I've always considered meat an essential part of my diet, and meat-eating an important part of who I am. I have a great carnitas recipe, l love beef stew, and I have lots of opinions about hamburgers. For years, I scarcely went a day without meat in my diet. I learned to cook making meat dishes, and wooed my partner cooking meat. Meat is, and has always been, important to me.
And yet: I'm a vegetarian.
A few months ago, I changed my diet. Due to my aforementioned affinity for meat, I was eating too much of it. I decided to scale back my meat consumption. I didn't do this to remedy any acute health concerns--the choice was more about avoiding acute health concerns in the future. I made a rule: no meat during the week. During the week, I ate vegetarian. On the weekends, I ate what I liked. The rule worked, and I ate much less meat as a weekday vegetarian. That was good.
As I managed my cravings and held out for the weekend, I began to wonder if I should eat meat at all. Meat had always been a huge part of my diet. Then, it wasn't, and I felt about the same. Most of the time, my body felt better without meat. After a month or two, I still ate meat, but I no longer considered myself a meat-eater; that wasn't an important part of "me", anymore. For the first time, I questioned my decision to eat meat.
Scrutinizing my choice to eat meat was humiliating, in a way, because I confronted an unseemly lack of self-awareness about my eating habits, and a much broader lack of awareness about the consequences of my food choices. Food is such an important part of any life, and an especially important part of mine, but I had never thought about the ethics of eating before. I had, until recently, ignored them--willfully so. Almost immediately, upon serious consideration of my eating habits, I realized that--for me--meat-eating was completely indefensible. The argument for this is very simple--humiliatingly simple:
(1) Animals are alive, know they're alive, and want to be alive.
(2) Any being satisfying criteria (1) has a right to life--just as I have a right to mine.
If other beings have a right to life, it is wrong to kill them just to eat them. A caveat: if I could not feed myself, for whatever reason, except with meat, I would do it. I don't believe that an animal's life is more important than mine, but this is more than killing an animal for the pleasure of eating it--it's killing an animal to live. In that case, killing an animal for food is justified, but I've always eaten meat for pleasure, not necessity. I've always been able to feed myself without eating meat, though I've never eaten vegetarian until now. When I consider the reason behind my desire to eat meat--meat tastes good--against the death that made my meat-eating possible, my reason stands out as terrible: frivolous, capricious, and cruel.
I haven't made mention of the suffering of farmed and slaughtered animals, though this is another reason to avoid meat (especially factory farmed meat). Animal suffering is another horrible consequence of a frivolous choice. Meat tastes good. But is that reason enough to torture and kill animals? Any arguments which answer "yes" resolve to the same thing: power justifies itself. Because animals are weak, and we can eat them, eating them is not wrong. This sort of argument, which is not an argument at all, is not just profoundly unsatisfying. It's dangerous. I'm thinking of all arguments of the same ilk which, historically, have been used to justify the exploitation of the vulnerable or weak--few have held up well over time.
I realize that this is radical. For someone who believes that animals do not have a right to live, none of what I've argued makes any sense. However, I would urge anyone who cares about their food, and who chooses to eat meat, to scrutinize that choice. For me, it was difficult, but worth it. In any case, it's good to think hard about eating, perhaps the most important (and most frequent) thing any of us ever do to affect our health and well-being.