by Dr. Joanne Kong
The global pandemic of COVID-19 has become a driving force for us to re-examine our place in the world. A new reality has set in, as we face threats to our survivability that are unprecedented in our lifetimes. These are frightening times not only because of the dire threats of the virus to our health, but because we’re undergoing, out of necessity, drastic changes in our daily habits and the ways in which we interact with others.
The coronavirus is a warning shot that humans must move away from animal exploitation. Zoonotic pathogens are on the rise. Whether it’s from an animal wet market or the thousands of industrialized factory farms around the world, these are all perfect breeding grounds for the next new virus. At least 75% of emerging infectious diseases can be traced to animals, and the escalating rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in factory farms is already a global threat.
When we harm others, we harm ourselves. The consumption of animal products leads to global rises in heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and obesity – the very conditions tied to higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19. For most of the world’s population, it is not essential to eat animals in order to survive. A decisive shift to plant-sourced foods, away from animal products, will not only be the key to a healthier world; it will reduce the risk of future pandemics.
And it’s more than health. Animal agriculture is one of the most destructive industries on the planet. It is a major driver of staggering species and habitat loss, catastrophic environmental damage, resource depletion, and climate change. Our species cannot expect to survive if we continue our egocentric view of the world, that the earth’s resources are inexhaustible and its inhabitants expendable.
How then, will we emerge from this crisis? The coronavirus is just one symptom that human influence has reached its point of greatest harm, not only to ourselves, but to our fellow creatures and the planet. Having an honest reckoning about the perils of animal exploitation will give humankind the opportunity to elevate and transform its collective identity towards a conscious awareness that all living beings are connected. It’s about seeing ourselves in others, and widening our sphere of love, sensitivity and kindness in order to lessen suffering. As a single global community we must envision a bold new future of food: redirection of subsidies to plant-sourced foods, meat alternatives, innovative food technologies, and regenerative agricultural practices that allow our planet to heal. Greenhouses in place of slaughterhouses!
Dr. Joanne Kong is a TEDx speaker on plant-based nutrition, an international animal advocate, and professor at the University of Richmond. She is the author of If You’ve Ever Loved an Animal, Go Vegan.” firstname.lastname@example.org, www.vegansmakeadifference.com