Animals deserve to be treated like animals. Not like humans. I don't think we need to treat animals like humans. We just need to respect their majestic existence for precisely what it is. Humans fail to respect other species almost every given chance. Respecting them doesn't mean giving them five star luxury treatment. It means respecting their natural habitat and instinctual behavior. It means that at the very least they do not suffer abuse at our hands.
Animals and children have much in common. They are both easily exploited by adult humans and do not or cannot use their voice to demand rights or peaceful treatment. Their proper treatments relies upon the compassion and empathy of adult humans.
Guilt is good. It is different from shame, which is, 'I am bad'. Guilt is, 'I did something bad'. Guilt inspires us to improve our behavior for the better. Shame promotes more bad behavior. I feel guilty about the animal products I use and consume. I hate that I have ever or currently do contribute to animal exploitation.
BUT--the situation is complex. Rather than being torn up with guilt about the animal products I do consume or use, I focus on the ways I deliberately and consistently eliminate them from my life. I have leather clothing and furniture. Most of them I purchased before I started learning about egregious animal agriculture practices and when I still held a lot of speciesist ideals.
Jared's diet isn't totally vegan, though he has cut out meat and lots of animal products. Sometimes I wince when he eats dairy, but then I look down at my leather sandals. It would be better if I didn't have leather sandals, of course. But I do, and they're here, so I'm going to use them and not just trash them. But what if they were synthetic? Just because the synthetic materials aren't directly made out of animal flesh, it doesn't mean they do no harm to animals. The toxic chemicals involved in the production of so many products we consume and use critically contribute to the destruction of wildlife habitats and even species extinction.
A few months ago, a girl in line behind me at the grocery store made the assumption that I was vegan based on what I was buying. She spent a year eating vegan but went back to eating animal products because she didn't believe one person could make a difference. She saw the problem with animal agriculture, which is typically the biggest hurdle to getting people to realize the importance of veganism. She did not contest that animals deserved to be treated better. She just didn't think that her choices made a difference. I can actually sympathize with her perspective. Billions of animals are tortured and killed everyday in ways that most people would protest if informed. My daily food choices won't end the existence of factory farming all alone. It's a lot and it's overwhelming and I get that.
An ad about illiteracy came on while I was in the shower a few weeks ago betweens songs playing from my phone. I couldn't believe the staggering statistics. After my shower I looked up ways I could contribute to promoting literacy. I found a few organizations that promote literacy for adults where English is their primary language. I even visited one program and met a few tutors and students. Becoming literate as an adult is an enormous feat because the part of the brain that easily learns language in childhood, the language acquisition device, flips off after a certain point during teenage development. Adult students struggle to become literate for years and even decades. Tutors rarely see adults students become literate because sticking with one student long enough is unlikely.
Would it be fair to say those dedicated tutors are not making a difference to the issue of illiteracy? Perhaps. Illiteracy is a massive issue and one tutor's efforts won't solve the problem. But think of how much a difference a dedicated tutor can make for one student's life.
It is estimated that vegans save 198 animals per year. I've been eating mostly vegan for a year and a half. Yes, I have leather shoes and two leather sofas. I have been cutting back greatly but I still find plastic in my life. But instead of focusing on what I'm doing 'wrong' per se, I choose to celebrate the animals that didn't have tortured lives because of my choices. I even think it's awesome that girl from the grocery store ate vegan even if only for a year, that's 198 animals that didn't suffer needlessly. I support meatless Mondays and no-meat March. I love any choice that reduces animal cruelty. If you choose not to change your diet but switch to cosmetics that were truly not tested on animals, I love that.
Ideally, all products I use or consume would be made from fully recyclable, compostable, gentle plant-based materials. I could search high and low for totally cruelty-free, eco-friendly products every single time I make a purchase. But the reality is that while I'm privileged to technically afford the time and money to live like that, most people are not. And among those of us who are technically able to afford such a lifestyle, it's not likely that we will all choose to devote the sort of time and money that would require.
The two big ways individuals can make a difference for animals and the environment is through their consumer power and the influence their life has on culture. Corporations only have power because of consumers. If corporations are automobiles, consumers are the gas. Consumers have power to halt operations that are unkind to humans, other species, and the environment by boycotting unethical products and brands. And whether you realize it or not, your presence is actively contributing to the existence of certain cultures. Your presence influences whatever communities you engage with and support. Communities create culture. Choose to engage with conscious, ethical communities. Your presence influences culture.
I'm not that girl in the grocery store. I believe individuals make a difference. My food choices have saved real animals from lives of torture and abuse. I'm working to reduce the amount of animal products and products harmful to animals and the environment from my life, not just through my individual consumption choices but also through spreading the vegan message of anti-speciesism and love and compassion for all.