Sunday, July 17, 2011

Vegetarian reasoning

A woman shopped in our store yesterday for a prayer book. After several minutes she had decided on a prayer book with an imitation leather cover. At Check Out she mentioned that it was a difficult choice because she is a vegetarian and although she really wanted a leather prayer book she could not purchase one that was wrapped in a cow.

She seemed open to conversation, and she brought up the topic. It is one of my favorite topics; hearing which values of a person helps them decide to become a vegetarian or vegan, or not.

This woman stated that she does not eat mammals because they are too much like humans, who are also mammals. Besides, mammals have feelings so it’s not right to kill them and eat them.

“So, just mammals?”

"Until I met a woman who raised chickens. She showed me how much she loved chickens and how nice they were, so now I don’t eat poultry. As I get older I am becoming more selective in what I eat.”

“But it is okay for you to take a nice fresh, live carrot an peel its outer skin off and eat it live?”

“Carrots are alive, but they don’t have feelings. Although it is kind of bad that I eat them when they are alive.”

I find it fascinating that some individuals offer the reason that they won’t eat certain foods because those organisms have feelings and other foods do not have feelings. Two aspects fascinate me about it. Having feelings becomes a very important determiner. How do we know for sure which living things do have feelings and which ones don’t? Or, perhaps, how much feeling is needed to cross the threshold of “feeling?” Have you ever been fishing and poked a worm with a hook, or perhaps gardening and noticed a half a worm squirming? Do worms have feelings? (Worms are just an example of a "lower" animal that feels pain. I know, most of us don't eat earthworms--knowingly. "What's worse than a worm in an apple? A half a worm in an apple!" Fact check: there are apple worms that are not earthworms.)

There are many aspects to our decisions of what we think is ethical to eat and what is not. The cattle were not killed, “harvested,” for their hides, but for their meat. So is it cruel to then use their hides to cover a book? Is it ethical to drink milk from a cow when the cow is not harmed, and it may be argued that it is helpful to the cow to be milked? Where does it fit in the decision about eating animals or their products whether it is ethical to use their excrement for fertilizing our plants that we accept as food?

I’m thinking of a diet where no living things are harmed. It could include fruit from trees, like apples, because the tree will produce apples whether we eat them or not, but not carrots or potatoes because they give up their lives for the harvest. And not grains or corn, because it is “toast” for the plants that produce them. Perhaps vine produce is okay. Grapes and berries. Squash, pumpkins, and watermelons? You can pick them without killing the plant. And, milk, cheese and eggs would be okay because the animals do not die as a result of the harvesting. Oh, the eggs would need to be unfertilized, otherwise we are eating babies.

Some individuals eat in order to stay alive. The starving may not care where their food comes from as long as they can eat some and live a little longer or a little better. Others have the great luxury of choosing a diet based upon their ethical standards. I find examining the ethical decisions that we make about our diets to be fascinating topic.

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