It may sound peculiar, but billions of Americans are killed every year in the United States. They don’t lose their lives fighting for freedom or as victims of accidents — they’re killed just so that they can be cooked on the grill.

No, the victims aren’t humans, but they are Americans, born in this country, mostly on factory farms. Like you and me, they feel pain, grief, joy and love. They value their lives, long for liberty and yearn to pursue activities that make them happy — even simple ones, like stretching, bathing and looking up at the sky. If you doubt that, you’re missing the near-daily news reports on animal behavior, such as pigs surpassing dogs in intelligence tests, chickens showing empathy for other chickens, octopuses decorating their dens with colorful objects, fish remembering events that happened months earlier, cows hiding their newborn calves from farmers who want to take them away and much more.

This Memorial Day, while remembering those who died for our country, surely we can also find it in our hearts to spare a thought for the other Americans — those with hooves and wings — who deserve to be respected, not terminated.

Human Americans may not look like or speak the same language as Americans of other species, but why should that prevent us from caring? We don’t have to ration our compassion. It is not some small cake from which we can take only one slice. We can open our hearts and start to think about chickens, for instance — winged Americans, if you will. Workers roughly grab the terrified birds by the legs, slam them into crates on a truck, transport them through all weather extremes, shackle them upside down and then cut their throats. Is it ridiculous or unimportant to imagine that they would have preferred a kind touch or, better yet, to be left in peace? Of course not.

The process of reducing living beings into parts for the plate is neither clean, polite, nor kind. There is no civilized way to turn billions of cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys into burgers, bacon and nuggets. Individual care and consideration do not play a role at all. The process involves tearing them away from their loved ones; confining them to filthy cages, sheds or feedlots; dehorning, debeaking, castrating or otherwise mutilating them; and subjecting them to a terrifying, violent death in a wretchedly filthy, stinking place.

This Memorial Day, I propose that we swallow our prejudices instead of animals’ body parts. Let’s show respect and concern for our feathered, finned and hooved compatriots by rejecting speciesism, a supremacist worldview as offensive as any other arbitrary form of discrimination. Instead of eating them, let’s respect them for who they are: our fellow Americans, born on this very soil.

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ABOUT THE WRITER

Ingrid Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; www.PETA.org.

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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