Behavioral and neuroscientific studies across the animal kingdom demonstrate that many species share the sights and sounds of life with people. They too can feel, even though they can’t talk about it. Why? First, except for size, there are no large-scale, dramatic differences between the brains of most mammals, including the human brain. Second, almost all human behaviors have precursors in the animal literature. For example, when people experience pain and distress they contour their face, moan, cry, squirm, and try to avoid anything that would trigger the reoccurrence of the pain. Many animals do the same. Likewise for the physiological signals that attend pain – activation of the sympathetic autonomous nervous system causing an increase in blood pressure, dilated pupils, sweating, increased heart rate, release of stress hormones and so on. Finally, all of nature’s children are related; all of us live on the various branches of the same tree of life. Because it is likely that mammals can consciously experience the pains and pleasure of life, can be happy or sad, we should not be eating their flesh. Indeed, we should not breed sentient beings for their flesh. It is not easy to follow this realization with action – the taste of meat is deeply engrained in western culture.
The death of our beloved family companion Nosy, an incredibly curious black German Shepherd, in my arms in 2005 provided the final impulse to make me live in accordance with my belief.
Since then, I am a vegetarian.
The principle of sentience is a clarion call to act in both the private and the public spheres. The writer David Foster Wallace, in his 2004 essay, Consider the Lobster, for Gourmet magazine, makes a case that boiling lobsters alive is hideous (to them). He rhetorically asks:
Is it not possible that future generations will regard our own present agribusiness and eating practices in much the same way we now view Nero’s entertainments or Aztec sacrifices? “
Turning away from flesh not only reduces the massive adverse environmental and ecological footprint of industrial-scale animal husbandry but also improves physical and mental well-being.