“‘The Vegans’ offers a clever rendering of the situation we humans face in terms of dietary choices and the consequences those choices have on our personal health, the environment of our planet, and, perhaps most significantly, our morality. It is one reason to get this collection of stories.”
—Keshav Lilburn Kamath
[This story, written primarily in January of 2014, comes from my collection Mister Positive and Other Stories. Little bits were added afterward.
In October of 2013, I saw the documentary Earthlings, which changed my life. I saw the scope of Humanity’s treatment of animals, and I was horrified. It’s not just about eating them. I stopped eating animals. Overcoming conditioning is hard, and I now eat animal again, but less than I did before, and I continue to aim toward veganism. I understand it is the healthiest and most moral way to live in harmony with Nature. While life must feed off other life, minimizing harm to oneself and other living beings is—or should be—the goal of all moral beings.
After fighting online with friends and acquaintances about it for a couple months, I decided to write a short story illustrating the morality of the issue—and employing many of their actual comments. You may be shocked as you consider those comments from the point of view of the hunted animal.
On April 7, 2018, in response to the Guardian editorial “Industrial Farming is One of the Worst Crimes in History“, I was moved to share this story on my website free, hopefully to promote awareness and help our evolutionary cousins who cannot speak for themselves, except with cries of pain and fear.]
“If you really cared about animal welfare, you would be able to participate in these discussions in such a way that their welfare would improve, instead of making it about your feelings.”
The Planet Kanamit, orbiting Vega, ran low on animals, because the Kanamitians ate them faster than they could be reproduced. Stem-cell meat had not yet been perfected, so it did not taste the same, and very few wanted to eat “fake meat”. When astronauts discovered a planet with edible animals, the Planet Kanamit rejoiced. After careful sampling and testing, it was determined that the “humans” were safe to eat, and an interplanetary food-industry operation began. Kanamitians descended on the planet, erected slaughterhouses, and shipped humans back home by the millions, while careful to leave enough alive that the stock would not dwindle. Live humans of every age were also brought back for every purpose imaginable.
Everywhere Utaalk went in his city on Kanamit, he saw human products: clothing, food, drink, pets, entertainment. He knew they were used for research in laboratories, for cosmetics, to test cures for diseases, and other things he wasn’t sure he wanted to know. After looking at the meat on his plate one night, Utaalk said to his mother and father, “Mom, Dad, I’m thinking of not eating human anymore.”
“What? Why not, Honey?” his mother asked.
“I love animals.”
“Well, I love animals too, Honey.”
“I love my dog, Growler.”
“Well, of course you do. Dogs are amazing creatures.”
“And because I love my dog Growler, I think it’s wrong to eat humans.”
“But we don’t eat dogs,” Utaalk’s father said. “We only eat food animals.”
“Well, that’s just it. If I love animals, I don’t think I should eat them. I don’t think Growler would want me eating him, and I don’t think any other animal would want me to eat her or him—even a human.”
Utaalk’s father chuckled. “But humans aren’t self-aware. They’re just food, like vegetables.” He took another mouthful of food.
“Well, I don’t see it that way, Dad.”
Utaalk’s father and mother exchanged a significant glance across the table.
“Well, that’s understandable. It is a complex matter. Perhaps Utaalk should talk about it with Doctor Reni.”
Utaalk’s mother nodded.
“Why?” Utaalk asked.
“I think your father is right,” Utaalk’s mother said. “Doctor Reni might be able to help you with this.”
“Help me with what?” Utaalk asked.
“I just think he might be able to give you another point of view. Just see him, Honey, please.”
“All right, Mom.”
“And that’s that. I’ll call him for you in the morning.”
The next day after school, Utaalk went to see the family doctor.
“Hi, Utaalk. Welcome. Come on in. How are you?” Doctor Reni asked.
“Fine, Doctor R.,” Utaalk said.
“Good, good. Your mother well?”
“Good. Your mother asked me to see you today not as a doctor but as a friend. You know your parents and I have been friends for a long time.”
“I’m just a friend. Now, what’s been on your mind?”
“My mother doesn’t like what I think about humans.”
“What do you think about humans?”
“I think they deserve to be treated the same as anybody else, we shouldn’t eat them, and doing so is wrong.”
“I see. Well, you do know that we as a species—I don’t mean you and I,” the doctor laughed.
“Yes,” Utaalk said.
“—We as a species don’t mistreat humans. We breed them, raise them, and treat them kindly.”
“Until we eat them.”
“But we do everything possible to make them happy and comfortable until the end, which I feel it is my duty to say comes very quickly and kindly.”
“You keep saying the word ‘kindly’.”
“It is kind. They don’t suffer at all. Death is instantaneous.”
“I don’t think it’s kind to take away their choice and kill them against their wills. Who are we to impose death upon them?”
The doctor fell silent.
“Against their wills?”
“All animals have feelings.”
“Feelings? They’re not self-aware.”
“With all due respect, Doctor, how do you know that? Are you a human?”
The Doctor laughed. “Of course not.”
“But whether they are self-aware or not, does that matter? The point is they suffer.”
“We do everything we can to prevent that. I assure you they do not suffer.”
“I am familiar with the assurances, Doctor, but it seems to me that a human, raised for slaughter, lives a completely unnatural life from birth to death. It has little to no freedom of movement, it’s given hormones to make it grow artificially. Sometimes they’re even force-fed to get bigger faster than naturally. Then they feel fear and pain when they’re killed. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing kind about it.”
“I can see you’ve been doing some research, but don’t believe everything you read. None of that is true. Why, you can come see the humans at my brother’s farm any time you like. You’ll see some happy animals. In the mean time, I’d like you to go to the pharmacy and pick up this prescription.”
“What is it?”
“Oh, just something to help you relax.”
“I’m not un-relaxed.”
“Humor me. I think you’ll feel a whole lot better if you do. Remember: those animals are happy, and besides, your body needs the protein. It’s good for you to eat humans.”
“All right, Doctor.”
“That’s a good boy.”
As Utaalk got up to leave, Doctor Reni said, “Utaalk.” Utaalk turned. “Remember, life feeds on life. I know it’s a hard lesson, but there’s nothing we can do about that.”
Utaalk nodded and left, feeling uneasier by the moment. He forgot his unease when he saw his friend Mod. “Hey, Mod,” Utaalk said.
“Hey, Utaaa! What’s going on?”
“Oh, nothing. And for you?”
“I was just going to knock and see if you wanted to do something.”
“I don’t know.”
“Hey, doesn’t your dad work at a human-processing plant?”
“Yeah, he’s one of the managers there.”
“Do you think he could give us a tour?”
“A tour? Tours are always boring.”
“But I want to see what they do there. Could you ask him?”
“All right, if you really think you’d like to do that.”
“Yeah, I do. I think it would be interesting.”
“All right. He’s at work right now. I’ll ask him tonight.”
“For now, you want to come over and climb some trees?”
The two boys went over to Mod’s house, where his mother was preparing supper.
“Hi, Missus Burra.”
“Well, hello, Utaalk. How are you today?” Mistress Burra asked. She kissed Mod on his central head crest to welcome him home from school.
“And your mom and dad?”
“Oh, they’re well.”
“We’re just going to climb some trees,” Mod said. “But Utaalk wants to know if he can visit the meat-processing plant.”
Mrs. Burra raised her eye ridges.
“Really?” she asked Utaalk, who nodded. “Now, why would you want to do that?”
“I just want to know what they do there. I like to know where my food comes from.”
“Well, that seems reasonable.”
“Of course. I’m thinking of doing a project for science class.”
“Oh! That sounds very bright, Utaalk. I’m sure Mod’s father will be happy to help you.”
Utaalk and Mod climbed trees, swinging from tree branches and enjoying the feeling of their tentacles around them, until Mod’s father came home from work.
“Are you sure, son?” Mod’s father asked.
“It’s not for everyone,” Mister Burra said. “Even I need strong stomachs sometimes.”
“I’m sure, Sir.”
“As you wish. And it’s all right with your mom and dad?”
“I’ll call them right now.”
Utaalk called his parents, then returned to Mod’s father. “They said it was all right with them if it was all right with you.”
“All right. Well, we’ll go tomorrow after school, if you like.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
“All right. We’re having human tonight, Utaalk. Would you like to stay for supper?”
Utaalk didn’t really want human, but due to the favor Mod’s dad was doing him, he said yes. It was the last time he would eat human.
“All right, Fana, time to start your day.” The farmer brought Fana’s milking machine into place, adjusting the teat cups, claw, vacuum tubes, and milk tube. Fana startled. “Aw, what’s the matter, girl? There, there.” The farmer patted Fana’s side after adjusting the machine, then fumbled in his pocket. “Here, would you like a treat?” He produced a sugar cube and placed it in Fana’s mouth. She sucked on the cube for a few moments, then began bucking against her chains and stall. “Whoah, girl! What’s got into you? Whoah!” The farmer dashed off to retrieve something from the front of the barn as Fana thrashed and fought fruitlessly to escape, tears running down her face. Soon the farmer returned with a small tranquilizer-dart gun and injected Fana in the soft flesh of her nearest buttock. Fana slowly quieted, a glazed look in her eye. “There you go. You’re all right.” The farmer placed the dart gun into his pocket. “I guess you were upset to lose your boy, huh? Well, at least we let you say goodbye. Besides, he’s gone on to a better place.” The farmer chuckled.
Fana, a twenty-five-year-old human female, on all fours so gravity could assist milking, her lower arms and legs long since amputated for safety, moaned a long moan of pain and heartache before staring off into space silently. The farmer turned on the milking machine, and the suction began drawing milk out of Fana’s teats.
“Just be glad it’s not the bolt gun, eh, girl?” the farmer asked. “Not today.”
If the animal in the stall could have understood him and could have had a coherent thought, she would have wished for the gun then.
“That’s better,” the farmer said. “Now you have a good day, Fana.” He moved on to the next stall, the next animal.
“And that completes our tour! As you can see, our animals are healthy and happy before we kindly process them.”
“But Mister Burra, we haven’t seen the processing, and those quarters you showed us seemed rather cramped.”
“Well, it’s true they’re pretty crowded in there, aren’t they? But it depends on their purpose. Some animals are just milked. Some, depending on their size, are given individual stalls. But mostly they can all be together. As you can see, those humans enjoy complete freedom of movement.”
“If you call pushing up against or even climbing on top of each other complete freedom.”
“Choppen Industries makes every effort to provide a safe, clean, enjoyable experience for the animals from whom we benefit, and we do everything we can to express our appreciation of that benefit to our animals. Really, based on the realities of the marketplace and our competition, we give back to those animals as much as we can with every dollar we earn. They are our lifeblood in more than one way, and we want to honor that by providing to them as much quality of life as we can, out of gratitude. At the same time, we do have expenses, and we must maximize our resources. Our shareholders and customers expect no less. Besides, they’re just animals—they don’t have thoughts or feelings like you or me.”
Utaalk was visibly taken aback.
“Don’t get me wrong: we love our human,” Mister Burra hastened to add. “Why, the son of another manager here even took one home as a pet—picked out just the cutest little guy, with blue eyes. Didn’t cut the limbs! I told him to watch out! He’s even taught him a few words, though I thought that was crazy. Their throats aren’t made for it.” Mister Burra laughed. “It was really amazing, almost as if the human understood. Not as well as a dog, of course.”
“Well, I can’t thank you enough, Mister Burra.”
“You bet! You let me know if you have any more questions. Mod, your friend sure is interested in animal husbandry.”
“Yep, he sure is.”
“So, now that you’ve talked to the doctor and seen for yourself how well they treat animals in a plant, do you feel better about it all? I mean, when our leader Kiel discovered that ridiculous little planet just teeming with food, he saved our species! We should thank our lucky stars with every bite!”
“So, what are you planning to do today?”
“Oh, Mod and I are just going to play outside, maybe go climbing.”
“That sounds like fun! Have a good time.”
“You’re welcome. I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
But Utaalk wasn’t feeling better. He had learned to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself. He had learned that he could not expect understanding from his family or others. He felt greatly disturbed by the happy talk and lack of real information he had been given—it was as if they just wanted him to stop thinking and talking more than they wanted to know and respond to the truth. Most of all, he was troubled by not having been shown how the animals met their ends. He decided to go back to the plant and see for himself. He knew this was not permitted. He knew he would find himself in trouble if caught. He knew this would pain his family. He also knew that he needed to know the truth.
“You want to do what?” Mod asked when Utaalk told him what he was thinking of doing, as they practiced their climbing at the local tree park.
“I want to learn the truth,” Utaalk said. “One of the things I’ve never understood about this world is the idea that we must be protected from the truth. If the truth is pleasant, it can’t hurt us, so why hide it? If the truth is unpleasant, the lie hurts us more than the truth, so why hide it? Usually those ‘protecting us’ from the truth are those who benefit from the lie, and usually they’re protecting not us but themselves from what will happen when we know the truth, because they are the ones causing or perpetuating the problems in the first place. But the only way we can learn to deal with unpleasant truths and grow to the point that they don’t paralyze us is by confronting them. And that’s what they don’t want. Well, I do want it.”
“Wow, Utaalk!” Mod said. “You’ve really been thinking a lot about this!”
“Yes, I have. If we don’t confront unpleasant, even painful truths, we remain mental and emotional infants afraid of Reality. I prefer not to live in a fantasy world. Well, it depends on the fantasy.” Utaalk chuckled.
“Yeah, that Omnivora is kind of hot.” Utaalk blushed at the thought of a girl they both liked but didn’t have the courage to approach.
“That’s not what I mean,” Utaalk said.
“I know. And I agree. So what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to break into your father’s plant,” Utaalk said.
“You’re what? I can’t let you do that!”
“Come with me. See the truth. Don’t you want to know what your dad really does and whether or not you can support it morally? If he’s telling the truth, won’t it make you feel better to know that?”
Mod bit his lip. “Yes, it would,” he said.
“The truth is always better, in cases like this,” Utaalk said. “Sometimes we don’t need to know everything, or every truth—the gist is enough. But sometimes we do. We don’t even know the gist. We only know the gist they want us to believe . . . but we don’t know if it’s true or not, and Mod, I have a bad feeling it’s not.”
“I do too.”
“So let’s do it. Tonight. That place operates around the clock, day and night.”
They shook tentacles on it.
After his family went to sleep, Utaalk snuck out his window and met Mod outside.
“I’ve been doing some thinking of my own,” Mod said. “We can’t break in. They have security guards. But I’m the son of one of the managers, so I think we can just walk in.”
“Brilliant,” Utaalk said. “But what will you say?”
“I’ll just pretend my dad left something at the plant and sent me to get it.”
“All right . . . ”
“Don’t worry—they’re not very bright there, and besides, they have no reason to suspect us of doing anything wrong.”
“We’re not doing anything wrong.”
“Exactly. We’re just . . . observing.”
“But that doesn’t mean our parents will be pleased about it.”
The two boys approached the gate of the plant on their tentacles, which itself was unusual. Its happening at night made it even more so. The guard in the guard hut straightened up and emerged from the hut to say, “Stop right there, boys. What brings you to Choppen Industries?”
“My dad’s a manager here,” Mod said. “He said he left his reading glasses inside. I’m here to get them. He needs them tonight to read reports.”
“Why didn’t he come himself?”
“He’s tired from working. I volunteered. He said he wished he still had my energy.”
The guard chuckled at that. “What’s the name?”
“My dad’s Dor Burra. I’m Mod Burra, his son.”
“My friend Utaalk.”
“Good evening, sir,” Utaalk said.
“Well, I should probably call your dad to confirm it.”
“You can,” Mod said, “but he’s got a crestache from trying to read without them, and he’s in a grumpy mood.”
The guard hesitated, looked the boys over again, and said, “All right. Just go in, get the eyeglasses, and come back out. I’ll let the guys inside know you’re coming. They’ll see you on the camera. Where did you say he left them?”
“On the kill floor.”
The guard shuddered.
“It’s all right, Sir. My dad’s taken me in there before.”
The guard looked queasy. “Just go in,” he said.
The guard opened the gate and sat back down in his hut. As they passed, Utaalk said, “Thank you, Sir.”
“I don’t know why you’d want to see that,” he said to Utaalk.
“I’m just keeping my friend company,” Utaalk said.
The guard nodded.
Inside the plant, Mod led Utaalk to the part of the building he had never been, the part his father had not allowed him to visit. “All right, here we go.” Mod pushed open a door, and they slithered into a corridor. At first they neither saw nor heard anything, then they heard sounds coming from an area beyond the end of the corridor. Utaalk felt nervous and eager for the truth at the same time. They heard shouts and cries. They emerged through the doors upon a sight Utaalk would never forget: humans being beaten, kicked, stomped, grabbed, pushed, and herded into slaughter. He heard the workers cursing the humans, mocking them as they suffered and died. He saw a human placed into a machine, rotated, and—fully awake and conscious—cut across the throat with a sharp knife, then dumped onto a bloody floor. There it thrashed and cried until it was hooked by a leg and lifted off the floor, still thrashing, to make way for the next. Workers then placed the humans on hooks to bleed to death. In one corner of the vast space, crying human infants rolled on a conveyor belt before dropping to their deaths in a meat grinder. The worst thing about this scene of horror to Utaalk was the wanton cruelty, the lack of regard for the dignity of the beings being slaughtered. The workers seemed to delight in the pain, fear, and suffering they were inflicting upon the defenseless, ignorant animals.
In another corner of the killing floor, a long line of blindfolded human beings advanced, then stood waiting. The human at the front of the line stepped into a restraining device. Two side bars closed enough to hold his carefully positioned head in place. A Kanamitian worker took a penetrating captive bolt pistol, applied its tip to the human’s forehead, and depressed the gun’s trigger. The human elicited a momentary spasm then fell lifeless to the floor, after which a side panel slid up to reveal an incline, down which his body fell then slid sideways. Workers received the body, slit the throat, and attached a cord to one leg. The cord lifted the body and hoisted it away for processing over a long trough catching its gushing blood. The next blindfolded human being, female, stepped into the restraining device.
Utaalk, his mind reeling, could not decide what was worse: the mechanical killing without feeling, horrific to the point of comedic absurdity, or the killing with cruelty. It’s all senseless, Utaalk thought. And for what? Dinner?
“Can I help you boys?” a worker they had not seen asked them.
“Um, yes,” Mod said, startled back into himself. “My father, Dor Burra, asked me to fetch his eyeglasses. He said he thinks he dropped them in here. Did anyone find them?”
“Singa!” the worker called to another worker, who did not hear. “Singa!” The worker close to them grumbled. The other worker noticed and looked up. “Singa, did anybody find any eyeglasses in here?”
The other worker, Singa, shook his head then smashed the head of a wounded human being with a sledgehammer.
“Nope,” said the man near them. “Sorry, boys. Now, you really should go home, for your own safety.”
“All right. Thank you,” Mod said. They left and kept their composure until they had passed the guard in the hut.
“We’ve got to do something about this,” Utaalk said as soon as they were in the clear.
“What can we do?” Mod asked. “My father is a monster.”
“He’s not a monster—he’s a good man.”
“He obviously doesn’t think it’s wrong, what he’s doing.”
“Most people don’t, and if it weren’t him, it would be someone else. You can’t blame him for wanting to feed his family. We’ve got to tell everyone what’s going on, to change the system.”
“They don’t want to know. You know that. My father probably thought he was doing us a favor by not telling us.”
“You already know what I think of that,” Utaalk said.
“Yes, I do. How are we going to tell everyone?”
“I don’t know. I’ve got to think it over. I’ll see you in school tomorrow. But don’t feel bad about your dad. He’s a good man; he just doesn’t see them as Kanamitian. It’s our job to change that.”
“All right. Thanks, Utaalk. Good night.”
Utaalk went through the night and next day confused and tormented. His entire society seemed to revolve around not only the eating of meat but the delight in it. No one seemed to care about the suffering of the humans eaten. Utaalk felt it was his moral obligation to speak for the voiceless, to raise awareness, to try somehow to persuade his society that killing unnecessarily was not just unnecessary, not just optional entertainment, but morally wrong. There were degrees of killing, and the killing had reached a level far beyond what was necessary. Meat, particularly human, had become such a popular and prevalent delicacy that it was now considered essential and necessary, even beneficial to health, though it was not. Utaalk decided he would create an animal-rights organization without even telling his parents. On weekends, with Mod, he worked to create posters, prepare a speech, and reserve a local meeting place. The first meeting of the organization would be held in two weeks, giving Utaalk time to prepare and drum up interest. It wasn’t long before his organization was gaining press and media attention.
“Animal rights? Are they kidding?” his father, reading the local news on his personal electronic device, asked at the dinner table. “Why, they’re starting to sound like you, Utaalk.”
Utaalk said nothing.
“You should go—you might meet some more of your own kind,” his vicious younger brother joked through a mouthful of food. Utaalk ignored him.
Utaalk went to a farm outside town and stood by its fence along the road. He saw amputated milk humans lying on the grass. At least they let them outside sometimes, he thought.
He didn’t dare hope that a human would approach him at the fence, thinking as he did that the sight of a Kanamitian undoubtedly came with terror. Even animals could fear things that had hurt them. But one did. A human stumped her way over to regard him.
“I’m sorry,” he said through the electrified fence.
Without language, the human named Fana could not speak, but she looked at Utaalk with deep, soulful eyes for a time, then stumped away.
The meeting came. The gathering hall was full of curious and contemptuous citizens. When the meeting time came, Utaalk took the podium to gasps of surprise. Some attempted to shout him down. Others shouted them down. Utaalk spoke:
“Welcome. Many of you are wondering why I have called you here. The answer is simple enough. I think it’s wrong to eat animals. Not just unhealthy or gross but morally wrong. I am not overly concerned about my health—I’m a teenager.” Utaalk chuckled. “I do think it’s gross to kill and cut animals up. But the big issue is why are we doing it—and how. I have visited a factory farm. Do you know what goes on there? It’s horrifying. No one would tolerate being treated that way, and we don’t. The animals—the humans—we treat that way don’t tolerate it either, but they don’t have any say in the matter. We don’t ask them how they feel about it. We just torture and murder them. I hesitate to say ‘murder’, because to many, the word ‘murder’ is a legal definition requiring a certain set of criteria be met, including perhaps malice aforethought, but I have seen the malice aforethought, and I consider the word perfectly apt. I think the main reason some don’t wish to use the word ‘murder’ is that it would confer upon the victims equal status. If we accept that the malicious intent and acts are the same, the only thing keeping us from having to change our thinking and behavior is the status of the victim—as if the status of the victim has any bearing on whether an act is moral or not. Conversely, if it is moral to torture and kill an animal, it should be just as moral to torture and kill a person, no? If it is moral to eat an animal, it must be moral to eat a person, no? Morality is not defined by its object but by the actions and motives in context. If we treat someone kindly, we know what that means. And of course, torture and murder are not kind. They are immoral. To eat meat is to take part in an immoral system. If you eat meat, you take part in that system.
“Now, you may not wish to think about that. That does not excuse you. You may wish not to consider your own participation in the evil system immoral. That does not excuse you. No, you have only one choice: stop participating in the evil system or continue to live a life of lies, hypocrisy, and contemptible cowardice. If you are going to be evil, at least be honest about it. I will now open up the floor for comment.”
The room burst into an uproar. Some of the comments Utaalk heard:
“They’re food, not sentient beings!”
“I buy organic, grass-fed, free-range humans.”
“We use humans for food, work, entertainment, pets, even scientific experiments, to protect us. They’re just dumb animals! Without them where would we be? I remember one time, at the circus . . . ”
“He’s just a self-righteous little shit. I hate self-righteous vegetyrants telling me what to do!”
Utaalk listened, then tried to encourage order. “I invite anyone who wishes to speak to come to the podium and make remarks.” He stepped back and indicated the microphone in front of him. A big, burly looking man came up and said:
“I’d never stop eating human, or any other food animal. I eat meat. I am a meat-eater. This will not be changed. Why would anybody stop eating meat unless his cardiologist told him to give it up? As for what the animal thinks? Uh, who gives a shit? It’s an animal. It’s a meat-producer. That is all it is. Just feed it and butcher it. In order for me to survive, other life forms must die. It is the way of this universe. I have no problem with that. I make no distinction between the life of a vegetable and the life of a human. This overly-sentimental stuff about how it has a face? So? It’s a human. Humans exist to serve us. I’m fine with killing them. I don’t want to hunt them to extinction, but usage of them is perfectly fine with me.”
“I understand that it’s perfectly fine with you,” Utaalk said, composing himself. “It’s not perfectly fine with me, which is why I have called this meeting. If you are interested in what we think, I invite you to stay. But ‘I don’t care’ isn’t an argument, it’s the problem.”
“Animals can’t be murdered,” the man responded. Some members of the audience clapped and agreed vocally. “People can be murdered. People can commit murder. ‘Murder’ is a people-centric concept. I can no more murder a human than I could murder a chair. Utaalk, eventually you are going to run out of food to eat. The kind of ethical behavior you seek in food production does not exist and cannot. Also, I make no distinction between the life of a human and the life of a plant. Life is life. In order for you and I to live, other lives must perish. That is how this universe works.”
Utaalk could not resist asking, “So if life is life, do you consider yourself alive?”
“Of course.” The man chortled.
“So if life is life—hear me out—,” Utaalk said, “then you’re fair game too and I can eat you morally?”
“Of course not!”
“Why are you different? You just said you’re life too.”
“I am a self-aware sentient being! I am a member of our species at the top of the food chain!”
“There are some animals in the jungle and the desert, who, if we met them unarmed, would eat us. That means to me we are not at the ‘top’ of the food chain. We merely think we are, due to our brains and our opposable tentacles. But even if we were at the so-called ‘top of the food chain’, are you really arguing that might makes right? I don’t know anyone who thinks that. We do things because we can and that makes them right?”
“How does ethics apply here?” the man asked. “I have no desire for any animal to be tortured during its life, but they do have to be contained one way or another. Large-scale animal processing requires a certain degree of control over the animals.
“As for their feelings? I don’t know, man. I don’t consider human beings to be higher life forms, so I really don’t care if it has feelings or what those feelings are. I care about clean, safe food products I can buy at a grocery store and bring home to cook and eat. I am just fine with a human dying to feed me.”
“Your position is the dominant position on Kanamit,” Utaalk said. “I am trying to change it.”
“Good luck,” the man said and took his seat again.
Utaalk shrugged and asked, “Anyone else?”
A woman came up and said, “Animals eat meat. If you go to Earth and walk up to a hungry animal, he’ll very much consider you on the menu. He thinks he has the right to eat you, and he would. I feel it’s okay to eat human, and I do.”
“Yes, but isn’t the point of civilization that we are free to make choices an animal in the wild cannot, more moral and ethical choices? If not, what is the point of civilization? The animal in the wild might wish he didn’t have to eat other animals, but he does not have the luxury not to.”
The woman said, “The privilege you display here, you little upstart, is rank. Isn’t it great that we have the luxury to feel bad about eating animals? I came to hear how ridiculous you sounded, and I was not disappointed. The fact that you consider these humans to have rights is absurd. It’s not as if they’re dogs or cats, those advanced species we rescued from the humans. Now, those are lovable animals deserving respect! Those are pets, friends, even family members. But the humans? You must be joking. They’re just vicious predators, and eating them is the best they deserve. Incidentally, they’re delicious.”
The crowd laughed.
“Not joking, Ma’am,” Utaalk said. “Isn’t it interesting how we view some animals as pets and others as food? But this is completely arbitrary. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a human being?”
“Yes, I have. That’s why I’m asking you this question. If you look into the eyes of a human, you can see intelligence.”
“You can see feelings.”
“Do you understand that, whether you consider an animal intelligent, self-aware, or not, what matters is that it can suffer?” Utaalk asked. “Does anyone here dispute that animals suffer? Humans feel pain and fear. If we put them through that unnecessarily, that makes us worse animals than any other!
“You know, I’ve thought about how life feeds on life. I’ve thought about how we all share a common ancestor, plants and animals alike—well, not the humans, obviously, though it is possible we all came from the same star somewhere else. It should come as no surprise that even single-celled organisms have feelings. We studied them in biology class. They exhibit avoidance behavior, and they seek out light, heat, and food. This indicates a preference. If all living beings, including plants, have feelings, then feelings aren’t really the issue. The issue is whether or not we need to eat living beings. And we do. So I can see eating plants, because that is the least of the evils. But to kill animals when we don’t need to, animals whose consciousnesses I think we can all agree are more advanced and sophisticated than those of plants, is increasingly immoral in proportion to the elevation of the consciousness killed. We have no right to kill consciousnesses.”
The room stopped cold.
“No right?” The woman at the microphone gaped.
“No right. Only power and force. We can do it, but that doesn’t make it right. And why are we lying about it, if it’s so moral? Why do we need to hide the torture and murder behind pictures of happy animal mascots in our advertisements and on our packaging? Humans do not wish to be eaten. But if it’s so necessary and moral, we shouldn’t mind being honest about it. And yet we hide their treatment behind closed doors, behind lies, and behind false images and advertisements. Frankly, the meat industry spends almost as much money as it makes on deceiving us into continuing to support it. Have you ever seen what goes on in these factory farms? If you did, it would make you think twice about its ‘morality’! But I understand it’s easier to look the other way, to ignore the cruelty and suffering bringing corpses to your plate as long as it’s happening ‘somewhere else’. I can tell you one thing, Ma’am: I do not eat murder victims of my own species, and I will not eat them of any other. Why? Because I know it’s wrong. The meat industry knows it’s wrong. We hide what we do when we know it’s wrong. And most Kanamitians would know it was wrong too, if they saw what went on instead of contentedly accepting the lies that ease their consciences!”
More shouts, even a clap or two.
“Now just a minute,” an older Kanamitian said, rising. He approached the podium and spoke.
“I own an organic, free-range farm. I treat my animals kindly. They get light, exercise, a good diet, and live happy lives without violence or torture.”
“So you don’t hurt them,” Utaalk asked.
“No!” the man said.
“Until you kill them.”
“Well, we’ve got to eat,” the man said. The room laughed. “And I’ve got to support my family.”
“So, in your opinion, it would be moral of me to eat you as long as I kept you in a gilded cage, safe and happy, first?”
“Because I am a Kanamit!”
“Again, as with the other man, morality only applies to you. You get to enjoy and define it. Others do not. Did you ever stop to think how much another race would consider our feelings if it came here to eat us? Probably as much as we consider the feelings of the humans we conquered to eat. How would you like that? You wouldn’t.”
The old Kanamitian said, “You are too young to recall when we visited their planet, which they called Earth.”
The audience gasped.
“Yes, they named things and even used primitive tools. Their language was like noise, but they seemed to be able to communicate—in a primitive way. I think hand gestures made up for a lot of what they couldn’t intuit cognitively. They have a handicap. They can’t think like you or me.
“But the reason I got up to speak is to tell you all that, back on Earth—and I saw this with my own eyes—the humans ate meat.”
“Even now, we feed them human by-product, when one of their babies dies or another human can’t be sold at market. We just chop it up and feed it back to them.”
Sounds of disgust filled the room. “My point is that they are nothing more than animals. They eat their own fellows without complaint. They are just animals. We don’t do that. We are more advanced and evolved.”
“What do you mean, without complaint?” Utaalk interjected. “Do they even know what they are eating?”
“I don’t think they know anything.”
“You can’t hold them responsible for what we feed them. They don’t have a choice.”
“But back on Earth, they ate meat.”
“Did they eat others of their own kind?”
“No, they ate life forms lower than they were. Really, their behavior indicates they shared our morality and did the same as we do. If anything, they would understand and completely agree with our eating them—if they had the intelligence to comprehend it, which they don’t, because they’re just dumb animals! When are you going to get that through your thick radula?”
“Have we bothered to find out what they think, how they like being tortured and eaten? Have we preserved their primitive language? Have we even bothered to learn how they communicate?”
The elderly Kanamit said, “They used to communicate. Now they do not.”
“Because we took away their ability to do so. We don’t let them teach each other anymore!” Utaalk protested.
“But even when they could speak,” the old man said, “their whole world was full of humans eating meat. You can’t hold yourself to a standard for the humans that they themselves don’t or didn’t hold. Now of course they eat what we give them, but before, they ate both vegetables and meat!”
Utaalk paused and considered his next statements carefully.
“An animal in the wild eats meat,” he said. “That animal has no choice. Our civilization gives us a choice the animal does not have. You say humans ate meat on their home planet, and I can’t prove you wrong. But what if they did? Are you now arguing that the reason we should eat animals is that we’re no better or more free than they are? You can’t have it both ways, because if we’re no better than animals we might as well start eating each other—which I do not advocate.” Utaalk chuckled nervously. “No: civilization gives us a wider range of choices. And what is civilization for if not to do that? And what good is having a better choice if we don’t make it? What is the point of society if not to make better choices than those that were necessary before, because we can? To have a better choice and not take that choice makes us worse than the wild animal, in my opinion. So the humans hadn’t yet learned how to make better choices. They hadn’t evolved to our level. Are we no better than that? Or are we going to provide an example to the Universe of an enlightened society?”
“An example, to whom? The humans don’t understand anything, and there’s no one else to impress.”
“There is us. We know what we’re doing. Even if the humans don’t understand anything—even if you’re all right and the humans are just dumb animals who don’t understand anything—is that really an excuse to behave badly? We know what we’re doing, and we have to live with ourselves! Let us be an example of morality to each other, that we might not only live in harmony with other species but also feel good about ourselves! Wouldn’t you like to know you live in a moral society?”
“I don’t have any problem with our society or my own conscience.”
“Well, I do.”
“That makes you rude. Keep it to yourself.”
“No, if I see a wrong it is my duty to work to right it.”
“You keep working. I’ll keep eating human. ‘Dinner is what it is,’” the Kanamitian imitated a popular advertising campaign. The audience chuckled with recognition.
“But they’re not intelligent,” a Kanamitian woman said. “They don’t think the way we do.”
“That doesn’t matter,” Utaalk said. “They have the right to live their lives, just as you do.”
“What if we made it so they didn’t suffer? We could tranquilize them. They’re asleep, then we kill them, and they don’t even know it.”
“That doesn’t matter either. Yes, their suffering matters, but even beyond that, they have the right to live their lives as they see fit.”
“As they see fit? We can’t just have animals roaming around. That wouldn’t be good for them or us. They need to be kept under control, managed, for their own good. Animals in the wild live much less safe and happy lives. It’s actually better for them as well as us if we take care of them.”
“Then we should take care of them. That means not murdering them.”
The eyes blinked, the minds did not comprehend. Utaalk knew it would take time, perhaps longer than he would be alive, but he felt certain there would come a day when the majority understood. Comments and questions were now being called out to him.
“Are you saying you would never kill a human? What if it’s him or you?”
“If I’m in the wild and it’s him or me, I will probably defend myself. But the only time it would be moral to kill a human would be when one had no other choice.”
“I have no other choice,” a Kanamitian man said with mock solemnity. “If I want steak, I have no choice but to kill a human.”
The room laughed.
One Kanamitian man said, “I cook human at family gatherings all the time. If you take a sharp chef’s knife to the back of the neck and chop off the head, it kills them instantly. Honestly, killing human this way is much more Kanamitian, because it’s an instant kill. It’s also supposed to make the human meat taste better, because the human doesn’t release stress hormones into the flesh.”
“But killing more Kanamitianly is still killing. Do you want to be eaten?”
Another Kanamitian woman interjected, “I once saw an amateur chef do this incorrectly and the human wouldn’t stop jerking its legs.”
“Of course,” Utaalk said, “humans killed properly suffer too.”
“Not very long—it’s instantaneous death,” the man continued.
“I’m sure there are a few moments of consciousness.”
“It’s fleeting. Besides, humans aren’t Kanamitian.”
“They think and feel pain.”
“Not for long, under my knife.”
“Sometimes it is necessary to kill an animal that’s been injured, or is old and sick,” another said.
“Yes, it is.”
“So you’re not opposed to that?”
“No. Ending suffering is not causing suffering. That is different. I think you know that is different—that’s why you asked about it.”
Another man said, “Utaalk, I respect your decision not to eat humans or any of the other small animals we have here on Kanamit.” Several audience members grumbled, at which the man said to everyone, “It is certainly a valid choice, whether we make that choice or not.” Facing Utaalk again, he continued: “I question any so-called heath benefits, and I do not believe it gives you the moral high ground. My personal opinion is that anything slow enough to be caught by us is food.”
“So . . . ,” Utaalk said, “for you it’s not a matter of intelligence or suffering but speed? Really? Survival of the fastest? That is not morality.” Utaalk laughed and shook his head. “You guys are grasping at straws.”
“It’s for their own good,” someone finally said.
“I’m sorry?” Utaalk asked.
“When we arrived on their planet it was overpopulated. We have to cull the herd, otherwise too many of them will return them to a state of starvation and disease. They are better off now. And before you even talk about factory farming, I hunt my own food. I only kill what I will eat myself, and I eat everything I kill. I go to Earth every month and bring back enough for my family. I take my children and make an outing of it. It’s good for parents and children to kill together.”
“Sir, there is so much wrong with what you just said I barely know where to begin, but I hardly think we have the right to decide for another species what constitutes ‘too much’. If they want to mismanage their own planet, that is their right. That does not give us the right to eat them! And I doubt they would agree they are better off now, enslaved by us across their entire planet. You hunt your own food and only kill what you will eat? Well, aren’t you a saint! Again I say I doubt the humans want to be killed and eaten by you and you don’t have the right to impose your desires on them.”
“Might makes right. And they’re damned tasty.”
“So don’t tell me it’s moral or for their own good. You kill and eat them because you like doing so. You enjoy it. And by teaching your children to do the same thing you continue the cycle of violence and oppression. They have no recourse! They have no say. And they certainly have no escape that we do not grant them.”
“Why do you care so much about animals anyway?” one woman asked.
“Don’t all living beings deserve moral treatment?” Utaalk asked.
“Well, I say it is moral,” the hunter said. “Kill ‘em and eat ‘em for their own good.”
After a long meeting of debate, a tired and sad Utaalk thanked everyone for coming. The meeting adjourned and everyone left. Utaalk looked at the signup sheet he had left by the door and saw that, out of the at least twenty attendees, three had signed up to be notified of future meetings and information. Utaalk felt encouraged.
It’s a start, he thought.
In the coming days, in agreement with Mod and his other first few members, Utaalk decided to call his new organization the Vegans, after his planet’s star. “Like our star, we will enlighten our world,” Utaalk said.
“I don’t understand!” Utaalk’s mother said when he came home that night. “They’re just animals!”
“That’s the point,” Utaalk said. “Morality isn’t selective. We aren’t moral only those who are like us. That’s not morality. Morality means being moral to all living beings, because it’s about how we treat others, not whether we like or identify with them or not. You taught me that. You taught me to follow my conscience no matter where it led. What would you think of me if I kept silent in the face of what I consider to be a great evil? Would you really want me to do that, to facilitate and enable that evil? What kind of person would that make me? No. It doesn’t matter if the whole World disagrees with me. I will do what I think is right, that I might live with myself and preserve my self-respect, because I’m not worried about anyone else’s approval but my own.
“Life is opposition and conflict,” Utaalk said. “If I lived in fear, I wouldn’t be alive. I also wouldn’t be proud of myself, which I am.”
“I just worry about you.”
“Don’t worry about me, because I’m doing what I think is right, which is more important than merely surviving.
“It doesn’t matter if humans are dumb animals, Mother. It doesn’t matter if they know what we’re doing. What matters is that we know. That’s why they hide what they’re doing to the humans. They know it’s wrong, and they know that we would too. That’s why they lie about what they’re doing and do all they can to keep it a secret hidden behind happy talk. If I don’t speak or act against it, I am a part of the problem. I will not sit idle in the face of what I consider to be a great evil, no matter who doesn’t like it. When I determine something is wrong, I stop doing it and start talking about it, Mom, even if it’s something as common and ordinary in our society as eating human beings. Do you remember how everyone used to smoke death sticks from Coruscant? The companies lied about them. It’s the same with meat. And you know me: everyone not wanting to hear about it isn’t going to stop me.”
“Yes. My boy.” Utaalk’s mother wiped a tear from her eye.
The meat industry, and even the local farms, at first ignored Utaalk. Then they mocked and ridiculed his growing organization. Then their opposition became violent. Eventually a sizable portion of the Kanamit population ceased eating humans and began calling itself “Vegans”.
A small group within the Vegan community even began a project to “liberate” the humans, allowing them to live natural lives, to enjoy bodily integrity, to wear clothing, to receive education and develop language again. This was controversial even within the Vegan movement, but over time the humans took possession of their own small colony.
When the human colony became sufficiently advanced, some of its members began speaking of going back to Earth. Utaalk did not live to see what he had started, but the planetary government of Kanamit at long last funded a spaceship to take those humans interested back to Earth. Many stayed on Kanamit, as that was the only home they had ever known, but at least now they had a choice.