I have spent much of the past week trying to figure out how I am going to take care of my clients over the coming days, weeks, and—perhaps–months without being able to sit with them physically. I have deliberated over whether a trip to or from my office on mass transit could expose me to an illness I’d be unable to recover from. I have listened to a client lament over how the coronavirus robbed him of his job. I have watched the beginnings of a crisis that will test the social and economic framework that undergirds life as we know it.
Ask a journalist about the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease known as covid-19 that is running rampant across more than 140 countries, and you’ll hear: whether it is racist to call it “a Chinese virus,” how it has shuttered kindergartens to universities, fitness facilities, world-class museums, restaurants, bars, and nightclubs; and how city, state, and federal government officials are scrambling to manage the outbreak before it overtakes our medical and financial infrastructure.
You won’t hear (many) journalists describe how the virus is thought to have “jumped,” most likely from a bat to a pangolin and then to a human, amid a “wet” market in Wuhan, China. There, vendors who traffic in both domesticated and undomesticated animals such as tigers, civet cats, bears, ducks, and chickens sell meat as well as live creatures. Many animals are caged in tiers, such that any manner of fluid—blood, feces, urine—can fall from animals in upper tiers onto those below. Amid this filth, animals are also killed and their flesh is sold to buyers with little or no regard for sanitation.
Most vegans know that the crowded, disgusting, and abusive conditions that animals endure in such markets are not limited to China. Markets selling fish, chickens, and rabbits exist in the United States. At egg production facilities, huge numbers of hens also live in stacked cages, where those in lower tiers are drenched with waste from above. “Broiler” chickens spend their entire brief lives standing and falling in their own waste as their weight steadily balloons beyond the point that their legs can support them. Slaughterhouse and meat “processing” conditions also promote the spread of disease. According to a 2012 History Channel statistic, a single pound of ground beef can contain parts of as many as 1,700 individual cows.
It saddened me to hear that among the items at grocery stores across the county that ran out first were chicken and ground beef—and both people and other animals are suffering the consequences. As the spread of the novel coronavirus has rapidly changed the picture for humans, for animals in horrific circumstances, life remains unchanged. For a chicken struggling and falling in feces, for a frightened cow thrown onto a truck bound for the slaughterhouse, and for a pangolin itching to escape a cage in a Chinese market, the misery continues. For all of them, I will make an extra donation to my favorite animal rights nonprofit pronto.