International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
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Annie Besant (1847-1933)
Text of a speech

from a speech given at Manchester UK, 18 October 1897:

When we recognise that unity of all living things, then at once arises the question - how can we support this life of ours with least injury to the lives around us; how can we prevent our own life adding to the suffering of the world in which we live?

We find amongst animals, as amongst men, power of feeling pleasure, power of feeling pain; we see them moved by love and by hate; we see them feeling terror and attraction; we recognize in them powers of sensation closely akin to our own, and while we transcend them immensely in intellect, yet, in mere passional characteristics our natures and the animals' are closely allied. We know that when they feel terror, that terror means suffering. We know that when a wound is inflicted, that wound means pain to them. We know that threats bring to them suffering; they have a feeling of shrinking, of fear, of absence of friendly relations, and at once we begin to see that in our relations to the animal kingdom a duty arises which all thoughtful and compassionate minds should recognize - the duty that because we are stronger in mind than the animals, we are or ought to be their guardians and helpers, not their tyrants and oppressors, and we have no right to cause them suffering and terror merely for the gratification of the palate, merely for an added luxury to our own lives.

. . there is one other thought closely allied to this. What of our duties to our fellow-men? And here I appeal particularly to my own sex, because women are supposed to be rather the standard in the community of refinement, of gentleness, of compassion, of tenderness, of purity. But no one can eat the flesh of a slaughtered animal without having used the hand of a man as slaughterer. Suppose that we had to kill for ourselves the creatures whose bodies we would fain have upon our table, is there one woman in a hundred who would go to the slaughterhouse to slay the bullock, the calf, the sheep or the pig? . . . But if we could not do it, nor see it done; if we are so refined that we cannot allow close contact between ourselves and the butchers who furnish this food; if we feel that they are so coarsened by their trade that their very bodies are made repulsive by the constant contact of the blood with which they must be continually besmirched; if we recognize the physical coarseness which results inevitably from such contact, dare we call ourselves refined if we purchase our refinement by the brutalization of others, and demand that some should be brutal in order that we may eat the results of their brutality? We are not free from the brutalizing results of that trade simply because we take no direct part in it.