To Eat Meat or Not Eat Meat: A Meat Eaters Dilemma
To Eat Meat or Not Eat Meat: A Meat Eaters Dilemma
Over the last several months, I have been having an internal philosophical debate about the concept of eating meat.
This is not an issue that I have really given much thought to over the course of my life. Over the past several years, I have read an increasing number of books about how animals experience the world and the humane treatment of animals. This self-education has shifted my thinking a little. I have become more concerned over the welfare of farm animals and I would like to see the nation and world shift its practices to treatment that is more humane. However, this view did not really impact my behavior. My overall feeling was still that these farm animals which we consume for food exist for the very purpose of being consumed as food or producing food for us and while I would like them to have the best lives possible there is little that I can do about it and for that reason I have very little problem with eating meat or other food products produced by animals.
Over the last several months, a discussion about the issue of eating meat has grown between friends and family. As this discussion has been ongoing, my thoughts about the issues surrounding animal welfare and eating meat and farming have been evolving. Where I used to think there was nothing I could do to help farm animals obtain a more humane existence I have begun to as my friend puts it vote with my dollar. I try to influence businesses to adopt more animal friendly practices by looking for and buying more products that are produced through more humane treatment of animals. We have begun buying eggs produced by cage free chickens. We recently bought a whole chicken that was raised cage free. One thing I noticed is when switching from factory farm produced eggs to cage free eggs is that the shell on factory farmed eggs is brittle and easy to crack but the shell on the cage free eggs is sturdier and the membrane coating the inside of the shell is thick and the egg is more difficult to crack. While I have no scientific evidence to support this but from literature I have read it seems a logical conclusion to reach is that the cage free eggs are stronger because the chickens raised in a more humane environment are healthier and stronger themselves.
I am not going to pretend that the only thing that I buy is humanely raised food products because I do not. However, I do try to get them when I can. I am simply becoming more interested in them and I want to find out more information about those processes. It is not easy to find humanely raised farm products. It requires much more research and planning in one’s shopping routine. As I slowly conduct this research and become more well informed about the humane farming practices and where I can find these products I hope to shift my buying practices more heavily in this direction.
At some point during this internal debate, my thoughts often turn to the history of human kind. It seems pretty well established that throughout the course of human history we have relied at least in part on animals to provide us with sustenance. Even before humans began farming, we hunted animals for food. This brings up the point that maybe it is more humane to simply hunt our food than to raise it on a farm. Considering this point of view, I first turn to how the animals die. In the farming industry mechanisms are designed to deliver a death that is quick and as painless as possible. I am sure that there are occasions where this does not happen. It is my belief, without any data to back it up, that most of the time the mechanisms perform their function as designed. However, in hunting an animal that is shot seems much more likely to be only injured and not delivered an immediate and merciful death. Animals may be shot and then run frantically through the woods as their life essence drains out of them. Hunters often have to follow blood trails to find their quarry. This does not seem like a more humane way to provide sustenance.
The other aspect I consider when comparing farming to hunting is the life the animals lead prior to death or otherwise producing food. On its face, hunting seems the logical winner in this comparison. Animals that are hunted live out in the wild. They live the lives nature intended for them. However, nature is often a cruel and uninviting place. Animals may very well suffer at times during their lives in the wild. Animals may experience food or water shortages causing suffering and even death. Animals that are typically hunted for food are also prey species in the wild so they are animals that spend much of their lives being on alert, constantly wary of predators. They may be chased down to the point of exhaustion by predators and killed often being torn apart while still alive. In farming, the goal is to produce the most healthy and thus profitable animal possible. Animals are fed and watered well so that they can grow or produce as much as possible. Farm animals have no need to be ever vigilant for predators as they are protected. It would seem that as far as for the basic needs of food and safety farming provides a better life for our food animals.
The biggest problem is trying to provide a farm environment that meets the emotional and psychological needs of an animal. This is where industrial scale farming falls behind. I know there are many issues and needs for improvement in the farming industry so I will not get into that here.
I do believe that farming animals for sustenance can be done in a humane and sustainable way. The question is will we as a nation or world hold industry accountable to implementing those practices. That is the only way it will happen. Farming is a business and if the can make more money by cutting corners in animal welfare they will. A business is about making money. If they are not making money because people decide to only buy products produced through humane and sustainable methods business models will have to change. The people have to demand it. We have to vote with our money. Buy products from industries that do business the way you believe it should be done.
As a side note, I have also learned about the various benefits to our environment and our health that can be achieved by eating less meat. So, while I am a meat eater and probably always will be I believe it can be very beneficial to eat less meat.
I continue to think about all these issues on a regular basis. I try to educate myself on the facts of what is best for animals, what is best for me and what is best for our environment. I use these facts and my feelings to revise my position on this topic as I become more educated. I look forward to continually engaging myself in this internal debate and growing because of it.
Like you, I first began questioning my diet due to concerns about the humane treatment of animals. Also like you, I thought that I would always be a meat-eater. My whole background was against the idea of my ever giving up the stuff; in the home I grew up in, vegetarians were thought of as silly, self-righteous people who were ruining their own health by denying the foods God gave us. But then something changed.
First of all, I had the opportunity to see a chicken killed first-hand, and discovered that I didn't want to. I hastily went around the corner of a building so as to avoid seeing it. I had always told myself that anyone who ate meat, but wouldn't/couldn't butcher it himself, was a hypocrite — and when push came to shove, I found out that I couldn't even watch. Around about the same time, I was reading the novel Perelandra, by C.S. Lewis. The setting of this novel is a newly created, paradisal world, in which there is no death and humans subsist entirely on fruit. Upon imagining this, I felt a deep yearning for it … and when the book's main character returned to Earth and told his friend that he wasn't “in the mood” for a breakfast of sausages, I found myself realizing that I wished I could be him. I was pressured to start asking myself what I REALLY wanted: the vision of paradise, or the thing I couldn't even bring myself to look upon. You might do well to ask yourself this question also. If you could bring your idea of the perfect world to life, would it include the continual premature deaths of animals? Don't become trapped by the notion that “necessary” evils must be continued, and that circumstances force you to do this or that no matter how disagreeable it is; that's the way of bondage to the status quo. Just ask yourself whether eating meat produces the outcomes that you really WANT.
So now I had some things tugging on my mind, but I still didn't go vegetarian just yet. I had been convinced that meat was a necessary part of a healthy diet, and that seemed like a decent enough reason why I “couldn't” stop eating it. Mind you, I couldn't have named a single essential nutrient that was found in meat alone, but I was working from the specious assumption that because we are capable of eating meat, we must NEED to. I later recognized this for what it was: a comforting lie I told myself so I wouldn't have to change. But I did not realize this until later, looking back in hindsight after having been a vegetarian for a while.
What actually pushed me over the edge? Nobody argued me into vegetarianism, or convinced me that I had a moral obligation to stop eating meat. Rather, I decided that I wanted to go beyond simply being moral, into the territory of selflessness. I was inspired by the example of Jesus, who came to earth to die for the sins of the human race. I thought to myself: if God can die for me, a lower being, then surely I can give up a few tasty treats, and even the supposed health benefits of meat, for the sake of my inferiors. (Philippians 2:5-8) In short, I realized that I cared about mercy more than I cared about my health, or my right to eat this or that, or the opinions of my parents. And that's how I became a vegetarian.
The delight and inner peace that this decision has given me have been incredible. I was immediately freed from the mental tension which is occasioned by loving and admiring animals in some contexts, only to destroy and consume them in others. I felt as if I had recovered a piece of lost innocence — or even as if some part of me that was necrotized and rotten had come back to life. You might think that abstinence from meat is a restrictive rule, but looked at another way, it really isn't. It has lifted a weight from my shoulders. I am no longer compelled to participate in a system of perpetual pain and death; I no longer need to nourish myself by stealing the lives of others. If you will, I am free from the curse of vampirism. I don't mean to say that the experience has always been easy; dealing with the social aspect of having a different diet from just about everyone else is tough at times. The rewards, however, are well worth it.
Thank you for your reflection and the chance to reply. One final thought: you might check out the following resource for a different perspective on “humane farming.” http://www.humanemyth.org/index.htm I wish you the best in working through these ideas. God bless.
Thank you for posting your reflections and internal philosophical debate. After watching horrific video footage of the treatment of Factory Farm animals yeterday, I have been thrown into that personal internal debate as well. I always knew in the back of my mind that animals were not treated well, but I loved eating meat, I loved how I felt when I ate it, and I didn't want that to change. I always felt that meat helped me to feel more vibrant and energetic. Now, I am going to experiment with alternative sources of protein and see how I feel. I can't see myself giving up meat entirely (but you never know), but I am going to use my dollars to buy certified humane meats only. I recently heard of a class action lawsuit against purdue for saying on their label that they are certified humane, but that it's a lie. There is video footage inside their factories which prove it is not true. Even “cage free” doesn't necessarily mean humane. The chickens might not be in cages, but it doesn't guarantee that they even see the light of day, and overcrowding is still most likely.
I appreciated your statement, “I try to educate myself on the facts of what is best for animals, what is best for me and what is best for our environment. I use these facts and my feelings to revise my position on this topic as I become more educated.” I think this encapsulates it perfectly, and it is what I plan to do as well.
Thank you for your blog post and for the chance to engage in the discussion.