What would you do if you found out that everything you’ve been told since you were a child was a lie? A lie powerful enough to manipulate you into taking part in horrific and barbaric acts; to alter your perception so severely that murder appears mundane, and compassion becomes extreme.
What would you do if you found out that everything you know, everything you believe, everything you’ve been told since you were a child was a lie?
And not just any lie, but one carefully crafted, finely tuned, expertly executed, and deliberately designed with the express purpose of assuring you that wrong was right, that bad was good, and that violence was love.
A lie powerful enough to manipulate you into taking part in horrific and barbaric acts you’d otherwise find appalling. Powerful enough to wash blood from your hands; to alter your perception so severely that murder appears mundane and compassion becomes extreme. [tweet this]
Hello, my name is Emily Moran Barwick. I’m an animal liberation activist, an artist, an educator and a vegan. I created BiteSizeVegan.org, where I educate people about veganism through a wide array of video styles—from humorous parodies, to detailed academic reports, to interviews with physicians and athletes, to videos for kids – while covering a diverse range of subjects.
In our time together today, I’m very likely going to challenge some of your life-long beliefs. I’m going to ask you to set your preconceptions aside and try to look at the ordinary with a fresh set of eyes.
I am aware that this is a great deal to ask of you, especially coming from a total stranger. I’m asking for your trust when I haven’t even earned it. But believe it or not, I am not here to force my beliefs upon you. Or to make you vegan. I won’t pretend to have that power. And no one really makes any lasting change through force anyway.
I’m simply here to show you what is really going on every second of every day all around the world behind closed doors. To present evidence—for your consideration—that things may not be as they appear.
Undoing a life-long belief is no easy task. But in order to make informed decisions, to look ourselves in the mirror and ask if we are truly living the values we purport to have, we must know the truth. We must educate ourselves about what is really going on, not rely on what we’ve been taught. We must make decisions based on facts, not fantasy.
I’ll want to preface this talk by saying that I’m going to be transparent with you and I’ll even tell you if I don’t know something. I’ll also be providing citations throughout this post for every fact I state, along with a bibliography below so that you can dig deeper as I’ll only be able to scratch the surface in this brief window of time we have together.
So let’s get started. Veganism is viewed as an extreme way of living. [tweet this] Vegans do not eat, wear, or use anything that came from someone else’s body. We don’t eat meat, drink milk or eat cheese. We don’t consume eggs or honey. We don’t wear leather, wool, silk, or down. We don’t use products that were tested on animals or contain byproducts from their slaughter. And we don’t attend circuses, zoos, aquariums, or any other event that exploits living beings for our entertainment and pleasure.
From the outside, such rigorous exclusions and avoidances can easily appear extreme. But remember today is about challenging appearances and assumptions of extremism and normality. Today is a lesson in unlearning.
And what better way to unlearn than to start our journey at the end and work our way back to the beginning? And what better way to question what’s accepted as good and normal than with something as wholesome and every day as a glass of milk?
The source of milk is no big secret: it comes from cows. But that’s about as far back as most people trace milk’s journey to our refrigerated grocery case.
Most of us grow up thinking that cows are made to be milked. We may think they have a constant supply of milk and even that they need to be milked to relieve the pressure.
Well let’s look at this critically for a moment. Cows are mammals, just like us. And mammals produce milk for one reason: to feed their babies. Cows carry their babies for 9 months, just like we do, they lactate to feed their babies, just like we do, and after weaning, they stop producing milk, just like we do.
So in order to have a constant supply of cow’s milk for human consumption, we need a constant supply of pregnant cows. In the dairy industry, cows are repeatedly inseminated, which is a nice word for raped. The restraining apparatus used to secure the cows is literally referred to within the dairy industry, at least in America, as a “rape rack”, so this isn’t a term dreamed up by vegans activists.
Once a cow gives birth, we face another roadblock to our milk’s journey. Babies, after all, drink their mother’s milk. So to make sure there’s constant supply of milk for us, the babies must be taken away soon after birth. This is precisely what occurs in the dairy industry. If the calf is a male, he is sent to a veal farm where he is tied down, unable to move, or locked in a cage where he cannot even turn around until he’s slaughtered while still only a few weeks old. Veal, an industry that even many meat-eaters oppose, wouldn’t exist without dairy. Every cup of yogurt, every scoop of ice cream and every glass of milk is directly connected to the deaths of those baby calves.
But we’re not quite done tracing milk’s path to our cereal bowls. While the slaughter of babies is certainly horrific enough, we cannot forget the mothers left behind. Cows bond intensely with their calves and will cry out for days when they are taken. When residents of Newbury, MA called the police to report disturbing noises emanating from the Sunshine Dairy farm at all hours of the day and night, the police explained that the mother cows were “lamenting the separation from their calves”—but not to worry as “the cows are not in distress and that the noises are a normal part of farming practices.”
The bodies of dairy cows generally give out at age 4 or 5 and they are regarded as “spent”, despite their natural lifespan of 20 years or more. They’re sent to slaughter for cheap meat and pet food, deemed unfit for human consumption. At the slaughterhouse, many of these mothers face their final and most brutal separation from yet another child. While formal statistics are difficult to obtain as most studies focus on the economic cost of “fetal wastage”, accounts range from approximately 10% to 70% of cows arrive at the slaughterhouse pregnant.
In fact there are entire industries that rely upon the slaughter of pregnant animals. A wide array of scientific experiments use what’s called fetal serum from a range of animals, with bovine fetal serum being the most widely utilized. Bovine fetal serum is obtained by cutting a living fetus out of the mother’s womb, piercing the heart and draining the blood. The process can take up to 35 minutes while the fetal calf remains alive.
But this most horrific and final separation of mother and child was just the last in a cycle of pregnancy after pregnancy and loss after loss. In addition to this extreme psychological and emotional trauma, the physical demands of repeated milkings and the crowded and unsanitary living conditions lead to frequent infections and sores.
Dairy cows are pumped full of antibiotics and growth hormones, all of which seep into their milk. In fact, there’s an official number of pus cells allowed in milk, euphemistically referred to as the “somatic cell count.” In the United States, around 22 million [22,177,500] pus cells are allowed per single fluid ounce of milk [750,000 cells/mL], with global allowable limits ranging from just under 12 million [11,828,000 cells/fl. oz. in Canada & the EU (400,000 cells/mL)] to 29.5 million cells/fl.oz. in Brazil [1,000,000 cells/mL].
When we push onwards through to our dairy cow’s beginning, back past the first pregnancy, before she became the broken, hollowed-out shell eventually collapsing under the insane demands of her short life, we come to her birth. The moment she emerges into the world, wide-eyed and brand new. The moment she’s taken from her own mother.
You see we talked about what happened to the male calves who are sent off for veal. Well the daughters of the dairy industry are still separated from their mothers. But they’re kept around to take their mother’s place and keep the money machine going. Keep the milk flowing. So that in every grocery store, every corner shop, every gas station, will be sure to stock this wholesome, normalized, entirely ordinary product.
The animal products we perceive as mundane, when reverse engineered, reveal a perversely complex and, to put it lightly, ethically challenging, journey from genesis through processing and production to the end product. That is to say, from the animals’ birth, through confinement, abuse, slaughter and denigration of corpses to the shiny, happy, store-ready products we literally eat up without even a single thought as to what the animals went through.
We are being sold the pus-filled ultimate outcome of rape, enslavement, kidnapping, abuse, disease, torture, infanticide, and murder—whitewashed into an image of wholesome nutrition. As vegan activist Gary Yourofsky has said, it’s the greatest magic trick ever performed. [tweet this]
And people say veganism is extreme.
Unfortunately—or perhaps you may feel fortunately—we don’t have time to take this reverse journey in such depth with all of the products we create from living beings. But let’s at least take an abridged look at another seemingly harmless item. One consumed all over the world and with which most Americans start their day. One lovingly mixed into baked goods for birthdays and other special occasions. One decorated in celebration of peace and new life. The incredible, edible egg.
Like milk, the source of eggs is clear: they come from chickens. Unlike milk, chickens do not have to be impregnated to supply them. But anytime we make a living being into a machine, a supplier of inventory, the bottom line will always be profit. And increasing profit means increasing output and increasing efficiency.
Just like the mothers of dairy, the bodies of layer hens give out prematurely from the extreme demands of production. Hens lose vital nutrients every time their body forms an egg. Every aspect of their lives is regulated ensure maximum output. From controlling their laying cycles with days and days of persistent light followed by long periods of complete darkness, to starving them for weeks at a time in an effort to force yet another egg cycle from their worn out bodies, a process benignly referred to as “induced molting”, to outright manipulation of their very genetic makeup.
We’ve optimized our machines, you see, and bred one kind of chicken for meat and another kind for eggs. Because of this, the egg industry produces millions if not a billion unwanted male baby chicks every year. Just like male dairy calves, who are unable to produce milk, male layer chicks can’t lay eggs. So they are of no use.
To “dispose of” – as they say – these baby chicks, they are either painfully gassed, slowly suffocated in plastic bags, or they are ground up alive, referred to as maceration within the industry. We’re talking about the cute fluffy yellow baby chicks we adore come Easter time.
This is standard practice all around the world, with the United States and European Union specifying that chicks must be less than 72 hours old when they are killed. They are not even granted three days of life.
The sisters of the egg industry’s discarded sons get to live out their short lives in cramped battery cages, unable to even extend their wings. Of course nowadays we hear about the rise of free-range and cage-free facilities. But in truth, the only comfort these labels bring is to our own conscience. Cage-free birds are crammed into tiny sheds and have twice the mortality rates of battery caged hens.
Layer hens are generally good for 1 to 3 cycles, each lasting roughly a year. In countries where induced molting (again, the industry term for starvation) is illegal, they’re simply killed around their first birthday.
I hope you are starting to see the power of this lie. Of presenting cruel confinement, starvation, abuse, the barbaric murder of day-old babies and the slaughter of one-year-olds—themselves still children—as something completely normal and kind— packaged in perfect little orbs.
And we have the audacity to decorate them in celebration of new life. To fawn over the very chicks who were ground up alive for their production. To mix them into treats for our children and loved ones. To start our day with the products of abject misery and call it “sunny side up.” We might as well start our day by throwing chicks in a blender
We could spend all week reverse-engineering the paths of the seemingly endless number of animal-derived products we encounter on a regular basis. In fact Dutch artist Christien Meindertsma spent 3 years tracing and cataloguing all of the products made from a single pig: PIG 05049.
Which brings us to the next layer of our collective self-deception: the systematic erasure of individual identity. You see this is where the lie is most vulnerable. Because beneath the years of indoctrination, we still believe ourselves to be animal lovers. We go to the movies and root for Babe the pig, cheer for the chickens of Chicken Run, and pull for Nemo the fish to find his way back to his father. Then we go home and eat bacon and eggs and make chicken fingers and fish sticks for the kids.
The only way to maintain this most glaring dissonance, this duality of our professed values and our daily actions, is to ensure that the animals we eat and use have no names, no faces, no identities. So we give them inventory numbers.
We brand them with hot irons or freeze their skin off. We tattoo and tag them, inject electronic transponders under their skin, or strap them to their necks or ankles. We even give them barcodes. The important thing is that they are clearly identified as property. And that they are treated as such. Because as soon as we see them as individuals, we threaten the very foundation of the lie upon which we so desperately depend. [tweet this]
If their bodies don’t conform to our desires, we alter them at will. Baby pigs have their teeth cut out, their ears notched, their tails cut off and their testicles ripped out, all without anesthetic. Chickens, turkeys and other birds in the meat and egg industries have their sensitive beaks cut or seared off. Cows have their horns cut or burned off and are also castrated without anesthetic.
And with some of our most impressive mental gymnastics, which would be admirable if it weren’t so horrific, we say this barbaric mutilation, this conversion of living beings from someONES to someTHINGS is for their own good.
Because if we don’t clip their teeth or cut their beaks or slice off their tails, they’ll attack and chew on each other. What we fail to mention, is that these behaviors are stress responses to confinement in overly-crowded, insanity-inducing conditions. That if we didn’t put them in these abusive conditions, they wouldn’t react the way they do.
But we humans love to play the role of savior in the disasters of our own creation. We swoop in to milk the cow and relieve the painful pressure of her swollen udder. Pressure that wouldn’t exist had we not taken her child away.
And to top it all off, we amass mountains of paperwork, conduct thousands of studies, spend untold amounts of money, form governmental, institutional and industry panels, all to decide, define and decree the right way to kill.
You can pour through the documents from the USDA, or the European Union, or any country for that matter, to learn the legal speak that makes taking the life of a living being acceptable. And you don’t have to look too far to start finding caveats and loopholes. Religious slaughter without any form of stunning gets a pass. Birds and fish are excluded from humane slaughter regulations, the very name of which is a perfect embodiment of our desperate attempt to simultaneously be animal lovers and animal killers. To be their protectors and tormentors.
I mean it really is absurd when we step back and think about it. Do we have manuals on how to humanely rape? Or how to compassionately kidnap? Or ethically rob? Of course not because those are oxymorons. They cannot coexist. But when it comes to killing animals, we will bend over backwards and create massive paper trails of regulations to feel good about what we are doing.
Again, I must ask, is veganism really the extreme choice here?
Look at what we have to go through to make eating animals acceptable.
At this point in the speech I play a video of worldwide undercover footage with the following lead-in (at 20:21 in the video above):
Before we move into issues of the environment and health impacts of diet, I’m going to play brief video. The portions of the footage where the location is known will be labeled as such. But it doesn’t mean that the same thing isn’t happening in other parts of the world. I trimmed down hours of footage into a 4-minute clip.
It will not be pleasant, but I’d implore you to watch anyway. You can’t make an informed decision without having all the facts. If you feel you must turn away, I’d just ask you to think on the question: “If I can’t watch process, do I have a right to eat the product?”
(The footage may be viewed starting at 20:55 and ending at 23:55.
What follows is the continuation of my speech after the footage has concluded)
In my years of being vegan and speaking with many, many non-vegans, I have yet to ever hear one reason that even comes close to justifying putting a sentient being through what we just saw. Not one.
You cannot watch that and say that the animals we kill for our food don’t know any better. That they die peacefully and humanely. They can sense the fear. They can smell the blood. And they fight. They fight to the end.
And you can’t say that it’s happening in some far away place because it’s happening all over the world. The CO2 chambers you saw – those were the medieval devices lowering pigs to an extraordinarily painful death of burning from the inside out—that is seen as the most humane method of slaughtering pigs.
It’s employed worldwide, including here in the United States.
I know I’ve focused rather exclusively thus far on the ethical truths behind the mask of normality. But the wake of our destruction is littered with far more than the trillions of beings we kill every year.
The environmental, health and social impact of what we put in our mouth is astounding. There is no way I’ll be able to cover these areas today in the depth they deserve, so I encourage you to refer to the resource page I’ll be leaving with you.
But let’s try to take a bird’s eye view of our impact on this planet. When it comes to the environment, we hear about conserving water, cutting down on emissions, halting deforestation. Environmental protection agencies encourage us to take shorter showers, carpool or ride our bikes, go paperless and recycle more. Our governments hold international conferences to address climate change and seek solutions.
All the while the single most devastating force behind our planet’s environmental collapse remains not only unspoken, but actually actively denied by the very organizations charged with saving our planet.
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change. It’s responsible for up to 51 percent of GHG emissions compared to the 13 percent of all global transportation. It uses a third of the earth’s fresh water, up to 45 percent of the Earth’s land, is responsible for 91 percent of Amazon rainforest destruction with 1-2 acres cleared every second. It is also a leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, and habitat destruction.
The efforts we make to recycle and take shorter showers are rather insignificant in comparison. Accounting for variation in production system, the global average water footprint for a single pound of beef is 1,847 gallons/lb, with numbers ranging all the way to 8,000 gallons/lb.
Of course weight doesn’t necessarily mean sustenance. Still, global averages show that “when viewed from a caloric standpoint, the water footprint of animal products is larger than for crop products” with “the average water footprint per calorie for beef [being] twenty times larger than for cereals and starchy roots.”
And with protein being one of the greatest nutrition concerns for people considering veganism, it’s worth noting that “the water footprint per gram of protein for milk, eggs and chicken meat is about 1.5 times larger than for pulses”  with beef’s being 6 times larger. Leading to the conclusion that “it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animal products.” 
But we don’t really need studies to tell us that eating animals requires more energy input and creates more waste than eating plants. How can it not?
Eating animals is incredibly inefficient. We are filtering our nutrients, our water, our resources, through someone else’s body. Globally, we’re feeding close to 40% of our grain to our food animals. How can that not be worse for the environment than simply eating the plants ourselves? The United States alone could feed 800 million people with the grain we feed to our livestock. That’s more than the estimated 795 million people going hungry in the world today. 98% of the massive water footprint for animal agriculture we just covered goes to growing feed crops for the animals we eat.
I’m not suggesting that a global shift to veganism will automatically result in the proper redistribution of our crops to those in need, nor address the issue of unnecessary food wastage, but it’s the only way we can have enough food to feed everyone.
This is where many people point to small, local farms, and sustainable practices. Like grass fed beef. Or free-range eggs.
The thing is, we don’t have the land. There’s simply not enough land for the number of animals we eat every year. The amount of land that it takes to produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based foods will only yield 375 pounds of meat.
The land required to feed 1 vegan for 1 year is 1/6th acre. It takes 3 times as much for a vegetarian, meaning someone who consumes dairy and eggs but no meat, and 18 times as much for a meat-eater.
You can grow 15 times more protein on any given area of land with plants versus animals. On top of all of that, studies show that pasture-raised cows emit 40-60% more greenhouse gases than grain-fed.
I could talk about the environmental cost of animal agriculture all day and we would only just be scratching the surface.
I do want to speak briefly to fishing and ocean health before moving on. I produced a 17-minute video report encompassing the most recent research on the state of our oceans, which you can refer to, but I’ll try to summarize some main takeaways.
Whether you eat fish and marine life or not, this matter impacts all of us. The ocean, or rather the phytoplankton within the ocean, provides somewhere between 50 and 80% of our oxygen and the oceans ecosystems store carbon in massive quantities.
Since we tend to go for the biggest fish first, only 10% of predatory fish species remain, which could leave the unchecked species to feed on the ocean’s vegetation releasing the stored carbon. If we lost just 1% of these blue carbon ecosystems, it would be equivalent to releasing the annual greenhouse gas emissions of Australia.
We pull 90-100 million tonnes of fish from our oceans each year with some sources even estimating 150 million tonnes. There is no way for the marine populations to replenish themselves.
As I said earlier, land-based animal agriculture is the leading cause of ocean dead zones, which are areas in the ocean starved of oxygen such that marine life suffocates and dies.
So the animals we are raising for food on land are killing the animals we are ripping from the ocean. And to add a further layer of perversity, we are feeding the fish we catch to the cows, pigs, chicken, and other land animals and to the fish we farm.
And people think veganism is extreme? When humanity is decimating habitats, consuming land and resources, polluting the oceans, destroying the rainforest, driving species after species into extinction, feeding plants that we could eat to animals and feeding other animals to animals that aren’t supposed to eat animals, all so that we can eventually eat the animals ourselves.
But of course as a consumer, we don’t see the trail. We see the pretty packages and sleek advertising. We see these ordinary, innocent, every day products. And we find comfort in the fact that most people eat the way we do; that most people don’t seem to be concerned. And we continue to believe the lie that this is the way it’s supposed to be.
Ethics aside, we have environmentally reached the point beyond personal choice–beyond “you eat how you want to eat and I’ll eat how I want to eat.” This is a global crisis and it’s not about you or me anymore.
We say that children are our future but what future can they have when we are eating the planet to death? The world cannot sustain meat, dairy and egg production. It simply can’t. We have to start aligning our actions with our values.
I’m going to speak very briefly to the impact that animal consumption has on our health.
We take drugs by the truckload, undergo dangerous surgeries, spend trillions of dollars on health care every year, in our stubborn refusal to acknowledge the simple fact that diet is the number one cause of disability and premature death. That the vast majority of deaths in the United States are entirely preventable if we would simply change the way we eat.
The denial of this truth is so pervasive, our desire to maintain the system we’ve constructed so strong, that only one quarter of medical schools in the United States teach even a single course in nutrition. The doctors in whose hands we place our very lives aren’t even educated in the number one cause of disease and death in our country.
Heart disease, the number one killer in the United States, is a dietary disease that can be and has been reversed with a vegan, plant-based diet. But instead we take handfuls of medications and have doctors crack open our chests to roto-rooter our arteries rather than stop eating animals. After all, a vegan diet is too extreme, right?
Once we look at it objectively, from the outside, our behavior is baffling.
We serve meat, dairy and eggs at climate change conferences, supporting and consuming the very source of the problem that the conference was created to address.
We train doctors to save lives with years of expensive education covering every drug on the market while never addressing the true cause of disease.
We run our resources and nutrition through someone else’s body, squandering astronomical amounts of food and water and creating an astounding amount of waste.
We genetically manipulate, breed, confine, abuse, rape, torture, denigrate, mechanize, and murder sentient individuals under our self-created codes of conduct that bring comfort to consumers.
All to avoid facing the fact that we are living the greatest lie ever told.
But here’s the good news. We have the power to open our eyes. We have the choice to break the cycle and refuse to sell this lie to the next generation.
To realize that veganism, far from being an extreme lifestyle, is the most sane and rational way to live. It’s the most powerful tool we have for saving our planet, for improving our health when we eat health-consciously, and for regaining our compassion- for becoming the people we believe ourselves to be: Good people.
And good people don’t destroy the planet, leaving our children without a future. Good people don’t throw newborn babies into grinders. Good people don’t rip day old babies away from their mothers. Good people don’t rape, torture and murder. Yet “good people” everywhere are doing all of these things with every bite of every meal.
But that’s the beauty here. You no longer have to buy into the lie. You decide what goes into your body. You decide whether you want to continue to have others kill for you. You decide whether you want to continue consuming death, terror, and heartbreak. You have the information at your feet. The responsibility now lies in your hands. You decide. And my hope is, you’ll decide to go vegan.
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— Emily Moran Barwick