Anyone that has done vegan outreach, either on the streets, at an event or even at a family gathering, has had to face diverse questions. Some are legitimate and some are not; and some are easy to answer, others not so much.
I had only been doing vegan outreach for a few weeks when I was asked about human suffering. This question, with some variations, goes something like this: “How can you be concerned about animal suffering, when there’s so much human suffering in the world?” The first time I was asked this question I was admittedly stumped. You see, the human suffering I was being asked about was not abstract. I was leafleting at a shopping mall that had been destroyed by a car bomb a few years earlier in my hometown, Bogotá, Colombia. People had been victims of senseless violence at the very spot where I was standing. That time I had no answer and sadly the person that asked the question walked away to probably never consider his perception of animals.
This experience almost haunted me. I had to have an answer and be prepared for next time. I read some articles and blog posts at first and found that most people would answer that caring about animals and humans is not mutually exclusive. They are right, it is not. Nothing prevents you from deeply caring about suffering in general, whomever the subject may be. But I still found this to be somewhat abstract. I needed more, something more tangible, something that could be put in the context of the reality of those that face this suffering face to face.
A friend of mine recommended I read the book Eternal Treblinka by Charles Patterson, and in doing so I found the tangible answer I was looking for. Animal suffering and human suffering are intrinsically linked. Human victims of genocide and violence have often been “treated like animals”, which strongly point to the fact that if our treatment of animals was not abusive and exploitative, we as a species would not perpetrate the same kind of treatment against our fellow human beings. So not only caring about humans and animals in not mutually exclusive, it is mutually inclusive.
Armed with this new knowledge I was able to put together an answer to the question of human suffering, in the context of the war in Colombia — a war in which cattle ranchers have played a significant role by sponsoring paramilitary armies that have gone to commit crimes against humanity against their compatriots. Even if a person were to take a humanist stance, it was undeniable that supporting the business of those that made a living from animal exploitation was also supporting human exploitation and suffering.
Today I live about four thousand miles from where I was asked this question the first time. However the same answer still applies today. Since then, the economy has globalized and the intrinsic link between our food and the suffering, both human and non-human, it causes is no longer abstract for anyone. And globalized has our impact become too, we have the power to re-shape our reality, and we can start with simple acts, like being cognizant of what we choose to eat at the supermarket. Please consider veganism, for both human and non-human animals.