But ask the animals, and they will teach you/the birds of the air, and they will tell you/ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you/and the fish of the sea will declare to you./Who among these does not know/that the hand of the Lord has done this? (Job 12:7-9)
As a Christian, it’s not hard for me to see God’s hand in the natural world around us.
A sow “sings” tenderly to her nursing piglets. A turkey rushes to comfort her frightened baby. A hen clucks softly to her chicks, who chirp back to her from inside their shells. A cow hides her newborn calf from a dairy farmer.
God’s hand moves in our lives, too, especially at this time of year. The holiday season seems to bring out the very best in us. We’re more understanding. Forgiveness becomes second nature. Our compassion and generosity know no bounds.
We are, in a word, kinder.
So why don’t those of us who celebrate Christ’s birth extend our compassion and kindness to the holiday table?
When we sit down with family and friends, why don’t we spare a thought for the animals on our plates, who were shown no mercy during their brief lives?
Pigs are playful animals who bond with others and whose cognitive abilities rival those of dogs and primates. They can play video games and love tummy rubs.
Photo by Terry Cummings at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary
Turkeys, who can recognize each other by their voices, love to explore — they can recall the geographic features of areas exceeding 1,000 acres — and like humans, they form strong social bonds.
Chickens create complex social structures and can distinguish among the faces of more than 100 others of their kind. They also experience rapid eye movement when they sleep — in other words, they dream, just as humans do.
Cows develop friendships but will hold grudges if they’re treated badly. They also love to solve problems and get excited when they find the solution.
But animals who are condemned to factory farms know only suffering and deprivation.
Mother pigs spend most of their lives in “gestation crates” that are too small for them even to turn around. Piglets are separated from their mothers when they’re as young as 10 days old, and the sows are then re-impregnated.
Turkeys are crammed by the thousands into dark sheds. To keep them from scratching and pecking each other to death, workers use hot blades to cut off portions of their toes and beaks — without giving them any painkillers.
Tens of thousands of chickens are raised in windowless sheds that reek of ammonia. Male chicks are deemed worthless by the egg industry, so every year, millions of them are ground up alive when they’re just a day old.
Cows are treated as milk-producing machines, often spending their lives standing on concrete floors. Male calves are often taken away from their mothers shortly after birth and are then chained inside tiny stalls and raised for veal.
Their misery finally ends on the kill floor or in the scalding-hot water of the defeathering tank.
Like humans, other animals experience fear and feel pain. They value their lives and want to be left in peace, but they’re denied that right every time we load up our plates with meat, crack open an egg or drink milk that was intended for baby cows.
We can do better. By switching to humane, healthy vegan foods, we not only celebrate the lives of every being but also feel God’s touch and answer His call to be merciful.
I can’t think of a more rewarding way to celebrate the season.
Craig Shapiro is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation.