Our hearts and minds are big enough to care about people as well as animals. Even if our life’s work is spent caring for orphans, fighting for gender equality or campaigning on behalf of oppressed peoples, we can still care for animals simply by not eating them. We don’t have to do anything more than that.
Besides, social justice movements are all connected in their goal of ending suffering, oppression and exploitation. And they are also connected by the great people who work for a kinder world across several issues.
Consider William Wilberforce, the English politician renowned for his commitment to ending slavery. He also campaigned for prison reform, political reform, to improve workers’ conditions and he gave generously to charities that fed the poor. No one could accuse him of not dedicating his life to ending the suffering of people. But he also founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which was the world’s first animal protection group. He cared about both.
And then take his counterpart in the US, Henry Bergh who founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. He also founded a Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children. He cared about both.
What about Frances Power Cobbe, a leading suffragist and an anti-vivisection campaigner? Or Annie Besant, who campaigned for women’s and workers’ rights, and was also vegetarian? History is full of people who cared deeply enough for people and animals to do their very best for both.
The same is true for vegans today. Being vegan does not hinder us from caring for people. Far from it. If anything, research suggests that vegetarians and vegans are more empathetic than omnivores, and their compassion extends across a broad spectrum of social justice issues.
There isn’t an agreed optimal order in which we should tackle these issues: the women first, the planet second, the hungry third, those who can’t afford a summer house fourth, and so on, until right at the bottom of the list comes animals. We’d never get social progress if that was the case. No, there is a better way; stand up for the oppressed and show compassion at every opportunity.
While we may feel powerless to end wars, topple dictators and rid the world of bigotry and hatred, the one thing we absolutely can change is the suffering caused by animal farming and slaughter. We can tackle that issue every day, at every meal, and to benefit animals we need do no more than that.
And while we’re cutting animal products out of our diets, we are helping people, too, by reducing the damage of climate change, by reducing the amount of land being cleared for animal agriculture, by freeing up feed to be fed directly to hungry people, and by not supporting the wanton use of antibiotics that could kill us all.