Objectively looking at cultures allows us to be tolerant of others. But this concept has its drawback. Cultures are not practiced in a vacuum. As the world pauses and we ponder how we can prevent another pandemic from occurring, it’s clear that there are some universal truths: a carnivorous diet, the way we produce our food, how we treat animals, and the environment are a peril to a functioning world.
I know that this is a lot to unpack, so let’s start with one that we have the most control over, what we choose to eat.
Wet Markets: Nay or Nay?
British comedian Ricky Gervais calls for the end of wildlife wet markets in Asia, where the COVID-19 outbreak started. Previous outbreaks such as SARS all emerged from such markets. In fact, the preparedness seen in Taiwan, Korea, and China in battling the Coronavirus stems from their experience with previous outbreaks. Although their response is commendable, it’s a reactive approach to a problem. It ignores the root of the issue and why these types of outbreaks happen in specific areas in the first place.
In China, the city of Shenzhen banned the consumption of dogs and cats, but wet markets have started opening. Culturally, eating wild and exotic animals is a status symbol in China.
Have We Learned the Lessons?
Using culture as a way to defend a way of life, despite its destructiveness, is nothing new. But in an interconnected world, cultural practices that lead to public health issues are catastrophic for everyone. We need a level of cultural responsibility–one that takes into account the wider repercussions of our current traditions. Unless we want social distancing, face masks, and quarantine to be a part of our culture, we have to change our ways.
And it’s not only wet markets that are under scrutiny. Political TV host Bill Maher calls out the meat industry for practices that endanger collective health. This short video is worth the watch: New Rule: America’s Wet Markets.
The Meat Industry: Nay or Nay?
Coronavirus clusters have emerged in meat-packing plants all over the US, forcing them to close or slow down production. As a result, farmers are left with unwanted animals. In Iowa, a farmer “injected pregnant sows” in order to abort their babies. In Minnesota, a farmer euthanized “61,000 egg-laying hens” with carbon monoxide.
We have a system that condones and may require the mass killing of livestock.
When it comes to irrational collective behavior, eating meat certainly fits the category. It’s bad for our health, inefficient, and environmentally destructive. To address the dangers of wet markets, the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for stricter safety and hygiene standards, but is that enough? We have guidelines on what it means to treat farm animals humanely. Is that even possible?
Building a Culture of Animal Respect
Culture desensitizes us from certain practices that in its core are just violent. I remember walking through a street market in India. For all it’s population density, I was amazed at how clean it was and I wasn’t bothered by any smell. And I realized that I didn’t see meat being sold or blood on the streets. This is not to say that animals aren’t slaughtered in India. They are. But it’s not a part of the culture to flaunt this in the markets. Eating meat is not associated with wealth, good health, or something to be proud about. You rarely see commercials advertising meat products. That’s one way for the world to start embracing a plant-based diet. Let’s get weirded out when we see piles of chicken thighs and pig loins in the market. Let’s get grossed out when we see blood oozing from a cattle in a commercial as a steak knife goes through its flesh. Let’s stop thinking of a plant-based diet as outlandish.
And remember, there’s no law saying you have to eat turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving, ham for Christmas, or cattle for virility. If you’re missing family gatherings while in quarantine, then let’s make sure we do the right thing when we do get to gather, eat, and celebrate with them again in the future.
I’m not saying that a vegan world will mean the total elimination of pandemics, but it’s certainly a way to prevent more from happening.
Check out LiFDB’s vegan recipes and be a part of moving global culture forward to one that respects animals, celebrates clean eating, and is sensible.