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On Being Totally Vegetarian for a Month: My Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation Light the Night Challenge

So as regular readers may know, I recently went totally vegetarian for a month. It was part of a fundraising effort I’m doing for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation’s Light the Night Walk: the Foundation Beyond Belief is a “Special Friend” team, I’m the FBB International Team’s Honored Hero for 2013, plus Freethought Blogs has a virtual team that’s part of FBB’s giant mega-team… so I’m doing all these dares and challenges as our team reaches assorted fundraising goals. One of those dares was to go vegetarian for a month… a month that was over on November 8. (We’re currently at $8.587, by the way — if we reach $9,000, I will eat bugs, and if we hit our $10,000 goal, I will eat — shudder — broccoli.) Here’s my report.

*****

Being totally vegetarian was less difficult than I’d thought it would be. I’m close to vegetarian anyway (I sometimes call myself “vegetarian-ish”): I eat some meat sometimes, but not that often, and only certain kinds of meat or under certain circumstances. The exceptions I typically make are: meat that I consider to have been ethically raised (pasture-raised or grass-fed); local specialties when I travel (barbecue in the south, Buffalo wings in Buffalo, that sort of things); bites off of other people’s plates; times when I’m having serious problems with food due to health issues (when I was recovering from cancer surgery and having all kinds of weird appetite and digestion stuff, I gave myself permission to eat any damn thing that seemed appetizing and that I thought I could keep down); special occasions like Thanksgiving; and fish pretty much any time. So as it is, I eat meat, including fish, maybe once or twice a week. Cutting out that once or twice a week was not that big a deal.

The things that were actually challenging about this:

1) Times or places when I ordinarily would have eaten meat — such as food places that had meat I’d usually be fine with. When I was getting lunch at the foodie haven in the Ferry Plaza, I felt sad about all the “meat I consider to have been ethically raised” options I was passing on. I ordinarily take advantage of those when I can, since they don’t come along that often, and I felt sad to be missing one of my chances.

2) Not taking bites. Even at times in my life when I’ve been harder-core vegetarian, bites of other people’s food have pretty much always been an exception for me. It was sad to pass up those tastes.

3) Meat going to waste. This was very difficult indeed. I ordered a vegetarian crepe for dinner at a conference — a chicken crepe, actually, which I asked them to leave the chicken out of — and they forgot to leave out the chicken. Ordinarily I would have eaten that chicken with zero qualms. I have some ethical issues about eating meat at all, and giant ethical issues about eating generic meat raised in agribusiness factory-farm horror shows — but I have much bigger ethical issues about meat going to waste. The thought of that chicken suffering and dying just to be thrown in the trash… no. But I’d made a commitment to be strictly vegetarian for the month, so I stuck with it, and had them pitch it and make me a chickenless crepe. It didn’t sit well with me, though.

(I go back and forth about what this rule means at buffets, by the way. But I’m leaning towards not eating meat — if meat at a buffet goes to waste because I didn’t eat it and other vegetarians didn’t eat it, maybe they’ll serve less meat next time.)

4) Remembering that fish is not a vegetable. Even at times that I’ve been closer to the vegetarian end of the vegetarian-ish spectrum, I’ve almost always been okay with eating seafood (except for squid and octopus — they’re way too smart and sentient for me to feel okay about eating). Looking for the seafood options on a menu is almost reflexive for me. It was hard to remember, “Oh, yeah. Vegetarian. That means no salmon, no oysters, no scallops, no fish sauce.” That wasn’t a sacrifice so much (although it was at times — passing up oysters, sigh) — it was mostly just hard to remember.

So has this experience persuaded me to go totally vegetarian?

I don’t think so — but it’s definitely persuaded me to go more vegetarian than I currently am. I know myself, and I know that if I vowed to never to eat meat again as long as I lived, it would immediately become the one thing I wanted to do more than anything. (That’s what’s happened in the past when I’ve tried to go totally veg — and when I fell off the wagon, I fell off big.) I have enough complicated emotional issues with food as it is — I don’t want to add another one. If I was at a really amazing restaurant with a really amazing meat dish, I think I’d eat it. And I think the “meat going to waste” thing is always going to be an exception for me. Watching that chicken get thrown out was the one time in this experience when I actually felt like I was making a morally bad choice.

(And yes, I am morally fine with eating bugs. Which I’ll be doing if the Freethought Blogs team raises just another $413 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation!)

But for the most part, this was easy enough to do that it seems silly not to do it more. For a couple/few years now, my general approach to meat-eating versus vegetarianism has been a “harm reduction” approach — I don’t feel a need to entirely eliminate meat, but I want to reduce the harm done by eating it — and I’m still pretty good with that. But I do think I want to slide my “vegetarian-ish” dial closer to the “totally vegetarian” end of the spectrum. I think I want to make eating meat even more of an exception than I already do: maybe once or twice a month instead of once or twice a week. I think that even at restaurants that have meat I consider to have been ethically raised, I’m not immediately going to leap at “Here’s my chance! That’s for me!” — I’m going to look at the vegetarian options, and give them at least as much weight, if not more. I also want to reconsider my “local specialties” exception: travel is stressful and eating local specialties is sone of the ways I handle that stress, but when I look carefully at the ethics of it, I don’t think that’s important enough to counter-balance the “agribusiness factory-farm horror show” thing.

And I am re-thinking seafood. During my vegetarian month, whenever I pondered the question of fish, that line from Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” kept popping into my head: “It’s okay to eat fish, ’cause they don’t have any feelings.” And I kept thinking, “Okay, Kurt, fine, you have a point, that’s not very consistent or evidence-based.” (Although I also kept thinking about the line, “And I’m living off of grass and the drippings from the ceiling,” and realizing that I don’t want to go there, either.) I might have to research fish neuropsychology a little bit to decide where exactly I want to draw that line. (Maybe no to regular fish, but yes to shellfish?)

I’m still okay with my harm-reduction model of eating meat. But if I can reduce that harm even more than I am, I don’t see any reason that I shouldn’t.

(In another Leukemia & Lymphoma Foundation Light the Night fundraising challenge, I’ve promised to go vegan for a week. I haven’t yet decided when I’m going to do that, but it’ll be soon. I’ll post about that when it’s done.)

Comments

  1. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    Plenty of vegans (such as myself) will eat oysters or other bivalves on occasion, since they lack a central nervous system it seems far fetched that they suffer at all. However while oysters are typically farmed, their relatives are more often harvested in a rather destructive fashion and so might bear avoiding for that reason.

  2. johnwoodford says

    What troubles me about fish, these days, is that the majority of the time your choice seems to be between farmed fish and factory ship-harvested fish, and neither of those are particularly good for the environment. PZ pointed at this article a few weeks ago, and if true it’s a terrifying eye-opener.

  3. Nick Gotts says

    I recently stopped eating fish for the reasons johnwoodford gives (I haven’t eaten meat in the narrow sense for many years – I always used to say I didn’t care to eat close relatives!). It’s certainly worth considering the environmental costs alongside the animal welfare ones, for which reason I’ve also recently reduced my cheese consumption: ruminants produce quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas considerably more potent than carbon dioxide (though not so long-lasting in the atmosphere). Environmentally, if you’re going to eat meat, pigs and poultry are better than cattle or sheep.

  4. says

    I am really grateful that you are trying to go vegetarian! :) I have qualms with people who like to show others how great they are by showing support for gay rights (which I support) etc. while completely ignoring suffering of animals they eat or use (as in leather). (Prime example: Dr. Jerry Coyne). My pet theory is that one does not have to sacrifice anything in one’s own life to support gay rights etc. and thus when people see that it’s a trend to stand for gay rights, they voice their own support for them in order to self-aggrandize. On the other hand, there is a complete lack of empathy for animals among most people and eating meat is not seen as questionable in most social circumstances (as of now). Thus, these pseudo-moral people blatantly ignore concerns related to animals. They are utter hypocrites. (I mention this issue about gay rights because a sudden emergence of consensus that gays deserve equal treatment had raised my hopes that we suddenly had more compassionate and caring human beings who were speaking out. I was wrong I suppose.)

    We talk a lot about privilege and I think the biggest privilege out their is “human privilege.” Even if gay people were/are denied marriage, blacks or browns (like me) face racism and so on, the society at least acknowledges that there is a problem and works to remove it. Those who work to tackle racism/sexism etc. are seen as heroes. But the same progressives completely fail to acknowledge that animals being skinned/boiled alive or eaten is a problem or a case of injustice to be fixed. Those who talk about injustice towards animals are cast as “radicals” or “trolls.” This is so unfortunate. The only hope I have is from people like you who are coming to realize this and have turned vegetarian/vegan. Examples I can remember: Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, Jaclyn Glenn, @AtheistMel, Ellen Degeneres, Anne Hathaway, Bill Clinton, Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi Cruz and so on. (Notice their varied backgrounds.) (Although, disturbingly many people who care a bit about animals like to cast vegetarianism as a personal choice, instead of a moral imperative. No one says, not being racist/sexist is a personal choice. See the difference?)

  5. says

    Number 3 has been a huge issue for me as the meat is still getting used. I’m considering a policy of not eating at restaurants unless they are 100% vegan or make the food in front of me.

  6. dysomniak, darwinian socialist says

    I haven’t had to deal with it with meat (and I don’t think I could actually make myself eat flesh anymore), but there have been a couple times when I’ve ordered something sans cheese, and it came with cheese anyways. Both times I ate it anyways rather than let the food go to waste but I couldn’t really enjoy it. If there were vegan restaurants in my area I would patronize them exclusively but sadly there are not. On the rare occasion I do go out to eat it’s usually to one of two mexican places down the street which both make everything cafeteria style, so it’s easy to make sure they don’t accidentally sneak in anything.

    At least there are two grocery stores in town with lots of vegan options, hell even safeway and albertson’s carry a decent range these days (especially if you know what “normal” foods are secretly vegan).

  7. nich says

    @4:

    My pet theory is that one does not have to sacrifice anything in one’s own life to support gay rights etc. and thus when people see that it’s a trend to stand for gay rights, they voice their own support for them in order to self-aggrandize.

    Matthew Shepard was tied to a fucking fence post and beat to death not because he shunned meat, but because he was gay. How you can possibly compare that to not eating steak is beyond me. Now kindly stick a fucking vegetable in your mouth and fuck off, you self-aggrandizing fuck. Jackasses like you are the ones giving vegans a bad name.

  8. Greta Christina says

    Now kindly stick a fucking vegetable in your mouth and fuck off, you self-aggrandizing fuck. Jackasses like you are the ones giving vegans a bad name.

    nich @ #7: As much as I agree with you on the actual issue, I must ask you to please abide by my comment policy. In particular, please take note of #1: No personal insults; no namecalling; no flame wars. In comment threads in this blog, I encourage lively dissension and debate. I do not, however, accept personal insults aimed at other commenters. I am fine with vigorous and even snarky critiques of ideas and behavior — but when that crosses the line into personal insults, I stop being fine.

    On the actual content: Yes, Arpit Chauhan’s comment at #4 was grossly insensitive and clueless. It is flatly untrue that society generally acknowledges that homophobia or racism are problems and works to remove them. I can’t even count the number of arguments I’ve been in with people who insist that this is a post-racial society, or that homophobia is a thing of the past… and that therefore they don’t have to take any steps to do anything about it, or pay attention to ways in which they’re perpetuating it. And that’s not even counting overt racism and homophobia, which are widespread. There is nothing at all like “consensus that gays deserve equal treatment” — and the degree to which this idea is more accepted than it once was is hardly a “sudden emergence,” it’s something that thousands and indeed millions of us have been busting our asses to make happen for decades. And as you point out, the idea that “one does not have to sacrifice anything in one’s own life to support gay rights” is not only flatly inaccurate — it is grotesquely insensitive.

    (On a less important note, I’m also irritated/ amused by their failure to read for comprehension. I am not, in fact, “trying to go vegetarian,” and I clearly stated in the piece that I plan to continue eat some meat sometimes.)

    I would agree that comments like this give vegans a bad name, except that I try not to go there. I don’t like expecting everyone in a minority or marginalized group to be a representative of the rest of the group: it’s like that whole “being a credit to your race” idea, which I think is hugely racist. I don’t like it when I’m expected to not give atheists a bad name, or bisexuals, or kinky people, and I hate it when people conclude that “atheists are mean and rude because I saw a few be jerks on the Internet.” So I try not to do it to other people/ groups. (There are times when my patience is tried, though…)

  9. says

    @Arpit and in general: There are 3 main reasons people are vegetarian or vegan: animal welfare, feed more people, health. With regard to the “feed more people” argument, while it is true, clearly this will only allow the population to increase even more until more people die of starvation (cue Malthus). Earth’s population needs to come down a bit to be sustainable, and in such a case eating meat would be OK from this point of view. Health? Sensibly produced meat (ecological production, humane slaughtering, good environment, buying from local sources etc) in moderation is certainly not a health problem. Actually, animal welfare is probably the reason most people cite. Of course, I ignore completely those who cite this reason but wear leather. However, keeping Kant’s idea in mind that something is good if everyone follows it and things continue to function, what would happen if every person on Earth were vegetarian or vegan? Malthus reminds us that any unchecked population will rapidly outstrip its food supply. Birth control for all animals is not an option. So, what will happen? Animals will die of starvation or will be eaten by other animals. Thus, I don’t see how vegetarianism or veganism actually promotes animal welfare. (Yes, one can reduce unnecessary suffering, and this is one reason (health is another, environmental impact is another) why I buy only locally produced meat from “ecological” farms.) Frankly, given the choice between being shot in the head and being torn apart by a lioness while trying to escape, I would choose the former. In other words, if animal welfare is a reason to be vegetarian, how can you accept carnivores like sharks? It might be that nature is how it is and there is no good solution. Like death, it might have to be something we have to accept. As Pinker points out, people don’t burn cats on stage for amusement anymore. As long as the suffering we inflict is less than that which the same animal would experience in the wild (which is not always true, but is true for an increasing number of conscientious carnivores), why should people become vegetarian and other animals continue to kill (brutally) for food?

  10. cartesiandaemon says

    I’m really impressed by this experiment!

    FWIW, I’ve always been vegetarian (though I’m not dramatically hard-line about it), and I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with eating meat that would otherwise go to waste, but I don’t myself because (a) after eating no meat, the idea of eating part of another animal, even if morally neutral, is just really really strange and (b) I’m worried about the temptation to cheat, and accidentally form habits where, eg, my friends would order a bit extra, with the expectation it would go to “waste” and I would eat it. I find it a lot easier just not to bother, and it rarely comes up. So I personally prefer to avoid it, but I don’t think there’s theoretically anything wrong with it.

    (And I often describe myself as “almost entitrely vegetarian”, even though I think of myself as vegetarian, because there are some things I don’t bother with, like checking beer and wine, etc. And I think reducing my dairy consumption would be a lot more important than cutting out those other edge cases.)

  11. nich says

    Please accept my sincerest apologies for violating your rules and thank you for not dropping the hammer on me. The comment sort of touched a nerve and I set my phasers to kill instead of stun. It won’t happen again!

  12. says

    @9: Your argument contains several assumptions that don’t hold up: The argument for veganism isn’t usuaally to feed more people total. It’s to feed more people with a give set of resources. Reducing the amount of developed land is the goal.

    Your animal welfare argument seems to equivocate between hunting and raising livestock, which makes no sense. It’s not like cows and chickens would overrun the earth if people stopped eating them.

  13. says

    “Your animal welfare argument seems to equivocate between hunting and raising livestock, which makes no sense. It’s not like cows and chickens would overrun the earth if people stopped eating them.”

    Why not? Because they would starve, having outstripped their food supply, or because other predators would kill them. I think it is fair to assume a) no birth control, b) more offspring than can survive and c) however individuals die, it is probably worse than a quick death from being shot. So, you are right, they wouldn’t overrun the Earth, but their welfare might be worse than it is now.

  14. says

    @Philip Helbig: Animals like chickens and pigs are raised specifically for food. If we gradually stopped eating them, no one would maintain farms to breed them in such numbers. And the amount of meat that’s needed makes it difficult to raise animals in an environmentally-friendly sense. Even then, the environmental impact is considerably high. e.g. see this United Nation’s act of urging global move a meat-free and dairy-free diet

    Jeff McMahan, a philosopher wrote a response and a possible solution for violence in the natural world. It was published in the New York Times. I’m not sure whether I agree with it, though.

    @nich: It’s not that you have argued much beyond hurling insults. But let me try to respond. I am certainly not claiming that homophobia and racism is over. (That would be preposterous.) And I agree that my comment above may be interpreted as exaggerating the positive developments re gay rights, but compared to what the situation was 50 years ago (even in the West), we are seeing development. Of course, a lot has to be done. And, in a sense you illustrate my point:

    Matthew Shepard was tied to a fucking fence post and beat to death not because he shunned meat, but because he was gay. How you can possibly compare that to not eating steak is beyond me.

    You seem to think that eating an animal is significantly less a problem. And thankfully, beating gays to death does not happen anymore in the West. It’s not legal and there might be isolated cases, but that’s not the norm. On the other hand, 5 billion animals are slaughtered every year for food in the US, alone. And that’s not even a problem, right?

    And, I don’t care what you have to think about “vegans.” But, just as feminism or anti-racism isn’t about saying “I believe in equal rights for women and blacks, but whether you believe in them is your personal choice,” veganism as I see it, doesn’t mean “I don’t eat animals, but you can eat them if you want to.” I know some people make statements akin to “I don’t have any problem with veganism, I like vegans. But, I personally choose to eat animals.” That’s totally nonsensical. It’s like saying “I don’t have any problem with race egalitarianism. I like anti-racist people. It’s just that I personally choose to be racist.”

    @Greta: I agree that the wording “trying to go vegetarian” was wrong. What I was thanking you for was that you at least acknowledge that violence against animals is an issue.

  15. Greta Christina says

    I am certainly not claiming that homophobia and racism is over. (That would be preposterous.)

    Arpit Chauhan @ #15: Then why did you say that there was “consensus that gays deserve equal treatment”?

    And thankfully, beating gays to death does not happen anymore in the West. It’s not legal and there might be isolated cases, but that’s not the norm.

    Would you like to be pointed to some statistics on anti-gay violence> in the United States? And why does anti-gay violence not in the West — in Africa or the Middle East, for instance, where in many countries it’s institutionalized by law — somehow not count?

    I agree that my comment above may be interpreted as exaggerating the positive developments re gay rights

    Gee, ya think? /sarcasm

    But here’s the thing: You didn’t just minimize homophobia and homophobic violence. You insulted people who care about it, unless they’re also vegetarians. You said that “one does not have to sacrifice anything in one’s own life to support gay rights,” that “when people see that it’s a trend to stand for gay rights, they voice their own support for them in order to self-aggrandize.” You called them “pseudo-moral people” and “utter hypocrites.”

    Most people I know on the left have thought about the ethics of meat. They may have come to a different conclusion about it, and if you think that conclusion is wrong, it is entirely reasonable for you to make that case. But it is simply mistaken to say that they’ve never considered the issue. And it is grossly insulting to claim that they have never sacrificed anything to take a stand on gay rights, that they only take this stand to be trendy and to self-aggrandize, and that they are pseudo-moral. For someone who apparently has more concern for non-human animals than they do for humans — not even the same amount of concern, but apparently more — to accuse others of pseudo-morality is laughable.

    @nich: It’s not that you have argued much beyond hurling insults.

    Actually, nich’s comment @ #7 contained more than insults. It contained rage at homophobia, and at homophobic violence being dismissed. Rage which I echoed in my own comment — and rage which you have ignored.

    Your comments on gay rights are grotesquely insensitive and insutling. An apology is in order. Not a non-pology; not a mere acknowledgement that you may have overstated your case; not a passing apology in which you then continue to make your other case. An actual apology. If you’re not going to make one, then get the hell out of my blog.

  16. Greta Christina says

    I think it is fair to assume a) no birth control, b) more offspring than can survive and c) however individuals die, it is probably worse than a quick death from being shot.

    Phillip Helbig @ #14: ????? You think that if we stop raising animals for meat, we’re going to suddenly release them all into the wild? As opposed to, say, gradually phasing out raising them in the first place?

    Also, you overlooked at least two major reasons that people choose to be vegetarian or vegan: (1) environmental concerns (the argument is that meat production takes more energy and pollutes more than plant production), and (2) a basic ethical objection to raising conscious living beings for the sole purpose of using them for food.

  17. says

    Okay, I do apologize. My comment was largely born out of frustration from dealing with atheists (who I expect to be rational) repeatedly making “where do you get your protein from?,” “it’s my right to eat meat,” and “we won’t have enough land to grow crops if we don’t eat meat” sort of stupid arguments. I realize that my anger came out at the wrong moment.

    I said that there is an emergence of “consensus that gays should be treated equally” after seeing how the President, Democrats, many Republicans and the mainstream media have started to support gay rights. e.g. see the editorials of the New York Times that calls for support for gay marriage. Now, the NYT wasn’t always enlightened like that. I remember Sam Harris saying that In something like 1920s or 30s, their editorials endorsed slavery or were indifferent to it. We no longer live in that era. (Again, racism or homophobia haven’t ended.) To say that we have significant development in areas of gay rights and race egalitarianism isn’t to say that those problems are over. And that point hasn’t been attained w.r.t. animal rights. The media discusses animals (except dogs and cats!) as if they had no life. That point may come hundred years from now when (I hope) people would say that what we did to animals was simply unconscionable. But not yet.

  18. says

    Okay, I do apologize. My comment was largely born out of frustration from dealing with atheists (who I expect to be rational) repeatedly making “where do you get your protein from?,” “it’s my right to eat meat,” and “we won’t have enough land to grow crops if we don’t eat meat” sort of stupid arguments. I realize that my anger came out at the wrong moment.

    I said that there is an emergence of “consensus that gays should be treated equally” after seeing how the President, Democrats, many Republicans and the mainstream media have started to support gay rights. e.g. see the editorials of the New York Times that call for support for gay marriage. Now, the NYT wasn’t always enlightened like that. I remember Sam Harris saying that In something like 1920s or 30s, their editorials endorsed slavery or were indifferent to it. We no longer live in that era. (Again, racism or homophobia haven’t ended.) To say that we have significant development in areas of gay rights and race egalitarianism isn’t to say that those problems are over. And that point hasn’t been attained w.r.t. animal rights. The media discusses animals (except dogs and cats!) as if they had no life. That point may come hundred years from now when (I hope) people would say that what we did to animals was simply unconscionable. But not yet.

  19. Greta Christina says

    Arpit Chauhan @ #18: What part of “not a passing apology in which you then continue to make your other case” did you not understand?

    I have put you into comment moderation. Any further comments by you on this blog will have to be approved by me before they get posted.

  20. lostintime says

    I’ll try to post something on moral vegetarianism without causing splash-damage. If you have a medical condition that means your health will suffer if you don’t eat meat, or your circumstances are such that it would be impossible or very challenging not to eat meat, then these are good moral reasons for doing so. A lot of the objections to vegetarianism though are based on “what would happen if everyone in the world turned vegan tomorrow”. That’s a spurious argument, because realistically we are talking about individuals changing the way they eat, and this having a cumulative effect spread over many years. We don’t need to ask what would happen to the 56 billion farm animals that are alive today (as if this is a fatal objection to vegetarianism!), because as less demand is put on agribusiness, fewer animals will have to be raised to begin with.

    The Worldwatch Institute has some alarming statistics about meat production which is predicted to double by 2050. If we’re going to move away from highly intensive farming, that’s going to use a lot more space and put even more pressure on the environment. The most ethical way to redress the problem is to change our cultural attitudes and the expectation that it’s normal to eat 90 pounds of meat each year. For me, this is one of the strongest arguments for consistent vegetarianism, and I wonder if you would agree with this Greta. If you are seen to be eating meat, even if it’s going to be thrown away, or if it’s been ethically farmed, that might send a confusing signal to others who aren’t aware of the complicated ethical reasoning that has gone into your decision to eat chicken or pork on this occasion. This might be one reason for consistent vegetarianism rather than weighing up the consequences every time you eat a meal. Interesting arguments though, and well put.

  21. Greta Christina says

    lostintime @ #22: First, thank you — and others in this thread — for making it clear that you can passionately make a case for vegetarianism without insulting and dismissing LGBT people and our advocates. I suppose that shouldn’t have had to be clarified, but…

    Your argument makes an excellent case for significantly reducing the amount of meat we eat. But it’s not a great case for eliminating it altogether. If for no other reason, there’s always going to be land that can’t be farmed but that can be grazed. That being said, a good case could be made that more people becoming strict vegetarians is what’s needed to shift cultural expectations about meat. (I’m always baffled when pro-veg activists suggest that people “try going meatless one day a week.” I’m always like, “Who the hell eats meat every single day of their lives? Who thinks eating a vegetarian meal now and then is some huge deprivation?” And then I remember: Oh, right. Most of the United States.) So fair point, and I’ll think about that some more.

    However, that being said, I’m not willing to live my entire life in the service of being a role model. I already have little enough of my life that just belongs to me, and that doesn’t belong to atheism or feminism or sex radicalism or lefty politics or some other public realm. What I put into my mouth when I’m in the privacy of my own home, or having dinner out with my sweetie or my friends, is largely going to stay in that realm. (Once these fundraising challenges are over, anyway…)

    Which brings me to “confusing” people by eating meat once in a while. If there’s anyone other than myself who’s carefully watching everything that I eat, to the point where they might get confused about my eating habits, then I have more serious problems to worry about.

    But you make some good points, as do others in this conversation, and I’ll be thinking about them.

  22. says

    @15 and @17: Well, animal-rights activists have been known to liberate minks being raised for fur, only to have them all die within a few hours. However, I concede that this is not what most vegetarians/vegans have in mind. But it is wrong to think that if we no longer breed animal for food, then somehow their numbers will decrease. Ever seen rabbits in a park? Most female animals are pregnant as much as possible, simply because this is the best evolutionary strategy. How can we gradually decrease the numbers of pigs and chickens without having them die somehow, probably in a less “humane” way than in a (sensible) slaughterhouse? This have-as-many-offspring-as-possible strategy is necessary because most offspring don’t survive long enough to have offspring of their own. It has been just a few generations since that was the case with humans as well.

    Leaving aside arguments about the stability of the ecosystem etc: Many species of sharks are endangered. Should we be happy if they become extinct, since that will mean fewer predators? Of course, those animals now eaten by sharks will die in some other way, maybe by starvation if they over-consume their own food, but that is precisely my point.

    I have never hunted and still don’t like the mentality which goes with many hunters in many parts of the world. (I did do some fishing as a child and of course ate them.) However, when travelling in Sweden one often has the opportunity to eat moose, which has been hunted. I fail to see any difference between a hunter shooting a moose and eating it (or selling the meat) and a wolf killing a moose for food, except that being shot is probably a significantly less amount of suffering.

    I certainly share the arguments against large-scale industrial production of meat with help of chemicals, hormones, bad living conditions ofr the animals etc (and personally buy locally produced “ecological” meat). I also agree with Pinker when he says that it has been progress in that the circle of those we are willing to treat with mutual respect has grown from the family to the tribe to all of humanity and should continue to grow to include apes, whales etc, though it clearly cannot increase forever. However, I am not convinced by animal-welfare arguments which claim that eating any meat at all is immoral. Malthus’s arguments still hold. Since birth-control is not an option for the majority of animals on Earth, either humans will kill them, other predators will kill them or they will die of starvation long before they die of old age. If there is another possibility, let me know what it is.

  23. analog2000 says

    @25: I am not a vegetarian, but your information and logic are just silly. If we stop breeding animals for food their numbers WILL decrease. A lot. I don’t think you realize what goes into large scale factory farming. These animals are not breeding on their own. Humans are breeding them through artificial insemination, and many breeds have limited reproductive success when left to their own devices. In nature, animals are “selected” by their reproductive success. Species of animals that can’t produce a lot of offspring won’t be around for long. But farm animals aren’t selected by the same forces or criteria. They are selected for size, taste, rapid growth, etc. Ironically we frequently breed animals that have very poor (natural) reproductive success. Because whether or not a pig can reproduce on its own is irrelevant to making money in a factory farming system. But how fast it grows (how big it is, etc.) IS relevant, and that is what determines how many of those pigs will be breed and therefore how many of them will exist. (I realize this is a gross oversimplification of evolutionary theory but you see the point).

    We will “gradually decrease the number of pigs and chickens” by eating them. In real life everyone is not going to go vegan tomorrow. But if gradually over the course of many years, more and more people eat less meat, less and less animals will be raised for the meat industry.

    The difference between a wolf eating a moose for food and the hunter is that the wolf doesn’t have other options. We do.

  24. Holms says

    4) Remembering that fish is not a vegetable.

    This one has always puzzled me, in that it seems blatantly obvious that fish is also a dead animal yet plenty of vegetarians don’t seem to mind. I remember in high school being criticised because my takeaway bag of hot chips were probably fried in animal fat, immediately followed by the girl criticising me pulling out a tuna sandwitch for lunch. That was a major ‘WTF’ moment for me.

    As a non-vegetarian, I find meat to be less problematic than fish due to issues of overfishing and bycatch.

    #3
    What troubles me about fish, these days, is that the majority of the time your choice seems to be between farmed fish and factory ship-harvested fish, and neither of those are particularly good for the environment. PZ pointed at this article a few weeks ago, and if true it’s a terrifying eye-opener.

    Key words there being ‘if true’, and I agree with that reservation. That article struck me as amazingly sensationalist for something with no photographic documentation.

    #4
    Thus, these pseudo-moral people blatantly ignore concerns related to animals. They are utter hypocrites. (I mention this issue about gay rights because a sudden emergence of consensus that gays deserve equal treatment had raised my hopes that we suddenly had more compassionate and caring human beings who were speaking out. I was wrong I suppose.)

    Psuedo-moral? Utter hypocrites? What the fuck. You are conflating two different issues as being one and the same. And as far as ‘consensus over treating gays as humans’ goes, open your eyes abroad and check out e.g. Russia, most / all islamic theocratic nations, most / all christian theocratic nations, plenty of africa. And that’s still not even touching the work that is still to be done in even the most egalitarian nations.

    #9
    Frankly, given the choice between being shot in the head and being torn apart by a lioness while trying to escape, I would choose the former. In other words, if animal welfare is a reason to be vegetarian, how can you accept carnivores like sharks?

    Congratulations on being the first person I have ever seen to posit the idea that being vegetarian somehow implies an objection to the existence of carnivorous animals. The ridiculousness of the idea, coupled with the fact that you immediately rebutted it, suggests ‘strawman’ to me.

    Additionally, bear in mind that almost all commercially available animals are farmed rather than hunted in the wild. They are largely in no danger of death by lion (or other large carnivores), especially since even those nations that have predators large enough have generally all but destroyed those populations in order to protect their precious livestock.

  25. katybe says

    I’m coming slightly late to this, but just wanted to expand on a point Greta made in comment 24. Yes, there’s always going to be land that can only be grazed and not farmed, and that grazing is actually a really important part of land management, particularly when it comes to archaeological sites. It isn’t just about finding a way to monetise an otherwise worthless plot of land. Without that, uncontrolled scrub will destroy a monument – people can’t walk over it or appreciate it, the roots will destroy the remains, and the undergrowth will encourage critters to burrow in to it.

    I’m writing from the UK – we don’t have significant wild populations of grazers, and you’re unlikely to find hard-pressed farmers willing to keep a herd of non-meat animals for the purpose of keeping the grass trimmed on a completely non-productive piece of land. So depending on the topography of the land, and how overgrown it is, you generally need a mix of sheep and cattle (with the occasional wild pony) at different times of the year. And, fortuitously, over here at least, the varieties which respond best to being kept free-range on steep hillsides grazing naturally also tend to be the slower-growing, better quality old-fashioned varieties which don’t lend themselves to factory farming, so it keeps the old breeds going, and provides better quality, more ethical meat, whilst also protecting ancient sites. I was out on a cliff last week looking at the difference that grazing makes, and it really is essential if we want to preserve physical evidence for future generations.

  26. yasureubetcha says

    I wouldn’t feel too bad/conflicted about #3–unless the restaurant in question has one of those abominable nothing-eaten-ever-or-it’s-theft policies, the chicken crepe probably got eaten on a break or taken home. It’s pretty standard practice in the restaurant biz.

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