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Hey there. I'm new here, and I've done a lot of commenting, written a couple of silly diaries, and generally kinda eased into this whole DailyKos experience. So now I'd like to have an actual, reasonable conversation.

I'm going to talk about why I think we should all be vegetarians (and not vegans), and I'm going to try and do it in a calm, reasonable manner without resorting to cheap stunts like labeling our treatment of animals as murder, shocking you with how cruelly we treat our food, or basically getting all high-and-mighty at you.

I just want to talk, that's all.

All right, let's talk, YOU FREAKING MURDERING SONS OF--

Just kidding.

I'm going to break this down into two distinct arguments, one based on the environement, and the other based on pure morality. In each one, I'll discuss not only the reasons that being a vegetarian is better than being omnivorous, but why I think it's better than being vegan. So if you want to read this for no reason other than to maybe hear something to shove in your haughty vegan friend's face, well, that's not really in the spirit of the discussion, but that's on your conscience.

But first, let me tell you some things I'm not going to argue.

  1. I'm not going to argue about your health. Health is a complicated thing, and our understanding of it changes by the day. There are health benefits to being a vegetarian, but there are also drawbacks, and exactly how much those benefits and drawbacks benefit or draw you back, individually, depends on you, the individual, and exactly what you eat and a variety of other factors. I'm not going to say "become a vegetarian for your health" when you can just say "how about I buy a nordictrac instead?"
  1. I'm not going to say anything about anything being "natural". I have never understood how people draw this distinction between what is "natural" and what isn't, because humans are natural, and anything humans create is no more "unnatural" than a bird's nest or a beaver's dam. We are tool users by nature, and anyone who doesn't like it probably shouldn't be discussing the matter on a synthetic global communications network. Yes, wisdom in how we affect the world around us is called for, which is one of my major arguments--but being "unnatural" in some sense that I have yet to see satisfactorily described is not a valid criticism in of itself. (Note: This means that I also reject the notion that we SHOULD eat animals because it is "natural". Nature also theoretically dictates that we kill, rape, practice incredibly unsafe sex, and die of smallpox, exposure, or starvation at age thirty, save for the fact that nature gave us a brain to learn how to tell nature to piss off every now and again.)
  1. I'm not going to say anything about religion. If you honestly think it's okay to kill animals 'cause God told you so, I can't argue with that, it's your belief. However, I will go ahead and assume you also believe it's okay to kill gays, blasphemers, and disobedient children because God told you so, as well.

Having said all that, let me go into my two major points.

The Environment

This is the quicker of the two points, because it is simple and virtually indisputable. The fact is, being a vegetarian is better for the environment than being a meat-eater.

Land use is one of the defining issues of our times. We are nearing the limits of our capacity to produce food, we are slashing and burning rainforest to set up farms, and we are eroding the soil we use for farming.

Eating meat is a vastly less efficient way to use land than growing vegetables. When you eat a cow, you aren't just eating the cow, you are, in essence, eating whatever that that cow has ever eaten.

There was a recent study that showed that a low-fat vegetarian diet uses less than one-quarter the land that a high-meat diet does.

If that isn't enough for you, there is always hog-farming  and manure.

However, I don't believe going vegan is the way to go. While it would pay to substantially decrease the amount of our land and resources that goes to farming, if you check the link I used as reference to land-use above, you'll see that it's actually possible to use even less land by using dairy and even s very small amount of meat.

Cows can be raised on food that humans find indigestible. They can graze on low-quality land not suitable for crops, and they can turn rough vegetable matter into dairy products we can eat. As peak food becomes an issue for us, we would be foolish to turn down the possibility of using animals as a means to turn unproductive land into food.

Morality

This section is significantly longer, because I've seen it covered less in my time here. This isn't just a matter of science, it's a matter of reason and conscience, and thank you to anyone who sees me through my explanations.

The question, when we ask whether or not it is wrong to kill an animal, is "what makes it wrong to kill?" What makes another entity worthy of our moral consideration?

I'm going to assume that anyone reading this thinks it is wrong to kill people, not simply out of some societal norm, but because there is an actual right and wrong, a better and worse way for us to function. If you honestly think that killing is only wrong because mutual self-interest recommends that we don't kill, then skip right to the environment section of the program. But before you go, let me point out that if self-interest is the basis of all morality, George Bush is a saint, 'cause he is doing pretty well for himself.

What makes it wrong to kill? The human instinct is to classify. We should kill this group, but we shouldn't kill that group. It's okay to kill outside the tribe. It's okay to kill outside the nation. It's okay to kill outside the race. It's okay to kill outside the religion. Most of us, at least most of us here, have come to realize that these divisions are artificial. Membership in a group is not sufficient reason to kill or not kill.

Except for the group "humans". We are still, in our own eyes, special.

What is the defining trait of humans that makes us worthy of moral consideration? We've already dismissed the simple "humans belong to our group" argument as artificial. If simply being human makes it wrong not to kill, then liberals are on the wrong side of abortion, not to mention the Terri Schiavo case. No, we must have some quality that makes us worthy of consideration.

Thew most common answer, and the one that absolves us of guilt in the cases of abortion and Terri Schiavo, is "intelligence." Humans are smarter, more emotionally complex, and more self-aware than other animals. That's what sets us apart, and what makes it wrong for us to kill one another.

It would be ludicrous for me to deny that humans aren't special in our intelligence, but I am forced to question if we're as special as we think we are.

Chimpanzees, for example, seem to have cultures not dissimilar to our own and are also capable of altruism. Not to mention, that they have a pretty amazing head for numbers. Chimps are smart, but not only are they smart, they are emotionally and culturally complex.

Now, these are chimps. They're our closest living relatives, and we expect them to display more of our traits than other animals. But what about birds?

The captive African grey parrot Alex is one of a number of parrots and macaws now believed to have the intelligence and emotional make-up of a 3 to 4 year old child. Under the tutelage of Professor Pepperberg, he acquired a vocabulary of over 100 words. He could say the words for colors and shapes and, apparently, use them meaningfully. He has learned the labels for more than 35 different objects; he knows when to use "no," and phrases such as "come here", "I want X," and "Wanna go Y."

(From http://www.pbs.org/...)

We are talking about animals with the intelligence and emotional complexity of a small child. And these revelations aren't only in regard to "smart" birds like parrots, we've discovered that starlings have syntax.

As I said, I cannot deny that we are special. But we are special not qualitatively but quantitatively. Intelligence and emotional complexity are scales, which have inanimate matter on one end, and the most brilliant humans on the other. It is our moral obligation to come to terms with the fact that some humans--children, the severely mentally disabled--are actually further down one or both of these scales than the brightest animals. There is overlap. A fetus is far, far dumber than a chimpanzee. A human who has suffered brain death or near-brain death is far, far less aware of their surroundings than a dolphin.

This is the point where many people, myself included, get somewhat uncomfortable. It seems wrong somehow to value an animal, no matter how intelligent, over a human, no matter how damaged or underdeveloped. But that, my friends, is a bias, not a rational response. It's a genetic predisposition we have to favor those like us, to ensure the survival of genetic information like ours.

If we buy into this idea that to be "human" is to be automatically superior, without taking intelligence and emotional awareness into consideration, we immediately run into the problem of defining what "human is". You'd be hard-pressed to find someone, outside of the fanatically religious, who'll shed tears over unused embryos created for fertility treatments. But they are 100%, unadulterated human. "Species" is a hard to define concept in the first place, and there are many problems with accepted definitions. Were the Neanderthals human? When science almost inevitably progresses to the point where babies can be genetically altered before birth, will they still be human? What about people born with genetic mutations, such as Downs' or Klinefelter's Syndromes, who are genetically different than the mainstream human population? How do we know that our definition is correct? How do we know that whatever line we draw in the sand isn't as artificial and flawed as the line that used to separate European settlers from aboriginal man in Africa, Oceania, and the Americas?

We have no rational reason to elevate all humans above all other creatures. We must, logically, view all life as existing on a spectrum. That means that while we may view killing a healthy human being as the chief and greatest wrong one can perform, we must still recognize that it is wrong, to some degree, to kill a chimpanzee, a parrot, a kitten, or a cow. It may not be as wrong as killing a person, but that doesn't make it right.

Now for my brief argument concerning why we shouldn't take this as a sign to go vegan.

You may notice that I repeatedly compared animals to children above. This is useful, in the sense that it reminds us that animals are not insensitive and unaware, but it is also misleading: an animal is not a child. It is not an innocent thing incapable of taking care of itself.

Except for the ones we've bred to be that way.

Domesticated animals are whole new species that exist because we've bred them to coexist with us. The average cow or chicken is dependent on us, and reintroducing them to the wild at this point would be both cruel to them and possibly devastating to the ecology of whatever environment they were released into. More than that, there is no reason to believe that these animals are not capable of living perfectly happy, healthy lives in the right human-created environment.

I know what some vegans and extreme animal-rights activists would say to this: penning animals up and forcing them to live a certain way, but justifying it with their happiness, is rather like rounding people into a prison camp and justifying it by giving them free HBO. It smacks of the same sentiments used to justify slavery.

Let me respond by saying: No. I'm sorry, but that's crazy.

Despite what I said above, animals are not people. I made it very clear that, while animals may be compared to embryos, children, the severely brain-damaged, etc, I never, ever said they have the capacities of a functioning adult human. They don't. They do not make fantastically rational, forward-thinking decisions outside of a very limited scope. As long as we're being respectful of them, there is no reason we can't continue to run their lives because they, and I am speaking here largely of domesticated animals, cannot effectively do so themselves.

We send children to preschool, we have the severely mentally disabled taken care of by nurses, we even keep perfectly intelligent people with mental health issues in secured facilities if we judge them to be so incapable of normal functionality that they are a danger to themselves or others. As distasteful as it sometimes is, we often act in the best interests of those we deem can't do so themselves.

We can either do so for farm animals or just kill them all. And  I don't like that second option.

And if we're spending all this time and energy caring for the animals that (admittedly) we have crippled, I don't think it's unfair to use them to produce for us in return. If nothing else, it provides a valuable economic incentive for the human population to keep them around.

They are living beings who deserve respect, but they are also animals, and we shouldn't forget that we can often help them more than they can help themselves.

So

I've said my peace for now. My apologies to anyone put off by the length, and if I haven't added anything new to your understanding of the issue. Thanks to anyone who indulged me, and I look forward to any counter-arguments or re-enforcement of my arguments that presents itself.

Originally posted to zbbrox on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 12:25 PM PDT.

Poll

After reading this, I....

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well, either someone's a speed-reader... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justCal

    ...or they voted in my poll without reading the thing. Screw you, too, buddy!

    Oh well, anyone else?

    •  I was the first voter... (0+ / 0-)

      And yes, I can read really, really fast.  So the "screw you, too" buddy is unnecessary.

      I believe that humans are animals.  And like any other animal in the world, when we get hungry, we eat.  And like any other animal in the world, we follow our instincts and senses to food.  Sometimes that means we kill and eat other animals.  It's no more personal than when a wolf eats a deer, or when a shark eats a human.

      However, humans are "special" in that we kill for reasons other than food.  "'Cause it's fun" or "'Cause they're pests," as Carlin says.  These reasons, I believe, are immoral.  I don't hunt for sport, and when a bug is in my apartment, I capture it and release it outside.

      I don't take pleasure in the deaths of the animals I eat.  I deal with it by respecting the sacrifice of the prey, eating free range whenever possible, not eating veal, etc.  

      To say that humans alone have the power to reject evolution and instinct and declare carnivorism as immoral is to say that humans are somehow spiritually superior.  I don't buy that.

      •  My apologies, then. (0+ / 0-)

        And thanks for the response, particularly as it's the only one thus far to deal with the morality issue.

        I think what you're ascribing to "spiritual superiority", well, isn't. It's nothing to do with spirit, it's to do with intelligence and the various luxuries that provides.

        Animals, in general, have no concept of "right" and "wrong". Does that mean they don't exist? I don't think so--most animals have no concept of a circle, terminal velocity, an event horizon, or a valence shell, either, but that doesn't mean those concepts aren't real. Humans, like any other animal, will do what they must to survive when they need to. But, unlike most animals, humans generally don't need to. You're happy to turn down veal, why? Because you don't eat only when you're desperately hungry. We reject our "instincts" routinely, and to our great benefit.

        Clearly humans can decide not to eat meat, because many of us do. Eating meat relies on the death and suffering of other beings with thoughts and feelings and a perception of the world around them. Death and suffering have to be endured sometimes, but why not void them when we can?

  •  And, y'know... (0+ / 0-)

    ...for those posting against, I'd love to hear why...

  •  Certain regions ie Mississippi Delta are better (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justCal, justiceputnam, NotablyZen

    suited to tillable crops, which require either constant fertilizing or crop rotation, (which is never large scale because of specialized machinery).

    More hilly terrain and plains with less water are more suitable to pastures and grazing.

    It would take massive work to convert my acreage into anything except pasture and timber.

    •  It would take massive work... (0+ / 0-)

      ...to eliminate oil from our energy mix, but, alas, it has to be done eventually.

      We're talking about a massive waste of resources under the current system. Land can be utilized for different purposes, certainly--as I made clear, I support the keeping of some animals for dairy, eggs, hell, wool--but vastly cutting back on meat consumption would mean we could feed more people more effectively.

      And, of course, there's the morality thing.

  •  Niche microbiomes wiped out by large scale (3+ / 0-)

    vegetarianism.  Pesticides, land clearance, etc.  Just because the animals are small (voles, prairie dogs, ferrets, etc.) does not negate their existence. Large-scale vegetable farming actually kills more numerous and more diverse animal populations than meat eating.  Worse, it would take an incredible increase in large-scale farming to replace what is consumed in meat.

    Several things to consider:

    1. Not all meat you eat has to be from cows or pigs.  Most of the protein I eat comes from chickens, particularly eggs, which have more biotic potential than any single vegetable source.
    1. The amount of calorie contribution you get from a cow is much greater than you get from a bushel of wheat.  A lb. of beef contains about as many calories as an entire loaf of whole wheat bread, more protein, and more vitamins and minerals.
    1. While it is true humans eat both the animal and what the animals has consumed, it is worth noting that humans can't digest what most of these animals have consumed.  Humans are incapable of digesting cellulose, which means most of the vegetables we would otherwise be devoting land space to would simply come out as compost or crap.
    1. Likewise, I spend all day long eating sunflower seeds, but the amount of protein I get from an entire day of munching is nothing compared to the content in a couple of slices of beef.

    I read quickly through the first environmental argument and then decided to respond.

    Anyway, my point is that omnivorousness is fantastic, as long as you are actually omnivorous and diversify your food sources.  The over-consumption of meat or vegetables is the problem.

    "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." Orwell

    by NotablyZen on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 12:44:33 PM PDT

  •  I asked the Dalai Lama, when he was lecturing... (4+ / 0-)

    ... at UC Berkeley a while back, why tibetan buddhists ate yak and used other animal parts.

    "Difficult to harvest vegetables at 18,000 feet," the gentle man responded.

    Seemed reasonble, too.

    I have always agreed with the environmental argument you further, but I have a hard time assigning Soul and Intelligence to humans, let alone other life forms.

    The argument would then follow, would I eat a human.

    It depends, "hard to harvest vegetables at 18.000 feet" has a tuvan ring to it.

    A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude --Pablo Neruda

    by justiceputnam on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 12:49:54 PM PDT

    •  Let me say this: (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      justiceputnam

      I am totally fine with people doing what it takes to ensure their own survival. We need to eat, period.

      However, we live in a society where it's simply no longer a necessity to eat meat. If we're attempting to phase slavery, war, human rights abuses, disease, famine, and other traditional moral horrors out of our world, this seems like a small, but morally valuable, thing to do.

      I try not to assign a soul to anything, as I'd be hard pressed to define one. But I do think it's wrong to cause harm to something that can perceive, as animals can.

      •  I understand, but I perceive... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        zbbrox

        ... and I'm nothing more than food for the worms, I'm nothing more than some prions coalesced into a meaty whole, soon to be discorporated and mixed with the stardust.

        Is the worm causing me harm? Is the dark matter that my molecules will succumb to causing those molecules harm?

        The same respect I extend to plants, I extend to animals; they both exist and perceive; I pray the same prayer of reverence for nourishment from both; yet both are nothing more than food for the worms, as we are.

        We are truly no greater than the worm; yet why is the worm unhindered by these considerations? It perceives and reacts, just as we do.

        Shouldn't the worm be held to the same standard? Shouldn't scotch broom and protozoa?

        We're just food for the worms and molecules mixing with stardust. Nothing more and nothing less.

        Plus, I love a good, strong Pinot with my maytag blue, cornichon et jambon dans le baguette; or a nice Gloria Ferrer sparkling wine with a Japanese glazed halibut and serrano chile, blood orange, mango salsa.

        Ok, so I'm a gormand worm...

        A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude --Pablo Neruda

        by justiceputnam on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 04:04:58 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  So what, in your opinion, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          justiceputnam

          makes something right or wrong? Anything?

          I'm sorry, but I think we are greater than worms. I think we have a greater capacity to experience the world around us, and with that comes a greater, deeper ability for happiness, pain, and fear. Not only that, but because we're more complex intellectually, and because our lives are no longer defined by struggle, we have the capability to choose, to some degree, which of those emotions we and those around us feel.

          If I hold myself to no higher standard than I would a wolf, a worm, a flower, or a thunderstorm, all sorts of behavior is perfectly acceptable.

  •  And, most part time farmers raise livestock to (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    justiceputnam

    make a payment of the mortgage and taxes, while holding down a regular job.

    And full time row crop farmers diversify by usually having a herd to manage, in addition to soybeans or cotton or whatever their crop is.

    The profit margin in cattle is just like every other business, some folks are happy to net 10% after taxes.

    Poultry farming (most often the houses are in the wife's name)is another way to finance land purchase and raise a family, through about 3 hours per day labor in the chicken houses.

    •  I have fond memories of our farm in Oregon... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Theghostofkarlafayetucker

      ... outside of Corvallis; yes, fond memories of milking our cows, of baling alfalfa and cutting mint; of harvesting apples, pears and walnuts.

      Those fond memories of the farm changed when we started a coop of about 60 chickens.

      Before the chickens, I was a barefoot boy on that Oregon farm.

      A Poet is at the same time a force for Solidarity and for Solitude --Pablo Neruda

      by justiceputnam on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 01:21:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  So your response is (0+ / 0-)

      profit? It's all right to kill intelligent, emotion-laden creatures because of profit? I don't much like that, I have to admit.

      •  130 acres just came up for sale down the road (0+ / 0-)

        and they no longer "give away" land after 7 years of homesteading.

        130 acres at $2,000 per (not including any dwelling) is $260K.

        A herd of cattle (minimum in the south is 1.5 acres per head) could partially finance purchase of said property over the course of 10 years.

        Possibly, there is risk in everything.

        The only other choice is "subdivide", which also is a for profit experience.

  •  There's a large difference between (2+ / 0-)

    large scale farming (bad) and small scale family farms (better). Subsidies and conglomerations have run small family farms out and set up the system in a way to keep them out. (I'm trying to become a small farm). Government regulation makes it an expensive proposition to be a small farm.
    How does this relate to morality? People do not understand what goes into the food they eat. Even vegan foods. Does it really matter if its a burger or a head of lettuce if it has been processed through a large scale farm, its genetics restricted to a limited few or just cloned (many plants are). In this, I think we agree, although for different reasons. It is possible for nearly all of the US to be fed via local sources. Local may strech a bit in certain areas due to arid lands, but pretty much stay in state boundaries. Areas with snowy winters, obviously, will be importing some during winter, but its amazing what green houses can still do in cold weather. AK, yeah, not going to get by without imports.
    IMO, becoming a vegetarian isn't helping change the real problem. Insisting on buying LOCAL from any store, that will. Helping change the rules for farming and minor processing to favor small farms.  Realize a small meat processing plant next door is far better for you than the 10000 acre pens breeding infection and fear next to the hwy two counties over. A small facility, in your own town, you can keep an eye on. You will know who works there. Same goes for a small cannery of veggies. (They both stink, but if you drive I5 through Freso, CA, you'll understand what a horror large scale operations are. It stinks of illness.)

    -7.50/-7.90 Everyone knows I'm out in left field.

    by WiseFerret on Fri Mar 21, 2008 at 01:36:26 PM PDT

    •  Local production is good... (0+ / 0-)

      ...for a lot of reasons, but the land resources used in producing meat are still in great excess of those used producing most vegetable matter. High-meat diets are a problem.

      And, of course, this does little to negate my argument from morality. Thanks for the informative response, though.

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