In The Psychologist, an extract from ‘Why We Love and Exploit Animals: Bridging Insights from Academia and Advocacy’ edited by Kirstof Dhont and Gordon Hodson, published by Routledge. This chapter was written by Tobias Leenaert. January 2021.
As many as 70 billion farmed animals (including birds, pigs, cows, goats, and sheep, but excluding marine animals) are raised and killed each year for food. Especially when “factory farmed,” most of these animals lead short and miserable lives and are subjected to pain, stress, anxiety, and boredom on a daily basis. While many people may deem it important to improve the living (and dying) conditions of these animals, the animal rights or animal protection movement wants to abolish the use of animals for human consumption altogether. If this movement wants to achieve its objective of abolition, a highly idealistic “go vegan for the animals” approach will not be sufficient. Given the extreme dependency on the use of animal products today, I suggest that the animal protection movement requires a lot more pragmatism. A pragmatic approach includes asking for reduction of animal products consumption, using non-moral arguments to motivate people, investing in creating an environment that facilitates change, and creating a larger tent.
Most people, at least in Western countries, eat parts (meat or fish) or products (mainly dairy and eggs) of animals every day, often during three meals.1 In these countries, there is barely any tradition of cooking meals without them. When, during public talks, I ask people if they can think of a plant-based recipe for a main dish which they received from their parents or grandparents, they almost invariably come up with a blank. Hence they are often quite unable to imagine how some people – vegans – can live without using animal products. In spite of the growing popularity of plant-based eating, many still believe that avoiding animal products is a way of living for ascetics only. Most people are what we may call steakholders: they are heavily invested in eating animal products and as such have a stake in not truly grasping the situation that farmed animals are currently in.