I am a vegetarian and I have no idea why. I would like to say that I have some convoluted yet eloquently verbalized answer to how what I eat changes the world for the better, but I don’t. Though here we are, nonetheless, and I want to try and convince you, the reader, why vegetarianism is a fantastic idea that is greatly opposed in today’s society. However, I think that it would be a better use of my time with you to simply examine why I am a vegetarian and maybe we can come across something that makes a few solid points about our world and how life should really be traversed.
I have not had meat on my plate for over seven months now and let me tell you, the last three or four months have been average and unexciting in terms of my diet. I’m not saying that the food I have been eating is boring, but rather the original pizzazz and magic of a new vegetarian diet is long gone. This has left me in a place where I still stand strong with my meatless diet, but I feel like there is no philosophy for me to back it up. If an omnivore went head-to-head with me in a diet-based rap battle, I would get leveled. So let’s make that my goal. I will work towards arguing my way into developing a legitimate answer as to why I am vegetarian.
To begin, my belief is not that all people should be vegetarian. I simply decided seven months ago that it was the lifestyle for me, not necessarily others. This does not mean, though, that I think everyone is good to eat meat. Rather, I strongly suggest that everyone has the right and responsibility to critically analyze the choices they make in their life and make educated decisions regarding those choices.
Why even consider vegetarianism? Personally, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when the World Health Organization published research stating that certain types of meat can be attributed to increased cancer risk. I was not about to mess with cancer, so I made the switch. What else was on the camel’s back, you ask? Well, as a student at Santa Clara University in a Critical Thinking and Writing course focused on food, a lot of information was cast my way during my time reading such books as Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer has done extensive research on the meat production industry in America. A lot, and I mean a lot, of terrible things happen on those factory farms he writes about. “One worker said it’s necessary to ‘beat the shit out of [the pregnant pigs] to get them inside the crates because they don’t want to go.’ Another employee at a different farm described the routine use of rods to beat the sows bloody: ‘One guy smashed a sows nose in so bad that she ended up dying of starvation’” (Foer 185).
It does not make any logical sense to me how someone can act that way and feel ok. But then again, the workers didn’t feel ok. Foer interviewed several employees, one of which is quoted having said, “the worst thing, worse than the physical danger, is the emotional toll. If you work in the stick pit for any period of time, you develop an attitude that lets you kill things but doesn’t let you care” (Foer 254). How, you might ask (and you should ask), does this happen so regularly and in such an unregulated manner? Because every time you or I or our parents or our friends buys anything that is a product of this system, they are casting a vote. A vote that says “I’m ok with this happening”. Understand the power that your vote has.
When I was making my own decision, I used a certain perspective in order to make choices about what I eat. Would I be willing to personally brutalize a pig or any other animal? No. So then why is it ok for me to pay someone to do it for me? Thinking this way drastically influenced the way I prioritize aspects of my diet. I am not here to tell you what decisions to make, but I would like to make sure you understand the choices you have and what messages those choices are actually sending.
“KFC insists it is ‘committed to the well-being and humane treatment of its chickens.’ How trustworthy are these words? At a slaughterhouse in West Virginia that supplies KFC, workers were documented tearing the heads off of live birds, spitting tobacco into their eyes, spray-painting their faces, and violently stomping on them” (Foer 67).
I believe that now is a good time to make the transition from food to a broader view of life but still focus on making choices. Near the end of Eating Animals, Foer drives home what he believes to be the bigger picture: “Given the pressures of our industrial era, is meat by necessity a disavowal, a frustration if not an outright denial of compassion?” (Foer 242). I choose to not eat meat because I choose to exercise compassion in my life in every way I can. So often we mindlessly consume what we want simply because it’s what we are told to eat or buy. Michael Pollan, one of the best-known writers on factory farms, describes an internal debate that goes on when it comes to what we eat. Pollan suggests that because of this debate, humans need to rely on society and culture to choose what to eat for them (Pollan 295). This is where awareness comes into play.
For the sake of comprehending awareness on a greater level, I would like to consult the work of David Foster Wallace. In my Critical Thinking and Writing course, we were asked to watch “This is Water”, a speech given by Wallace at a commencement ceremony. I enjoyed this video so much that I purchased the book that contains the transcript of the whole speech. Anyway, back to awareness. We as consumers are raised in a way that we believe we have a limited of choices as to how we do that consume when in reality we are making surrounded by a plethora of decisions every day. Because “if you really learned how to think, how to pay attention, then you will know you have other options” (Wallace 92). This is not easy to do. It is very, very hard to consciously live and make everyday decisions in that conscious manner. When we take on the responsibility of making those decisions in accordance with how we believe the world really should be, then we are exercising our power of choice. This makes us free.
What kind of freedom? I will leave this one to Wallace again, when he writes, “the really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy way, every day. That is real freedom” (Wallace 120-121). When you display compassion in one part of your life, it expands uncontrollably into others. That is the true beauty of compassion, of love. By choosing to not eat animals, I am choosing to show them compassion. This, unregulated by me, will start to show itself in other facets of my life. Now we make the transition to love. (I would like to note that the book which I am about to introduce is by far my favorite book of all time and I never thought I would be graced with the opportunity to refer to it in an essay, so please enjoy). When it comes to love, I consider Bob Goff to be an expert. He is a lawyer, teacher, and yes, Consul for the Republic of Uganda.
Bob’s one book, Love Does, is what I consider my doctrine for attempting to comprehend a loving lifestyle. I would like to quote just one part of it. The part that I feel pertains the most to this discussion of choosing, loving, and life. Goff starts by discussing his longing f
or an invitation to the White House. But then he took his comments in a direction I did not expect. “There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I’m tempted to turn
it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement, a life of whimsy, a life where love does. It doesn’t come in an envelope. It’s ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It’s the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day. Nobody turns down an invitation to the white house, but I’ve seen plenty of people turn down an invitation to fully live” (Goff 80).
While I would always love to drop the mic on a Bob Goff quotation, I believe that there is more to be said. I cannot tell you how to live or who to love or what to do tomorrow or even what to have for dinner, but I can tell you what I plan on doing. For the sake of sounding inspirational, I will be using “we should” instead of “I will” so what I say sounds far more preachy than is necessary. The world we have created, one of anger, hatred, and conformity, is still one of great beauty. When one person loves another, that is beauty. You cannot choose who loves you or how other people act, because you are made to be able to control one person. That’s you. Understand the power that awareness has in this world. Our lives are filled with choices and if we make them without thinking, then we are no less than what society has built us to become. Regardless of what you choose to eat for dinner, think about choosing a life of compassion, love, and freedom. Become fully engaged and always look at this world with the awe it deserves. The purpose of life is not to understand or dominate it, but rather to wrap our minds around how critical of a piece of that life each and every one of us is.
“I wish you way more than luck” (Wallace 137).
Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.
Goff, Bob. Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World. Nashville:
Thomas Nelson, 2012. Print.
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals. New York:
Penguin, 2006. Print.
Wallace, David Foster. This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion
about Living a Compassionate Life. New York: Little, Brown, 2009. Print.