A Hellish Staircase to Heaven

In his book Altruism, Matthieu Ricard has a chapter on the unhappy life of the animals that end up on our dinner plate.

This is a sanitized and short excerpt of what he describes.

If you eat chicken, you might be disturbed to know that of the fifty billion chickens killed every year in the world, many are allotted the space of a piece of paper throughout their lifetime. This situation leads to abnormal behavior by each chicken, plucking out its own feathers, and even eating its neighbor. To avoid this latter scenario, chickens are kept in semi-darkness and chicken beaks may be clipped, which can produce a painful result.

The “staircase to heaven” is a ramp that leads animals to the slaughterhouse. Some animals are weak or ill and so can’t make it up the ramp, and in some cases are left to die of hunger and thirst, or they end up thrown, still alive, into garbage trucks.
The conveyer belt in a slaughterhouse goes fast, and as one employee confided to Gail Eisnitz, investigator for the Humane Farming Association, “..if you get a hog that refuses to go into the chutes and is stopping production, you beat him to death.”
In theory animals are stunned before killing, but in the case of chickens, a too-low voltage is often used (to save money) and many are still conscious in the scalding tank. I won’t go into any more horrors, except to say that cattle are also often not fully stunned, which means that they can be skinned alive.

So should we actually do something about this? After all, there is a big chasm between animals and humans. Humans are being crucified by other humans (Islamic State) and so shouldn’t we prioritize our humanitarian concerns?

Isn’t a bad human worth more than a good animal?
Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin, originator of the theory of evolution, said this of animals:
Besides love and sympathy animals exhibit other qualities connected with the social instincts, which in us would be called moral.
Ricard notes that various famous ethologists have observed in animals that
the basic signals we use to express pain, fear, anger, love, joy, surprise, impatience, boredom, and many other emotional states are not unique to our species.
Chimpanzees will tend to a wounded comrade, or rescue a friend. Elephants will help a wounded comrade, and a dog was observed dragging a wounded dog out of the way of traffic.
I once talked to a young man who was distraught at the “roadkill” that he saw every day. He cared about animals. Some of us don’t:
Since the 1970’s, research has consistently reported childhood cruelty to animals as the first warning sign of later delinquency, violence, and criminal behavior. In fact, nearly all violent crime perpetrators have a history of animal cruelty in their profiles. Albert deSalvo, the Boston Strangler found guilty of killing 13 women, shot arrows through dogs and cats he trapped as a child. Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold boasted about mutilating animals for fun.
So having noted all this, should we become vegetarians? Counterarguments that have been made to that drastic step include this:
Unfortunately, in order for one organism to live, another has to die. It’s part of nature’s food chain. Vegans and vegetarians don’t have any problem with big cats killing zebras, gazelles, and giraffes. They’ll also kill livestock if they can. Wolves kill deer, caribou, mountain goats and hares. There are no vegetarian snakes. They eat frogs, rabbits, and eggs. Even predatory ladybugs eat aphids and other pest insects. When it comes to humans, however, vegetarians believe that killing animals for food is immoral and harmful to the environment that supports them.
•Cultures who have been known to be primarily plant eaters did so because meat was scarce, but they supplemented their diets with grubs, larvae, cicada nymphs, grasshoppers, and other insects, learning what was edible by observing other animals.
•Currently, more than half the world’s population of 7 billion people still favors and farms these excellent sources of protein from dewinged dragonflies to fire roasted tarantulas.
The same article points out that plants don’t supply everything the body needs: for instance, only meat provides
•Creatine, which creates energy reserves in muscle and brain tissue.
•Carnosine: an antioxidant that protects against degeneration.
•DHA and EPA (the active forms of omega-3) which convert ALA (plant omega 3) to an active form.
•Vitamin B12 which helps make DNA, prevents certain types of anemia, and contributes to the health of nerve cells.
Despite the above, I have known strong healthy vegetarians who I’ve bicycled with. One of them not only cycled with our group in the Alps, but got up extra-early one morning to cycle up a famous mountain nearby.
The diet does require careful monitoring on various nutrients (such as vitamin D, iron, the twenty essential amino acids) that you don’t have to worry about with a mixed diet. In other words, its a pain to do it right. And statistically, vegetarians are more likely to have problems such as mental illness, allergies and cancer.
Still, there is a great deal of horrific treatment of creatures that cannot talk to us, that cannot put pressure on our government for better treatment. I don’t know the solution to this, but we should be aware of it.

One thought on “A Hellish Staircase to Heaven

  1. If someone gains pleasure from another’s suffering, it probably matters little to them whether their victims are animal or human. Some humans seem to be less than animal in their behaviour. The only other animal that appears to deliberately torture others of its own species is our closest relative — the chimpanzee.

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