Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mmm. Bovine.

I'm a hypocrite.

Although I freely admit that I'm a hypocrite, so does that mean that I'm not a hypocrite after all? The paradox confounds me.

See, the issue is this. I've been a vegetarian for more than 11 years. During that time, I haven't eaten any meat. Really. No cheating whatsoever; no sneaking a hamburger when I thought no one was looking; no "just this once and then never again" moments. I'm not even tempted anymore—it's been so long since I've tasted bacon that I no longer remember or have any desire for it. Plus, there are plenty of tasty alternatives ("Amy's" brand veggie burgers come to mind! Yum!) that I no longer miss meat in the slightest.

Yay for me, right? When I was seven years old, I made a commitment that I would become a vegetarian. I used to think that meat came from animals who died of old age or sickness, and that chicken nuggets were simply harvested after the birds’ natural, peaceful passing. When I learned the oh-so-ugly truth, I was appalled and horrified. Vegetarianism became my righteous crusade. It was my contribution to animal welfare activism. I felt pretty good about myself for it. Heck, I even gave up Jell-O because it contained gelatin (which, as I found out much to my dismay, is an animal by-product).

[Personal anecdote: I specifically recall a heated argument between myself, a rival carnivore student, and the elementary school principal. "Jell-O is made from cow bones!" I said. "No, it's made from powder!" said Molly the Meateater. "And the powder is made from cows!" said I. "It's made from powder," said the principal, hoping that that would end the argument once and for all and probably imagining the havoc that a school-wide vegetarian revolution would wreak on the cafeteria's budget. I was mad. This is also probably why I didn't have any friends in elementary school, come to think of it.]

But, you know, gelatin is in a lot more than just Jell-O. It's also in yogurt. And ice cream. And candy. And no way in hell am I living without my candy. Plus, there are animal by-products in many, many other foods on the market, too. It's almost impossible to avoid, and even if I was willing to give up on taste (which I'm not) and a healthy balanced diet (which I'm definitely not), eating would become pretty costly, and, well, I can't afford that. Besides, if I was truly committed to my animal rights crusade, I'd become a vegan. I've heard some horrible (but absolutely true and commonplace) stories about the egg and milk industry. It's awful. I'd almost argue that killing the animals outright is better than some of the treatment that egg-laying chickens and dairy cattle have to endure. I won't cover the atrocities here, but suffice it to say that it's completely unethical and disgusting, no matter what your view on animal welfare.

And that's not even getting into the fact that I use leather all the time. I love my expensive (and exotic!) leather horse tack. I've even got saddles made from alligator, stingray, and ostrich hide. Do I feel terrible about it? You bet! Does that stop me? Nope!

Since moving into farm country, too, I've seen that not everything that goes on in the meat industry is quite as horrible as organizations like PETA would have you believe. Cattle graze peacefully on grassy hills for the majority of their lives. It's not a bad existence, really. I assume they're later taken to a feedlot (which isn't quite so lovely), and then they're slaughtered (which can be accomplished humanely, but often isn't) and that's that. Perhaps it's not ideal, but it's not awful, either. These, however, are private individuals' farms. Factory farming works much differently and is nowhere near as nice, either for humans or animals. Gene Baur actually gave a convocation speech on that subject last semester. Very interesting stuff.

People often incorrectly assume that since I’m a vegetarian for animal rights reasons, I think it’s evil or immoral to eat meat. Not true at all. The unavoidable cliché is “that’s how it works in the wild,” and honestly, that’s a good point. Predator and prey. Survival of the fittest. All that jazz. However, just because we’re stronger and smarter doesn’t mean we can do whatever the hell we want. On the contrary—since we are smarter, we are capable of making the raising, transporting, and killing process much more humane. Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, and I can’t condone the meat industry until we take many steps forward in our production methods. Right now, greed reigns, and animals are suffering for it.

But in the end, I know that I as an individual am not making the least bit of difference. It’s not like a cow is saved for every hamburger I don’t eat. But the habit of vegetarianism is pretty well engraved in me now, and I don’t see myself changing. I guess it’s one little statement I can make, and while I never go around preaching my beliefs or condemning the wicked sinners who feast on flesh, maybe my tiniest act of rebellion will encourage someone to think about their own choices and beliefs. Maybe…

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