Foreword: I’m aware that sometimes I put across the ‘grouchy-niceness’ schtick. For the most part it’s just been me being me, not a thing I deliberately do. I don’t have a problem with this, and (as far as I’m aware) nor to most people I direct it towards; they are after all, people I care about or respect. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t do the thing in the first place. I mention this because it may be especially relevant for this article.
So, as forewarned above, you can consider this to be the biggest of thankful-but-kind-of-pissed-off post I will have done in some time. Because I think I’m going to have to go, for want of a more precise word, vegetarian. I don’t actually know all of my specific decisions yet, I’m still in the process of absorbing and deciding on courses of action. But it is now certain that I’ll imminently have to alter my meat-eating practices.
I’m not happy about this. I don’t want to stop eating meat the way I do. I fucking like meat. But here’s the thing; I know why I’m not happy about this, and I also know, now, that it’s not enough of a reason to not do it.
The reason I don’t want to stop eating meat is because I like eating meat. It really is that simple. I like how it tastes, I like the texture; I like to eat it. And I very very strongly suspect that that’s the reason most people don’t want to stop eating meat. But… that’s not enough of a reason, it’s really not, when you examine the cons to the ‘I like meat’ pro. The only reason we accept it as a reason at all is because of the commonality of the statement and the commonality of meat-eating. As with all things, the fact that ‘everyone does it’ is a hugely distorting factor in how accepting of that thing we are.
Here’s an example. A few hundred years ago, if I wanted a meal made for me – I wouldn’t go and do it myself, I’d get my slave to do it for me. My personal human property would complete that task, thus saving me the time and effort of having to do it myself. Great! I don’t even have to pay them, even better!
Now it’s entirely possible that you, reading this, will have recoiled from that example, or will mentally try to dismiss it, because that’s totally different. Except it’s not. The only reason it seems totally different is that you, here and now, know that slavery is morally wrong. You don’t think it might be wrong. You don’t think it’s sometimes wrong. You know it is morally unnacceptable, as an absolute1. And because we like to think we are each better than we are, you assume that if you were born a few hundred years ago, you would think the same thing then. But you almost certainly wouldn’t. You know slavery is wrong because, from birth, you have been raised to know it is wrong. Examples have been given. Lessons taught. Information handed down. And all of this boils down and down into the single piece of knowledge: dehumanising people, and treating them as property is Not Okay. But had you been born a few hundred years ago, you wouldn’t have any of that. You would instead (assuming you were white) have been raised to know that you are better than people of colour. To know that they were an inferior form of life. And great scientists would prove it to you, so it wouldn’t even just be an opinion; it would be scientific fact2. But most of all, from day to day, you would assume it was okay because it’s what everyone else did too. You wouldn’t ‘believe’ it. You wouldn’t ‘kind of think’ it. You would know that it was okay for you to have slaves, because you were white and they weren’t. And you would be wrong.
So now why is this any different? The answer is that, in terms of the argument, it’s not. But it feels different. For a start, it’s about you; it addresses something that you might do. And much as we like to pretend we care about every human equally, most of the time, you care about you much more. So when someone tells you that something you, personally, are doing, might be wrong, you are much more likely to instantly, unconciously dismiss it3. Alternatively, you might get angry, or feel hurt, or have some kind of reaction as if you, personally, have been insulted or wronged4.
Let’s clear that up: I’m not calling you an idiot. I’m not preaching from on high. I don’t think I’m better than you. I’m also not saying that slavery is exactly the same as food-animal suffering. What I am saying is that this is something you might want to actually think about, because I’m willing to bet you haven’t before. Not properly.
It’s also worth pointing out at this point that – as with any sufficiently widespread contentious issue – there are also a lot of very bad arguments being bandied about by all sides. I’ve met non-meat eaters who have said that it takes 100, 000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef – which isn’t true, and is based on faulty argument (it assumes that every drop of water involved in any of the processes goes solely towards the beef). I’ve met meat eaters who have said that without us eating meat, those animals would be extinct – which isn’t provably true, and is additionally a fallacy (saying “but these animals wouldn’t be here if we didn’t eat them” does not translate into “therefore it is acceptable for them to be involuntarily placed in circumstances of extreme suffering”). But there are bad arguments thrown out by both sides, muddying the waters for everyone involved, on every side. This is probably another reason why you (and until very recently, I) haven’t thought about this. In addition to it being a big, generally ignored problem, with unpleasant connotations about A: humans as a whole and B: you personally, you also feel like you have to dig through a lot of shit in order to find the actual true and relevant parts. So I don’t really blame people for not thinking about it. That said, now you’ve read this, that argument isn’t allowed anymore.
So. Why am I changing my eating habits with regards meat? Well…because there is an overwhelming body of evidence (i.e. stuff that is provably true) that shows us that the meat industry causes massive suffering to the food-animals involved. Battery chicken farming, for instance, has been slowly gaining momentum as a thing-that-people-don’t-want, hence the advent of companies saying ‘free range eggs’ in the last 5-10 years. But battery chicken farming hasn’t stopped. It still exists, and there is a distinct possibility that the industry growing (because while awareness and dislike of battery farming has been growing, the general demand for poultry and eggs is growing faster). Food-animal suffering exists on a massive scale, and that scale is currently increasing. So not only are there literally billions of animals (and it is billions) suffering to an extreme extent, but that number is increasing. The most cogent, and fairly succinct, article I’ve found on this is here – I recommend reading the article (it’s not long). It’s not perfect, but it’s better than many things I’ve found, and has the additional benefit that – almost uniquely on the internet – the comments are actually well formed and beneficial to read, even if you disagree with them.
I am not, at this point, arguing as to whether animals should have the same rights as humans. I am arguing the fact that, provably, food-animals suffer on a massive scale, and that altering your meat-eating/purchasing habits is beneficial to you as an individual, and to the larger issue (the fact that the difference you may make is very small in the scope of the industry, is not the same as saying it makes no difference.)
As a fun kicker, there is another, entire thread of argument to be looked at here, but I can’t actually do it – because I, personally, haven’t looked into it yet; the environmental ethicacy of meat-eating (on the mass scale that it is). But for now, I can’t talk about that, because I don’t know about that – while I very much use these articles as a way to work out bits of my own thoughts, I do (generally) like to make sure I have an idea of what the hell I’m talking about before I publish it. And I can’t do that for environmental ethicacy yet.
Put it another way; this entire article has been very boiled down, looks at only a small portion of the arguments to do with the morality of eating meat (regarding suffering) and contains enough irrefutable evidence to prove that you, personally, should at least consider altering your meat-eating habits5. And there’s an entire other portion of reasoning that needs to be examined. That is a significant powerhouse of consideration that needs to be done; it is too large to be ignored.
So thank you, people I know who bought this to my attention enough for me to actually have to look at it. Thank you very much. Because now I have to alter my meat-eating habits. As of today, I am no longer purchasing meat, unless it can be proven beyond all doubt that the animal was not in suffering (there is, for example, a farm shop near me where you can literally examine the livestock and their living conditions, walk around the establishment (if you ask nicely), personally speak to the farmers that raise them, and the butcher that slaughters and joints them. I would buy their meat.) I am uncertain about fish, at the moment. I will eat meat that is provided to me and there is no reasonable alternative (i.e. I’m visiting friends, forgot to mention my eating preferences, and they have made a special thing involving meat). I would still eat shellfish, insects or other tiny-life, though I don’t particularly plan to on a regular basis. But in general, I will not be purchasing meat. Because I cannot do so, and pretend that I am a moral person. It is, provably, not the case that some food-animals are in suffering, it is the case that the supermajority of food-animals are in suffering. Because of this, you cannot assume that meat is fine and ethical until proven otherwise, you have to assume that meat is not fine until proven otherwise. Your base position should be “this meat was the result of cruelty and suffering”. Because, provably, this is the case for almost all meat that you eat.
Some or all all of my habits and decisions might change again when I’ve looked into the ethicacy of environmental impact, and ethicacy of animal by-products. But that’s how progess works. You have to keep changing, whenever you find the better options.
But until I’m over my toddler-tantrum from having meat taken away from me (by myself), don’t expect me to be fucking happy about it.
In the end, trying to be better is consistently hard – or at least harder than not trying to be better. Unfortunately, it’s also… well… better.
1 If you don’t think that then we need to have another, rather more worrying, conversation.
2 As it turns out, it wasn’t scientific fact by today’s more rigorous standards, and is total bullshit. But the same problem applies; you wouldn’t know that at the time.
4 This happens a lot, a lot, for all sorts of things. It is very easy to confuse “an opinion about a behaviour you have” and “an opinion about you”.
5 I won’t say you should change your meat-eating habits, because I am not willing to go on record as saying that I am definitely right in everything I’m saying. But I am saying you have to think about it.