On the television show “What Would You Do?,” unsuspecting people encounter situations that test their moral resolve. They may take a stand against bullying, prevent discrimination based on weight, race, or sexual preference, or intervene to stop a purse thief. Viewers likely rejoice that people like those taking action exist in the world.
But I dare suggest these hidden camera moments aren’t real tests of moral character. After all, the people intervening don’t have to make any changes in their own lives to take a stand. It should be easy to tell someone not to belittle an overweight child in an ice cream store or not to allow a waiter in a restaurant to deny service to a homeless person. It’s an exercise of basic values we should all possess.
A more significant test of character requires people to examine their own actions that harm others and to change. Sadly, it’s rare that people make the morally correct decision when they eat.
Every time you go to the grocery store, it’s an episode of “What Would You Do?” Will you choose misery or compassion? Will you choose the options that inflict terrible cruelty on animals or will choose among the many options that do not? Will you make excuses or will you find solutions? That’s the moral decision you make — whether you consider it or not — whenever you shop.
If you know what happens to animals when people turn them into food — the confinement, abuse, injuries, diseases, pain, and suffering — and you continue to eat them, you’re failing the test. Blocking out the suffering of others doesn’t lessen their suffering.
Whenever you buy food, it is a test of your character. You’re starring in your own episode of “What Would You Do?” To pass the test, select among the many options that don’t cause harm to cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens, goats, and other farm animals.
Choosing when to be moral doesn’t make us moral; it makes us selectively moral. Convenient morality should fall short of the expectations we have for how we live.
Eating animals is indefensible. Simply because something is a tradition doesn’t make it right. American colonists used to tar and feather Loyalists and drag them through the streets. We don’t do that anymore because it’s barbaric. So is eating animals. You may not see it that way because it’s been normalized in our culture. But it’s not normal and it likely doesn’t align with your moral compass.
Think about it the next time you go food shopping. What will you do?