I am a meat eater. There are few things that can make my mouth water more than the thought of a big, red, juicy steak. I am an avid fisherman as well, though I do not particularly enjoy eating the fish I catch. None of this is too much out of the ordinary; the majority of Americans --and probably the majority of human beings-- enjoy eating some kind of flesh product.
But now a growing number of people are giving up the joys of meat eating and are asking others to do the same. Some are doing this for health reasons, and, given our proclivity for keeping in shape, these kinds of vegetarians are not only accepted within society but are even somewhat avant-garde. In addition, there are another group of people who are condemning meat eating in the belief that we are cruelly and unnecessarily causing pain and suffering to millions of animals. They argue that these animals have just as much right to live as we do. This kind of vegetarian is also known under different names, such as "weirdos," "freaks," and "hippies."
Turning to our own American history some two hundred years ago, I cannot help but imagine the various names that were given to those people who first decided that the institution of slavery was morally wrong because it caused pain and suffering to blacks. They were taunted and teased and called horrid names by the majority of society, who felt that there was nothing morally reprehensible with this practice. But now we look back and see how wrong White America had been, and how barbaric slave owners and their supporters really were.
Only one hundred years ago, at the turn of this century, American women started complaining that they were not being given the same opportunities that men had. They were trapped by longstanding customs that kept them in the house and did not allow them freedom to do what they wanted. At first only a few individuals stood up for women's liberation. Women who did fight for it were labelled as radicals and scornfully ridiculed. Today, however, we look back on these women (and some men) as heroes who were brave enough to stand up to injustice. Though the movement is not over, women's liberation has at least made some headway, however small.
Now in the 1990's, turning to animal activists, we see yet another episode in history where minority thinkers are seen as kooks or worse because they believe in extending liberation to those who have none. These activists are taunted, teased, and laughed at. They are marginalized with the great, end-all buzz term "extremists." Yet, someday, perhaps in the next decade, perhaps in the next century, we will look back and praise those few courageous souls who stood up for the rights of animals in the midst of scorn and ridicule. Then maybe the rest of us will realize how foolish we were to have ever thought we could not do without meat, biologically or economically. Maybe in the future those who still eat meat will be considered primitive and barbaric and extremist. Although I eat meat, I am happy that there are vegetarians, those whose visions are not dimmed by the politics of popularity or tradition or ignorance. Let us hope that they will keep the faith and soon animals will be liberated from their human bondage.
Enough is enough. Those were words that went through my head when I decided to remove myself from a "normal American lifestyle" and change to a lifestyle that would no longer include killing, cruelty, violence, and destruction. They were the words that went through my head when I decided to become a vegetarian.
I didn't become a vegetarian because I oppose the slaughter of cows for a Big Mac. My opposition to such slaughter just helps me continue the lifestyle I have chosen. For me, becoming a vegetarian was a way of dealing with the violence and destruction that was becoming humankind's second nature. The more I gave up meat the freer I felt from the mentality that has begun the almost irreversible destruction of the Earth and its atmosphere.
I feel humans are at the top of the evolutionary ladder, the ultimate creatures in Mother Nature's cast of living organisms. We have the strength to move mountains --or at least to build freeways through them. We have the intelligence to be able to walk on the moon, cure diseases that to other species are fatal, and a brain that enables us to develop synthetic materials that will match or surpass most of those found on Earth. With all these qualities we have become the keepers of the planet. We are the species all other species depend on to continue, and if they aren't dependent on us now they soon will be. They will survive only as long as we deem it necessary.
We are the only species that has forgotten how to co-exist with the other creatures that share this planet. We believe that other creatures were put here for our use, whether it be to eat, look at, or use as a fashion statement when we wear the outer coats stripped from their dead bodies. We use our natural resources at a rate that will deplete most of the endangered animals before the next century ends. Our huge, self-serving egos have grown to the point that nothing is sacred. We are Mother Nature's nightmare gone wild.
I am not a vegetarian because I think that if I pass up meat humans will realize the wrong it is doing and stop hurting and destroying other living creatures. I am a vegetarian because it is my way of showing the animals with whom I share this planet the mutual respect that they deserve. I do not eat nor wear animals and they do not eat nor wear me.
So far as animals are concerned, we have no direct duties.
Animals are not self-conscious, and are there merely as a means to
an end. The end is man.
In the order of nature, the imperfect is for the sake of the
perfect, the irrational is to serve the rational. Man, as a
rational animal, is permitted to use things below him in this order
of nature for his proper needs. He needs to eat plants and animals
to maintain his life and strength. To eat plants and animals, they
must be killed. So killing is not, of itself, an immoral or unjust
My opinion [that animals don't suffer] is not so much cruel to
animals as indulgent to men --at least to those who are not given
to the superstitions of Pythagoras-- since it absolves them from
the suspicion of crime when they eat or kill animals.
We are living graves of murdered beasts,
Slaughtered to satisfy our appetites;
We never pause to wonder at our feasts
If animals, like men, can possibly have rights.
We pray on Sundays that we may have light
To guide our footsteps on the path we tread.
We are sick of war, we do not want to fight--
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread;
And yet --we gorge ourselves upon the dead;
Like carrion crows, we live and feed on meat,
Regardless of the suffering and pain
We cause by doing so; if thus we treat
Defenseless animals for sport of gain
How can we hope in this world to attain
The PEACE we say we are so anxious for?
We pray for it, o'er hecatombs of slain,
To God, while outraging the moral law;
Thus cruelty begets its offspring --WAR.
Axon, William E.A., F.R.S.L. Shelley's Vegetarianism. New York: Haskell House Publishers Ltd., 1971.
Barkas, Janet. The Vegetable Passion. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975.
Berman, Louis A. Vegetarianism and the Jewish Tradition. New York: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., 1982.
Cesaresco, Countess Evelyn Martinengo. The Place of Animals in Human Thought. London; T. Fisher Unwin Ltd., 1909.
Dewar, James. The Rape of Noah's Ark. London: William Kimber & Co. Limited, 1969.
Frey, R.G. Rights, Killing, and Suffering. Oxford: Basil Blackwell Publisher Limited, 1983.
Godlovitch, Stanley & Roslind; John Harris, editors. Animals, Men and Morals: An Enquiry into the Maltreatment of Nonhumans. New York: Taplinger Publishing Co., 1972.
Hutchings, Monica and Mavis Carter. Man's Dominion. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1970.
Porphyry. Porphyry on Abstinence from Animal Food. Translated from the Greek by Thomas Taylor; edited by Esme Wynne-Tyson. Great Britain: Barnes & Noble, 1965.
Regan, Tom. All That Dwell Therein: Animal Rights and Environmental Ethics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
Singer, Peter. In Defence of Animals. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985.
Vyvyan, John. The Dark Face of Science. London: Michael Joseph Ltd., 1971.