Friday, February 23, 2007

Vegetarian Philosophies

I've got a post in the works for Scientiae, but in the meantime I wanted to try and solicit some feedback on this new topic of mine:

I'm a recent vegetarian - I started on New Years Day (I know, how unoriginal of me - I'm not a fan of New Years Resolutions but it was just such a convenient time to get started), and am currently learning a lot about what this pursuit entails, as well as what reasons other people often site for being vegetarian.

I used to mock vegetarianism, mostly because I saw only the fuzzy-wuzzy "the aminals need our cuddles and love!" types (who were always girls. ALWAYS girls. Sorry, it's true.) that shrieked and sent back their dishes at restaurants when they learned that curry was made with fish oil, and railed against their boyfriends for eating hamburgers as though they were eating babies. I got a kick out of a bumper sticker I saw once that read "If we shouldn't eat animals, then why are they made of meat?" I never saw meat-eating as something humans were doing WRONG - we have sharp teeth for a reason. It also seems very hypocritical in some ways - a girl I talked to recently won't eat mammals because they're "cute" but has no problem chowing down on chicken or taking bites of sausage here and there because "it doesn't count, I like it!" That's not vegetarianism, that's slapping a convenient name on your picky eating (someone is much more likely to bend over backwards accomodating someone who says "I'm a vegetarian" than someone who says "I just don't like red meat...oh, and I don't like onions or spinach either. They're all just icky.")

What I do have a problem with nowadays is the industry. Information like this is extremely trouble to me, both from an environmental standpoint (greenhouse gas emissions) and a conservation standpoint (land and water management - the water resources required to maintain stock are quite debilitating to places like Arizona, New Mexico, or west Texas. I remember driving past stockades in Texas - the animal rights abominations aside, those places are SICKENING. Who would want to eat a cow that has been raised immobilized, head wedged between metal bars, and fed hormone-stuffed goo?

For the time being, this has motivated me to go fully vegetarian - no meat at all. I'm still learning about where exactly to draw the line given this stance - I have a lot of trouble swearing off curry because of four drops of fish oil, but quitting gelatin-based marshmallows seems reasonable (it helps that I never liked them much anyway). Aside from the environmental issues of the red meat and chicken industry, fish aquaculture is a difficult issue as well - I'm an organic junkie, and the increased levels of toxins in farmed fish and environmental influences are troublesome.

However, I've had many people (including The Boyfriend, who has expressed his lack of faith in my ability to stay meat-free) point out that an alternative solution is to go free-range and organic instead. One male friend pointed out (ad nauseum) that eggs and milk come from chickens and cows raised in similarly harmful environments. I know myself and I just don't have the wherewithall to go vegan, but buying organic/free-range/cage-free dairy products looks to be a good solution. Ostensibly I could apply this to my meat consumption as well. The main difficulties here deal with social situations - I have no problem being the little snot at a restaurant who asks "is your chicken free-range?" before ordering, but it becomes more complicated when I go over to a friend's house and they've made chicken enchiladas. They've seen me bringing my free-range-turkey sandwich to work, and point out "You're not a vegetarian. Why is our food not good enough for you?" I personally wouldn't feel comfortable going on a free-range rant. Some might call it consciousness-raising, but I call it being a self-righteous brat. (come on, how much power and paper do we all waste every day in academia? Even if you're conscientious about it.)

A benefit of this: the hardest part of going completely vegetarian, for me, was giving up seafood. I LOVE seafood. Having always lived in close proximity to the ocean, eating local seafood goes a long way towards supporting the little guy (one of my neighbors growing up was a lobster fisherman). And you can tell me anything about karma and being reincarnated as the prawn that I'm eating - it doesn't make the little sucker any less tasty. And a quick search has not revealed much about the environmental influence of, say, calamari (anyone with a resource is welcome to share!) A free-range diet would re-open the beautiful world of wild salmon, wild oysters, etc. Mmmmmm.

A downside of this: going vegetarian is already difficult as a poor grad student - going free-range would be VERY expensive. I already shop organic a lot of the time and it puts me at the limit of my tiny little food budget (side note: I freaking love Amy's.) Meat makes any grocery basket more expensive, and organic meat is just out of control.

Mostly, for the time being, going vegetarian just seems to be more challenging but less high-maintenance - I just can't bring myself to ever support the big-business meat industry again. Since it's an industry concern rather than a "save-the-bunnies" concern, I'm prepared to believe that this might not be a permanent condition, but it might take a little work before I arrive at another solution that I'm truly comfortable with?

Advice? Suggestions? Insults?

Carnival post coming next...

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