"Dude, I hear ya, it must be awful what goes on in those factory farms. But I just love the taste of meat too much. I could never make it."
This is one i've heard MANY times now, and I always find myself saying one thing.
"I love the taste of meat too!"
No, really! Jesus, give me a philly cheese steak (especially from Espresso's, the pizza joint near my alma mater) and i'm in freaking heaven. I swear if I could eat meat with a side of meat all day long i'd be positively gleeful. In heaven I tell you! Well, sheesh, while i'm at it i'm going to think about what else might put a person into "heaven". A guy also might feel in "heaven" if he could take home every attractive woman he met on the street in this city. He also might feel in "heaven" if instead of work he stayed in bed and watched "Intervention" and "The Price is Right" reruns all day. He also might feel in "heaven" if he smoked pot, ate meat, took women home and watched tv in bed all day long! (ah memories...) No, but seriously folks, sorry to have gotten so crude so quick in today's blog but I swear there is a point i'm trying to make here (especially sorry to you mom! Argument's sake only I swear!)
What happens after an extended bout of consistently doing any one of these things? After staying in bed for a week, heaven becomes hell real quickly doesn't it? No sunlight, no exercise, no paycheck, too much "Price is Right" and things soon get pretty dreary. (although to me, A&E's "Intervention" could never get old). And after a while of taking a different attractive person home everyday, one would start feeling pretty skeezy pretty quick as well. With all the messy physical and emotional interactions going on, it wouldn't be long before you started catching things and headed down into that abyss of feeling low about yourself. And y'know, pot all day long is great and all, but the next day isn't so great, and after a few days, one starts forgetting things and feeling and acting stupid among other things. And who knows what long term damage you are doing to your body. Feel free to substitute your drug or activity of choice here... say heroin or ice cream or ice cream whilst on heroin or what have you. (um, eric, you're not going to seriously compare meat to heroin are you?). Well, yes actually! I'd say a double bacon cheese burger has more in common with heroin than it doesn't. Pleasure is pleasure. Its all the same circuits.
So, as per the old cliché, everything in moderation right? Is that what we're getting at? Nothing wrong with a day in bed and some Bob Barker every once in a while is there? Nothing wrong with taking the occasional pretty person home is there? (when you're single of course). And why not celebrate that one time back in college when you did heroin all week? Ok, i'm exaggerating again, of course, so let me get to my point. Why not a bit of meat once in a while? Well, let's discuss the one thing that each of the previous examples have in common. They all have some negative consequences when done repeatedly. These negative consequences are all far removed from the present moment. That is to say that in the moment, doing these things feels wonderful. Stupendous. Breathtaking. But if we partake in them to excess on a regular basis, we sooner or later find ourselves being made unhappy by the very thing which had brought us such bliss. This is the sinister thing about addiction. This is the constant bait and switch that catches us with our pants down over and over throughout our lives if we let it. When we allow ourselves to slide down the path of excess, the addictive path, we find ourselves as deer in headlights or as the butt of the Universe's cruel joke.
"Ha Ha! What you once thought was so awesome isn't so awesome anymore!!! LOL!!!" says the Universe.
(Yes, the Universe is hip to "LOL" and uses it regularly).
I think eating meat, milk or eggs on a regular basis is the same (especially to the extent we consume in this country). However, in the case of meat eating, the negative consequences are particularly and sinisterly divorced from the present moment. We could speak of the negative health consequences meat eating has that I mentioned in my march blog. These, much like smoking's consequences, may not arrive for years if not decades. We could talk about the environmental destruction meat consumption wreaks (also in march blog) which appear to be particularly slow in arising and may only affect our children or grandchildren. And we could talk about animal cruelty. Are there negative consequences to that? (negative to us directly I mean). In the March blog I wrote about how eating meat without careful consideration of where it comes from keeps us out of touch with our innate compassion. When we are not fully in touch with our compassion, we act without it and I would argue this can negatively affect many aspects of our lives.
It is difficult for us to empathize with the animals we eat because the killing itself is so far removed from the eating. Much like the killing of people is so far removed from the spoils we gain after waging a war. Few of us play any role in the act of killing any longer. We simply find our meat, eggs, cheese (or spoils of war) sitting on our plate. Steaming and succulent and bearing little resemblance to the sentient beings it once was. How many of us would perform the killing and torture that brings meat to our plates ourselves? Let's take the egg industry as an example. Male chicks are considered waste since they cannot produce eggs and are of a breed which is useless for human consumption. How many of us would toss thousands of screeching male chicks into a dumpster each day to slowly suffocate to death as is common in the industry? Or do the alternative common procedure which is to toss them live into a meat grinder for animal feed? Well, unfortunately, when we buy an egg we support the chicks being tossed in there whether we are the ones doing the tossing or whether we are paying someone else to do it for us. That is fact. This happens whether the eggs are "free range", organic or conventionally produced. It is the rare farmer big or small that is in the business of being a shelter for "useless" chickens. The same goes for the fact that whenever we drink a glass of milk, we are supporting the horrid conditions found in both the dairy and the veal industry. In order to make milk, a dairy cow must be kept pregnant and always birthing children (some of these children are male, non-milk producers of course). These male calves inevitably become veal, subject to some of the worst treatment.
So in truth, when we say,
"why not eggs, milk or meat once in a while? They're tasty!"
under the current system we are actually saying,
"why not support a system that snatches baby chicks from their mommies and tosses them living by the bucket load into a wood chipper among countless other atrocities while simultaneously being one of the largest contributors to environmental destruction on the planet, one of the causes of the obesity epidemic and a cause of shorter, less healthy lives for the human race...once in a while?"
Well, I dunno, when you put it like that, doesn't once in a while seem like once too many? That is, when you actually allow yourself to take in the full picture? Visual aids help bring it to life so check my links above or just google the internets.
I would think it might be better to say,
"why don't we support alternatives to this system once in a while?"
Alternatives include demanding that livestock be treated humanely once in a while, or eating a vegetarian meal once in a while. What's really sad is that there are so few humane alternatives out there that we can say they basically do not exist. "Free Range" is such an unregulated term as to basically be meaningless. Maybe that will be next week's blog. In the mean time, use your google to learn more.
I've heard it said,
"why be so focused on animal rights when there are so many human rights issues to be addressed in the world?"
I believe that being focused on animal rights IS being focused on human rights! Again, Pythagoras said
“For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love."
In fact, an animal is often easier for us to feel compassion for when we let ourselves go there. Think of your cat or dog who gives you unconditional love and displays such innocence and trust. At times it can be harder for us to show respect to a human than to a pet because it is a human that can REALLY push our buttons. A human can insult us, steal from us, belittle us, share radically different beliefs from us, and generally HURT us. And even though he is a human being, who like us, had his own hardships and abuses done to him in his life which may have caused him to be hurtful in that moment, it becomes real easy to ignore our compassion, get defensive and to want to HURT HIM BACK!
And so, allowing ourselves to feel respect for an animal is actually a great place to start a quest for human rights. A quest to get the world back in touch with its compassion. Feeling compassion for all animals is a starting point in the removal of our own hypocrisies. How can we expect people to be kind to each other when we can't even be kind to a helpless, defenseless, feeling, intelligent, sentient being such as a pig? An animal that is often compared to a dog in terms of intelligence and playfulness and which many people keep as pets.
When we become people who won't think about a thousand innocent chicks being taken from their mothers and thrown into a grinder alive, then make no mistake, we've become a people who won't think about a lot of things. We are creatures of habit and we can't easily pick and choose what we are and aren't going to consider carefully. We get good at whatever it is that we are practicing, and if we're practicing not thinking about consequences and focusing on pleasures, then we're gonna get reeeeeeeal good at it. What ends up happening is we become a people focused on maintaining our pleasures. Especially when the consequences are far removed from our moment of indulgence. But make no mistake, the consequences still come. We become a nation of addicts. People addicted to foods, drugs, and pleasures. We are willing to run over (or simply ignore) who or whatever stands in front of our objects of desire. Regardless of whatever rationalizations we may appease ourselves with.
So people say, "How can you do that, how can you give all that up?" Well, i've given lots of pleasurable things up. Haven't you? (smoking cigarettes, schtooping exes, sniffing glue, etc...) The irony is that, in my experience, i've only found myself happier and with more pleasure for having done it. And so long as the addictive side of it is truly given up, maybe the once in a while part isn't so awful? That is for each person to decide. If you're interested in giving it a try, read my first blog entry or go here to have a daily tip emailed to you from the wonderful folks at Vegan At Heart which is a great way to ease in. Start off slow to see what you're comfy with and above all be compassionate to yourself! (which, in our interconnected universe, is often ultimately the same as being compassionate to others. And vice versa).
p.s. "According to a 2006 United Nations report, animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
p.p.s. Speaking of baby chicks, a recent study showed that they are intelligent enough to do do basic math. They prove it using the inborn trait that scientists call "imprinting" whereby a baby chick tries to stay close to objects they are reared with (usually a mommy bird). Call it "imprinting" if you like, but i'd call it love. Makes me sad to think about what baby chicks in the slaughterhouse become imprinted with (cage bars, rotting dead neighbors, etc). Thanks to the awesome blog The Girlie Girl Army for that one!
Both photos in todays blog are ©2009 Eric M