Before I begin, let me just clarify where I sit on the “Vegetarian Scale”. I eat eggs, and occasionally I eat fish. Which would technically make me a “pescatarian”, but believe me, going into explanation of this word every single time someone asks you if you are a vegetarian gets tiresome, especially when people are surprisingly critical of my choice. I have by far received more criticism than positive feedback about my choice to not consume red meat, poultry, pork, or any other animal living on land; and note that this criticism does not stem from strangers, but from several family members and friends. I would like to put a positive spin on my choice, and explain my reasoning without being put on the spot. Here are the questions I usually receive, in order.
1.) Why are you a vegetarian (or “pescatarian”, for you nitpickers)?
I am well aware that humans are on the top of the food chain, and we are naturally omnivores, meaning that we consume both meat and plants. I acknowledge that eating meat can be healthy, and that humans have done it for as long as they have existed. Not that long ago, people were supplying meat for their families by way of farming and butchering themselves, or otherwise hunting. I believe that both of these practices are logical, reasonable, and necessary in many cases. In fact, both of my parents survived on hunted game and/or their own livestock growing up.
However, in the past fifty years or so, the farm industry has been revolutionized to supply the consumer with the never ending demand for meat as a staple in each meal. In North America, it is cheap, and it is available all the time. In order to meet the supply and demand levels that consumers are demanding, companies have had to figure out ways to produce their meat faster, in greater proportion, and for less money. This means that upwards of 95% of the 700 million farm animals raised in Canada alone, each year (to feed only 34 million people) face terribly inhumane practices that lead to them living short, miserable lives. Briefly, among these practices, chickens, cows, pigs, and turkeys are all routinely confined to small enough spaces that they can neither turn around, nor lie down comfortably. They never get to leave their cage, and they lay in their own filth. They are barred from expressing their natural behaviour, including bonding with their young, being social, cleaning themselves, eating grass or other natural food, and breathing fresh air. They are deprived from the simplicity of enjoying living. Furthermore, the animals are consistently exposed to inhumane practices such as debeaking, declawing, tail docking, branding, and having their teeth pulled, as they may injure other animals in close vicinity to them as a result of frustration. Finally, they are shipped off to slaughterhouses, traveling up to 52 hours without food, water, or rest, and often in terrible weather conditions.
The bottom line is that I do not condone animals suffering for the entirety of their lives, regardless of the lack of intelligence consumers perceive them to have, or the personalities consumers perceived them to not possess, simply for the purpose of satisfying taste buds. I also don’t believe that humans are simply entitled to animals as food, and there should be some effort made to obtain meat. A sense of self-entitlement is not an admirable quality.
2.) Do you also do it for health reasons?
Although my primary reason is my concern for animal welfare, I do also enjoy the health benefits that include far less saturated fat and sodium intake. Both of which are leading causes of heart disease and becoming a total fatty.
This is an alternative I have considered, but the reality is that free range meat is not always readily available, and it is nearly impossible to obtain at a restaurant or as a guest in someone’s house. Furthermore, I, personally, feel better about not eating meat at all, but I do support the decision to purchase free range meat (particularly SPCA certified!!)
4.) Why do you feel it is ok for you to eat fish, but no other meat? (“YOU ARE SUCH A HYPOCRITE!”)
First of all, I don’t just eat any fish. I will only eat wild fish that is caught in a way that is not harmful to other aquatic life. I believe these fish have lived a free and happy life, compared to farmed fish, or any animal found on a factory farm. I also find that fish is sometimes the only alternative to meat on a set menu. For these reasons, I eat fish occasionally, and I do not view them as a necessity for each meal.
5.) Why do you feel it is ok for you to eat eggs?
Again, I do not just eat any eggs. I choose free range eggs. Battery hens (aka not free range) are forced to live in the worst farm conditions of all, with space less than a standard piece of computer paper, and a common life span of 28 days (chickens have a 2 – 3 year life span naturally). They weigh more than their legs can support due to hormone additives, and they often can not stand up. They are also forced to lay on wire mesh, and are kept in darkness 24 hours a day to trick their bodies into producing more eggs. Furthermore, the male chicks are immediately, and inhumanly, disposed of as they are of no use for profit. This is wrong.
6.) How can you possibly get enough protein with no meat in your diet?
Although I feel like everyone is completely aware of these alternatives, I will list them anyway. Healthy proteins and other vitamins and minerals supplied by meat are found in whole grains, nuts, tofu, leafy greens. Greek yogurt is fantastic too, along with other dairy products. Not to mention those free range eggs…
7.) Consumerism is too powerful, and things are never going to change… so why bother? (“I am only one person”)
I believe as consumers we “vote” every time we buy something at the grocery store. Just like an election. By making more conscious choices, and raising awareness, we all have the power to make change. I work at the SPCA kids camps, and every week I am inspired by kids who are saddened by the realities we teach, and eager to make change. If everyone thought like them, the meat industry could be revolutionized once more.
8.) If free range meat is to be the norm, it needs to be more affordable. Why don’t free range companies just make their products cheaper?
It is simply impossible to provide farm animals with a humane life for the ridiculously low prices that you see on the Wal-Mart and Costco shelves. A couple of dollars more is not going to kill you, and if necessary, you can just buy smaller amounts, and spend the same amount of money. It comes down to morals. Is saving a dollar or two worth suffering, when it can be prevented?
9.) Are you going to be a vegetarian forever?
Unless the industry standards change, I cannot see myself going back to being a meat eater. It really isn’t that hard to give up.
10.) Are you going to raise your kids vegetarian?
I will give my kids the freedom to choose what they want to eat. However, I will be completely honest with them about the realities of farm life. All kids have the right to know where their food comes from.