A current viral video trending on social media has garnered more than 6.6 million view on Facebook alone and is a powerful experience in deep empathy. This undercover video, filmed by three activists from Anonymous for Animal Rights, was taken inside an egg hatchery from the perspective of a newly hatched chick.
As the terrified chicks hurtle down the metal conveyor belts, uniformed human “selectors” must rapidly asses each chick’s “quality.” The selectors snatch “faulty” chicks from the belt and toss them into boxes to be discarded. The reward for the chicks that make it to the final conveyor belt? Being shot from a “chick gun” into boxes where they will wait, at risk of death from suffocation or dehydration, until they reach the overcrowded chicken coops where they will live until their lives end in the same brutal, industrialized way they began.
Why Children Choose Not to Eat Meat
Because the video so vividly captures the experience from the chicks’ point of view, it makes it nearly impossible for the viewer not to feel empathy. Of all the many valid reasons to choose to eat a vegan or vegetarian diet is compassionate for other living beings. A 2010 study on food ethics conducted by Karen M. Husser and Paul L. Harris at Harvard University found children who elect to become vegetarians despite being raised in non-vegetarian families—whom they term “independent vegetarians”—all explain that choice as stemming from “the suffering that meat eating implies for animals.”
Learning to Dissociate Meat from Animals
With age, many of us lose that innate empathetic understanding of the connection between meat and suffering. Most people would say they dislike causing pain to animals, so if they choose to eat meat, they must dissociate it from its animal origins in order to avoid feelings of guilt. Researchers J.R. Kunst and S.A. Hohle tested this hypothesis through a series of studies, including one that found when participants looked at a meat advertisement depicting a living animal, they reported increased empathy and reduced willingness to eat meat.
The idea that vegetarians and vegans may be more inclined to empathy has been tested, too, and shown to be true. Brain scans revealed that vegetarians and vegans have a greater emotional response to both human and animal suffering. Studies also indicate that individuals who advocate on behalf of animals are likely to care deeply about a broad spectrum of social justice and humanitarian causes.
How to Eat Empathetically
In his book “Eating Animals,” author Jonathan Safran Foer argues that when we choose to ignore our deep, empathetic impulse to avoid inflicting pain on animals, we dull our capacity to empathize with humans as well. According to Foer, however, eating meat is not necessarily a bad choice. Rather, he claims that if we choose to eat meat, we have an ethical responsibility to prioritize the humane treatment of animals and safe environmental practices.
While writing the book, Foer collaborated with Farm Forward, a nonprofit that offers recommendations on how to make food choices that “minimize animal suffering and increase sustainability.” Their emphasis is not on convincing people to adopt an entirely vegan or vegetarian diet, instead, it’s on encouraging them to “eat conscientiously.” Another way of putting that could be: “Eat empathetically.”