The first idea I would like to share is the idea of happiness itself. It seems this single word, in my opinion, is at the basis of each human's ultimate goal in life. Whether their goal is for world domination or for bringing about world peace, the idea of achieving a state of happiness is what most of us work towards in our lives. However, I do not feel this idea should only extend to human beings. In my opinion, eating meat introduces many people's lives to a set of obvious contradictions that are often manifested in their own moral beliefs (this will be discussed later).
If one can agree on the fact that happiness is a satisfactory and ideal endpoint, then ensuring happiness for anything that can feel this emotion should be a common goal. "Love your neighbor as yourself (because he or she can feel the same range of emotions you can, including happiness)". If upon reading this one begins to doubt whether animals can be happy, sad, grieve or feel pain, I ask to you think back to all the times you have seen your own dog's face as you leave the house, or on the contrary, his or her face when you return home. Or the time you've seen one dog who grew up with his best friend (another dog or human) only to lose him prematurely in an accident, death or whatever it may be. With this in mind, one should take notice that animals such as sea lions, geese, bears, monkeys and moose are also able to process this emotion of losing a loved one, and of course a sense of happiness. Such things as killing elephants for their tusks, sea lions for their fur and monkey's brains being eaten alive as a delicacy in east asia, primarily Indonesia, are all possible ways of not only robbing the animal of its happiness, but also taking it away from one that may be its partner. This, consequently, has now affected the lives of two animals, not just one.
This idea of happiness and the human emotion of "love" can be broadened to other animals such as cows, pigs, and other animals with similar anatomy.
Another point that should be touched upon is the idea of pain. If we can agree that happiness is a desirable endstate, then pain (primarily physical) would be an obvious indicator that such a state is not currently in effect. Many of us have seen videos of animals being skinned alive, cooked alive, and even eaten alive. The amount of pain their brains are able to process is entirely similar to the pain we would feel if we underwent similar torture. Coupling this undeniable fact with the idea of taking this animal away from one that may care for it are obvious indicators that a deprivation of happiness and suffering is taking place.
One of the main reasons I made the decision of becoming a vegetarian is due to the amount of contradictions that exist in the lives of people who eat meat. One good example, and one that hits close to home, is related to the existence of domesticated animals. A vast amount of people these days have animals in their homes and many go so as far as including them in their families. The amount of money spent on them for food, toys, medical care, and clothes is sometimes astonishing. But in this their lies contradiction. If, for example, you lived on a farm and grew up with a cow and pig your entire life, there is a good chance you will become attached to them. However, if one day I decided I wanted to eat some beef and asked if I could please kill your cow, you would most likely object. This would be based on the personal emotion you have developed towards the animal. Most would default to the option of suggesting you eat another cow or another pig, one that you yourself don't love and care about. However, this in itself reveals the selfishness associated with this act and unethical decision making process in action. Because this cow is yours, so you won't give him or her up and allow him or her to be skewered. But because this one isn't mine one can surely take his life and do whatever one pleases.
This example can be extended to cats or dogs, or birds and gerbils, and any such animal you keep your house that you care about. I know some may say, well, we don't keep pigs in our house, nor do we keep cows. However, the basic idea I am describing here is the human ability to make possession so important that one may not realize they are contradicting themselves.
Another prevalent example can be found when people eating meat wouldn't kill the animal themselves, but happily eat it when someone else does the killing. This is such a blatant disconnection from reality that I sometimes wonder how people allow themselves to live this way. Though I have done no research on this outside of my life experiences, I can confidently say that the vast majority of people I know, if presented a cow, cat, dog, gerbil or any other live animal, specifically for the purpose of killing and eating them, would have difficulty doing so. Furthermore, if this was an animal they had a personal attachment with, one could argue the majority of people wouldn't have the heart to actually kill the animal. If this animal was a calf and one knew that mother cows have been known to spend huge amounts of time and walk miles looking for the calves, and one was to have a relationship with this cow, most humans would not kill it. However most people will say, since it was not them who killed the animal, it is not them who has a relationship with the animal and since they have not thought about the implications associated with this kind of act, therefore they have no problem eating it. It seems to me that after arriving at this kind of conclusion one is presented with only two options: you admit it is unethical and continue eating it (a life choice) or you admit it is unethical and decide not to continue eating meat (another life choice).
It is well established that animals are unable to speak "human" and that their ways of expressing themselves can only be done in ways they are capable of showing, as limited by biology and evolution.
The well-being of any conscious creature that is capable of suffering and able to be deprived of happiness deserves the respect of humans. One may ask why, and I will happily answer that question for you. One may say, "In nature animals like tigers will hunt other animals for survival, so why shouldn't we eat meat?" Tigers themselves have a shorter digestive tract that is unable to process nutrients from vegetables, so they must eat meat to survive. However, animals such as bears are able to eat large amounts of vegetables and survive on diets of only vegetables and fish. Another beautiful distinction that both atheists and theists could agree on is the wonder of the human mind and body. We ourselves, whether designed by natural selection and evolution or by a omnipresent creator, have been provided with a mind unlike any other creature on this planet. It seems to me that the difference lies here. Our bodies are very capable of not eating meat and our minds are very capable of being presented with facts that clearly tell us we shouldn't eat meat. The well-being of all conscious creatures is of utmost importance, and I personally would like to use the brain I was given to increase the happiness felt by all conscious beings, capable of being happy. So, animals deserve the respect of humans because we are not wild creatures with minds limited to mere survival. Let's not limit happiness only to humans. Thanks for reading, I'd love to hear other people's opinions. If you have time please check out a friend of mine who has recently written about why he became a vegetarian. You can find his blog by clicking here.