Metters Musings

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The Vegetarian Dilemma

January 29, 2003

Anyone who knows me can tell you that Iím an animal lover.  When I worked at Microsoft all you had to do was walk into my office at work to figure that one out.  Not only did I have pictures of my own dogs all over my desk (more pictures of my dogs than my husband, much to his chagrin), but I had plenty of dog stuffed animals, dog figurines and pictures of other dogs I just thought were cute.  I even had a sock puppet on my shelf.  Now I work full time at the Humane Society spending my time caring for and finding homes for dogs, cats, and a host of small animals (rabbits, birds, guinea pigs and gerbils, among others).  Although itís true that I have an extra special place in my heart for dogs, I do have a love for all animals.  In fact, I would have to say I have an appreciation for all living creatures.  I kid you not; I sincerely feel a twinge of guilt whenever I squish a spider or swat a fly.  Whenever possible Iíd rather catch the critter and release it outside than to smash it and flush it down the toilet.

So hereís the rub Ė someone like me should be a vegetarian, right?  Well yeah, I suppose I should be, but Iím not.  I will be the first one to admit that Iím a hypocrite about this.  Throw me into a jungle with no provisions and I honestly donít know if I would have it in me to kill a bunny for food.  Iím more likely to make the bunny my pet and survive off of berries and twigs.  But Iíll tell ya, I have no problem walking through Safeway and buying meat.  Thereís something about a steak wrapped in plastic that just doesnít seem like a cow to me.  Horrible, I know, but Iím just being honest here.

More recently, though, I have been giving the vegetarian thing more thought.  Ethically I feel itís my duty to consider it more seriously.  If I really love animals that much, canít I make the sacrifice and switch from hamburger to tofu?  It would be tough, but I think I might be able to do it. 

Yet as Iíve pondered this issue Iíve tried to figure out how I really feel about killing animals for food.  Is it wrong?  After much thought Iíve come to the conclusion that no, itís not wrong.  After all, animals eat each other.  Itís part of the natural order of things.  The gazelle eats grass, the hyena eats the gazelle, and the lion eats the hyena.  You know, the whole circle of life bit.  Our entire ecosystem and evolutionary process relies on this predator/prey process.  How can there be survival of the fittest if the weak gazelles arenít getting gobbled up by the hyena?  If we take man completely out of the picture and look to nature for our answers, then eating animals for food is not wrong, itís natural.  (Now donít give me the bit about human teeth being flat which means we are supposed to be grass eaters and not meat eaters.  Lions eat hyenas because they can; humans eat animals because we can.  We might use forks and knives to do so, but the fact remains that we have the ability to be predators.  Just because we donít have pointy teeth doesnít change our ability to be where we are in the food chain.)

Okay, so if eating animals is natural what is still bugging me about this?  As I dig deeper, I realize that itís not the killing so much as the mistreatment of animals.  You can kill an animal quickly and painlessly and they would never know what hit them.  They donít have to suffer to be on our dinner plate.  And yet, they do.  I drove by some dairy farms not too long ago and I was disturbed by how those cows were crammed into their corrals.  There was barely any room for them to move!  And this was a small farmer.  Iím sure that commercial dairy farms have even worse conditions.  The animals arenít treated as living creatures that feel stress and fear, animals are big business.  That really bothers me.  A LOT.  I believe strongly that all living beings should be treated with kindness and respect.  I donít think it is ethically right for us to cram them into horrific living conditions so that they can live miserable lives just for our benefit.

Feeling this way makes it easier for me to consider vegetarianism.  But there is another problem.  If my issue is with the mistreatment of animals then I really should be a vegan, not just your standard vegetarian.  For those of you not up on vegetarian lingo, a vegan is the most extreme type of vegetarian.  This means they donít eat eggs, or cheese, or milk, or any other dairy.  They wonít eat anything that has any animal ingredients at all.  Weíre talkiní they donít even eat cookies made with butter.

When I consider this I donít know how in the world I could ever become a vegetarian.  No cheese?  No butter?  No milk?  Good Lord, I canít live without milk!  I absolutely looooooooove milk.  What in the world would I eat?  I canít subsist on tofu and salad.  And Iím sorry; rice milk or soy milk just doesnít cut it.  Soy milk on Cheerios?  I donít think so.  Even if I could learn to choke that down you simply canít have pizza without cheese.  Or garlic bread without butter!  ÖI gotta stop Ė Iím making myself drool.

Okay, so Iíve determined that I have to draw the line on certain foods I am not willing to give up.  But again, if my problem is with the mistreatment of animals and not in the killing, then what is the point of going vegetarian at all if I canít be vegan?  Sure, I could give up meat and that would make the chickens happy, but what about those dairy cows I was talking about?  If I canít give it all up then itís almost pointless to give up any of it.  I might as well eat my steak and enjoy it.

But thereís one thing Iím forgetting.  Iím forgetting about how I feel.  Regardless of how I rationalize it, the more I think about the issue the more guilt I feel biting into that juicy bratwurst.  There has got to be a solution to this vegetarian dilemma Iím having.

Free range.  Thatís the only compromise I can think of.  Short of raising my own chickens and cattle the only way to have my chicken pot pie guilt free is to buy free range products.  Free range organic is even better.  That way the chickens and cows and pigs can live out their days in an open field, enjoying the sun and chomping on some grass.  No one is pumping them with antibiotics or cramming them into a little pen with a bazillion other chickens.  Thereís no reason they have to suffer miserable lives just to wind up on my barbeque grill.

Of course, Iíve never visited a free range farm.  I have a bad feeling that the picture is not as pretty as the one I have painted in my mind.  Better than commercial farms, perhaps, but I donít think the cows are having as much fun as Iíd like to think.  But hey, what can you do?  Vegan is not for me so as far as I know this is the best I can do.  It may not be the perfect solution but every little bit helps.  Itís a move in the right direction, at any rate, and the more consumers buy free range products the more prevalent they become.  Changing the world doesnít happen all at once; it happens by each little step we take.

So pass me the milk jug.  Free range organic milk, of course.

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