Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Not? Because You Don't Have To: Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat

After my entry was blown out of the water in Our Hen House's Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat contest, I decided to honor it on my own blog. I think we should all post our own take on it, no matter how poor you think your writing or persuasive skills are. If nothing else, you'll gain a deeper understanding of your own philosophy... I did! By the way, I will be posting real blog entries as soon as I graduate successfully next week.

Why Not? Because You Don't Have To
Humans regularly do a lot of things they falsely believe are necessary. Those of us who know better just shake our heads most of the time, because these habits are not harmful. Who cares if people buy things they don’t need, or avoid discussions that they arbitrarily find embarrassing, or get vaccines for diseases they can almost doubtlessly avoid? They are not really hurting themselves or anyone else.

But every once in a while, a harmful behavior somehow becomes universal. A good deal of drivers put others at risk by multitasking on the road. Many people frequently use words that are hurtful to certain groups of people. And at every meal of every day, most people put onto their plate the flesh of an animal that lived an unbearable life and was killed long before it would have died naturally.

Of course, nearly everyone agrees that killing and torturing animals is wrong unless it is unavoidable. Most can even agree that letting a human die, or eating one, would not be wrong in very dire situations. And so most of the world eats meat because of one simple fact: they have inherited the belief that it is necessary for life as they know it.

But deep down, everyone knows that it is not necessary, at least not in the time and place where we live. Today, nearly everyone in Western cultures knows at least one healthy vegetarian, and probably a vegan too. If someone were to check the vital records of many vegetarians and meat-eaters, they would find similar lifespans across both types of diets—in fact, vegetarians even live slightly longer. Contrary to popular belief, meat does not naturally contain any vital nutrients that are not also found in plant foods.

“Okay, it may be healthy,” a meat-eater might say, “but a world of vegetarians would require a complete overhaul of our society and lifestyle.” I can concede that a fast (albeit unlikely) global transition to a vegetarian diet would require a lot more farm sanctuaries than we have now. And if we stop farming animals, it’s possible we will have to give up the idea of owning cats as pets because we will not be able to feed them adequately. But I can guarantee that we will never lose what everyone is really afraid of losing—our ability to create those food-related memories that everyone treasures: hearty feasts with our families around the holidays; quick, delicious snacks at a sports game; or breakfast-for-dinner at the diner on a lazy summer night. We can still enjoy our food in all of those situations, and any others we don’t want to give up. And the food on the table will still look and taste good; it will simply be different, in a way where we can feel good about it.

The simple reason meat is unethical is that it causes animals to suffer. This would be a necessary evil if we could not avoid it. But in most parts of the world we certainly can avoid it without becoming sick or unhappy or anything else we fear. To me, this is what makes vegetarianism a moral imperative. Everything else—a farm animal’s cognitive capacity, the health and environmental bonuses, and anything else the meat industry would try to skew in its favor—only detract from that basic truth.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An Over-Dramatic but Possibly Helpful Essay on Living by One's Values

Well, I haven't had as much time as I would have liked to cook and ponder about veganism to create fodder for this blog. However, a small bout of nausea today made my hypochondriac self imagine the possibility of my death. It led me to write a letter in my journal "to whom it may concern" to try to implore people to be more morally courageous and save my soul from judgment and--well, just read it. I promise there's a paragraph relevant to veganism in there somewhere.

I am partly posting this for amusement and partly so that it's out there just in case I really do die. Just kidding! ...kinda.

(By the way, this isn't as crazy as it sounds. Nearly all of my diary entries involve hypothetical or unsent letters, or other ridiculous mementos for my future self. And if you're lucky, I might get bored one day and post some other, far more amusing diary entries I've written that are tangentially related to veganism.)

To whom it may concern:

I'm sick. It may be that I neglected to protect myself from some infection or other, or it may be that my parents did when I was young, or this may just be a fluke. Either way, death at this young age of 21 years, 8 months, and 15 days would be utterly disappointing.

I'm not afraid of death in itself, not really. I'm afraid that I will die before I get a chance to have an impact on the world, die while everyone sees me as a morally mediocre academic vegan, a cold and aloof person whose soul no one really knows intimately. Although they may just be excuses now, if I never get the chance to prove myself, I want everyone to understand my hopes and dreams and what I am really trying to put forth in my daily life. I am hoping my words might at last have a chance to inspire, the way I hoped (possibly in vain) that my actions someday might.

Let's get one thing straight. Being a good person isn't about other people's impressions of you. It's not about being at your friends' constant beck and call or always being pleasant to be around, or even responding to every request for help that comes your way. The person everyone knows as "the friendliest they know" is not necessarily the best person. I've done a lot of exploring our society's problems and solutions, and I can clearly see what kinds of people are ideal for the world, and it's generally not the ones you'd think.

Being a good person requires courage that most friendly, likable people can't even fathom having. It requires the courage of heart to go into the dark alleys and locked private properties and drought-ridden villages and truly take in all the suffering in the world, the worst kind that makes you want to vomit, and never once turn away or say you don't want to know. To put it bluntly, you are a selfish coward when you say you don't want to know about the unbearable experiences of other people and animals. This can be true even if you carry bags for elderly people or teach children or donate to health campaigns and everyone thinks very highly of you. The people in your Western, middle class, relatively free neighborhood are not truly suffering in the most intense and chronic sense. And if you can't witness true suffering, you will never adequately be able to alleviate it, and you are not doing all you can for the world around you.

To be a good person, you must also have a high level of courage to withstand social pressures. It's human nature to defend with gross irrationality the status quo. Lots of things in the world are wrong, some more blatantly than others. But if it's common and/or benefiting those in power, you cannot speak out against it without being pronounced crazy, irrational, extremist, or treasonous. Sometimes your friends and family will turn against you and sometimes your whole life could even be at stake. But that doesn't mean your conscience can rest easy while you stay quiet. Who cares what happens to you--how can you stand to live in an unjust world? And how can you live with yourself knowing that you're engaging in abuse, or consenting through your silence that it's okay for others to do so? Here's a secret: if you know you're right but fear you're the only one, relax... you're not. Many people are fearing ostracism from speaking out, just like you. So be the brave one and, instead of becoming isolated, you'll gain the respect of amazing friends that come out of the woodwork. The guilt will dissipate and your life will become purposeful in a way that you never dreamed possible. It really opens up your mind to the beauty in the world and helps you overlook the ugliness.

I know--who am I to say all this when I haven't lived it? Yes, I'm far from perfect. I can't stand seeing suffering and sometimes this may have impeded my ability to make an impact. I've also caved under pressure in debating certain issues and kept wholly silent on many more, because I fear the reactions of others. Will they laugh? Will they become hostile and attack me--physically or mentally? Might they do excess harm just to spite me? But no. I was never right in these situations and deep down I knew that all along.

I may not be perfect but I've had tastes of the meaningful life. If you're not vegan, you have no idea how good it feels to move from the uncertainty of the quality of the life that ended up on your plate, to the tension of knowing the truth, to the relief and freedom of knowing that that part of your life is over. Other times, I've experienced the reward of someone telling me they've stopped using an offensive term or some other unkind activity because of something I said that made them think.

It's okay if you have no interest in this kind of life, but I do. Before you react dismissively, mockingly, or hostilely, think about this: Do you ever feel like your life is meaningless? This is the path I am taking to escape that feeling, and so far it's working. At least try it before you knock it!