It’s extremely hard for me to imagine this, but I think I’m turning vegetarian… I’ve recently embarked upon a healthy kick, spurned on by my diagnosis of a stomach ulcer 2 years ago, which restricted my diet somewhat, and gave me the excuse I’d been looking for to eat responsibly and healthy for once. As is usual with most diets, I followed it for a few months but then fell off the wagon and returned (somewhat) to my old ways, though still staying away from the dangerous foods that would inflame the situation, but it recently occurred to me, as part of my incessant internal monologue, that it is completely contrary to and entirely incompatible with a modern moral outlook (such as that espoused by Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins etc… and one that I apsire to) to campaign for human rights and equality for all, and even in some cases campaign for animal rights, but to continue to eat meat.
The primary concerns one may have diet wise and nutrition wise would be calcium intake, protein intake and fatty acid intake. Calcium intake can be found quite easily within leafy plants; protein is found in many sources such as brown rice, wheat pita, soy and various types of beans, though some times you need to be smart about where you are getting your protein from; fatty acids, such as the important Omega-3, are primarily found in oily foods such as nuts and seeds. Many commentators make the point make the good point that certain vital sources of nutrients (since we have after all evolved to be omnivores) are far more abundant, and even healthier, in animal sources. One main point would be fatty acids such as Omega-3, which comes in a short-chained structure and a long-chained structure, the latter being most beneficial to humans as our physiology is best designed to process these long chains, however the best source of these long-chained fatty acids comes solely from animal sources such as fish, which leads certain commentators such as Jim Walker of NoBeliefs.com, to argue that the most healthy diet possible has to include certain animal products. And I will agree with this point, however I must strongly disagree with his implications for this and a lot of his other points.
Mr. Walker argues that the healthiest diet for humans has to include certain animal products, and while conceding the point that the most ethical (which is after all the crux of my discussion here) position would be to be vegetarian in order to prevent causing suffering to others (which includes animals), he makes the point that if everyone in the world turned to a vegetarian diet today, we would have no more use for animals, which would leave billions of animals, dependent upon our care and nurturing, without such care and would thereby cause mass-suffering of animals worldwide.
Firstly, this is just plain bad reasoning. Granted it is true to say that domesticated animals have evolved alongside us, through our artificial selection, to the point where they would be hard-pressed to survive well in the wild without our tender ministrations. It is not true, however, to suggest that that has any bearing on the ethical issue of killing animals, thereby inflicting suffering and the ending of their lives, simply to gain access to nutrients that we can find elsewhere with a bit of effort. Not only does this portray a deep cynicism about the hardiness of our fellow animals, despite our mollycoddling along the centuries, but it extends the issue far beyond the remit of this discussion.
Human society of the 21st century values the Golden Rule above all others. If we, as a moral, modern society, are to say to ourselves that we wish to do to others as we would have done to us, this would imply not only that we do not willingly wish to inflict harm or suffering upon any other being, but also to include that we do not wish to willingly end the existence of another living being unless vitally necessary for our own survival. It follows then that we cannot simply draw the line at humans and human-like apes (though it is obvious that we are the really human-like apes and all the other apes are simply apes) and have a free-for-all over the rest of the animal kingdom bar the endangered ones. To say, however, that our obligation to animals not to do any of the above implies that, since our forefathers fostered a dependence within domesticated animals upon our care and attention, we are therefore responsible for their success or failure as a species should we convert from omnivores to vegetarians, and thereby the suffering they would experience as a result, is completely illogical. Granted we should make the effort to prevent animal suffering where possible, but for the same reason we do not intervene on the plains of the Serengeti when the gazelle is taken to the ground and torn apart by feline teeth, so should we not intervene when wild-roving cattle, who belong to no-one (as no animal should), are struck down in the fields.
Secondly, this reasoning speaks to the crux of my discussion. Do we want to prevent animal suffering, in which case painless deaths where the animals were completely unaware of their life being ended (to whatever extent they can be said to be aware of these things) would be acceptable practice, or do we want, as outlined by the Golden Rule we cherish, to prevent both unnecessary suffering and unnecessary death at human hands…? I think it is obvious upon short reflection that the premise of the Golden Rule, do unto others as you have done unto you also applies to the ending of a beings life. Would I, or you, wish to live an independent life, with the reality that I may be prey to certain predators and may not live a long or full life, or would I wish to be fed well and looked after only to be slaughtered at a given time although I would not feel any pain or even be aware of my own passing from this life? Personally I would prefer to be in full control of my life (to extent possible for an living being) and to be fully aware when I took my last breath in order to be able to bathe in the bliss of existence for one last time before entering the void from whence I came. But this personal opine is neither helpful nor important to the discussion.
Let’s cut to the chase and examine the central issue of this discussion: Is it wrong to knowingly end another beings life regardless of the circumstances surrounding it? Yes, it is. Protest all you will about self-defence etc… but all this does is make it acceptable given the circumstances, but not morally right. From the point of view of the Golden Rule, is it morally reasonable to end another beings life? No, since, it is reasonable to assume, no animal (a descriptor which applies to humans also) given a choice would willingly allow its life to be ended (disregarding issues of terminal illness and drawn-out suffering). Is it therefore immoral to end another beings life, potentially against its will, even though you make so that the being does not feel pain and is unaware of its own passing? Yes. It is categorically wrong to willingly and unnecessarily end another beings life.
It is not even enough to point out that animals eat other animals all throughout the animal kingdom and that natural selection is a cruel world but that is the way of the world, for to do so would be to completely abandon everything that morality stands for and has struggled to stand for since the dawn of human consciousness. It is also not acceptable to make the argument towards the objective ability of a given animal to experience pain and suffering or its awareness of its life or demise.
The reality of the situation is clear: we do not need to eat meat, and it is contrary to our moral fibre to do so where it is not a necessity (this grants the obvious exceptions where soy-alternatives etc… are not a viable option) In the modern world to slaughter animals wholesale to provide food that we do not need (from a nutrition point of view, since most of the nutrients gained from meat can be found elsewhere) is simply wrong.
The true role of a modern human society, based upon our actual current morals, would be to live in harmony, and often-times symbiosis, with nature. Cattle, chickens and all other sorts of animal life gain much from being providers of foodstuffs to humans, but this is only in situations where they are not being abused or fed to machines for slaughter.
I’ve spent a while both ruminating and doing some actual research on the issue, and I’ve decided it’s overzealous to go vegan. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using cows milk, chickens eggs or any other animal by-products (with the proviso that they are cared for properly and lovingly and not abused). Farmers provide shelters for their animals, they inoculate and care for them in the event of illness or disease and they ensure they are fed or are receiving enough food on their own. They also don’t force the animals to stay within unreasonable boundaries and don’t inflict unnecessary harm or stress upon them. Cattle, for example, and other grazers also provide a necessary service upon fallow fields for farmers. Where is the issue in this situation? Now, I will grant the fact that the vast majority of situations are not this kind of ideal situation and most animals are merely stock to be used for the production of wares and goods for human consumption, but that is the true injustice that not just animal rights campaigners and vegans and veggies, but all moral and upright people alike should be fighting for. A symbiotic relationship with animals where we give and take equally, is the world our moral society aches to bring into being.
This is the 21st century, by Odin’s beard! We should be living in a world that mirrors our moral growth just as much as it mirrors our scientific growth.