Sunday, July 30, 2006
I am a vegetarian. But I am far from being a sandal-wearing, incence-burning, spliff-rolling hippie. 'How is such a thing possible?', you may ask. Allow me to elaborate. There are many possible reasons given for being a vegetarian, among which the following are the most common: 1] It's healthier; 2] It's wrong to kill animals; 3] It's wrong to intensively farm animals; 4] It is an inefficient use of resources to eat meat; Of these, I consider numbers 3 & 4 to be by far the most important, whereas numbers 1 & 2 I deem to be trivial. 1] It's healthier This can be considered in a couple of different senses. Firstly, I would disagree that by eliminating meat from your diet, you automatically eat healthier stuff; it's quite easy to down pizza, ice cream and beer as a vegetarian, I assure you. So there is a huge overlap on the vegetarian/carnivore and healthy/unhealthy scale, so much so that I will rule out this alleged benefit of vegetarianism for the remainder of this post. In the other sense, there are certainly health concerns regarding the hormones, antibiotics, etc. that are administered to animals during the meat farming process; not so much from any directly damaging effects, but rather from the more subtle effects such pre-emptive medicating of animals has (such as the increased likelihood of epidemics). This sense of the health question, however, is more of a side effect of number 3, which I deal with below. 2] It's wrong to kill animals I disagree that it is wrong to kill animals. It is also wrong to anthropomorphize them (take note, Disney fans!). Rather, what I have a moral problem with is any human-induced suffering that animals may go through during their lives. The actual killing of the animal, as long as it is swift and painless, is of no concern to me. This is because, as I said, animals are not people. Whilst we are discovering more and more evidence that suggests that animals are not merely mindless automata, there is none (yet) to suggest that they have anything like the kind of personal awareness that humans have. So, it is agreed that they can suffer (see below) but not that they have any kind of philosophical understanding of, or fear of, death (neither that they have loving families who have a non-survival related interest in their lives). 3] It's wrong to intensively farm animals Which brings us on to the question of modern intensive farming methods. As established, whilst I don't think it is ethically problematic to kill animals per se, I certainly do think that the conditions in which animals are forced to live in modern industrial meat production are indeed terrible, and that this is an ethical concern. Now I personally, as a comparitively rich westerner, do not need to eat meat. Obviously, for someone who is for example a hunter-gatherer in South America, the situation is totally different, and I am not trying to claim any kind of unyielding, universal rule here. We are dealing with shades of grey; trying to determine which side the balance favours. Most meat-eaters don't give a second thought to just exactly what the conditions animals are forced to endure are, and this is a very natural, self-serving attitude (in the same way that it is far easier to simply deny the existence of global warming, rather than admit your share of the responsibility for it but say you just don't care because you're not likely to suffer much of the consequences). I think that we are morally impelled think about such things, however. 4] It is an inefficient use of resources to eat meat The production of meat uses far more resources - land, energy, water, etc - than does the production of non-meat products. Vast areas of rainforest are clear-cut to provide the necessary land. Being higher up the food chain means that it takes many units of grain to produce each unit of meat. The meat industries of most western countries are also heavily subsidised, another waste factor. So, in conclusion, whist not for the reasons many people assume vegerarians will give to justify their aversion to eating meat, I do think there are important ethical problems with carnivorism, and therefore I make the personal non-sacrifice of abstaining.