20 September 2010

This is the big one. Big.

Okay it's time to tackle the big one. The pro-vegetarian argument (and other tangents).

I can't count the number of times I get asked to defend myself. To be honest, such debates are something I quite frankly suck at, therefore it's not something I enjoy and would prefer to dodge. But you can't take a stance on something this important to you and not have a good justification for it/not be bothered to justify it. So I shall take this one on as well as I can, once and for all, even if it seems somewhat arbitrary...

About two and a half years ago, after some 16 years of enjoying the carnivorous life, I decided to give it up for a life of vegetarianism. Mind you I'd tried and failed a year before that, only lasted two months after being tempted by kebabs - moral of the story, not easy to go veg in India if you're a fan of butter chicken, kebabs and chicken tikka. Anyway that's very much besides the point. The point is - why? Why would I stop eating meat (YES - fish count, but that's a separate issue I'll rant on later) and still be going strong with no cheating whatsoever two years later. Simply put - I didn't feel comfortable eating meat.

Here are my reasons for being vegetarian, I'll go through them one by one. I do rate them in this order of priority, but that's my own personal choice.

1) Humans don't have the right to exploit other animals

I'm going to be as careful and delicate as I possibly can in explaining this one. It's the one that gets me into the most trouble because I never explain it well enough, plus it's just a generally controversial one. Here's my big disclaimer because people always seem so ready to chuck this argument in the face of vegetarians: as a person who appreciates the working of nature and evolution, I GET that humans are part of the circle of life. It'd be wrong for me to disagree with that, because if I believed it was wrong and inhumane for a human to kill and eat another animal, then that would mean it's also wrong and inhumane for a lion to kill and eat an impala. I get that. BUT, I think that we can only go so far in justifying our diet using that logic.

For one, a lion hunts an impala out of necessity. Why do we eat animals? Yes we need protein in our diet in order for it to be balanced. But a lot of the time, we eat it just because we can. But my biggest issue here is the difference in scale of how we do it and how nature does it. I think it's fine if we eat the odd bit of meat every now and then, but the fact that there are millions of animals around the world that are bred, harvested and kept in appalling conditions just to feed us is disgusting. The fact that ridiculous amounts of money, land and resources go towards keeping these animals alive when they shouldn't even be there in the first place is also sickening. Factory farming, enough said.

I'm going to say it again - I buy the circle of life argument. We are a part of nature, thus we do belong in the circle of life. But not if we're just going to take that circle and rape it. I don't believe that we're allowed to take an aspect of nature that works in nature, only to magnify and exploit it just so it can suit our lifestyle of mass-consumerism. It's quite simple - we are not allowed to do that simply because it doesn't work. And this applies to a lot of things, not just meat production. It comes down to our (absurd) anthropocentric view of the world. A view that is clearly a failure.

I also think it's unfair for vegetarians to get attacked so often with the circle of life argument. It's often mostly about personal choice. If I feel uncomfortable, as an animal lover, eating something that was once a living sentient creature, then what is wrong with that? We're the only species with a conscience and sense of morality so why not be conscious of what you're eating? Hell, if the lion had a conscience maybe it'd think twice or at least feel bad for its prey :P

2) The cruelty

This was another one of my biggest issues. I personally can't live with myself knowing that my lunch went through a terrible life of suffering and torture and a painful death just to land up on my plate. Again, yes okay, there's got to be some amount of suffering, the impala's death when the lion get it is not painless. But again, look no further than factory farming. I can't tolerate the fact that these animals are put through needless amounts of suffering just for the sake of their mass consumption. But I suppose this one's my own opinion. I personally don't think we have the right to inflict that upon other animals, but I know that argument's flawed.

3) The contribution to environmental degradation

I could go ON and give you a bunch of stats to prove this one. I think this is the most important anti-meat argument that exists. The impact is just too big. The cost to our planet is not acceptable. It is unsustainable. Meat production leads to a vicious cycle of deforestation, pollution, soil degradation, resource consumption and climate change. The UN released a statement on how the industry is responsible for 1/5 of the world's greenhouse gases. Or how about this - if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and replaced it with a vegetarian meal, the carbon dioxide savings would be equivalent to taking over half a million cars off the road.

This point is the one on which I think people need to focus. If you have an issue with vegetarians, fine attack us for the moral grounds of our decisionn but most of all it's an issue of your ecological footprint. Yeah sure you've heard it all before but how many times do you need to be told of its importance before you actually make a change? It is SO simple, less meat production = less stress on the world's fuels, water and land, less global warming. Take this piece of information, look into it if you're skeptical, process it and implement it.

Have a look - Eating the Planet

There are other reasons to be vegetarian, but these are my main ones.

I guess while I'm at it I should also touch the issue of eating more "exotic" animals; "non-farm animals" or "wild animals". My personal biggest problem with this is the hypocrisy of it. I fail to see how someone can on the one hand, understand the practice of keeping dogs, cats, rabbits etc. as pets, be capable of forming a bond with these animals and then turn around and eat it. I can't understand how someone can go on a game drive, take photos of the beautiful kudu, ostrich or warthog and then eat the very same animal that they were admiring when it was alive. I guess I could apply the same logic and say it's wrong for anyone who's been to a petting zoo to turn around and eat that same pig, cow, chicken. But maybe that's taking this argument too far...or is it? :P

Then there's the obvious issue that some of the animals people eat are in fact endangered/killed at unsustainable levels - sharks, bushmeat, one look at the current state of the world's fisheries = enough said. (Watch End of the Line! Although I'll keep the collapsing fisheries issue for another post)

When it comes down to it, no, I'm not going to force vegetarianism on everybody that I can. But I'll say this - just think about the impact of your diet, the cost, the origin. I'm not going to try convince you to cut the meat out of your diet. But if you're going to eat it, do it sustainably and responsibly. Eat less meat, try find alternatives, if that doesn't suit you, then at least buy free range and locally produced products. Maybe it does require more effort, but really, if you can't make a tiny bit of effort to improve the condition of the planet on which you live and the species you share it with, then look inside yourself and find it in you to change - why are you here?
Our resistance to change is unacceptable. I say this with reference to one thing in particular - our view that we are the centre of the planet. We don't have some God given right to screw our planet over just because we're the most intelligent product of evolution.

So here's a few things that I have no reservations in imploring you to do:

1) Think about your place on Earth and think of yourself in the context of the whole planet - your actions affect everybody and everything else.

2) Have a look at what you eat and think about reducing the impact it has on the planet, on the animals and on other humans. Have at least one meat-free day a week.

3) If you're still going to be stubborn, then for God's sake, don't hold the belief that non-vegetarian is what everyone should be, and leave vegetarians alone. Don't be arrogant about your diet because you think you're a superior Homo sapiens at the top of the food chain.

The first step is simply thinking about it. Read up on the issue. Accept the need for change. The next step is the actual change, the "taking action". I could hurl a bunch of cliches at you but I won't. I'll just end this one with a simple question and let you take it from there, let's call it today's homework - what are you doing to change the world for the better?

Today's rant was inspired by a representative from Animal Voice who came in to speak at UCT for Green Week :)

P.S. If you disagree or you're bored and feel like instigating debate, challenging comments are welcome :)

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