Saturday, 5 January 2008

Why eat meat?

Several times over the Christmas period I was asked why I was a vegetarian, as if not eating meat is the oddity and meat-eating is as natural as breathing.

When I asked my questioners why they ate meat they were dumbfounded. They didn't think it needed any explanation, as if my query was crazy.

But it's a serious question, because actually meat-eating is contradictory in several ways.

Meat-eaters usually say they love animals - they may even have pet cats or dogs. Yet they happily eat animals which have been viciously slaughtered, and reared in the most appalling conditions.

They say they eat meat but in fact only eat 'acceptable' types of meat. They don't eat dogs, cats, horses, guinea pigs, ponies or donkeys. Why do some animals have exempted status?

They say they never eat vegetarian food because it's boring and fit only for namby-pamby wimps, yet they chomp their way through vegetarian staples like bread, cakes, biscuits, dips, peanut butter, cheese and eggs.

They say they're concerned about climate change and the environment, but eat animals which demand huge tracts of land and huge amounts of animal feed and produce huge quantities of greenhouse gases. Going vegetarian is one of the single most effective ways of cutting environmental damage.

Why am I a vegetarian? Because I don't believe in killing animals for food when there are plenty of food sources that don't involve severe pain and suffering for living creatures. What's so odd about that?

See also: On Being a Vegetarian


  1. It's true, Nick.
    There are plenty of alternatives.
    They pump so many chemicals and hormones into animals that they become toxic.
    I was already a pescetarian when I read Ruth Ozeki's brilliant novel "My Year of Meats" in '98 but if I had not been, that would have done it.

  2. Oh dear, another book I've never read, Medbh - never even heard of, would you believe! Must try and get that one too, the summary sounds intriguing. As you say, the crap that's pumped into animals is horrifying, God knows what it's doing to those eating it.

  3. Despite being a vegetarian for about 5 years I now eat meat. Probably a lot of meat. I do it because I enjoy it. But I see what you say. I agree too. That's my dilemma. But I don't think I'll stop eating meat either. Saying that I do go off it every year for the 6 weeks of lent. Not that I do it for religious reasons.

    But I do try to get the best meat I can. I try not to buy intensively reared meat or anything like that. I'm gonna do a post about that this week.....

    I know it's all just procrastination to you and we will never agree. But if we do eat meat we should respect the animal and use every part of it, and use it well.

  4. I'm a vegetarian, too, for the same reasons.

    Also, I believe that I'm a "natural" vegetarian as I never liked meat when I was forced to eat it as a child.

    I wonder if some people's bodies naturally crave it, though, and if they need it for optimal health.

    Still, I hope to see an end to the attitude of entitlement that regards all other animals as inferior to humans and subjects them to inhumane treatment at our hands.

  5. I was a vegetarian for years Nick but had to revert to eating meats. Organic only and mainly fish. O type blood does not adapt well to veggie diet but I still eat a lot of lovely veggie cooking, my own and others.
    I applaud all your reasons - they were all mine as well.
    If I had a guarantee of feeling well and energetic on the veggie life style I would do it.

  6. Manuel - Well, at least trying to avoid intensively-reared meat is commendable. You're concerned about unnecessary suffering. The people who really baffle me are the ones who don't care how much animals suffer.

    Heart - Another veggie, that's good! I loved meat when I was a kid - until I started thinking about where it came from. And yes, I do agree some people seem to need meat to stay healthy. But it's true we often regard animals as inferior and just to be used thoughtlessly.

    www - As I say, I think some people do need meat or they get run-down and lethargic. I also have blood group O (the commonest one in fact) but it's not a problem for me so there must be other factors.

  7. I'm very interested in the forthcoming Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (sp?) series (C4 this week at 9pm) on chicken farming. His aim is to have a Jamie's Dinners-style effect on the rearing of poultry in the UK. Good luck with that!

    But I think HFW's stance is an interesting one anyway - he'll eat anything, but only if it's had a decent life beforehand. Some might consider that contradictory, but I see a certain sense in it.

    Mrs Self and I are carnivores, but we eat dinners with no meat in them at least twice a week. Meat is an option for us, not an essential. Indeed one of the nicest meals I have had recently was when we hosted a couple of veggie friends. Bean salad, stuffed pasta shells and home made garlic ciabatta. Yum!

  8. Yes, I'm looking forward to the programme, John, it should be interesting. So you and Mrs S are veggie fellow-travellers! Glad you appreciate regular non-meat dishes. The meal you describe sounds delicious - we'll have to invite you round sometime for something even more delicious.

  9. Oh Nick, I'm one of those totally hypocritical meat eaters that doesn't want to know what my meal looked like before it was on the plate. I rarely eat red meat or pork and I do buy free range organic eggs and chicken! Does that redeem me in anyway? I remember watching Fast Food Nation. Its a fiction loosely based upon Macdonalds and the closing scene in a slaughter house definitely desanitised he processing of beef for me. Pork is also off the menu due to a documentary I saw on intensive farming and inhumane slaughter practices so I'm moving towards it if a little slowly.

  10. I haven't eaten meet in over 19 years! I also find it very amusing that the thought of eating a rat or a horse or a bear is so vile to meat eaters. I do think that a lot of meat eaters just don't allow themselves to really think about it. Ignorance is bliss and all that.

  11. Like Conortje it's been years since I've eaten meat- once I was old enough to think how weird it was that people ate animals I stopped. I've never had any meat-cravings or anything since, but I find a lot of my friends who try vegetarianism have to give up because they miss meat so badly. There must be something in people's make-up or psychology which dictates it...

  12. Baino - shame on you! Such lack of concern for those innocent animals that find themselves on your dinner plate. At least going free range and organic means less cruelty, though the poor things still have to be killed. And yes, once you see unvetted footage of slaughter houses, it's enough to turn your stomach. Oh well, we're not all perfect - I'm certainly not.

    Con - well done you! As you say, a lot of meat-eaters just don't think about where the meat came from, they know perfectly well it would probably put them off roast beef for life.

  13. Red - I think you're right, there must be psychological or biological factors involved, which is why some people need meat to stay healthy or just have hopeless cravings for it. But I guess you still don't have to eat it all the time, you can limit your consumption.

  14. I've read "My Year of Meats" too, and like Medbh, if I hadn't been a pescetarian (Love that!) before, that would have done it.

    I also hate the question, "well, if you don't eat meat, what DO you eat?" I'm sure you've gotten that one before, and it's about the stupidest question I've ever had to answer.

    Got that one over Christmas. Like there's only two choices in the world, meat and ...what? Air?

  15. Hi Andraste. "If you don't eat meat, what do you eat?" Oh yes, I've had that one often enough. It just shows how indoctrinated to meat people are that they can't even THINK of any alternatives. Even though there are literally hundreds of them. As you say, one of the stupidest questions ever.

  16. I was a vegetarian for a week when I was 14 because my best friend was. I lasted until the first fry-up my mum cooked, basically.

    Can you send me a pic Nick? It's for my complicated blog-roll.

  17. Eating meat isn't the most environmentally friendly, that's for sure. I ate mostly chicken and fish growing up and I've been a vegetarian since I was 17, but some people think I only started once I moved to California. I'm glad I was already a veggie once I found out how chickens are raised. It's so disgusting.

  18. Annie - I used to love fry-ups when I was a kid, but they stank the house out, much to my mum's disgust. Oh dear, all those poor little chickens disappearing into your gob. Re the pic, there's one on my first ever post Sharing My Life.

    Liz - Another veggie, excellent. Yes, over here California's always unfairly associated with cranks and crazies. And veggies as we know are completely barking. So the mass slaughter of millions of pigs and chickens is sanity?

  19. I was eating a home made burger in 1987 (sorry Mum), well I say eat,I took one bite and set it down stating "I can't eat that". That was when I stopped eating beef, I was a lover of steak too. I ate bacon, chicken and turkey until January 1991.
    My stomach turned eating the burger, good homemade one mind not a mystery meat patty, and then I decided to give it all up.

    I do dream of a steak sandwich with ciabatta bread at least once a year but ever act on it.

    I am absolutely bored to tears being asked why I don't eat meat. I take a breath, steel myself and roll out my stock answer, which reiterates the above.

    Yes Nick the "if you don't eat meat then what do you eat?" question results in me forcing a smile and saying "everything else" whilst fantasising beating the unimaginative dullard to the floor and beating their teeth in.
    Only on bad days, mind.

    As for O type blood not being suited to a vegetarian diet?

    I am very healthy and am fit to donate blood. Works for me rather well and I am O+.

    If I was ever to eat meat again it would not be intensively reared, it would have to be organically reared or I would catch it and kill it myself. I am not squeamish, I was taught to gut and clean fish by my father and I have studied doing the same to chickens, pigeons and rabbits just in case I ever have to.

    I have been to "meat" processing facilities and they are not a pretty sight. The sound is rather unpleasant too, last week I was in a pig processor and the sound of the pigs in the "killing room" was horrendous. Poor bastards.

    The point of meat eaters only eating beef, chicken, lamb or pig always makes me laugh, most of them would never dream of eating anything else.

  20. Hi, MFG. Indeed - if you don't eat meat, what do you eat? Everything else. And you've got the whole world's food to choose from, so where's the problem? I also gave blood until recently, when my GP put me on some blood pressure medicine.