Way back in time, when my husband was working on his PhD at Michigan State University, I thought I might get a PhD, too. I applied, was accepted, and enrolled.
One of the things that presented a little barrier for me right from the start, though, was that my advisor wanted me to begin my doctoral career with a “small animal research project” just to get a quick publication and a little bit of research experience. It was a conversation that took place just after I had adopted a shelter kitten who turned out to have feline distemper and appeared to be dying. I was distraught as I tried to explain to my advisor why I wasn’t going to do a “small animal research project,” all the while sobbing about my kitten. I still remember the look on this poor professor’s face as she tried to figure out how to deal with this crazy new student.
Anyway, I changed advisors (a big relief to both of us, I think), completed all my course work including four (four!) excruciating semesters of statistics—and then took a leave of absence to teach nutrition to dietetics students. Then, my husband successfully defended his PhD dissertation and got a job at the National Cancer Institute in Washington, DC. We moved, I got another job that I really liked, and I never finished my doctorate.
That was as close to vivisection as I’ve ever come. Not only have I never done it, but I also will not promote it. And I’m always a little surprised when I see other vegans doing so–using animal research to discredit meat or milk, or some other dietary factor, and to support vegan diets. Certainly, animal research can be effective in this regard; these studies are fast and cheap, and they allow types of research that can’t “ethically” be done in humans.
But while these studies come across my computer screen almost daily, I have no problem giving them a pass. For one thing, animal research is always the weakest of all evidence. Animals are different from humans in important ways. And feeding isolated compounds to animals doesn’t tell you much about what happens when you feed actual food to humans.
But just as importantly, as a vegan, I don’t promote animal-use. And, citing animal studies as evidence for anything translates to an endorsement of animal research. Citing it in support of vegan diets suggests that it’s okay to exploit one group of animals in order to protect another.
Something similar happens when vegans single out particular animal foods as being especially harmful. Several weeks ago, I received an email newsletter from an animal rights group highlighting a study on red meat and lung cancer. It linked directly to the study abstract which concluded that “A high intake of red meat may increase the risk of lung cancer by about 35%, while a high intake of poultry decreases the risk by about 10%.”
That’s hardly a vegan message. And since most people already view chicken meat as healthier than red meat, it probably only serves to perpetuate existing beliefs about poultry consumption, while encouraging a behavior that leads to more suffering.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, in his famous 1963 letter from the Birmingham Jail wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
He wasn’t talking about animals, of course, but it’s an observation that works well for animal advocacy. Vegans advocate for all animals. And even when we want to advocate for other things–like human health–we shouldn’t do it by endorsing a system that tortures mice, and rats, and monkeys and dogs and cats. And we shouldn’t do it with messages that can have the unintentional consequences of encouraging people to eat one type of animal while avoiding another.