Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

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Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby Gemini » November 26th, 2016, 10:40 am

So by popular demand and by popular demand I mean about 2 people I decided to make this thread since I've been posting about it a lot recently in WAYTRN. This is a topic that I think has been coming up more and more lately, partly from the rise in veganism as well as a growing concern about climate change and the impacts of human activities (including farming) on the environment. Nowadays, as we have more people than ever and the world has become more and more interconnected, there is a clear desire to try to make as much food as possible while still minimizing our environmental impact.

This also raises some interesting questions about animal agriculture and the related ethics of this industry. What role do animals play in our food supply, and what role will they continue to play in the future? What impacts does animal agriculture have on animals, those who raise animals, and the consumers of animal products? How are these groups interconnected? I think that these, and other concerns, are a major reason that the animal-raising industry has come under a lot of scrutiny. People disagree about how animals are raised - as evidenced by documentaries like Food, Inc., amongst others - while some even believe that animals should not be raised at all and that it is unethical to kill or exploit life for human consumption as an entirely plant-based diet would be more compassionate.

Obviously, this brings up a pretty interesting debate that spans the fields of animal science/animal husbandry, agriculture, environmental science, economics, and ethics. So I wanted to see what the good people of MLK thought of all this and where opinions lie on this topic. I tried to keep this opening pretty neutral since I want to keep a fair discussion. However, I will be adding my own stance below since (as many of you know) I have strong opinions on this subject in the wake of a course I took on animal production that changed my view of this industry.


I want to preface this by saying that, while I'm not an expert quite yet, I think that being well-informed and being transparent is important. There is always more for me to know, and if you think I'm wrong at any point then please correct me - however, most of the information I am presenting below comes from what I have been learning since coming to college. As some of you may be aware, I am currently enrolled at the world's #1 school in agriculture and forestry and the #1 school in the US for Animal Science, which is my major. I've gotten it from professors who are experts in this field, with decades of experience in teaching and scientific research. I am also referencing my own hands-on knowledge that I've received, both from labs at UCD facilities and, to some extent, from the real world. This is basically what I am going to school for, and might make a career in, so to say that I think this is important and that I want to help spread my knowledge and educate people about it is something of an understatement.

I am open to different viewpoints, but keep this in mind. If at any point you want me to elaborate or want more information on how I got to a conclusion, feel free to ask and I can explain as well as I know how, aha.

In any case, suffice it to say, I have a much different view on this topic than I did in the past. In fact, I recently made a decision that, for the future, I am going to try to avoid organic milk and cage-free eggs, for a variety of reasons (I will get into these if anybody is interested but as you can see below this is becoming a very long post, whoops). But essentially, I think that there is definitely a large and growing agenda being launched (mainly by radical vegans, PETA, the media, etc.) that has clouded discussion on this issue. People, usually well-meaning, find it easy to jump on this bandwagon because they think that they are joining a noble cause - who doesn't want to help animals, right? However, the thinking presented is often deeply problematic and uninformed and causes a lot of unnecessary backlash. It also promotes a myopic and slanted worldview that doesn't help to solve any issues that do arise in this industry. I think that preserving and maintaining a standard of animal welfare is important. Animals should be raised humanely.

This being said, a lot of people seem to have different ideas on what "humane" means. As for me, and as for my thoughts on this, I think the following - livestock animals are our food. They are not pets. They are not people. They have different needs, different desires, different thoughts and feelings and behaviors and biological mechanisms than we do. That does not mean that they should be treated cruelly. That especially does not mean they should be treated with disrespect. However, since the dawn of civilization a lot of our food supply has depended on animals, and this is unlikely to change in the near future. Until the time that we no longer need animals as food (which, unless we find a way to chemically synthesize our own food without any need for agriculture, I doubt will ever happen) then this is how it is. We cannot afford to coddle them, or to anthropomorphize them, because our survival depends on them. This is the first major issue that I have with radical vegans.

And I think it is important for us to remember, as well - farming is not like making cars, or TVs, or fancy handbags. It's not a luxury, it's literally a necessity. Arguably the most basic one out there. Even in America and other developed nations, there are plenty who go hungry, and this is to say nothing of other countries where people literally die of starvation. For them, it can be a matter of life or death, and meat/milk is often the most feasible source of protein (especially in places that cannot grow crops well). Trying to make more efficient food systems is not just a matter of profit or of people being "greedy". If you are able to be vegetarian, that's great. There are many places in the world where this is a viable choice. However, for some it simply isn't, and I think this is important to remember.

Overall, though, there are a lot of misconceptions out there about how animals are raised. In itself, this type of innocent ignorance may not be harmful, until you consider that these misconceptions often turn into legislation that can hurt farmers' productivity and their ability to do their job, which is to provide a large amount of product that is also safe, from animals that are raised humanely, that isn't prohibitively expensive to the average person who needs to buy food. It's a difficult business. Fun fact: the average amount of profit from a dozen eggs that actually goes back to the farmer? Seven cents. The rest goes into upkeep and management and any other applicable costs and taxes. As you can see, in order to even make a decent living, a lot of eggs have to be sold, and with fluctuations in market prices, in the weather, in the amount of rain, in the cost of feed... at the end of the day, about 2/3 of farmers in America make less than $20,000, which is... well...


Actually about equal to the poverty line, for a family of three.

[I grew up several thousand dollars under the poverty line myself, so I know what this is like]

The reason that I bring this up is that - to put it simply - I don't consider wanting to make over $20,000 "greedy", especially for a job that is so physically and mentally demanding and requires long, irregular hours and 24/7 maintenance/upkeep. Farmers are often painted as people who only care about money, but I don't think it's quite so simple. I also don't think that most farmers have any interest in abusing their animals. They are their livelihood, and animals that are abused, that are overworked, that are unhappy also do not produce as much in the long run. There is no incentive to put animals through needless stress, and most people who run any sort of operation and actually hope to stay in business will do whatever they can to try to reduce stress in their animals if it is at all feasible. This has been consistent in every place that I have been to so far. Nobody who actually owns animals and cares about staying in business is going to smack them around for no reason and let them lie there sick because "lulz it's just a cow (or pig or chicken or etc) lol who cares".

That's not to say that animal abuse doesn't happen. Sometimes, just like the abuse of pets or children, it does, despite everyone's best efforts (usually at the hands of employees that are frustrated or undertrained). It's unfortunate. I'm not at all trying to normalize it or say that it's an alright thing to do - and amongst the farmers I have seen, at least, there is little tolerance for abusing livestock, for the reasons I touched on above. One dairyman that we visited as a class flat out said that even though he relied quite a bit on the twelve employees he had hired to help with the farm, he would fire any one of them if he caught them harming or abusing his cows. And really, this only makes sense. If your entire business and livelihood hinged off of selling cars, and you needed every last bit of profit you could get, would you be okay with one of your employees was keying up the paint job or leaving cracks in the windows because they were "frustrated"? I personally wouldn't be, and I can't imagine that any other reasonable person would be, either.

Again, that's not to say that animal abuse doesn't happen. However, this is not, and should not, be the norm in the industry. In fact - the most poorly-managed farms (the places were abusive or illegal practices are most likely to happen on a systematic level) tend to be small ones with few animals. It is much easier for an inexperienced farmer running a cheap facility with a few head of cattle in his/her backyard to slip through the cracks and to get away with this sort of behavior. Large farms, however, are more rigorously controlled. There are many audits in place and a lot of scrutiny and anybody with any sense running a large, high-expense operation is not going to cut any corners that would risk their ability to sell their products. It's just not economically feasible. There is too much at stake.

Which brings me to factory farms.

There seems to be a general consensus amongst many people that industrialized agriculture is somehow a bad thing, and that our ideal standard of care is in some past system where animals were allowed to roam and do how they wanted and live on big green pastures. It seems like a nice thought. However, I strongly disagree with this for a myriad of reasons (which I can get into later if anyone is interested).

Nonetheless I grew up surrounded by a lot of these images and misconceptions. There are quite widespread and I'm sure that most of you have heard at least some of the following (I know I sure as hell did, growing up - some of these are almost word-for-word things that my grandmother told me):

"I drink organic milk because normal milk has hormones/antibiotics"

"You shouldn't be drinking so much milk because you'll hit puberty faster"

"You just can't trust eggs anymore, like you used to... now they have salmonella"

"I buy cage-free eggs because the chickens can roam around and it's better for them"

"Farmers shouldn't be using rBST... I don't want chemicals in my milk"

"I don't eat beef because the beef industry is a major contributor to global warming"

... and many others of a similar vein.

Again, they sound nice and are well-meaning. I think it's important that people make conscious choices about their health, and about animal safety, and about the environment. However, these decisions should be made based off facts when they are available, and looking at these from a factual standpoint... I'm not impressed. Truth be told, it became clear to me after only one entry-level animal science course (and subsequently in the course I am currently taking) that these and similar thoughts are about 95% garbage (and again, if anybody wants me to refute any of the points above, or any others you may have heard, I can - however, I will not here for the sake of brevity).

This culminates in cluster****s like the video below, which was sent to me by a friend yesterday and which prompted a lot of my discussion on this matter around the board.

WARNING: There's graphic images, so don't watch if you don't like that kind of thing. I'd also highly recommend not watching more than once if you want to keep brain cells intact. I think I lost a few of mine.

[Personally I had to mute my computer when I brought up this video again because the look and sound of this dickwad makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little, but kudos and congrats and a pat on the back if you can actually manage to watch it. I could barely get through it once because it's so off-base, so clearly has an agenda, and obviously has no intent but to manipulate, which is why I have no respect for it.]

I hate this video for a wide variety of reasons. And again, if you want me to refute any of the points therein, I can (quite easily, I might add - most of these were literally debunked after my first course related to animal agriculture). However, there are many like these out there. Some are more sophisticated than others, but the thing is, though - it's extremely easy to make up a couple of mish-mashed psuedoscience talking points and slap it over some out-of-context and disturbing images to mess with people (the "rape-rack" she mentioned was just a normal milking parlor, ggwp). But the point of this is -


They are made with a clear agenda, which is to get people to stop eating meat. I don't understand why, entirely, this movement exists and is operating in this manner so vitriolically, but it is extremely misleading and harmful. And again, as I have said before - I am completely okay with people who decide they don't want to eat animals or use animal products. However, bullying people and using tactics that are emotionally manipulative and not transparent is completely disgusting and unconscionable. I can't support this kind of campaigning - and even those who disagree with the animal industry should not, either.

But again, don't just take my word for it. There are plenty of studies out there from qualified people, from scientists, from unbiased third-party sources. If you want to know what farms are like and you can't actually visit one, then don't just take the media's word for it. Don't just listen to what the CEOs and businessmen are telling you. But definitely don't listen to angry vegans on the Internet. Otherwise more of this is going to happen.

That's about all I have for now. I hope this prompts an interesting discussion. ^o^
Last edited by Gemini on November 27th, 2016, 10:03 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby it means no worries » November 26th, 2016, 11:29 am

We're an apex predator and it would be bizarre to stop eating animals-Heard of any other apex predator doing that? Also, in my opinion, the things that should be taken into account for deciding how to kill animals for our consumption are price and practicality.
Anyway, I don't mind if a particular person chooses not to eat a certain food or has an objection to a section of industry, as long as they don't keep on bothering others about it.
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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby Squeely » November 26th, 2016, 12:15 pm

From a moral standpoint, I don't really think it's right to be killing animals for food. These are thinking, feeling animals and I'm sure their lives are cut short more often than not to get meat, as I doubt we only kill cows when they hit old age.

That said, there isn't anything that can be done about it for the time being. The majority of people eat meat, so gotta meet demand with supply. I'm sure there are ample regulations and whatnot in place to make sure this happens as cruelty-free as possible, at least for any farm you could consider large. It's depressing to think about, at least for me, but it's a part of how the world works and won't be going away anytime soon. No amount of radical veganism can change that. Anyone who tries to force vegetarianism or veganism on others is a fool.

Good news is, I have seen a video that showed meat made from stem cells. I'm pretty sure it was indeed confirmed true. It would be a great thing, as farmers would need less cows and pigs, which means less animals for the farmer to pay for and take care of, and no animals needing to die. It would presumably also mean way more food can be produced, possibly with veggies too. But it's such a new technology that I'm doubtful we'll see it implemented within our lifetime. I'm sure the costs associated with such a thing would be quite high at this point, not to mention farmers would have to adapt to a whole new way of doing things. I don't remember the specifics of it, but there would probably be a lot of steps and problems with trying to implement it, beyond the ones I've mentioned. But it is hope for the distant future.
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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby Elton John » November 26th, 2016, 1:34 pm

I thought humans were omnivores....not carnivores.... able to eat/digest plants and meat

Anyway, half of all vegans I have met were dude tried to convince me that lions could survive on vegetation.

The other half were really nice people. First vegan I met was really nice and down to earth and a good friend.

I am against killing and eating endangered animals. As far as fish/chickens/cows/pigs go I am against raising and killing them in unethical ways.
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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby KopsTheTerminator » November 26th, 2016, 4:51 pm

I don't object to eating meat personally, I do hate some awful slaughterhouse conditions though and think livestock should be treated humanely. We're the only animal on earth intelligent enough to have a sense of morality and I personally think that makes us obligated to respect what we kill for food.

"I buy cage-free eggs because the chickens can roam around and it's better for them"

Huh, what's the reason for this bullcrap by the way? If you listed it already in your post I must have missed it.

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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby FireAndSun » November 26th, 2016, 6:17 pm

I do admit I eat meat. I don't have the willpower for vegetarianism. I sometimes wish I did, but I don't. Take that how you will. I don't think eating meat is necessarily a horrible moral evil. Humans are omnivores, and we get some vital nutrients from animal products that we could not function without otherwise. However, I'm not opposed to veganism/vegetarianism. It's a perfectly viable, and often more healthy option now. However, for some people, especially in the poorer parts of the world, eating meat is simply a part of survival. Humans have always eaten meat in some capacity. We have evidence of meat eating and hunting by human ancestors going back at least 2.5 million years. It's not new, and it will likely always continue in some capacity. However, I do think the current way modern developed nations consume meat, the U.S. especially, is both unsustainable and largely unethical. People don't need to eat so much meat, too many animals are being treated horribly, and it's contributing to other issues like antibiotic resistance. How we create and consume our food is important. More care needs to go into it for the benefit of all.

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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby Azdgari » November 27th, 2016, 4:50 am

Great post, interesting topic! I am monstrously unqualified compared to you, but sometimes fresh perspective can yield fresh insight. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself… Anyway, I had some knee-jerk responses to your paragraph there in the middle about necessity.

And I think it is important for us to remember, as well - farming is not like making cars, or TVs, or fancy handbags. It's not a luxury, it's literally a necessity.

So my thought is this; is it really not a luxury? Let’s not conflate agriculture as a whole with farming of meat here. For many in the developed world, it’s completely feasible logistically, nutritionally, and economically to survive on a vegetarian diet. In that context, eating meat is by definition a luxury.

Even in America and other developed nations, there are plenty who go hungry...

I find this rather specious. People don’t go hungry in the developed world because we’re rationing scarce food-resources. Hunger in the developed world is 99.9% (made up statistic, but you take my point) based off of economic hardship, not a lack of food on the macro scale. I think (or hope) very few vegetarians are saying "damn those sub-Saharan African meat-eating murderers!", it's more about people in the developed world who have a choice and choose meat.

So perhaps a good question is this: in a developed country, for those of us with the resources to sustain ourselves on non-meat diets, is there an ethical impetus to do so? Because I think (and I welcome your input here) that many livestock, especially in large-scale (industrial as you refer to it) farming, live pretty ‘net-negative’ lives, per the perspectives of many exposés you’ve mentioned. I would be curious if you think that conditions where animals never see light, can’t turn around, etc. are in fact ‘unethical’ or ‘inhumane’ if we're only doing it to satisfy a 'luxury' need for meat. Indeed, is it ethical even regardless of the conditions to kill animals unnecessarily?

I feel that in some of your rhetoric you may overdramatize, at least in the developed world, the dire necessity of farming meat for survival. But please, educate me! Especially on the industrial farming bit. As I said before, I'm pretty ignorant on the topic and these are just rapid-fire thoughts meant to stir the pot, as it were.
Last edited by Azdgari on November 27th, 2016, 4:56 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby KopsTheTerminator » November 27th, 2016, 4:52 am

Azd I just love hearing your opinions too much, just saying. :P

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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby Azdgari » November 27th, 2016, 4:58 am

Kops wrote:Azd I just love hearing your opinions too much, just saying. :P

Haha, thanks! Right back at you, I was just about to edit in a bit complementing your perspective about how having morality might make us obligated to behave morally, to paraphrase... deeply interesting thought!
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Re: Animal Agriculture & Factory Farms

Postby Gaze » November 27th, 2016, 5:13 am

this is a topic I've thought about and read about a LOT in my life - not quite as often as I used to, but it does still come up quite a bit for me. I'm just going to say my thoughts on the issue as they come to me, without providing sources because I'm tired rn and these words are the product of lots of thought and research I can't necessarily remember all the origins of, but I'm always open to revisiting sources or being given new material to read!

well, to start -- one of my biggest flaws is that I just can't eat vegetables.....they literally freak me out. I'll eat raw carrots and raw celery, and I'll eat any tomato-related product as long as there are no 'chunks' in it. but beyond that I'm more or less so grossed out by the texture of vegetables that I get anxiety at the thought of eating them. it's a huge inconvenience and I'm trying to get to a place where I can work on it. I'm starting by frequently ordering a soup we have at work that has cooked carrots and celery in it, and I'm still not at a point where I can eat them without feeling a little freaked out, but I'm trying. LOL it's pathetic, but yeah, I eat animal products and carbs practically exclusively.

that being said, I don't believe that this is morally justifiable for me as an individual. my own anxiety and my reliance on food as a coping mechanism prevents me from changing my diet for the time-being, but it's something I'd love to do if I can become driven enough.
the consumption of animal products is SO deeply ingrained into our society (and just about any other society you can think of) that it's a super complex issue. never black and white. there are circumstances where an individual might literally be unable to become vegan or vegetarian. perhaps other individuals think they can't, but they actually would be able to. maybe veganism or vegetarianism would cause a huge clash with an individual's culture - for example, you can bet I'll be rolling my eyes at you if you go track down an Inuit person, who comes from a culture whose diet traditionally relies almost completely on meat, and try to 'convert' them. it's just way more complex than that.

but for me, as an individual? I don't have any sort of medical reason to rely on animal products. it wouldn't be a money issue for me to cut out animal products - I know plenty of very poor vegans. there's no need to constantly buy expensive vegan alternative products, but besides, the area I live in has numerous resources that could allow me to get alternatives at discounted prices or maybe even for free. meat and cheese are probably the most expensive things I buy when I go grocery shopping anyway, and I waste tons of money on fast food that I wouldn't be able to eat if I were vegan.

so that's a decision I have made FOR MYSELF - I can't justify eating animals or products derived from them and I acknowledge that me continuing to do so is selfish and the result of a lack of self control. I'm not hard on myself for that, and I know there are reasons that I keep eating animal products. reasons why it would be difficult for me to quit it. I think it's perfectly possible to be self-aware about things like this in a way that isn't self-destructive. I'm not interested in going around and making other people in similar positions feel bad or feel pressured to 'change their ways,' but I can't help but find it irritating when people literally refuse to show any empathy to animals or question the morality of their actions.

for the most part, I'm in support of "angry vegans." reading their words has broadened my mind quite a bit. generally, anyone who is deemed "angry" when passionately advocating for something they believe in is almost instantly discredited. I find that unfair, and over the years have worked on getting past the defensive feeling that bubbles up when faced with anger. I think that if someone responds to something in a very passionate way, there is a reason for that and it's unlikely to be an irrational reason. anger shows the urgency of a person's message. people don't like anger because they feel 'attacked,' but if you back away and stop seeing anger as a personal attack, I think it can be extremely humbling. picking and choosing who you'll listen to about an important topic based on how easily you can stomach their emotions is more limiting than a lot of people realize, I think.....I've learned a lot by trying to avoid becoming defensive and allowing myself to really analyze why I think or do certain things and why those action might be causing harm in some way.

so generally I find it extremely irritating how often vegan activism is regarded as 'crazy' or irrational. veganism is the result of empathy.... however there's no doubt that a lot of activism is misguided - classism and racism being the biggest issues. I think it's so important to consider the way animal products are embedded into certain cultures, and to respect that it would take an extreme cultural shift to undo that. to consider that food costs and the accessibility of food can vary depending upon a person's location and economic situation. to consider that animal products are used so much in unhealthy foods w/ an addictive nature and that those foods are sometimes easiest for poor people to eat (for example, someone who has to work multiple jobs and has literally no time to cook may often have no choice but to quickly pick something up at McDonald's).
it does seem to me, though, that some non-vegans are way too eager to point these things out so as to discredit vegan activists. not because they care about all the people who are in situations where they can't stop eating animal products, but because they don't want to feel guilt for their dietary choices. why is the typical response to completely shut down the idea of veganism, rather than exploring ways that veganism could be made more accessible? the second option seems more productive to me. as I mentioned, many vegans I know and respect a lot are poor and come from poor families, so a lot of the time it is possible to have productive discussions on how to make veganism accessible to someone who doesn't have a lot of money.

the moral issues are what matter most to me, but the environmental and health reasons for cutting out animal products are quite interesting too. I don't have as much to say on those, but I've seen so many people who become vegan, even if they're initially skeptical about it, and are completely amazed at the massive difference it makes in their health. I can't say that I care about or prioritize my own personal health very much, but I would be interested to observe for myself these differences.
reminds me that I was reading a really great book this past week about the 1993 Jack in the Box E. coli outbreak, which served as a great reminder about the importance of food safety and really illustrated how negligence in the beef industry (and similar industries) can happen and has happened, with tragic effects.

I generally dislike talking about "agendas" because pretty much any viewpoint on any topic could be seen as an "agenda." sure, you could say a vegan person has an agenda, but why can't someone who is very invested in the wellbeing of agricultural industries have an agenda too? for me personally, no evidence to support the idea that "slaughterhouses aren't that bad" could really have an effect on me. I just think there is no justification whatsoever for killing living creatures en masse and treating them as objects to be used for our own gain. if you were to go out and hunt your own meat and only eat that --- I can respect and understand both arguments. I can see why it's morally justifiable to eat meat you hunted yourself, and why it isn't morally justifiable. but slaughtering animals on a production line, artificially inseminating them for the production of milk, breeding them so more and more can be born into lives of suffering and fear....they may not be humans who think they same way we do, but no creature deserves that IMO. however I understand that has become a really normal part of our lives, and hearing about it isn't horribly shocking to most people. I find that I have to really sit for a second and deeply think about the implications of factory farming to fully immerse myself in how awful and evil it is, because it's just SO normalized that it is difficult to be shocked by it. it always takes some reflection to get to the point of shock.
I assume that must be a big part of how one becomes vegan and stays vegan. I guess you must really need to internalize these things, to get to a point where you can't even eat animal products because you're too repulsed by them. the same way most people wouldn't eat a plate of human meat set before them, or wouldn't be able to calmly sit by an allow another human to be physically abused. given the way we get our food and have gotten our food for so long, I can only assume how extremely difficult it must be to truly internalize the idea that factory farming (or the consumption of animal products as a whole) is repulsive.

I think I've already typed too much, but yeah, just some of my stream of consciousness thoughts on the whole thing. I guess pro-vegan opinions are often dismissed as being too emotional but I personally think it's a damn shame that emotions are viewed as irrational and illogical, and I think the emotional pull to respect living things really has some worth. just a super complicated topic and I don't know how to concisely put all my thoughts down on the table. at the end of the day, given how incredibly difficult or downright impossible it would be to somehow make the majority of the population cut down significantly on animal products, or completely cut them out, I see veganism as an ultimately personal and individual decision that can ultimately have an impact towards the 'greater good'. when I first initally began questioning my own consumption of animal products, and gaining a desire to become vegan in the future, I found that the concept of "non-participation in anything you believe is evil" resonated with me a lot and I still find it quite valuable

last minute edit --- while I've been wasting so much time writing this long post, Azdgari wrote something so much more thoughtful, concise, and intelligent. LOL. great insight!
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