The recent bans on meat in Mumbai, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Haryana in respect of Paryushan have resulted in many on Twitter asking about personal choice.
I am a big supporter of personal choice. When I was a teenager, now 20 years ago, even though I was raised in a conservative family, I dyed my hair fire-engine red and got a tattoo, much to the annoyance of my parents. I enjoyed excellent marks in school and university but chose not to follow traditional career paths. In my twenties, I moved to and explored different countries on my own in order to exercise my free will further. I so valued my sense of self-determination that I long avoided getting married because I thought it might affect my ability to live on my own terms. Eventually, I married the man I chose, who also respects personal choice.
So, yes, I understand the importance of having the opportunity to make one's own decisions. In fact, because of my immense respect for personal choice, in my teens I became vegetarian and later vegan, and today I'm happy about these meat bans.
Consider the life of a farmed chicken from birth to death: most chickens used for meat and eggs are not born in a nest but in a factory incubator with temperature and other controls. Their first sight of the world is not their mother but numerous other baby chicks, all born in the same way, in a metal hatchery crate. Soon after, female chicks to be used for eggs have their beaks painfully seared off with a hot blade in order to prevent them from pecking each other in frustration when they're moved to cages where they spend their short lives confined to a space smaller than an iPad screen before they are taken to slaughter. Male chicks, considered worthless by the egg industry, are typically killed when they're just babies in various horrific ways, such as being suffocated or ground up alive. Chickens deliberately bred to be unnaturally top heavy for extra breast meat are typically crowded by the hundreds or thousands into dark sheds that reek of ammonia from the accumulated waste in which the animals are forced to stand. These birds never see the light of day and are denied everything that is natural and important to them. They are then thrown into vehicles for slaughter in ways that often break their bones and cause many to die en route. At slaughterhouses across India, workers typically hack at the birds' throats with dull blades while they're still conscious.
What personal choice does the gentle, defenceless chicken have in all this?
When everyone involved in and affected by a decision does not enjoy the same freedom from harm, it's no longer a simple matter of choice or free will, just as choosing to assault or rape a person is not considered a valid personal choice. Like any victim of a person who chooses to murder, animals in the meat industry are victims of cruelty.
Also, what about the personal choice of wanting to live on a healthy planet?
Meat production is a major contributor to the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change. This means that meat-eaters' choices are negatively affecting us all. India is already suffering from climate change's disastrous effects, including a warming climate, changing rainfall patterns, droughts, melting glaciers, rising sea levels and an increased risk to food, energy and water security. What this means in real terms for people today are problems such as extreme weather with increases in heat waves, cyclones and floods; a drop in crop production; a resurgence of several vector-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue because of temperature fluctuations and other problems.
And what of our personal choice to try to have a long life?
When meat-promoting fast-food chains, for example, spend literally billions of US dollars on clever advertising in order to convince people to eat meat burgers and other junk food whose consumption can be linked to health problems, are consumers truly making a free choice, or have they been coerced - or even fooled - into buying these companies' products? Anyone who has watched the 2004 documentarySuper Size Me knows what damage a diet of McDonald's fast food can cause, and more doctors now tell us that consumption of meat and other animal-sourced products can contribute to heart disease, strokes, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
The choice for me is clear: choose life, choose respect, choose vegan. If you'd like to join me, PETA India is here to help you make the switch. Order your free vegetarian/vegan starter kit from PETA India today.