I'm Not a Vegetarian, and I'm Okay With That

So What's Wrong With Carnivorism?

I don't eat much meat. In fact, sometimes I go days without eating any. I do this mostly for my health. But I'm not a vegetarian, and have no intention to become one. Why the paradox? And what’s wrong with eating all the meat you want, anyway?

It’s Not Only About What I Eat

 I don't like the diet that most animals intended for food are raised with. They don't get to eat as they were meant to eat. Chickens are meant to eat bugs as well as grass and grains. In the chicken factory, they only get corn. Cows are meant to eat grass. In the feedlot, they only get corn. Pigs are meant to eat all manner of stuff. In the hog confinement, they only get corn. And so on. This means the factory-raised meat is not the same meat we're meant to be eating. We're meant to be eating animals that grew up eating their natural diet. The corn that the animals eat affects their tissues. Corn-fed beef (in advertising, “corn-fed” is meant to be a good thing) has a higher fat content. The meat is “marbled for flavor.” But it’s also much higher in cholesterol.

In contrast, Argentinean beef is raised entirely on grass. The Argentine beef producers don’t crowd their cattle into feed lots and make them eat corn. Argentine beef is also meant to be tastier, lower in fat and cholesterol, and better for you. Luckily, you don’t have to go all the way to Argentina to get grass-raised beef. Check your local farmers’ market to find a local producer of grass-fed beef (or free-range chicken or pork). It will cost more than at the supermarket, but it’s worth it.

See the Difference?

What we think of as a "farm"
What we think of as a "farm"
Where most of our meat really comes from (those black rectangles are waste lagoons)
Where most of our meat really comes from (those black rectangles are waste lagoons)

Miserable Meat

On the surface, this has less to do with nutrition, but I'm unhappy with the way industrial animals are treated. They don't get to be animals; rather, they're treated as a product, like a cell phone or a CD player, that can be put on a shelf and ignored. If you think the pig or the cow or the chicken that you ate for dinner last night grew up on a farm in the fresh air and sunshine, you’re wrong. The meat that most of us eat comes from industrial factories that can only be called “farms” in that they produce calories for human consumption. The animals are either crammed into tiny cages, or else confined and dangerously overcrowded in a mega-barn. Caged or otherwise, the animals are so close to each other that they have to receive antibiotics as a preventative measure, or else if one chicken, hog, or cow gets sick, they'll probably all get sick before anybody notices. They may have “access” to the outdoors, but all this really means is that there’s a tiny door to a tiny lawn that doesn’t necessarily (and rarely does) get used. All of these unnatural conditions, on top of the unnatural diet, makes for stressed-out animals. Meat saturated with stress hormones is different from meat that isn’t. It’s not just protein we’re eating. We’re also getting all the cortisol and norepinephrine these animals have been producing. Norepinephrine has been linked to ADHD, which, along with type II diabetes, obesity, and heart disease is a growing public health problem.

Another problem related to these Caged Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) is the pollution. Animals eat. They also excrete. On a traditional fresh-air-and-sunshine-type farm, animal waste is incorporated back into the ecosystem in a sustainable way. This works because the animals get to roam around a comparatively large area. In a CAFO, the high concentrations of animals result in equally high concentrations of poo and pee that overwhelm the local ecosystem. The pollutants include ammonia, phosphorous, nitrates, and high concentrations of e. coli bacteria. The chemicals mentioned interfere with the natural oxygenation of water, creating “dead zones” like the one in the Gulf of Mexico (as of 2009, the Gulf’s dead zone covered over 3000 square miles). We are all aware of what e. coli contamination can do to public health. Aside from the quantifiable chemical and bacterial effects, there is also the smell.

What is the Meatrix

Shh. You Smell That?

 My father grew up outside the town of Buckeye, Iowa. When I was younger, we would visit the family there for a week or two every summer, and we enjoyed it very much. On a more recent visit to Buckeye, after a few CAFOs had been built on three sides of the town, two things were impossible to overlook: the ever-present stench, and the empty homes. If you’ve never been downwind of a CAFO, trust me: it’s not pleasant. You wouldn’t want to live there. Small towns all over America are dying—or rather, being killed off—by CAFOs.

On top of all the practical reasons not to support industrial meat production, I don't want to be a part of making animals—and their human neighbors—miserable for my convenience.

Some Related Media

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver's thoughts on why eating meat isn't inherently evil, among other things.

 
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto
In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

 
Food, Inc. [Blu-ray]
Food, Inc. [Blu-ray]

A documentary on industrial/corporate food, and a 2010 Oscar nominee.

 
King Corn
King Corn

A couple college students rent an acre of Iowa farmland and follow their crop from field to food. (Their attempt to make high-fructose corn syrup is especially amusing.)

 

So Why Not Go Veggie?

But I like crispy bacon. I like roast beef. I like fried chicken. I’m a member of the species homo sapiens sapiens, which has evolved (or was designed, depending on your viewpoint) to eat meat as well as plants. And dang if I don’t love to fire up the grill on the weekends. So when I do buy meat, I make sure to get it from a local farmer who raises his livestock in a humane, sustainable way. You can find out how your meat is raised by talking to the farmer who raised it. You could even visit the farm. Most farmers welcome visits from their customers. Some even only sell meat at their farm, so you have to visit them to buy. Because I have a relationship with the folks who raise the meat that I eat, I know that the cow, chicken, or pig that graces my grill had a really good life. Well, right up until the last couple minutes, anyway. They were allowed to behave like an animal instead of being treated like a VCR. They weren’t dosed with hormones or antibiotics, they didn’t create an overwhelming concentration of nasty, and they were slaughtered in the most humane way possible.

Anyone who eats anything is eating something that was once alive. We take a life when we harvest a strawberry, just as when we slaughter a hog. I don’t feel guilty for taking a plant’s or an animal’s life to sustain my own or my family’s. But just as I wouldn’t keep a dog or a cat locked up in a tiny cage full of poo all of its life, I wouldn’t raise a cow that way either. I likewise wouldn’t want to pay someone to do it for me. True, I pay more money for the meat that I buy. But the true cost of industrial meat is much greater.

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Comments 19 comments

daniel a. earle 6 years ago

Despite my position as a vegan, I did like your article. I would, however, like to offer four points of (hopefully) constructive criticism.

1. This is just semantics, but you are not carnivorous if you eat meat from time to time. Carnivores eat flesh as their primary means of sustenance. Humans are either omnivores or herbivores.

2. They type of animals that we are "meant" to eat. I suppose if you are making a religious argument you could say this, depending on the religion and which interpretation you use, but generally we are not "meant" to eat any one thing. Human beings are very adaptable, that is the secret of our success. Veg people often point to certain physiological features that are more consistent with herbivores than omnivores as evidence that we are not "meant" to eat meat. This has the same failing, we are not meant to eat any specific thing (from our perspective, from the perspective of an apple tree you could argue that we are "meant" to eat apples) more than any other, we have adapted to be able to eat all the things that we do and this includes plants, free range animals, CAFO animals, chemicals, etc. We endure despite nature's "natural order" because we are so adaptable and thus (as a species) are the determinants of what we are "meant" to eat.... See More

3. Humane slaughter. I am uncertain on this one, but it is a common perception in the veg community that "all animals end up at the same slaughter houses." As I say, I am not certain of this one, having only heard it repeated without looking into it myself. The argument is based, I believe on some notion that there are certain laws that limit who is qualified to slaughter an animal and where they are allowed to do it. This may or may not be true, but may be worth looking into to either add strength to your argument if it is untrue or to be addressed if it is. Another reason why this perception may exist is that is seems likely that one would send their animals off to slaughter because it is more economically viable.

4. We take the life of a strawberry just as we take the life of a pig. First off, we don't take the life of a strawberry since it is a berry and the plant continues to exist after parts of it are removed. These same parts falling off of the plants are part of its natural life cycle and strategy for propagation. However, I get what you mean and your point is true with most vegetables. While this is technically true that you are taking a life, it is quite easy to observe the difference the affect of taking this life has on both the plant and the animal. When we take the life of a carrot we are not (as far as we have been able to determine so far) causing it any pain of suffering, nor are we extinguishing any type of consciousness, with an animal the same cannot be reasonably claimed. So there is a qualitative difference. If you contend that it is ok to cause pain and suffering to an animal and also to extinguish its consciousness, then you should probably address the question: why is it ok to do this to one kind of animal and not another? Humans are animals, as are dogs, cats, horses, and gerbils. But all are generally taboo for meat. Why, from an ethical standpoint, is it ok to farm, kill, and eat a cow, but not a human? We are both vertebrates and mammals. We both experience pain and suffering, and we both have a conscious self-awareness.

To end on a positive note. I am all for anyone who is against the factory farming system. Not only does it cause tremendous suffering for the animals, it is destroying the environment as well. When you choose not to participate in the factory farming system you are improving the health of the animals, the humans, and the planet.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Daniel!

Re: point 1, you're of course correct. Humans are biologically omnivores, not carnivores, regardless of how much meat we eat (or don't). We can be herbivores by choice, though.

Re: point 2, I'm not really trying to make a religious argument, and I suppose "capable of eating" would have been a better choice of words than "meant to eat." Somehow this point got truncated on you, though. (See more...) I'd love to see what else you had to say.

Re: point 3, no, not all animals end up at the same slaughterhouses, although the meatpacking industry is doing its level best to make this true. There are rules about how and under what conditions animals can be slaughtered, but those rules can be followed (if one can afford it) by anybody. When I buy a chicken carcass, for example, the person I buy it from did everything from raising it to slaughtering it to plucking and gutting it. And you can always do your own without government interference.

Re: point 4, people in other cultures eat some animals that would seem pretty strange to you and me. Iguana, for example. Or horsemeat. There's nothing inherently wrong with eating dog or cat or mockingbird, either, just like there's nothing wrong with brussels sprouts. I don't eat them though, 'cos I don't like them. Same thing.

As for why we don't eat humans, well, perhaps it's speciesist, but I just don't see raising humans for meat to be anywhere close to raising cows or lobsters or chinchillas for meat. You'll probably disagree, and that's cool. But if I'm going to eat a kid, it'd better be a baby goat. :-)

Finally, I agitate for humane farming rather than veganism for two reasons. First, I like bacon with my lettuce and tomato. Second, I think a lot of people who care about health also like B with their LT, and will be more likely to eat less meat than no meat at all.


Bernadette1968 profile image

Bernadette1968 6 years ago from Michigan

Hi, Jeff,

Good article. Your views on this subject are pretty close to mine. My parents are vegetarians, but not vegans. My mother became a vegetarian when I was twelve years old. She cooked meat for the rest of us for a while, but then my dad became a vegetarian so my mom just made vegetarian meals for the whole family.

After I became an adult, I tried to continue eating a vegetarian diet, but my husband wasn't vegetarian so it was difficult. Plus, one day I just had a craving for beef. I told my daughter just the other day that if it weren't for roast beef and crispy bacon I wouldn't mind being a vegetarian.

We don't eat meat everyday, though. I make vegetarian meals three or four times a week. I agree with you about the importance of free range farming. The factory farms have got to go! I really want to see the return of small farms. Small, family-owned farms with free range animals would be of tremendous benefit to society. I buy free-range products whenever I can.

I liked "The Meatrix." I've seen it before somewhere.


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco

This is a terrific hub. I'm vegetarian, but it's a personal choice because I don't like the taste. My partner, mother, brother and most of my friends eat meat and I don't begrudge them their choice, either.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 6 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Livelonger, if you ever tried grass-raised beef, you might change your mind about the taste. I'm not saying you /should/ try grass-raised, of course, or that there's anything wrong with not eating meat at all, whatever the reason. But if taste is the only thing stopping you, and you /want/ to check it out... :)


livelonger profile image

livelonger 6 years ago from San Francisco

I doubt I'd like it. :-) (I have an aversion to all meats, no matter what the quality) But I agree that grass-raised stuff is better for you and, naturally, more humane for the animals. I prefer grass-fed dairy since it's richer in naturally-occurring CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).


Jd 5 years ago

Hello Jeff

I'd like to say that this is better constructed and argued than the majority of pro omnivorous blogs/articles on the Internet.

You are obviously a compassionate and caring person, and you seem more than willing to use your brain for thinking instead of following. 

Through my own accord, I agree with what Daniel said, and the majority of veg/vegans feel very similar to this viepoint. 

It's not only moral choice, it's also environmental. 

However, I can't help but notice and underlying theme to your argument "I want to eat meat, so I will." Which as a liberal, I am obliged to accept.

However, one thing I would like to mention, is that I and most veg/vegans supress this urge. 

It's not dead - it's a daily battle. Most o us all love the taste - millions of years of evolution is hard to argue with. Some of us are simply willing to remove our personal desires from the equation to minimise unnecessary suffering.

Humans are more than capable to survive and thrive on a vegan diet.  

Please forgive the awful spelling and grammar, i dropped out of the arts to major in science. I'm sure that's quite apparent. :)   

Regards. 

JD


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi there, JD,

Thanks for stopping by. Of course you're right that we're able to survive on a vegan diet. If anyone wants to go vegetarian or vegan, I fully support them.

Your points about an environmental choice and people liking meat are exactly the points I'm addressing here. It's possible to be environmentally conscious and still eat meat, and that's why I argue for sustainable meat. Most people like meat, and asking folks to give it up altogether is less likely to help the environment than asking folks to limit their meat intake to local, sustainably raised meat that has been kindly treated throughout its life.

All the best!

Jeff


Alexander Mark profile image

Alexander Mark 5 years ago from beautiful, rainy, green Portland, Oregon

I completely agree with you, I like meat, but I hate factory farming. I don't know much about it though and you did a good job explaining how it all works, (the video was great too). Not only are the living conditions awful, but the way animals are killed disgusts me. I've seen a few videos of cows hanging from one leg being carted on a rail to another part of the factory. There is absolutely no compassion there.

I was surprised to learn though that there was a real push by the industry to eradicate family farms and replace them with more profitable CAFO's. I figured it was just general greed rather than focused greed. Either way it's bad and getting more people to turn to better options is the key to ending the abuse of animals and the environment.

And we wonder why there is so much cancer.

Funny and educational video and great hub.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Thanks for the kind words, AM.

The push wasn't just by the farm industry, but also from the Federal Government. President Nixon's Secretary of Agriculture started the "Get Big or Get Out" campaign to ensure that groceries would get cheaper. And groceries did get cheaper, in every sense of the word.


StarCreate profile image

StarCreate 5 years ago from Spain

Jeff I enjoyed and respect this article, as a veggie myself... whilst we naturally disagree on a number of points, your awareness and environmental commitment does you credit. I am not the kind of veggie who goes around campaigning, but if I did it would make more sense to put my efforts into trying to convert 100% of omnivores into sourcing local, environmentally sound, and humanely-raised meat, than to spend the same effort potentially converting less than 10% to giving up meat entirely... which is why I liked this article!


JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

The true cost (to everyone) of factory-farmed meat is much higher in health, safety, cruelty to animals and the environment than the cost of grass-fed, range-free meat animals raised in a humane manner. In fact, the cost is too high, but most people don't see it that way. They're in denial. The average consumer does not want to know how meat animals are "produced" or how unhealthy the finished product is for consumption.

As for the corn used to feed industrially-produced meat animals, it's probably GMO and has likely been sprayed with enough pesticide to kill everything in the soil in which it grew. If the saying, "You are what you eat" is true for people, it's also true for animals.

Okay...I'll admit it. I was a vegan and am now a pesco-ovo-tarian (as prescribed by my doctor now that I've gotten old).


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, Jaye,

Yes, the true cost of factory-raised meat is unsustainably high, and most folks don't see it. The reason is that the point of purchase price is kept artificially low by subsidies at every stage of the game. Production of feed corn is subsidized. Production of the petroleum-based fertilizer used to grow the corn is subsidized. Large-scale CAFOs are subsidized. And since they're legally considered to be farms and not factories, the CAFOs don't have to follow the same rules about toxic waste as a factory does; they don't have to pay to clean up their own messes.

All of these factors work to artificially depress the purchase price of factory meat, and make real meat seem prohibitively expensive: a luxury item. But the true (hidden) costs of factory meat are more than we can continue to pay.


Alison Clement profile image

Alison Clement 5 years ago from western Oregon

Great essay, Jeff! People traditionally ate local food. They ate the same kinds of food as their ancestors, and that included meat from healthy, grazing animals. They passed their food knowledge on. Now, for the first time, we can choose our diet based on ideology. We've lost our food knowledge. I was a strict vegetarian for many years. I was briefly macrobiotic. I ate no mammals for over 20 years. Now I eat a traditional diet, and that includes meat from grazing animals, salmon, elk. One of my favorite books about diet is by Nina Planck, Real Food.

Also I think the best thing people can do for the welfare of animals, is to protect habitat by eating organically.

Thank you for talking about this in such a clear and complete way.


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 5 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Thanks for the kind words, Alison.

You're right, we have for the most part become disconnected from the way our food gets to our table. There are ways to re-connect, though, and the local farmers' market is my favorite.

Best,

JB


bethperry profile image

bethperry 4 years ago from Tennesee

"Anyone who eats anything is eating something that was once alive."

So very true!

You know, back in the days before slaughter houses, processed foods and fashionable veganism, some peoples actually thanked the spirit of the animal that served as their meal. I have to wonder if the belief that animals were put on the earth solely to serve man isn't part of why mankind is often so brutal to other life forms? We all are part of that circle of life thing, but I don't think it is right to assume we sit in a privileged seat at nature's dining room table.

Anyway, fantastic hub. Voting up!


Jeff Berndt profile image

Jeff Berndt 4 years ago from Southeast Michigan Author

Hi, bethperry,

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. Some people still do give thanks to the animals they eat. I don't think the belief that man is meant to have dominion over animals actually causes people to be cruel to them, but I can see it allowing a lot of people to not see the suffering caused by our industrialized meat system as a big deal. The thing is, it's not just that the animals suffer in those industrial CAFOs and slaughterhouses--the suffering changes their meat, making it less healthy (and perhaps actively bad for us). Thanks for your kind words!

All the best,

JB


OhioGrant profile image

OhioGrant 3 years ago from Ohio

I agree with much of what you say, in fact, I found your article linked to one of my own. Check it out if you like, but I have a TON of vegetarian friends, and I find myself constantly being criticized for being a meat eater. I do believe that people should try very hard to be responsible when eating meat... Factory farms can be pretty disgusting places.


IslandBites profile image

IslandBites 3 years ago from Puerto Rico

Great hub!

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