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What Animal Suffering Means to Me as a Non-Vegan

I cause the death of animals for my pleasure. Not directly, but ultimately, because the butcher or fisherman would not end the lives of sentient beings if not for consumers like me. And yes, for my pleasure and my pleasure alone; I cannot justify the killings in the name of survival, because I know I can very well afford and survive on a purely plant-based diet that would even result in me having a healthier body and a longer life.

If it’s any consolation, as much as possible I try to eat only those animals that live in the oceans, animals that were not raised in cramped captivity in order to minimize production cost and maximize profit for the growers. My philosophy is that all animals die; what matters is how they live. A lapu-lapu (grouper), for example, would experience the same gruesome death whether in the jaws of a bigger fish or some other sea predator as it would in a fisherman’s hook, net, or spear so it could end up on my plate. And no matter how it died, it was lucky to have lived free to swim in the ocean, infinitely luckier than the farmed chickens and pigs who were forced to spend all their lives in tight cages and never got to see the sun or breathe fresh air except on their way to the slaughterhouse. Bottom line, by eating fish I am not adding to the overall suffering of sentient beings in the world.

Every once in a while, however, my beloved mom cooks her specialty, which is humba (braised pork legs), and other meat dishes. While I do not crave for meat (I prefer the lighter taste of seafood), I cannot afford to break my mom’s heart by shunning her dish in the hope that such an act would result in fewer animals dying in the long run (by eating animals that were miserably bred in captivity, I take part in perpetuating the inhumane meat industry where animals suffer unimaginably). Besides, her cooking is really great. Call me a speciesist if you must because that’s what I am, and I value my aging mom’s feelings many times over the physical pain of non-human animals. Even the thought of an animal’s lifelong suffering distilled into a piece of meat only manages to make it lose some of its appeal, but never my appetite.

A vegan once asked me why, in spite of my keen awareness of animal suffering, I continue to eat them. While I can justify eating fish and seafood, at least to myself, I regret to say that such awareness never caused me to totally give up meat, including farmed meat. What it did, however, was to make me grow cynical of man’s morality and compassion. It seems most of us are capable of loving only our own kind – or even only our own kin. Which reminds me of the Old Testament where God commands His people to “love thy neighbor as thyself” (probably because in those times their neighbors were mostly their kinsmen) but to kill the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

But what I really find disturbing is seeing people gather around the table and pray in front of a lechon (whole roasted pig) and thank God for the bountiful blessing they are about to partake. Here lies the body of a dead animal who never once got to enjoy a natural life of freedom and whose death was predetermined by this very occasion. Instead of a thanksgiving prayer, a eulogy would seem more appropriate.

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The Truth about Cats and Dogs and Vivisection


The 1998 report issued by the Department of Agriculture listed 140,471 dogs, 42,271 cats, 51,641 primates, 431,457 guinea pigs, 331,945 hamsters, 459,254 rabbits, and 178, 249 “wild animals”: a total of 1,635,288 used in experimentation.

– Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: HarperCollins 2009).


The term vivisection was unfamiliar to me until I started to look into animal rights issues. These days, when I choose to avoid the term vivisection and use ‘animal experiments’ instead, I sense that people aren’t particularly aware of the difference between the two terms. There is simply a lack of information surrounding the issue. Many seem to think that animal tests are used sparingly, only in life-saving circumstances such as research for HIV/AIDS, and that in these situations, animals are treated with utmost care for their “contribution to science.”

The fact that we are using animals — sentient beings — in the first place poses an ethical question. They are basically treated as mere objects and tools — “models,” as industry journal Lab Animal refers to them. What makes it worse is that these experiments, even under the highly-esteemed medical research category, are practically useless. According to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, “nine out of ten experimental drugs fail in clinical studies because we cannot accurately predict how they will behave in people based on laboratory and animal studies.” [1]

Examples of Vivisection

Vivisection consists of military tests, psychological research, product testing, and medical research.  The following examples of animal testing are selectively derived from book Animal Liberation by Peter Singer.

One experiment used a flight simulator called Primate Equilibrium Platform to test how exposures to radiation and chemical warfare agents affect the ability of monkeys to fly an aircraft.  To train monkeys, electrical shocks had to be administered up to one hundred times a day or a total of thousands of electric shocks throughout the experiment. Once monkeys had learned to operate the aircraft, they were then exposed to lethal or sublethal doses of radiation or chemical warfare agents. This was where the real experiment began. The end result was that the monkeys showed symptoms of loss of coordination, weakness, and intention tremor.

Another experiment consisted of beagle dogs being fed varied doses of explosive TNT throughout a period of 6 months. This was conducted under the direction of the U.S. Army Medical Bioengineering Research and Development Laboratory at Fort Detrick, in Frederick, Maryland. The result was that the dogs experienced dehydration, emaciation, anemia, jaundice, low body temperature, discolored urine and feces, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, enlarged livers, spleens, and kidneys. As if this wasn’t or cruel enough, the test conclusion was that “additional studies of TNT in beagle dogs may be warranted.”

In the field of psychological research, many experiments used animals as subjects in controlled experiments, rather than studying available data in depth through actual human behavior. One such experiment was conducted by Professor Harry F. Harlow. In his experiment to determine the lifelong effects of maternal deprivation, depression was induced by allowing baby monkeys to attach to abusive surrogate mothers. They reared female monkeys in complete isolation, after which they were impregnated with a technique accurately called “rape rack.” The test result was depressed baby monkeys reaching out for help from surrogate mothers who treated them even worse.

In product testing, a common test for cosmetics, bathroom, and household products is called LD50 or “lethal dose 50 percent”. The point of the test is to find out what amount of the substance will kill 50 percent of the test subjects when force-fed. The very intention of this test is to kill half of the animals and to conduct the testing again and again until the 50% kill-ratio is achieved.

The Draize eye irritancy test is another common product testing methodology. As the name suggests, products are tested in animals’ eyes. The animals are restrained so they are unable to move, scratch, or rub their eyes — so the “integrity” of the test can be retained. It is not uncommon for eye swelling, ulceration, infection, bleeding, and even total loss of vision to occur. It is important to emphasize that the testing bears no relevance to the actual situations wherein the products are to be used. A Draize eye test can be used to test deodorant, for example.

Many experiments under medical research are conducted not for any breakthrough findings, but merely to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, with these experiments’ outcomes already known. As an example, Yale University School of Medicine students conducted an experiment on kittens by placing them in a “radiant-heating” chamber, which resulted in convulsions. Their report said: “The findings in artificially induced fever in kittens conform to the clinical and EEG findings in human beings and previous clinical findings in kittens” (italics mine).

Cruel, Faulty Science

Saying no to vivisection is not being anti-science. On the contrary, we cannot rely on the accuracy of animal tests in many occasions. As a data point, in a toxicity test involving 56 substances, 45% of findings from animal tests cannot be replicated in humans. Even with medicine we use today, the effects differ significantly among animals and humans.  Acetaminophen, for instance, is “poisonous to cats but is a therapeutic in humans; penicillin is toxic in guinea pigs but has been an invaluable tool in human medicine; morphine causes hyper-excitement in cats but has a calming effect in human patients; and oral contraceptives prolong blood-clotting times in dogs but increase a human’s risk of developing blood clots.” [2]

Because vivisection is used as the standard for medical testing today, we have wasted a lot of money, time, animal lives and human lives. Take, for instance, the linking of smoking to lung cancer.  When the correlation was reported based on an epidemiological study in 1954, it was dismissed because the result could not be replicated in animal experiments. It took 30 more years for the initial finding to be accepted — that is 30 years’ worth of animal and human lives that could have been saved. [3]

Another misleading experiment was the study on a drug called Mitoxantrone. When tested on beagle dogs, the drug did not show links to cardiac failure, and so it was approved for human testing. Later on, “data from 3,360 patients receiving mitoxantrone included 88 reports of cardiac side effects with 29 cases of heart failure.” [4]

Because much variance can be derived from experimentation among different species, vivisection is also an easy way for research practitioners to manipulate experiments for their own interests. All researchers have to do is switch species until their desired outcome is derived. If their experiment on rats did not produce the desired result, they will repeat the experiment in rabbits, and then in cats, and then in dogs, and then in monkeys, and so on, until they find the results that will get them their research grants and funding. By this time, countless animals would have suffered and died with no guarantee of any significant finding.

There are many other examples of vivisection as bad science, and the bottom line simply is that because of our attachment to using animals for experimentation, we are not only being cruel to beings who are sentient enough to feel pain, but we are also impeding progress in the medical field.

Speciesism: Animals as Property

The reason vivisection still exists today is not because it is necessarily an effective means of research, but largely because of speciesism. Speciesism is the discrimination towards species other than our own. Speciesism allows us to justify the harm we do to animals by clinging on to the false belief that our interests and trivial concerns precede the comfort and preferences of others. Even as non-practitioners of medicine, many of our schools and universities require dissection of frogs, cats, and other animals in basic biology classes.  We can all agree that such experiments are not necessary in the advancement of knowledge as a whole, for we are merely studying what is already known. The reason we continue to do this is because as speciesists, we see nothing inherently wrong with this practice. This further desensitizes us as our own educational institutions force the idea that animals are mere objects, tools, or properties.

To end vivisection and other forms of animal exploitation, we have to reject the property status of animals, an animal rights theory introduced by Gary L. Francione. It is not enough that animals are “treated better,” for properties remain a sign of ownership, where the owner has the right and privilege to do whatever he or she pleases with the property. It is always a relationship of power and dominion over that which is owned.

Even if vivisection can lead to valuable medical findings, it still cannot be morally justifiable in the same way that experimenting on brain-dead human beings or newly-born babies cannot be morally justifiable. In the subject of morality, the question is not skill or intelligence or likeness to humans. The only qualifying criterion is sentience or capacity to feel. We cannot own anyone who has the capacity to feel, and we certainly cannot experiment on them without their consent.

What Does This Have To Do With Me?

You are unconsciously contributing to animal cruelty — and I say this with certainty if you wash your hair with shampoo, shower with soap, and brush your teeth with toothpaste.  It is horrific to think that in the name of a new variant of shampoo, animals have to suffer and die (and they most certainly die, as animals are normally “discarded” after the experiment has concluded.)

If you think you’re being a good Samaritan by donating to a cancer research fund, again, this has everything to do with you. Find out if the charity you are donating to is still using vivisection or has advanced to in-vitro, tissue cultures, cell cultures, computer simulations, and other non-invasive procedures. Not only are these methods less cruel, they are also more relevant to human health and medicine.

The power in being a consumer is that we vote with the currency most understood by businesses and corporations — profit.  There are many injustices in the world, but the injustice of animal cruelty is a very direct one that we can stop. It is one that we either choose to sustain or choose to boycott. It was said in the documentary Earthlings that “it takes nothing away from a human to be kind to an animal”. But when I really think about my own choices to boycott animal cruelty, my motivation is not so much of kindness but one of justice. One does not have to be an “animal lover” to oppose suffering. One does not have to be a radical activist to create positive change. It could start with the shampoo you use today, that is how ridiculously simple it is. The truth about vivisection is that it cannot be justified, nobody deserves it, and nobody benefits from it. The truth about cats and dogs — and monkeys and rabbits and rats and guinea pigs and all other animals — is that they are sentient, just like you and I.



[1] Food and Drug Administration (2006, Jan. 12). FDA Issues Advice to Make Earliest Stages of Clinical Dug Development More Efficient. Press Release. Retrieved March 2008, from

[2]  and [3]  Problems with Animal Research.

[4] Beagle Dogs Mislead Cancer Research


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On Violence

Before my life as an animal rights advocate, I was exposed to domestic violence. I was an observer, perpetuator, and victim of violence. To assuage any doubts about this statement, I will spell it out. I grew up in an environment where my parents were physically, emotionally, and psychologically abusive towards each other. Like a stereotypical case study, I also got involved in an equally abusive relationship in my adult life. I was both on the giving and receiving end of violence. While I am convinced that I have worked hard enough never to go back to that situation, the survival of it has made me ready to see the truth of violence towards others. And not only despite but because of this exposure, I understand the plight of animals. I understand the offensiveness of the violent act. I once felt the same helplessness. It is not empathy that I have. It is sharing the same pain.

The relevance between the two types of violence may not be obvious to many, but let me explain. While the pain of the victim of violence is the same, the cages built for humans are often psychological but the cages built for animals are always physical. I can get myself out of an abusive relationship with continued self-care, but an animal cannot will himself out of a human’s knife with his screams. Furthermore, violence comes from the same root of discrimination and regarding others as inferior to us.

The equation of violence necessarily involves the exertion of force on one end and suffering pain on the other. For human relationships, there is an element of complicity because of our psychological brainwashing. This is not to blame the victim, but to explain the complexity of how we end up choosing the same situations that hurt us. No individual who grew up with abusive parents knowingly seeks out abusive relationships. But we are drawn towards the signals that we know. We gravitate towards the tension that we mistake as passion. We tread on that undercurrent of which we do not understand.

If we saw our parents being violent towards each other, then our deep-seated but unspoken belief is that violence is acceptable and is not a pre-requisite for a separation. It does not occur to us that we can leave. It does not occur to us that we are actively reliving our childhood memories. It does not occur to us that we have this futile and unconscious desire to be in the same situation but a different outcome. We were fed an addictive dose of drama and we were typecast into a role that is familiar to us. That is, until we hit rock bottom and make the decision to stop. Until then, the prevailing mindset is one of helplessness, feeling stuck and trapped, unable to leave a situation that destroys us.

Animals do not have the luxury of hitting rock bottom. When they become victims of abuse, there is absolutely no masochistic complicity on their part. While victims of domestic violence choose their relationships, animals bred by humans for the sole purpose of their death and consequent use have no hand in choosing that situation. It was chosen for them and designed systematically so that they cannot escape. Their suffering is afflicted not by a single individual’s need for control, but by an entire society’s complicity and speciesism.

Violence comes from the same root. The offensiveness and helplessness surrounding both the issues of domestic violence and animal abuse are the same. When animal rights advocates speak out in behalf of animals, we are not choosing animals over humans. We are opposing violence of all kind. On a personal level, surviving pain and healing from it gave me the gift of seeing this in others. And once my eyes were opened, I found it easy to make one connection after the other; I found it natural to recognize that all types of violence and injustice and hopelessness are one and the same.

Note: If you are in an abusive situation with your family member or partner, please seek professional help. Learn more about codependency, drama addiction, and dysfunctional families. Visit Codependents Anonymous at If you are unaware of the violence against animals, please watch Earthlings at We can remove violence from our lives and we start by educating ourselves.

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Animals Eating Animals: Survival and Morality

Vegans are often confronted with the circle-of-life argument. Animals in the wild eat other animals, so why must one abstain from participating in this cycle? I explore two angles in addressing this question: first of survival and then of morality.

Do we need to eat animals to survive?

The circle of life automatically conjures up images of one animal eating another animal, and that first animal being eaten by another animal, so on and so forth, as if the size of one species is the sole determinant for which other species it can consume with rightful entitlement. Lest we forget, not all animals are carnivores, and that circle of life includes animals like cows and monkeys who rarely, if ever, consume animal carcasses.

Human beings are not carnivores. We can eat animals to survive, yes, but we certainly don’t need to eat animals to thrive. On the contrary, eating animals increases the likelihood of contracting a long list of health problems such as obesity, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, kidney stones, gallstones, osteoporosis, and diabetes. These are the same diseases that true carnivores will not be subject to with the same kind of high-fat, high-cholesterol, animal-flesh diet. I intentionally omitted any mention of animals consuming other animals’ excrements because of its irrelevance. It is only us humans who consume the milk of another species.

Comparative anatomy also shows that humans resemble the physiology of herbivores more than carnivores or even omnivores.

• Carnivores have sharp front teeth with no molars and limited side-to-side motion that enable them to tear up animal flesh and swallow them whole. Herbivores have no sharp front teeth and their jaws can move both in up-and-down and side-to-side motion to enable them to grind up fruits and vegetables with their molars. Humans have similar flat back molars as other herbivores, and humans do not have anterior teeth suitable for tearing animal flesh.

• Carnivores have shorter intestinal tracts that allow animal flesh to pass through quickly without causing illnesses. Carnivores have intestinal tracts 3 to 6 times their body length while humans have intestinal tracts 10 to 12 times our body length, similar to herbivores. Eating animal flesh poses a greater danger of colon cancer to humans, as our longer intestines provide more time for bacteria in animal flesh to multiply and rot.

• Carnivores do not need fiber to move food through their digestive tracts. Herbivores need fiber to digest food in their long intestinal tracts. Humans, without fiber, will suffer from digestive constipation.

• Carnivores have acidic stomachs that kill bacteria present in raw animal flesh. Herbivores have weaker stomach acids as fruits and vegetables do not require so much acidity. Human stomach acidity resembles that of herbivores. This is why we are at risk of being contaminated with e.coli, listeria, and campylobacter when we eat raw or even undercooked animal flesh.

The default psychology of humans also strengthens the position that we are herbivores. We are not like sharks who are drawn to blood and guts. When human toddlers see animals, they gaze in fascination, wanting to pet them, not eat them. The fact that most humans still eat animals is not an indication that it is natural. It is because it has been the accepted norm, because it is a matter of taste and preference, because it is a habit born out of modern capitalism.

Is it morally acceptable for humans to eat animals?

Given that eating animals is not a matter of survival, the answer becomes a resounding no. We are not entitled to kill other animals. More than that, it is to our detriment that we do. And if we expand the definition of morality to include our obligation to other human beings and to our environment, the morally acceptable position is still to abstain from consuming animals. World hunger, human violence, and environmental destruction are all topics that need a separate discussion altogether.

Gary L. Francione, Professor of Philosophy, Animal Rights and the Law at Rutgers University, refutes the circle-of-life argument succinctly. “It is interesting that when it is convenient for us to do so, we attempt to justify our exploitation of animals by resting on our supposed ‘superiority’. And when our supposed ‘superiority’ gets in the way of what we want to do, we suddenly portray ourselves as nothing more than another species of wild animal, as entitled as foxes to eat chickens.”

Entitlement is a key concept here. We do not have the physiological entitlement to make eating animals morally excusable. We are not wild animals. For many of us humans, our wildest venture into food may be a donkey we mistakenly ate cooked well-done in an industrial-quality stove at a so-called exotic restaurant. Were we to hunt for animal flesh with our bare hands and eat them raw, we are likely to be repelled by the very same process which is natural to physiological carnivores.

Might does not make right. Just because we have found ways to eat animals does not mean we are meant to do so. We are capable of committing arson too, but that capability does not give us the license to go ahead and commit arson. Abstaining from animal flesh – and more comprehensively veganism as a whole – is not about charity or kindness or compassion or heroism or purity. It is not morally equal to using our time and resources to build houses for the homeless. Rather, it is morally equal to not stealing money from the homeless. It is the minimum requirement.

In conclusion, we should not take the circle of life literally. It is not about the smaller animal being eaten by the bigger animal. It is about how we survive and thrive. It is about respecting our role and causing the least disruption in others’. I would like to think that as morally conscious beings, our participation in the circle of life is an enlightened one, where our moral blind spots are shed to light, where we are able to scrape away our desire for conformity and appeal to our true sense of ethics, away from what is convenient and accepted and normal. I would like to hope that one day, you – dear reader – will be at the receiving end of the circle-of-life question, and that you will find the question as irrelevant as the answer is obvious.


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The Ethics of Veganism

The use of animals in our society is so normal that my choice to be vegan is often questioned and misunderstood. The idea of being vegan is just too radical for some. Their reactions are not exactly unfounded. Animal use is everywhere- the milk in your coffee, the pet hamster on the TV show you just watched, the leather in your watch strap, the gelatin in your halo-halo. So why be vegan? I throw the question back at you. Why not? Veganism is not just a diet, although going vegan can do wonders for your health. Veganism is not necessarily a religion-based code of ethics, although the ancient religion Jainism does prescribe Ahimsa or a path of non-violence towards all living beings. Even among vegans, we disagree about what the term vegan must mean, and we each project our own ideals onto the label. Must it be limited to the ethical motivation to be compassionate? Must it be inclusive of respect to your own health? What is not up to debate is that vegans abstain from any use of animals, animal products, animal byproducts, and animal excrements for food, clothing, medical research, entertainment etc in as much as it is practical and avoidable. The underlying principle is that we oppose murder and rape and other forms of violence and we see our use and abuse of animals as just that. These pre-meditated crimes are not acceptable just because they are committed against beings other than humans. Violence is violence. Rape is rape. Murder is murder. Suffering is suffering. Veganism is a way of life that acknowledges that version of our reality.

The core of veganism is the reduction of suffering and violence. It is crucial to emphasize that the violence against animals is not limited to the obvious aspect of slaughter.  It also includes the way in which they have been born and raised- or to be more accurate, the way in which they have been manufactured and stored. Standard practices in the industry include cutting off the beaks of chicks without anesthesia, castration without anesthesia, slamming down baby pigs who do not meet weight requirements on the floor, branding cattle with hot iron without anesthesia, killing and skinning animals when they are still conscious, not to mention the atrocities of their living conditions that basically confine them to a single area equal to their body size for all their short miserable lives. Through our use and confinement of them, they have become artificially disabled. They cannot flap their wings, milk their young, or run freely as they would in their natural environments. Even their physiological form has been manipulated so consumers can have more meat and become more obese and business owners can have more cash in the bank. Animals are forced to be cannibals as the industry commonly feeds cows other cows, pigs other pigs, and chickens other chickens. Whatever the animal industry and whatever their use, the bottomline is the same. They suffer. Needlessly.

Factory farming aside, what is so wrong with eating animals or wearing a leather jacket or going to a zoo or dissecting frogs in Biology class? Doing any of those things presupposes that human beings own animals, that we can do with them as we please, regardless of their sentience or capacity to feel pain. The common argument I hear is that we are the more intelligent species. I find this illogical for a number of reasons. Why should intelligence be an excuse for abuse and savagery? If we were to accept that the more intelligent can do whatever they want with the less intelligent, does it mean we can kill infants with mental disabilities and make sausages out of them? And supposing that another species would emerge that appears to be more intelligent than us, are we ready and willing to be skinned alive to serve as materials for someone else’s jacket? Another similar argument for animal use is that humans are on top of the food chain. The food chain again presupposes that there is an order in nature, but there is nothing natural about the way food is produced and transported and consumed today. Other animals do not factory-farm other animals. It is only us humans who do.

An ethical aspect that people often overlook is human welfare. We are creating jobs that force people to kill, where desensitization is a near certainty and injuries are habitual. In slaughterhouses, many workers urinate and defecate in the assembly lines in order to keep up with the production speed requirements. They are also injured by the struggling half-alive half-dead animals who either still summon up enough will to fight back or are so delirious with pain they can only react in violent convulsions. In leather factories, workers are immersed knee-deep in toxic dye substances. In zoos and aquariums, trainers are given commands to treat the animals like things, to use electrocution freely, to stop themselves from making any emotional or empathic connection with the animals. We are building a world where the demand for assassins is growing, where we hire them to do our dirty work all the while absolving our own accountability. And for what good reason? Because they taste good to our chemically-drowned palates or because we need a new variation of shampoo to treat our colored hair. The world we inherited has brainwashed us into thinking this is the way the world works –that this is who we are.

Veganism is about awakening our senses, learning the truth, sometimes having to dig through it, and ultimately facing it. It is connecting the dots. It is knowing that if I eat animals, I am directly responsible for both the screams and screeches of the animal and the unabashed violence of the slaughterhouse worker in and outside his workplace. Veganism is about examining my values, weighing the importance of my personal trivial interest of swimming with the dolphins in an aquarium against the importance of letting the dolphins live their natural lives in a vast ocean. Veganism is listening to my true nature as a human being, that even if I did not have the literacy to express the wrongness of killing, I would already know it. Veganism is looking at cruelty and seeing it for what it is and saying “No, I simply cannot be a part of this.”

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