As a child, I’d get excited whenever my mother would bring me with her to the groceries. I’m not exactly sure what it is about the grocery that appeals to me. It could be the lovely pastry section with rows and rows of tarts and cakes that look too pretty to eat (sometimes with the occasional sushi) or the giant aquarium filled with murky water where I’d often swirl my finger in, disturbing the fish.
Perhaps my most favorite section of all was the poultry and meat aisle; this side of the grocery would always feel colder than the rest. My mother would turn the cuts of flank and sirloin over her hand and examine them in a clinical way, then stash them in bags and have them weighed at the counter. I, on the other hand, would poke and pinch the cuts of meat behind her back because I liked the coldness. My hands always smelled coppery afterwards.
Lately grocery shopping has been effortless and simple since I switched to a strict vegan lifestyle five months ago. I turned vegan after watching Earthlings, a documentary film about humanity’s dependence on animals for food, clothing, entertainment, domestic pets, and scientific research. The film exposed the atrocities committed against animals in factory farms, as well as the destructive effects of animal agriculture to the environment and its harmful contribution to climate change.
Watching the film proved to be a distressing experience that left me disturbed for weeks on end—until I finally cracked one day and sat myself down. I suppose there really is a time in one’s life when we sit ourselves down, evaluate our actions, and reflect on the consequences of our choices, when existential questions start to permeate the recesses of our brain: What kind of life am I trying to create? Are my actions in direct alignment with my principles? If not, why so?
For most of us, we probably don’t know how our meals reach our plates. From the cans of Spam and meatloaf in the supermarket to the fast food McDonald take-outs—it’s a no-brainer that we are so out of touch with how our food is produced. Perhaps we can attest this to our innocence and ignorance; as children, we were told to eat whatever’s given on our plate with no question. It could also be our cuisine (an important part of our culture) that we’ve been familiar with that gave us this attitude of normalcy to the realities of food production and consumption.
In today’s factory farms, billions of animals are jammed in crates and cages, raised for the sole purpose of being slaughtered. Most factory-farmed animals are genetically manipulated to grow larger than they should be or to produce more milk and eggs than they naturally do. Because of this, animals are unable to support their weight, leaving them to suffer with broken limbs and injuries, which add to their suffering and usually kill them in the end.
When these animals have grown large or old enough, and have been worn out from producing milk and eggs, their bodies are slaughtered, skinned, hacked apart, and then sent to the frozen section of grocery stores. Other than the meat, the bones, organs, and the blood of the animal are sold as well, making sure no part goes to waste.
In a report by the National Geographic, the biggest contributor to our water footprint, apparently, is not from washing clothes or bathing or cooking, but from our diets. Producing meat for consumption is resource-intensive; it takes 660 gallons of water to create a 1/3-pound burger, starting from the raising of livestock up to the day of slaughtering.
Moreover, large scale agriculture is considered to be the number one cause of deforestation, water pollution, and air pollution. This is due to the fact that 70% of the earth’s agricultural land is used for animal pasture, while another 10% is used to grow grains to feed livestock (for meat and dairy).
Meanwhile, the wastes of animals and contaminated sediments are dumped into our oceans. The millions of gallons of raw animal feces and urine turned our marine ecosystems into sewers, which played a part in the outbreak of Pfiesteria, causing the death of more than one billion aquatic lives.
Pfiesteria has been one of the worst outbreaks of virulent microorganism in the world, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, with a level 3 biohazard. Ebola is a 4. AIDS is a 2. And it continues to spread in our waters, a great threat both to the lives of aquatic creatures and humans eating contaminated seafood.
To add insult to injury, it has been reported by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations that livestock contributes directly to climate change, making up 19% of greenhouse gas emissions from the methane produced by billions of animals in factory farms worldwide.
Animal abuse and violence, as well as superfactory farming, are the very manifestations of our speciesism and anthropocentrism as humans. Our speciesism gave us the assumption of dominance that lead to our exploitation of animals and the destruction of our natural resources.
Our anthropocentrism—the superior belief that humans are the most important element of existence— shaped our behavior toward the way we handle our natural environ and the creatures cohabiting with us: Inflicting violence to animals, causing pollution and deforestation— damages that are irremediable on the very earth that sustains us. And it all comes back to destroy us in the end.
The worst predicted effects of climate change have already begun. Heat waves in various countries have caused thousands of deaths, while some suffer from the worst drought they’ve ever seen. Climatologists from NASA identified that sea levels could rise 10 times faster than initially predicted. Meanwhile, the Global Climate Risk Index 2015 listed the Philippines as the most affected country by climate change—thanks, partly, to our geography.
Perhaps the most difficult in all of this is the decision that we choose after knowing what we know. It is not really what we know that is important, but what we do with it afterwards. It is counter-productive to go around preaching and mocking every person for their life choices, but we also cannot be blind to the truth we are already aware of.
Out of all the species on earth, humans are the only ones who know they have the power to destroy every other species. How much of the truth do we have to know, then, until we start feeling uncomfortable in our own hypocrisy? How long can we play blind and look the other way until we finally decide to put our foot down?
As humans, we acknowledge ourselves as beings capable of rational-thinking and mindfulness. Mindfulness, wherein we have a clear vision of reality and are aware of the consequences of our decisions. And as humans, we also acknowledge the fact that we are in a position of privilege; other earthlings who have no knowledge of what is happening to them or are not capable of articulation are, unfortunately, outside this realm of privilege.
We speak of humanity, but then again, our humanity is only limited to our own kind. And humanity should never be this selective. Perhaps the lowest point of debasement we can ever reach, I think, is ignoring our human capability of possessing a higher level of consciousness and not extending our humanity beyond speciesism.
In the end of Earthlings, Joaquin Phoenix recites Shakespeare’s King Lear.
King Lear asks Gloucester on the heath: “How do you see the world?” Gloucester, who is blind, replies, “I see it feelingly.”
I see it feelingly.