Many people consider the ethical reasons the most important of all for becoming vegetarian. The beginning of ethical vegetarianism is the knowledge that other creatures have feelings, and that their feelings are similar to ours. This knowledge encourages one to extend personal awareness to encompass the suffering of others.
In an essay titled The Ethics of Vegetarianism, from the journal of the North American Vegetarian Society, the conception of humane animal slaughter is refuted. Many people nowadays have been lulled into a sense of complacency by the thought that animals are now slaughtered “humanely”, thus presumably removing any possible humanitarian objection to the eating of meat. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the actual facts of life and death.
The entire life of a captive “food animal” is an unnatural one of artificial breeding, vicious castration and/or hormone stimulation, feeding of an abnormal diet for fattening purposes, and eventually long rides in intense discomfort to the ultimate end. The holding pens, the electric prods and tail twisting, the abject terror and fright, all these are still very much a part of the most “modern” animal raising, shipping, and slaughtering. To accept all this and only oppose the callous brutality of the last few seconds of the animals life, is to distort the word “humane”.
The truth of animal slaughter is not at all pleasant, commercial slaughterhouses are like visions of hell. Screaming animals are stunned by hammer blows, electric shock, or concussion guns. They are hoisted into the air by their feet and moved through the factories of death on mechanized conveyor systems. Still alive, their throats are sliced and their flesh is cut off while they bleed to death. Why isn’t the mutilation and slaughter of farm animals governed by the same stipulations intended for the welfare of pets and even the laboratory rat”
Many people would no doubt take up vegetarianism if they visited a slaughterhouse, or if they themselves had to kill the animals they ate. Such visits should be compulsory for all meat eaters.
Pythagoras, famous for his contributions to geometry and mathematics, said, “Oh, my fellow men, do not defile your bodies with sinful foods. We have corn, we have apples bending down the branches with their weight, and grapes swelling on the vines. There are sweet-flavored herbs, and vegetables which can be cooked and softened over the fire, nor are you denied milk or thyme-scented honey. The earth affords a lavish supply of riches of innocent foods, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter; only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle, and sheep live on grass.”
In an essay titled On Eating Flesh, the Roman author Plutarch wrote: “Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstinence from flesh. For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, set forth tables of dead, stale bodies, and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived” It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense; on the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life they are entitled to by birth and being.”
Plutarch then delivered this challenge to flesh-eaters: “If you declare that you are naturally designed for such a diet, then first kill for yourself what you want to eat. Do it, however, only through your own resources, unaided by cleaver or cudgel or any kind of axe ”
The poet Shelly was a commited vegetarian. In his essay “A Vindication of Natural Diet,” he wrote, “Let the advocate of animal food force himself to a decisive experiment on its fitness, and as Plutarch recommends, tear a living lamb with his teeth and, plunging his head into its vitals, slake his thirst with the steaming blood then, and then only, would he be consistent.”
Leo Tolstoy wrote that by killing animals for food, “Man suppresses in himself, unnecessarily, the highest spiritual capacity that of sympathy and pity towards living creatures like himself and by violating his own feelings becomes cruel.” He also warned, “While our bodies are the living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on earth”
When we lose respect for animal life, we lose respect for human life as well. Twenty-six hundred years ago, Pythagoras said, Those that kill animals to eat their flesh tend to massacre their own. We’re fearful of enemy guns, bombs, and missiles, but can we close our eyes to the pain and fear we ourselves bring about by slaughtering, for human consumption, over 1.6 billion domestic mammals and 22.5 billion poultry a year. 24 The number of fish killed each year is in the trillions. And what to speak of the tens of millions of animals killed each year in the “torture-camps” of medical research laboratories, or slaughtered for their fur, hide, or skin, or hunted for “sport”. Can we deny that this brutality makes us more brutal too?
Leonardo da Vinci wrote, “Truly man is the king of beasts, for his brutality exceeds theirs. We live by the death of others. We are burial places! He added, “The time will come when men will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”
Mahatma Gandhi felt that ethical principles are a stronger support for lifelong commitment to a vegetarian diet than reasons of health. “I do feel,” he stated, “that spiritual progress does demand at some stage that we should cease to kill our fellow creatures for the satisfaction of our bodily wants.” He also said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”