When I tell people I’m a vegetarian, I usually get the reaction of raised eyebrows and perhaps a joke about how I need to get some protein in me. Sometimes people try to convert me by waving pieces of dead animals in front of me and going “Mmmm…see what you’re missing out on?”. Lovely. They assume that I am a tree-hugging nutter with no sense of reason who goes around spoiling everyone’s fun by kicking up a fuss about animal rights.
Some people react with a mixture of sympathy and admiration and say something like: “Oh that must be really difficult. I could never do that, you must be very disciplined.” Those make me laugh, as I am hardly a disciplined person. I just prefer not to eat meat, that’s all. It’s no big deal and I don’t want a fuss. Just pass me a veggie burger and leave it at that, okay?
As part of my philosophy course, I’m reading a book called Humans and Other Animals by Rosalind Hursthouse and I have an essay due this week entitled: “If animals have no rights, there is still a good case for vegetarianism. Discuss.” I’ve been a vegetarian for about two years now, and my Mum and sister are also vegetarians. Doing the research for this has really made me think about the reasons why I no longer eat meat. I get asked this a lot, so I thought I’d share my thoughts.
Reasons I don’t eat meat:
1) Most factory-farm conditions and slaughtering processes are cruel and inhumane.
Despite the happy looking cows and chickens we see in adverts, the reality is that the animals do suffer horribly. They’re separated from their mothers much too early, fed terrible diets, pumped full of growth hormones and other nasties and not given the space or quality of life that they need and deserve. We don’t like to think about this because it makes us uncomfortable, so we bury our heads in the sand and close our eyes to the abuse. If you’re feeling brave, take a look at some of the undercover abattoir footage on Youtube and you’ll see what I mean.
I’m sure some farms are better than others and I’m not saying that all farmers are evil or anything like that. But farming is a business and a lot of the larger organisations are definitely placing profit over animal welfare. Labels like ‘free range’ do not even guarantee that the animals haven’t suffered. Unless you’ve been to the farm personally you have no way of knowing if the animal was killed humanely or had adequate living conditions. So like Peter Singer says, it’s better not to eat meat at all if you can’t be sure.
2) Animal suffering outweighs human pleasure
This is a utilitarian argument. Sure, sometimes it’s hard to go without a tasty, tasty bacon sarnie. But that’s nothing compared to what the animals go through. It’s just not worth it. Why should sentient creatures suffer degradation and pain for my selfish want?
3) Exploiting animals is wrong
For me, there are no good reasons to presume that humans should have dominion over the animals. I don’t believe that animals were made to be mere resources for us. I don’t think they are here to be exploited by us.
4) Lack of intelligence doesn’t justify killing
I believe that the differences between humans and animals, such as the fact that animals can’t talk or reason like we do, do not justify killing and eating them. Otherwise, we could justify eating infants or people with learning disabilities! Bear in mind that pigs have a similar intelligence level to children of three years old.
5) Eating meat isn’t necessary for our survival anymore
Non-vegetarians often like to argue that meat-eating is not only natural but an evolutionary necessity. While I agree that this was true in the past, I think humans have evolved beyond that. Most of us, at least, no longer hunt for our food-we just pop down to the supermarket and pick up a processed fillet of chicken. Is that really natural? With so many non-meat sources of protein available now, it’s not even necessary for our health (except for people with specific medical conditions). We can live perfectly healthy lives as vegetarians, so the only reason we really go on eating them is that we like the taste. For some, that is enough to justify the suffering, but not for me.
6) We have a duty to care for animals
Like Hume and Rawls, I don’t believe that animals have rights; they cannot understand the contractual nature of rights. However, I do believe that we still have duties towards them because they are vulnerable and need our protection (much like young children).
7) It doesn’t make sense to eat some animals and not others
In the Western world, we think nothing of eating pigs, yet find the idea of eating dogs abhorrent. This doesn’t make sense to me, given that their intelligence levels are about equal. Why is it okay to eat some animals but not others? It just seems hypocritical.
8) Vegetarianism is easier than ever now
Nowadays, there are plenty of tasty alternatives to meat such as Quorn, soya or tofu. Some of these products are excellent dupes for the real thing-they even do imitation cottage pies, pork pies, lasagne, chicken nuggets, fish fingers and steak and kidney puddings now. There’s a lot more choice than there used to be, so the taste factor is becoming less and less of a reason to keep eating meat.
I hope this has given you a little insight into why someone would become vegetarian. Of course, these reasons are personal to me and I don’t speak for all vegetarians. There are lots of other reasons people might have, including health benefits or religious beliefs.
Before you go…
If you’re vegetarian, what were your reasons for giving up meat? If you eat meat, what are your reasons for continuing to do so? I welcome open discussion, but please keep dialogue respectful.