Those who are vegetarians for ideological reasons are typically brimming with good intentions; to lessen the amount of suffering in the world for animals and sometimes, for human beings. Their movement addresses aspects of human society in which there are genuine issues to be considered yet it founders and remains confined to a narrow group of liberal, highly educated, middle to upper class citizens in Western democracies. While their intentions are good, they pursue their goal with an incredible naïveté that could only arise from disconnection with temporal realities. They focus on emotional appeals before well-reasoned arguments to support their cause, propose alternative strategies that are detrimental to or simply not feasible for the rest of society, make deeply mistaken assumptions concerning human physiology and diet, and alienate those who disagree with them by adopting a moralistic fervor, or sometimes even an air of downright rudeness and snobbery.
A few years ago, I was sitting in a restaurant where a huge, beautifully prepared roast hung on a spit in plain view. Customers could order a slice of meat from what they could see right there, a great setup. One person at my table, a vegetarian referred to it as “that carcass over there.” I was a bit taken aback at this. It is not very polite to comment on other people’s food preferences during a meal. Certainly, it was a piece of dead animal, but the word ‘carcass’ implies it is rotting, laying out in the open, fit only for vultures. It was demeaning, insulting, inappropriate behavior. It can perhaps seem justified, though, when one’s culinary regimen is also part of a moral crusade. If one views eating animals as moral wrong, then it is not only proper, but a matter of civic duty to educate, criticize, and even chastise the rest of the world. It’s a rather simplified way of approaching a complex issue. No doubt there is a certain thrill in adopting morally exclusive eating habits while everyone else is living in the dark ages. Thus, one who lives in such a way is quick to point out to others the error of their ways.
It is common for vegetarians to argue that meat is unhealthy, unnatural, and unnecessary to the human diet. They therefore contend that such foods should be replaced with plant substances. It is indeed well established that people can live without animal products, but should they? A vegan(one who uses no animal products whatever) must rely upon a profusion of exotic beans, nuts, seeds, and even supplements to get enough protein and all the necessary amino acids. Any unenlightened lout can get all of that from one piece of meat. Clearly, for fulfilling certain nutritional requirements, meat is overwhelmingly superior to plant products. If one thinks about the matter in terms of common sense: what is an outstanding source of stored energy and certain building blocks for a creature of flesh and blood? Answer: flesh and blood taken from another creature. The common claim of vegetarians that meat is unhealthy and even poisonous is quite simply a flight of fancy. I would suspect that they are simply reacting to the typical Western diet in which an excess of meats and other fatty foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle leads to an unhealthy result. This doesn’t do any good for the vegetarian argument because an excess of anything is bad and a sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy no matter what one eats. Meat is a perfectly healthy food and an excellent contribution to the human diet.
Meat may not be necessary for human survival, but neither are plant products. The Mongols, Colonial Argentina, the Inuit are all examples of cultures that depended predominantly if not exclusively on animal products for their survival. The Inuit, Laplanders, and other Arctic peoples in many cases lived on such a diet until well into the 20th century. They were found to be in perfectly good health and without vitamin deficiencies. In fact, maladies such as tooth decay were virtually unknown among these peoples until sugar and starches, both derived from plants entered their diets with the coming of modernization. Indeed, consuming plants and their derivatives comes with its own possibilities of malnutrition and illness. In parts of the world where people live predominantly on rice, vitamin deficiencies are a real problem, particularly when subsisting on polished grains. Vegetarians may point to meat borne diseases and high profile recalls as proof of its unhealthiness, but vegetables come with some of the same problems. Leafy greens, especially spinach have undergone several recalls in the last few years. Even with recalls, the meat experience is overwhelmingly safe, especially with systematic regulation. Every now and then a few people die from eating bad meat. I honestly find this statistic incredible. A food eaten by hundreds of millions of people and it cannot be connected to substantially more deaths than occur from tipped vending machines! When one examines vegetarian claims that eating animals is dangerous for humans, one finds a supremely impressive record of safety. The probability of dying from or even being poisoned by meat is negligible in comparison to the risks of everyday life.
Ideological vegetarians are fond of taking ridiculous claims even further by insisting that eating meat is an unnatural part of the human diet. They look back to prehistoric times when people supposedly traipsed naked through the forest hugging trees and gathering up acorns.(No vegetarian or vegan hunter gatherer societies have ever been found) One of their silly arguments is to point out that human hands are not particularly well suited to killing living things. This is irrelevant considering that hominids used tools long before sapiens existed and considering that meat eating is thought by paleontologists to have started out as scavenging. It is hard to know exactly what hominids ate in prehistoric times, but examination of teeth generally furnishes researchers with a pretty good idea. Location is also important. Hominids were best suited for living on the plains not in the forest. In that sort of environment, plant sources of food are not incredibly abundant while animals are often present in gigantic herds. By the time sapiens actually showed up, people were not only indisputably eating meat, but actively hunting it down as well. To claim that meat is unnatural for humans, an unfortunate result of domestication, is moronic when one considers the many species such as woolly mammoths, giant sloths, and North American camels that were all hunted down to extinction in the prehistoric past. Eating meat can in no way be said to be bad or unnatural for human beings; it is not only one of the original human foods, its consumption predates our species.
Ideological vegetarians rely on these poorly reasoned justifications as inspiration for an elaborate menu full of foods that are difficult to obtain and in many cases impossible to afford for the average citizen, even in a wealthy country. Organic foods, a staple of the vegetarian table are an excellent example. Many items instantly double in price the moment the organic label is slapped on them. Most people already have enough expenses to take care of without paying enormously more than necessary just to put food on the table. For people who do not read extensively about food products, ‘organic’ doesn’t even make much sense. Certainly almost any food product is organic in the sense that it contains biological substances. Even when one learns it’s about returning to older agricultural practices, one who is unindoctrinated might stop to wonder why that’s a good thing and why it’s worth paying more for it. Other typical mainstays of a vegetarian or vegan diet have to be imported at great expense from foreign countries or simply rank among the most expensive of fresh items at the supermarket. Fresh items in general are indispensable to the ideological vegetarian. Baby spinach is an instant hit, but canned spinach is liable to remain untouched. Fresh food of course is much more expensive than canned food and only lasts a few days. To be able to live a lifestyle full of costly foods that are delicate and spoil quickly, one must have both lots of money to buy them and lots of leisure time in which to plan out their consumption and to prepare them. Yet another requirement is constant trips to the health food store, a feat difficult to pull off for those who don’t live in the big city. The diet that ideological vegetarians adhere to and expect others to adopt is impractical for all but the rich and idle. Altogether, it is inherently hostile to the poor, the busy, and the rural. Ideological vegetarianism is by nature elitist.
Vegetarians insist their way of eating is ‘natural’ albeit with lack of evidence and in the face of glaring contradictions. When the reasoning is this flimsy it becomes clear that many of the proponents of the system must have other reasons for subscribing to it. Sophisticated, educated, urban are all images that come to mind when one thinks of common stereotypes associated with vegetarians. It is a trendy behavior associated with the wealthy. People in every age and place have a tendency to attempt to imitate the most ‘successful’ members of society. When only the rich could afford enough food, it was fashionable to have some extra body fat(look at Venus or Eve as portrayed in old paintings). Now, when only the rich can afford lots of time for physical activity, it is fashionable to have as little body fat as possible. When only the rich could stay indoors all day, it was fashionable to be pale(the classic Victorian look, the classic Geisha look). Now, when only the rich have time to be outdoors all day, it is fashionable to be tanned. When only the rich had frequent access to meat, it was fashionable to put anything that could be killed on the table.(venison, peacock, pigeon, pheasant…) Now, when anyone can cheaply buy enough meat to feed a family, it is fashionable to live on only exotic vegetables. Although ideological vegetarians have multiple motivations for their eating habits, class consciousness is certainly among them. Not only does ideological vegetarianism allow its subscribers to feel sophisticated but it comes with lots of added bonus points for moral superiority. Whether their diet makes sense or not, vegetarians can still make the big claim that killing animals for meat, clothing, gelatin, or medical research is a violation of their rights and therefore immoral.
The whole notion of animal rights is ridiculous. To participate in a system of rights, one must be able to hold their end of the bargain. This cannot be done unless one is a moral agent and conscious of one’s actions. Of all species on earth only human beings meet this criteria. Animals cannot be expected to participate in such a system and humans have only one moral responsibility to them: not to cause harm and suffering without cause. There are cases in animal husbandry when humans may sometimes overstep moral bounds, but this does not justify running around telling people that eating meat is intrinsically immoral. Undeterred even by this shortcoming, vegetarians turn to emotional appeal before argument, routinely showing footage from slaughterhouses in attempts to inspire knee-jerk reactions. Such grand theatrics seriously undermine their position when there really are serious issues and legitimate grievances associated with the sometimes murky world of factory farming. The ideological vegetarians, however, are their own worst enemies, however, in adopting fallaciously justified elitist diets combined with hysterical moral crusading and lightweight tactics that shy away even from honest discussion.
One of the biggest problems of factory farming is the treatment of workers in the meat industry. Conditions are often unhygienic, conducive to any number of diseases, musculo-skeletal disorders from repetitive motions, and injuries inflicted by moving machinery or the animals. Furthermore, these workers are usually paid poorly and have very little in the way of benefits or injury compensation. It’s not the sort of job that most people want and meat producers of course wish to keep wages and thus cost as low as possible. Therefore they turn to illegal immigrants, even going to great pains to have them smuggled into the country. Once present, the immigrants are virtually slaves because they can be threatened with being revealed to the authorities if they do not cooperate with the company’s every demand. Vegetarians do sometimes address this issue concerning the human beings involved but usually as a footnote to their larger concerns for the animals. More often, people only enter the discussion as the terrible tormentors of the poor creatures.
Then, there is the issue of pollution. When thousands of animals are kept concentrated on one small piece of land, the amount of waste produced is enormous. Factory farms produced more waste than can be used as fertilizer and end up storing the extra on site. If there is any breach of the storage containers, the local ground water, lakes, or rivers can become seriously polluted. Furthermore, ammonia fumes and gases escaping from waste storage are also dangerous contaminants. Clearly, there needs to be better technologies and more regulation for dealing with the waste.
A further problem are defining and identifying possible abuses of the animals in factory conditions. A particularly popular example might be gestation crates. These are metal boxes in which breeding sows spend most of their lives. It serves a cause of producing as much pork as possible, as cheaply as possible, but the pig spends most of its life in a space too cramped to turn around in, living in its own feces. Certainly, measures should be undertaken to find a way of generating the desired product that is better for the animal while negatively impacting the good of humanity as little as possible. In fact, it is even feasible for humans to pay slightly more for pork so that breeding sows at least have a space that can be moved around in. Indeed, some European countries and state governments in the US have already passed laws prohibiting gestation crates.
The meat industry like any other has the potential to move to excesses. Laborer treatment, pollution, and animal abuse are all potential problems but the solution is to introduce regulations that ensure the best possible situation for producers, animals, and the consumers. Reacting with inflammatory aversion and proclaiming that the solution is for no one anywhere to eat meat ever again is laughable. That is a textbook case of excess. It is likewise overreaction to insist that overcrowded animals be completely turned out of buildings and made into ‘free range’ livestock. Sows ought not to be made to suffer every moment of their lives in cage they barely fit into, but a small pen with room for walking is probably all that’s necessary to solve the problem. A popular refrain of vegetarians is “What if you were ____?” This is a question that exhibits a critical lack of understanding and represents yet another low emotional appeal. Animal desires and psychology cannot be considered synonymous with human needs. So long as animals feel safe from predators, have food to eat, and water to drink, they are perfectly content. Thus, one might ask whether factory farms compare unfavorably to being ‘free’ out in the natural world. In nature, starvation is a constant threat, the search for food takes up every minute of every day for all of life. As if that’s not enough the slightest mistake means death by predators. In this, there is no stunning shock administered nor is the animal killed within moments with a single slice of the jugular. In many cases, its intestines are ripped out while it’s still fully conscious. The weather can turn for the worst and keeping warm or cool is essential to keeping alive. All these stresses together make the task of raising young supremely difficult and draining. Chances of surviving to reproduce more than once are not terribly good. The lifespan is typically quite short, if the said specimen beats the odds and actually survives infancy. After a closer examination of what a life out in the wild actually means, it could be said that humans actually carry out a moral good by both benefiting themselves and saving animals from a brutal life at the mercy of nature.
The needs of animals are based on the requirements of survival. Concerns of dignity and fussing over living arrangements are simply not part of their psyche. Vegetarians frequently criticize the meat industry for treating its animals like production machines, as if it were somehow demeaning to the animals. Animals have no concept of machine or industry let alone the ability to associate such abstract concepts with their own state of being. Once again the vegetarians rely on an emotional appeal. Worrying whether animals are happiest in building or in a field is immaterial; they really don’t care so long as their basic needs are fulfilled. Pigs are the one agricultural animal that might merit special attention due to their high level of intelligence and as is indicated by worldwide responses to gestation crates, that problem is receiving considerable attention.
Vegetarians’ focus on hysterically emotional vilification of factory farming is so prevalent that they do not address, let alone try to refute some of the benefits of factory farming.
-Every animal can be overseen at all times and kept always fed and watered.
-Every animal is indoors and proteceted from predators and the elements
-Meat is produced more cheaply on less land.
-Without free range livestock related problems such as overgrazing, erosion, driving out native species avoided.
-Complete control over every animal at all times ensures unprecedented power in upholding set quality standards.
Factory farms are an extremely efficient and effective means of providing meat, perhaps the only way to supply millions and even billions of people reliably on a regular basis. Fortunately, vegetarians at this point actually start submitting arguments again:
-If only people ate more plant products instead, factory farms would not be necessary.
-If only all the land used for livestock were turned into green farm fields instead…
-Farm animals are fed more food than they produce. Net loss. Bad for all the starving people.
-As for the first point, the vegetarians are not able to persuade everyone that their way is the only way to eat. Likewise they also are not able to convince everyone to cut back on meat consumption. Therefore, for people to all reliably eat less meat and more plant products, world governments would have to enter citizens’ homes and tell them what they can eat in what quantities. This program would not only violate basic freedoms, it would be exceedingly difficult and expensive to enforce even in a totalitarian state.
-Grazing land is typically made into grazing land because it is unsuitable for agriculture. Furthermore, factory farms more or less solve this problem by eliminating the need for grazing land.
-Farm animals are fed great quantities of foods such as soybeans and sorghum in a minimally processed form. The land growing these foods is not needed in countries such as the US which have gigantic crop surpluses. In countries where it is not practical to grow feed, animals are grazed in non-arable land. There already is more than enough food to feed the entire world, but it is not readily transportable from wealthy countries to poorer lands because the local leaders cannot be relied upon to distribute donated food to their people. Wealthy countries possibly could invent huge and expensive replacement bureaucracies to distribute food to millions, but the local leaders would certainly shut down any entity competing with their power very quickly. The only option would be to invade every poor country in the world and force food to be distributed with a massive government imposed by the conquerors. With the fighting, chaos, sectarian violence, and uprisings countless thousands would die in the constant warfare. Infrastructure would break down and the goal of supplying food to the starving remain out of reach. In fact, there would probably be more starving people than before.
The net loss of food cannot be as great as vegetarians seem to think. Besides meat, there are also dairy products and eggs to consider. Furthermore, one may be losing crude grains unfit for human consumption in return for some of the best sources of protein, amino acids, calcium, and the elusive vitamin D. That certainly does not seem like a good description of a loss.
The ideological vegetarians have their arguments concerning the economic and political factors of meat, but they typically spring from total ignorance of the world and its basic realities. The very fact that they believe farm animals should no longer be killed for their valuable products is the ultimate testament to their astounding lack of comprehension and sheer depth of disconnection. Farm animals are domestic animals. As domestic animals they cannot survive if people do not give them food and protection. People will no longer feed livestock if they serve no function. Therefore several species and all their hundreds of sub-varieties would quickly starve to death en masse. If ideological vegetarians are to attain their goals, they must be in favor of massive extinction. A few strains would perhaps be preserved in zoos and nostalgia ranches, but their once great range and population would be a thing of the past, their continued existence a rarity and a curiosity. They would for all practical purposes be gone.
Only a few animals could be retained if they served no practical function and produced no profit. The rest would starve in countless millions. There would be far too many to euthanize, shock, shoot, or gas within a short period of time. The animals would waste away, suffering every moment until death. Their meat, hides, hooves, organs, milk, and eggs would go unused; they would be suffering for no cause. Therefore it would be the most egregious case of immoral treatment of animals in human history. I suppose I could pretend I was a vegetarian for a moment and propose a scenario in which the government imposed additional taxes on the populace to support millions of useless farm animals until they died of old age. This is so far on the side of the absurd I feel the need to stop its further consideration.
Ideological vegetarians are typically brimming with good intentions, but they do little more than create unfounded moral quandaries from the top of their exclusive ivory tower. Their case is a powerful example of how well-meaning people made overzealous by emotionally driven, reckless idealism can easily come to formulate solutions and reforms with disastrous implications. They end up creating worse problems than the ones they attempt to solve and even end up with results that are opposite of what they intend. If those who are vegetarians for ideological reasons were allowed to enact the reforms they so naively and stridently attempt to impose on others, they would cause the mass extinction of the very animals they are attempting to save and worst of all, bring about the greatest immoral suffering humans have ever inflicted on animals.
Being ideological is not a bad thing. It is good that humans are able to dream about a better world even if it is not consistent with the present reality. In conjunction with measured reason and careful consideration, an idealist’s dream can become a shining accomplishment. These are people who really change the world and who many people look to as role models. Not one of them could have succeeded, however, had they not also been denizens of the earth who understood how to integrate their visions with the realities of life.