“Could you become a vegetarian?”
It’s a topic of conversation which has come up with friends from time to time over the years, especially, say, in the middle of a steak dinner. And my answer has always been “no”, followed by various reasons (not quite excuses, but close) for that being the case.
But I’ve been examining some of those reasons recently.
1) “I could never live without steak. or Bacon.”
All well and good. I do really like good steak. But to say that I couldn’t live without it is rather overstating the case, quite simply because I’ve never tried. It’s an untested hypothesis, and I can’t really keep saying it without backing it up with hard proof. “I tried living without steak and couldn’t” – now there’s a position worth having.
As for bacon, well, the fact of the matter is that I’ve been forced to (more or less) live without bacon since I moved to the US, because Americans don’t understand what good bacon is (hint: there’s a picture at the top of this post). Americans think that this crap can pass for bacon. Poor fools.
Proper, European-style back bacon is well nigh impossible to get Stateside. Supermarkets have never seen such a thing, and even quality butchers are often sorely lacking. The only reliable source I’ve found is the Rain Tree Cafe in San Francisco, who do a very agreeable Irish Breakfast with proper bacon. But my visits there are few and far between. And “bacon butties” (look it up) are right out.
2) “Hitler was a vegetarian”
Okay, I’ve never actually used that as a serious argument. Maybe, just a couple of times, it’s proved highly effective in winding up overly-preachy “meat is murder” types who think they’ve single-handedly saved the Universe by going vegan.
I’m a bad man.
3) “We’re omnivores. We’re supposed to eat meat.”
It’s very true that we’re omnivores – we have the multi-purpose teeth and the digestive system for it. But the argument is disingenous all the same, because the human being as an animal is not built to be a predator. Take away our low cunning and our opposable thumbs and you’re basically looking at some fairly appealing prey. Our “claws”, such as they are, are brittle and badly adapted to violent confrontation. And our jaw musculature is not designed to deliver a killing bite.
Nor are our brains wired in a predatory fashion. Housecats, even after millenia of domestication, still have that killing insinct. Present them with a fast-moving object smaller than they are, be it a bird or a piece of string, and they will pounce and stab with their claws. Very few of us, on the other hand, sit in the garden of a summer and feel an irrepressible urge to pin a bird down and rip its throat out.
We’re scavangers at heart, taking what food is available, and that’s why we’re omnivores – it broadens the potential avenues of sustenance, whether they be a recently deceased mammouth, a tree full of berries or a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.
Only we’re not scavengers any more, because with our low cunning and our opposable thumbs we developed agriculture and supermarkets. We no longer have to eat what we find; we can choose. And we have the ability to choose only plant matter for sustenance.
4) “If you’re going to eat meat, you should be prepared to kill an animal yourself”
The implication of this statement, of course, being that I would be prepared to do such a thing. Only I’ve never actually put myself in a position where that’s the case. Not through any highly active avoidance – it’s just that the situation has never arisen and I’ve never sought it out.
And honestly, thinking about this now, I’m not sure that I could do it. I’m not particularly squeamish, but I just don’t believe strongly enough that humans actually have the right to take other creatures’ lives with impunity. And if that creature is, say, a 200 pound pig which is screaming its lungs out, I have a feeling that compassion would come before pork chops.
Which puts me in the awkward position of being a bit of a hypocrite, and leads me to effectively argue myself into vegetarianism.
All of which is to say that I don’t have any concrete arguments which should stop me from eschewing meat. Ultimately, it comes down to this: which is more important to me; the enjoyment I derive from certain meats, or the moral and enviromental reasons against meat production and consumption, which I’m becoming ever more aware of and concerned about?
I can’t fully answer that question until I’ve explored those issues in a little more depth. But that’s a job for another day.