On Becoming Vegetarian
by Jonas Weaver
I’ve grown up in suburbia and trees. Grown up surrounded by a family who hunt and/or fish. On my dad’s side hunting seems to be the most common, on my mom’s side fishing. I’ve done both. I’ve caught fish and failed miserably at hunting. In either case I’ve always been repulsed by the idea of gutting an animal. Something seems off putting about it to me, but serious injuries on a human body fascinate me. Despite my repulsion I’ve enjoyed the results of successful hunting and fishing. I enjoy venison, I enjoy freshly cooked fish, I’ve enjoyed meat. And still do, if I’m honest. There’s meals my mom makes, that come from my heritage (German-America), that I really appreciate and cherish. But I’m not sure I can eat meat any more. This isn’t some sudden appearance of an idea I don’t think. It’s been in my mind for a while.
I first really became disturbed by the videos I’d seen in high school. These videos that depict immense cruelty to animals, mistreatment, and disturbing methods of development and meat production (Glass Walls [graphic, disturbing imagery] stands out as one of the main ones in my memory). I was aware of the cruelty, of the pain. But I figured that it’s okay, my family hunts, we use a fair amount of the meat. And, more bluntly, I just didn’t care. I’d been taught by churches and particular interpretations of the bible that animals were just animals, that somehow I was better than them. This teaching was backed by passages in Genesis describing how humanity has dominion over nature. I had no reason to really consider ethical eating of any sort. Till a year ago.
I revisited Glass Walls (leaving aside the problematic nature of PETA and their campaign rhetoric). After revisiting the video I just had this sudden overwhelming intuition that eating the flesh of another being is, if not wrong, weird and uncomfortable. But I still ate meat. I had an intuition and I tried to follow it but not seriously. Then I came to college. And my college has good food (or not horrible food) in my opinion. The best options tend to be vegan/vegetarian, to my estimation, so I ate that most times. During the course of last semester I ended up in an intro to philosophy course with my advisor (an ardent animal rights activist and thinker). Within the course my advisor has us consider speciesism. We didn’t dwell on speciesism for too long but the brief time we spent on it made clear to me that the language I use (and have been given) brutalizes animals just as much as a visceral practice of slaughter. Or, at the very least, it allows for mistreatment. Mix that with eating mostly vegetarian options and things became interesting.
All that to say, I’m pretty much committed to at least a form of vegetarianism for now. The health benefits seem to outweigh whatever benefits I could get from meat and I feel better physically (though that may not be linked directly to meat). I’m still working through the process of why I am. But it seems clear to me that factory farming is in itself problematic. Since more than half the meat we eat comes from factory farms (estimates range, depending on the animal, from 78-99%) I can’t really justify continuing to eat meat under the notion that I killed it, or it was ethically harvested. This isn’t to say that the possibility for ethically sourced meat doesn’t exist, just to say that I don’t have affordable access to that meat, much less a means of cooking and presenting it.
I guess for me it comes down to selfish reasons but also to the fact that, as Mylan Engel has so beautifully argued, if I claim to desire a world with less harm and suffering then my participation in the meat producing industry contributes to that and I am complicit in a systemic harm. My moral complex, however pathetic it might be, doesn’t allow for unneeded suffering. None of this is to condemn meat eaters or folks who enjoy a good steak (I have and maybe will some time down the road, though unlikely) but it is to say that for me, in my Western, developed country context, I have no justification for eating meat that doesn’t come down to: I like it. And liking something isn’t an argument for allowing harm.