(Not) Eating Animals
“The time has come, the walrus said, to talk of many things. Of shoes and ships and ceiling wax, of cabbages and kings.”
The time has come, my friends, to address the very serious issue that is increasingly taking a larger role in my identity and my life. I’m talking about my vegetarianism. I’ve been a quasi-vegetarian, as my facebook page will tell you, for about a year. Last March I read a book called ‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, a prominent food writer. I immediately became a vegetarian. This faltered, at times, when I was in an awkward social situation, or my mom offered to make my absolute favourite meal, you get the picture. I must say, both my parents were incredibly supportive of my decision, and I shouldn’t really have been surprised, considering they are both very open-minded and level-headed individuals. I remained in this diet of eating mostly as a vegetarian, with the occasional meat meal, throughout most of the year and into the beginning of university. Starting university though, I was scared out of my mind at first, not comfortable with myself, and didn’t publicize my vegetarianism. I doubt most of my new friends would even know that I am one. Closer to Christmas, the diet began slipping. But I immediately felt guilty and shortly after the break, I resumed my veggie-ness. Over the last week, my passion for the subject has increased to a hundred times more than it ever was before, since I begain to re-affirm my vegetarianism through the reading of “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer and looking up various online resources. This past Tuesday, I experienced a complete breakthrough of sorts, while watching a video depicting some acts of extreme animal cruelty. I broke down. I was weeping harder than I can remember ever doing since coming to university. I could barely breathe, I felt so confused and conflicted. I came out of it in a very empowered state: I could now read anything, see anything, learn anything about the business. I was immune. I had experienced some of the pain that the animals do, and I was now in a position to fight it.
You see, for me, as for most everyone in the world, eating animals is a bit of a tricky business. I love meat, but I don’t believe in eating it. There are several reasons for this.
The first is animal suffering. Shortly after finishing my book tonight, I saw a video on facebook of a friend’s golden retriever with his head hanging out the window, a genuine smile on his face, wind sweeping through his fur. He was happy. None of us would deny our dogs a good, healthy happy life, and if need be, a humane death. But we consistently deny other animals, at least as intelligent and good-natured as our puppies, this type of life and death every day, hundreds of times a day. As it stands, 99% of the chickens on the market and 95% of pigs come from factory farms (quoting the 2007 census inventory and EPA regulations as written in the book Eating Animals). That is a fact. What is also a fact, through multiple testimonials, admittances from the industry itself and written reports by third party individuals, is that cruelty always exists in factory farming, ranging along a spectrum from less cruel (poking with electric probes, confinement to cells so small that pregnant pigs can’t turn around or sit, branding while conscious, removal of beaks by burning while conscious) to very cruel (genetically engineered animals so grossly large that they cannot walk more than a few steps, reproduce or even stand on their own very easily, killing without sedation, huge cancerous sores on their face which are in fact USDA approved for meat) to inexplicably cruel (ripping off chickens heads while fully conscious, beating with iron poles, ripping out eyeballs, chasing pigs into scalding hot baths, thumping piglets onto concrete floors). These are not facts that PETA or anyone else made up, they are reliable, consistent and confirmed by many sources. The practices I classified as ‘less cruel’ (relatively) are all common practices of the industry, that they admit to and are completely lawful. For someone to say that the so-called PETA propaganda videos depict cruelty that “it would be ignorant to say does not go on in the industry, but also ignorant to say that it is the norm” shows that not only such a person is not aware of the facts, but has no interest in becoming aware either.
My position in vegetarianism is not to lecture people, berate them for their lifestyle decisions, or shove gory footage of tortured animals in their faces. That’s not the way that I am. As I’ve already told you, I am a meat-loving vegetarian, but my values do not allow me to condone the practices that go on to obtain the meat that I love, so I choose not to support it. My position, then, is to reach out to others and inform them of things they may not have known prior. It is to attempt to send out information that is hidden from the public eye, to allow people to make more informed decisions about their lifestyle. I believe that all humans, when faced with the realities of the industry, would believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way our meat is produced, and most would likely support a change of practice in farming. My position is to get people on board with movements towards more humane farming practices.
There are other reasons why I chose vegetarianism. For example, its environmental implications (farming produces more greenhouse gases annually than all of the world’s transport systems combined), and public health being devastated by the releasing of toxic gases from these animals’ manure, their susceptibility to disease and terribly manufactured bodies stuffed with hormones and antibiotics.
Another enormous reason I converted was my anger at the system itself. Its lack of transparency, compassion, efficiency and drive to only produce funds for as little money as possible at the detriment of animal welfare, public welfare and the welfare of our environment. I actually laughed quite frequently when reading about industry practices: it seems to me that they use more money trying to fix the problems they created (genetic alterations forcing tons of antibiotics, pumping piglets with iron to wean them quicker, for example) than they would to just do it the old fashioned way. But I’d be wrong of course, because if it saved the industry money they’d already be doing it. I suppose it just makes me angry that these gigantic corporations are making up their own rules (tons of government officials for the laws passed on this subject are CEO’s or supporters of the slaughterhouses themselves) and hiding behind the facade of a little country farm with a handful of animals that they plaster on the front of their products. I just wish everyone knew the truth, or cared a little more.
This issue to me, seems tantamount to human rights, women getting the vote, the abolishment of slavery. It is huge, and all-encompassing. It is tied to our biggest health concerns, global warming and our deepest ethics. I have never, in my life, felt more passionate about a subject. Over the last couple weeks, I’ve experienced a change of mind that is total. I have been brainstorming ways to spread the word, reach out to others. I believe that my cause has found me, and I can see myself working on this for a very long time.
I have spent the last few weeks trying to get as educated as I possibly can, and I intend to continue in the coming months. I encourage you to do the same. Nobody is asking you to convert to vegetarianism, and I know it is ethically much easier to just not know, but I encourage you to look at a few resources. It’s not easy, but it is important. A few I recommend:
- The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
- Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
- Food, Inc, a film by Robert Kenner
- Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
- Slaughterhouse by Gail Eisnitz
- Websites like PETA (not their extreme videos, but I recommend the podcast by Bruce Freidrich which is kind of long but very well said and not at all gory), and some that I haven’t yet checked out like Farm Sanctuary and Farm Forward as mentioned in Eating Animals
I will continue to compile resources as I go along in my journey for more knowledge. I would like to take a moment to send some kudos along to my friends Isabelle and Laura, who took the step over to vegetarianism. By recent reports, it hasn’t been easy giving up on tradition and old habits, but I’m so proud of them for even considering it. As I’ve told Isabelle: it’s more important that you’re considering the subject than even eating as a vegetarian. If you’re thinking about it, you’ve acquired facts that you can mention to others. I intend to make my circle of influence as large as I possibly can in this matter. This is difficult for me because I am not a pushy person, and because it is EXTREMELY difficult to talk to others about meat. When you find yourself in a position that not only is opposite of that of most people, but one that you find yourself wanting to defend and honour, it becomes more than a little awkward. I am trying my best to stand up for this cause without seeming too pushy. I hope this post doesn’t seem too pushy to you.
I’ll leave you with a quote, directed at some of the people who tend to judge vegetarians rather harshly:
“We live in a world in which it is conventional to treat an animal as a hunk of wood, and it is extreme to treat an animal as an animal” -‘C’, an activist mentioned in Foer’s book.
Please consider what I’ve said, and know that I do not condemn those who eat meat, only those who refuse to educate themselves.
xoxo (rather seriously), Steph.
ps. LOVE Y’ALL.