People Eating Animals Isn’t Actually Like Lions Eating Animals
Many people feel an uneasiness around the death of animals for meat — it’s not just vegans and vegetarians. I recently read this eloquent story by a proud Greek-Italian meat lover, who still had difficulty watching slaughterhouse footage.
Still, in our culture it’s easy to feel absurd for caring about the death of animals. Eating meat is so widespread, and has been for so long, that most people simply view it as inevitable.
A common argument vegetarians and vegans run into is that avoiding meat goes against nature. After all, animals eat other animals. Why shouldn’t we? For some reason, when people discuss this we always mention lions. Lions are a like a symbol of our license to consume flesh.
What do I make of this, as a longtime vegan? Why do I continue to avoid eating animals — despite how ingrained it is not only in human traditions, but in the wide web of wildlife?
Whether you’re just trying to understand those who won’t eat meat, or whether you’re seeking reassurance that your feelings of compassion are rational, I hope this article is useful.
Unlike lions, we can choose to eat plant-based
Poor lions. They are constantly getting dragged into our human ethics debates. They just want to stroll the African savanna in peace.
“But what about apes?” might make more sense. Our closest DNA relatives make a slightly closer comparison to human habits. Bonobos and chimpanzees eat mostly plants, but they do also use tools to kill other animals.
Opinions vary whether all humans can eat completely plant-based, but generally, modern society gives big advantages to those of us who want to. There’s readily available info on the internet about what to eat and how to stay healthy. Many of us have access to abundant varieties of plant foods year-round.
I’m grateful that both my biology and privileges let me thrive while harming fewer animals than I might otherwise.
Killing is a part of our nature, but so is compassion
A vegan lifestyle doesn’t necessarily deny that there are violent parts of human nature. It does, however, reflect a preference for the merciful aspects of our nature.
Human empathy is a well-developed aspect of our society and relationships. It’s that very empathy which dissuades some people from eating animal products.
Lions on the hunt for antelope, or bigger fishes eating smaller fishes, can make us feel at peace about our human consumption of animals. Yet, nature also offers inspiration for not eating animals. Rabbits nibble their grasses and nimbly escape from predators. We marvel at the intelligence and strength of a grazing elephant. The way humpback whales protect other animals from orca attacks touches our hearts. We even notice when a hunting lion displays a maternal instinct towards a baby wildebeest.
Animals looking out for each other, interspecies friendships, plant-eating… those things are all parts of the circle of life too.
We interfere with the lives of the animals we eat
Wild zebras live free in a healthy environment, doing what zebras do best Some are killed by lions, but not before living a natural life in their habitat, and often starting families of their own.
The vast majority of the land-dwelling animals that we humans eat come from overcrowded, unhealthy conditions. Based on United States Department of Agriculture data, it is estimated that 70% of cows, 98% of pigs and egg chickens, and 99.9% of meat chickens here come from factory farms.
Animals are not just our wild prey anymore. They’re regarded as property. Bred by the billions, their entire lives and even their biological functions have been selfishly redesigned to meet our ends. They suffer from this manipulation in various ways.
For example, hens who are made to produce an unnatural volume of eggs while living in an unsanitary cage or overcrowded shed. “Dairy” cows who have their newborns stolen. Pigs languishing in crates just so they can give birth to more “bacon.”
Nature isn’t always kind or fair — that’s what civilization is for
I do often mourn the prey animals who are killed by predators, even though that coyote must hunt to survive. I also feel sad about diseases, accidents, infanticide, starvation, nonconsensual sex, bullying, and other perils of a wild world.
Many animals show behavior that we call altruism and social reciprocity. There is plenty of joy, friendship, and thriving health that happen in nature too, for which I feel grateful. But there are no ambulances or hospitals, no foster care, no hunger relief efforts, and no legal protection against abuse. The wilderness is a harsh place compared with the safety and care we’ve created in modern society.
While I’m inspired by nature’s wonder, I don’t idolize the violence that my animal neighbors are forced to endure and inflict. We can appreciate nature’s beauty while choosing to be as peaceful and non-predatorial as possible.
Lions are eco-friendly by default; we have to work at it
Lions aren’t causing global warming. They exist in balance with their prey. By comparison, a United Nations report last year suggested that humans should eat less meat to combat climate change.
Even on a plant-based lifestyle, we kill animals through crop farming, construction, transportation, and other industries. Our pollution hurts animals, as does taking over their habitats.
This is not about guilting ourselves. It’s about being honest so we can be better neighbors. Modern civilization has added comfort to privileged human lives while harming others, including nonhumans. I wish to embrace responsibility for my impact while still loving my life—like I’m able to do eating tasty vegan food and finding fun ways to contribute to solutions for our shared world.
I imagine myself in the animals’ position
My last reason why looking at lions only increases my resolve to be vegan? It has to do with the golden rule.
Yes, we can have empathy for the nirvana that a lion feels as they accomplish a bloody murder, and share the feast with their kin.
We can also have empathy for the wildebeest who dies in terrible fear and physical agony, which I could never wish upon anyone.
Having empathy for farmed animals, and for others I may have hurt, is even more important. We are directly responsible for their lives. Our choices profoundly affect them. I am removed from the war between lions and wildebeest, but the human-turkey and human-fish dynamic is on me.
I always try to put myself in others’ positions. That could be me getting attacked, killed, and eaten, and I wouldn’t want it to be.
I am so lucky to be alive, healthy, and safe. Eating animals is a choice I make to try and give back to this beautiful circle of life.