[10 September, 2009]

on being a vegetarian

So, it looks like I'm really doing this.

It wasn't isn't an easy decision by any means. And as with every major transition in life, it is not without a sense of loss. I'm a carnivore to the fullest: I love my mash and sausages, I love meatloaf or a glazed ham, I love my BLTs and Reubens. I love any kind of deli or grilled meat. I have spent the last week lamenting and mentally going through menu items that I will no longer enjoy. The times we have eaten out, I've scanned the vegetarian options, looking if this is something I could truly and honestly endure.

(These options actually haven't been all bad: falafel sandwiches, baked potato and vegetarian chili, salads, fries, bean burritos, various versions of pastas and stir-fries, etc. It probably helps living in an area that is very conducive to this lifestyle.)

What I think also helps though, is that as soon as I really made up my mind about this, as soon as I connected the dots in my head and made a certain kind of commitment, I haven't even really craved meat that much. Any time now that I am presented with a meat option, I think back to my reasons for not eating it, and any appetite for it just goes away.

And these reasons, as I've mentioned before, have largely been formulated through The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It's just that the author's arguments stay away from the modern industry-is-evil rhetoric, to which I am sort of numb at this point. And this is probably partly why these arguments were still able to affect me this much. And since he articulates himself better (albeit at times rather long-windedly (not that I am any better today)) than I can, I will share a few influential paragraphs:

"Be that as it may, Tereza continued on her path, and, watching her heifers rub against one another, she thought what nice animals they were. Calm, guileless, and sometimes childishly animated, they looked like fat fifty-year-olds pretending they were fourteen. There was nothing more touching than cows at play. Tereza took pleasure in their antics and could not help thinking (it is an idea that kept coming back to her during her two years in the country) that man is as much a parasite on the cow as the tapeworm is on man: We have sucked their udders like leeches. "Man the cow parasite" is probably how non-man defines man in his zoology books.

Now, we may treat this definition as a joke and dismiss it with a condescending laugh. But since Tereza took it seriously, she found herself in a prevarious position: her ideas were dangerous and distanced her from the rest of mankind. Even though Genesis says that God gave man dominion over all animals, we can also construe it to mean that He merely entrusted them to man's care. Man was not the planet's master, merely its administrator, and therefore eventually responsible for his administration. Descartes took a decisive step forward: he made man "maître et propriétaire de la nature." And surely there is a deep connection between that step and the fact that he was also the one who point-blank denied animals a soul. Man is master and proprietor, says Descartes, whereas the beast is merely an automaton, an animated machine, a machina animata. When an animal laments, it is not a lament; it is merely the rasp of a poorly functioning mechanism. When a wagon wheel grates, the wagon is not in pain; it simply needs oiling. Thus, we have no reason to grieve for a dog being carved up alive in the laboratory."


"True human goodness, in all its purity and freedom, can come to the fore only when its recipient has no power. Mankind's true moral test, its fundamental test (which lies deeply buried from view), consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect mankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it."

In my head, this all compiles to some basic points that have become my reasons for this decision:

- "Man the cow parasite": This to me rings truth; we have used and misused animals for our own selfish purposes beyond a reasonable degree. The "industry-is-evil" point probably goes under this argument.

- Man as administrator of mankind, not its ruler: I feel that we have already (unfairly) taken to be rulers of our Earth, taking away land from animals for our developments and destroying precious ecosystems all over the place. This is absolutely no way to take care of our home and our neighbors.

- Animals have souls and are capable of suffering: This, of course, is up for philosophical debate, but I've already mentioned that I am no fan of Descartes. Thus, I believe this to be true. There is no reason for my life and my needs to cause animals (who have a soul) to suffer.

- Man's moral test is to show mercy to those with less power: This applies to many aspects of life and is such a fundamental truth. At this point, animals are completely powerless and at the mercy of man, and it is our moral duty to protect and care for them.

So there you have it. For these reasons, I will no longer eat red/four-legged animal or white/poultry/bird meat. (I have to do some more thinking regarding seafood, as fish farms may or may not be acceptable by the above standards.)

And I am not even condemning animal use in general. If there was a way for me to be in humane communion with the animals that provide us with food and various materials, I would so gladly do it. In fact, if I lived in the country and could milk a cow for my dairy or collect chicken eggs or hunt in such a way that allowed me to be part of the greater ecosystem, I would be at the front of the line. At this point though, being in the position that I am in, there is no way for me to be a steward to the animal kingdom.

I have considered becoming vegan, but I find no conceivable way for me to give up cheese. This sounds ironic, I know, but it's true. And for now, I justify it in that at least milk and eggs are more sustainable… as opposed to taking an animal’s life. (Though, in all honesty, our dairy industry is far from holy, so this might be a future direction for me.) For now, I think I will concentrate on cutting out as many leather and dead-animal products as I possibly can. Like I said, this will be far from easy, but hopefully it will be satisfying. So, check back for updates about this bumpy journey of mine. And send postcards; Lord knows, I'll need them!

6 sighs or salutations:

ряж(л)енка | 11 September, 2009

I'll be staying tuned and may send a postcard or two (and how about that birthday present??) :) In the meantime, here's a blog that I follow that you might find inspiration in: She's a vegetarian cook and photographer and lives in the SF area (you can read the "about" section).
Is J doing the vegetarian thing with you? I know he already doesn't eat much meat..

daria | 11 September, 2009

Thanks for the link; it might be fun. Yeah, clearly this area is full of things like this, in general, so it's not too hard to find yummy veggie options.
J's doing this with me, too. He only ate chicken and bacon, so yeah, it's not too much for him to give up. We're currently in the process of finishing all the chicken and meat in the house, so we haven't started being full-fledged quite yet. I'm keeping some frozen fish in the freezer for now though. So we'll see what happens to that.

Vegetarian Man | 14 September, 2009

I agree yummy vegetarian options are hard to find...but that's for the informative post.

daria | 14 September, 2009

Thanks for stopping by. I'll have to check out some of your veggie recipes.

TJF | 13 November, 2009

You don't have to give up reubens.

daria | 14 November, 2009

Huh, interesting. Thanks!

Post a Comment