“to suffer or die needlessly…”

Much has been written about pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si‘, which is about our relationship to the earth and the animals. While I think the catholic church, like any religion, has a tremendous amount of work to do, Francis is in my view a pope as good as popes come, and the document he wrote, while definitely not a vegan or animal rights manifesto, is a good start for a more responsible and sustainable stewardship of the earth.


I wanted to focus briefly on one sentence from the encyclical, which says: “It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.” As a vegan, one would obviously say: well duh! When we kill animals for food, we do cause them to suffer and die needlessly, isn’t it?

Of course. In the simplest terms, one may explain the unfairness of consuming animal products like this: an animal has to lead a miserable life and is then killed, all for a short, human gustatory pleasure. I think no one ever put this better than Plutarch:

“But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy.”

But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh” sums it up quite well indeed….
I think most human beings are capable of understanding this. However, I’m a big fan of taking the other person’s viewpoint, and when we do so, we understand that people who still enjoy eating meat or fish or dairy are not yet seeing things the way Plutarch does. They, like the pope, are apparently not seeing how animals are “suffering and dying needlessly”. They are stuck in traditional views of humans and animals, where the former are so incredibly superior to the latter, that this short gustatory pleasure apparently justifies taking other sentient beings’ lives.

To make people see things differently, we can scream and shout and cry, we can use logical discourse and arguments, we can show them what happens to animals, we can try to lobby for laws and many other things… But the most important thing, in my view, is making it easier for people to think straight about animals and to compassion for them by making our society, and the individuals that form part of it, less dependent on animal products. We can do this by supporting the spread and growth of vegan products in stores and restaurants. We can found or support new businesses that develop alternatives.

When it’s about food, people think with their stomach. We can’t make people think the way we think, we can’t make them feel the way we feel. We can’t make them see animals like vegans see them, right away, right now. All we can hope to do is to open their hearts and minds. And I do believe we can do that. And that we will end up with compassionate people in the end. We just have to make it a little bit easier for them first, by taking away the barriers.