It has been 936 days since I touched a piece of meat. I decided to become a vegetarian when I was 17 years old. I am almost twenty, and everything that I have lived through the past two and a half years have done nothing more than add to my disgust towards meat.
It all started with my biology class in high school. I learned about nutrition and the molecular level of what is inside our bodies. Along with the bodily composition of humans, came the topic of what goes towards the building blocks of our structure; nucleic acids, lipids, carbohydrates, and proteins. This last one was a biggie. Protein is something we all have to have in order to grow and stay healthy. Class went on and we learned where we could get the majority of these important elements for our bodies, meat being the top source.
Growing up in Mexico, my life has been surrounded by meat. Street tacos, grandma’s “pozole”, and family reunions with “cochinita pibil,” each, and every dish that I ate growing up contained meat. I always thought it was healthy to eat meat, until my biology class taught me of the consequences that dead flesh caused to our bodies. Beef and pork contained too much cholesterol and fatty acids, chicken and fish tended to carry more diseases than nutrients. All these were things that I had heard before but never paid much attention to, until my father had a heart attack in 2005.
The doctor said his arteries were clogged because of his excessive consumption of pork and beef throughout his life, causing him his heart attack. At that moment, I asked my mom if we could stop eating meat. She went ballistic, saying I would get anemic because of my lack of protein. In 2010, I stood up for what I wanted for myself and I quit eating meat cold turkey. It took me five years to really weight in all the reasons and consequences of eating meat, but even then, I still didn’t quite know why I was doing it. To me, there was just something wrong about eating meat.
People, especially family members, kept asking me why I did it, and my reasons came down to just a couple of weak answers. I told them that my biology class taught me how meat is not the best source of nutrients, and it has health repercussions. They smiled in surprise because vegetarians or vegans are known to do so because of the animals themselves. I would nod in response, never actually thinking that health issues not only came from eating meat, but from eating an animal. A living creature, ripped from its environment to feed us humans. The idea of a small piece of chicken nugget coming from a walking hen, and me not realizing it earlier made me do two things.
First, I got “educated” by watching lots of PETA videos, never thinking that maybe they would be too biased towards the torture aspect of the meat industry. Secondly, I enrolled in college classes that had to do with the environment and animal cruelty. Local Action Global Change and Environment Ethics taught me the reasoning behind my unconscious actions.
Any individual who claims to be a vegetarian or environmentalist has to have run across the documentary Food Inc. at some point in their lives. I did, and it was in my Local Action Global Change class. However, it wasn’t until I set foot in Environmental Ethics that I would actually argue why I became a vegetarian. Immanuel Kant, Holy Wilson, Peter Singer, and Jeremy Bentham were all philosophers and thinkers who finally gave me concrete answers to my questions. It is indeed wrong to eat animals. We do not have the right to eat animals.
Singer and Bentham both acknowledged the fact that there is an important difference between humans and animals. Singer stated multiple times in his essays that with the difference of entities, animal and human, came a difference in rights. Yet, there was a basic principle of equality to non-human animals. These thinkers reaffirmed the concept that I had on animal cruelty. Bentham, who happened to be a utilitarian, agreed that consequences are either good or bad depending on whether the agent ended up with pain and suffering, or happiness and pleasure. His ideas made clear that pain is a universal measurement.
With this in mind, I could now argue to people why is it that I didn’t eat meat. Meat comes from animals, which feel pain and can suffer. Immanuel Kant, on the other hand, changed my perspective on animal rights completely. Why ask ourselves how is it that animals have moral rights? The real question here is, why do we have a moral responsibility to animals?
Kant and Wilson both say that animals do not have moral rights. This is definitely a debatable statement, especially when reading what Singer and Bentham stood for when it came to the principle of equality. However, I appreciate what Kant and Wilson agreed with: humans have a moral responsibility to animals insofar as not treating animals with a degree of respect that would tarnish the intrinsic dignity of human beings. This means that whatever the human species did towards non-human beings would reflect on their own morals, our morals. This raised in me some questions pertaining to animal rights.
I still am in complete agreement that animals have rights, because to me, what Singer and Bentham said on pain and pleasure being the universal measurement, resonates with my own morals; which brings me back to our human responsibility towards animals. Kant and Wilson emphasized the difference between animals and humans.
Humans can conceive themselves as ends of in and of themselves, worth of moral considerability. Animals, to the contrary, cannot have a sense of “I.” Non-human creatures do not know what is right or wrong, which then categorizes them as immoral. However, human beings can be categorized as moral or immoral according to our actions. This is why it is important to treat these creatures, which happen to be “immoral,” with decency and rightness.
If humans, like Kant and Wilson, say that animals do not have rights because of their lack of morals and sense of “I,” then where does that put human babies and/or mentally ill people? They don’t have a sense of “I,” they don’t know what is right or wrong, does that mean they have no rights either? Everything comes down to what us as humans can do to be seen as moral beings. Those who have the capability to understand, have a sense of “I,” and distinguish what is right to wrong, have the moral duty to those incapable to do any of those things.
If us humans aren’t righteous by showing compassion and civility, then we have no morals, therefore we don’t have any rights either. Right? The golden rule, do unto others, as you want other to do unto you, applies to everything in the universe. Some see karma as a quasi-religious idea, and it’s not something that is scientifically proven, but as far as my morals, my experiences have taught me, karma is something real. This would not have been sorted through and overanalyzed in my mind if it weren’t for The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This book, written by Michael Pollan, taught me reality that humans do once they agree on eating animals. The process that goes into it is beyond what I expected it to be.
Pollan decides to go into the journey that corn and animals go through before reaching our supermarkets, our plates. Corn itself is on everything, but that, I already knew. What intrigued me was how the workers at the CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), knowing that what they were doing wasn’t optimal, let alone healthy, still did their “job” in the name of “progress.” Pollan interviews Joel Salatin, owner of the Polyface farm. Joel takes him through the process of killing chickens. For Pollan this lifestyle was mentally troubling, which I also agree with after reading the graphic descriptions that Pollan narrates. Nonetheless, what I found the most disturbing, was when Joel explains to Pollan how “In a way, the most morally troubling thing about killing chickens is that after a while it is no longer morally troubling” (223.)
That, right there was my real concern in the food industry. Animals dying seemed upsetting, but they are dying because humans keep them alive. Farmers and scientists found ways of breeding these animals and making them “mass-production” friendly. If it weren’t for us, they wouldn’t even be there in the first place; which is why them being killed isn’t that shocking to me. They are b0rn to die.
The reason why I still believe that humans don’t have the right to eat animals, is because even after all these readings, classes, and books, there is a question that answers my reasoning; how is it that humans are morally correct? If our actions are nothing but negative, which turn into habits and therefore our lives; having an immoral life would give us no rights. According to former philosophers and thinkers, humans conceive themselves as worth of moral considerability, giving themselves rights.
Animals and humans are not that different to me. We both have rules; animals in their natural habitat know how to survive, us in society know how to survive as well. The only animals that don’t know how to survive are those breed to feed us. The process of animal production and the meat industry is something that I can’t feel comfortable with. At first, I became a vegetarian because of health reasons, but after all the information that I became aware of through the readings and classes, let me know with certainty why I became vegetarian.
The feeling that kept me from eating meat has finally been revealed to me. Like Pollan said, “the killing, bleeding, and evisceration, no matter how well is masked or how far is hidden away, this death smell and reality that gives rise to it, shadows the eating of any meat, organic, or whatever” (227.) I respect people who decide to eat these mass-produced animals. I respect the detachment that the majority of the people feel towards the non-human world.
More importantly, I understand that there are too many of us. We all come from different lives and act in different ways. If I believe that humans don’t have the right to eat animals, someone is going to be there to back me up, likewise, someone will also be there to disagree with me, trying to put me down. In this world, nothing is ever right or wrong, we all have different opinions, and we all will never agree on one reality.
[As of October of 2014 I stopped being a vegetarian…article on that to come]