In the last six months I've not only stopped eating meat, but also read books and articles, talked with vegetarians and former vegetarians, and realized in the course of this experiment that "becoming vegetarian" is a vague term and also a step into a vast sea of philosophical, ethical, historical, sociological, culinary, and nutritional research and debate.
There is, of course, no right answer to the question of whether or not a vegetarian diet is best. The jury is still out as to whether it's healthier not to consume animal products, so I don't know that I'll stick to my strict no meat, no fish, no seafood rule now that my six month goal has been reached.
However, there are some things that I now know for sure:
- What a person eats or doesn't eat, whether because of necessity (allergies, sensitivities, etc.), culture (Jews eating kosher, for example), or ethical choice (not eating animals to avoid causing suffering) is a highly personal decision. I can't judge another for his or her food choices. It's just too complicated to pretend there are simple answers.
- Meat is not an essential part of the human diet. There are many perfectly healthy vegetarians and vegans who will attest to this fact. It's just easier to get certain essential nutrients from meat.
- Meat and fish should cost way, WAY more than it does. If eating animals was considered a special occasion food because of its high cost (owing, ideally, to the high costs associated with ethically raising livestock), we might come to see it as something to be respected, something special. I imagine we'd eat not just less meat overall, but truly consider the sacrifice of a life in order that we might continue to live ours. Just because we think today of a chicken as something that doesn't need to be given much respect doesn't mean we won't someday think very differently.
- Factory farming is bad. We need to phase out factory farming in Canada, by voting with our dollars and spending more on ethically procured meat. Why do we turn a blind eye to the absolutely disgraceful cruelty we directly support every time we buy meat from big grocery chains?
- If I don't eat meat for the sake of not harming animals but still buy factory-farmed eggs and milk, I totally miss the point. If anyone is going to take seriously her concerns for farmed animals, and act on them, she would be hypocritical to refuse to ever eat meat without also giving up chicken's eggs and cow's milk. Factory farming is factory farming.
Will I ever eat meat again? Undoubtedly. As much as I have full respect for vegans, who choose to basically boycott the animal and animal product industries, I personally do not have a problem with an animal dying so that I can be healthier, stronger, and live better. Animals eat other animals, and I cannot deny I am also animal – part of the food chain, the cycle of life. I feel at peace with the idea of an animal being killed if it lives a natural, healthy, happy life, (wild game, for example) and then dies as painlessly and with as much dignity as can be afforded.
Of course, the real test might be to see if I could kill and dress/skin/gut/cook an animal – say a deer – myself, with my own two hands, and see then what it's like to eat its flesh. But you know what? I think I could do it.
I like the idea, however mythologized, of Native Americans and First Nations peoples saying a prayer of thanks to the spirit of the animal they killed for its meat, hide, etc. I like the idea that no part of the animal was wasted because it was needed, all of it, and that it was taken and consumed with great reverence. I don't know much about this history, but if what I've heard is true, then I think we have a lot to learn and hopefully a lot to adopt from times gone by, understanding once again that animals, no matter how small or powerless or seemingly insignificant, undeniably deserve our full respect, in life and in death.