When it comes to the internet, I have some general ground rules that I try to follow, and suggest everyone else follow as well.
1) Never read the comments on online news stories.
Seriously. Don’t fucking do it. You will lose faith in humanity faster than reading the timeline of someone on Twitter whose bio reads “I love God, guns, and ‘Murica!”
2) NEVER READ THE COMMENTS ON ONLINE NEWS STORIES.
In case it wasn’t clear enough the first time.
3) Avoid emotional topics like circumcision and vegetarianism/veganism.
Not that we shouldn’t talk about these things- but great care is needed when discussing emotional issues, as it is often hard to separate the emotions from the actual discussion points.
That being said, I just got finished reading the comments on several news stories and this post is all about vegetarianism and what we eat.
So, here’s how the world works. Some people are vegetarian. Some are vegan. Some are omnivores. Some presumably eat nothing but chocolate (choclovores? I aspire to this). Some people have reasons for their eating habits. Some do it just because it’s what they’ve always done. I was the latter until last year.
Now, here’s the thing that fucking kills me. It is great to have passion, whether it be for better treatment of animals, sustainability of the planet, or the fact that everyone should always eat nothing but chocolate- but when that crosses the line from ‘passion’ to ‘cunty, judgemental rage’, it may be time to take a step back.
I am a vegetarian. This is a relatively new change in my life. This time last year, I was laughing at people who tried to tell me vegetarianism was a realistic life choice, because, to quote myself, ‘cows taste good!’ (My opinion on that hasn’t changed, to be clear)
I grew up on a cattle farm in the middle of nowhere in a sparsely populated province in the middle of nowhere in the sparsely populated country of Canada. My dad made a living raising cattle. I helped to raise them, forking hay, cutting feed, unfreezing water bowls in the dead of winter. Our freezer was permanently stocked with packages and packages of ground beef, steak, roasts, etc etc etc. We ate cow. A lot. That’s how I was raised. My dad always treated his cattle well, and when the freezer was low, he’d send off one of the cows he’d raised to the local butcher and WHAM. Freezer was bountiful once again. This was my understanding of how the food processing system worked.
Why am I telling you this? Because it took me 27 years of life to realize that just because this is how I was raised, doesn’t necessarily make it ‘normal’, or ‘right’, or ‘moral’. Initially, when it was suggested to me that eating meat was not moral, I was offended. Which is saying something, because crazy theists insult me all day long, and fewer fucks I could not give. But after taking a step back, and not taking it so personally, I came to a roundabout conclusion.
We are all immoral. In some way or another, not one of us is perfectly moral. I think we can probably all agree that needlessly killing an animal is not the most ethical or moral outcome. Even people who want to deny this know it to be true, based solely on the fact that we are typically outraged when dolphins are slaughtered or captured in Taiji for display in ‘marine parks’, healthy but ‘genetically unimportant’ giraffes are ‘surplussed’, or we see pictures of proud hunters holding up the head of the lion they just shot. Other than in the most extreme of individuals (those who, somehow, find slaughtering animals to be an enjoyable ‘sport’, which I would equate more to some sort of psychosis), we mostly feel remorse for the animals killed, and anger toward those who killed them. This reaction, to me, is normal.
This is the reaction I’ve always had. Animal suffering often leaves me in tears. I cannot change the channel quickly enough during commercials about animal abuse (except, perhaps, when a Tyler Perry show comes on) (though being forced to watch Tyler Perry could also be considered animal abuse). Many of us feel this way about animals-it is the natural, ingrained, empathetic response to seeing another creature suffering or dying. But it did eventually dawn on me, after 27 years, that there was a strange disconnect. Watching an abused dog crying would literally reduce me to tears, as I devoured the flesh of a slaughtered cow for dinner without a second thought. I came to the conclusion that I’d been a terrible hypocrite my entire life. How could I reasonably be outraged that dolphins were being killed and sold for meat when I gave zero fucks not only about the innumerable cows, pigs, etc being killed and consumed, BY ME, in my own country? And not only being killed, but, by my understanding, raised typically in absolutely abhorrent conditions?
So I gave up meat. It was mostly because I could no longer justify to myself why I could eat it while being visibly upset by other forms of animal suffering- and partly because I flatly refuse to watch documentaries on the horrors of factory farming. I decided that if I was not willing to watch what the animals go through in order to make it to my dinner table (I’m not), I shouldn’t be eating them.
Now, here’s a very important point. I am not here to tell anyone who decides to eat meat that they are immoral, or I am better than them, for not eating meat. Because that is fucking douchey, ridiculous, and so hypocritical that I can’t stand it. No, I don’t eat meat. But I have an absolutely gorgeous leather jacket in my closet that I love and would buy again if I didn’t already own it. I eat eggs and cheese with absolute abandon because I LOVE THEM AND YOU CAN’T TAKE THEM AWAY FROM ME. This is my choice. I can choose to do what I can to make myself better, and at this point, it is removing meat from my diet (and eliminating products that are tested on animals). I find a vegetarian diet easy, but I understand that not everyone would find it as easy as me, and I am happy to tell you right now it is downright cunty for anyone to try and dictate how someone else lives their life. Ok, you are a hardcore vegan who avoids anything used from or tested on animals. I applaud your commitment- very much, and with absolutely no sarcasm. But don’t run around screaming ‘IMMORAL’ at every vegetarian or meat eater when you do so wearing a t-shirt that was stitched by a child in a sweat shop in Asia, or eating fruit picked by a worker in Guatemala making 10 cents a day. Maybe you eat meat, but spend all of your free time working at the local soup kitchen, or campaigning to end sex trafficking. There are so many causes to be passionate about, and so many ways to be better and leave a good mark on the world. Putting people down for those choices, and judging them harshly, is no way to make them see your point. I think educating people on where their food comes from is very important, but being passionate to the point of alienating an otherwise potentially receptive audience does your cause no good.
There is tension on both sides, of course. While I have seen my fair share of preachy vegans, I’ve also seen a lot more unbelievably defensive, ignorant meat eaters.
When I finally told my mother in law I was vegetarian, this was the verbatim conversation we had.
Me: “I’m a vegetarian.”
Her: “Oh… so you don’t eat meat anymore?”
Her: “How about fish?”
Her: “…. What about chicken?”
This conversation really just made me laugh, but I think it highlights the ignorance of many people, at least in my area, with respect to food choices. I don’t blame them- I was just as ignorant not so long ago. For many I expect it is a result of really just not thinking about it before- another position I can understand.
A less ha-ha conversation occurred with one of my aunts at Christmas.
Me: “I’m a vegetarian.”
Her: “Oh… why?”
Me: “Ummm… for health reasons, sustainability issues, and I don’t agree with the treatment of animals in-”
Her: “Well your dad, and entire family, raises cattle. Do you think THEY abuse them too?”
Me: “…. dafuq?”
I think it is natural for meat eaters to get defensive when discussing vegetarianism, as I once did. It’s almost impossible as a vegetarian to outline your reasons for choosing that lifestyle without sounding like you’re judging anyone who DOESN’T choose that lifestyle. But I am here to tell you- I do not judge you, as I would expect a strict vegan not to judge me as I fry up some delicious halloumi cheese for my salad.
So what is my point? TWO FOLD! No, wait. Three fold.
1) I have yet to hear an argument for why it’s reasonable to be outraged at some kinds of animal abuse and not others- and I think a lot of meat eaters, especially the excellent free thinking ones, struggle with this conundrum as well
2) Regardless of your dietary choices, we should each try to do what we can, within our means, to be more moral people
3) Just don’t be a judgemental asshole. That’s a good general life rule.
As an awesome friend of mine once said… “I don’t eat meat, but I’m not a dick about it.”
I think that is the perfect sentiment. Do what you can in your own life to better yourself, be passionate about the causes you choose, and live in a way that is suitable for you. But don’t be a dick about it.