A life denied, on the road to its bloody end...

© Bernhard Richter / Dreamstime.com

© Bernhard Richter / Dreamstime.com

Through sad eyes, a sentient world

In his remarkable book, "Veganomics", author Nick Cooney succinctly captures one of the last-ditch rationalizations people employ to justify the killing and eating of animals: that non-human creatures do not feel emotion or pain.

“Ask a meat-eater and a vegetarian how intelligent, how emotionally complex, and how sentient a pig is (how much it can feel pleasure and pain), and chances are you’ll get different answers,” Cooney writes. “Especially if you ask around lunchtime.”

Yet the science of pleasure and pain is quite clear: animals feel both.

The limbic system, the primal part of a brain that processes emotion, is present in non-human animals as well as in people. 

And for good reason: emotions provide a survival advantage by signaling when to be cautious (fear) and when to seize opportunity (pleasure). 

Jeffrey Masson, a psychoanalyst and former professor at the University of Toronto, has spent much of his adult life studying the emotional lives of non-human animals. That research formed the basis of his books, "When Elephants Weep," and "The Pig That Sang to the Moon."  Masson found that farm animals have emotional experiences equally as rich and varied as those of cats, dogs, and humans.

"Curious, intelligent, self-reliant — many will find it hard to believe that these attributes describe a pig. They also dream and know their names when called. Mother cows mourn when their calves are taken away. Given a choice between food that is nutritious or lacking in minerals, sheep will select the former, balancing their diet and correcting the deficiency. Goats display quite a sense of humor, dignity, and fearlessness...Chickens are naturally sociable — they will gather around a human companion and preen themselves beside someone they trust...We slaughter and torture them and treat these living beings as if they were no different than pieces of tin, yet they have families, form friendships, love, and yearn every bit as much as we do, in some cases even more." 

- Jeffrey Masson

As Michael Pollan wrote in The New York Times, "To visit a modern CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) is to enter a world that, for all its technological sophistication, is still designed according to Cartesian principles: animals are machines incapable of feeling pain. Since no thinking person can possibly believe this anymore, industrial animal agriculture depends on a suspension of disbelief on the part of people who operate it and a willingness to avert your eyes on the part of everyone else."

Of course, non-human animals cannot be marched into a doctor's office and asked to rank their physical pain on a scale of one to 10. Still, science provides a clear answer to the question of whether non-human animals experience such pain, a finding that shouldn't surprise anyone who has stepped on a cat’s tail or dog’s paw.

“Nociceptive nerves, which preferentially detect injury-causing stimuli, have been identified in a variety of animals, including invertebrates,” wrote Dr. Lynne Sneddon, director of Bioveterinary Science at the University of Liverpool, in an essay for The Welcome Trust. “All vertebrates possess the primitive areas of the brain to process nociceptive information, namely the medulla, thalamus, and limbic system.”

From a Darwinian perspective, the ability of non-human animals to feel physical pain also is adaptive in that it provides a survival advantage by signalling when to take action that promotes healing or avoid danger.

Still have doubts that animals can experience emotional and physical pain?  Watch the following video from Mercy for Animals and decide for yourself:

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite.” 

- Leo Tolstoy

"You have just dined, and however scrupulously the slaughterhouse is concealed in the graceful distance of miles, there is complicity." 

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

© Garćia Juan / Dreamstime.com

© Garćia Juan / Dreamstime.com

"Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight." 

- Albert Schweitzer

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