Maachey bhaatey Bangali may be a common saying here and I’m quite sure most of you are used to having fish, meat and beef as staples in your daily diet. Now who am I to judge as even I love my steaks and burgers (heck I’m currently burger-hunting the best burgers in town). Call me a hypocrite (but aren’t we all?) for trying to sound preachy here, but there are some serious issues that need to be looked at before we go (myself included) for that next burger.
So I decided to meet with Rubaiya Ahmad – the founder of Obhoyaronno – to find out more about the negatives of meat eating, industrialisation of farming, and the primary differences between animal welfare and animal rights.
Rubaiya starts off: “If you think back, we, as primates were not actually designed to be meat eaters. We started eating meat during the ice-age to keep ourselves warm and that too, not three times a day; we did it maybe once or twice a week.”
However, having said that, she also admits, “Humans have been eating meat for so long that this theory is irrelevant (and subject to argument). Whether a person lives a vegetarian lifestyle has less to do with esoteric matters of anatomy and more to do with ethics and personal values.”
She elaborates, “It’s obvious that there are heath issues associated with excess meat eating and meat eating in general: High blood pressure, colon cancer and heart attacks are all results from eating meat. It is true that some of us absolutely love the taste of it but that does not mean that it’s good. Our bodies simply were not designed that way and all that talk about us requiring meat protein is absolutely false because we can get the same nutrients from alternatives such as lentil.”
Now even though I realise that meat is bad for my body, I just won’t suddenly be able to cut meat off of my diet completely. Nor do I honestly care about healthy eating as much, because death is inevitable; some will die earlier than others while some will die a more painful death. But there is another important aspect to take into consideration: the welfare and wellbeing of animals.
“Think of an animal – such as a cow or a chicken – that is part of most of our diets. What life do they have when they are industrially mass produced, given growth hormones, and then sent for slaughter? And what we get is the end product as part of our food, completely ignoring the way in which it came.”
She goes on, “This is where your differences between animal rights and animal welfare comes into play. Animal rights advocates reject all animal use, no matter how humane. The animal welfare philosophy is fundamentally different from the animal rights philosophy, since it endorses the responsible use of animals to satisfy certain human needs. Animal welfare means ensuring that all animals used by humans have their basic needs fulfilled in terms of food, shelter and health, and that they experience no unnecessary suffering in providing for human needs.”
In understanding firmly that she is an animal welfare activist and not an animal rights one, Rubaiya does share common ground with them when she calls the treatment of animals that are factory farmed, at times, being “inhumane”.
“When I say inhumane, I mean how these animals are kept in small confined spaces; some of them die, there is a large concentration of animal waste and there is no freedom for them to roam around in the fields, which they were born to do. On top of that, as I’ve already mentioned, factory farming does damage to the animals physically and we as a result do not get the expected amount ofnutrients from them.”
Rubaiya is not saying that because they are animals they deserve any special treatment, but rather that animals should not be subject to factory farming, as she just explained the dire consequences that both the animals and us face. Many may argue that animals that are factory farmed are not close to extinction but there is an ethical aspect here and being at the top of the food chain means not abusing it. Unfortunately that’s exactly what factory farming does.
Some (including myself) may argue that if there is no bond between us and an animal – such as a pet – it’s all fair game as some animals, such as tigers, would have us as food if given the chance. “Firstly, I hate the word ‘pet’. Second,animals are actually not going to attack you if they are not hungry or unless you have provoked them in their territory so why should we?” exclaims Rubaiya.
There is also the economic impact of farming with a part of our income and job creation happening because of this and Rubaiya explains, “There was a time when our economy was more dependent on agriculture but now I believe it accounts for around 16% of our countries GDP. Then there are those that say that our country is not really a big consumer of meat and factory farming has not really picked up here. But truth is: it is growing, and fast, and it should be put an end to, quickly.”
Lastly and I’ve saved the touchy and sensitive matter for last: how do we know we are eating halal meat in the first place, if at all? See, there are a couple of things I never see happening, especially during Quabani Eid: animals are supposed to be slaughtered with compassion and with the least amount of pain.
Furthermore, it is already stated in the Quran that animals should not be slaughtered in front of other animals. Nor should the knife be sharpened in front of them. In other words there should be full recognition of their psychological needs. So let’s ask ourselves if we properly comply with these rules even during Qurbani, if at all; not to mention the way they are carried around in trucks or brought up during factory farming hardly go with the idea of treating them with compassion and with their well-being in mind.
But moving back to the main topic at hand and Rubaiya talks about how factory farming can be put an end to. “See, we are mired so deep into the problem that there is actually no choice but for us to start eating less meat. The best way would be to stop eating it completely and a decline in demand would see factory farming ending.”
After everything I am convinced that vegans and vegetarians and even pescetarians are doing something healthy (for themselves) and good (for the animals) more than we are, even though there may be those that will flaunt their bags and boots made from animal skin. But more importantly, it’s time we became aware of this grim and disturbing situation and then try to do something about it.
My burger-hunting will continue, but the amount of meat I consume will slowly decrease. I hope yours will too.
• Animal agriculture generates more greenhouse gas emissions than does the use of gasoline in cars, truck, and other vehicles used for transport.
• Livestock use 30% of the earth’s entire land surface, including 33% of the global arable land used for producing feed for livestock.
• Animal agriculture is a major threat to the world’s increasingly scarce water resources. Large quantities of water are needed to produce feed for livestock, widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles and animal agriculture is a serious source of water pollution.
• Animals consume more protein than they produce. For every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of animal protein produced, animals consume an average of almost 6 kilograms of plant protein from grains and forage.
• Because animals consume much more protein than they produce, grains that should be consumed by humans are consumed by animals instead. Thus, along with other factors, animal agriculture condemns many human beings to starvation.