Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Why I'm a Vegetarian

The first impulse I had to become vegetarian came when I was about 15 or so. My cousin, David, had come home from college refusing to eat meat and since I had so much admiration for him, it didn't take long for me to consider what vegetarianism would mean in my own life. Also during high school, our beloved family dog, Suzie, died, and I had to deal with death in a way I hadn't before -- with someone who had been part of my life everyday for as long as I could remember who then got very ill and had to be "put to sleep". I had so much anger about why that had to happen. I was so disillusioned about the whole situation and why we couldn't have done more to save her. I remember sitting with her and crying the night before her death -- not knowing how to deal with the impending tragedy. Sometime not long after that I had a very vivid dream in which a white dog (Suzie was a dalmation) was stuck with a skewer and was rotating over a fire pit with a large section of her abdomen cut out, as if she had been carved like a turkey. It soon occured to me that domestic animals weren't that much different from animals raised for meat and that if I wouldn't want to kill my dog, I wouldn't want to kill a cow or pig or deer. I also read a book/cookbook by Lyndsay Wagner (aka the Bionic Woman) about vegetarianism that sealed the deal. It certainly didn't hurt that my mom is a great cook and liked cooking delicious vegetarian meals -- for that I am very fortunate. In the 17 years since my official decision not to eat meat I have mostly stood by my decision as a decision not to kill animals. It wasn't until reading Barbara Kingsolver's *Prodigal Summer* that I started to see that my decisions about food were more complex than I had thought, and in the several years since then I have realized that things are even more complicated. If the decision is primarily not to kill animals, there are many flaws. I have read that a combine harvesting wheat kills many mice, rabbits, and woodchucks. I also read recently that some organic farmers use fish meal to fertilize their produce. Still, I find there are two arguments for vegetarianism that are pretty rock solid. A creative meat eater might find ways to get around them, but the path would not be easy. The first argument is that most of the meat eaten in the US is produced on factory farms and no one would want to eat meat if they actually saw what goes on there in terms of the way the animals are treated or in terms of what happens to that "food" before they eat it. And the "Big Organic" companies are trying with all their might to create their own rules and sometimes actually write the rules about what the words organic and free-range mean. Finding animals that are free-range, organic, and humanely slaugtered -- all three -- is a rarity indeed. The second argument is related to the first. Something like 75% of the grain grown on US soil (mostly corn) goes to feed cattle. This is not only an environmental disaster, but it's a ridiculously inefficient way to feed people. Like in every other business these days, only a very few corporations are profiting off of these agribusiness giants, which serve only to wipe out family farms, destroy small businesses, abuse animals, and provide food products which are seriously delinquent in quality.


Suze said...

If you consider all aspects of the way food is raised, I'm certain you could find meat raised more ethically than some vegetables. You have to take human rights (i.e. conditions of the workers employed on the farms growing veggies and fruit, organic and otherwise) into account as well.

I eat meat now occasionally since I'm nursing. You don't have to eat meat if you're breastfeeding, but it's certainly easier to get the iron you need that way. But once I'm done with that, I may go back to vegetarianism because, for one thing, ethically raised meat is quite expensive, and ethical or not, a pound of meat takes up many more resources than a pound of grain.

Buying from small local farms is important, both for supporting the right businesses and also for keeping track of where your food comes from.

get my own blog, right? I ought to just post about this...anyway, I think you make some very good points.

pamigelsrud said...

When I started writing this blog entry, I thought I could get all my thoughts down, but halfway through it occured to me that there was way too much to say and it wasn't going to happen. There is much in *The Omnivore's Dilemma* that totally supports your first point. A farm where animals are raised to be happy and healthy is definitely a step above one where low-paid migrant workers handle plants doused in pesticides -- plants which are deficient in nutrition because of a fertilization system which creates unhealthy soil. Well, you can write the next blog entry about this, Suze!