ends in themselves) and if our society condones commodifying life, and supports systems of inequality (speciesism), how can that same society truly care about how women are treated?
“Women are not just pieces of meat for men to ogle at!” or “Women are not put on this earth just for men’s pleasure!” These are all sayings that unfortunately are all too common in society. Is it any coincidence that women are compared to meat (dehumanized in a similar way that meat at the grocery store is stripped of it’s animal identity)? Is it coincidence that men (and women) think it is okay to use the other sex for well, sex? When we have a consumer culture that depends upon using and abusing other creatures without respect or even a second thought, when it becomes normalized, we cannot then lie to ourselves and think we can behave morally to our fellow human beings.
If we cannot extend our compassion to animals, the cuddliest, cutest, easiest to love creatures on the planet, how can we think we can care about other people (who have flaws, can mess up our lives, and suffer from foot-in-mouth disease)?
Human beings have an unfortunate history of always needing to subordinate a portion of the population. The early history of the U.S. only awarded rights to white males. African Americans and females were not considered equal. Today of course, it is unacceptable in society to treat someone unjustly based upon their gender or skin color. Of course, just because it is frowned upon doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still happen. It is my personal opinion that as long as we can still rationalize and justify cruelty to animals, then we will always have unequal mistreatment of others who we don’t view as equal to ourselves. We cannot fully empathize with the plight of our fellow humans if we need to numb our feelings in order to ignore that the meat on our plate was once a living animal. We have been so conditioned to turn away when we see pictures of factory farms or videos of animal abuse, that it has become a habit. In the same way, we have developed a habit of turning away from injustice by instinct in our society.
Lastly, I want to talk about how our consumer culture has turned us into ego-centric beings.
Marketing media for beauty products has ingrained in us an unhealthy focus on looks. It’s the aim of the industry to have a consumer population who all possess a poor body image because then more opportunities to push products exist. It’s supply and demand, and the smartest companies know that if there is no demand, you create one…and then of course you create the solution! I’m not even a business major and I am aware of how industries operate! Our culture has normalized pursuit of our own happiness above all else. It is in favor of free market society to have us believe that we are entitled to be happy and there is a product or service out there that will give us happiness.
When we go around all day focused on how we look, on our perceived flaws and imperfections, searching for something to make us thinner, wealthier, prettier, happier…We lose sight of the fact that there is more to life than just how we look. Actually, there is more to life than just ourselves, period. We all need to take a step back and realize the bigger picture and problems of the world. My existence actually matters very little in the context of the planet.
Our focus on ourselves as the most important thing in life has also led to the pleasure trap…and I am not just talking about Douglas Lisle’s book (The Pleasure Trap: Mastering the Hidden Force that Undermines Health & Happiness). But the rational that our own desires and taste buds are more important than an animal’s life…or the belief that life is short, so I should eat this burger because I am going to die anyway. Yes, you want to be happy…but when you believe that, you put the focus on yourself and your pleasure. Are you really more important than other creatures?
If human beings suddenly went extinct tomorrow, all other creatures on the planet would benefit. If bees (or any other species really) went extinct, human life as we know it would be radically different or even impossible. For example, if bees continue their disappearance, the produce section of the grocery store would be practically empty. We’d all have to live on Twinkies until we died! (Hyperbole??? Maybe not…)
I urge you to take the blinders off! There is a reason some stereotypes about vegans are actually true! Going vegan for ethical reasons (and I argue that most long-term vegans are ethical vegans) forces you to focus on something other than yourself. Going vegan opens your eyes to the bigger picture. You uncover the cruelty of the meat and dairy industry and you can feel the pain of the animals. You can understand how environmental destruction, water waste, world hunger, climate change, pollution, corporate greed, violence, disease, are all related to the consumption of animals. When you realize this, you become a passionate champion of veganism. Yes, you want to speak up and let everyone else know what is happening! When you stop eating animals, you also stop being a drone to society. Suddenly, you are not blind anymore. You are no longer happy to continue buying into societal norms. You have the energy and mental clarity to think about more than just yourself. You are awake!
In conclusion, the beauty industry and western consumer culture in general, has normalized egocentric behavior. We see this in people’s pursuit of good looks, success, and happiness at all costs. Everyone has become so focused on themselves, that they don’t ever step back to wonder if our perceived problems, such as the objectification of women, or unrealistic body ideals, are actually the problem or if there is a deeper, more sinister evil that we should be fighting. Equality, and respect for every creature’s right to life on this planet.
I am not the most important thing.