Social Question

aeschylus's avatar

If you are a vegetarian or vegan, why?

Asked by aeschylus (660 points ) February 28th, 2010

I recently eliminated meat from my diet for environmental and ethical reasons. My qualms were with the undignified and opaque structure of our food system. I had misgivings about the safety of the meat supply and the unethical way the corporations treated workers and public resources before I saw the documentary Food Inc., but once I watched that movie, I was done. I will no longer eat meat unless I know for sure it was raised under conditions that treat the land, animal, and people with honesty and respect.

Why did you become a vegan or vegetarian?

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60 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I am greatly reducing my animal intake for primarily health reasons, but animal cruellty is also part of the reason. The idea of the animals being mistreated has become more and more bothersome to me, kind of helping to push me towards limiting or eliminating meat and dairy. My cholesterol drops like a rock if I just dont take in any cholesterol, so basically I have a lot of control over that part of my health, I am poisoning myself at my own hand.

I have not eaten veal for over 20 years for cruelty reasons.

My sister is a vegan (animal cruelty, health is an added bonus), my aunt is lacto ovo (animal cruelty), and my dad is practically vegan (health reasons).

nikipedia's avatar

I don’t eat meat because I wouldn’t want to be eaten.

There is no ethical defense for eating meat.

People who continue to eat meat do so because they’re selfish.

If they can own up to their selfishness, I can’t argue with them. But if they pretend that what they do is ethically defensible, they’re just ignorant.

lilikoi's avatar

I am neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, so maybe you don’t want to hear my position on this issue. But I am so passionate about food issues, I’m going to give it anyway.

Vegan I don’t understand at all. I think vegan-ism is impractical, restrictive, illogical, and borderline unhealthy.

Vegetarian, I get where you are coming from. Thing is, I don’t want to be the asshole at the restaurant whining that there’s nothing on the menu I can eat. More importantly, I don’t want to miss out on food experiences. I like trying new things, food included, meat included. Food is tied strongly to culture and I feel like if I were to restrict my eating habits, I’d be missing out on a sizable chunk of culture when I travel. You might argue that avoiding meat still allows you to sample a large array of food – but I like to “live deep and suck out all the marrow”, not just a representative sample.

There are a number of variables that affect a person’s food choices. If the only meat available to me were from fast food chains and industrial America, I’d probably opt not to eat meat. Deer, pigs, and goats were introduced in Hawaii and are considered highly invasive. They thrive in native forests, trample the land, and eat everything in sight until the land is bare desert and the soil erodes into the ocean (which in turn blocks light from reaching coral reefs, choking them, and destroying habitat that fish need to survive, not to mention loss of biodiversity on land and sea – Hawaii has more endangered species than any other single place in the country I think.). Hunting any of these animals does a favor to the environment here and to the people paying taxes to control feral animal populations.

Free ranging, grass fed cattle, goats, fish, and egg-laying chickens (which do seem to be highly stressed unfortunately) are raised locally. By purchasing these products, I am supporting an alternative industry to tourism, agriculture. The tourism industry is highly politicized, corrupt, and constantly at odds with local culture and conservation initiatives. We are constantly fighting to protect open space from encroaching luxury development that encourages foreign investment and control in the State. Agriculture provides an economic alternative to transforming Hawaii into the next Bermuda. Purchasing locally available food means I don’t have to rely on barges (consuming fossil fuel) to ship in food from abroad. It means I can go down to their operation and pressure them directly to adopt more sustainable operating practices.

I really enjoy the flavor of bison. They feed on grass, roam freely, and therefore are not loaded up with antibiotics. They are leaner and more nutritious. Cheaper than local beef but more expensive than typical supermarket beef, it is an ideal compromise.

If you are selective in your meat selection, I think you can reasonably maintain your health while minimizing your vote-with-your-dollar support of The Evil Industry. I know I compromise my beliefs slightly when I go to restaurants or travel abroad, but I make a serious effort to learn the local politics about food and water wherever I am and make the best choice I can under the given constraints of the moment.

@nikipedia Every living thing is selfish. Evolution rewards selfishness. A polar bear will mercilessly tear you to shreds if it is starving and you don’t eat it first.

nikipedia's avatar

@lilikoi: The fact that selfishness exists in other living things is in no way a moral defense for selfishness. Rape, murder, and incest all exist in nature. I would never defend any of those by saying “polar bears do it!!!”

And I have never once complained about not having anything to eat at a restaurant. This is a totally bogus argument.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@nikipedia Don’t you agree with testing on animals, though? Or am I thinking of someone else? (Not that I’m arguing against you, because I think it’s a good thing that you don’t eat meat, I’m just confused.)

Edited for major and kind of embarassing typos…

nikipedia's avatar

@DrasticDreamer: Yes, I do believe in animal research when it’s justified. By the same token, if someone had a medical condition such that s/he could only live if s/he ate meat, I would consider that an ethically justifiable reason for eating it.

DrasticDreamer's avatar

@nikipedia I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t feel the same. Which I think you already know, because we talked about that a long time ago. If there’s no ethical reason to eat meat, there’s no ethical reason to test on animals either, in my opinion.

babaji's avatar

Haven’t eaten meat for most of my life.
Eat lot’s of Fish though.
Reasons why i don’t eat meat:
Don’t support the killing of animal life.
Eating meat is not healthy for you due to many reasons including clogging your arteries and the cholesterol content.
All Animals that are to be slaughtered, they are not stupid, they know they are going to die and their fear is captured within themselves like a camera capturing a picture,
When you eat that animal all that fear is consumed as well.

JLeslie's avatar

@babaji You must be Catholic. No meat Fridays

Seafood has cholesterol also. Those fish must suffer as they basically aasphyixiate to death.

lilikoi's avatar

@nikipedia I resent hubris. Just because we have opposable thumbs and a brain capable of doing science, we feel the need to put humans on a pedestal above all other living things. In the large scheme of things humanity is a barely visible blip on the radar. We like to think that our actions are significant, but in nature’s eyes they are not. Nature is extremely resilient and powerful. Every time we make the mistake of thinking we can best nature, it slaps us down. It is perfectly natural for animals to eat other animals; it happens on many levels of the food chain. People have been doing it for centuries. So if you are sick and your life will be saved by eating meat, it’s ethical to do so in your opinion? That makes no sense – it is still a selfish act by your definition. You are selfishly putting your life before that of the animals’ you are eating.

@DrasticDreamer I agree that to think that it is ethical to test on animals while simultaneously thinking it is unethical to eat meat due to cruelty reasons is highly hypocritical.

aeschylus's avatar

@lilikoi Thanks for your opinion; we see eye-to-eye on many things. I too consider myself something of a gourmand, which is one reason I refuse to give up butter, cheese, and cream. I might even go farther and say that Food is the basis of culture. I love good meat, and cooking it. But frankly, it’s almost never worth supporting the agribusiness meat supply. I started eliminating meat from my diet by eating meat only what I thought it would be “worth it,” but soon I wasn’t eating it at all. It is so important to support the kind of food system we want by paying for it at the grocery store, but in my area, it is very difficult to get meat that is raised to my standards of ethics and intelligence. Humans can do better for themselves, and I’m glad we agree on supporting that kind of growth.

That being said, demand for meat is growing throughout the world, and at some restaurants it is impossible to find even one menu item that doesn’t include meat. This sounds outrageous, but in Texas vegetables are rarely considered more than a garnish. I try to be respectful when I’m out with people at restaurants, but I also think it’s important to encourage people to examine their habits and opinions in every sphere of life. I’m glad you weren’t scared off and did decide to comment.

One of the reasons I asked the question is because most of the people I talk to who have stopped eating meat did so because of the treatment of the animals, but I personally believe this to be one of the weakest reasons to become vegan or vegetarian. Predation is a part of our cultural heritage and animal domestication is perhaps one of the greatest technologies human beings have ever realized. There is no reason not to kill an animal for your food, especially in an environment where you need to store food throughout the winter and animal fats become very important (c.f.:confit). I see nothing wrong with killing an animal in a way that recognizes its proper dignity and relation to human’s predatory relationship to them. I think the stupid, short-sided economic and estrangement issues are far more important to bring to people’s attention.

nikipedia's avatar

@lilikoi: It has nothing to do with hubris. None of us are significant. Not you, me, or the plants and animals we kill.

What matters to me is how much we are capable of wanting to be alive. I am not more important than a cow because I am smarter. But my desire to stay alive is stronger. I can think about my loved ones, my future, my past, my hopes, and my dreams. So my desire to stay alive is more important than a cow’s desire.

But the cow is still capable of feeling terror, fear, and pain. I would never willingly inflict that on another living thing unless it was worth it.

So I don’t believe in killing things for my pleasure. That is morally reprehensible, and there is simply no other way to look at it (other than denial). I do believe in killing things so that other animals can benefit.

DominicX's avatar

@nikipedia And being selfish is bad because…?

I’m starting to agree with tinyfaery’s belief that everything we do is selfish.

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX It breaks the golden rule. But if you don’t believe the rule applies to animals then you are safe.

lilikoi's avatar

@aeschylus Oh god I think being a vegetarian in Texas would be quite a challenge! I completely agree with you. I watched Food Inc – it nearly brought me to tears, and I already knew all that was happening! It is so depressing and yet so important to discuss at the same time. I do believe that the current way of doing things really is not sustainable. We will eventually see a shift to better methods – hopefully it is sooner than later.

@nikipedia I don’t think the human desire for survival is stronger than any other living being’s. Survival is inherent, natural, and ultimately the point of life itself across the board. You are smarter than a cow and therefore more capable of surviving. We will never know for sure whether or not other animals can feel (compassion, love, etc). There are some non-human animals (certain bird species come to mind immediately) that mate for life – that’s more of a commitment than the majority of people in America can make today. I don’t believe in killing anything for sheer pleasure either. I don’t support hunting as a sport. Killing for survival and/or for sustenance is an entirely different matter. Killing things, regardless of the motive, impacts the evolutionary process. If you kill one animal so that another benefits, you are “selecting” for the animal that thrives. Whether or not that’s ethical is basically moot because our very existence in itself has an impact.

JONESGH's avatar

I don’t like animal cruelty. The pain, suffering, and death is unnecessary.

lilikoi's avatar

@JONESGH How do you define “animal cruelty”?

DominicX's avatar

@JLeslie

I essentially do not. How could it? Animals cannot understand the golden rule.

I’ve noticed a form of hypocrisy in “militant vegetarians” sometimes. They believe that humans are not somehow above animals and yet they believe that when animals kill each other for food, it is not wrong. So, if humans are not above animals, how come we are the only ones who shouldn’t kill other animals for food? Doesn’t that mean that we are, oh, I don’t know, above animals in some way?

Keep in mind I don’t care what a person eats, vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore. I’m just putting my two cents in.

judochop's avatar

Uh…. Fish is a meat.

DarkScribe's avatar

There is no ethical defense for eating meat.

Ethical defense for doing what nature intended? I don’t think so. As for having nothing to eat at a restaurant, that is either deliberately misrepresenting what people say or simply being ignorant and not actually listening to what they say. What most say is that can’t find anything tasty in most restaurants that are not purpose designed vegan restaurants. It is you who are being bogus.

I don’t eat as much meat as I used to, mostly for health reasons, not because of squeamishness. I have tried vegetarianism, for much the same reason as many men do many things, I once had a girlfriend who I cared about and who was firmly vegan. I did it it for quite some time and it was the least healthy period of my life. I am a healthy person, never been prone to illness (Until I contracted Melanoma cancer from too much sun exposure.) Once I stopped eating meat I began to experience colds, I lost energy – was constantly tired, suffered from digestion problems and had the first of my skin problems. In my mid-twenties I started to get acne, something I did not experience as a teenager. I have always worked out, and once I stopped eating meat my endurance and general strength dropped, although there were no changes in my very well established routines.

At this time I had occasion to need something from a Chemist and whilst waiting to be served I observed something that set me straight. Ahead of me was a couple, around my age who were both suffering from tropical ulcers – a semi regular thing where I was at the time. (Coral Sea) You would often see some people with them, an ulcer that would refuse to heal. The Pharmacist looked at the couple when they asked for an OTC medication and said” You are vegetarians aren’t you? The only people I see with those thing are vegetarians. I will give you a topical ointment, but if you want to get healthy – if you want to heal quickly get some meat protein into you . I thought about my own health and started eating meat again. Within a fortnight I was back to normal, no tiredness, weakness or digestion problems. My skin went back to normal.

We are designed to eat meat and vegetables. You should mess with natures design.

As for animal cruelty, yes I agree, there is no reason that any livestock should suffer in any way. But one thing most vegans seem to forget, If an animal that is bred for food IS treated humanly, it owes its entire existence to the need for animal food,. It would not have had a life of any kind otherwise. What life it has – and it can be a few years of pleasant life, would not have taken place otherwise.

I have seen many instances since those days of the negative effects of vegan lifestyle, mostly in the tropics where the weaknesses are quickly exposed. I have not seen any vegan who is truly healthy, though almost all of them claim to be, even when standing in front of you with runny noses, bags under eyes, lank muscle structure and poor skin.

Calling people who don’t argue with nature selfish is ignorant and idiotic.

As a footnote, my oncologist tells me that people who don’t eat sufficient Retinol are more prone to cancer. It is the one thing necessary for the body to make Vitamin A, the only anti-oxidant that cannot be synthesised. Although you can get it from eating large quantity of vegetables like sweet potato, most people get it from meat.

polycinco's avatar

my gilrfriend is a vegetarian, her grandparents bought her a cow when she was 10 to keep as a pet and remind her of Russia where she is from, and then they butchered it and fed it to her unknowingly and she has not eaten meat since.

lilikoi's avatar

@DominicX I have noticed that too. It is not unique to vegetarians. Look at Monsanto. They think they can best nature by crossing genes between phyla. I will not be surprised if nature puts its foot down, reminds us who’s really boss, and we discover that this was a dire mistake. When I read about the stuff scientists are studying, it becomes very obvious how much we don’t know about how this world works. We actually hardly know anything. A wiser thing to do would be to observe and learn from nature rather than ignorantly assuming we are godly by attempting to control and/or destroy what we do not fully understand.

AstroChuck's avatar

I’m a vegetarian and have been since 1990. But I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I really hate plants.

DarkScribe's avatar

@AstroChuck I’m not a vegetarian because I love animals. I’m a vegetarian because I really hate plants.

You deserve a GA for that. Very droll.

lilikoi's avatar

@DarkScribe It was a deliberate generalization I made to concisely make a point, although it does accurately reflect my personal experience with vegetarians. I agree people are designed to eat both meat and vegetables – that’s why you have to really be careful if you don’t eat any meat to get your protein and what not by other means. Although I do also think many people in our country eat too much meat. An animal bred for food may arguably owe its existence to the need for its meat, but let us not forget that it didn’t have a say in the matter. Agree that raising animals for food does not have to be a cruel process – economics unfortunately favor cruelty. I, too, have yet to meet a vegan that appears healthy. I have no idea what your last statement means or who you are referring to. I was saying all living beings, including humans, are inherently selfish in that they naturally put their own life before all else. That’s simply how the world works.

lilikoi's avatar

@AstroChuck Well played. GA

nikipedia's avatar

@DominicX: Being selfish is not necessarily bad, and this is why I don’t argue with people who admit their reasons for eating meat are selfish.

But I can see two forms of being selfish. One is doing things because they benefit you. By this definition, all our behavior is selfish. Nothing wrong with that.

The other definition is doing things that benefit you at a cost to someone else. That is harder to justify ethically.

So if someone wants to say, “I like eating meat!” that’s Selfishness 1, and that’s impossible to dispute.

But if someone wants to argue that his desire to eat meat is more important than the animal’s desire to be alive, that is Selfishness 2, and I consider that a lot harder to defend.

DarkScribe's avatar

@lilikoi _ It was a deliberate generalization I made to concisely make a point, _

I was responding to nikipedia. I didn’t notice that you had echoed the sentiment. (Or are you both the same person?) Sock puppets are still alive and kicking I suppose.

nikipedia's avatar

@lilikoi: Out of all the contradictions you are trying to argue, this is the central one:

I don’t believe in killing anything for sheer pleasure

vs

Killing for survival and/or for sustenance is an entirely different matter

In first world societies, we never kill animals for sustenance. All of our killing is for pleasure.

AstroChuck's avatar

Seriously, I really am a veg because I do really love animals. That is I love them as living beings, not as food.

mcbealer's avatar

I have been a vegetarian since about 1987. It was a decision I made after years of being forced to eat meat, and never liking it. This was based partly on discovering that there are entire cultures that are able to sustain themselves (and rather well) on meat-free diets. As I educated myself further I learned about the ethical and nutritional aspects that support being a vegetarian.

Keep spreading the word for Food Inc. and thank you for asking this question. I look for it to win the Oscar next Sunday for best documentary feature.

lilikoi's avatar

@DarkScribe No we most certainly are not the same person. We both used the word “selfish” in our initial posts but we were making two very different points. I think you and I are on the same page…

@nikipedia :

On the point you selected, hopefully you misunderstood me. By “killing for sheer pleasure”, I mean killing purely for the fun of it. That is, going out and shooting someone because you are bored, or gunning birds out of the sky to prove you are a good shot – killing for sport. By “killing for survival and/or sustenance” I mean killing an animal with full intention of consuming it entirely or out of defense. These are two different things. The first is inefficient, wasteful, and arguably cruel. The second is out of necessity. (keep reading)

I see where you’re coming from when you say “all our killing is for pleasure”, but this simply isn’t true. When a farmer slits the throat of a chicken for its meat, he does not intend to kill the bird for pleasure but for sustenance; I don’t know that butchers truly enjoy breaking carcasses down… Intent cannot be ignored when determining the morality of an act.

What you really meant to say was that in our country, it is not necessary that we kill animals to feed ourselves. That seems reasonable, but I’m no expert in nutrition. Even if people were eating meat for reasons other than necessity (perhaps it is healthier to eat a balanced diet, perhaps they like the taste, perhaps meat has been a part of their culture since the beginning of time), the person that killed the steak was killing it to provide food not just for the heck of it – a notable distinction.

Your oppose meat consumption because you think it is a selfish, unethical act. Yet you support testing on animals when it is “worth it” and “justified” (what part of this is not selfish?), you think it is ethical for someone to eat meat if they would die without it (what part of this is not selfish?), you believe in inflicting terror and pain on animals if “it is worth it” (what part of this is not selfish?), and support “killing things so that other animals can benefit” (what part of this is not selfish?).

To recap: I point out that the whole point of life – for any animal, including humans – is selfish survival. You rebut saying humans should be held to higher ethical standards than polar bears (other animals). I say hubris is ignorant, you say that wasn’t your point. Your point was that humans have a stronger will to stay alive because we can think about “loved ones, my future, my past, my hopes, and my dreams. .” and animals cannot. I point out that the point of life is survival, that all beings share this will equally, that we are simply in power because we are smarter (we have guns), and that there is proof to the contrary regarding animals and love. Your response is that I’m arguing contradictions. Where?

On the contrary, I firmly believe you are the one arguing contradictions. I am obsessed with logic and I think my arguments are bulletproof. I’m trying to see the logic in yours, but I can’t – you’ll have to clarify.

tragiclikebowie's avatar

I am a recent convert to vegetarianism because of the food industry. I simply can not take it anymore and I can not be a part of it. It causes me so much stress to even think about it. The way the animals are treated is inexcusable and is a great example of why humans are depraved and disgusting beings. It makes me cry, it hurts me emotionally and physically, and it makes me want to be physically sick. These reasons were the turning point for me. Honestly if I had a choice, I would never eat anything ever again.

Another reason is the animals themselves. I have always had pets and one day it occurred to me; somewhere someone feels the way about a pig/chicken/cow/goat/sheep/rabbit the way I feel about my dog(s). Once I made that connection there was no going back.

People are too removed from their food. They don’t know what goes into it. Prior to WWII, over 60% of food sources were local in my state, and now? Now it’s less than 1%. And less than 1% of the meat in this country comes from ethical sources. Turkeys are so deformed, their breasts are so large, they can’t even mate – they have to be artificially inseminated. Cows are fed grain to fatten them up, a food they are not meant to digest, and get sick, which means they’re pumped full of antibiotics. They’re killed when they are only months old. People need to wake up and educate themselves on what the hell they are putting into their bodies.

As for humans needing meat in our diet, well: here. His sources are at the bottom.

lilikoi's avatar

If you like this movie, you may also like the following documentaries:

The World According to Monsanto,

The Future of Food,

The Botany of Desire (both a book and a movie now, both good),

The Garden,

Flow: For Love of Water,

A World Without Water,

The Water Front,

Thirst, and

Tapped

I highly recommend the first 7; I haven’t seen the last two yet – so not sure if they are good.

DarkScribe's avatar

@lilikoi
No we most certainly are not the same person. We both used the word “selfish” in our initial posts but we were making two very different points. I think you and I are on the same page…

I wasn’t being serious, I had intended a emoticon like so ;) but somehow manged to edit it out during a tyypo correction.

FutureMemory's avatar

When I was 14–15 I got a tape by this punk band called MDC. One of the songs on it was called “Chicken Squawk”, and when I heard the line “ain’t no bird got to die for me” I realized I didn’t want to have anything to do with carnivorism ever again. That was 21 years ago, and I still feel exactly the same way.

Cruiser's avatar

I am a meatarian…preferably grilled. I also butcher fresh veggies from my garden to serve with my meat. Yum!

sdeutsch's avatar

I’m a vegetarian, but it’s just because I don’t like the thought that I’m eating a chicken or a cow. Maybe there’s a subconscious ethical or moral reason in there, but the fact is that the thought of eating most animals just makes me squeamish. For some reason, though, this isn’t the case with fish, so I do enjoy my sushi!

The squeamishness probably comes from the fact that my parents are vegetarians, so I wasn’t introduced to meat at an early age. They were always good about letting me eat meat when I went out, so I could make the decision for myself, but around the age of 12 I decided I just didn’t want to anymore. I’ve been a vegetarian ever since.

JONESGH's avatar

@lilikoi Here’s just 1 example of animal cruelty. If you need more pm me.

Just_Justine's avatar

I went to an slaughter house as an early teen, I was never the same again. My parents and family were big meat eaters, and my feelings about not eating meat was not entertained at all. I think if we had to kill the pig and eat it for example it may change our thoughts. I know when I see chicken packaged I don’t think about the chicken at all. But if you told me to kill one, pluck and cook it I wouldn’t. I have such mixed feelings about this topic that I shouldn’t even answer it. One thing I will say, if I see blood on a person plate I just feel ill.

CMaz's avatar

Vegetarian or meat eater is just a choice. Go fro it!

Any other reason is insecure.

maudie's avatar

I became a vegetarian in college primarily because the dining hall meat was of such low quality I actually would feel a bit nauseated as I smelled it cooking. Only later did I really think about the industrial system of agriculture that produces most of the meat that we eat, and then I added the environmental and health consequences of that system to my reason for remaining vegetarian. I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian from 1999 until about 2007. I learned a lot more about our food production systems during that time that continued to reinforce my belief that being vegetarian was a way to live out my core values.

In early 2007, I read John Robbins’ “The Food Revolution.” This convinced me at that time that being vegan would offer even greater health benefits than being a vegetarian if I could properly manage my nutritional needs. I was pure vegan until I became very sick in late 2008. It turned out that I had an undiagnosed metabolic and digestion problem, which I have likely had since childhood, which had made both the vegetarian diet and the vegan diet easier for me to digest than the traditional Western diet. However, I was actually getting sicker all the time, and I finally I stopped being able to digest even the most carefully prepared vegan meals. When my condition was finally diagnosed, my nutritionist started me on a closely regimented diet that included modest amounts of fish and fowl, as I was having such trouble digesting anything else without major allergic or toxicity reactions. I’m getting better now, and I hope that all I’ve learned about food from being vegan and vegetarian will help me with the ongoing process of trying to heal.

Discussed this digestion/metabolism problem at greater length on my blog, if you’re interested.

Learn from the crap I went through: if you feel substantially better after switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may be benefitting from the reduction of processed food, hormones, or toxins from your diet. However, you might also, like me, be feeling the subtle effects of changing to a more easily digestible lower-protein diet, which could be a sign of hypochlorhydria (excessively low stomach acid), which apparently is very common among vegetarians/vegans. You’ll continue to feel better for a while, hopefully a long time, but if your underlying digestion problems aren’t resolved, you could end up getting really bad really fast.

Diet’s a powerful thing. I sort of poo-pooed the idea of working with a nutritionist for many years. It was only after I got really sick that I got someone who knows more about food than I do to look at my diet and my health and tell me that I had a problem. Sometimes you are what you eat, but more often you are what you digest. If you’re not digesting properly, it doesn’t matter how high-quality your diet is: you will eventually get really sick and malnourished.

nikipedia's avatar

@lilikoi: I understand the distinction you’re making between killing purely for sport vs killing for the pleasure of eating an animag, but when we kill animals for food, the intent is (almost) always to provide pleasure in the act of eating the animal.

As you correctly point out, the pleasure doesn’t come from killing itself, but it does from eating, which requires that the animal be killed.

There is absolutely no reason (barring extreme and uncommon medical conditions) that people in a first world society need to continue to eat meat other than for our own pleasure. A vegetarian diet is actually healthier than an omnivorous diet (I can provide multiple sources from peer-reviewed scientific journals if you have trouble believing this or cannot find them yourself). So I reiterate: the only reason we continue to kill and eat meat is for our own pleasure, and I will add the caveat that the pleasure comes in the eating, not in the killing. (If we could eat meat without killing, I can find no ethical fault with this whatsoever—meat grown in vitro, for instance.)

I would also like to point out that I have already discussed that there is nothing wrong with selfishness per se, and that I have distinguished between two forms of selfishness. Acting in your own self-interest is value neutral; sometimes the consequences are moral and sometimes the consequences are immoral.

Consider a second form of selfishness, wherein your selfish act is necessarily at the expense of someone or something else. In order to judge this act as moral or immoral, it is necessary to weigh the costs and benefits of the action and consequences.

The benefit to me of eating meat is the pleasure of tasty meat.

The cost to the animal of eating meat is necessarily its life, and is in more than 99% of cases, a lifetime of abject and extreme suffering.

I cannot imagine how anyone can look at that moral equation and conclude that the pleasure I receive from eating meat genuinely outweighs the suffering of the animals that I eat.

The same logic applies to every other moral conundrum you brought up. Consider the use of animals in research. If the lives of a minimal number of animals need to be taken to save a significant number of human lives and/or significantly improve our quality of life, that is an acceptable moral trade-off. (In institutions where animal research is performed, a committee called the IACUC is convened to decide whether or not this is the case for each and every experiment that is performed.)

Making moral decisions would be much easier if we could all simply say “human lives have worth and animal lives don’t.” But we all know on some level that this is not true. All beings that are capable of suffering deserve compassion, and it becomes infinitely more complicated to try to do the moral calculus to determine which deserves more compassion, and how much, and why. But in order to make good moral decisions it becomes imperative that we at least try to do this mental heavy lifting.

I know this was a long post, and most people won’t read it. The truth is, I know that I can’t win this argument and I will probably not continue to try because every time I get sucked into this discussion, I come out feeling really frustrated and depressed.

I genuinely believe that deep down, everyone knows that eating animals is completely morally indefensible. But omnivores insist on clinging to whatever arguments they can find to justify continuing to eat meat simply because it is so appealing and so much easier than having to make difficult moral and practical decisions. So you will notice that often in these threads, people with the least well-researched and logically defensible arguments have the most rallying cries behind them because people want them to be right so badly.

But I hope the people who fall into that category will recognize what they’re doing and really start to reconsider their actions. This is literally a matter of life and death.

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX me too, two cents.

I think what is true is that humans eat much more meat than intended by nature. Have you ever seen the movie The Gods Must Be Crazy? Part of the movie is out in the jungle and they follow a primitive tribe. Anyway, when they go out to hunt an animal for food, once they kill it, they go over it to, talk to it, apologize to it for taking its life, and thank it for providing sustenance. There is thought put into our relationship with other living things and with the balance mother nature provides. We have lost sight of that, because the killing is done for us. I am very guilty of this also. I think if I had to kill an animal myself to eat, I would do it very infequently, if I could do it, am not sure I could, except in dire situations.

DominicX's avatar

@JLeslie

Yes, that is true, but most people don’t grow their own crops either and if they had to, they would probably be eating a lot less of them and lot less variety since not everything grows in one place. It isn’t just meat that we are disconnected from. Plants may not feel anything, but there are pesticides used that kill other animals and the process of harvesting often results in the death of smaller “less important” animals…

TehRoflMobile's avatar

My sister is vegetarian because it is cheaper to avoid meats and she wants to get all the hormones, which are pumped into the animals (then us) out of her system. I agree with these ideas and I can see the value.

The problem is that I’m a human being, an omnivore by nature. The majority of my diet is fruits, vegetables, and grains, but every once and a while, some ham just sounds good.

JLeslie's avatar

@DominicX I totally agree.

stardust's avatar

I find this to be an awfully trite subject. I’m a vegetarian. I did some research, looked at the facts and made an informed decision.

CMaz's avatar

I sometimes think what my dog would taste like.

forestGeek's avatar

I’ve been vegetarian now for 16 years. I made this change in my life after learning about and researching the animal cruelty involved in the mainstream meat industry and could no longer let myself be part of that. I am not at all interested in arguing whether or not it’s natural, or unhealthy for us humans and such, as I know it’s the right choice for me personally, and that’s all that matters.

@FutureMemory, love that song Chicken Squawk!!!

Cruiser's avatar

@ChazMaz They taste like chicken…so I have been told!

FutureMemory's avatar

@forestGeek The other band that got me thinking about vegetarianism was Youth of Today with their song “no more”. Those were the days…‘88 -‘90.

stardust's avatar

@forestGeek Great Answer!

lilikoi's avatar

@JONESGH
I don’t think cutting a chicken’s throat while it is still conscious constitutes cruelty. I hope you read my response to @nikipedia below, as I address this issue there. I’m not saying cruelty in industrial agriculture isn’t rampant and necessary for it to work. I’m saying industrial ag isn’t ideal, and there are better ways of farming meat that aren’t cruel and inefficient.

@nikipedia

You are saying that the pleasure we derive from eating meat does not warrant the suffering animals must undergo in order to provide us that pleasure. There is more to it than pleasure and death.

CONSIDER THE ECOLOGICAL CONTEXT OF THE ANIMALS WE EAT AND US.

Grazing on grass, on pasture that is rotated to mimic bison migration is a happy, natural life for the cow, the land, and the people. Michael Pollan makes the same point in his book THE OMNIVORE’S DILEMMA. The cows eat the grass, their dung fertilizes the land enabling it to grow more grass, and the people eat the cows.

Nature plans for animals to be eaten – whether by people, other animals, other life forms (bacteria, virus, etc) – and produces an excess in order to account for the loss. A polar bear has two cubs, and only one typically makes it to adulthood. That’s not a tragedy – that’s reality. It’s how the natural world has always worked. If nothing consumed them, they would become overpopulated and the system would become imbalanced. In the case of the cow, they would eventually eat all the grass and starve on a painfully long, agonizing path to death and possibly extinction – both of the cow and the grass – unless something evolved fast enough to control the cow population.

Death is as natural as birth. Your obsession with suffering and morality on the subject is as naive and childish as a Disney production. Just as I need to delve into the subject of nutrition, so do you need to educate yourself on basic biology, ecology, and Darwinian evolution.

Another point Pollan makes is that as humans have domesticated animals, they have also domesticated us. The whole point of this birth-death cycle is to advance your species, after all. Therefore, by weaving themselves into our culture and diet, domestic animals have ensured their continued survival. Meanwhile, animals we don’t demand to eat like polar bears, the big game animals in Africa, the lynx are seriously threatened by extinction.

Obviously if a species is over-hunted by humans, we have upset the balance in a different way. In this case, as is the case with whales and dolphins, it is reasonable to argue that we stop eating the species and make great efforts to protect them.

And in the case of industrial agriculture where the grass is replaced with subsidized corn (and associated antibiotics and medicines that must go with such an unnatural substitution) and the pasture is replaced by a few square feet of feces-infested bare land resembling asphalt adjacent to many other cows, we truly are torturing animals and wreaking environmental havoc in an extraordinarily inefficient man-made system that will eventually crumble under its own weight not unlike a Ponzee scheme.

Death in itself, eating animals – these are both natural, moral, and necessary. Torture cannot be defended. Which is why:

THE SOURCE OF YOUR MEAT IS CRITICAL.

I do not like to buy food – be it meat or produce or anything at all, even non-food – that has its roots in industrial agriculture. Occasionally, I relent (in the case of eating out, or craving Jello, e.g.) and am overcome with guilt. And sometimes supporting it is impractical to the point that it is unavoidable – in the case of driving a car (corn ethanol is just another means of subsidizing industrial agriculture). It is harder to disconnect your life from industrial agriculture than it is to eliminate meat from your diet, because meat is just one factor in a much larger immoral industry.

That’s not to say that you can’t find meat, depending on where you live, that is raised sustainably. I buy local, grass-fed beef, local wild fish, free-ranging chickens, grass-fed bison, local lamb. I discussed other avenues for sourcing ecologically-friendly meat in my previous post.

If morality is so important to you, you’d focus more on the far-reaching deficiencies of industrial agriculture in America and less on banning meat from your diet, as the negative effects of industrial agriculture permeate your life far beyond the dinner table.

I discuss the implications of culture and religion on diet below, but not everyone feels strongly about these things. Culture and religion both ultimately are influenced by nature anyway so it all boils down to the same thing. People likely derive pleasure from eating meat because humans are designed to be omnivores. It is a very natural thing for us to eat meat, just as it is natural for a carnivorous cat to only eat meat or a cow to not eat grain and other cow parts but grass. Is it healthy to completely eliminate meat from your diet? I don’t know – send me the journal articles. What I do know is that it is not necessarily unhealthy to include meat in your diet. Of course there are caveats, like eating antibiotic-loaded chicken or fish with high levels of mercury or cows that are fed other cow parts mixed up with a bunch of grain. Unfortunately, all of the reasons why eating meat can be unhealthy are a result of human fuck-ups, greed, and misguided selfishness.

A NOTE ON FOOD, CULTURE, RELIGION, AND TRADITION

Food and culture are deeply intertwined; to remove fish from Japanese or Polynesian cuisine for example would be to overwrite thousands of years of history and tradition. The Kenyan village I stayed at sacrificed goats – they did not even eat the meat after they killed it, and yet this slaughter is ingrained in their beliefs and identities. Would you tell them they are immoral? Some Americans would fiercely argue that the beef burger and fast food is part of their American identity. Indeed, when I brought a bag of chips back to the village, someone from the UK joked ‘there goes the Americans with their junk food’. Yes, some people derive pleasure from eating meat, but that doesn’t mean it is a trivial, immoral action. Your beliefs and values say it is immoral, but to impose them on others would be ignorant and selfish.

FINALLY: THERE IS ONLY ONE TYPE OF SELFISHNESS.

And that’s acting in self-interest. And it is innate to all life on this planet. Whether the outcome of your selfishness is moral or not depends on your beliefs and values, which are not constant across all of humanity.

nikipedia's avatar

@lilikoi: Okay.

1. Nature doesn’t “plan” anything.

2. I have already given an argument showing that something being “natural” does not equate to it being morally defensible. The two are completely orthogonal qualities.

3. I commend you for your personal efforts only to eat sustainably farmed and ethically raised meat. But since more than 99% of all meat consumed in the United States comes from factory farmed animals, that is not a particularly meaningful argument.

I certainly agree eating ethically raised, sustainably farmed meat is orders of magnitude preferable to eating factory farmed meat. But I still find it morally unacceptable to kill something for my own pleasure, even if it had a nice life up until that point.

4. The fact that not eating meat only solves part of the problem (of industrial agriculture) does not mean that we should all just throw up our hands and eat meat. If we could only cure 50% of cancers, should we give up and stop trying to cure any of it? What kind of argument is that?

5. Mortality from ischemic heart disease is 24% lower in vegetarians, a vegetarian diet is associated with decreased hypertension, vegetarians have lower rates of diabetes, a vegetarian diet alleviates some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, a vegetarian diet is associated with lower blood pressure… These are just a handful of the first two pages of studies I glanced at.

6. “Culture” is not a meaningful argument to me. Female genital mutilation is an important part of some cultures. I have absolutely no reservations morally condemning it.

7. Surely you can differentiate between selfish = acting in self interest and selfish = acting in self interest at a cost to something else.

I feel like I am repeating myself an awful lot here. Do you want to respond to the points that I’m making or just keep parroting Michael Pollan?

lilikoi's avatar

1. Agreed. When I said nature plans I meant simply that that was how things work on this planet; kind of a personification of nature. A hen may lay a dozen eggs, of which only nine will hatch, and ultimately only three of those chicks make it to adulthood. The system accounts for a myriad of losses.

1a. When you consider the morality of eating animals, do you look at animals on an individual level? I look at it on a species level. You offer no refute to the fact that if all animals were to die of old age, the system would collapse. A few die for the benefit of the species as a whole, which is the same way human animal consumption works.

2. Maybe not for you. I don’t think we will ever agree because our morals do not. For me, the “circle of life” that is at the core of how the world works is not immoral.

3. It is very meaningful if I don’t eat meat from those 99%. I don’t find it immoral to kill something to eat if it has a good life, and if the death is quick and suffering nil. Indeed the life it had under those circumstances is probably more cushy and enjoyable than what it would have if it were wild and eaten by something else. I’ve seen sufficient evidence to be convinced that not all animals suffer from impending doom in the same way people do. I haven’t spent enough time around pigs to understand them very well, but I know they are smart, and I’d guess they fall in the exception. It sounds to me that you haven’t spent much time on a “good” farm, and if not I suggest finding one and getting to know it – might change your outlook on things.

Do you grow your own vegetables? In large-scale monocropping, machinery is used to harvest produce. This machinery can kill all sorts of animals in the process. By your logic, shouldn’t that make eating those vegetables immoral? If you grow your own, surely you have encountered a pest that tries to devour your food – do you allow the pest (a rabbit, bird, mouse, bacteria, aphid…) to take it or do you find a way to eliminate it? Do you consider killing pests immoral? What if you manage to push them out of your garden without harm, but they can’t find food elsewhere and die of starvation? If you do not eat meat, what if you live in a place where grass is native and animals that feed on grass are native? Do you import non-meat from elsewhere (where who knows how many “pests” have been exterminated, not to mention the fossil fuel involved in transport, and the animals that suffer as a result of oil spills and pollution from that industry), do you evict the animals and attempt to grow produce (that may not be well suited to the environment) or do you simply eat the animals? Sometimes eating the animal is the most moral, humane, and reasonable thing to do. It is not the killing and eating of animals that I consider immoral, but the way the industrial food system operates.

4. That wasn’t my argument at all. My point was that eating meat is not the problem – industrial agriculture is. To use your analogy, that’s like funding cancer research on cures rather than research on what causes cancer in the first place.

5. Thanks for the links. I could only access the abstracts, which doesn’t tell me much. I could dig up a bunch of studies I’m sure that show eating meat has health benefits. And it is possible that they are comparing a vegetarian diet to a diet based on industrial agriculture, which would be comparing a group of people seriously concerned about what they eat to a group of people that probably spends little time thinking about it.

6. It is a very strong argument to me. I do not morally condemn female genital mutilation. Our own culture accepts male genital mutilation, for one. But much more importantly, I was not born into that culture and so I will never be able to fully understand it. It is immoral for me to pass judgment on things I am ignorant about.

7. Selfishness always comes with a cost to something else.

nikipedia's avatar

1a) I do consider the individual rather than the species, and I think this is ethically justified by Kant’s moral imperative. That said, because humans have removed domesticated animals from their normal ecosystems if they all died of old age, nothing would collapse. Further, even if we weren’t eating them, it would still be in our best interest to keep them around for milk, eggs, companionship, fertilizer, etc.

2. Okay. It still seems to me that you haven’t addressed my examples demonstrating why the “circle of life” is not a good moral compass (rape, murder, incest, and other acts that we humans have decided are immoral). But if you maintain that belonging in the circle of life by definition makes something moral to you, then you’re right, we have no chance of ever agreeing.

3. While the elimination of harm is ideal, minimization of harm is sufficient for me at this point in our societal adolescence. If some animals have to die for me to eat plants, that is bad, but less bad than raising animals to kill them. But since you do not have any ethical problem killing an animal that had a good life, I do not think either of us can make any ground here either.

4. I agree that industrial agriculture is bad. But by my moral standards, killing animals is also bad. I would even go so far as to say that industrial agriculture is very highly significantly worse. But killing animals is still bad. So. Again we disagree.

5. I can send you pdfs of any of the articles. I have yet to see a serious scientific refutation of any of their conclusions.

6. Okay. I am not much of a moral or cultural relativist. As a side note, I do not think male genital mutilation is comparable to female genital mutilation—you may wish to do some research on this before you make a claim like that; many people would be profoundly offended by it. Anyway, we fundamentally disagree.

7. I see no reason why this is necessarily true, but at some point it probably becomes a problem of semantics. Take the case of reciprocal altruism: suppose I give you food when I have plenty knowing that this will incline you to give me food when you have plenty. I act selfishly but also at a cost to no one but myself and a benefit to you.

NaturallyMe's avatar

I became one for the same reasons you did, for the most part. Firstly, i don’t believe that we need meat in our diets. Connected to that belief (well it’s a proven fact by now and not a belief) is the idea in my mind that it’s wrong to take the life of an innocent animal for a few moments of taste satisfaction – that animal has the same right that i do, to live it’s life out to the end. But probably the worst part is – the way animals are treated in factory farms and even some smaller scale farms – it’s despicable and i refuse to support that. I’ve some of the most inhumane things going on in those places and it makes me sick (mentally). No animal should EVER have to suffer like that. In fact, the cruelty is so obscene that sometimes it’s hard to believe that it’s happening for real….to a real live, feeling animal.

Kardamom's avatar

I am a vegetarian because I think it’s wrong to take the life of another being unless it’s absolutely necessary. Right now, because we are not living in caves any longer, and society has developed plant agriculture, it is no longer necessary for us to kill and eat animals. This is certainly not a black and white issue, and I don’t think meat eaters are bad, but I think we should all try to be more humane and environmentally responsible and not just be selfish, even though that would be the easier route to take. Being a vegetarian is just one way for me to be less horrible as a human being.

rOs's avatar

TL;DR – GA’s for everyone!

Come here and try some of Kansas City’s great BBQ before you commit to vegetarianism!

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