With the current uptick in health and wellness as part of the mainstream, vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based diet choices are becoming more popular than ever. This may have positive implications for our planet (hopefully less factory farming) and our health (reducing the over consumption of meat products). Along with the popularization of these diet changes comes buzzwords like “cruelty free.” The notion, while well-intentioned, is rather misleading. When we make the choice to transition to meat free and/or animal product free lifestyles we still need to consider where our food is coming from. Just because animals are not being harmed or killed does not inherently mean that our food sources are cruelty free. No, I am not talking about the tired out joke that plants are sentient beings so vegans or plant-based people are sanctioned to eating air.

So what does this mean for those of us who made this dietary change to help prevent cruelty and suffering in the world?

First, we need to examine our privilege. What I mean when I say privilege is how certain things we were born with make it easier to exist in the world because we have created it for these people. For example: able-bodied privilege is the fact that we don’t have to think twice about getting up and down steps or we don’t have to worry if there’s a bathroom stall big enough for a wheel chair. We all have some privilege, and it isn’t inherently a bad thing. It’s what we do with it that it becomes good or bad. To call veganism “cruelty free” tends to ignore people who don’t have as much privilege, like people of color and people in lower-paid jobs. We cannot possibly call ourselves cruelty free when forms of violence are involved in where our food comes from, and some of it very much physical acts. Cruelty to animals and humans both is something that we as vegans or plant-based eaters (even if you choose to eat meat) should be striving toward.

When we start to examine where our food comes from, we need to go all the way back to where it is grown.

Factory farming is not a term that is limited to meat farming practices. An example of a produce company that practices factory farming is Driscoll. They have huge fields, usually in places like southern California. For these fields, most of which are not “organic”, there are planes that spray various pesticides and insecticides and various other chemicals. We have to ask ourselves, is spraying chemicals which have been known to cause harm and damage to animals, people, and the Earth “cruelty free?” Is subjecting the people who fly the planes, the workers who tend the field, and the people who live in the surrounding areas to toxins cruelty free? I feel as if we can all agree that no human deserves to be treated as poorly as a fairly large portion of the field workers. Many of them are immigrants, documented or not, that are forced to work long hard hours (some stats have shown up to sixteen hours a day depending on the season) for pennies on the dollar. There is nothing cruelty free about that at all.

However, inhumane practices aren’t limited to workers in the fields.

They go all the way up the chain. From the truckers who drive long hours across the country, to the packers putting the picked fruit and veg into containers, all the way up to the store you buy from. People are often underpaid and over-worked. People are made to feel lesser-than for the work they do, despite the fact that is a very necessary part of the chain. Without the people to tend to the fields there would be no crops, without drivers and packers no food would make it to your local market, and without the people who stock and ring you up, you’d be unable to access food.

It is sometimes overwhelming and a little bit bleak to look at, but if we work collectively to be aware of the farming practices of companies and the treatment of workers from farm to market we stand a solid chance of making change. We can put our foot down and say that we will not allow cruelty to anyone, human or animal. Examining the impact we have on the planet is one of the ways we can take yoga off our mats and incorporating it into our daily lives.  

Are you working on making your life and diet more cruelty-free? What steps are you taking to do that?