No, I’m not a vegan, I’m not even a vegetarian, I would never donate to either Greenpeace or PETA, and even though I consider myself an animal lover, I freely admit that my tolerance for animal rights activists is rather limited. I am also honest enough to acknowledge that that does make me into something of a hypocrite.
I will eat a cow, a chicken, a pig, or a fish, but like most people I recoil at the thought of eating a dog, or even a rat, not to mention that I can only eat those things because I live in a world in which I can get that protein without sullying my hands. I may be willing to go to the butcher’s shop, and spend a few dollars on a steak –one that has been carefully cut to look nothing like the animal it came from– but there is no way I could bring myself to take a life. If before I could eat a chicken I would have to kill it, pluck it, clean it, and so on… well, let’s just say that, if that were actually the case, and even though I would still be unlikely to become an activist, I would most definitely become a vegetarian… and that would go double for a chicken I had raised myself.
In other words, and like too many of us, I am all too happy to pay others to sully themselves so that I don’t have to… and yet, at the end of the day –and much to the annoyance of animal rights activists– I also have to say that that dichotomy between vegetarians and meat eaters is, at least from an ethical perspective, less clear cut than they would like it to be.
Vegans and vegetarians may love to remind us that they don’t kill, while we meat eaters have blood on our hands –be it directly or indirectly– but that in itself is based on a different kind of prejudice: one that values animal life over vegetable one because at the end of the day we are part of a food chain, and that means that all the things we use to nourish our bodies come from other things that were once alive. There is nothing we can do to change that. No, a plant won’t cry out as it is being harvested, and as far as we know it has no central nervous system, so it doesn’t feel pain, but that is only as far as we know, and we don’t know what we don’t know about the ways in which plants may or may not interact with their surroundings. For instance there is a not inconsiderable body of empirical evidence, and even some scientific research, that seems to suggests that music –or at least certain sounds– do help plants grow, something that would make no sense if they were as insensate as we assume them to be, not to mention that there are ways to gain access to animal protein without killing.
Hens will lay eggs –far more eggs than they would in nature, you can thank selective breeding for that– whether or not there is a rooster around, and no matter what you do, those unfertilized eggs will never hatch. As far as nature is concerned they are a waste byproduct of life that is of no further use. That means that keeping a couple of very pampered hens in your backyard can provide you with a steady supply of a rich source of protein that even the most fanatical vegan should be able to eat without guilt, and while a cow’s milk is supposed to be meant for her calf, the truth is that at the end of the day there too selective breeding has served to ensure that there will be an overproduction, though I also admit that while keeping a handful of hens in your backyard is relatively feasible, keeping a cow is an entirely different order of magnitude.
On the opposite end of the spectrum we have something as common, and as ethically acceptable, as a simple bowl of rice… which represents the remains of thousands upon thousands of perfectly viable seeds. Why is it that an unfertilized egg is more morally fraught than thousands of fertilized seeds, which serve the same biological function, or maybe it would be more accurate to say that those seeds at least have the potential to fulfill their biological function? Again, that is our animal bias showing, but at the end of the day I understand.
I understand more than you could possibly imagine.
We are animals, we see the world from an animal perspective. In our minds the eyes are the window to the soul, and plants have no eyes. Maybe that’s the key.
I remember one seemingly trivial incident when I was on the interstate coming home from I don’t know where. I was tired, and in front of us was a cattle truck. I remember looking into a cow’s eye for a moment, seeing the fear and the confusion reflected back at me. I don’t know where that cow was being taken. I’d like to think it had been sold, and was being moved to a different farm, where it would go on to live a long and happy life before succumbing to old age, the more realistic part of me knows it was probably on its way to being slaughtered, but that eye… it will stay with me for as long as I live.
No, I’m not a vegan, or even a vegetarian, nor do I intend to become one, but I am honest enough to acknowledge the implications of my choices, so what I do is honor the sacrifice to the best of my abilities. I watch both what I purchase and what I cook. I do everything within my power to avoid wastage. I do my best to keep from leaving food on my plate, and if I can’t finish the meal that is in front of me, I do not throw those leftovers away, not if I can possibly avoid it.
It is not much, it is not ideal, but I am human. I have a body, and that body is part of a food chain. It requires nourishment, and that nourishment must come from sources that were once alive, so it is the most I can do.