Vegetarian- To Be or Not to Be?


At forty I still frequently let the philosophy and practical aspects of vegetarianism flit through my mind like a shooting starfruit.  My  fleeting moments of thought about living a vegetarian lifestyle are numerous, and noncommittal. I’ve always been able to articulate an argument against it despite knowing that I could happily change my diet. There’s counter arguments for many of the reasons that vehement vegetarians espouse for their meat anti-fetish;  the health pro’s and con’s, ethics, religion, philosophy and environmental issues.  I’ve admired and condemned (lightly) choices made by friends, family and acquaintances  to decline meat (and for some, even all animal products) from their lives and felt slightly righteous when at times that choice changed to include meat again.  There’s a niggling sense that I have yet to peruse the menu of choices and place my order- vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, (there’s more that I have omitted) or should I just carry on with the default choice of our culture- meat eating (meatatarian?)

Now could be a good time to confess that I did at one stage start a degree studying nutrition and forged halfway through before deciding not to continue my studies(there were many reasons, but at least one was that I knew one look at me would diminish the robustness of any advice I could give as a nutritionist).  Every time a new lecturer entered they would say some version of the same thing about the human diet- “you know you’ve got to eat meat right”?  Cue me smugly nodding in agreement.  They’ve got a point since the ability to consume the required nutrients for a healthy life can be more easily achieved if one eats meat.  I know the hairs will be rising on many vegetarian necks right now, but I think it would be hard to argue that iron and B12 levels in particular are difficult to maintain and may take quite an effort and a voracious appetite for a vegetarian to achieve.  That said, the unhealthy meat eaters may be harming their health just as much by excluding essential dietary fibre, and nutrients provided by a healthy variety of fruit and vegetable consumption(malnutrition is now quite common in the first world).  The plethora of dietary advice out there can be bewildering and the prophets of diet can make vast claims so I choose to take any advice with a educated and skeptical gaze.

One of my daughters doesn’t like meat.  She hates fish especially.  She’s dabbled with vegetarianism for a few years now, but since she’s only fifteen I am sometimes supportive… and sometimes taking her through the drive thru at McDonald’s because I know she’ll eat the low scale attractively wrapped, alluring meat there. This kind of vegetarian is just more taste based it seems.  Something about the look, feel and taste of the butchered flesh of another animal just doesn’t appeal.  No courage of conviction is needed for this kind of vegetarian- well no more than it takes for someone who hates brussel sprouts to avoid eating them.  And there’s certainly no argument to be made here against the reasons for being a vegetarian.

Animal lovers seem to come in a variety of breeds and for some the choice to become vegetarian is about respect for their fellow animals.  For me this is one of the things I consider a lot.  I do love animals and when I see them poorly treated or slaughtered I feel empathy and a bit of guilt.  If I became a vegetarian would it stop them suffering?  Would it ease my guilt to not partake of the meat, or would I then have to face up to the guilt of not trying to save the animals from being killed?  As a bystander to the concentration camp style of farming animals aren’t I just passively giving my permission and acceptance? I’m certainly not the type who would take a human life in order to save an animal.  I’ve countered this argument many times with this – ‘how many lions have you seen turning down the hunt for food because it felt bad about consuming a fellow animal’? The circle of life argument is a good one and sure, the lion is a carnivore so it has got no choice, but hasn’t our omnivorous abilities offered us a survival advantage?

Choosing vegetarianism for health reasons is driven by the fear of things like cancer and heart disease.  For the health choice vegetarian I guess eating meat is a bit like smoking, and some of these types of vegetarian can get pretty crazy about their choice- a bit like a born again christian or a recent comer to ‘The Secret‘.  I’m not sure I could stick to that style of eating any more than I could stick to any diet for health reasons but good on those that do.

Environmental reasons seem to be high on the list of good reasons to change to a more vegetable based diet. This is one of the more compelling arguments for me.  I can’t stand the sight of caged animals being bred on mass and as fast as possible for the jaws of a bloated world.  Have we become used to the taste of suffering permeating our meat?  The endless slaughter of cattle and sheep at the expense of our environment, concentration camp style, block it out meat eaters and tuck in to your unhappy meal with an extra serve of environmental disaster on the side.

Religious and cultural beliefs serve as reasons for living a vegetarian lifestyle and one would think that this would be one of the easier reasons to follow a non meat diet. This doesn’t make things easier for me or really figure into my thoughts about it because they don’t apply to me.  A couple of thoughts to chew over in regards to this though are- isn’t it part of my culture to eat meat?  But then, there are plenty of really bad things about cultures that we seek to change, so why not this one?  What if a religious vegetarian is starving to death and the only food available is meat?  Would they eat it?

Vegans have got the high horse to peer down from in regards to their choices.  No animal products at all!  I have to admit that seeing Cows complete with bright pink, full to bursting udders wandering dutifully to a milking shed sends shivers through my mammary glands.  Any breastfeeding mother will know the relief of a thirsty baby suckling at an engorged breast.  These cows have been impregnated in order to stimulate their milk production and the moment their calves are born they are taken away from their mother and the bobby calves (males) destroyed.  I gather the baby girls calves fates are to follow in their mothers dreadful hoof steps – to be milked for the rest of their useful lives.  We’ve been so brainwashed by the money making dairy industry that we’ve actually swallowed the idea that we need cow’s milk- hook, line and sinker.  I believe there’s one use for cows milk- to feed baby calves.  We’re essentially stealing calves milk like giant, evil, baby slugs.

Meat eaters that are selective about what meat they eat really scramble my thoughts.  Why, for instance, is it okay to eat pig, sheep, cow and other ‘acceptable’ meats but not cats, dogs, rabbits or even rats?  If you think it’s okay to eat animals then why discriminate?  I figured being a pescatarian would work but last time my hubby caught a fish and I watched it gasping and flapping with a hook in its mouth -I felt sad.  I thought about it’s friends and family and whether they were all going through hell down there waiting to see if their mate would make it back alive.  There’s a term for that sort of empathy for animals- anthropomorphism.  So in a nutshell that means attributing human feelings or characteristics to animals or other non human things. Of course it’s natural to do this as it’s the only thing we have to use to describe behaviour but that doesn’t mean we’re right about it at all!  So the vegetarians and vegans have clearly aligned themselves with this way of thinking and I have to say- when I grab my car keys and Mr Pug starts walking on his back legs and doing everything in his power to make me take him on the car ride I feel fairly convinced that he has thoughts and feelings.  For the meat-eaters, swallow that lump in your throat down- it’s just the soul of a cow getting trapped in your gullet.

What has become clear in digesting my ideas is that I am more strongly compelled by the animal welfare and environmental issues associated with eating meat.  I’m not afraid to change my diet to exclude meat, and I think it would be really easy if I actually just didn’t like meat(sadly this is not the case).  Is it just laziness holding me back, or the inconvenience?  I know I’d be fairly well catered for these days, and choosing from a menu should be easy- there’s usually one vegetarian item… Vegan?  No way!

I feel like I’d be happy enough if the large meat eating cultures would treat meat as more of a garnish to their food instead of the main event.  If we could reduce the cruelty and mass slaughter and consume meat as a treat item.  In fact even a ritualistic slaughter where we all smear the blood over our bodies first in some sort of honour to the cannibalized fellow animal might stem the flow of mindless munching.