Friday, February 12, 2010
Does What We Eat Define Us?
I'd like to discuss this without a firestorm. I have questions.
The Judeo-Christian ethic teaches that the world and all its creatures are here for Man's use. Based on that logic, we have used this world's resources, abused and depleted them. Among the problems we have created is the factory farm.
I am a vegetarian. I'll tell you that up front because I'm not trying to do a sneak attack on those of you who aren't. From an animal rights perspective, I'm only part of the way there. To really practice what I believe, I should be vegan. So I understand that making a drastic lifestyle change is a huge and difficult step. Okay?
First, I want to know if there is a way to discuss this issue without the knee jerk hysteria that so often happens the minute you say, "Eating animal products is bad on a number of different levels and our modern livestock agriculture is inhumane."
It's blunt, but it's fact. You live longer if you don't eat meat. Here are some links if you want to study the numbers.
That's enough right there to start a fight, and I wonder why that is. Is it because it threatens our habits? Is it because it is seen as an implied criticism?
But wait until you start discussing the ethics of modern farming. We have a vision of the family farm, the peaceful cows in the field, the well cared for animals that are treated with respect, with care until the time comes for them to be slaughtered for meat. That's not reality. And we know it.
The book "Eating Animals" is a bestseller. It documents the horrific conditions under which today's animals life on factory farms. The movie "Peaceable Kingdom" is making the film festival rounds (and winning). It tells the stories of farmers, good, compassionate people who try to run humane livestock operations, who realize that their livelihood is based on a belief they can no longer support: they kill the animals they care for.
Our children's bodies are full of antibiotics from the food we feed them. Their hormone levels are artifically elevated. Our food is tainted, it makes us sick. Sometimes it kills us. The animals are kept in conditions that we could not abide if we witnessed it firsthand.
Scientists say the huge population of animals are contributing half the methane that's changing our climate.
Yet look at this article in a Missouri newspaper. Obviously, in a farm state the question of animal rights would be seen as threatening. What strikes me is the tone of the comments below it. It's a "war".
I don't want to fight. I want to know if it is possible to lay out the arguments, line them up against that "Man is the Earth's Master" chestnut and see if it's possible to get past the knee jerk denial to a place where the evidence can begin to be considered on its own merits.
The family farm, a beloved part of my background, is already dying, killed by big agriculture. A plant-based diet won't kill it. Creativity will, in fact, save the few that remain. Rather than eat the animals on farms, find ways to make money from our nostalgia for that way of life. Or switch to sustainable crops. Don't tell me I'm anti-farm; I'm not.
For me, the bottom line became that I couldn't justify the death of an animal to please my palate. I don't have that right. It was that simple. All the arguments are there to support my diet. The arguments for eating animal products don't stand up to scrutiny.
So it's a very personal choice, and perhaps that's why it's such an emotional one. But I can tell you that when I see a pig, a cow, a chicken at the county fair now, that disconnect between my fondness for them and what I eat is gone. And that's a huge relief.