I recently read this article:
I frequently read things like this. I’m going along, so SO agreeing to some things, and yet drawing such a very different conclusion. I preface the rest of this post by saying that I do not mean to offend anyone- I’m just long confused by this issue and am thirsty for some answers- primarily from my vegetarian/vegan friends, and anyone else who has any thoughts on this matter.
For those who don’t want to read the article (although it’s an easy, short read), it’s basically a guy who makes the case that it is morally wrong to kill/use animals for human ends- regardless of the way that they were raised and slaughtered. He talks about how animals are able to feel suffering, also whether or not humans have the moral right to use animals for their pleasure, etc. I don’t think he makes a great case, although, it got me thinking seriously about the debate between vegetable based/omnivorous diets, and I’m really in the market for answers, here. So here goes my ramble.
Of the reasons for becoming a vegan/vegetarian, here are the ones I’m familiar with-
a) It’s healthier.
b) In protest to animal cruelty and the meat/dairy industry.
c) Religious reasons.
d) Environmental reasons.
e) Ethical objection to the taking of an animal life.
I’ll just go down the line.
The argument that a vegan/vegetarian diet is healthier- This is surely true in comparison to your average Western diet. Laden with chemicals and preservatives and hormone-filled meats, it does not surprise me in the slightest to look at statistics of how much healthier a veggie diet is. However, the thing that I so often see glossed over is the fact that a diet that is void of animal products is lacking. The talk about how a person can find all the nutrients they need in plant form is misleading- what about our ability to absorb and use those nutrients? Animal fat plays an important role in our health, from the absorption of essential nutrients to the development of brain cells. Our relationship to those essential nutrients is a much more complex one than we think. There are so many reasons why we evolved as omnivores- and it’s a shame there’s so much shotty information out there about nutrition. My research tells me that it is far healthier to eat lots of vegetables paired with pastured, completely natural meats, using all of the animal (meaning, ground beef and chicken breast is not a good representation of a healthy omnivorous diet. I’m talking about one that uses the whole animal, consuming organs and bone broths as well as the more common cuts.)
I assume it’s no secret that a vegan diet requires some supplementation to be healthy. Face value, that just seems unhealthy to me. I would much rather rely on whole foods than require supplementation to get by- not to mention the fact that the diet itself seems unnatural to me as a whole. I do think that it is much more possible to be healthy with a vegetarian diet, but only with the inclusion of whole dairy (preferably raw from pastured animals) and good eggs. However, when I think about that, I have issues with the sustainability side of it, along with the idea that it’s okay to keep animals for their milk and eggs, but just not for their meat. It seems a justification to me and I don’t see why, if we’re okay with the idea of raising animals for food, we don’t just eat them as well and receive the added benefits of a more varied, healthier diet (again, I must clarify, this is NOT based on a modern Western diet!). Eating dairy and eggs seems to acknowledge the necessity for animal products in our diets, and I figure, if we can find a good way to do that- why not? If anyone is interested in the specific details on why animals are so important for our health I’m happy to give more info- it’s just too much to include here.
*I’d like to add to this section to say that I acknowledge that there are some exceptions to this rule. There are those that truly benefit from a meat-free diet due to various health issues. I do not believe this is the norm, but I do believe it happens.
In protest to animal cruelty and the meat/dairy industry.
I absolutely oppose this too! There’s no way I’ll try to justify that industry. I am of the mind that these animals are here as equal beings on this planet- and should be treated as such, with great respect. The fact that we’ve hijacked every available space for them to live and roam is something I think we should remedy. It’s horrifying and unnatural, what they do to these animals. I don’t condone the industry in the slightest. However, I’m not sure why the lack of support for the industry results in the abandonment of an entire food group- and in the case of pastured livestock, they actually benefit the land and our vegetable growing efforts. Fact is, you don’t have to eat meat that supports that industry. Now, buying the right kind of meat takes some research, often times a little more money, and usually a little more rationing as a result, but it seems like just as much (if not less over time) effort than the switch to a plant-based diet. One does NOT have to support corrupt industries to have an omnivorous diet. It will likely be a more modest omnivorous diet, but I’m for that anyway.
Obviously, I can’t really say much on this one. I can’t debate about why someone’s god commands them to eat a certain way, so this one gets my thumbs up. It doesn’t seem sustainable to me, but I’ll get into that next.
This was the one that almost got me going all veggie. On the surface, this seems to make a lot of sense. All the stuff you hear about how so many pounds of grain translate to so many pounds of meat is certainly true. However it’s only true in terms of unsustainable and unethical practices. Cows aren’t even supposed to eat grain. It makes them sick. That aside, the toll that the agricultural industry takes on the environment is nothing to scoff at. Large scale production of grain and veggies can come at a very high environmental cost, and without the use of animal inputs to help build up the soil, it requires loads of fertilizers and chemicals and pesticides to keep these plants alive and producing. The other thing is that a plant-based diet requires that food be transported from elsewhere, at least during the winter months. I’m looking at the entire infrastructure, and it’s not exactly environmentally friendly. I can much more easily eat an organic, local diet with the addition of a modest amount of animal foods. I assume that the idea is that a plant-based diet is supposed to be more sustainable, in addition to being able to feed more people. That may be true (the feeding more people part), but not without the help of toxic influences and the need to transport food all over the place and the inevitable consumption of loads of natural habitats.
Here’s where I start to sound really crazy… I’m not so sure that we SHOULD be trying to feed an ever-expanding population. I’m not saying I want people to starve, but I am in favor of working within our means, and a non-localized food system is making us delusional. Plus, it makes our food systems mostly reliant on the influence of big business, which we all know does not have our best interests at heart. I recently heard a story about how in starving parts of India there was a rice surplus, and rather than feeding the people there, they dumped the surplus into the ocean. Why? Because it wasn’t going to be bought.
Ethical objection to the taking of an animal life.
This one is tough. I’ll try to explain my issues with it as clearly as possible. I guess I understand that those that take this stance believe that the taking of an animal life is wrong, because they are sentient creatures and can feel suffering and pain. I believe that those things are true, they most definitely are sentient and can feel a whole host of emotions. Although, I suspect that it’s a uniquely human quality to look on death as being tragic and cruel in these circumstances. We don’t begrudge a wolf for catching a rabbit for his dinner. A wolf is just an animal like a human is an animal. We eat what we eat. We might feel a pang of sadness and mourning for the zebra that lost the race with the lion on the nature channel. Some make the case that humans are special in this way and are uniquely able to take this moral high ground because of a higher level of consciousness. Initially I get this argument. I mean, you kill something, that makes suffering and pain. Although, I sort of think that’s just life. I mean, the taking of a life is necessary for survival. Everything feeds off of something. And sure, you could make the case that a zebra can feel more suffering than a tree, but I’m not so sure. I’m starting to think that this kind of thinking is just further evidence of our separation from the land base and our own human nature. I think it’s unhealthy on both ends. On the one you have the guy eating burgers from a fast food joint every day, unwilling to care about the fate of those animals he so willingly consumes. On the other you have the person who is so appalled by the very idea of eating "flesh" that they act as if it was never a natural practice and was always rooted in cruelty.
As someone who has experienced some pain in my life, my reflection on it is this: pain and suffering is not always a bad thing. There is a distinct difference between pain with a natural purpose, and pain that is caused because of cruelty and exploitation and greed. This is the distinction that I believe should be made. So, ultimately, I see this utilitarian viewpoint as being somewhat dishonest in its nature. Whether you know it or not, the comforts and pleasures you experience come at a cost. I don’t really believe that you can experience and be grateful for all this peace and happiness and pleasure without having an understanding of the pain that it’s bound to. The killing of an animal for food is something that is very natural and purposeful. I also think that people would be far more grateful for their food and less likely to take it for granted were they able to really see the cost of it in a spiritual sense. This does not seem tragic to me, this seems like the design of life.
This brings me to my next point. How is veganism/vegetarianism really benefiting animals? If we were to all convert to a plant-based diet, how much more habitat would be lost? How many more insects and small animals would suffer as a result of the agricultural industry? How many water creatures would suffer because of industrial runoff? What should we do with all of the existing animals that were formerly used for food? How do we allow these animals to live their natural full lives without a place to live it? If cattle take up so much space and eat so much grain to survive, are we proposing to kill them off? What about the lack of plant diversity and the resulting disease in the plant world? Don’t the animals suffer and die for these things? What about the fact that our entire way of life is, in one way or another, fucking up everyone’s chance to live on a clean and healthy planet. Why is the act of killing an animal for food morally abhorrent, and yet continuing to feed and perpetuate civilization is just fine? It’s just so short sighted to me. I don’t claim to know the answers to all these questions, I am by no means an expert, but I’m challenging this perspective by asking just a few more questions. I mean, is it actually doing animals less harm to not kill them for food? I mean, as long as one is making the distinction between need and exploitation, I’m not sure we’re doing animals (or ourselves) any favors by abstaining and claiming that it’s the moral thing. Just to throw it out there- what if eating meat were to actually be more sustainable (and I don’t mean in terms of being able to feed everyone on the planet, I mean in terms of being able to feed local people local food. Thinking about really eating within our means.)? What if that’s the case? Wouldn’t the animals appreciate a clean planet to live on, in plentiful numbers, rather than one that allows them to live in a toxic and dwindling environment for a few more years? Is death really the worst thing for them?
That’s all I can think of to write on the subject. These are just my personal thoughts, but for so long they’ve been rattling around in my head and I never seem to get any real dialogue on the subject from my vegetarian/vegan friends (who I greatly respect). Please, I know you might be tired of defending your choices to others, but I really see myself as being on the same side… I just seem to have come to a very different conclusion, and that makes me thirsty for answers. Anything you can contribute to help clarify things for me would be appreciated. At the very least I’m interested in what your reasons are for being vegetarian or vegan, and if you think I’ve missed anything.