Wednesday, June 1, 2011

My struggle with milk and eggs

There is a free book involved. Details below!

I try very hard to live my life as honestly as I can. There are, of course, many mistakes that I make, many cruelties that I inflict, many acts of kindness that I knowingly avoid. In spite of this, I have only a few consistent regrets, only a few constant sources of guilt. One of which is that I am not vegan.

My view on vegetarianism is simple and straightforward: eating meat is morally wrong. Obviously factory farmed meats are reprehensible, but that says nothing about the actual act of killing for food. And I consider the act of killing for food to be immoral. Essentially it comes down to the right of one being to end the life of another and the reasons for doing so.

In America we consider the thought of eating dogs reprehensible, yet there is no real distinction between dogs and other animals. Any perceived difference between dogs and pigs is arbitrary and cultural. Pigs are at least as smart as dogs, and have social and family structures. And yet even the most "I LOVE BACON" carnivore would not consider eating even the stupidest dog.

Is this an emotional argument? I confess that a part of it certainly is, although there is compassion and logic to it as well. And as I follow the logic, I can't find a cause to call the consumption of animal products (milk, eggs, honey) immoral. Now, as with meat, factory-style dairy farms are clearly evil, but if I can be sure that the milk and eggs come from ethically run dairy farms then I will eat cheese without guilt. I even like the idea of raising my own chickens some day.

So this is my dilemma. It has an easy answer, and that is exactly what makes me feel so terrible about it: I shouldn't eat dairy products unless I know where they came from. But pizza! And cheese on sandwiches! And pastries! And breakfasts pretty much anywhere! This requires sacrifice and a disruption of my life. I am aware of the hypocrisy involved. I feel better - both spiritually and physically - when I eat only vegan foods. Eventually I believe that my guilt will overtake me and I will be a responsible, moral consumer.

My wife has pointed out on numerous occasions that the more I learn, the worse I feel. This is an undeniable fact. I would be happier not to know where meat comes from. Now that I do, not only am I unable to eat meat, but I am unable to even view a hamburger without feeling an immense sadness. As I mentioned above, my diet will eventually come in line with my morals, but what next? There is seemingly no end to the products produced through exploitation. Electronics, clothes, food, energy - all of these conveniences and necessities come at the expense of someone. Where do we draw the line? Maybe some lines cannot be reasonably drawn today, but that does not mean that we shouldn't try, right?

Free book details:
I have several copies of Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals. It is a book that I highly recommend. It is not preachy or difficult to read. He presents the arguments for vegetarianism/veganism in a very simple and compelling manner. I am happy to give copies of this book away to anyone who is interested. Just email me and tell me your address and I will send you a copy (for as long as I have copies available). This is not a publicity stunt for me or the publisher. I simply purchased a number of copies and am giving them away to interested and curious parties.


Ed said...

If you find it a struggle don't do it all at once. Maybe start with a day a week- maybe Vegan Fridays or something. Or just cut back on a few products all through the week. Cutting out milk for instance is fairly painless- I really like pacific brand rice milk. It comes from a company concerned about organics, non gmo etc. (on the down side it travels from the west coast to get here) I still eat ice cream, though not as much as I used to and thus far have no plans to cut out butter. For me the point is not to punish myself, but to do less harm. The important thing is to start taking steps in the right direction.

My wife and son eat meat and often when I am cleaning up after a meal and throwing out left over meat my son hasn't eaten, I think about questions of "purity" and harm. If I ate his leftovers, I would consume less and do less harm to the planet as a result, but the idea of actually eating it isn't appealing. Am I really concerned about reducing suffering or is it something else?

Yesterday night I was out with my family and in laws. I ordered lasagna since it didn't mention meat. When it arrived it was clear it had meat in it. I should have asked before ordering, but what was I supposed to do with dinner now that it had arrived? Fortunately I was able to switch my meal with a meat eating relative who had ordered a veg option that night. This relieved me of having to eat the meat (because it would have been wrong to send it back since it would have been thrown away) but the fact of the matter is that the exact same amount of suffering and meat was consumed that night, it just wasn't by me.

It is important to consider our motivations and examine if we really are living up to our ideals. Are guilty feelings helpful however or are they just more senseless suffering?

"..but what next? There is seemingly no end to the products produced through exploitation." Right.

In zen one of the chants we regularly say has this line "Beings are numberless, I vow to save them" This is an impossible task of course, but the point is not turn away from the task in despair because of its scale, but to constantly use it to reevaluate our efforts and motivations.

This link talks a bit more one the subject of vow and intention.

Evan Scott said...

I resonate with your struggle. Hell, after reading The Ominvore's Dilemma , which featured my hometown as the place where cattle were mindlessly herded, sterilized, and slaughtered, I came pretty close to foreswearing meat.

At the same time, though, I was exposed to a number of different perspectives on the eating of meat, and (long story short) my wife and I have decided that unless we, or someone we trust, can tell us where the meat came from, then we pass. So far, we've done this for a few months, and, while we are definitely eating meat only once a week, we both enjoy having a clean conscience. Plus, we know we're supporting folks who are committed to raising animals humanely.

After all, these animal breeds have evolved with humanity in order for the relationship to be mutually beneficial , in that we make sure these species keep passing along their genes. You might still find the killing of these animals morally objectionable, but this particular argument does have some merit (IMO).

All that to say: bravo on wrestling with these issues. Whether or not you and I end up sharing the same menu, if more Americans weighed the moral issues surrounding the consumption of meat (and all foods!), I don't think that would be a bad thing.