As vegans, we’re often placed in odd predicaments. We get invited to dinner parties and wonder when we should let the host(s) know we’re vegan. We get invited to zoos because we’re seen as animal lovers and, well, who doesn’t want to see wild animals from other continents? We’re expected to reward people who inform us that they were once vegetarian for a few hours between lunch and dinner.
We can also find ourselves on odd ends of animal welfare debates, especially when animal suffering is used as a fig leave to hide other concerns.
This has happened recently due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a novel strain of coronavirus that, as of this writing, has infected nearly 600,000 Americans and killed upwards of 23,000. Unsurprisingly, the far right has largely downplayed the seriousness of the virus, biased in large part by their desire to see everything as perfect under President Trump. But they’ve also ramped up their largely dormant xenophobia against Asians, particularly Chinese people, in response to the virus. Unfortunately, many vegans have joined in on the latter.
The origins of Covid-19 are as yet uncertain. It was previously theorized that the virus strain was carried by a bat, and potentially transmitted to a pangolin. At some point, the creature carrying the virus was thought to have come into contact with a human at a “wet market” — the first person infected with the virus, perhaps back in November 2019.
But more recently, researchers have cast doubt on this theory, which we regrettably perpetuated in a recent podcast episode. The uncertainty surrounding just about every aspect of Covid-19, including as a result of China’s apparent lack of transparency, has helped breed some unfortunate conspiracy theories — themselves tinged with racism.
But as soon as the early reports on the supposed origins of Covid-19 within a wet market in China came out, anti-Chinese disgust was on full display. We are used to the vitriol directed at Chinese people for their consumption of dog meat — a practice that is only marginally, if at all, worse than the animal agriculture system we have in the West — so this was hardly surprising. Many of the cries to shut down the animal markets in Wuhan, rather than focusing on the reasonable concern that these can result in new, more virulent diseases, focused on animal welfare. To be fair, from what I’ve seen, these markets are quite brutal. But much of the outrage is from people who are silent when it comes to our own food system, which by all appearances is only marginally better. “Our food is slightly less cruel than your food” is not much of a battle cry.
Instead, the outrage is largely another way to denigrate Chinese people. And unfortunately, many vegans joined in, capitalizing on this opportunity to express their crypto-xenophobia and to take a victory lap for “being right” in that a vegan world allegedly would not have produced such a disease (more on this in our podcast).
The wet markets should be shut down even if this isn’t where Covid-19 originated. But we should also shut down all animal agriculture operations on the same grounds that they are cruel reservoirs that breed virulent diseases against which our immune systems are not prepared. If we start with the wet markets, we should proceed immediately to the rest; that is, if we actually care about public health and animal welfare at all.