International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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The Ethical Vegetarian consumer

(a fresh look at bad old consumer habits)
IVU News - Issue 3 - 1998

dog on a plate
Eating with a conscience lets you enjoy life while letting others live (VegSocUK photo)
A History of Injustice and Exploitation

For centuries humans and non-humans experienced equally the pain and misery of slavery at the hands of their contemporary masters. Once the revolutionary concept of human rights was born, however, the newly assumed god-given rights and the introduction of social reforms served to isolate humans further from other animals and the natural world, and both master and servant established an unholy alliance which continues to sanction the wanton exploitation of other life forms more extensively and ruthlessly than ever before.

The Lure of Money: an Incestuous Relationship with Life

The industrial revolution gave way to the magical allure of a consumer society, promising the instant satisfaction of even the most frivolous desires and all kinds of material rewards often stubbornly ignoring the social, environmental and humanitarian cost involved. The power gained through greater personal and financial autonomy has encouraged the growth of an acquisitive culture which provides the right incentive for individuals to pursue their own selfish personal interests as willing pawns in a lucrative consumer game which becomes dependent — like life itself — on the strict monetary values and guiding principles determined by human prejudice and greed.

With the complicity and help of economic advisers and professionals such as dieticians, doctors, gurus, politicians or priests whose task as guarantors of social conformity is to reassure the sceptical, the naive consumer is persuaded to adapt and uphold the established order without question, while those who dare to challenge the supremacy of the profit motive or the ruthless principles of supply and demand are regarded as veritable outcasts in a society which sets a price for even the most ridiculous of human personal desires or whims, at a cost of untold suffering and death for other living beings.

Animals as Tools and Spare Parts

The domestication of animals — once humanity’s proudest achievement — has led to a degrading, shameful and dangerous manipulation, cloning and patenting of life. A rhinoceros, an elephant, a tiger, a chicken, a cow, a pig or a fish are all sentient subjects with a price tag attached, deprived of their freedom to pursue their own evolutionary path, mistreated and senselessly killed to obtain the slabs of meat, trophies or souvenirs craved by insensitive consumers who are as incapable of ascertaining their own real needs as of relating to the once-sentient, breathing, living beings meant to share with us a planet that we do not own.

To exclude other animals from due consideration as sentient beings, through selfish ignorance, betrays a manifest lack of ethics and a distorted sense of aesthetics which diminishes us as consumers and as human beings. To pretend to solve unemployment or world hunger through racist violence, or by mass- producing yet more animals for suffering and slaughter, is as outrageous as it is misguided. Campaigning for the right to bear arms, the death penalty or anyone’s self-assumed right to hunt or fish are a travesty of common sense and solidarity as monstrously irrational and anachronistic as a “charity” bullfight whose bloody profits are supposed to help the sick or disadvantaged.

A Dangerous and Insane Ideology

Such ignorant and speciest attitudes —based on a primitive supremacist ideology whereby individuals with similar qualities are assigned differing values according to gender, species or ethnic background — remain a source of endless violence and misery in peacetime just as in wartime all hypocritical legal restrictions to protect and highlight the superiority of some humans above others are finally waived and anyone may legally be maimed or killed by weapons intended to protect us from ourselves.

The Fairness of Fair Trade: a Vegetarian Perspective

The advent of “fair trade” and the growing concern for ethnic minorities, native groups and the environment is a significantly useful step to help us rationalise our common affinity and dependence on one another and on the natural world. To act responsibly and humanely, however, we must learn to respect and view all life as a unique and precious phenomenon, and to identify and reject those foodstuffs and other products which involve cruelty and violence to any living being.

The true significance of vegetarianism is that it helps us to redefine our relationships and consumer habits, as well as our physical and spiritual needs, nurturing a natural empathy for life as we discover our affinity for the non-violent foods naturally intended for us to eat. The love that we give and receive is like the water we drink or the air we breath: our emotional balance is as important as the natural elements which nourish our physical bodies.

The Making of an Ethical Consumer: a matter of Health and Solidarity

Life, like death, is opportunistic, requiring very specific conditions to thrive unhindered by disease. Likewise, good health depends on maintaining a satisfactory level of harmony with others and everything we are ever likely to be a part of.

The best way to express our genuine commitment and solidarity with humans and non-humans alike is to adopt a responsible vegetarian lifestyle. The only way to stop the senseless horror and mass destruction of endless millions of sentient beings is to abstain from eating and exploiting them.

It is essential to make a greater effort to become better informed about the positive or harmful impact of our actions and to learn how all things interrelate. Only without trampling on any being’s rights or legitimate interests can our natural affinity for food and human needs be truly defined as real and justified and all the necessary products or cultural items, thus ethically obtained, be regarded as objects of legitimate social concern deserving our solidarity and respect.

-- Francisco Martín

Contributions to IVU News are welcomed. Material published does not necessarily reflect the views of the editor or the policy of the International Vegetarian Union.