Why I Don't Eat Other AnimalsBy Bernie Adams, Guest Author
"...imagine if a super intelligent alien life form, one that considered us just a stupid animal and entirely separate from them, came to earth. Imagine that we were the equivalent of a pig or a sheep to this uber-intelligent life form..."
Quite recently, I decided not to eat meat. I struggled with the decision for a few weeks, having been a fairly enthusiastic carnivore for all of my previous 30 years, before deciding that becoming a vegetarian was the morally correct thing to do.
I wanted to write this as a summary of my thoughts when coming to this decision; to outline the dissonance that I was trying to resolve, in the hope that it may help somebody else contemplating a similar commitment. You see, I didn't want, from a purely selfish point of view, to stop eating meat. I enjoyed eating nearly all types of meat and didn't even think, at the time, that I actually liked many vegetables. The basis of my decision and my objection to eating meat was an entirely moral one and it is the kind of decision that I think people may wrestle with and a commitment that some might be tempted to defer indefinitely. It involves an immediate renunciation of meat and a significant change to everyday life. For me, initially, this was a decision that I was making because I felt that I had to, rather than wanted to.
I can't tell you exactly what was the trigger, the thing that made me question my meat-eating and ask myself whether it was 'right'. I can tell you that I have always loved nature and animals and abhorred cruelty to them. I started to mull over the fact that I love the two dog members of our family as much as could be imagined, but that I would happily tuck in to a roasted piece of animal at the weekend, an animal that shared at least some characteristics with our 'pets' and probably a similar level of sentience; an animal that almost certainly experiences physical pain in a very similar way to us and whose instinct would ensure that it would fight to the very end in order to cling on to its life.
During the couple of weeks after first considering this, I avoided meat products and thought things through. I wanted to make sure that this was the right thing to do and was something that I thought was unavoidable, such was the difference I felt it would make to my everyday life. I began by tackling what I thought were all the common pro-meat arguments, the arguments I had all too easily assumed reasonable if the topic of vegetarianism came up previous to the serious consideration of my position, some of which, I am ashamed to say, I have probably even uttered in my defence. Although I feel differently now, at the time I think part of me was hoping that I would find an argument reasonable enough to allow me to continue eating meat, but, as you will see, that proved harder than I had thought.
Argument number 1: We are Designed to Eat Meat. This sounds quite attractive at first. Humans have been designed to eat meat with sharp incisor teeth for cutting, a digestion that will cope with flesh and so on. The illusion of design of course is just that. Assuming you accept Evolution by Natural Selection as the 'designer', rather than a supernatural creator, the argument must be stated quite differently: we haven't been designed to eat meat, but our bodies have become adapted to eating meat since it has proved a successful strategy for our ancestors to be carnivorous. In other words, those ancestors of ours that ate meat were at a competitive advantage and it was their genes that became disproportionately represented in the gene pool, hence adaptations such as sharp teeth.
Darwinian Selection has nothing to say on morals. It tells us only what was successful previously and has no preference about 'right' and 'wrong'; it simply selects what works. It may have been a successful strategy for example, earlier on in our ancestry, for men to pounce on women and force them to copulate. It is not hard to imagine, since it was only from the beginning of the nineteenth century that women's rights movements began to argue that it was possible for a man to rape his wife. This was seen as legally impossible at the time, such were a man's conjugal rights. With abortion being a relatively recent process, it seems hard to imagine that there wasn't a time where this would have happened as I imagine it would have been a successful strategy, although something we would obviously now condemn.
So, because we have done something in the past, because our bodies have become adapted to allow us to eat meat, has no contribution to the argument of whether we should eat meat.
Argument number 2: Other Animals Eat Meat, Why Shouldn't We? I consider this argument even less appealing than the one we have just discussed. It is true, lots of animals are carnivorous and seek their nutrition through the killing and devouring of other animals. We are part of a food chain and we have the physical tools that allow us to eat meat. But, and this is a big but, we set different moral standards for ourselves than we do other animals. It might be said that humans have a higher level of sentience than other animals, even than other higher mammals such as apes. Maybe we have a higher developed consciousness and sense of self. We could discuss these things at some length, but it's the consequence of this line of reasoning that I wish to use as my point. When a dog bites another dog, we don't charge it with assault. We don't put non-human animals to trial. We don't expect other animals to behave as we do.
The human animal is capable of a range of faculty not open to other animals, whether this makes us special or not is another argument, I would however argue that it places on us an altogether higher level of responsibility and accountability. If we can contrive such things as morals, principles, laws and so on, then it is our duty to follow them.
So, while I may not relish the fact that a lion is at this moment squeezing the neck of an antelope so as to crush it's windpipe, before tearing it's flesh to pieces, I wouldn't subject the lion to the same moral standards as I would myself. For the lion, this way of life is essential to its survival, to me it is not.
Argument number 3: We Must Eat Meat in order to be Healthy. I'm not even sure how wide spread this myth is anymore, but it is something that was suggested to me when I revealed my decision to some people. Meat is convenient in that it contains a full range of amino acids and may be considered a complete protein. Certain vegetables that are high in protein will be deficient as far as a couple of these amino acids are concerned and therefore might not be considered as complete a protein. All that it is necessary for the non-meat eater to do, is combine certain complimentary food groups, so that by overlapping certain food items throughout the course of a day, the full range of amino acids are ingested. This is all that is required.
Argument number 4: Why Should We Care about Animals? Some people don't share my opinion and, although I wish that they did, I have to accept that not everybody feels the same towards non-human (or even human) animals as I do. I have a simple way of looking at this that might not be persuasive to everybody, but it helps me put things into context. Consider which animals you may be prepared to eat. Most people wouldn't be happy to eat another human, although, of course, there are exceptions in some parts of the world. However, the consensus in the 'civilised' world seems to be that cannibalism is taboo. Would you eat an ape? An animal that shares 99. whatever % of our genome. Apes have been seen to display a range of emotions, including bereavement emotions of yearning and mourning. They experience pain in a very similar way to us. You soon realize, as you go through any list of animals, all of which are related to every other animal on the planet including us, that there is a continuum of sentience. I'm not going to try and argue that eating a pig is like eating a human family member, but it is possible to draw a line of relation from you to that pig, although the line would be much longer and would take a less linear path than would the line to a human family member.
The arbitrary lines we draw, which are often cultural, between our love of domestic animals such as dogs, and our factory farming and mass slaughter of other animals of similar intelligence, such as pigs, seems to reveal a hypocritical, non-thinking and non-caring attitude towards non-human animals on the whole.
As a 'higher' mammal, I feel a level of relatedness to other animals and I feel my position is a privileged one. I have no natural predators (although humans do a good enough job of predating each other) and I can choose how I act towards other animals with no other immediate consequences, in the main, than the effect on my conscience. I do feel a sense of duty to all fellow animals.
Another thought exercise worth considering is this: imagine if a super intelligent alien life form, one that considered us just a stupid animal and entirely separate from them, came to earth. Imagine that we were the equivalent of a pig or a sheep to this uber-intelligent life form. What if they decided that they would eat us? What if we were in the position of the pig, unable to communicate with the aliens, but just as able to feel pain, fear and a sense of self-preservation? Well, our fate would be the same as the pig, we could only hope that the aliens would feel a moral obligation towards us and would not be happy simply to farm us for food and produce.
There are of course many arguments one can consider, but these are the major ones that spring to mind. When deciding exactly what I felt that I could eat, my main considerations were a life forms ability to feel pain and level of self-awareness.
So, getting to the point of my stance and why I have taken it. I resolved that because I am able to satisfy my nutrition and my hunger without eating meat, then the only reasons that I would continue to eat meat are due to matters of convenience or palate. I decided that these were not good enough reasons to eat other animals. My vegetarianism is emphatically about choice; because I live at a time and in a place where I have a choice of whether I eat meat, and because I will suffer no ill effects that may be considered serious in not eating meat, morally, this leaves me with little choice!
I don't want to be an evangelist in my vegetarianism, but I did want to put my thoughts down in writing and see how reasonable my position sounded. I can't honestly say that I would be disappointed if this piece prompted others to consider theirs.
About the author:
Bernie Adams is a Guest Author on The Practical Vegetarian. He is an animal and nature lover, and resides in the UK with his wife and Labrador retrievers. ...read more from Bernie Adams on The Practical Vegetarian BACK TO TOP