“There’s a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig—an animal easily as intelligent as a dog—that becomes the Christmas ham.”
The New York Times Magazine, “An Animal’s Place”
by Michael Pollan, 11/10/02
I was a vegetarian for five years, and because of a missionary trip (back when I was a Christian) I was forced to become a meat-eater. Our team stayed in families' homes, and the program told me it would be rude to deny a meal that the family had worked hard on. I get that. But when I came back I never returned to my veggie-only lifestyle.
A few weeks ago I changed that. I woke up with a pile of Taco Bell wrappers around me, and I realized just how disgusting it is. Besides ethical and environmental reasons, the shit is just bad for you. How many calories are in a Crunchwrap Supreme? Oh, only 530...and it's not like I just ordered one Crunchwrap and called it a day!
(If you're curious about how much your meal at Taco Bell is, they have a nutrition calculator. I'm sure these numbers are far below what they actually are, though. Wondering what mine is? Well, I'm not telling, but I'll say it has more than 3 numbers. (oops).)
Ok, so back to the topic at hand--vegetarianism. So far I have tried a few new restaurants (Cafe Benevolence, which was FANTASTIC!) and I have made some very unique meals at home. It hasn't been all that difficult, and I certainly have felt more alert and better overall. But I then began to truly consider the motivators for this switch--was it just to keep me from eating crappy fast food, or was there more?
For long I've known that the cattle industry is the largest contributor of carbon emissions in the world--yes, more than all of our cars, trucks and airplanes combined. I've known that one can do more for the environment simply by switching to a vegetarian diet than almost any other lifestyle change. I've known that maintaining a vegetarian lifestyle would greatly enhance one's own health, while simultaneously lowering the risk of heart attacks, cancer, diabetes and help to reduce any unwanted weight. Overall, the vegetarian lifestyle is just a great switch.
But are these my reasons? They're good contributors. But, in addition to all of this, I think it comes down to this small detail: in a civilized society, why must we reduce ourselves to slaughtering over 9.7 billion living animals a year? It's a sad day when humans can have the mental capacity to have babies born in a beaker yet not have the emotional capacity to see that the meat industry is a blatant torture of animals. At this point I'm not making an argument for everyone to give up meat; I'm just curious why we must treat these animals so terribly.
Cows spend the majority of the lives standing in their own shit. Female cows are repeatedly impregnated so that they continuously make milk; the average cow is milked about 50 pounds a day. That simply is not natural. The relationship between mother and calf is very tender, yet immediately after birth calves are taken away to either become veal or beef.
Piglets are castrated without painkillers so that they will grow faster and have a more pleasant taste to humans. Sick pigs are frequently shot in the head with a nail gun (cheaper to kill than to fix). Sows (female pigs) lie in such small cages they cannot even turn around.
Chickens grow so fast that if a human baby were growing at the same rate, they'd weigh 349 pounds by the age of two. Chickens are kept in cages the size of shoeboxes their entire life, never having the opportunity to do as much as spread their wings. Chicklets, when first born, have their beaks cut off, of course without painkillers.
By simply a concern of ethics, how can I support this? I'll stress again--at this point in the argument I'm not advocating a vegetarian diet. I'm simply questioning why the animals must be treated in this way. And the answer is simple--it's money. It's economically cheaper to force thousands of chickens into a barn the size of a 7-11 than it is to let them live a natural life.
I understand the answer, I just don't accept it. And this, along with all of the previously stated reasons, is why I am going vegan. You're welcome to call me crazy, and I understand the implications of such a decision, but I cannot continue to pretend these types of practices are not occurring just to satiate my desire for certain types of foods.
So, there. I've declared it. No more butter, eggs, steaks, chicken, fish...oh, gosh, this is going to be hard...