Seeing someone pose for photos next to the body of a dead animal can make people feel really, really angry — but not every time.
When images went viral of Tess Thompson Talley sitting with the corpse of an 18-year-old giraffe she had shot in South Africa, outrage erupted online. She was condemned explosively, described as “disgusting”, “vile” and worse, and accused of being “selfish”.
As a vegan, I find this anger understandable — I hate any exploitation of animals. But maybe that’s also why I think the outrage is laced with such hypocrisy. We can scroll through the same social media feeds any day of the week and find other people posting photos of their spaghetti bolognese or smiling with their chicken wings as they have a “cheeky” Nandos.
In that context, photos of people posing next to dead animals are greeted not with hatred, but with “likes”.
In both cases, animals were killed for the enjoyment of humans. Why are the killings of 70,000 animals each year by trophy hunters greeted with outrage and fury, but the killings of 70 billion farm animals slaughtered for meat each year not?
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that killing animals for meat is the same as killing for sport. No; in many ways it’s actually worse to kill for meat.
Firstly, a typical meat eater causes the deaths of over 50 animals each year; far fewer than a typical trophy hunter kills.
Also, animals killed by hunters have usually enjoyed years of freedom before their horrific deaths. In contrast, the animals people usually eat for dinner endure short, painful and unhealthy lives before being slaughtered in bulk.
Very short lives – chickens raised for meat are slaughtered at between 21 and 170 days, beef cows are ready for slaughter at between one and two years old, and pigs are killed at five or six months old. You’re basically eating babies.
Morally speaking, I see no difference between killing a pig or a giraffe or a cat or a sheep. Once you’ve stopped eating meat, the double standard is clear and denying it seems insane.
I have friends who eat meat and they scramble and stutter as they try to explain the “big difference” between eating a cow and a horse, for example. They point to the fact that some hunted animals are endangered species, as if murder is only tragic if it’s committed against a member of an endangered group. By this strange reckoning, it would be better to kill a human than a sea otter.
Most people like to think they are animal lovers and at the same time they don’t like to think about the ways they actually contribute to the mistreatment of animals. During the current heat wave, there has been huge concern about dogs being left in hot cars. The RSPCA says it has been “inundated” with calls about such incidents, police are being called to more and more episodes, and social media is awash with anger and concern.
Yet each year, billions of live animals are transported thousands of kilometres without sufficient food, water or rest. Just last week, activists say they measured temperatures of 31 degrees in a truck transporting sheep in Britain. Can the meat eaters who get angry about dogs in cars not join the dots?
It’s often a nagging sense of guilt about our own behaviour that propels us into outrage when someone else behaves in a similar way but a bit differently. Instead of addressing where we ourselves abuse animals, we yell at others.
Rather than argue about why it’s okay to hurt some species and not others, let’s agree to protect all of them.
Or, to put it another way: if you don’t want animals to be killed, stop paying people to kill animals for you.
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