Given that October 1-7 marks International Vegetarian Week, three pertinent points should be considered the next time you sit down to eat a carnivorous meal: your health, the environment and the animals. Earlier in the year, Farrago published a few articles about eating animals. None of the articles, however, questioned the moral and ethical implications of killing animals and consuming their flesh.
One of the more common questions that people ask me as a vegan is `what do you eat?!', while examining me with their curious eyes and wondering how I have managed to survive this long without meat, as though it were the equivalent of living off one deep breath. The laconic answer is typically: food. You know, food that doesn't come from an animal, like plants. `What about fish?'. Well, fish are animals, too. That's one mystery busted.
However, proven facts are often replaced by popular myths and misconceptions. One such fact is the health benefit that comes with a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle. Animal products have been linked to heart disease, obesity, stroke, diabetes and cancer. After needing urgent heart surgery, former US President Bill Clinton recently switched to a vegetarian diet. Neither does such a lifestyle inhibit sport performance. Carl Lewis ran his best performance as a vegan in the 1991 World Championship.
In `Eating Animals', an article that was published in August by Farrago, Murray made a point about the health benefits of meat, claiming that she wasn't able to absorb enough iron from non-animal sources. Studies have demonstrated the risk for non-anemic iron deciency, particularly for women, to be irrespective of a dietary lifestyle. Contrary to the spin of meat advertisements, it is actually quite easy to get iron in a vegetarian/vegan diet, provided that you are mindful of eating a variety of vegetables, legumes, and grains. Living off peanut butter toast is not a healthy alternative, even if it is vegan and delicious. In addition to a balanced diet, supplements which contain these minerals are also useful.
A casual research on `factory farming' on Google provides a substantial amount of resources and some compelling reasons to go vegetarian/vegan on account of the environment. According to the UN, livestock production is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all of the world's transport combined. After all, meat requires more fossil fuels to produce than do vegetables. In addition, most grains go towards feeding farm animals, which could easily be redirected to feeding a populace. Yet there are still meat-eaters that call themselves environmentalists - which, personally, is one of the more paradoxical claims that could be made. For instance, in riding a bicycle, a meat-eater would use twice as much fossil energy when compared to a vegetarian/vegan.
Ultimately, there are deeper moral implications to consider. It is now broadly accepted that animals have the capacity to suffer, and that it is wrong to inflict harm on animals. In Animal Liberation, Australian philosopher Peter Singer developed his principle of `equal consideration of interests', which focuses on how non-human animals should or should not be treated by humans. Singer's ethical principle contends that an individual should include all affected interests when understanding the rightness of an action and consider them equally. According to Singer,`The capacity for suffering and enjoyment is, however, not only necessary, but also sufficient for us to say that a being has interests - at an absolute minimum, an interest in not suffering'. For instance, a human being and a mouse would both have an interest in not being kicked or beaten as they would both suffer. Hence, there would be no moral justification for failing to give an equal consideration of interests to a mouse, cow, pig or chicken.
So what can we say to Murray's claim: `Its not just the nutrition - I love the taste of meat'. We can say that such an approach does not make it morally right to harm and kill an animal because they can suffer. Equally, just because I love sex does not make it morally right for me to rape a woman, for I would forcibly make someone suffer for my own ends, amongst other things. There is obviously an important difference between humans and animals and while the analogy may seem odd however, the point is to demonstrate that beings with interests should not be excluded from the moral community or have their interests undervalued in explicit violation of the principle of equal consideration. In the end, Immanuel Kant was right: people and animals should be regarded, at the same time, as an end and never as a means to an end.
Yet animal cruelty has become big business. The vast majority of animals exploited for food are raised in horrendous conditions,
caged in factory farms, exposed to confinement and considerable pain and suffering during their brief lives. Billions of defenceless animals are killed each year for the mere taste of their flesh, look of their fur or skin, or in the vain hope that experimenting on them can yield something. In the United States, approximately 59 billion animals are killed annually (not includ-
ing fish). The Ban Live Exports campaign, led by Animals Australia and the RSCPA, revealed that `cattle are being routinely brutalised and, in the worst cases, tortured prior to slaughter on a nightly basis in Indonesia'. While this may seem like an aberration it constitutes part of a continuum in how animals are treated and used in contemporary society. Though banning live exports is the right thing to do, cattle will inevitably meet the butchers blade in an Australian abattoir. Going veg is the most powerful way to oppose animal cruelty and suffering.