If you know me (and most of you do), this post is really going to throw you for a loop.
I’m strongly considering becoming a vegetarian.
Seriously. You aren’t getting punk’d.
Contemplating vegetarianism is odd for me because I’ve never been sentimental about animal rights; I’ve always been more concerned with human rights. I’ve never had an inclination to see what PETA’s up to these days. I’ve always pegged vegetarians as nature lovers with a fairly lose grip on reality. Since the beginning of time humans have used animals as a food source. Animals = food. It’s a simple equation that has been around for as long as speared pigs have been depicted on cave walls. I’ve never questioned the practice. And in the rare occasions in which I have, the question has never been why would you eat meat, but why wouldn’t you? Who could have Thanksgiving without turkey or Easter without ham? What becomes of the breakfast sandwich sans bacon or sausage? Why would you choose to live chicken finger-less in a world so rich with chicken finger options? Heretofore, these were the questions I was asking.
I’ve recently been asking a different set of questions. If I had to kill the animals I eat, would I eat them? Or less – if I knew how the animals I eat were killed, would I eat them? Or even less still – if I knew how the animals were raised and treated while alive, would I still be supportive of raising animals for food?
I didn’t want to research this topic. I still don’t, actually. I don’t want to because I don’t want to know. Because in knowing the truth I become responsible for what I learn. And staying ignorant means I can still eat chicken fingers.
But I’m doing it anyways. Because my brain won’t let me to function in chosen ignorance, and because Jonathan Safran Foer wrote a book called Eating Animals and I will read anything he writes.
I’m not going to launch into a “Did you know…” paragraph detailing the realities of what I learned from Eating Animals and other literature. I also won’t be featuring any graphic slaughterhouse stories or statistics about the health repercussions of being an omnivore. What I will tell you is that what I’ve learned so far has affected me in a much different way than I expected. I figured I would learn about factory farming and acknowledge the findings on a cognitive level, but it actually became very spiritual for me. I figured it would be all about animal rights, but it actually became partially about animal rights and partially about human rights. I figured a lot of things before I started, and now I’m in the middle of a gigantic process of re-figuring everything.
On Monday night I had the opportunity to attend a reading of Eating Animals by none other than the author himself, Jonathan Safran Foer. It was amazing. I took so much away from it – as a (current) omnivore, as a writer, just as myself in general. It turned into more of a conversation than a reading, with a lengthy question and answer session and book signing afterward (which, by the way, it turns out I was providentially seated right next to the signing table and was one of the first in line!). A few of the main things I took away from the discussion were as follows:
Cost vs. Worth: Most fast food burgers cost about $1. But the environmental impact of that burger is approximately $200. Similarly, eating animals has a cost vs. worth contingent. Foer explained it this way: it costs him something to not eat salmon because he loves salmon, but is eating salmon worth the consequent distribution of rampant growth hormones in meat and fish that will make his son go into puberty at the age of 7? Is it worth having empty oceans in 50 years (an accurate prediction according to recent research)?
Ethics vs. Common Sense: A lot of people, myself included, consider factory farming an ethical issue. But is not supporting a system that is the primary cause of environmental destruction an ethical issue, or is it common sense? If eating one meatless meal per week is the equivalent of taking 50 million cars off the road, is that a question of values or of good judgment? If all of the land, food, and resources used to raise edible animals were instead used to grow sustainable food for poverty-stricken places, is that a question of ethics? Or is that just a fact that as a Christian – as a human – I can’t turn a blind eye to.
The Role of Absolutism: Vegetarianism is very black and white in my mind – like once I cross over the threshold I’ll be rendered incapable of eating meat ever again. And if I know that I’ll inevitably cross back over the threshold and eat a hot dog at a baseball game or go through the drive thru at Chick-fil-A, then what is the point of crossing over in the first place? Foer made the point that such logic is like saying, “I know I will tell another lie someday, so instead of striving to tell the truth I’ll just lie at every chance I get.” That doesn’t make sense, and neither does completely avoiding vegetarianism just because I may not strictly reject meat at every meal for the rest of my life.
I am far from arriving at a concrete conclusion. But I’ll leave you with the quote from Eating Animals that repeats in my mind, encouraging me to keep learning, discerning, and deciding:
(Foer is describing a conversation he had with his grandmother about surviving World War I.)
“The worst is got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into the house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”
“He saved your life.”
“I didn’t eat it.”
“You didn’t eat it?”
“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”
“What do you mean why?”
“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”
“But not even to save your life?”
“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”