Thursday, May 2, 2013

The dullest conversation I have on a regular basis.

Oh, sorry, I can't have those, I'm vegetarian. Thanks for the offer though! No, not that long, about three years now. Mainly the environmental side of things. Em... Beans are pretty good for protein, and eggs, and then there's tofu and quorn. Yeah, I still eat eggs and dairy. Why yes, I suppose I am still indirectly supporting the beef industry. No, I think morally there's nothing wrong with eating meat. Well if I were keeping my own animals and knew they had a decent quality of life, I don't think there'd be anything wrong with eating them, but I think I'd get attached, so I wouldn't want to. Well yeah, if I were stranded on a desert island I'd eat whatever I could catch. I don't know, eating roadkill seems like a sketchy idea anyway, if you have alternatives. You know what, I'm going to go grab a drink, I'll talk to you later!

I like to ascribe people the best possible intentions, and most people who ask about being vegetarianism are authentically trying to be nice, and to ask me about something they think I am interested in. Unfortunately, I find the vegetarianism debate pretty dull, and I think the only points worth making come off preachier than I care to be at a casual get-together. (My stock answer used to be "Mainly environmental reasons, plus you can't know without checking what conditions the animals are kept in" but I whittled it down to be considerate and avoid potentially making people squirmy.)

To set my terms, I am vegetarian for the following reasons:

  • Meat production accounts for some 25% of industrial carbon dioxide emissions. (25% was the last figure I heard from a scientific source some years ago, it may have risen or fallen since then without altering the underlying point.)
  • Factory farms are pretty rotten, and the laws in some countries are quite lax with what constitutes 'free range'.
  • I am pretty into reducing the net suffering I cause before I die.

I am an unabashed hypocrite in the following regards:

  • I still wear leather shoes. (I could say that this is because leather shoes last longer than fake leather, so it's more environmentally sound, but I haven't looked into the figure for that at all. Really I just don't like shoe shopping, and don't want to spend ages looking for something non-leather which will fall apart in six months anyway.)
  • I'm not vegan. The factory farm argument I made above applies particularly to battery hens, and buying free range eggs might be rather meaningless. Also, according to someone smug at a party, the male calves of dairy cattle are still sold to beef farms if they're suitable, so really I'm not solving anything.

If people are thinking about going vegetarian, or like vegetarian cooking, those are perfectly fun to talk about, I really like food! If someone is treating it as an exciting intellectual debate, in which they try to pick holes in an argument I never made, that is simply not interesting, and there's no way to leave the conversation that doesn't come across as rude or conceding that my worldview is flawed and I am terrible.

But really, shouldn't you be looking for farms that treat the animals well and supporting those, so that they can thrive and not get pushed out of business by factory farming? What about raising your own animals? Do you check where your produce comes from, because some farmers in Third World countries get a pretty bad deal. Are you saying you care about animals more than people? What if the animal died of natural causes? But, like, meat is SO GOOD. Shouldn't you be eating the most sustainable meat? You know some people can't be vegetarian, so what are they meant to do? But we evolved to eat meat! EVER THINK OF THAT?

Some valid points, except I never claimed to be practising the optimal form of reducing meat-related carbon dioxide while also not supporting cruel living conditions. (Also: what people who can't be vegetarian and healthy should do is not be vegetarian. I don't know why people even put that to me, or anyone. And meat is delicious! That is also a non-point.) Given that the answer I give when people ask why I'm vegetarian carries the moral weight of turning off the tap while you brush your teeth, the fact that some people use me to pick apart arguments I haven't made (deliberately, because they lead to tedious conversations) rather makes it seem as though they think I believe myself to have the moral high ground, they themselves believe that on some level, and if they can get me to admit I'm not one hundred per cent consistent and rational then I will be one hundred percent wrong, and they will be the most rational and correct person in the world forever, and have no need to change their behaviour.*

That is a really big mess of insecurities to throw on a stranger just because they passed on the rummy bears.

Short story long, I don't see any moral issue with eating meat. I also don't see any moral issue with wearing shoes. I do think that buying, say, Converse is not morally neutral, as you're implicitly supporting Nike's factory conditions. Going vegetarian or vegan means a few weeks or months of eating boring food while you try to find new recipes, means all but always getting the pasta option in a restaurant, and may not be financially or physiologically feasible for everyone. I don't think there's some moral onus on anyone to become vegetarian or vegan. (Especially vegan. No-one loves a vegan.**) I do think that people should be honest with themselves about where there food comes from, and make an intellectually honest decision, but I would rather they not bounce the thought process off me, because good Heavens, it is simply not interesting.

(I could also gripe all day about angry vegans/vegetarians, but I'll leave it at saying that the term 'carnivore' really grinds my gears because humans are omnivores, and also the term 'bloodmouth' for omnivores is hilarious, as well as a handy red flag that an argument is going to be codswallop.)

*I also get this a lot with volunteering. "Well, going to a homework club for two hours a week isn't exactly solving the problems in the education system and the disadvantages experienced by schools in underprivileged areas, is it? And some charities are more for the volunteers to feel good than to actually fix things in the long-term, and obviously there's no way to check out any charitable groups, so I'll just take the high road and do nothing at all."

** I have known and been fond of several vegans.

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