Here are a few honest truths:
1) I enjoy eating meat.
2) I have no moral objections whatsoever to the eating of animals.
3) As of about three months ago, I am a vegetarian.
The combination of 2 and 3 tends to be what baffles people. So let me explain. Last year, as a second year historian, I took a course called ‘In the Face of Humanity: Equipping the 21st Century Humanities student for the 21st Century’. The course is open to all humanities students and is taught by a collective, drawn from a range of disciplines, all seeking to introduce the students to what they feel are the key issues facing humanity today. The course description begins like so:
‘The challenges facing us are greater than ever. These include an increasing potentiality of foreclosure on the human experience in the near future, not least through accelerating global warming. This course starts out from the premise that academics have a responsibility to inform students where we are at, and in such a way that they can make informed, sane, non-violent responses to the challenges before and around them as they enter into adulthood.’
Needless to say it was a fascinating, eye-opening course. The seminars and lecture topics ranged from the politics of water to public health and migration, each lecturer bringing their own unique perspective as a result of their research.
So what’s this got to do with vegetarianism?
Well as you can probably imagine, pretty much all of the issues we discussed were our (as in humanity) own fault. It was enough to make anyone feel ashamed of the human race. Some of it I could claim no part in. But a fair amount of it I could. You know where I’m heading… climate change.
Save for the last bastion of sceptics, it’s pretty widely accepted that climate change is happening, and it’s the result of human actions. Most people accept this, and most of these people recognise that their own actions are damaging the environment. But what can you do? Stop using electricity, stop using any products made with oil (including computers, aspirin, contact lenses and toothbrushes)? To completely avoid anything that may contribute to climate change would essentially require going to live in the wild with no clothes, no health care, nothing remotely modern. Hardly practical whilst trying to get a degree or hold down a job.
And so I figured the two things I do that are the worst- driving and eating meat. Driving we all know is bad. Meat’s affect is less widely known, but put simply- livestock need a lot of food, a lot of water and a lot of land (both to live on and to produce food). All of these things are increasingly scarce. Plus there are food miles. And cow farts. In 2009 the Worldwatch Institute claimed that over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the meat industry. (http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf)
So I decided it would be easier at the moment to give up meat than my car. I haven’t decided yet if I was right about that… sometimes I hate being a veggie, usually in restaurants when I fancy everything on the menu except the three vegetarian options. But I’m gradually learning how to make decent veggie food, and it’s actually pretty good. Plus cheaper and on the whole healthier. I could tell you more about the learning curve that is living without meat, but I think that would need a whole other article.
So there you go… not all veggies are animal rights fanatics, and sometimes you can get more from lectures than a nap.