It’s not very often that I choose to tackle the serious stuff here on Brianneetc. For starters, there’s a hundred people who can usually articulate these things better than I can, and secondly I usually feel like there’s little point flogging a dead horse and repeating whatever’s been said.
For those of you who don’t know, I have a degree in Zoology (Uni of Liverpool Class of 2013~). For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a Zoologist. It started with re-runs of The Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet and evolved into an obsession with Sir David Attenborough. As soon as I found out that David Attenborough had a degree in Zoology, it was exactly what I wanted to do.
I went as far as ditching A Levels in favour of a BTEC in Animal Management because I was so sure it was what I wanted to do. I loved animals, I’d grown up surrounded by them, and I so very, very badly wanted to work with them.
Since going vegan though, something hasn’t sat quite right with me regarding my degree. I’ve squirmed talking about it. I’ve struggled to put my finger on it for so long – that is, until recently when I watched Earthlings.
I’ll spare the details of the whole documentary, but there’s a whole section in it about how animals are used for science and entertainment, and while all the footage of slaughter and puppy farms was bad enough, it was this that jarred me the most.
Young And Ignorant
When you study Animal Management there’s module after module about husbandry, ethics and welfare. This covers everything from looking after a pet dog, to lemurs and reptiles and farm livestock. You’re taught to think critically of animal sports like hunting, bull fighting, racing, circus performers. Even zoos to a certain extent – question whether an animal receives enough enrichment. What is their diet like? Are they in a natural environment? Trade that off with whether that is educational enough or entertaining enough.
You know that animal testing and agriculture are both things that happen, because you learn about it. But in my college we were shown how the dairy cows were given water beds and how sheep were allowed to roam free during the summer. We rarely saw them remove the dead piglets from their pens or the cows being treated for their infections from the milking parlour. Those were rare things, they don’t happen now. There are better welfare standards now than people would have you believe.
We were taught to criticise things like deforestation, digging for oil, refusing to recycle, because they damage the environment. Not once was agriculture talked about as a negative force toward the environment.
And you believe it because you’re being told this by lecturers who were raised on farms, who studied these courses, who wrote these welfare laws, who are being paid to teach the next generation of farmers.
I remember in my second year of college being gathered for a lecture by a man who worked for Astrazeneca (google them) who was one of the heads of animal welfare and was looking for college level interns who studied my course. The talk was all very positive and forward thinking – the animals are kept in the best conditions possible! Yes we do stick things in their eyes but look at these dogs outside! Our staff just love the animals so much.
I seriously considered applying for the role. This has to happen, right? So long as they’re being looked after, right? I was 17 and becoming immune to the negative side of my future career. I didn’t apply purely on the basis that my vegetarian, former Animal Defense League campaigning mother could well disown me.
And Then Just Plain Ignorant
During university the cognitive dissonance was real. We were trained at this point to read hundreds of papers over the next three years which almost always featured some kind of experiments on animals, some fairly brutal , all to be able to write an essay supporting whatever theory we were writing about. We learned to criticise people’s writing and methodology, not that they were working on animals that held no systematic similarity to humans. I lost count of how many I’ve read about.
It was no big deal. It had to happen. Welfare standards are improving. They have water beds.
It was only when I became vegan that I started to become so deeply uncomfortable with what I had learned. How was this okay? How were they teaching us this like it was normal? And healthy? And necessary?
Watching Earthlings was a slap in the face. It forced me to sit through the uncomfortable truth I was aware of, but never confronted. I wasn’t suddenly in a room full of people doing the same thing. There is no ethical way to force animals to live so unnaturally, to make them suffer so much but feel good about it because we gave them some extra blankets and a nurse would pet them.
It’s only now that I’m learning there are very few ways to pursue what used to be my dream career in any kind of ethical way. You don’t make it to a point of making a difference without causing harm first.
The reason I chose to talk about this is because I’ve never seen anyone come to the table with a similar background. Most vegans I know are people just like me – people who go to the gym and work in an office or in retail or PR or similar. I’ve never seen anyone struggle with a career choice vs their ethical standpoint. There have been times I’ve thought of going back to science – of putting the years of debt to good use, but I can’t find a way to go back without inherently disagreeing with it.
Earthlings really got me thinking, which I guess is the whole point. If you haven’t seen it, whether you’re vegan or not, I would really recommend giving it a watch.