Just a few weeks ago, two activists were found not-guilty by a jury of their peers for rescuing two sick chickens from a slaughterhouse truck. I watched almost the entire trial on youtube each day, and it took a toll on me because it highlighted the horrific treatment of the chickens by the factory farming industry. It is unbearable to fathom the level of suffering that chickens and other innocent animals are experiencing by the hundreds of billions every year. The rescued chickens were in such bad shape that one of them tragically did not survive. By the end of the week I had a breakdown. Anxious, powerless, and with a broken spirit, I sobbed and released days of trauma from my body. Billions of animals will never have that opportunity.
Part of the reason why there was so much testimony relating to the condition of the animals is because, in a criminal trial for petty theft, the law states that whatever was stolen needs to hold value. The defense, who won the case, argued that the birds were not valued by Foster Farms. In the factory farming industry there are enormous numbers of animals who die of illness and injury before even making it to the slaughter house. This is their normal protocol. That’s because it makes them more money to forcefully birth huge numbers of animals, neglect and abuse them, and throw thousands of their dead and dying bodies in the dumpster, than it would to provide meaningful care for the animals.
I had a realization one day during the trial, as I walked along the beach, trying to ground myself. This capitalism mechanism which says that animals are objects to be treated however a corporation wants to – I also experience this. Even though I have human privilege in this speciesist system, I am also treated like an object – a thing that needs to make money. In this post-colonial United States, if I cannot be of value, I am at risk for suffering as well. In fact, many humans are unhoused, hungry, exploited, and eventually die from the inability to be “of value”. And those fears are always lurking in the back of my mind, shaming me for not being more successful or making better choices.
Nobody should be treated this way, yet we all are. This land was stolen from the Indigenous people who lived and thrived on this continent for thousands of years. Pre-colonization, nobody owned the land. Nobody paved the land. Nobody poisoned the waters. The land provided life-giving resources to all beings, and all beings were free. There was not a hierarchy of value. Humans were just one small part in the great web of life, and non-human beings were our beloved relatives. That is our birthright. That is all of our birthright. All beings were meant to live naturally, to have access to fresh air, and to share love with other beings.
In the current system of hierarchies and capitalistic greed, nobody wins. The chickens who are too sick to be “of value” suffer greatly and die horribly, and the chickens who are profitable to the company also suffer greatly and die horribly. The factory farm and slaughterhouse workers – many of whom are black and brown people, low-income communities, immigrants, or victims of human trafficking – these workers suffer greatly from emotional trauma, physical injuries, and other symptoms of exploitation. In addition, low-income communities and communities of color are almost always the dumping grounds for the incredible amounts of waste and pollution created by factory farms, which causes birth defects and miscarriages among other problems.
This may be a controversial thought, but I believe that even wealthy executives are suffering from these systems of abuse. I don’t think anyone could perpetuate such violence unless they are disconnected from their souls in some way. Whatever you believe, it’s undeniable that in many ways, we are all connected, which means nobody can fully escape the consequences of these harmful systems. At the end of the day we are all sharing this planet. You can’t keep one river clean for yourself and poison the rest – they all flow together eventually.
Many of us feel powerless to combat this large scale exploitation. We may feel small in comparison to the corporations that seem to be rapidly destroying our beautiful planet and the amazing beings who live here. But that’s what’s so special about veganism – it is a HUGE thing that I can do to make a difference. Every day, I choose to eat plant-based foods instead of dead bodies and secretions. This is one way that I am able to say no to the abuse of animals, humans (who are also animals), and our Earth.
I pray that the same grace which helps me heal and survive will guide the world into a better way of being. I pray we return to the Earth for our abundance, instead of the dollar. Above all else, I pray for all beings to be free and to experience the love we deserve – the love that we are.