I inevit-ably lose any street credibility I gain at a cocktail party with the pretty brunette in the “Baby Seals for PETA” T-shirt. Apparently “true” vegetarians don’t sneak a Buffalo wing or two, even on Monday Night Football.
Britain is full of over-qualified people and this greengrocer had to have at least a master’s in philosophy and ethics. I took notes for when I next meet that pretty brunette.
Demi-vegetarianism acknowledges that you don’t need to eat meat to obtain all the nutrients and protein you need and that a meatless diet is often healthier than our “three platters of meat a day” routine, but it doesn’t see all meat eating as inherently evil.
Vegetarianism can be seen as a black-and-white issue. My nephew sees it that way. As a small child we read him lots of children’s books. Children’s books are chock full of anthropomorphic farm animals running around, oinking and mooing, solving all their problems before living happily ever after.
Ruben quickly made the link from playful Porky and all his mischievous brothers and sisters to the bacon he got for breakfast. Amazingly at age 4 he decided not to eat any more meat, much to the annoyance of his parents. His sister, Rosie, also made the connection. But what the heck, she’ll eat anything not nailed to the table. For females, it seems that appetite trumps everything.
Ruben also viewed lions and tigers as “bad predator” animals because they ate meat. I tell you it’s black and white to a 4 year old. If only I could set him on the PETA brunette when she’s wearing a “Save the Tiger” shirt.
Meat eating is criticized on many levels, including our health, animal cruelty, environmental damage and its inefficient use of crops and water in a hungry world. The demi-vegetarian argues that all these are more with the “how” than the “why.”
Meat is only unhealthy in excess. Choices of lean breeds cuts etc. helps tremendously. Our demand for a lot of cheap meat leads to most of the animal cruelty. Factory farming is horrendous in the suffering it creates (slaughtering can be a bit of a nightmare, too, but then almost any death is). These factory farms also create much of the environmental damage with huge amounts of waste and all the chemicals used o promote growth and keep animals living in crowded, stressful conditions healthy.
Converting crops to meat is an inefficient process. But we have too much grain already and these grain surpluses don’t help us or the rest of the world in the long term. They’re a financial hassle here, and when we dump them abroad we undercut the local agriculture. A reserve to help out with famines is great, but a yearly surplus isn’t helpful. A bigger problem is that the West’s dollars for cheap beef encourages Third World landowners to kick the locals off the land and raise cows instead. Same with the rainforests.
Travelling to Maine and then England made me realize how removed from agriculture Vail is. Here in the Cotswolds small farms surround me. I see fields of cows, pigs, wheat and vegetables on every bike ride. Many fields are so steep with wet clay soils that plowing is impossible. Why not use the land for livestock?
In Colorado arid conditions and awkward terrain often make livestock the only option. In Third World villages goats, pigs and chickens abound. They are good converters of waste and weeds to food.
Animals in an open field look like they’re having a happy life. Some philosophers think the key to ethical behavior is maximizing the amount of happiness around. Slaughtering is a bit of a hiccup, but then the riposte is that none of these animals would exist without farming anyway. If they have a happy life, it’s OK, and more happy animals will replace them, so there’s no loss of happiness. This kind of assumes that a pleasant existence is better than none, something we naturally agree with as we exist. But if you don’t exist, you have no preference to exist. Ethics is not a black-and-white issue.
Farmers also argue that without livestock production there’d be no cows, sheep, pigs, etc., which provide a lot more interaction and pleasure than many of the wild animals we try to save.
I like looking at cows. There’s a strange satisfaction in their slow, melancholy ambling. Sure, seeing or even just knowing bears exist in the woods gives a huge thrill. But something like an endangered wimpy squeak mouse that spends its whole life terrified and hiding under rocks trying to avoid snakes provides itself and us little in the way of happiness. Ethical arguments for saving it are complex and difficult, involving assumptions about ecosystems.
The grocer emphasized that demi-vegetarianism involved eating less but happy meat, i.e. organic free range meat. He thought that overall this would reduce inhumane farming methods faster than straight vegetarianism. Why should a beef farmer care what a vegetarian thinks? They’re not buying anyway. But a demi-vegetarian can choose and create a market.
He mentioned a local couple who cared so much that they drove their animals to slaughter themselves to keep them calm and make sure everything went as easily as possible. “A farmer’s version “Of Mice and Men'” he said with a laugh. That’d choke me up, but farmers are unique. They’re some of the toughest and most caring people I know.
His final reason for demi-vegetarianism: “A chicken tastes like a chicken again. Perfect with these fresh vegetables.”
He’s pretty much sold me on the synergy of meals cooked with fresh local produce and I’ll check out farmers markets whenever I can. See if I can give some money to a farmer as opposed to the food-processing industry.
Alan Braunholtz, ski instructor and raft guide, writes a weekly column for the Daily.
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