Thursday, November 02, 2006

My Beef with Vegetarians

The other day I received a book about vegetarianism called "Why are people vegetarians?" for my children's non-fiction section. I did not order it, the previous librarian did, and it was so one-sided and full of crap that I really didn't want to put it on the shelves. But as I am a librarian who is whole-heartedly anti-censorship, I put it on the shelf. I am now searching for another book to offer an opposing viewpoint. The search does not go well. So, in the meantime, here are some of my opposing viewpoints.

Vegetarianism is kind of 'in' right now. It's the cool thing to do. But I am not, nor will I ever be, a vegetarian. But many people are, and they become vegetarians for various reasons, most of which, in my humble opinion, are completely illogical and silly.

Reason #1: Being a Vegetarian is more healthy

Okay, first of all, humans are omnivores. That means that we eat both animals and plants. We have biologically evolved in this way. Meat is not some foreign substance that we are invading our bodies with. We're supposed to eat it. When most people think of vegetarians, they think of lots of vegetables, fruits, and other good, healthy non-meat foods. But let's say all I ate was potato chips and pop-tarts. Am I a vegetarian? Yup. Am I healthy? Not so much. It is true that many vegetarian diets are healthier than the average western nation diet, but it is not because they don't eat meat. Rather it is because of what they do eat (fruits and veggies). They're just healthy in general. The key here, people, is balance. If you took someone who ate a healthy diet including all those fruits and vegetables AND meat, and compared them to someone who ate a healthy vegetarian diet, there would be little to no difference. In fact, I'm betting the meat-eater has a slightly better chance of being more healthy. As someone who perpetually struggles with an iron deficiency, I know where I'd be if I tried to be a vegetarian. Yes, you can get enough iron without meat, but it is way more difficult. So, in conclusion, a healthy diet is a healthy diet, whether you eat meat or not. Period.

Reason #2: I don't like the way meat tastes

This one I actually think is somewhat legitimate. It's a personal taste thing. You don't like it, you don't like it. I don't like coconut or green peppers. That doesn't mean that I'm weird, it's just the way I am. However, I would like to point out that beef, pork, chicken and fish are all very different in texture and flavour. I find it difficult to believe that someone doesn't like the taste of any of them. I think that at least some vegetarians who use this reason are really fooling themselves. It's not the taste that gets you, it's the fact that you associate the taste with killing poor innocent creatures and that is what turns your appetite off. That doesn't mean that it's impossible for someone to really and truly dislike the taste of all types of meat. But be honest about your reasons. Which brings me to my next point:

Reason #3: Killing Animals is Cruel

This also has some legitimacy in my opinion. Some. First of all, I would like to point out, perhaps unnecessarily, that killing animals is natural. Animals do it to each other all the time. Cats catch mice, wolves catch deer, bigger fish eat smaller fish. And people are animals. We have our place in the food chain too. If people stopped eating animals, I would argue that there would be some serious ecological consequences. Populations of animals depend on the food chain to keep them in balance. If you eliminate a predator, then the population of the prey explodes. The fact that humans have taken over the territory and therefore severely reduced the population of many natural large predators does not help. So what's more cruel: letting some hunters make deer sausage out of a few does, or watching them slowly starve to death over winter? Also, if humans stopped eating animals, we would be condemning many billions of domesticated creatures to death and possible extinction. There is one reason to keep these animals around: lunch. Otherwise there is no economical reason to keep them. Now, you might keep some cows around for milk (but vegans won't do the dairy thing), chickens for eggs (except some vegetarians won't eat them either), and sheep for wool, but your populations will be severly reduced. We could release them into the wild. But most of these animals are so domesticated that they couldn't survive in the wild. These animals depend on us. I would also like to ask the question of just where we draw the line between what we will kill, and what we won't kill. So, plants are okay. And we don't have problems killing viruses and bacteria. Other single-celled organisms? Well, we can't see them. How about a worm? Or a bug? When's the last time you swatted a mosquitoe? Set any mousetraps lately? Oh, but those are pests, right? Well, an out-of-control rabbit population could be considered pests too. Wouldn't it be better to chow down on some rabbit stew rather than just poison them all and burn the carcasses? But rabbits are cute and furry you say?

Well, I agree. It's difficult to want to kill and eat something like a bunny or a deer. Or even a cow (although anyone who says cows are cute, I say you have NEVER actually had to deal with one). I don't think this is a logical response, but it is an emotional one. I admit the thought of someone killing, skinning and eating my Avery cat is absolutely horrifying to me. And let's be honest, in some cultures that happens. And despite what I said before about humans being animals and it being natural for animals to kill other animals, humans are also not JUST animals. We have a gift called critical thinking. We can think about our actions and choose to do or not do something. We are not a slave to our instincts. And we can therefore choose not to kill and eat animals. I think it is a purely emotional response, and not based on any logical reasoning, and as I said before, if everyone chose this route, I think we would be in trouble, but if you can't bear the thought of a fuzzy creature dying for your dinner, then I respect your decision. And lucky for you, we live in a society where food is plentiful enough that you can actually choose what you eat. Good luck with that when western society comes crashing down around your ears and you're back to hunting and gathering off the land.

There are also those who state the additional reason that many domesticated animals, like cows, are kept in very bad conditions. Dark, dirty, over-crowded feedlots where they can't even turn around and they suffer horribly, etc. I don't know how legitimate these claims are, I've never been to a feedlot, though I suspect they are not even close to as bad as rabid animal rights activists would have us believe. But, I do agree that animals shouldn't be kept in those conditions, if those conditions exist. However, there are alternatives other than swearing off meat completely. There is such a thing as free-range beef. These cows are raised on pasture in wide open spaces. Not kept in a barn and fed grain. So if you would like to eat "happy" meat, then you will simply have to search a little harder for it. It does exist. Money makes the world go round. If there are people willing to buy it, then more will become available.

Reason #4: Vegetarianism is better for the environment

This is by far the stupidest reason I have heard yet. Proponents of this argument cite the fact that animals such as cows, sheep and goats are major producers of methane gas, a contributor to the greenhouse effect and global warming. Yes, this is true. Do you know what else produces a ton of methane? Wetlands, swamps and bogs. Do you hear environmentalists running around saying "Drain the swamps!"? No. Because wetlands are a natural contributor to global warming (i.e. not man-made) and getting rid of them would cause much more harm to the environment than it would save. How about we focus on UN-natural producers of methane like petroleum drilling, coal mining, and landfills, hmmmm? But, you might argue, cows are kept by humans for food, and are therefore man-made, not natural. However, let us not forget that these cows were in fact at one point wild and roaming free over the earth. And cows produce methane no matter if they're in the wild or in a barn. There are an estimated 1.3 billion cows in the world right now. However, back in the day before Europeans arrived in the Americas, there was another methane-producing animal roaming at will over the plains of North America: the bison. There was an estimated 50 million of them. Now there are only about 200,000 left. So, before the interferance of humans, the earth supported a large number of methane-producing grazing animals. Was the world-wide total 1.3 billion? Probably not that high, but still. Cows were on earth producing methane long before humans got organized enough to domesticate them.

Another environmental argument that people use is that cows use up land that could otherwise grow food to feed all the starving people in the world. There are several things wrong with this statement. First of all, there is no global food shortage. That's right people. We could feed the world right now. It's not a production problem, it's a distribution problem. Western nations have too much (we're all getting fat) and developing nations don't have enough. Secondly, most of the land that cattle graze on, i.e. natural grass and pasture land, is unsuitable for other agricultural production. It's rugged and dry and if you tried to cultivate it, you would ruin it. Also, natural grassland evolved with grazers, and it needs animals grazing on it to keep it healthy.

So, in conclusion, unless you are absolutely psychologically unable to reconcile yourself to killing an animal, or you really don't like the taste of any meat, then you have no excuse for being a vegetarian. Get a Life, Eat a Steak. Take that you stupid book.


Anonymous said...

Bravo! Smart article and well written. I hadn't thought it out in these terms. Will make interesting topic at dinner tonight!

Anonymous said...

Well, you might want to do a little research first and try to find some unbiased information on this topic - this is simply a biased opinion. She admits she doesn't know several things. Perhaps she should have taken the trouble to find out before spouting off.

librarychik said...

I hear ya Violette. I do like eating vegetarian meals at times as I really like the flavour and texture. As well, I am aware that I need to be conscious of eating more fruits and vegetables. However, I do like the taste of meat and I find that protein keeps me going, it is a great mid day snack and helps me from getting too sleepy in the afternoon, so I much on cheese and crackers or peanuts...

Anyway, good post. (I hope you are feeling better)