“Of all the films I have ever made, this is the one that gets people talking the most. For every one person who sees Earthlings, they will tell three.” Joaquin Phoenix
If you eat, wear clothes, or use products, then you ought to watch Earthlings.
Narrated by Joaquin Phoenix, Earthlings brings the viewer face to face with a few of the billions of otherwise anonymous animals who suffer terribly and die brutally every second of every day in every place throughout the world for the products you use, the clothes you wear, and the food you eat. That humans inflict so much suffering and death on so many nonhumans year after year for nothing more than hamburgers, fur coats, cosmetics, and countless other such trivial items is an enduring testament to our callous disregard for our fellow Earthlings.
Step back for a moment and consider what we are doing to animals at fisheries and hunting preserves; on fur farms and factory farms; and inside testing labs and slaughterhouses. Behold the magnitude of the bloodshed and the heartless efficiency with which it is perpetrated. The *hundreds of millions* of land animals killed each year by hunters, by furriers, in medical labs and in pounds account for only a miniscule *2 percent* of the total number of land animals killed annually. Farm animals bear the 98% brunt of the slaughter. Hundreds of millions? Pfft. The United States alone raises and kills about 10 *billion* animals a year for food; worldwide, the figure balloons to a staggering 57 *billion.* (Tack on another *trillion* for fish and other aquatic animals.) Only one word does justice to what this is: a holocaust. As Isaac Bashevis Singer said via one of his characters: “In relation to animals, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”
Of course, the difference between the animal holocaust and the Jewish holocaust, other than that the former involves the slaughter of sentient nonhumans and the latter involved the slaughter of sentient humans, is that the Nazis sought to eradicate Jews once and for all, whereas farming continuously creates and destroys animals by the billions year after year after year after year…
By providing a horrifying glimpse inside of the farming industry’s carefully concealed torture chambers and death houses, Earthlings throws the grim reality of the animal holocaust into stark relief.
“Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a
slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.” - Theodor W. Adorno
If the tragic plight of animals does not bother you, then fuck off.
If their plight does bother you, then watch Earthlings. Do not look away and pretend that this horror is not happening. It is happening, everywhere, at all times, and each one of us is a direct participant in it. If you think you’re not involved, that your hands are clean, you’re deluded: he who pays someone else to slaughter an animal for him is as responsible for the agonizing death of that animal as the one who wielded the knife.
A problem with Earthlings is that it fails to make clear that the overwhelming amount of suffering and death on display is completely *unnecessary*. I’d like to rectify that shortcoming by pointing out three facts:
Fact 1: We do not *need* to eat animal products.
Fact 2: We do not *need* to wear animal skins/furs.
Fact 3: We do not *need* to use products tested on animals.
Keep these facts in mind while watching Earthlings.
Allow me to elaborate a bit on fact 1 and explain why I have gone vegan:
1. We can be perfectly healthy without eating animals. We do not *need* to eat animals. Eating animals is *unnecessary.*
If you think that eating meat, dairy and eggs is necessary, that’s because you and virtually everyone you know have been indoctrinated into believing so by none other than the meat, dairy, and egg industries. There’s a word for the dissemination of such misinformation. It’s called propaganda. You, my friend, have been duped. No one other than those with a vested interest in these industries maintains that it is medically necessary to consume animal products. Indeed, there is widespread consensus across the spectrum of health care organizations that a well-planned vegan diet not only provides all the necessary nutrients but also offers optimal protection against cancer and heart disease. If you doubt this, allow me to disabuse you of your doubt with some (sausage-free) links:
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, has stated:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
The Cleveland Clinic, one of the best hospitals in the United States, has stated:
“Eating a plant-based vegetarian or vegan diet can be a healthy, exciting alternative to traditional meat-based meal planning. Obtaining proper nutrients from non-animal sources is simple for the modern herbivore. There is a wide variety of vegetarian/vegan-friendly meat/dairy/egg replacements currently on the market. Recipes are abundant on the Internet as well as in a variety of vegetarian cookbooks.”
“There really are no disadvantages to a herbivorous diet! A plant-based diet has many health benefits, including lowering the risk for heart disease, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. It can also help lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels, plus maintain weight and bone health.”
The Mayo Clinic says:
“A well-planned vegetarian diet is a healthy way to meet your nutritional needs. A well-planned vegetarian diet can meet the needs of people of all ages, including children, teenagers, and pregnant or breast-feeding women.
Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation says:
“Vegetarian diets can provide all the nutrients you need at any age, as well as some additional health benefits. Vegetarian diets often have lower levels of total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol than many meat-based diets, and higher intakes of fibre, magnesium, potassium, folate and antioxidants such as vitamins C and E. Vegetarian diets may lead to lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol levels, healthier weight and less incidence of Type 2 diabetes, all of which can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke.”
The American Heart Association says:
“Vegetarian diets can be healthful and nutritionally sound if they’re carefully planned to include essential nutrients.”
“Many studies have shown that vegetarians seem to have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease (which causes heart attack), high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus and some forms of cancer.”
The American Cancer Society says:
“Some studies have linked vegetarian diets to lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and certain types of cancer, such as colon cancer. A strictly vegetarian diet must be properly planned to be sure it provides all the required nutrients.”
The American Diabetes Association says:
“A vegetarian diet is a healthy option, even if you have diabetes. Research supports that following this type of diet can help prevent and manage diabetes. In fact, research on vegan diets has found that carbohydrate and calorie restrictions were not necessary and still promoted weight loss and lowered participants’ A1C.”
Dietitians of Canada, one of the largest organizations of dietetic professionals in the world, has stated:
“A vegan eating pattern has many potential health benefits. They include lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Other benefits include lower blood cholesterol levels and a lower risk for gallstones and intestinal problems. This eating pattern can take some extra planning. Vegans must make sure that enough nutrients like protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins D and B12 and omega-3 fats are included. A well planned vegan diet can meet all of these needs. It is safe and healthy for pregnant and breastfeeding women, babies, children, teens and seniors. A variety of plant foods eaten during the day can provide enough protein to promote and maintain good health.”
The British National Health Service, the largest and the oldest single-payer healthcare system in the world, has stated:
“With good planning and an understanding of what makes up a healthy, balanced vegan diet, you can get all the nutrients your body needs.”
The British Nutrition Foundation, team of nutrition scientists that conducts academic reviews of published research on issues of diet and public health, has stated:
“A well-planned, balanced vegetarian or vegan diet can be nutritionally adequate.”
“Studies of UK vegetarian and vegan children have revealed that their growth and development are within the normal range.”
The Dietitians Association of Australia has stated:
“Vegan diets are a type of vegetarian diet, where only plant-based foods are eaten. They differ to other vegetarian diets in that no animal products are usually consumed or used. Despite these restrictions, with good planning it is still possible to obtain all the nutrients required for good health on a vegan diet.”
The Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, a branch of the USDA, has stated:
“Vegetarian diets can meet all the recommendations for nutrients.”
The National Institutes of Health, the primary agency of the United States government responsible for biomedical and health-related research, has stated:
“People who follow vegetarian diets can get all the nutrients they need.”
The Perelman School of Medicine, a medical school ranked second for research in 2012, has stated:
“A well-planned vegetarian diet can give you good nutrition. A vegetarian diet often helps you have better health. Eating a vegetarian diet can help you reduce your chance of obesity; reduce your risk of heart disease; lower your blood pressure; lower your risk of type 2 diabetes.”
The New York Presbyterian Hospital, an esteemed university hospital system affiliated with two Ivy League medical schools, has stated:
“A vegetarian diet may take a little extra planning—especially at first—but it is easy to learn how to ensure your diet is healthy.”
“People who follow a vegetarian diet are relatively healthier than those who don’t. Vegetarians tend to have a lower incidence of obesity and fewer chronic health problems, including some cancers, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.”
The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, one of the largest medical centers in the world, has stated:
“A well-planned vegetarian diet can give you good nutrition. A vegetarian diet often helps you have better health.”
The Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, one of the top three hospitals in the US, has stated:
“If properly planned, a vegetarian diet can be healthy.”
“Some of the health benefits of a vegetarian diet may include decreased blood cholesterol levels
and blood pressure; lower incidence of heart disease, some forms of cancer, and digestive disorders like constipation and diverticula disease; lower incidence of obesity and some forms of diabetes.”
Kaiser Permanente, the largest managed care organization in the United States, has stated:
“Healthy eating may be best achieved with a plant-based diet, which we define as a regimen that encourages whole, plant-based foods and discourages meats, dairy products, and eggs as well as all refined and processed foods. Research shows that plant-based diets are cost-effective, low-risk interventions that may lower body mass index, blood pressure, HbA1C, and cholesterol levels. They may also reduce the number of medications needed to treat chronic diseases and lower ischemic heart disease mortality rates. Physicians should consider recommending a plant-based diet to all their patients, especially those with high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or obesity.”
Now that you’ve been thoroughly disabused of the troglodytic me-must-eat-meat myth, allow me to repeat the simple, incontrovertible fact with which I began:
1. We can be perfectly healthy without eating animals. We do not *need* to eat animals. Eating animals is *unnecessary.*
2. We don’t just eat animals. We eat *sentient* animals. A sentient animal is one who is subjectively aware, perceptually alert, sensate and conscious (although not necessarily self-conscious in a human-like way.) A sentient animal has interest, wants, and desires. A sentient animal has an interest in staying alive. A sentient animal wants to be comfortable. A sentient animal desires freedom of movement. A sentient animal seeks pleasure and avoids pain. A sentient animal *feels.* Make no mistake: the farm animals we eat are as sentient as the companion animals we love.
A handful of benighted souls still cling to the absurd and discredited Cartesian conception of animals as mere automatons devoid of conscious experience. But anyone who has ever held a blissfully purring cat or been greeted by an excited dog with tail wags and tongue licks knows that Descartes’ impoverished characterization of animals as empty machines is wrong on its face.
That animals are sentient strikes most of us as self-evident. But it’s always nice when science authoritatively confirms what we already know, and a group of prominent scientists recently did just that, declaring unequivocally that nonhuman animals possess conscious awareness. Here’s an excerpt from The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness:
“Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”
This newborn calf, still wet with amniotic fluid and already tagged for slaughter, was yanked away from his mother at birth by a two-legged monster and will spend the rest of his short life in the cramped confines of a veal crate. Yet another innocent victim of the dairy industry.
3. By virtue of their sentience, farm animals have the capacity to suffer, and suffer they do at factory farms and slaughterhouses, which are nothing if not places of torment. Few of us would willingly step foot into such hellholes, but farm animals spend the entirety of their joyless existence there. They are born into them. And in them they die. Please understand: the vast majority of the *billions* of animals we eat *annually* suffer mercilessly from birth to slaughter, first enduring confinement, enslavement and torture, and then meeting a brutal, terrifying death. Then we, the consumer, after paying someone else to slit their throats for us, devour the butchered corpses of these once-sentient beings for no better reason than that their flesh titillates our taste buds.
The heartless commodification of these sentient nonhumans is deeply saddening. Sadder still is that the animals we exploit, torture, kill, chop into pieces, slice into shreds, roll into balls, skewer on sticks, roast in ovens, fry in pans, char on grills, stew in pots, spin on rotisseries and greedily deposit into our ever-expanding gullets have done *nothing* to us to deserve the ultra-violence we ruthlessly visit upon them.
Throughout their lives these animals sought kindness but found only cruelty; sought companionship but found only solitude; sought pleasure but found only pain; sought comfort but found only misery; sought freedom but found only captivity; sought life but found only death. Their will to live remained strong to the last, permeating every atom of their abused and exhausted bodies even as they were led onto the killing floor of the slaughterhouse, where the death house executioner awaited to snuff out their lives.
Ah, but they’re just animals, right? Sure, they’re sentient. Sure, they had wretched lives and horrific deaths. Sure, all that agony and carnage was utterly gratuitous. But fuck ‘em. They taste good. Let ‘em be McNuggeted, Whopperized, and packaged and sold to children as Happy Meals. As Ronald McDonald said, “Nothing brings joy to a child like the corpse of a slaughtered animal.”
Doubtless a significant portion of the population does not give a shit about animals. If you are one of those people, then fuck off.
If you are not one of those people, that is, if you are someone who cares about animals and does not want to see them suffer and die needlessly, then please keep reading.
4. Do you oppose inflicting *unnecessary* suffering and death on sentient beings? Do you oppose *needlessly* harming defenseless animals? Do you oppose animal cruelty?
If you answered “Yes” to the above questions but continue to eat, wear and use animals, then your professed values do not align with your behavior. To eat animals is to participate in animal cruelty. To eat animals is to needlessly harm them. To eat animals is to support inflicting unnecessary suffering and death on sentient beings.
You cannot reconcile caring about animals with killing and eating them. To say that you are against imposing gratuitous suffering and death on animals as you chomp on a mouthful of pig is absurd. Caring about animals is not consistent with harming them or paying someone else to harm them for you. Stabbing defenseless animals in the neck or paying someone else to stab them in the neck for you is an odd way to show that you care.
There is only one way to align your values with your behavior: GO VEGAN
5. I used to eat a variety of animals. Animal flesh tastes good. I get it. So what?
Cats and dogs taste good too. Just ask the Koreans.
From what I understand, human meat, otherwise known as “long pig,” is downright scrumptious. Not only zombies hanker for human flesh. Fijians regarded the flesh of the human as the food of the gods. The Tupinambás preferred human meat to all other kinds. Māori warriors relished the delicious taste of their enemies. The Aztecs too were fond of long pig. One of their favorite recipes was hominid stew flavored with peppers, tomatoes, and squash blossoms. Mm Mm good! People…it’s what’s for dinner.
Lest you think cannibalism is a thing of the past, think again. Roasted human head was on the menu at this restaurant, which proudly catered to its cannibalistically inclined patrons. Sure, the dish was a bit pricy, but what do you expect? Hominid head is a delicacy.
So let’s review. Dogs taste good. Cats taste good. Humans taste *the best.* So what?
Is palate pleasure a good reason to impose suffering and death on dogs, cats and humans?
If you think so, then fuck off.
If you don’t think so, then ask yourself this: if palate pleasure is not a good reason to inflict suffering and death on cats, dogs and humans, why then is it a good reason to inflict suffering and death on chickens, cows and pigs? Like all sentient beings, farm animals want to live a normal life with a chance to pursue their interests free from pain, fear and violent death. Does your palate pleasure trump their basic desire to live unmolested? Are you okay with depriving them of everything that could make their lives worth living, and subjecting them to the horrors of the abattoir, just so you can indulge your appetite for chicken wings, hamburgers and pork chops? I hope not.
Victimizing defenseless animals because they taste good is barbaric. Count me out. I can please my palate just fine without participating in animal cruelty.
Watch Earthlings. Make the connection. Reject speciesism. Go vegan.