Cows with guns.
June 16, 2010 § 8 Comments
Does anyone remember this song? Used to crack me up. Probably not the best note to be starting this serious discussion with, but I think we should all be aware of a looming cow uprising!
(Look who is helping me write this – Chelsea’s little dog. Isn’t she a cherub?)
As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about the ethics of what we consume; what we wear, where we shop and of course what we eat. Despite being a veeegetarian (vegan-leaning vego), I’ve come to realise that I didn’t really have an inspiring, confident answer to the question, “why?”.
Why do I choose not to consume animal products?
Obviously I have a set of personal beliefs, however I’ve made it my mission to become more informed.
To tell you the truth, I often feel uncomfortable about fielding questions regarding my ‘alternative’ choices, mostly because I fear fitting in to that dogmatic, self-righteous image of the vego with an agenda – an agenda to make people feel uneasy about digging in to that sizzling slice of steak that gives them so much salivatory pleasure. I have never liked to push my opinion, and would infinitely prefer to quietly eat my side of lentils sans commotion than persuade others to do the same.
But reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, visiting blogs such as The Voracious Vegan and watching documentaries like Food Inc., The Cove and Sharkwater, I’ve been forced to ponder the implications of remaining silent. Could there be merit in at least trying to facilitate some sort of discussion about our mealtime choices? After all, we have arguably been conditioned to simply dissociate from the reality of the food before us, so why not encourage people to take a moment to reflect? Not to agree or disagree with the vegan ideal, or feel guilty or wrong in their choices, but to merely engage.
Eating Animals is a fantastic achievement because it explores the consumption of animals beyond that which simply expresses a moral discomfort in eating another living thing. JSF sets out not to champion the vegetarian cause, but to present the facts about eating meat in a manner that needs no embellishment – an examination of factory farming speaks for itself.
Reading this book has challenged me to view the concept of being a vegetarian differently. I now hold two distinct beliefs.
- My personal choice – I choose not to eat meat because I can’t reconcile with the idea of consuming something that was once a living, breathing, feeling creature. There is no need for me to eat it from a nutritional standpoint, that much is certain. Many studies have concluded that the vegetarian diet not only lowers risk of heart disease, some cancers and a host of chronic illness, but via careful planning and much research, I am confident that this diet gives me everything I need and more. The only motivation for me to eat meat therefore, would be to enjoy the taste, and perhaps revel in the cultural and social normalcy of such an act. Strike that one off – I have never craved meat since giving it up, and have found not eating it to be the most fulfilling lifestyle choice in terms of bridging the gap between my passion for animals, and being able to embody this interest daily. Here’s the ‘IF’ – if others don’t share this same value, and feel that eating meat is a natural, enjoyable facet of their lives not worth denying, I am not about to challenge that. It is certainly something that has been historically a part of people’s lives, and I don’t envisage a world in which people forego this pleasure en masse anytime soon.
- What I WOULD argue, is that the sources from which an increasing proportion of our meat originates (factory farms) do not fit in with ANY dietary decision, vego or otherwise. This is because factory farming (let’s call it ‘FF’ – let your imaginations run wild with alternative readings of the acronym…) is an utterly barbaric, monstrous and chilling feat of human engineering, and I don’t believe ANYONE would knowingly condone these practices of modern agriculture. I realise that some animals have it better than others (cattle, sheep > pigs, poultry, fish) and there are exceptions to the rule – farmers who care passionately about the welfare and happiness of their livestock and make it their mission to act humanely. (Even so, reading the description of what happens on the ‘kill floor’ of even those farms striving for sensitivity made me dissolve in a fit of tears that only prolonged hugs from the bf could assuage) However, it is shocking learn that the commodification of animals has not only stripped them of rights to even the most basic of considerations, but the industry as a whole holds catastrophic environmental implications and is completely unsustainable (did you know raising animals for meat, dairy & eggs is one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions?).
This is the issue that I feel underpins any debate about the ethics of what we consume – for it transcends personal preference and becomes a question of how can we live with ourselves if we continue to support farming practices that are not simply undesirable, but barbaric and detrimental to the health of the planet? This is not about eating meat, but about ensuring that if we choose to do so, that it comes from credible sources that do not contribute to a life of misery and pain for those creatures involved.
A certain degree of active ‘forgetting’ is at work when we eat an animal – we are dissociated in the large part from the concept that the small, tasty cube of protein inhabiting our stir-fry was once an assembled animal. It’s often mind-blowing to ascribe a life, a personality to the food before us. But I am confident that if more people made the choice to engage with their food, to peek out from behind closed fingers and acknowledge that ‘this is a portion of cow that died to become my dinner’, we might have a better chance of putting an end to inhumane practices, and re-work how we obtain our meat.
‘Factory Farms’ conjure this sort of fuzzy notion of horror in all of us, however I believe most people are, to their credit, truly ignorant as to the vast array of injustices that accompany this method of production. I am deliberately omitting the details, as even the most cursory of glances at youtube clips, relevant websites and literature lends an understanding of the enormity of these animals’ suffering. Even products marketed as ‘organic’ or ‘free-range’ offer little credibility, as they too mostly follow the accepted mode of production, with perhaps a window here or an open area there to qualify the label. I also didn’t know that often chicken’s raised for laying eggs are killed after about a 1 year period, as it is more cost effective to replace them with new ones as their productivity decreases. This makes me more determined than ever to shop at local growers markets where I can meet the farmers and feel confident in their practices.
If this all seems like too much, please just take one moment to think. I absolutely wish to avoid inspiring defensiveness about one’s choice to eat, or not to eat meat. I have however been extremely moved by accounts of factory farming, and it’s broader implications for the health of the global population and the planet itself, and feel that yeah, ok, perhaps we ought to suffer a little discomfort if it means striving for alternatives. Is it wrong to ask people to take responsibility for their choices? Or is that like, so depressingly serious and something to think about anytime but now? The truth is, we have to start accepting it – the truth. Carnivore, vegetarian, whatever – it’s clear that if we do nothing in the face of a gross violation of our own responsibilities to the animals we consume, that equates to doing something. ‘Nothing’ is a more powerful stance than any, for it simultaneously ignores and supports the problem – that being, we are cramming thousands of animals into tiny confined spaces, genetically engineering them beyond recognition, torturing them throughout their lives and into death, and serving them up as food. How can we be sustained by such a miserable sequence? Surely this is the ultimate indication of our own humanity.