Thursday, 15 March 2012

Why don't I eat meat?

I wrote this in India before riding a motorbike over a 20 meter cliff. Don't ask me why I did it as I don't remember, but I believe I was pushed - by a bus. I am grateful to be alive but no clearer what I want to do with my life. Many people have suggested that I survived because I have something to achieve on Earth. Perhaps they are right. Perhaps it is to spread my philosophical ideas! Please read.

I have been asked many times in India why I don't eat meat, so I thought I would explain. Having been brought up a vegetarian I never gave it much thought whether I wanted to continue being a vegetarian all my life. As an undergraduate student I couldn't afford to buy meat. As a post graduate I eventually thought through my reasons as to why I should or shouldn't eat meat. The advantages are obvious. Being a vegetarian is difficult because you have to be careful to eat a balanced diet, otherwise you become deficient in something. Every vegetarian needs to be a bit of a nutritionist. As a vegetation you have to be particularly careful to eat enough iron, B-vitamins and omega-3. Actually, as a vegetarian I was a bit of a cheat by supplementing my diet with a little oily fish about once a week (omega 3 and 6) and unlike Indian vegetarians I also eat up to a few eggs a week (includes B-vitamins) and regularly drink Guinness (iron!).

My conclusion was that I wouldn't be a true vegetarian. Although I am a little uncomfortable and even feel a little guilty if I eat meat (not being used to putting animal inside my mouth and chewing on a piece of leg), I am not strictly against the idea. If we look into the animal world, animals eating other animals seems to be the worlds natural way of keeping the population of vegetarian animals in check. But what happens nowhere in nature, other than with us humans, as far as I know, is the imprisonment, or the farming of animals, for consumption. If a pig was human, this would be no less than slavery, but far worse: the animals life is always cut unnaturally short. Many meat eaters point out that if it wasn't for us that the animals would never be given a chance to live. That is the very answer that points at the crux of the problem: does the animal “have a life”? If the animal could ask itself, is it happy, and understand what happiness means, would it say yes? Of course it is difficult, if not impossible to answer this question precisely. But we can at least try and answer the question by learning an animal's body language and comparing its behaviour to how how we feel when we give similar body language. I believe that people who know an animal well can already do this.

I then put forward the question: What nature of a world would I like to live in? One that is based on greed and on a simple philosophy of survival of the fittest, or one that is based on thoughtful decisions that include a sense of responsibility for other human beings, animals and the general environment? I believe that if we are to demonstrate that we have a more intelligent lifestyle than animals, our lifestyle should be sustainable. It is my hypothesis that we can only achieve a sustainable lifestyle if we base our decisions not just on our needs but on the impact they have on the world. I believe that empathy is fundamental for a sustainable future - a lifestyle that does not collapse because it has taken too much too quickly. If we can learn to feel responsible for the welfare of all animals we are well on the way to being capable of living sustainably.

I believe that keeping animals in cages, restricting their freedom such to impact on both their physical and mental health in order to maximise meat production, throws dirt in the face of empathy and cannot be considered part of a sustainable future. There are so many secondary problems that arise due to our greed for meat: obesity, energy inefficiency and the frequent creation of new diseases such as bird and swine flu, to name just a few. Thus, I believe there should not be any space on our plates provided for meat bred on misery, dripping with crude oil, drowned in much needed drinking water and at the cost of dwindling rain forests. If we can happily say that our food does not come with these high price tags, we should not be eating it. Consequently, in the UK, I now only consider eating meat or animal products from free range organically reared animals where the animal is more likely to have been sensitively cared for. I think game, such as venison from wild dear can fit these criteria, but can only sustainably contribute a small part of our diets. If I can't afford to buy such meat, I am happy to live without it and believe anyone can do the same. Meat production should not be included in the food shortage debate.

Photo is of dolls I found above my bed in my guest house room.
It is the last photo I have of my adventures in India.


  1. nice blog, you lentil-munching guardian-reader! though i thought you were off the meat entirely these days :)

    ps. i am not a robot.

  2. in practise i am off the meat because i haven't eaten any for so long that it would feel akin to eating caterpillars. caterpillars may taste good when fried but would you enjoy eating them the first time? btw, insects are a far more sustainable source of food and the majority of people in the world eat them. for now, i think i'll stick to my lentils.

    ps. i know who you are

  3. A fascinating read... I came across ur blog by the merest of chances(researching phaltan & ur NARI blog popped up)

    This probably the most sensible argument for vegetarianism I've had the fortune of coming across.
    And ur absolutely spot on about meat being included in debates regarding food shortage. It isn't a necessity, merely a luxury the world can ill-afford at times.

    that being said, I'm no veggie (in spite of repeated requests from my mom to discontinue my meat consumption) and I'm probably not going to stop right away but I'll feel a little guilty the next I scarf down a burger. and i might eventually give up the habit altogether.

    Cheers doc!

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