Articles From The Writings of Vasu Murti

Vegetarianism and Nonviolence

"When we turn to the protection of animals, we sometimes hear it said that we ought to protect men first and animals afterwards... By condoning cruelty to animals, we perpetuate the very spirit which condones cruelty to men."
---Henry Salt
"Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to humankind." -- Dr. Albert Schweitzer

Historically, vegetarianism has been viewed not merely as keeping "fit" nor as fad dieting, but as central to a larger, more inclusive philosophy of nonviolence towards humans and animals alike... and often with the moral conviction that the unnecessary killing of animals not only violates religious tenets, but brutalizes humans to the point where violence and warfare against other humans becomes inevitable.. 
"Who loves this terrible thing called war?" asked Isadora Duncan. "Probably the meat-eaters, having killed, feel the need to kill... The butcher with his bloody apron incites bloodshed, murder. Why not? From cutting the throat of a young calf to cutting the throats of our brothers and sisters is but a step. While we ourselves are living graves of murdered animals, how can we expect any ideal conditions on the earth?"
Reverend V.A. Holmes-Gore, author of Those We Have Not Loved, wrote that vegetarianism is "absolutely necessary for the redemption of the planet.  Indeed we cannot hope to rid the world of war, disease and a hundred other evils until we learn to show compassion to the creatures and refrain from taking their lives for food, clothing or pleasure." 
Civil rights leader Dick Gregory said: “Because of the civil rights movement, I decided I couldn’t be thoroughly nonviolent and participate in the destruction of animals for my dinner...I didn’t become a vegetarian for health reasons; I became a vegetarian strictly for moral reasons... Vegetarianism will definitely become a people’s movement.” 
U Nu, the former Prime Minister of Burma, concluded: "World peace, or any other kind of peace, depends greatly on the attitude of the mind. Vegetarianism can bring about the right mental attitude for peace... it holds forth a better way of life, which, if practiced universally, can lead to a better, more just, and more peaceful community of nations."
Of course, there are other angles of persuasion. Secular scholar Keith Akers writes:
"Jesus' teachings focus on nonviolence and poverty. It could hardly be otherwise for anyone who recommends loving one's enemies, and selling everything one owns and giving it to the poor. Would it not be a logical extension of the principles of nonviolence to extend these principles from humans to animals? Should we not love animals and care for them? And isn't meat a wasteful luxury item, a food for the rich? Shouldn't we be making more food available for the poor and hungry by eating plant foods? Our knowledge of a vegetarian tradition within Christianity comes from several places. There is first of all the Bible; secondly, the history of the early church; and thirdly, the evidence given by figures in the Christian tradition themselves."
Raising animals for food, even raising animals for animal byproducts like milk and eggs, means wasting valuable acreage, because the animals themselves are raised on plant food. If we eat lower on the food chain, fewer resources are required to feed everyone, which means less agricultural acreage, etc., which means fewer rodents and insects are killed when fields are ploughed for farming, etc. Fewer plants are killed, too. If you carry this argument to its logical conclusion, a vegan diet is the least violent, because it requires one-third less acreage than a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet, and twenty times less acreage than a meat-centered diet.
(And a return to organic farming is a direct response to the moral question of unnecessarily killing insects.)  
Animal activists are now taking note of what Quaker pacifist and vegan psychology professor Rachel MacNair refers to as "movement connections" -- animal activists finding common ground or forging an alliance with related causes or related movements. As early as 1975, Peter Singer wrote in Animal Liberation: "The environmental movement... has led people to think about our relations with other animals that seemed impossible only a decade ago. To date, environmentalists have been more concerned with wildlife and endangered species than with animals in general, but it is not too big a jump from the thought that it is wrong to treat whales as giant vessels filled with oil and blubber to the thought that it is wrong to treat (animals) as machines for converting grains to flesh."
Animal activists are linking the animal rights movement to the civil rights movement and the women's movement. At eco-friendly VegFests (animal rights festivals), animal activists have discussed forging an alliance with the fair trade movement (which opposes child labor, sweatshops, etc.). Animals are like children. It isn't too big a jump from the thought that it's wrong to purchase products involving child labor and sweatshops to the thought that it is wrong to purchase products which involve the suffering and death of animals.
Mary Rider, a liberal Catholic activist, wrote in Harmony: Voices for a Just Future, a peace and justice periodical on the religious left:
“So we teach our children to walk softly on the earth and to embrace nonviolence as the only legitimate means of conflict resolution, on both a personal and a global level. We are aware of the excessive, privileged life we lead as educated, first world U.S. citizens and of the responsibilities to which our privilege calls us. We try to live simply. We eat low on the food chain. We try to buy nothing new… We try to respect all life and carry that message forward in all we do… Because we value people and relationships over things… First world consumption kills people around the world… Pollution, environmental devastation, corrupt governments, war, sweatshops… all are a are a result of our desire to buy more at a lower price… We believe each person has a right to live a valued and respected life free from hunger and discrimination…”

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