Illustration by Luna Lopez.

The Biggest Social Justice Issue Today

Over the last centuries, we have made great strides in defending the most vulnerable around us. Yet, there is one group of individuals that most of society still fails to care about: farmed animals.

Trigger Warning: This article contains very graphic descriptions and depictions of animal abuse. Bear this in mind when reading and clicking on any links.
In 2015, Cecil the Lion was lured outside its protection area in the Hwange national park in Zimbabwe and killed. Walter Palmer, an American dentist, paid for a 50,000 U.S. dollars license in order to hunt in the country. On the night of July 1, Palmer, accompanied by his hunting guide, shot Cecil with a compound bow and arrow. The next morning, he tracked and killed Cecil with another arrow shot. He then went on to skin and behead the corpse. Cecil likely suffered immensely following the first altercation, as he was only capable of moving some 350 meters from where he was first shot. Cecil's death sparked outrage around the world and led countries such as the U.S., France and South Africa to pass stricter trophy hunting laws.
Also in 2015, a nameless chick hatched in a conveyor belt. An absent-minded worker picked it up, checked its sexual organs and chucked it back onto the belt. The impact of the fall caused the chick pain, but the pain ended as soon as it began. At the end of the conveyor belt was a macerator that ground it up alive. The same day, another chick was hatched in a conveyor belt and ground up alive and another and another. There was no outrage or public backlash.
In 2019, former vlogger Brooke Houts posted a video to her Youtube channel called "plastic wrap prank on my Doberman," where she enjoyed a pleasant afternoon with her 20-year-old Doberman, Sphinx. The video quickly reached 300,000 views, as people watched Houts play with Sphinx, prank Sphinx using plastic wrap and violently hit and spit on Sphinx. Houts had forgotten to delete the footage of her abusing her pet, instead posting it for hundreds of thousands of people to see. Unsurprisingly, there was huge backlash following this video. Houts' Youtube career was over, as people from all corners of the internet came to her page to harshly condemn her behavior.
Also in 2019, a piglet was born in a small, badly-lit shed. It was kept in a dirty, waste-filled enclosure where it could wean off its mother for three weeks. After that, it had its teeth cut out using shears to prevent it from biting other pigs. A while later, after growing more, it was artificially inseminated in order to give birth to the next generation of piglets. Because this sow had not been born in a country that had banned "stall-free" farming, it was kept in a cage so cramped it could not turn around. After another three rounds of artificial inseminations and pregnancies, this sow, together with a couple dozen more, was sent to a slaughterhouse. The journey from the farm to the slaughterhouse took more than half a day, with no food or water. Upon arrival, the sow was taken to a gas chamber. It died in extreme pain, as the room it was in was filled with CO2. No one tweeted about it or shared its story; there were no cancellations on social media.
In principle, modern society is opposed to unnecessary violence and oppression of the most vulnerable. That's precisely the reason most of us will deem unacceptable any form of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism, among others. We extend this same charitability to certain animals. For this reason, many people were genuinely upset at Cecil's murder and were enraged that someone could abuse Sphinx so callously. People felt compassion towards these animals because they had not done anything that could justify the suffering inflicted on them.
By contrast, most of society has a huge moral blindspot when it comes to farmed animals. It is not far-fetched to imagine that the same people who called for the imprisonment of Walter Palmer and Brooke Houts have paid for far worse abuse in the form of eggs and bacon. This is very likely to be true: around 90% of the farmed animals consumed globally and 99% of animals consumed in the U.S. come from crowded, suffering-intensive factory farms, as opposed to more traditional farms with reduced suffering.
Animals, like humans, are sentient beings that can feel pain, create social bonds and even entertain themselves. But when it comes to factory farmed animals, agonizing pain is the rule rather than the exception.
Why is this cycle of abuse and violence still ongoing? When prompted to go vegan, most people reply they can't because they like meat "too much." Yet, that response would have been completely unacceptable in any other scenario. Imagine if, amid the downpour of criticism Palmer was receiving, he said that he just "really enjoyed the thrill of hunting?" Or if Houts, after having the footage of her abuse leaked, said that she "just couldn't help herself?" Clearly, this argument does not work to justify the torture and slaughter of the billions of animals we eat every year. Would any?
Another argument commonly used when discussing whether animals are worth moral considerations is that nature and hierarchies found in the natural world justify eating meat. The argument goes that, if animals have no regard for each other and are capable of (and indeed do) cause great harm to one another, so should we. However, there are many examples of how cruel and uncaring animals act in their natural habitats. If we don't base our behavior off them in those cases, why should it be any different when it comes to consuming animals?
Another argument is that humans have been eating meat for hundreds of years and, as with any other cultural practice, we should abstain from judgement. Yet, we quite often judge cultural practices. Can you imagine if we remained neutral when it came to Female Genital Mutilation and human sacrifices? Would it really matter if those were an important part of someone's culture? If we can't use culture to justify abuse against people, why would it be different for non-human animals?
Suppose for a minute that I am right: animals are worth moral consideration and should not be eaten. Then, in terms of sheer scale and amount of suffering, factory farming is one of the worst moral catastrophes in history and something we need to solve urgently.
The good news is that we are in a uniquely privileged position to help. Here, here and here are examples of ways you can begin the transition to a plant-based lifestyle, today.
João Bosco de Lucena is a staff writer. Email him at
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