The novel coronavirus which causes COVID-19 has been a challenge, to say the least, for all of us. It has been a particular challenge for vegans. This virus came from a live animal market in Wuhan, China, possibly from a bat or pangolin, at least that is what the experts believe at this time. Not from 5G electromagnetic waves, or Bill Gates’ desire to vaccinate us all, or the government taking away your right to party, or any other number of conspiracies that keep us from talking about the elephant in the room, or more accurately the cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys and goats, the land animals that we in the West consume. Ten billion of them every year in the United States alone.
And if the issue of COVID-19 is discussed in regards to eating and using animals, it is brought up in racist and xenophobic terms about “those” people who eat “those” animals in “those” unclean markets and farms – as if the factory farms and slaughterhouses in the U.S. are bastions of cleanliness and free of disease.
And it turns out that three out of four global pandemics have come from using, exploiting, encroaching on, and/or eating nonhuman animals. Some of the notable ones include Ebola, SARS, Swine flu (H1N1), avian influenza (H5N2) and AIDS. And this fact places vegans in a very uncomfortable position.
How do we advocate on behalf of nonhumans while the world is suffering intensely? How do we talk about the cause of COVID-19 and how we can prevent future pandemics without looking like we are insensitive? We know from previous experiences that the very last thing non-vegans want to hear is that their participation in the exploitation of others is not only harming themselves, the environment and the well over 75 billion land animals globally each year – confined, mutilated, sexually manipulated and violently killed, just for food.
It’s never the right or appropriate time, vegans have been told over and over. Just as it’s never the right time to talk about gun control after someone has mowed down children in a school, for example.
And then the pandemic hit the slaughterhouses. And thousands of workers, mostly immigrants and people of color, got really sick and the slaughterhouses (not “protein plants”, a term the industry is attempting to rebrand them with) had to be shuttered. I love the word shuttered. I digress. And we were told by those who make billions of dollars that the food system is broken and they need billions more dollars in relief (that they are getting, to the tune of $16 billion) because their profits were being harmed by not being able to kill thousands of animals a day. These billionaires give zero fucks for workers who are sick, and zero fucks for putting their workers’ families in harm’s way, not to mention entire communities. Twenty-two slaughterhouses have closed or temporarily closed. Thousands have been infected while doing their jobs.
Yet they were, and are still, killing thousands of animals a day, only they use euphemisms like “depopulating” and “culling.” And they and non-vegans say ‘what a waste,’ because no one gets to eat the body parts of those exploited animals during a time of “food” shortages.
Instead the animals will be killed in a myriad of tragic and painful ways because the farmers do not want to feed and water and house those animals. It costs money to do so, and animals are things, not beings, and are for profit.
So hundreds of thousands of animals are being killed. And as a vegan it’s absolutely horrifying to read article after article about how these precious beings are being wood chipped, gassed, shot with rifles, hit over the head with blunt force, and more. It’s incredibly painful to read about the amount of death and the suffering of animals. And somehow this feels different. I don’t exactly know why.
And it’s awful to know that maybe 1.5 percent of your country actually cares. Cares that these are sentient beings who suffer, feel pain, feel emotions. And really, if we’re being honest, do non-vegans actually care about slaughterhouse workers getting sick and dying to provide non-vegans with animal body parts, when there is plenty of available food that doesn’t risk the life of another person, another family, another community? Are there large swaths of non-vegans who are going vegan in solidarity with those forced to go to back to work via Trump’s executive order under the Defense Protection Act, which mandated that slaughterhouses remain open? Mind you, he refused to use the DPA to produce ventilators, testing kits and PPEs for essential workers. The provision also provides liability protections in case the workers get sick and die – they can’t be sued.
And honestly, the only voices I have seen in support of the slaughterhouse workers have been vegan voices and the worker’s unions, of course. Vegans have been vocal, and yet are continually told that we don’t care about humans. Go figure.
It’s incredibly difficult for vegans to just sit back and watch this horror show and not say anything. If we felt like pariahs before the pandemic, I’m not sure how to describe how we feel now. As for myself, I feel incredibly sad. Sad for the millions of people who have had the virus and the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been lost. Sad that we have a narcissist leading the country into a greater number of cases and deaths with the premature opening of the country cuz capitalism. Sad for the animals whose lives are meaningless outside of how they taste and what they can provide for human pleasure. Sad that we have this moment in time where we can look at how our exploitation of nonhuman animals caused this and other pandemics, and how we have an opportunity to stop eating animals, and yet we won’t. Sad that we make selfish choices and don’t care how they impact other people. But mostly sad because I feel like I have no voice, no power to make the suffering better.