Confronting death and being vegan
When a loved one passes away we are confronted with death and therefore are unable to continue through our daily lives avoiding the nagging little voice in the back of our minds that reminds us of our own mortality.
I often think about death from an animal rights perspective only because if we view death conceptually, it is hard to tease apart what it means for humans to die and what it means for other animals to die, whether they be livestock (“food” animals), domestic (“pets” and “laboratory”) or wild (including “pests”, “laboratory”, “game”). One way to possibly differentiate is the fact that humans are aware of their impending fate, whereas it appears that animals are not. Therefore, when we witness the death of a loved one, we internalize this experience and reflect often fearfully on our own mortality. On the other hand, it has been shown that other non-human species have also been known to grieve their dead, similar to humans. Yet I wonder if, when grieving, these animals know that this fate will eventually be their own, too. And I wonder if this knowledge scares them.
Another tangible difference is how humans have a culture around death, including disposing/preservation of the body (embalmments, burials, cremations, mummifications, freezing) and developing traditions, rituals, religious rites and prayers all associated with death and grieving the dead. We also have created stories to help the living deal with confronting death, including concepts such as “resurrection”, the “after-life”, “heaven”, “eternal life”, etc. And of course, religious concepts that appear to exploit the common human fear of death in order to control, e.g., “hell”, “purgatory”. For the most part, much of the animal kingdom does not have similar rituals (few animals do bury or hide their dead), and so it seems in doing so, we have become more aware of its presence and the consequences it can have on the conscience of the living.
I think about death on occasion, since for me it should not be such a taboo subject as perhaps it once was. When a loved one dies, be it a family member, friend or pet, I think about it even more as it represents a finality and a force which, try as we may, we cannot overcome nor predict. To die is to leave this world behind and more importantly to not be held responsible for doing so. However, to kill is to choose to force another to leave this world behind without their consent. Killing isn’t inherently wrong, but cutting a life short, which would have otherwise thrived and could have had many happy years ahead, often for base reasons such as one’s personal tastes, is unconscionable. Yet we do so en masse, by the billions with the “food” animals that end up on our plates. I can’t seem to be able to consider my life and the life of my fellow species that different from that of other sentient beings such that murder is acceptable and rational only of the latter. To my mind, when one realizes that to do this would be to compromise one’s basic morality too fundamentally and then decides to confront and rectify this hypocrisy with action, one has no choice but to become vegan.
Death may not be evil, nor may it be the ultimate end of our lives, but whatever it is, we have no right to bring one to it prematurely, especially for such selfish reasons as to satisfy one’s own tastebuds, or to perform an archaic rite or to perpetuate a cruel tradition. Death be not proud and neither should we be if we choose to be its accomplice.