Skip to content

On Unconscious Omnivores

In "Why Vegetarians are Eating Meat," by Christine Lennon in August’s Food and Wine, we learn that, thanks to Michael Pollan and his ilk, vegetarians are being persuaded to revert to meat-eating. It seems some people are just waiting for the okay from an expert who provides them with reasons why eating certain kinds of meat ("sustainable meat") is good for the planet, farmers, you, and even the cows.

This is what happens as a result of concentrating on the (very legitimate) horrors of factory farming. When the discussion is all about the cruelty and the massive environmental degradation, there is a built-in solution that is a win-win: less cruelty and environmental degradation. We must ask ourselves: Is the cruelty the heart of the matter, or is the idea that we have no right to use nonhuman animals as food (or anything else) the core concept?

For people who have deluded themselves into believing that there is such a thing as humane slaughter, cruelty can actually be removed from the equation and they can enjoy their animal products, guilt-free. But all they’re really doing is choosing to believe in humane slaughter, probably subconciously, because without that belief, their desire to eat animals would be a nonstarter. It’s a matter of survival. We delude ourselves so that we can continue behaviors that would otherwise be unacceptable.

Lennon’s article mentions several well-known people who have reverted back to eating meat, including chef Mollie Katzen, "author of the vegetarian bible Moosewood Cookbook," who evidently was never against eating meat and has always eaten dairy. She hits the nail on the head when she says: "For people who are against eating meat because it’s wrong or offensive to eat animals, even the cleanest grass-fed beef won’t be good enough." Lennon concludes: "Convincing those people that eating meat can improve the welfare of the entire livestock population is a tough sell. But we’ll keep trying. What we’ve discovered is that you can hover pretty close to the bottom of the food chain and still make a difference, quietly. We’ve found a healthy balance somewhere between the two extremes—which, come to think of it, is also a good way to approach a marriage."

I’d rather base my life, and my marriage, on nonviolence, which includes not taking the lives of nonhuman animals simply because I enjoy the taste of their flesh or because someone has told me that eating animals can help the environment. I know that the best way to curb global warming is to be a vegan. And I know that we use animals because we can, and that’s nothing to be proud of. A "healthy balance somewhere between the two extremes" is like "humane slaughter:" we tell ourselves what we need to go get through the day.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. prad #

    This is an example of why the compassion argument is insufficient. If you have happy meat, there is no reason to worry about whether you are compassionate or not. The property rationale provides a far better and truthful foundation. Throw in some environment, ethics and health (eg and the badguys can't succeed … except, as singer wrote, "through the hand of tyranny". btw, for those still deluded into thinking that humans are omnivores, it's worth looking at Mills' Comparative Anatomy of Eating, a detailed and excellent analysis:

    July 30, 2007
  2. I have a difficult time believeing Lennon's husband and the others mentioned truly gave up eating animals for ethical reasons. What could possibly convince a vegan or vegetarian that reverting back to meat eating could be morally acceptable in any sense? Unless of course they were waiting for any ole excuse that would allow them to once again become graveyards for other beings. The most ludicrous statement of all was that this is a form of activism. A striking back at factory farming. This is a pathetic attempt to lure the weakest of veggies to join their ranks. I wonder if these born again carnivores have figured the transport and ultimate slaughter of their happy animals into their equation of sustainable meat? As Mary said the essence of life should be one of non-violence.

    July 30, 2007
  3. Prad,

    Thanks for the links! What are your thoughts on the care and feeding of companion animals? Do you think our dogs and cats (both of whom are carnivores, one obligate, one not) should be fed vegan diets?

    July 30, 2007
  4. Tricia,

    I can't believe I didn't write about the activism aspect! A bit over a year ago, in my (for lack of a better word, and if you have one please let me know) new welfare days, I would actually tell people to buy Maverick's (I think that's the name) beef as a way to make a statement and create more demand, hence more supply, of non-factory farm operations. Oy. I wouldn't do it for myself, but I figured it was better than telling them that there was no way to resolve the moral issue other than eschewing the animal products, because I didn't think they'd ever get there. Now, I tell the truth (my truth). Sure, I get called extreme, fanatical, and a fundamentalist, but that's far better than positioning myself to be called a hypocrite.

    July 30, 2007
  5. Mary,

    Oy! is right. I too would rather be called extreme than a hypocrite. I remember taking one of my brothers to the OutPost Natural food store with me to introduce him to vegan products. The only thing he really became interested in was free range chicken. As we were checking out he was very proud and pleased with himself for purchasing free range chicken legs,(what a sacrifice). I asked him if he thought about the fact that he was eating another beings legs and that perhaps the chicken desired to live just as much as he does. He looked at me rather chagrinned since he expected praise instead of disgust. These new crusaders for humane meat( I mean activists)are real troopers. They are willing to go back to eating meat simply to make a statement. You're right, to condone the eating of animals because they have had access to sunshine and fresh air would be viewed as hypocritical, yet I understand the reasoning behind it. I met a vet at one of our farm walks who is vegan, but feeds her cats and dogs fresh cuts of grass -fed beef, because she said to feed our companion animals factory meat is abuse. I have since transitioned our dogs to veg diets and our cats are on their way.

    July 30, 2007
  6. Tricia,

    I perfected a meal for my greyhounds (one of whom is diabetic) that resulted in perfect bloodwork from the vet. It includes all organic ingredients: lentils, quinoa, veggies and some fruit, and vegedog and vegeyeast from harbinger's. And they love it. If you need any help, let me know. My cat, I believe, laughed at me when I introduced vegan food to her. As per prad's link to the biological/physiological components, cats and dogs certainly aren't designed as herbivores, so I must admit that I'm not sure if it's the right thing to do FOR THEM. It's right for me, but I'm an entirely different species. I struggle.

    July 30, 2007
  7. Thanks for bringing this up. I think that it's true people will suggest "humane" animal products because they believe people cannot be vegan. I do believe that some people WON'T be vegan, but I have to believe that everyone CAN be vegan if they so choose. I cannot think that I'm somehow so smart or so compassionate or so special that I'm set apart from the rest of humanity. While there is variation in the amount of compassion people feel or express, I think that if you look around at other vegans there is the full range from people who are mainly doing it for the environment or people who don't want to kill animals but don't really become activists, to people who feel it deeply. Veganism is in the reach of every single person out there–they just don't realize it. Our job is to show them that it's possible, sustainable and vital, not to make them feel better about eating animals and their eggs and milk.

    July 30, 2007
  8. Mary,

    Thanks for dog food recipe. My dogs are veg and love their green beans and rice and other foods we give them. I probably wasn't clear when I mentioned the vet from our farm walk who purchased happy meat for her animals. I could never purchase meat for any reason at all, so I was a bit surprised that as a vegan this vet could actually dice up raw meat for her companions. The recipe for your greyhounds sounds delicious. I have never given our dogs lentils, but will give it a try. The other day at the dog park a woman offered both of our dogs some biscuits and neither one would touch them. She said how strange that was and I asked her if the bicuits were veg and of course she said "why no" and I said that's why; they will only eat vegetarian. Our cats love brewers yeast and rice, along with a slice of melon, but they still get some dry food that has meat in it. It's a work in progress especially for the 2 old ladies, the 2 younger ones are more ammenable to a veg diet. On Prads site their is evolution for cats that has the neccessary ingredients cats need in their diet. Farm Sanctuary has all vegetarian cats and according to my friend who vistits a couple of times a year all the cats are healthy and thriving.

    July 31, 2007
  9. The dog food thing is so interesting. You can find someone who says: raw (predator diet) is best, vegan is best, no grain is best, they have to have grains. No veggies, they have to have veggies, no fruit, they could have some fruit, kibble is the root of all evil, and on and on. And there are vets to back up whichever diet you choose. I blogged a bit too much about dog food a while back, and I received some vicious feedback because of my transparency. I decided that my goal was to have healthy dogs with healthy coats and teeth, and have the diabetic use as little insulin as possible, and everyone can take a hike.

    I tried Evolution for my kitty. I'm not wild about the ingredients, and she was even less happy. My dogs will eat anything. But the cat? Personification of finicky. She eats Evanger's seafood and caviar and some raw kibble. I can't believe your cat eats melon or rice! You have achieved what I thought was impossible!

    July 31, 2007
  10. The reason my cats love rice and melon is that many years ago after we had had eaten cantelope, we found the rinds chewed completely with their little teeth marks. When we would eat popcorn with brewers yeast they would sit and beg. So we started to give them rice with brewers yeast; they would devour it along with the melon. They taught us what to feed them. The cats also enjoy some other fruits and veggies. My goal is to have them be vegan, but I will let them ultimately decide for themselves. If they refuse evolution they will still get a bit of dry food. I will have to archive your blog of dog food and see comments.

    July 31, 2007
  11. Most people who want to really insult me e-mail me rather than commenting, but there are comments. In a nutshell: dogs are carnivores, you idiot, don't try to make them vegans. And the other end: I can't believe you don't eat meat but you feed your dogs meat. You hypocritical, animal-killing jackass!

    Perfect scenario? No companion animals. But we're dealing with an imperfect situation, and I see both sides AND I've experienced both sides. The problem with the argument that we're herbivores by nature, is that the very next thing someone should respond with is: what do you feed your dogs and cats (secondary and obligate carnivores)? I stick with the moral argument, and do feel a bit uneasy about making moral decisions for other species. I'd do it if I had a child, no question, but that's different. Again, you might disagree.

    July 31, 2007

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS