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Why I’m a Vegetarian

May 8, 2009

It’s not complicated. There’s just two steps. First, take this quote from Jeremy Bentham (although I’m not a utilitarian I agree with this):

Other animals, which, on account of their interests having been neglected by the insensibility of the ancient jurists, stand degraded into the class of things. … The day has been, I grieve it to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the [human] species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated … upon the same footing as … animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or perhaps, the faculty for discourse? … The question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? (emphasis mine)

Second, watch this:

Or the documentary Earthlings:

earthlings

Or any of these PETA videos on factory farming (or fishing).

This doesn’t mean that I think animals should have a right to life. While I might argue for a chimpanzee’s right to life, I certainly wouldn’t argue for a chicken’s right to life. However, I would defend a chicken’s right not to be tortured. If I could be assured than a chicken was raised in a truly free-range environment and died painlessly, then I might not feel bad eating it.

However, for most animals we eat: factory farming=torture. Eating factory raised meat is tantamout to supporting animal cruelty.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2009 8:00 pm

    Hell yes.

    I call it “industrial meat.” Raises people’s eyebrows. Piques their interest.

  2. steph permalink
    May 9, 2009 3:42 am

    I don’t condone torture either. I haven’t touched meat since I was twelve. However I still couldn’t eat a free range animal either. Have you never looked into their eyes? I do, regrettably, eat fish – my only source of protein. Only fish I get from the fishing boats down at the harbour … in England I starve – it’s all farmed, processed or frozen. Fish have a nice life but they have a horribly painful death, tortured on a hook or netted and left to suffer on the deck of some boat… I would rather not eat them… I wish I liked tofu and beans, but I don’t.

  3. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 10, 2009 12:19 pm

    Hi Steph, I think I might add a post on why I think a chicken shouldn’t have a right to life …

  4. steph permalink
    May 10, 2009 6:13 pm

    Don’t you dare! A sister and now my mother keep chickens – for eggs. They are such lovely pretty pets, each with their own individual personalities! Long live the chicken!!

  5. momentary de lurking permalink
    May 11, 2009 10:11 am

    Steph, beans and other legumes are a source of protein. Quinoa is a whole protein. Cheese and yogurt can be added into stuff to up the protein. Also, smoothies thickened with yogurt and a little sprinkle of protein powder are super tasty (double check though, because sometimes protein powder isn’t veg). You have options beyond fish! Before I became a vegetarian at the age of 12 my parents made me read a bunch of books about nutrition. I was a picky kid, and they were kind of picky as well, so there were a huge number of vegetables I didn’t eat or hadn’t heard of (…until I started spending time with food-nerds in college). They were worried that without a nutritionally balanced diet I’d end up with anemia or scurvy or bari bari.

    I agree with the stuff you’ve said about factory farming and cruelty, but do you worry that the intense focus of animal rights activists on the suffering of the individual animals slaughtered detracts from the serious, widespread impacts of factory farming on the environment (ranging from pollutants from the pigs to the fertilizer caused dead zone in the gulf of mexico) by making the decision to eat meat or not, or to eat factory farmed meat or not an individualized decision about how much you (one person) is interested in not giving your money to support innocent animals (each also individuals), rather then zooming out and looking at how the consumption of factory farmed meat by individuals effects the entire ecosystem (as well as inhumanely killing an animal raised in a depressing, poo filled box).

    During fall quarter I was in a political economy class that looked specifically at the political economy of the Global Food System. We read some essays by Harriet Friedmann, and Samir Amin as well as “Stuffed and Starved” by Raj Patel.I was wondering if you had any ideas about more people to look into, or if you had read any of these books/authors and had comments?

    Also, a confession, I gave up being a vegetarian earlier this year. I live with a herbivore who likes to cook, and who grew up raising chickens for eggs/dinner and in an area where people would regularly kill and share deer (the removal of non-human predators from their ecosystem, plus human encroachment led to a lack of food, over-population and intestinal rot). He got me with bacon. I wasn’t really interested much in meat before becoming a vegetarian and I still don’t particularly care about it since quitting. I don’t buy or cook it (wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did), but he buys at the farmers market, from some young hippies who have an organic farm just outside of town. In some ways I think its been easier for me to “get political” about factory farming etc because I feel like I have something at stake.

    Then again, I didn’t become a vegetarian because I thought it was morally wrong to eat animals, but as the result of a conversation that I had with my step mom before she had really learned how to talk to pre-kindergarten aged kids. We had these cheap drumsticks for dinner, and they had veins in them. I wanted to know why, and she said its because the chicken died when we cooked it. I didn’t really understand cooking, but as a child of the gay community during the first major wave of AIDS deaths I had a pretty clear concept of what dying was. For months I went on egg rescue missions, sneaking them (unhatched baby chickens) into my room and hiding them under a pillow. Waiting for chicks.

  6. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    May 11, 2009 10:31 am

    “do you worry that the intense focus of animal rights activists on the suffering of the individual animals slaughtered detracts from the serious, widespread impacts of factory farming on the environment”?

    This is a great question. I like the way you think: systems, not individuals!

    My response is threefold.

    First, I don’t know that much about the environmental impact. I’ve never been much exposed to environmentalism, and I haven’t yet had the time to educate myself about these issues. It’s not that I don’t care, but more that I just haven’t gotten around to researching the issues yet.

    Second, I don’t think of factory farming as merely being about individual animals suffering; I think of it as part of a systematic relationship between capital, labor, consumers, producers, etc. I don’t think we can understand factory farming apart from the mechanics of capitalism. So, I think of it in the context of systematic relations—just not (or not yet) in relation to environmental impact.

    Third, I still think widespread animal suffering is pretty important. I don’t have sympathy for “ecosystems” since I don’t think they feel pain. I think the stability of ecosystems should never be an end-in-itself. Ecosystems always have been changing and always will change. If I’m given to care about the environmental impact of factory farming, it is probably because of the way the environment in turn effects animals and humans.

    Having said that, do you recommend any “primers” on the environmental impact of factory farming? I need to start educating myself sooner or later …

  7. steph permalink
    May 11, 2009 6:30 pm

    Lurker: Of course I am aware of other sources of protein. I’ve been around a long time now. However while fish is acceptable to my palate and other things, dairy products, beans, legumes etc are not. However unfortunately you don’t know my history so you don’t know my reasons. Rest assured though, I have studied food science and take an interest in these things. It’s funny how people on the internet always assume other people’s ignorance…

    Miss: It all started when cows farted.

  8. steph permalink
    May 12, 2009 2:43 am

    actually what pisses me off is other people always assume they know more than you and start dishing out uncalled for advice.

    As if I didn’t know about proteins … geez.

  9. Anna permalink
    June 12, 2009 1:26 pm

    PETA = People Eating Tasty Animals

  10. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    June 12, 2009 1:40 pm

    Oh, yes. How incredibly clever.

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