August 9, 2007

Meat eaters are bad people

That's right -- you heard me, bitch.

If you eat meat you're a bad person.

And you’re probably deluded too, desperately clinging to quasi-sensical rationalizations that are supposed to justify your cruel and filthy habit.

Yup, you guessed it -- I'm through being Mr. Nice Guy when it comes to dealing with meat eaters. I’ve passed a personal tipping point, so to speak, mostly on account of my having to suffer through far too many dinner conservations in which I'm exposed to ridiculous and unfounded arguments intended to support the practice of eating flesh.

Ultimately, when it comes right down to it there is no excuse for eating meat.

Let me repeat that.

There is no excuse for eating meat.

All justifications for doing so – including those rare arguments that actually manage to make sense – are weak to the core. There’s no possible excuse that outweighs the damage and suffering caused by consuming meat.

I would now like to take the time to debunk some of the more common fallacies I’m forced to listen to (and supposedly tolerate) on a regular basis:

Fallacy #1: “Humans evolved the capacity to eat meat, so it’s justified”

When a person tells me this I get the urge to smash tofu in their face.

This is the oft used appeal to nature. Advocates of this view – whether they realize it or not – are essentially suggesting that ‘might makes right’ – that because humans sit atop the food chain they can pretty much kill and eat whatever they want. I’ve even heard guys use this argument to uphold their sense of masculinity – as if eating defenseless animals who were killed by machines that dip them in electrified pools of water somehow affirms their manliness.

Funny, I have a different measure of what makes a man.

Looking at this argument another way, the appeal to nature asserts that evolved traits are inherently good. The line of thinking goes like this: Evolution is natural, and what is natural is good; and because humans evolved the capacity to eat and digest meat, the practice of eating meat must also be natural and subsequently good.

This is the naturalistic fallacy and it leads to all sorts of problems. Given this line of thinking we should also condone other human traits that came about through evolution, namely rape, murder, pedophilia and cannibalism. Obviously we’re not about to do this any time soon. We know very well that many people cannot be left to their own hard-wired devices; this is why we have self-corrective memes (i.e. ethics, laws, etc.) and why we need to have police and penal systems.

More to the point, however, is the acknowledgment that overriding our evolutionary baggage is part of the human mission. Having Darwinian processes guide our moral compass is sheer lunacy. Where is the morality in ‘survival of the fittest?’ Evolution may have helped us describe how we got here, but it most certainly won’t help us move forward as a compassionate species.

Fallacy #2: “Humans evolved the capacity to eat meat, so it’s a necessary part of a healthy diet”

Yeah, right.

That’s why heart disease is the leading cause of death; hundreds of thousands of people die prematurely each year because of too much saturated fat from meat and dairy products. It's no secret that meat consumption promotes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, and every other major degenerative disease. The Western meat-obsessed diet is a major contributor to the host of health problems currently endemic in our society.

Meanwhile back at the tempeh ranch, not only do humans fare very well without meat, they actually thrive without it.

A number of dietitians are now claiming that human physical performance peaks when people go off meat and other animal bi-products. Carl Lewis said his best years as a sprinter came after he transitioned to a vegan diet. Word of this is slowly getting out and an entire sub-culture has emerged around this revelation.

Philosopher Peter Singer hit the nail on the head when he said that if alternative means of survival exist, one ought to choose the option that does not cause unnecessary harm to animals. And as Charles Eisenstein has said, “It is just plain wrong to take another animal's life unnecessarily; it is bloody, brutal, and barbaric.”

Makes sense to me. We don't need meat to survive or to remain healthy. Consequently, we have no business raising and killing animals for food. The ongoing practice of doing so is pure extravagance.

Fallacy #3: “Being a vegetarian is too difficult and I’d never find anything to eat”

In other words, you’re lazy, unimaginative and you have the taste buds of a 5-year old.

Get over it. A chunk of meat does not reside at the center of the Universe. There are plenty of other options.

Which brings to mind another infuriating but common misconception – the twisted notion that vegetarians only eat vegetables. What nonsense. How about a good old fashioned plate of pasta and thick tomato sauce? Or a pizza covered in mushrooms and hot peppers? A plate of nachos and refried beans, anyone? How about meatless lasagne, stir-fries, curries, chillies and casseroles? Pancakes covered in syrup, sweet potato soup, and a fresh blueberry pie...

In fact, I’ve never eaten better since becoming a vegetarian five years ago. I now eat a diverse array of foods and I’m much more competent and knowledgeable in the kitchen.

Moreover, even the most meat-centric of us (my old self included) can find worthy substitutes. I often enjoy fake ham sandwich for lunch. For dinner I like to throw a veggie patty on the barbecue and slather it with HP and Tabasco sauce. I also enjoy burritos stuffed with simulated ground meat. Add the right spicing, condiments and marinade to this stuff and you're practically there.

Fallacy #4: “Taking the life of an animal isn’t cruel because they’re worthless, stupid and probably not even self-aware”

Again, patent nonsense. These are the lies that people tell themselves as they bite into a sirloin steak – the kind of re-assurance they need to convince themselves that what they’re doing is not evil.

It’s also a sign of our speciest tendencies. As humans, we don’t kill each other because we know that other humans do not want to die. The same should hold true for our relationship with non-human animals. They don't want to die either, but they're given no choice and no protection.

Indeed, the de-valuing of animals is a lie. Farm animals are remarkably intelligent and emotional. As professor of animal husbandry John Webster has said,
"People have assumed that intelligence is linked to the ability to suffer and that because animals have smaller brains they suffer less than humans. That is a pathetic piece of logic, sentient animals have the capacity to experience pleasure and are motivated to seek it, you only have to watch how cows and lambs both seek and enjoy pleasure when they lie with their heads raised to the sun on a perfect English summer's day. Just like humans."
Yes, animals deserve an experiential life free from suffering and torment. We, as the dominant species on the planet, have to pay particular attention to their needs.

Biologist Marc Bekoff has noted, "When animals are seen as automatons with no emotions, it is easy to treat them as mere property with which humans can do as they please." Exactly -- and we need to move away from this sort of parochial thinking as quickly as possible.

Along these lines I highly recommend the book, The Pig Who Sang to the Moon: The Emotional World of Farm Animals by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson.

Fallacy #5: “Livestock aren’t treated poorly”

People who make this claim are either terribly misinformed or just plain ignorant. The reality is that modern farming practices are an absolute travesty.

Pigs are typically kept in stalls so small and narrow that they can never turn around or rest properly. Many develop respiratory problems and neurotic coping behaviors such as repetitive bar biting and sham chewing (chewing nothing). Chickens and turkeys are often packed twenty to a cage and pumped with antibiotics. Their beaks have to be clipped to prevent them from pecking at one another. And as for cows, well, read this excerpt from an April 2001 Washington Post article which describes typical slaughterplant conditions:

The cattle were supposed to be dead before they got to Moreno. But too often they weren't.

They blink. They make noises, he said softly. The head moves, the eyes are wide and looking around. Still Moreno would cut. On bad days, he says, dozens of animals reached his station clearly alive and conscious. Some would survive as far as the tail cutter, the belly ripper, the hide puller. They die, said Moreno, piece by piece...

"In plants all over the United States, this happens on a daily basis," said Lester Friedlander, a veterinarian and formerly chief government inspector at a Pennsylvania hamburger plant. "I've seen it happen. And I've talked to other veterinarians. They feel it's out of control."

I could go on and on, but I'm sure you're getting the point and you'd probably get more by reading other accounts of how pigs, cows, chickens and other farm animals are mistreated. I also recommend the book, Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, And Inhumane Treatment Inside the U.S. Meat Industry by Gail A. Eisnitz.

Fallacy #6: “Eating meat isn’t that bad for the environment”

Guess again. Raising meat is environmentally nasty and an inconvenient truth.

Given the climate change hysteria currently gripping the planet, one would think that maintaining hordes of livestock would be a hot-button social and political issue. But it’s not. That would be too inconvenient. The ongoing practice of raising animals for food is being ignored as a subset to the larger environmental catastrophe currently in effect.

Animal protein, for example, requires tremendous expenditures of fossil-fuel energy—eight times as much as for the same amount of plant protein. The average meat consuming diet burns the equivalent of a gallon of gas per day. All the livestock in the U.S. consumes five times as much grain as its human population. Americans are outnumbered by their farm animals by a ratio of 25 to 1.

In terms of land use, one-sixth an acre of land can feed a vegetarian for a year, while three acres are required to provide the grain needed to raise a year's worth of meat for the average meat-eater.

The toll on water resources is just as bad. Grain-fed livestock consume 100,000 liters of water for every kilogram of food they produce; this compares to 2,000 liters required for soybeans. The meat industry accounts for nearly half of the water consumption in the U.S. – 2,500 gallons per pound of beef compared to 25 gallons per pound of wheat.

And what goes in must come out; 1.6 million tons of manure gets sent back into the environment every year in the U.S. In addition to this, residues of antibiotics and synthetic hormones are increasingly showing up in municipal water supplies.

And I have only scratched the surface.

So, as you’re heading off in your hybrid car to get solar panels for your home, just remember that as a meat eater you’re only being partly environmentally conscious.

Fallacy #7: “Eating meat is my personal choice, and since I respect your desire not to eat animals, I would appreciate your respecting my preference”

Sorry, I will do no such thing.

As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau has retorted, "The problem with this justification is that it assumes there is no victim, no other. It implies that the meat-eater’s desires, traditions, culture, or taste buds are superior to anything — or anyone — else and that because of this, he or she is absolved from the harm eating meat causes."

Remember, this is not about you.

The truth hurts

As for me personally, I do not profess to have achieved any semblance of moral perfection. You don’t need to remind me of my hypocrisies and inconsistencies; I am very much aware of them and I am my own worst critic. I am not vegan, for example, but I hope to transition to that diet eventually.

But at least I’m trying; I'm making an effort to live a life in which I mete out as little suffering as possible to other living creatures. I'm also trying to reduce my global footprint. And if that means giving up meat, which I used to eat with great delight, then so be it.

And yes, I’m on my high-horse now -- but I’m sincerely trying to make a difference. If my tone pissed you off then I succeeded in my goal. I’m deliberately trying to cajole you so you'll reconsider your eating habits.

And in my own naive way I’m hoping that some of you will now actually consider a vegetarian diet.