30 July 2011

Veggie lover

Since I first decided to become a vegetarian 10 years ago, eating animals is something I have done and not done to varying degrees. It's something I've thought about, and it is something I've also chosen to ignore or "forget" from time to time.

But I haven't been able to stay away from the subject for long (I do eat (at least) 3 times a day, after all). And eating meat is pretty common in the culture I live in. So, I keep coming back to the question: to eat meat or not to eat meat?

Lately, this has been on my mind more urgently, so I grabbed a book from the library that a few friends have suggested to me: Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer. For me, this was the push I needed to rededicating myself to what I consider a humane way of eating--avoiding meat and, now, most dairy products. The truth is, I can't stomach the knowledge that I am participating in creating a life of torture and abuse of millions of animals. Not to mention the gruesome deaths they suffer.

Part of the reason I have decided to more fully live a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle, and why I am sharing that decision with you, is because I believe it is one small step I can make towards influencing the world around me in a positive way.

I don't know about anyone else, but for me, there are so many problems in the world that sometimes I feel helpless to make an impact or contribute to the solution. But occasionally there is something I know I can do that matters. In this case, for me, it's as simple as not eating meat. Here are a few of the specific reasons I am choosing to avoid meat and dairy:
  1. The obvious: I don't want to participate in the systematized torture and abuse of animals that occurs on a large scale in our country (99% of the meat produced in the US comes from a factory farm. If you don't know what that meas for animals, it isn't hard to find out--read Eating Animals, watch undercover videos taken at these factories. The horrible truth is actually pretty readily available if our eyes are open.).
  2. I am opposed to the human rights abuses imposed upon many factory farm workers (often immigrants or others who have very few financial opportunities and may not feel they have access to legal protection).
  3. It helps the environment. The production and use of meat on a large scale is extremely harmful to the environment, using up resources and land, and creating enormous amounts of waste and pollution. Especially factory farming, which can decrease the value of land for miles surrounding these disease breading, stench producing places.
  4. It plays an important role in global famine and poverty. We may not always think of it this way, but the more meat we eat, the more of the precious grains and food resources are not being fed to human beings (and there are people all over the world starving--as we speak, the worst drought in 60 years is happening in the Horn of Africa, producing a huge food crisis). It takes 26 calories of grain consumed by animals to produce 1 calorie of meat for consumption. That is terribly inefficient and means that many more people could be fed and nourished by the grains that animals are eating than will be fed by the animals themselves. (Not to mention the fact that, in traditional farming animals graze and eat grasses and plants that are not always fit for human consumption, not so with the ever prevalent factory farm.)
  5. It's good for our health. Not only does meat naturally leech certain vitamins and minerals from out bodies, but the meat we eat today is pumped with chemicals and antibiotics, many of which we do not yet know the consequences of for the human body. Also, when animals are raised in such unclean, disease infested places, we can be certain that we are not entirely immune to the consequences of increased spreading of these germs (anyone remember the swine flu (H1N1) epidemic a few years ago.... well, scientists predict that the factory farm may be a breading ground for even more severe influenzas and other diseases in the future.).
Those are just a few examples, but the long and the short of it is that, for me, eating meat is not worth the consequences, to animals, the planet and to human life. I second Jonathan Safran Foer in saying, "My decision not to eat animals is necessary for me, but it is also limited--and personal. It is a commitment made within the context of my life, not anyone else's. . . .For me to conclude firmly that I will not eat animals does not mean I oppose, or even have mixed feelings about, eating animals in general." Yet, I also feel strongly enough about the matter to encourage everyone to consider the pros and cons of meat consumption, as well as the moral implications. I ask that we do not eat meat mindlessly because it is what we have done and what most people do, but make an informed, personal choice about our patterns of eating.

I end with one final quote (a long one) from Foer. And with this: every small act of charity and love matters. Whether it is choosing not to eat meat, lending service to a friend or the championing of an important cause, our choices matter and they say something about us and what matters to us, and they influence others around us. For me, meat, and the consequences of meat, matters. And I wanted to share that with you.

"It might sound naive to suggest that whether you order a chicken patty or a veggie burger is a profoundly important decision. Then again, it certainly would have sounded fantastic if in the 1950s you were told that where you sat in a restaurant or on a bus could begin to uproot racism. It would have sounded equally fantastic if you were told in the early 1970s, before César Chávez's workers' rights campaigns, that refusing to eat grapes could begin to free farmworkers from slave-like conditions. It might sound fantastic, but when we bother to look, it's hard deny that our day-to-day choices shape the world. When America's early settlers decided to throw a tea party in Boston, forces powerful enough to create a nation were released. Deciding what to eat (and what to toss overboard) is the founding act of production and consumption that shapes all others. Choosing leaf or flesh, factory farm or family farm, does not in itself change the world, but teaching ourselves, our children, our local communities, and our nation to choose conscience over ease can. One of the greatest opportunities to live our values--or betray them--lies in the food we put on our plates. And we will live or betray our values not only as individuals, but as nations.

We have grander legacies than the quest for cheap products. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote passionately about the time when "one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular." Sometimes we simply have to make a decision because "one's conscience tells one that is right." These famous words of King's, and the efforts of Chávez's United Farm Workers, are also our legacy. We might want to say that these social-justice movements have nothing to do with the situation of the factory farm. Human oppression is not animal abuse. King and Chávez were moved by a concern for suffering humanity, not suffering chickens or global warming. Fair enough. One can certainly quibble with, or even become enraged by, the comparison implicit in invoking them here, but it is worth noting that César Chávez and King's wife, Coretta Scott King, were vegans, as is King's son Dexter. We interpret the Chavez and King legacies--we interpret America's legacy--too narrowly if we assume in advance that they cannot speak against the oppression of the factory farm."
-Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals