The Three Reasons People Eat Animals

Originally published in VegNews Magazine, August 2003

By Dr. Will Tuttle, Ph.D.

Why, in the face of the overwhelming evidence that it is cruel, unhealthy, ecologically disastrous, and spiritually corrupt to eat animals, do the vast majority of our North American brothers and sisters continue to do so? Why is it, exactly, that even the greatest minds of our species have been unable yet to find a proverbial magic button we could push, a communication of some combination of thoughts, words, feelings, art and/or images, that would simply show to our fellow humans the utter absurdity of dining on animal foods, in a way that they would easily understand and that would change their behavior? Why is this so difficult to accomplish?

It seems to me that there are at least three reasons why people continue to eat animals in spite of the horror and tragedy this behavior generates. The first and essential reason is that eating animals is not a behavior people have ever chosen freely. It has, instead, been forced upon them, starting at an early age. People have been indoctrinated to do it. Indoctrination is a most interesting phenomenon to observe, in ourselves and others.

First of all, in our culture, “the home of the free,” the existence of indoctrination is denied, making it invisible. As they say, “the perfect slaves think they’re free.” Secondly, indoctrinated beliefs cannot be defended or contemplated, since we never arrived at them freely on our own. I’ve found that when I hold a belief about something that I have truly struggled within myself, freely, to arrive at, that when that belief is challenged, I feel energized and eager. I sense an opportunity to learn something more, to deepen my understanding, to exchange, be challenged, and grow. If the belief has been indoctrinated, however, and I’ve never truly arrived at it freely on my own, I feel irritated and nervous if it’s challenged. It’s not my belief, after all, yet I believe it! So I strive to change the subject, create distraction, close down, or attack the one who would challenge my indoctrinated belief. Because it is not my belief, but has been forced on me by others and I have only unconsciously accepted it, I am forced to remain unconscious and unaware of all the feedback from my environment that is naturally working to challenge and perhaps enlighten my consciousness. This forced unawareness, as we all know, becomes a sort of armor, dulling the mind, and inhibiting its intelligence, which is its ability to make connections and respond to feedback. This deadens the vital spiritual spark that naturally seeks higher awareness through increasing understanding.

Our task, then, is to undo our own indoctrination and thereby help others do the same, moving toward greater understanding and compassion, which are the outcomes of increased awareness, and the goals of spiritual life. As Jim Mason has demonstrated in his indispensable book, An Unnatural Order, herding and eating animals is perhaps the defining core of our culture, so in questioning this, we are liberating ourselves from the slavery of indoctrination at a very deep level.

The second reason people eat animal foods is because of social pressure. Besides the fact that people swim in a media sea of carnivorism here, so that they are continually reminded how right it is to eat animals, there is the fact that most people are surrounded by friends, families, colleagues, neighbors, and associates who are not vegans. Being so gregarious, we humans like to fit in and be part of the group, and this militates strongly against questioning the eating of animal foods, because veganism can be so divisive and threatening.

The third big reason people eat animal foods is that they like the taste: they get a certain pleasure that they are loath to give up. Some people go so far as to say there’s something somehow addictive about animal fat, cholesterol, and animal protein. Or maybe it’s the urea, blood, and hormones. Or the adrenalin rush. Whatever it is, it is a powerful reason that drives people to continue their non-vegan habits, and is coupled with their self-image, which is that they’re someone who enjoys eating fish, chicken, cheese, and so forth.

Each of these three reasons seems powerful, and together, they reinforce each other to form the hardened bastions that we vegans face when we confront those who use and abuse animals as commodities. Fortunately, these three fundamental reasons for eating animal foods are all ultimately invalid and indefensible. Indoctrination, social pressure, and the self-centered pursuit of pleasure have been behind all the atrocities we humans have committed, and when we shine the light of our awareness and truth on them, they are seen for the weak, erroneous delusions that they truly are.

Will Tuttle, Ph.D., composer, pianist, Zen priest, and author of The World Peace Diet, is cofounder of Karuna Music & Art and of the Prayer Circle for Animals and Circle of Compassion ministry.

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