More and more people around the world have chosen to embrace a plant-based diet as a result of ceaseless food scandals, climate change and extreme cruelty behind the closed doors of factory farms. According to a study conducted in 2014, 1.6 million Hong Kongers go meatless once a week. The number of vegans has also risen and veganism is more than just a diet.
Veganism is a philosophy and compassionate lifestyle whose adherents seek to exclude the use or exploitation of animals for food, clothing or any other purpose. For instance, vegans boycott animal tested products, zoos, aquariums, animal performances, etc.
Your everyday eating habits determine the destiny of many animals. 65 billion land and 1 trillion sea animals are killed annually for food worldwide. These gigantic numbers, representative of the sentient beings that once had a life, are abstract and ambiguous in the eyes of humans.
Humans know so little about the animals whom they consume in colossal quantities. Dairy cows are constantly impregnated to produce milk and only give birth to one calf at a time after nine months of pregnancy. Contrary to what existing stereotypes suggest, pigs are in fact quite smart, being one of the few animals who have passed the mirror test. Sheep are able to recognise and remember the individual faces of more than 50 other sheep for up to two years. Chickens are not dumb - newborn chicks master a variety of numerical abilities and are even capable of mathematical reasoning and logic. Like other animals, fish feel pain, fear and stress  but are also the most overlooked species.
Animals often endure horrific abuse and suffering on factory farms. Rather than isolated incidents, cases of animal cruelty depicted by numerous video clips online are in fact standard practices observed by the industry. These reported cases are just the tip of the iceberg.
In Hong Kong, around 1.7 million pigs are slaughtered and more than 40 million kilograms of frozen pork are imported each year for the region’s own consumption (excluding re-export). Over 90% of these pigs are from China and have to endure a long and difficult journey of a minimum of two to three days before arriving at the slaughterhouses in Hong Kong. Loaded onto cramped trucks and in face of extreme weather conditions, pigs suffer from motion sickness, fatigue, thirst and hunger, to the point that they have to consume their own secretions.
While many women in their pregnancy are well taken care of by the people around them, having no luck with their fair share of blessings, female farm animals suffer greatly. Female pigs (sows) used for breeding in factory farms are confined to metal gestation crates during pregnancy and lactation. These crates are so tiny that pigs are restricted to almost zero mobility, not to mention the fact that they can’t even turn around. Waste piles up underneath the pigs, who become more susceptible to muscular atrophy, foot and leg problems, and infectious diseases due to filthy conditions. As a result of both physical and mental suffering, pigs in crates engage in meaningless and repetitive behaviours such as bar-biting, an indication of chronic frustration. When they are no longer considered “productive”, usually at the age of two, they are sent to the slaughterhouse for meat products.
Egg and dairy production are just equally, if not more, inhumane and unethical. Every year 2.5 billion male chicks born to hens are killed globally because of their inability to lay eggs. In order to force dairy cows to continue producing milk, farm workers forcefully impregnate them using artificial insemination. While female calves will likely follow in their mothers’ footsteps and spend the rest of their lives as milk machines, male calves born into the dairy industry are sent to veal farms and slaughtered for human consumption. In either case, calves are generally separated from their mothers shortly after birth.
Why do most people feel guilty about eating certain species but wouldn’t question the habit of consuming farm animals? If you would hug and play with a piglet on a farm, why would you put that piece of roasted suckling pig into your mouth without a second thought? If you would take care of an injured bird in the street, why would you eat that roasted pigeon on the dining table without blinking an eye? Animals can perceive their environment and think, have their own unique personalities, and most importantly, are able to feel pain and suffer. We should expand our moral circles and extend our empathy to nonhuman animals, making ethical choices of conscience.
This quote really speaks to me - “Going vegan isn’t about deprivation. What we feel deprived of didn’t belong to us but to animals themselves in the first place.”
Often the first steps are the most difficult but as the saying goes, “habit is second nature.” Once you decide to change and learn, you would realise going vegan may be easier than you imagine. This is the only revolution in history in which the oppressed cannot participate. In the past, revolts and movements have always been initiated by the oppressed. In this vegan revolution, however, we are the sole spokesperson since animals do not have a voice to speak for themselves. It is thus our obligation to defend their rights and fight for justice.
What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins
Jonathan Balcombe - Scientific American/Farrar, Straus, and Giroux - 2017
Do Fish Feel Pain?
Victoria Braithwaite - Oxford University Press - 2010
Special thanks to Hong Kong Vegetarian Society