I can’t tell you what an animal thinks when making eye contact with a human, but when I look into pupils so similar to my own, I see an individual life experiencing reality with a great deal of cross pollination between us. Much of what I perceive the world to be is taken through my senses: Hunger, smell, touch, sight, elements animals and humans share seamlessly. So who is to say that the percentage of difference between us, is of greater value, than the percentage of what we have in common?
I gave up buying meat after I left home at eighteen, back then I wrestled with the idea of abandoning the bacon sandwich but eventually I withdrew my financial support for the meat industry.
Fast forward to now and being a vegetarian is second nature. I tend not to think about it, only being reminded of what I’m missing when new friends ask what led me to become one. Normally it’s around the same time we stand in line at a deli, or are walking through a busy grocery store, some place that food choices expose my rejection of the pork loin and the Big mac, but not particularly fitting locations for any discussion.
Why are you a vegetarian? Seems an innocent enough enquiry, but there is no one-liner response as some people expect. It’s a profound choice of change, giving up the main menu and foods I loved, to remain true to my conscience, but I have tried over time to cancel down to a nub of rationale the reasons for my lifestyle choice.
My response to this question begins initially by turning ‘why’ on its head, as I say –
“Okay, I’ll tell you why I’m a vegetarian, but first you tell me why you’re a meat-eater?”
This is a firm footing to begin on, for straight off the bat it challenges their assertion that meat-eating needs no justification and often it is a question they have never been asked.
Below are a couple of the summarised responses I get, followed by my well worn counters.
1 – Our greater intelligent makes human life intrinsically worth more than animal life.
My response – Does that mean a person with genius I.Q. has a life intrinsically worth more than a person with learning difficulties? Does our SAT score come with an increased or reduced right to exist depending on the outcome?
2 – Our species is uniquely special, regardless of intelligence. We are human beings afterall.
My response is that top dog status in the animal kingdom is a psychological trick of the light. For example lets say in the next century an alien life form arrived on earth (not so unlikely considering in the last two decades NASA has stated our Galaxy is teaming with planets) and that this new species has an IQ as superior to ours as we are to pigs.
Would this new species as head of the celestial food chain have the right to farm us? Take us as live stock, all our civilized achievements, art and technology would seem no more special to them, than a bird’s nest or the bee’s intricate hives.
I have no doubt we would continue to know our lives have a fundamental right to exist, equal to the alien, regardless of the heights of consciousness the other carbon based life form was capable of experiencing, in comparison to our own.
Then I move on explaining my rationale behind the original question: Why am I a vegetarian? It’s to do with something I call the equality of pain. Pain is a factor any sex, age, or species feels outside the issue of intelligence markers; a person with a high IQ in agony feels no greater or less pain than a person with a low I.Q. in a similar situation.
Pain is the great leveller, the goal of preventing it first impelled enlightened humans to agree on certain principles that unite us: Codes of law, declarations of universal rights, each was a strive to reduce the suffering of others and there by protect our own rights to love, liberty and happiness.
The drive to equality has been long and hard fought, at every stage someone was left out, when rich men had rights, the poor didn’t, after that, women, children and those of different ethnic backgrounds, and most recently, equality on sexuality is the battle ground. But the hard stop comes at a species level, though I can’t logically see a reason why.
The same basic logic for not eating your fellow man could naturally extend out, until it encompasses other animals too. Any creature with the spark of consciousness and the capacity to feel pain has a presence in reality worthy of respect and legislative protection.
Fake meat sausages rather than real ones are not such a big deal if they help end the mistreatment of pigs. It is a small price to pay, and in fact, it is a net gan to have a meal without the need for a slaugerhouse or know any animals was panicking in fear through its transport there. Execution, however humanly is just that, there is no escaping the truth of what a slaughterhouse is.
If anything, a greater intellect doesn’t give us the right to kill animals, it gives us a duty to protect them. To use it to stand up for those we appreciate to be less able to defend themselves.
It is an irony that the most callous and unpleasant actions occurring on earth originate with the animal with the highest intelligence. Only human beings can be uniquely barbaric in conduct and surely it’s a cruel joke that the worst of our behavior we label as ‘animalistic’, when in fact no animal has ever committed crimes such as the history books bare testimony to.
Giving up meat for meat alternatives like Quorn is a little like giving up smoking, to use vaping. One causes pain while the other is harmless, yet both satisfy the appetite, one for nicotine and the other for nutrition.
I have never actively saught to change anyone’s personal choice, but I feel explaining why I chose to live life limited to five per cent of the menu, is worthy of explaining, if only to educate the meat-eaters – who I still love and hangout with – as to why I’m a vegetarian and therefore in future, I can merely send them here straight from the deli queue.
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I became a vegetarian 30 years ago in connection with my yoga practice. I don’t mind explaining why I’m vegetarian but I find it somewhat wearisome to justify it or argue about it. My reasons are non-violence (ahimsa in yoga) health, climate change and the poor treatment of animals