Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Vegetarianism a Lie?

I have been a vegetarian for ten years, though I started eating fish about 4 years ago, so I'm not as strict as I once was. Yet it's taken me ten years to become aware of a logical gap in vegetarianism, which I would like to share with you now and get your reactions to. If you eat dairy, as I do and as do most vegetarians I know, you are depending on food from female animals, usually cows and chickens for milk and eggs. Yet for every female cow and chicken born, a male is born too, and let me tell you that the breeders are not just releasing these guys into the wild. These male animals are sold for meat, along with male and female animals that were bred specifically for the meat industry. A PETA film makes this point very cleanly by showing footage of the horrible conditions that veal cows are raised in, with a voiceover (by Alec Baldwin) telling us that these baby cows are the offspring of dairy cows, and if you drink milk, you are supporting the veal industry. Furthermore, laying hens are typically sold for poultry when they stop producing eggs.

This makes me wonder that if I'm not ready to convert to veganism (which I'm not), it might actually be a better bet to support humanely raised meat than to boycott meat altogether. If my dairy consumption directly causes the slaughter of animals, perhaps it's better to create a market for humane and environmentally friendly meat than to pretend the problem doesn't exist.

I'm not about to make any changes at the moment, but I do think this is an interesting question, though you may think it's a load of bull, so let me know. I also had the happy chance to eat a meal at Chez Panisse yesterday and get a tour of the premises, which is a really interesting lesson in thinking about ingredients as the backbone of every meal we eat and understanding the interconnectedness of those ingredients.

8 comments:

Superman said...

Armadillo....Pass the A1 sauce, please.

You supposedly eat 2.3 spiders in your sleep each year. Although, they probably should be considered free range.

My problem is staying away from the doughnuts, can someone write a negative blog on these.

venus infers said...

a couple of weeks ago, we had a farmer come in to talk about food politics (v's been secretly obsessing about this as well). the guy's a phd in forestry and used to teach at a local university, but he decided to try out farming himself. he also used to be a vegan for twenty years, but now he eats what he produces (he has an organic veggie garden for personal consumption, but his business is eggs, dairy and meat).

he basically pointed out how vegetarianism can also be not energy efficient and was actually not necessarily "good for the environment". as you know, a lot of the soy that is used for soy milk, tofu, etc is actually being flown in from brazil, where it is grown in the amazons-- the ecosystem is being devastated, because of the trees being torn down, and the animals chased away or becoming "collateral damage" in the industrial agriculture process. and for the green-uns that think ethanol will save the world, guess what, it's going to be the same problem.

it comes back to the problem of knowing where you get your food-stuff, where it's coming from, what it is and how it was made, and hopefully who made it. i would disagree if you said something like "vegetarianism is futile," i do think it's important for us to be aware about the ways in which we participate in economic structures and ecologic footprints.

the fish stuff is also fascinating-- if you see my post of a couple of months ago on tuna fish you get an idea about how the sea has been basically depleted of fauna because of industrial fishing practices, notably a rock-bottom fishing practice called bottom-trawlling. a couple of days ago south pacific nations voted to prohibit that practice. but that type of rules are extremely difficult to enforce!

as for me, i don't call myself a vegetarian, but i basically do not eat meat, because of humane concerns, and because locally grown, antibiotic and hormone-free meat is expensive! but i do get dairy and eggs from the afore-mentioned gentleman, because i trust him and know that his farming methods are worthwhile supporting.

Nancy D., Girl Detective said...

The potential collapse of fisheries is a huge concern. I'm sure many of you are probably aware of it, but the Monterey Aquarium has printable wallet-sized seafood guides that tell you what kinds of fish you should and should not buy, based on the vulnerability of the population and how they are fished. You can also order the pre-made guides for free.

http://www.mbayaq.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp

betty said...

I think I might be missing something here. Why not just buy your dairy products from a humane farm that is known to treat its animals well, but still lay off the meat? I know the contradiction you are referring to, but it's still better not to buy meat. As for those inevitable male offspring - let's keep them as the breeders of more humanely-treated dairy cows. It's ok for men to be sort of useless!

betty said...

P.S. Yesterday at Chipotle the vegetarian guy in front of me made them throw away a whole burrito because a little chicken had touched it. Way to save the world, dude.

Nodine said...

The way I see it, there are two main reasons to be a vegetarian. One is to "save the world" so to speak, in which case it would be logical to think through everything you eat, support humane treatment of animals in a meaningful way, and think about where your food is coming from from an energy standpoint. This makes sense to me.

The other reason is if you just think meat is gross. I know people like this. Wait, maybe religious reasons would fall into this category, in a different sort of way. But these are the people who don't want their veggie burger to touch the same grill as a hamburger, even though it has nothing to do with an extra cow dying. Maybe this guy is like that. Maybe meat is just unappetizing to him and he can't stomach a burrito that touched meat. That's fine....but then what is he doing eating at Chipotle?

Really that wasn't a much more insightful comment than the one about eating armadillos, but I felt like trying to explain the Chipotle veggie guy with a little reason.

Superman said...

What if it is a figurative Armadillo?......Oh Snap!

betty said...

Good point, Nodine. You are right- still it struck me as wasteful, but you are probably right about the guy's motives.

As for me, I am still in love with the armadillo in Nodine's photo! You BETTER have been speaking figuratively, Superman...