This is quite a divisive topic, and I don’t quite know why I decided to write a post about it. But hey, I’ve gotten this far, so let’s have a go.
There are eight people here in Southampton who I consider to be my closest friends, although that list is growing in no predictable way. Of those eight, one is vegan (no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no leather, no fur, no animal-tested products), one is vegetarian (no meat), one is pescetarian (no meat except fish), one is vegetarian for four days of the week, and the rest of us eat meat. That last category includes me.
By eat meat, I mean I will eat it if it’s put in front of me. My parents and my sister are vegetarian, and all the time I am home I cook, or am cooked, vegetarian food, which I love. I was taught to cook by my mum, and so all the recipes I know use only vegetables and dairy. My sister taught me to use eggs, because my mum doesn’t like the smell of them. Occasionally when I cook at home, I put ham in my omelettes, but only if I can’t find onions. Most things I make are not vegan, but vegetarian. I can effortlessly switch between being veg and non-veg, because I have been both for huge parts of my life.
I never really engaged with the consequences of my consumption habits until maybe a year ago. I only really became aware of the debate raging on the factory floor when I was advised by a friend of mine (the vegan, as it happens), to like a Facebook page called People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Links to their website and Facebook page are down below. They are a charity which supports and encourages a vegan lifestyle and tries to highlight instances of cruelty, as well as running campaigns and protests for animal welfare across the world.
From this page, I began to understand the issues. As you might guess, they have a significant bias in this debate, but of course, that makes complete sense. I encourage you to like their page if you wish to actually confront this issue for yourself.
There are some meat-eaters I know which will mock vegetarians and vegans. They call vegetarian food “rabbit food”, they tell me that vegetarians ruin their fun, and that they are whiners and complainers. They’ll tell them to shut up and deliberately try to make them feel uncomfortable. There are vegans and vegetarians who do the same thing in reverse. I was on a guided tour in America with several other Indians I have never met. In this group of ten, vegetarians were a majority. At every meal, non-veg was told to sit at a different table, because the old lady on the vegetarian table said to the tour guide that “meat made her feel uncomfortable”, and that she “did not want to associate with meat-lovers”. I was rather shocked when the tour guide complied and told us to move. Some vegans will even mock vegetarians, the common complaint being that being vegetarian is a half-hearted attempt to “feel better about yourself” when in fact they do nothing at all about the welfare of animals.
The more sophisticated on all three fronts of this debate will argue with reasons regarding practicality, health, morality and evolutionary biology. There are so many valid arguments, and I cannot espouse them all in this post. Most people know them, anyway, and you can look them up any time you want. More importantly, these people will attempt to be tolerant of the others. My vegan friend usually keeps her reasons to herself. She only recommended the PETA page to me after I asked her a little about her beliefs. She used to eat meat, and will happily sit with others who eat meat and eggs, or use dairy, and never complains. Occasionally she has a craving for meat and has a strip of bacon, but that only happens once every few months. When it happens, she doesn’t beat herself up about it because it makes it harder to keep it up in the long term. Genuinely, she’s one of the most laid-back of her kind. The non-veg in my close friendship group are more than happy to cook vegetarian (indeed, I only cook vegetarian). We eat vegetarian and vegan food with the others. None of us judge the others for their beliefs, because we don’t expect others to have the same priorities as us.
I don’t think most meat-eaters like myself think too much about what they put in their mouths. Not because they are stupid, but because they don’t want to or were never encouraged to. Most non-veg people grew up eating whatever was put on the plate in front of them. Most kids will feel sad if their mum tells them they accidentally ran over a chicken today on the road. And they’ll feel sad whilst eating a bag of chicken nuggets in McDonalds. It’s not that they are hypocrites. It’s simply that they never associate the two ideas. This, in my opinion, is largely down to marketing in the food industry wrenching apart the two quite effectively in the public eye.
From all the different points on the non-veg to vegan spectrum, and all the fields of argument that can come up, it most amuses me when a non-vegetarian like myself tries to make a moral argument for their position. That is to say, it amuses me when they try to argue that their position is morally right and good. From my experience, it can’t be done.
In this debate, I freely and openly admit that the vegan lifestyle is utterly morally superior. Any meat-eater who believes that eating animals is morally acceptable is engaging in a vast act of wishful thinking, denial and self-deception. Objectively, it cannot be true.
Let’s agree on one premise, and if you don’t, I’d be interested to know why: A good action is one which increases the well-being of conscious creatures on this planet. I borrow this phrasing from a neuroscientist by the name of Sam Harris, who also says this: We don’t need to define the term “well-being” too precisely for this to be a reasonable methodology for judging actions. It’s a term like “health”. The aim of medicine is loosely to improve the “health” of human beings. A hundred years ago, being in good health was to live to the ripe old age of fifty. In some parts of the world, being in good health is to not have malaria or ebola virus. There is no definition, or objective standard for the term “good health”, yet the pursuit of medicine is not hindered by this semantic problem. Likewise, we do not need to define “well-being” precisely to use it as an aim in committing good actions.
The point is simply this: The meat industry is, without any fraction of a doubt, a machine of systematic murder and cruelty of the highest order. It is a depraved, disgusting and evil part of human society, built to make money at the expense and necessity of ending lives and the committing of innocent creatures to systems of torture and fear and pain. The egg, dairy and leather industry aren’t much better. They are all vile perversions of common decency, and most importantly, each and every person on this planet who is not vegan, either in knowledge or ignorance, enables this industry to continue, because we are the demand for their supply. Eating meat is not in any way, increasing the well-being of conscious creatures on this planet.
I participate in murder. Objectively, it cannot be called anything else. The fact that other animals (and be very aware of the word “other”) don’t have rights like ours, or aren’t as intelligent as us, doesn’t make a difference. We are lucky to be the dominant species on this planet. If we weren’t, if perhaps there was another cleverer species which bred humans for meat, or for our skin or milk, what would you wish? Would you really, honestly say, “Hey, it’s their right to kill us and torture us. I mean, come on, we’re stupid.”
Of course not. Anyone who tries to convince themselves otherwise is lying. In the words of the speaker in a video called eTalks – The Secret of Food Marketing, “The meat industry engages in systematic cruelty on a massive scale, and we only get away with it because all of you are prepared to look the other way.” This seven minute video is also linked below.
It really is an instance of Orwellian doublethink that we can convince ourselves that it this can be moral. The worst of the intolerance, in my experience, comes from the non-vegetarians mocking the others. And it’s because they are a majority who know they are wrong. Why do I say they? I am part of a majority, and I know that I am wrong. On the moral side of this debate, the meat eaters loose at every single turn. The only reason they make jokes is because they have nothing else to offer. It’s a primitive defense mechanism to avoid facing the reality of their actions, because it scares them. Quite honestly, if it doesn’t scare you, I am scared of you.
The moral question, for me, has been answered. The meat-eaters lose to the vegans. The meat-eaters also lose the practical side of the debate. But then again, so do the vegans. They are morally superior, but from my experience, becoming vegan is one of the hardest practical choices to make. It is incredibly restrictive, and cheese omelettes are amongst my favorite things to eat. I already only use free-range eggs, though I’m told “free range” doesn’t entail much less cruelty. I would only have to pay for that omelette with money from a leather wallet to drive the vegans crazy.
By comparison, being vegetarian is easy. My weekly meat consumption is perhaps a ham sandwich for lunch on one day per week. I’ve tried Quorn ham (Quorn is a meat substitute), and it’s not bad. It would quite be trivial for me to become vegetarian. For those people who claim they need the protein from meat to work out, broccoli and celery contain more protein by weight than most meats.
In my analysis, there is no moral or practical reason to be non-vegetarian. There is no moral reason to not be a vegan either, but practically, I use milk and eggs in most things I make. I love chocolate and pizza and hot chocolate and lattes. As far as I am aware, there are no substitutes for eggs. And I really do hate the taste of soya milk. Genuinely, I can’t stand it. I don’t know why, but it makes me feel sick.
I think I’m going to make the first step. I don’t quite know how to make the second. Anyone else is welcome to join me.
The PETA website and Facebook page: www.peta.org and www.facebook.com/officialpeta
eTalks – The Secrets of Food Marketing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mKTORFmMycQ