For the past year or so, my wife and I have been part-time vegetarians. We liked the idea of being vegetarian, but the practice seemed daunting. We are both fans of food in general, and I love to cook. We did not like the thought of cutting meat out of our diet altogether. Our solution was to be vegetarian for one week out of every month. That's essentially a quarter of the year to be strictly vegetarian, and numerous other times when we just do not eat meat for other reasons. We aren't rapacious carnivores, and usually just like the occasional chicken sandwich and pepperoni pizza.
This bit of discipline worked well enough, but I could not give any reason for why we did it. If there were a specific reason (either moral or health-related) then that reason should have been good enough to keep us on it all year long. What it did do was to ease me into the idea of going full time with it.
I've been mulling this over for several weeks now, and I am embarrassed to say that I have not yet come to a conclusion. Although there is compelling evidence that shows vegetarians are healthier, there is also compelling evidence to the contrary. As with most things, moderation seems to be the key. Therefore, the best, healthiest diet would be one which contained some meat, but not very much, and more vegetables and grains. 'Balanced' does not mean 'half meat.'
And yet that fails to satisfy me. As I mentioned earlier, we are not gluttons or overeaters, so there seems to be little health benefit to me. The issue, therefore, falls squarely in the moral arena. I am not a believer in moral absolutes, so I would not say anything like 'death is bad,' or even 'meat is murder.' Obviously many animals are carnivores and survive on the flesh of others. It would be cruel, in fact, to take that from them - I have met some dog owners who, as vegetarians, also fed their dog a vegetarian diet. Dogs are not built to survive on apples and carrots. Meat is a necessity for them.
Humans can comfortably eat meat and vegetables. We clearly got to where we are by eating meat, hunting and killing like any other predator. So to say that we are not supposed to eat meat is a false argument. But just because we can eat meat that does not mean that we should. Technology has advanced to such a degree that we can live perfectly normal, healthy lives and never eat a scrap of meat again.
But I am not willing to do that yet. I am not willing to give up meat. I want to, I really do, but it is a very slippery slope once you start getting into the field of animal cruelty. Sure, it's easy to see how eating beef or pork contributes to generally miserable living conditions and brutal, cruel deaths for these animals. But then, to avoid hypocracy, you have to abstain from milk and egg products too. Milking cows may not be slaughtered, but their fate may be worse, living simply to eat and produce milk. And then avoiding these items becomes a full-time job. You have to avoid products that were tested on animals at any point in their creation, you have to avoid leather and pasta and pancakes!
Maybe that is the truly moral thing to do. I don't know. I do have a lot of respect for those people who make the effort, but I do not have the determination to do it myself.
We watched Richard Linklater's Fast Food Nation last night. No matter where you stand on the issue, this film will make you less inclined to eat meat. It may not turn you into a vegetarian, and it may not turn you into an activist, but it confronts you with an issue that you have to deal with in some way.
I dealt with it by cutting beef and pork from my diet, effective immediately. I will continue to eat chicken, turkey and fish in small quantities with the eventual goal of drifting off of flesh entirely. I have no designs to become a vegan. I am aware of the inherant hypocracy of this position. I have a leather wallet, I have a leather jacket, leather shoes and belts. I will continue to buy those things.
Why would I continue to eat birds and fish? I have no moral justification for this distinction. I simply do not want to fail. If I cut all meats out of my diet suddenly, if I go cold turkey, then I might have a relapse, I might give up in frustration. This way I can work my way toward this goal. I hope to be poultry-free by next year. We shall see.