Every so often I get asked why I am a vegetarian, and I usually come up with some sort of humorous answer; partially because the real reasons are a little mixed up and confused. Probably the biggest reason I am a vegetarian today, is that I was a vegetarian yesterday. I have been a vegetarian long enough that the thought of eating dead animals just doesn’t occur to me.
Although I’ll be honest in this little rant, I am not a proselytising vegetarian. I am not even an especially good vegetarian given that I have on occasions worn leather (belts, and shoes mostly). But I’m also not a “vegetarian” who eats fish, which is not vegetarian at all. I don’t object to eggs (with the exception of stuff like balut) or dairy products. I also try to avoid products made with animal rennet and gelatin without making a fetish of it.
I became one of those nutty vegetarians way back in 1987 or 1988 whilst I was at University for a variety of reasons :-
- I was never that keen on eating meat for taste reasons. Most of the “real” meat dishes were unpalatable – steak, lamb, mutton, etc.
- I was becoming increasingly concerned with killing animals for food; animal welfare in meat production during the 1980s was practically non-existent.
- Someone asked me. Whilst this is no reason to give up in itself, it pushed me over the edge.
Since then, I have discovered other reasons. Some of which you may agree with; some may seem like complete rubbish. But that is not the point as these are the reasons why I am a vegetarian.
But We’ve Evolved To Eat Meat!
No we have not evolved to eat meat; we have evolved to eat everything (omnivores).
Although we have evolved to eat everything, we have decided not to eat certain kinds of food:- carrion, insects, horses, dogs, and of course our fellow humans. But all of those things are a matter of taste or morality. So we have evolved to eat everything yet we can choose not to eat certain foods because of concerns bigger than filling our bellies.
One mistake that people make when they portray people as omnivores is to assume that we are evolved to eat meat on a daily basis. Perhaps, but the information on the diets of hunter gatherers is understandably somewhat vague. What is known is that many of the hunter-gatherer groups still around today will eat meat as and when it is available; and it is not available on a daily basis in the large quantities that meat eaters in the West consume it.
Or to put it another way, we may be evolved to eat everything, but not meat every day. And the kind of meat that we eat is definitely not the same as that eaten by a hunter-gatherer who would be eating very lean meat indeed.
So you could say that going vegetarian or partly vegetarian is good for health reasons, although that is not why I’m veggy.
Meat Is Murder!
Perhaps that is putting it a little extremely, but some kinds of meat are murder – cannibalism.
The suspicions are that the annoying fellow in the next valley has been on the menu for most of human history, and cannibalism is rather quickly resorted to in times of extreme necessity. We all accept that going out and shooting your neighbour to fill the larder would qualify as murder. So does killing a gorilla or a chimpanzee qualify as murder?
Without specifying physical or biological attributes, it is actually quite hard to distinguish between chimpanzees and humans. Communications? We both do it. Tool use? We both do it. Mourning the dead? We both do it.
It is true that most humans can communicate and reason better than chimpanzees, but they are not that far behind. And if you accept that they are perhaps a bit more than “mere” animals, are they not worthy of some level of respect? At the very least not killing them. Indeed the average ape is probably more worthy of respect than some humans (think of Harold Shipman).
And if you accept that chimps are worthy of enough respect not to kill and eat them, where do you draw the line? Some people eat horses; some don’t. Some people eat dogs; some don’t. And it goes on.
And some people choose not to eat animals at all. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with liking animals. There’s very few animals I like, but as far as I’m concerned just because you don’t like somebody is no excuse to chop ’em up and put them in your freezer.
In the old days, vegetarians used to argue that producing livestock was an inefficient way of feeding the world, which it is. After all the feed that livestock eat has to be grown itself. It turns out that we have more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet; starvation is caused by poor storage and poor transportation.
However it has also been discovered that livestock is one of the largest contributors to total greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities. The figures are disputed but transport is supposed to contribute 13% of greenhouse gas emissions and livestock production up to 18% of emissions.
The criticisms of the 2006 UN report boils down to the fact that the UN took all of the emissions due to meat production into account and overestimated the effect of methane, whereas they only took into account the direct emissions caused by transport. This is a valid criticism, but on the other hand transport accounts for practically no rain forest deforestation whereas livestock production is right up there. And those who criticise the UN for their report come up with daft statements like less meat production would result in “…more hunger in poor countries”; of course in the global sense, people in poorer countries cannot afford meat!
If you don’t consume vast amounts of electricity and gas, and don’t drive a chelsea tractor down to the corner shop it may very well be that the biggest single change you can make to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to cut down or eliminate meat consumption.
Don’t You Miss It?
It is true that for the first few years of being a vegetarian, you get occasional cravings for certain meat products – in my case it was BLT sandwiches. But as time goes on, the cravings disappear.