Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Veggie Labels

I have started a very bad habit, lately. Somewhat sort of (but not very) recently, YouTube changed a feature such that when you watch a video, it shows how much you've watched on the underside of the thumbnail, which means it has a full red line when you watch the entire video. This is a useful feature, but because I have mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies, I have started going through all the channels I've subscribed to so as to rewatch all the videos and redden all of the video thumbnails. This is probably not a healthy thing to do.
I bring this up because I recently saw that one of the people I am subscribed to is a vegetarian, and not only that but they used to vlog about it quite a lot and make a big deal out of it in the hopes of maybe convincing more people. I found this to be quite painful, because the points they made were as unconvincing as vegetarian arguments always are, let alone vegan arguments. The Word of the Day is: 'VEGETARIAN'

Vegetarian /vəja'tairreeən/ n. 1. Someone who on moral principle or from personal choice lives on vegetable food (refusing fish, meat, etc.). ♦adj. 2. Of, or relating to, this practice or principle. 3. Consisting solely of vegetables.

There is only one reason to be a vegetarian, and that is because you do not want to eat meat. If you don't want to, then don't, because you can do that and still be very healthy. If you're a vegan that's a whole other thing because I have seen research that shows that it's an unhealthy diet which cannot be sustained naturally, but I've also seen a LOT of evidence against that, so if it is in fact a thing that is healthy to do, and you want to avoid all animal products, then I am not here to tell you not to do that either. Heck, my oldest brother hates eating eggs because he thinks they're gross. He's not vegan, he just doesn't want to eat eggs, and although I disagree with him it's not my decision as to what he should eat.
See, at the end of the day, I don't really care what you eat so long as you eat it of your own free will and don't get sick. Hell, the best reason to go vegetarian is because it can be healthy for you.
However, there are some theories that it is sugar as well as high fructose corn syrup moreso than animal fats and butter that have caused the obesity epidemic especially in America - and you can in fact get fat eating just salad - so don't assume that "vegetarian" means healthy. After all, cake is vegetarian . . .
But I am not a vegetarian and I never will be for a few relatively simple reasons.

See, the main crux of the vegetarian argument is always the suffering that animals undergo during the process of turning a living cow into a burger. Now, for the record, this also applies to chickens, sheep, pigs, goats, dogs, crabs, fish, pheasant, whales or whatever animal you prefer to slaughter and consume. But, I like to simplify the argument by using cows because not only does most of the stuff relating to cows also apply to other animals, but it's a common farm animal, and I like cows, I think that they are beautiful animals and I like the taste of steak, so I think it's quite relevant.

See, according to moral vegetarians, farming animals causes them to suffer, and by eating meat we cause that suffering, by simple mathematics. Supply and demand, we want it so they kill it. If we didn't want it, they wouldn't kill it, so we shouldn't even ask for it. Seems simple enough.

However, there are two issues with that, but let's start with the simple one. If we didn't ask for it, they wouldn't do it. There's a kind of logic in that, perhaps, as if we reduced meat consumers to zero, then we would reduce meat suppliers to zero meaning that animal suffering would also be zero. However, it's fundamentally flawed, because turning every person vegeterian is, by every stretch of the imagination, impossible. So, the first reason I am not a vegetarian is because:
Being vegetarian doesn't make a difference.
There are several people that make it clear they don't even care that animals suffer. Personally, I do, and I disagree wholeheartedly with those people, but enough people don't that you will never convince everyone with the "turn vegetarian to stop the suffering" point of view. Several people already hunt their own animals for meat and I think that's incredibly cruel unless they are a good shot or they know how to slit a throat for a quick death. Though when I consider the alternatives, I'd rather that hunters eat what they kill since that's better than trophy hunting. I much prefer someone to kill an animal and eat it than to just let it rot so that they can prove how easy it is to kill an unsuspecting victim when you are hiding far away with a dangerous weapon . . . sorry got side-tracked.
The point is, no matter how many people "do" want to stop contributing to the trade in farmed meat by turning vegetarian, unless that number is zero you're not actually reducing suffering. Most people in the World eat meat - of course when you get into actual statistics, it varies by country. The percentage of vegetarians is 3.2% in America, but may be as high as 11% in Australia and could even get up to 40% in India. But unless that number is 100%, then animals will still be killed.
So, in essence, one person becoming vegetarian because they want to stop animals from dying is at best naively idealistic and at worst, bluntly stupid.

But you might think "hey, less suffering is better, right?" Well, that's the next issue I have with this argument. I do not believe that there is a causal link between eating meat and causing animals to suffer. This is less cynical realist point of view like before and more a simple logical understanding of the facts, so you will need to follow me on this one. See, the second reason I am not a vegetarian is because:
I cannot see eating meat as inherently immoral.
To begin with, killing is not the issue. After all, in order to eat vegetables you need to kill them, so killing is not the issue. But the crucial difference between animals and plants in this regard is that no matter how you rip it out of the ground, pluck it from its branch or pull out its seeds, a plant is not going to suffer. It can't, it's biologically impossible. So, it's not killing that matters, but suffering.
However, as much as animals are capable of suffering, there are ways to kill animals that reduce, and may even remove, suffering. In fact, in Australia it is law that animals must be stunned before death, and there are a great deal of practices that are legislated for the purposes of ensuring a painless stun leading to unconsciousness so that the animal can have its throat slit without any pain, the most common being an electrical shock to the brain. It causes an epileptic seizure that knocks them unconscious. They literally die in their sleep. Painless, and quick. And I did research - no, epileptic seizures do not cause pain.
Of course, there is a possibility that some slaughterhouses may not stun their animals properly, they may not use equipment that complies with animal welfare codes, and that does concern me. However, if I were to declare "No, I will not eat meat, I don't like that" . . . how does that fix the problem?
To me, that's just turning a blind eye to the issue rather than dealing with it. The solution is not to cut your losses and run, but to proactively promote animal welfare. Avoid practices like halal and kosher when they are not performed painlessly; never purchase meat from sellers supplied by factory farms or other products from intensive animal farming & do your research before you choose your grocery store.
Sure, that's more difficult than just eating salad and cake, but that's because things that matter are always more difficult than eating salad and cake.

Of course, even now, I can already hear people saying "But what about the other practices: Mulesing; Farrowing Crates; Overcrowding; Unsanitary Pens; killing Bobby Calves & Cage Eggs?"
Wow, you're quite knowledgeable. However, for most of these issues that I've looked into, the practice is either unharmful or unnecessary.
Mulesing, is done to prevent fly strike, and so prevents suffering; and in some cases farmers use anti-septics and painkillers to prevent pain.
Farrowing crates are used to prevent sows from harming each other during pregnancy due to hormonal changes, and stops piglets from being crushed by their much larger mother, but in Australia it's been reduced, to stop sows from being confined for their entire pregnancy, and loose housing is used to isolate aggressive sows and even allows victimized pigs to find safety.
Overcrowding is being prevented by legislation, as is poor hygiene and cage egg production.
Also, Bobby Calves are the product of dairy cows, as they are impregnated so as to produce milk, and their calves are taken away and sold and/or slaughtered. However, these calves are well taken care of in their youth, and it is against the law in Australia to transport a bobby calf before it has been well taken care of and is able to stand on its own.

But there are two major issues I haven't covered. Firstly, I'm lucky because I'm Australian - the stuff I am talking about probably doesn't apply to you. According to my blog analytics, most of you reading this are American. Factory farming is rampant in America, especially because the land isn't suited to such high density cattle farming, and especially in the dust bowls of America they're forced to feed cattle mostly on artificial feed instead of grass, since they don't have enough grass to feed their oversized herds, which means the animals are less healthy and the meat isn't as good for you. Simple things like "not trapping newborn animals in a crate" are often ignored, with only eight states of America banning veal crates and there's no research I've heard regarding how animals are slaughtered, but there are a fair share of horror stories.
Yet, despite all this, there is actually a way of resolving this that doesn't require you to turn vegetarian, and will actually help you as well as the animals that we rely on to help nourish us. Eat Less Meat.
Allow me to explain . . . Did you know that (on average) if you eat seven bananas, you will have exceeded the daily recommended intake of sugar? It doesn't take much to overdo what your body needs.
That's relevant, because there are a lot of facts about recommended intake that people just don't seem to know or understand. In particular, did you know that the average recommended daily intake of red meat is just 130 grams, or two serves of 65 grams? That may not seem like much, but it's actually even less than that, because the way nutrition is measured is not "meat" but "protein", and it's not measured in grams but kilojoules, so 1000-1200 kJ a day. So, if you eat two eggs, that's one serve of protein, 500 kJ right there, now you can only eat 65 grams of red meat before reaching the average daily recommended intake. And don't even get me started on fish. One cup of baked beans? That's another serve. A handful (30 g) of nuts? That's another serve. The average "Full English Breakfast", with bacon, eggs, baked beans and sausages is often about twice the recommended daily intake of protein.
So, by most estimations, you are eating too much meat. Hell, at my local tavern, the average rump steak is 200 grams. But they also offer 250 grams, and I've even seen 400 gram steaks.  Most people eat too much meat, because it tastes good, it's salty and greasy, often tender and juicy, it makes you feel full and when it's cooked just right it can make a dish sing.

Now remember, these numbers come from minimal research on my part, and even if it's accurate your recommended intake changes depending on your gender, your size, your age and your daily activities; protein is good for muscle development, so it's good to eat if you're bulking up, but most people aren't and yet still eat like they're a body builder. Hell, it would be even less if you want to lose weight.
And if you're American, the meat will also be higher in cholesterol and if it's processed it can have less nutrients and be detrimental to your health overall.
Again, I'm not a vegetarian. I never will be, because I don't see any issue with eating meat. Sure, it can be unhealthy and it can cause animal suffering . . . but it doesn't have to, and (where I live, at least) it often doesn't. Heck, because the majority of the Australian beef cow's diet is grass, Australian steak is actually good for you. Healthy, happy cows make healthy, happy meals which leads to healthy, happy people.

Overall, I can't help but feel like, although there are also issues regarding "imprisonment" and "slavery" and "rights", there's something that I cannot ignore when it comes to the consumption of meat. They're cows.
First of all, when a cow lives in the wild, it has to spend its life looking for food and running from predators; if it's a bull, it has to fight other bulls for superiority. And most of the time, when a cow dies it is because a wildcat, a wild dog or some other carnivore has grabbed it by the throat and ripped it out, or caught its hind leg and gnawed on it until it couldn't run away. Or been ripped apart by a pack of predators too small to take it down on their own. Or, it's a calf that's been preyed upon because it was too far from its mother and was an easy kill for a hungry creature. Animals are wild, savage, eat first and don't ask questions later because you're an animal and the answer is always "I was hungry".

This tends to be true of most of our livestock. It's a prey animal. So, when we feed it, put it in a field and let it grow, give it water, let them sleep and mate and moo without being threatened by predators, then we have improved their life. See, the third reason why I am not a vegetarian is because
There are fundamental differences between livestock and human beings.
When we kill a human being, it's sad because of all the potential that person lost in their death. They could have had children, they could have written a play or painted a tapestry or sung a gorgeous song. Or, they could have been a member of the audience, they could have been a checkout clerk, they could have helped be a pallbearer at a funeral or they could have held the top score on Donkey Kong - no matter how small their role, their loss has meaning. And, when they die, those close to them often suffer.
But, unfortunately for a cow, a cow is just a cow. I think they should be happy, I think they deserve to spend time in the sunshine and have a glorious poop, eat some lovely grass, enjoy a refreshing drink of water on a hot day, go for a run and have a cosy, warm sleep. But, those are simple cow things, and once a cow has done those things, the potential for its life has reached its limit. There's no loss of potential, and there's no emotional suffering. See, cows also don't think that a single cow matters. Prey animals don't think like us. If your friend died, you'd notice, because Dave would go missing and you would sympathize for his loss. But cows have a herd mentality, they think of the herd as a whole, not as a group of individuals each with their own purpose and meaning.

However, a cow can have purpose and meaning, by becoming food and fuel for us, to allow for mankind to become greater. I think, it is for that reason, that I care about their suffering. I don't want them to suffer, because I think they matter.
History tells us that agriculture is an important step between nomad and civilian. Agriculture creates a need to stay in one place, and when you do that, you create towns and cities and eventually civilization. And I don't see that as exploitation, because in exchange for that, cows live happily in the pasture instead of constantly roaming through wild plains, hoping that it doesn't get eaten. At least, it does when they're not overpopulating a feed lot . . .

And this is my counter-point to the slippery slope argument. There is a very simplistic argument that says "If we can just say we're smarter, so we can do what we like to animals, then what if there is a species which is smarter than us? Would an advanced alien species have the right to eat us?"
Of course, by that logic, they would. But that isn't my logic. My point of view is that we have a right to eat certain animals because in this context, suffering is not inherent in the practice of animal husbandry and slaughter. However, because we are sapient of the context of individualism, lost potential, golden cages, liberty, justice and respect for the dead, it would be nearly impossible to farm human being without the horror of the situation causing emotional suffering.
However - and I say this perhaps as a horrific foreshadowing to our eventual first contact with an alien species, but nonetheless - if an alien species were capable of farming human beings without causing suffering, either physically, through emotional distress, existential horror or manipulation, then they ought be able.
For you see, the reason cows don't suffer existential horror or emotional distress at their situation is because they don't have the intellectual capacity to suffer in those ways.

So, at the end of the day, just because I eat a burger, that doesn't mean that the cow responsible for that flesh has had to suffer. But to guarantee that, the goal should not be to avoid eating burgers. Because someone will always eat meat.
Think about it, is it not ironic that a large number of vegetarians are also cat lovers? We are omnivorous and we have the capacity to choose a meat-free diet, but many of our pets are carnivores - especially our dogs and cats. They would suffer and die without meat in their diet, their bodies aren't made to subsist on vegetables, they have no such choice. So, even if every single human being on the planet were to stop eating meat tomorrow, we would still need to farm or hunt meat for non-human meat consumption.
So, to make everyone happy, cows included, is going to take more than putting down your fork.

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and until next time, remember - this is a counter-argument specifically to the moral argument against eating meat. However, as much as I see no reason why we should not eat meat, there's also little reason why we should. Everyone should eat less meat, so if you think you can go vegetarian and eat no meat, I encourage it so long as it's not just an attempt at Virtue Signalling.
Oh, and if you have religious reasons why you don't eat meat, don't worry. I am working on a future blog post explaining why your god doesn't exist.