Lately, I’ve been thinking about why I continue to eat meat. Really, I’ve wondered why for a long time. A few things in particular have been making me think lately. About a year ago I saw some movie about the incompetent defense team for some kid accused of a brutal murder that really hadn’t done it, which got him easily convicted in court. His attorney was some former hippy who got his clients from those lawyer infomercials that run during stuff like Jerry Springer. What stuck with me was this one scene where he was describing how he once lived on some hippy farm and he would name the animals they had there after food, like oh this guy here is named Mr. McRib, and stuff like that. He said it made him finally be able to give up meat, because the cows, pigs, chickens, and other things we eat suddenly had names, personalities, and emotions to him, just like how we view our dogs, which is why we would never in America eat dog meat even it just came from nasty strays. I guess changing your view of chicken as some innumerous food product no different than each ear of corn you consume to a real things with emotions is achieved just by naming and vaguely interacting with them. So that stuck with me. Another thing was this past summer when I was watching one of those TV talent shows and some guy came on with his pig who could do all kinds of tricks with a soccer ball and stuff. He was treating the pig like a pet, letting it give him kisses, petting him, dressing him in a little pig shirt, and all that. The pig seemed emotionally attached to the guy, and the guy seemed to love the pig. It really didn’t seem all that different from watching someone with their dog, and it made me think about how that animal, which someone loves and treats like a pet that seems to be able to reciprocate, is from a species I eat all the time.
The thing I’ve thought about the most when considering the eating of meat is how I approach abortion vs. how religious people tend to approach abortion. Religious people believe in dualism (i.e. souls), where somehow your genetics resulting in the particular structure, function, wiring, and interactive processes in your brain is not what makes your personality, but rather some invisible soul that will fly off to an afterlife heaven or hell based on how well you followed a bunch of cryptic ancient superstitious dogma is actually “what makes you you.” Religious people also believe in hierarchies of life, feeling that all different types of living things were instantly brought into existence together by some purposeful creator that only made everything else so we could have food and ascetic entertainment. This contrasts with a scientific understanding of speciation, where all living things can actually trace back their roots to the RNA based bacteria that later spawned into everything with DNA/RNA/proteins we see today, over billions of years, with geographic barriers driving evolution in different phenotypic directions for creatures on either side of each barrier, leading to great enough genetic differentiation that if reunited the creatures would no longer be able to reproduce with each other. Thus, while I merely see other species as the descendants of creatures that grew genetically different enough from my own that we can no longer make offspring together, but are still distant relatives, a religious person says humans are a special, separate, superior species, and one way they say we are superior is that the creator gave us those magical souls that make us who we are instead of our brains, while animals have no souls. Because of these views of souls and species, traditionally religious societies have been perfectly okay with killing animals that have emotions, social abilities, and the ability to be petrified of being killed and feel pain as they are being killed, while at the same time being horrified at the thought of killing a human fetus that has no brain function, no self-awareness, no emotional capacity, or ability to fear death or feel pain in death. The rationale is that you are killing a soul when you kill a fetus, something that was going to develop into the chosen, superior species, but when you kill an animal you are just offing some soulless toy of amusement the magical creator placed next to humans for their pleasure.
It’s made me think about my views as an evil atheist in a religious world. I’m okay with someone killing their fetus because that fetus isn’t a self-aware, thinking, feeling creature, and I’m not into ancient myths about souls and human-centric hierarchies. Thus, shouldn’t I be equally not okay with killing an animal that is self-aware, thinking, and feeling, given that I would oppose the killing of a fetus if it possessed those traits? If notions of souls and species hierarchies aren’t driving my view of whether I’m cool with abortion, why would I go along with the killing of animals just because I grew up in a culture that was cool with it precisely because they believe in shit like souls and species hierarchies? I mean, I strongly get the impression that if American society was like 90 whatever percent atheist instead of Christian, killing animals would not have been the socially permissible norm I grew up with. Just because it’s viewed as no big deal by my society I’ve always viewed it as no big deal, but the reason it’s not a big deal in my society is because most people hold a bunch of superstitious views I don’t share. I don’t think eating meat would be illegal if society was 90% atheist, but much like abortion I think it would be one of those things that a majority of people said they personally would never do, but if someone felt comfortable doing it or felt it was necessary for them to do it, they’d be cool with them doing it, since you can’t really come to a substantiated absolute conclusion on whether it’s right or wrong (basically a “pro-choice” meat eating position). The really crazy thing is that if I knew someone who was considering abortion and they asked me for advice I’d probably try to talk them into adoption or something because I’d be afraid that they’d be haunted by their decision to abort later in life and wouldn’t want them to live with that. Yet, I’d never try to talk someone out of eating meat because I’d be afraid that they’d be haunted by what they ate for the rest of their life. Why is this? Why is it that a great many women probably would feel very haunted by having ended the developing potential of a human being when it was still an emotionless, unthinking, un-self-aware, non-pain feeling group of cells, and I’d even feel afraid of being haunted by encouraging them to abort a fetus that wasn’t even mine, but every single day I can bite into meat that came from an animal that lived a torturous life in some crowded dark meat farm house, pumped full of steroids, and then one day watched as others were slaughter, grew terrified, and then was painfully slaughtered itself, despite containing the emotional capacity to be an affectionate pet like that pig on that show if it had been lucky enough to have been born in a different situation?
In the end I’ll continue to eat meat, but at least I’m getting to the point where this decision haunts and disturbs me. Below I’ve outlined the pros and cons of meat eating.
1.) Animals perceive their own existence: While an animal can’t perceive their own mortality, it can perceive it’s life. It knows that it is alive and other creatures around it are alive. It’s not just some animate object that isn’t aware of its existence.
2.) Animals have the emotional abilities: Certainly it varies by species, but they most definitely can feel things like fear, sadness, happiness, pleasure, excitement, and even love, if not always towards humans, at least towards their offspring.
3.) Animals raised for meat live shitty lives: Long gone are the days of an animal living its normal animal life and then being killed by a pack of human hunter gatherers, which could be as fast as a split second, or in a worst case scenario cause them to feel fear and struggle to run evade the humans for a few minutes. Even the days of the family farm where animals were not necessarily loved, but at least kept in good conditions out in the sun often times with their mother, getting fed, and protected from other predators and diseases until the day it came time to kill them for the meat are long over. In the past few generations the large agricultural giants have taken over virtually all the farms and turned meat into another mass commodity, where the animals is born on a mass birth line, immediately stripped of its mother, thrown into crowded buildings with darkened drapes over the sides, living amongst tons of filth and animal germs, periodically fed and shot up with steroids by some worker, and then eventually, if it didn’t succumb to some weird disease or attack from a fellow animal in the darkened house, picked up thrown into a dark truck and taken off to be slaughtered by a machine in some assembly line.
4.) Animals feel physical pain: In addition to feeling emotions along the course of their shitty life as a commodity they are self-aware enough to perceive living, the animal also feels pain as it is actually killed. This has been true for all of time through the family farm and hunter gatherer days, but it doesn’t make it any less disturbing.
5.) Antibiotics are pumped into animals: Because the new corporate agricultural industry has tons of animals stocked in close quarters (because it’s cheaper) and doesn’t clean the facilities they keep them in (because it’s cheaper) the risk of infection is high. In order to not lose large amounts of animals to disease prior to slaughter, the industry has invested in antibiotics, absolutely pumping animals full of them as a precautionary measure. This is horrifying for humans, because as more and more antibiotics are exposed to animals they begin to adapt to animal bacteria, meaning over time more and more bacteria becomes resistant. Instead of spending the extra money to buy more space and keep it better maintained when storing animals waiting eventual slaughter, this money saving gimmick brings people cheaper meat now in exchange for an inevitable future human health crisis that will cost much more than lives and dollars. I don’t know why we don’t seem to fear the return of bacterial disease resistance the same way we would viruses. If someone told us some practice in raising meat animals was potentially going to make the polio virus vaccine stop working we’d freak out and demand they stop, but when we hear that someday strep throat bacteria might be lethal again because of how we raise our meat animals we shrug our shoulders.
6.) Food is wasted to feed animals instead of humans: Growing up I often wondered where all the different types of food came from that I was eating. I seemed to be eating a lot of different stuff, but whenever I would be driven somewhere downstate all I’d see was field after field of corn. I ate more than corn, so what was up with this? What I’ve come to find out as an adult is that virtually everything we eat today is basically either some mostly grown in the lab semi-food that is made to taste super good because it is infused with tons of high fructose corn syrup (basically all the chips, breads, juices, soups, sodas, candy, cakes, etc), which is where about half that corn goes, and the other half goes towards feeding tons and tons of bloated animals hidden away in those darkened storage houses you don’t see as you drive down the interstate, which comprise all the meat we eat with those chips, breads, drinks, and deserts. That’s why, aside from the rare apple, orange, carrot, grape, or whatever that tend to grow in very specific locations that didn’t happen to be anywhere near Illinois, virtually everything you eat can be traced back to corn (as well as all the wheat grown on the Plaines for the bread). The massive waste of farmland to grow a single crop that is mostly used to feed tons and tons of animals to make them extra fat to drive up prices actually hurts humans. If we were using that land to grow lots of diverse crops, that humans were going to eat, instead of a bunch of pigs, chickens, and such, the human diet devoid of meat would be much cheaper.
7.) Meat is horrible for climate change: Raising lots of meat contributes big time to climate change, because it’s a very carbon intensive process. First you have to feed all those animals, which means you need to clear more land (fewer forests to soak up carbon from the air) and plant more on that land (less exposed soil to soak up carbon from the air), which also happens to mean you’ll need to apply more fertilizer (another fossil fuel intensive process). Then, you have the matter of all the methane release that comes from all sorts of cattle waiting to be slaughtered (methane is a very powerful greenhouse gas). Once you are ready to actually kill the animals, the automated process of killing them requires more fossil fuel energy. Then there’s the matter of having to store the meat in refrigeration once its packed and ready for transport, which takes up more energy than non-perishable meatless food. Meat cannot generally be “grown locally” and thus unlike some other foods, the transportation process is generally much greater, which requires further fossil fuels. After that, the process of cooking defrosting and cooking the meat is a much more fossil fuel intensive process than is preparing other types of food. In the end it’s a major, major contributor to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
8.) Meat causes more organ problems and cancers that other types of food: While lots of artificial sugars certainly cause all kinds of diseases (diabetes, cancers, etc), eating lots of meat can much more easily clog your arteries increasing the odds of heart attack and stroke, two of the major killers of humans. On the cancer end of it, all the steroids, antibiotics, and fertilizer covered corn they’ve been pumping animals with seem to be increasing people’s odds of developing various cancers, as well as various types of organ failure, and even problems like asthma and allergies. Overall, while eating tons of bread and candy is more stereotypically linked to bad health because it more easily produces the visible effect of obesity, meat tends to fuck with more organs and set you up for increased risk of all sorts of very common, deadly issues than anything else.
1.) Animals would eat us: You could make the argument that animals would gladly eat humans if they were a hungry carnivore in the vicinity of a human, so we shouldn’t be burdened with abstaining from eating them as hungry omnivores (we eat meat and plants) just because we happened to have evolved to have the intellectual capacity to feel empathy towards living things not from our species.
2.) Protein helped humans develop intelligence: In the course of evolutionary history our ability to walk upright was the big turning point, because we were suddenly really good distance runners that could tire out much larger animals, allowing us to eat meat instead of just plants. The protein from this new meat-rich diet is thought to have been one of the key things that helped further develop our prefrontal cortex, which eventually led to us getting so smart that we stopped being hunter gatherers altogether, developing agriculture, technology, culture, religion, nations, governments, industry, etc. While vegetarians and vegans certainly don’t seem to be intellectually lesser than meat eaters, suggesting that you need not eat meat to maintain optimal brain function, most who become such do just that rather than growing up that way, so it’s unclear if having children in their brain formative years abstaining from meat would be akin to bringing back poor sanitation or not getting them vaccine, resulting in a lower adult IQ. Furthermore, it’s hard not to fear that your intellectual function wouldn’t decrease if you suddenly stopped eating meat no matter what the anecdotal evidence might describe.
3.) Sudden change in diet could lead to health issues: Whenever the body adapts to a certain diet and it is suddenly changed it could trigger some kind of health issues. The Simpsons episode where Homer and them get sick when Lisa tries to feed them healthy food is closer to the truth than we might think. If you suddenly stopped eating meat could it actually trigger some change in your physiology that resulted in the later development of some disease you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten? It’s a concern.
4.) Too much pressure to not mess up: Because our society doesn’t view eating meet as immoral we’ve all been raised to view grabbing a chicken strip, a burger, a piece of bacon, or whatever as no big deal. If you were to suddenly declare yourself a vegetarian or vegan and people around you were always making all kinds of accommodations for you, and then you suddenly had a slip, and starting eating some piece of chicken or something out of pure habit, it would come off looking like your giving up meat wasn’t genuine, but rather just some sort of attention grabbing scheme, or some way to make yourself appear more righteous than you really are. I mean, if we all grew up thinking it was totally normal to eat dead people’s corpses, and then for some reason you reasoned out that such disturbed you or was immoral in some way, making you give up that part of your diet, you could very easily just like forget a month in and start eating some human hand or something like you always had and then everyone would be like “oh look the little self-righteous prick was just looking for attention, he still eats humans.” Obviously, nobody thinks its normal to eat humans, so we don’t, but if we were raised to believe it was normal and then later decided it was bad, we’d end up looking like some attention seeking hypocrite the first time we slipped up and ate something we were used to eating. It’s almost not worth the social risk of declaring a vegetarian or vegan for this reason.
5.) Putting another social target on my back: I have enough social targets on me already. I do all kinds of things that are very frowned upon in our society like saying America has a fucked up history, and isn’t so great at lots of stuff today, or not believing in the Judeo-Christian deity and religion, or saying abortion is okay, or accepting the science for climate change and evolution, etc, etc. I’m one of those evil, atheists, non-America loving, arrogant, science accepting, jobless liberals. To give mainstream society another reason to look down on me, hate me, ridicule me and all that wouldn’t be very smart. I mean, I remember the looks and comments of disapproval, scorn, and mockery my mom’s side of the family when one of my cousins tried out vegetarianism a few years back, and I don’t want that kind of judgy pressure, waiting to feel delight when I’m exposed a fraud attitude to be moved onto me.
6.) Financial cost of avoiding meat: Having to avoid meat products while still meeting all your nutritional needs would probably cost an amount of money people like me just don’t have.
7.) Ending up wanting to convince people of its merits: I know how I am. If I feel that there is logical evidence demonstrating that something should or should not be morally accepted I would try to convince others of my evidence and have it challenged by theirs. Given that this is just another one of those things like gayness, abortion, various sexual acts, welfare programs, educational spending, climate change policies, the rejection of religious dogma, and lots of other stuff that most Americans would be appalled to hear an argument for, I don’t really want to commit myself to it, since I’d get constantly verbally beaten up about it.