Opinion

Atoning for Our Sins Against Animals

A cow and her calf at an exhibition by the Argentine Rural Society, Buenos Aires, July 25, 2019.
Agustin Marcarian / Reuters

A while back I noticed a question to this newspaper’s advice column. The readers, a couple who live in an apartment building, said that outside their door two cats would often scuffle until one started bleeding. The readers wondered what they could do to help their feline neighbors.

It’s nice to encounter people who ask themselves how they can become better people, and it’s especially encouraging when they ask themselves such questions regarding animals’ distress. After all, animals don’t ask us to help them, and they can’t really thank us or return the favor.Those of us who choose to help them do so of our own goodwill. And it’s good to live, I thought, in a place where people consult, offer advice and consider these altruistic issues, especially in such an esteemed public forum.

The good mood lasted until I got to the newspaper’s restaurant-review section. The reviewer wasn’t impressed by the establishment he visited; for example, he was disturbed that one of the dishes was called “Shreds of Lamb Neck.” (He asked if maybe there was a more appetizing way to present a dish.) He didn’t think the veal tonsils or the entrecôte were particularly tasty either.

Ostensibly there was nothing noteworthy about this; this is the section where readers seek recommendations before spending their good money on a meal. The factors are service, price, presentation and of course the taste. Still, my mood changed. It’s true that in the restaurant column, unlike the advice column, no question was expressly asked, but it provided an answer to a moral issue. And the answer was discouraging.

Let’s imagine that the following question had been submitted to the paper. “Hello, I recently saw an investigative report on the news that calves and lambs are brought to Israel on ship journeys that last several weeks, and they’re held in cramped conditions that don’t let them move, see daylight or breathe fresh air. Some get sick, and those that don’t survive are thrown into the sea.

“When the animals were taken off the ships, they were so scared they were afraid to move, so the workers kicked them and jabbed them with electric prods. I think it’s forbidden to treat animals this way, and I know that all this is done to sell me lamb neck, veal tonsils and entrecôte. But I’m going to a restaurant tomorrow with friends and really like those dishes. Should I order one of them?”

The answer? If we’re to rely on that restaurant review, the answer is yes. That column was just one example of a general phenomenon. When on television, in the newspapers, in advertisements and on blogs we see descriptions of dishes based on animals in the livestock industry, it’s clear that the question has been answered: Yes, it’s fine to pay for doing animals harm. All we have to talk about is whether the meat was rubbery or needs aioli.

Suddenly our society looks a lot less friendly to animals, a place where harming them is recommended, maybe because they’re weaker, maybe because society doesn’t expect us to stop.

It’s hard to ignore the gap between the way we see the animals that live around us, mainly dogs and cats, and the way we don’t see the animals on the menu or in the supermarket. Like the beloved cat we protect at our building, the calf would be happy if we saved him from the cramped ship and the truck that brings him to the slaughterhouse.

The Yom Kippur season is an opportunity to stop and think about the moral consequences of our actions. For many of us it’s already clear that we should prevent distress to animals as best we can. It’s also clear that most Israelis agree that the chicks, calves, lambs and other souls that we hold in the crowded pens of the meat, egg and milk industries aren’t getting fair treatment.

The 10 days of atonement that recently ended – and now into Sukkot – provide an excellent opportunity to ask ourselves questions on this issue and consider whether our habits reflect our values. For those looking to change their habits, there was probably no better time than the first meal after the fast day and the period of introspection.

But it’s not too late. Plant-based recipes and menus are readily available online; all you have to do is choose. Have a happy new year.

Omer Ginzburg is an activist in the Israeli group Animals Now, formerly Anonymous for Animal Rights.