I'm nine days into my no meat experiment and I have to say I never realized how much meat I actually ate. I find myself reaching for something and then stopping because it involves a meat component. It's one of those experiments that makes you stop and take stock of your habits. Technically you would call me a Pescatarian, a person who eats a mainly vegetarian diet but still eats fish for health reasons or to ease into the vegetarian lifestyle. In my case, it's health reasons. My doctor advised that doing away with all major sources of protein would be a bad idea as my body is still recovering from two pregnancies...so fish stays in the diet.
I also choose to keep dairy in my diet. This is also for health reasons. I need the calcium and the vitamin D. Selfish reasons abound as well. I enjoy cream cheese, yogurt, pudding, cheese and many other things of the dairy persuasion. I also do not relish the idea of becoming a hunchbacked old woman with brittle bones. Osteoporosis sounds painful and is not something I wish to experience.
There are the basic arguments to be made to in counterpoint here. Multivitamins are available as well as supplements that have the other compounds like protein and calcium. While this is true, those chemical supplements are not closely regulated and so do not contain a reliable amount of the necessary vitamin or mineral. Also, it is a medical fact that while multivitamins can be a good addition to a diet, they are not absorbed by the body as well as the vitamins and minerals found in food and so your body does not get as much of the health benefit from them. Hence my decision to keep fish and dairy in the diet.
Okay, now I'm going to address the whole "you shouldn't eat animal products because it's cruel" issue. This is a touchy issue with a lot of people and I tend to avoid it whenever possible because honestly I think many of the people who make the arguments have never actually been to a real farm.
Don't get me wrong. I understand the argument against the large scale "farms". Thousands of dirty, sickly looking chickens crammed into a holding pen is not a pretty thing and it is, well, cruel. Calves locked in pens and not allowed to move so that veal will be soft. Cruel. Animals killed solely for their skins. Cruel. Rodeos....Cruel, no explanation...just cruel. There are many things I could list that I agree with that are cruel. We can work to change those things.
Here are the flaws I find with the whole "Don't use animal products, it's cruel." argument.
The main argument against dairy seems to be that the cows are "kept" pregnant. In many peoples minds this seems to illicit a vision of cattle popping out calves all the time. A heifer will produce milk for twelve to fourteen months after having been calved. The farmer will breed the heifer once every twelve to fourteen months in order to keep her producing milk. The machine used to collect the milk is attached to the udder and uses a force that is akin to someone sucking on your finger. Having grown up around dairy cattle I've actually seen the machines and have, in fact, stuck my finger in one...so I know what I'm talking about.
When I was on the PETA website recently I noticed a side link where you can "Meet the animals". Curious, I started clicking and reading. I have to say, the animals they are describing are not the ones I grew up with. Cows can indeed be very gentle and curious, but the ones we had were not the uber geniuses PETA is painting. They didn't have cliques in the farmyard or pout when their calves were taken from them. My grandfather did have one that was a complete bitch, but that's a whole other story. I don't doubt that cows are more intelligent than a many people give them credit for, but people they are not. That's gonna piss people off, but I'll get to that argument in a minute. Now, on to the chickens.
Chickens are mean. I have the scars to prove it. Chickens are not loving or curious or fun to have around. Chickens are angry and mean and will peck the shit out of you given the chance. The only thing meaner is a goose. Chickens will actually stop chasing you, geese will not. Eggs are not a form of torture. Chickens lay them everyday. I know because I used to have to go and gather them everyday, thus incurring even more wrath from said chickens. I will concede the point that the color of the egg doesn't mean a damn thing. The color of the egg is a matter of what breed the chicken is and what the chicken eats. The white eggs most people buy have been bleached. But eggs are not something evil being done to chickens. The biggest difference is that between a family farm and a commercial farm...and that is something that can be changed.
Now, let's deal with the main argument. The actual killing of animals for food. The first point people make is that the way in which animals are killed is inhumane. This in and of itself makes my head hurt. I mean, is there a humane way to kill something? There isn't....death is death and it's ugly. So we aren't even going to discuss that one.
My main problem is this: Let's say you get everyone to stop eating meat. Now what? The farmers and ranchers with herds aren't going to pay for the upkeep of the animals once it stops being profitable, so what do we do then? We have hundreds of thousands of head of cattle and then what? How do we keep them in check? Who pays to keep them healthy? Where do we house them? Who pays to feed them? And that's only the cattle. Then you have to factor in the chickens, pigs, goats and other livestock.
In nature, when a herd becomes to large for the environment to support disease takes over and decimates a portion of the population until it is once again sustainable by the ecosystem. If the livestock population were allowed to run out of control, the same thing would happen....unless a "livestock" hunting season were instituted in order to keep the herds thinned enough to prevent disease. (which is what is done with deer, moose and other wild herds....) and then we're right back where we started.
I don't believe in killing an animal only for it's fur. I won't take my children to zoos, rodeos or circuses. I wear leather. I generally eat meat and even if I choose to stop, I'm not going to expect others to because my choice will be health based and not because I think meat is murder. Fact is, we're the top of the food chain, simple as that.
People make this decision for a great many reasons, but the next time you start to give the speech to someone about how eating meat is cruel, go spend sometime on a real farm. Get to know a farmer or two. Sit down and think about what would happen once all of those animals were "free".
There are always two sides to every argument. This is my side.