A reader writes:
You’re completely correct about what will be viewed as the “barbarous and unimaginable” treatment of animals. Coming from the mind of perhaps one of the “new atheists” you’ve been profiling lately, I believe waste to be one of few true sins. It betrays a lack of appreciation, a failure to understand the interconnected nature of all things in the world, and a selfish hedonism that is driving our species (and others) towards some very unpleasant places. Furthermore, the careless waste of meat – of animals that (in the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases) we ourselves brought into being only to live horrendous lives of invisible suffering and leave a trail of environmental damage, simply for our unthinking momentary pleasure – is especially disgraceful.
I’m not vegan/vegetarian, nor do I believe it is unethical to eat meat or to raise animals specifically for consumption. But I choose to eat meat judiciously, from better sources whenever possible, and more consciously. The current system is so profoundly wrong that I’m not sure it’s possible to be an honest and compassionate human being without changing our dietary behavior or to continue living with blinders on to the issue. We can, and must, do better.
For your unafraid and more self-aware readership, I highly recommend Jonathan Safran-Foer’s Eating Animals. It gives a factual yet personal, non-judgmental, and intensely affecting account of the meat industry and human values.
The reader who wrote about his response to the PETA video reminded me of my own experience.
When I was 18, a freshman in college, I took a course in world population, which stressed the environmental costs of meat production. One afternoon we watched a film showing cows being butchered in a factory slaughterhouse. I was so sickened that I became a vegetarian that day. It has been 38 years since I’ve eaten red meat or poultry, and I can honestly say I haven’t missed it. Based on average annual meat consumption in America, I figure I’ve spared 1050 chickens, 35 turkeys, and a dozen or so cows and pigs.
Life as a vegetarian has become much easier in the last decade. Instead of having to make my own veggie burger mix or track down tofu at the food co-op, you can buy veggie food at any grocery store, and almost every restaurant (even Burger King!) has vegetarian options. And as an added bonus, my cholesterol level is about 110.
Cruelty to animals is only one troubling facet of the meat industry. Meat production uses about 30% of the earth’s fertile land mass and accounts for about a fifth of all greenhouse gases. It takes somewhere between 430 and 2400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, depending on whether you use industry figures (the lower number) or PETA’s (the higher number). Earlier this month, a group of MPs began a campaign to reduce meat consumption in Britain to prevent a global food crisis. I don’t support PETA’s practices in general, and I’m not out to evangelize anyone – my own life partner is a happy carnivore – but I applaud you for continuing this important discussion.
I am 43 years old and lifelong carnivore. But your recent post that linked to the “humane” killing of cattle led me to stop eating red meat. This is a big deal since I eat low-carb (lots of proteins) on the regular. In the back of my mind, I have been making a deal that I won’t think about pork until I no longer miss red meat. I think this post has gotten me there.
It also led me to do a couple of things today: research where the pork and poultry at my grocery store comes from, and to send them a letter asking when they plan on being “5-step”Compliant (here is the link). This blog is making me a better citizen in so many different ways.
(Photo credit: Farm Sanctuary)