Some 60 per cent of Australians share their homes with a companion animal, and we proudly consider ourselves a nation of animal lovers. Yet, Australians also reportedly eat nearly 100 kilograms of animal flesh per person per year - and seem equally proud of that macabre statistic.
Maybe you've never given it much thought - and that's not really your fault. Speciesism - defined by Merriam Webster as "prejudice or discrimination based on species especially: discrimination against animals" and "the assumption of human superiority" - is ingrained in us from day one.
Speciesism is behind the children's books that depict cats curled up by a fire over which pigs are being roasted, and the films that cast dolphins as friends and sharks as fearsome monsters. It's behind the media outrage about the shooting of pandemic puppies followed overpage by a recipe for beef bourguignon.
In every way, for far too long, society categorises animals based on nothing more than how useful they are to us and how much we like them.
Ads have reduced cows, who have best friends they miss when they're apart, to burgers. Corporations have transformed chickens, who can recognise 100 different faces, into buckets of drumsticks. Politicians have converted pigs, who have the intelligence of a three-year-old human, into sausage-shaped symbols of voter compliance.
And, sadly for animals and our ever-warming planet, we've eaten it up. Literally.
We all like to believe we have a well-calibrated moral compass when it comes to animals, but for most of us, it's actually quite askew, leading us down a path of hypocrisy toward future animal-borne pandemics, catastrophic climate change, and unimaginable animal suffering.
Simply put, speciesism is killing animals and killing us. Our love affair with bacon gave us swine flu, a virus which spread the same way COVID-19 does. Our exploitation of chickens gave us H5N1 and H7N7 bird flu. And, of course, there's the Nipah virus, bovine tuberculosis, and MERS - all zoonotic and capable of causing human fatalities.
If you think this is something that only happens "somewhere else", think again. Belgian spatial epidemiologist Marius Gilbert reported in 2018 that Australia had generated more instances of historical "conversion events" (when a mildly pathogenic avian flu strain suddenly becomes dangerous to humans) than China.
As for the climate, we've known since a landmark 2018 University of Oxford study that switching to vegan eating is the "single biggest way" to reduce one's impact on the Earth. The recent sixth report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that curbing methane emissions from animal agriculture is key to slowing climate change.
In other words, the writing is on the wall, and while it's easy to demand policies to end the breeding and killing of animals, it's even easier - and incredibly powerful - just to stop eating them. We must all view speciesism for what it is, and recognise that our own prejudice and discrimination lead to the painful deaths of some 500 million animals annually in Australia alone - along with a plethora of other harmful outcomes.
This isn't an attack on those who eat meat - or even those who love dogs while they do so. That was me 10 years ago, and the reality is that very few people are raised vegan. But many people protest the live export of sheep while wearing woollen jumpers, demand that mothers and children be kept together while drinking cows' milk, or comfort ourselves with chicken nuggets when a beloved Instafamous bird dies.
Tomorrow is the World Day for the End of Speciesism. I urge everyone to take a moment to sit somewhere quiet and rethink everything you've been told about animals. Contemplate our similarities. Focus on the fundamental things that make us equal.
There's a reason you turn away from slaughter footage - let it also be the reason you turn away from meat and other animal-derived products.
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