ethical vegetarianism

Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson
Creative Commons © 2008 Victoria Henderson

Disclaimer: This post contains content that may get a rise out of people. That is totally fine! Feel your feelings. But please, always be respectful when expressing them. Let’s have a calm, productive discourse, like the intelligent adults we all are. Thank you! 🙂 

I have been a vegetarian for three and a half years now. It was an overnight decision, a quick change that stuck fast. I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals, and was so thoroughly disturbed by everything it contained that I gave up eating meat immediately upon finishing the last page. There wasn’t a lot of dithering or weighing of pros and cons, it was a gut instinct that this was the right thing to do.

So I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons. While I recognize that animal agriculture here in Canada is not necessarily exactly the same as it is in the United States, and that most documentaries and books focus on the US, I still firmly believe that we have a moral imperative to treat animals with dignity before we kill them for our food. I still firmly believe that there are many ways that we can be better. I am not morally opposed to the concept of eating meat, not by any means. I don’t think you are a monster for eating meat, or that we are ingesting an animal’s fear, or whatever else. I don’t care that a piglet has a cute little face. I have no issues with using animals as sustenance. I have issues with treating them with cruelty before killing them for consumption. I have issues with the ethos of factory farming. I have issues with the idea that animals are lesser than us and therefore are undeserving of respect and quality of life.

But for the last six months, I have been coming back, again and again, to the idea that I should go back to eating meat. This isn’t an easy thing for me to contemplate. If I had given up meat simply because I didn’t like it, then it wouldn’t be a big deal for me to resume eating it because I suddenly had a hankering for it. But because I gave up meat from a moral standpoint, I have been struggling mightily with the idea that I might go back to eating it. At one point, I was convinced that I would never eat meat again, and that we would raise our children as vegetarians as well.

Part of the reason I am considering transitioning back to my previously omnivorous ways is, yes, because I miss meat. Just a little. When we are staying at my parents’ house and they cook up a big pan of bacon after church, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t been tempted on more than one occasion to throw vegetarianism out the window then and there and scarf down a few pieces. Sometimes, I just really want a burger, you know?

But there are bigger reasons than that. And they are this: I don’t believe that abstaining from meat consumption is the most effective way for me to make my stance on factory farming known. If I am standing here, saying, “Factory farmers, you are bad, so I am going to stop eating meat!” then I am also depriving small, ethical farmers of my business. And what is more effective: being a passive bystander, or actively giving my money to the change that I want to see? I want to see more ethically produced meat, and, yes, I am absolutely willing to pay more money for it. I think that this is the way that meat production should be: less quantity, higher quality, more ethical. So I should be putting my money where my mouth is. It isn’t enough to remove my support from factory farmers: I should be transferring it over to the farmers who are doing exactly what I think should be done. If those farmers are out there, doing things right, but not getting enough support, then they are going to vanish, and we are right back where we started.

I haven’t come to a conclusion yet. It is still percolating around in my mind, but every time I think about it, I draw closer and closer to the decision to return to the land of the meat eaters. I am still coming to terms with what that means for my ethics, but I’ll get there.

For now: have you ever made a change for ethical reasons and then changed your mind again later? And if you have any resources on the vegetarianism debate, please feel free to share them.

ethical vegetarianism