More than six months in now, my commitment to living vegetarian feels stronger than ever. I'm still a rookie, but a passionate one. I was approached by a colleague a couple of months ago who was interested in my decision. He too had lived vegetarian for many years, but had started eating meat again from small-holding, independent farmers. Clearly passionate about his own opinions, we had a short but excited conversation about the merits of each other's choices. An article published in the Guardian some months ago (sorry, reference lost) posited that being a vegetarian or a vegan was akin to spoiling one's ballot; abstaining from meat meant abstaining from the argument against the worst treatment of animals. My colleague's argument is similar - by putting your money where your mouth is, and supporting farmers who have animals' best interests at heart, you are helping to reduce suffering. The more people who do it, the less reason there will be for high-intensity factory farming set ups. Makes sense, right?
So, I dance around the soapbox when I say this: to a point. A recent Atlantic Monthly article poses some interesting arguments against the "conscientious carnivore" standpoint. As a minority supplier for a minority demand, conscientious farmers are working on a small scale and charging a premium for their product. As demand increases, says the article, so will the pressure to streamline 'production practices', and the traditional aspects of animal husbandry will be squeezed out. The article states that fundamentally, conscientious farming and consumption is built upon the same principle as Big Bad Factory Farming. In my opinion, it makes some fairly sweeping assumptions in this regard, but there was a kernel in this piece that stuck with me: no matter how it happened, and what quality of life was afforded it, the animal that ended up on my plate for 30 years did not want to die. The article cites a secondary source which recounted the memory of a chef who 'harvests' (a charming euphemism) his own meat, and who finds it a horrendous act each and every time.
The line between animals-who-are-pets and animals-which-are-food is, in my mind, arbitrary. I'm the first one to admit that meat is f***ing delicious, but it's not something I can enjoy comfortably any more. I started this by caveating that there may be times in the future when I would enjoy meat - wild venison or salmon that was offered at a family gathering, for example. I'm finding even that prospect a bit unsavoury now. Restaurants like Memphis Blues, once a beacon of overindulgence, make me queasy these days. No matter how good an animal is treated during its rearing and mature life, if it's destined for a plate, it's destined for an unpleasant end.
Just over six months into this, and I'm in danger of becoming pretty militant. I'll try to keep my preaching to a minimum :)