Over Christmas I went spent a week back up in Dublin. Aside from growing a beard in my sojourn out west, the other big surprise for friends was that I no longer ate meat. A man not eating meat? A man without dreads or a particularly hippie lifestyle choosing to forgo sausages and veal, being satisfied instead by the like of hummus and tofu. I was described as being weird by more than one. After the incredulity, I would then be asked why? Why, Why, Why? Now, rather than explain my almost year long path to enlightenment which climaxed in an epiphany while staring out a train window somewhere outside Portlaoise, I needed something to come up with something snappier for responding when cornered over some festive scoops down the local. So my response got shortened to because it is “immoral and disgusting”. Naturally that causes serious offence to the questioner. Telling someone that their lifestyle is immoral and disgusting is definitely offensive. But I have found their is no other way if you are a regular enough 30-something man who suddenly stops eating meat. There is no moving off topic. People won’t let it slide. And cornered, you come-out with a reason like because it is immoral and disgusting.
Naturally, the meat-eaters response is defensive. But I have to continue that I am not proselytizing, just answering the question that won’t go away. But that is never enough. The defense begins. The first argument that normally rears its head is the “Argument from Caveman” as I like to call it. Now while fond of using this weapon on occasion myself when deconstructing the wholly unnatural and uncaveman-like normalities of 21st century living such as sitting all day, it is a blunt tool, as blunt as the club the caveman used the knock women over before raping them. And the latter act is universally abhorred in 2010. But I just leave it at immoral and disgusting. The whole thing is akin to actually discussing religion. Believer and non-believer can can very offended very quickly, particularly the one side who genuinely it interested in the topic, which could be either. Discussing the ethics of meat-eating does not polite conversation make. And whats worse it normally gets raised right before dinner is served, after I order the risotto, but before the questioners get their medium rare T-bones.
So I will explain why and how it happened my meat-eating stopped and leave it at that. The how is more interesting and leads to the why. My trip last year from Romania to India largely by train got me thinking about meat consumption. In Romania, Ukraine and Russia, greasy cuts could not be avoided and I thought more than once about meat quality, but it was Mongolia that got me really thinking. We never saw even a head of lettuce growing in the country. The majority of the population eat meat and dairy products exclusively. And they even manage a higher life expectancy than Russia while they are at it. Who would of thought spending the winter eating dried yak and fermented mares milk could be a healthy lifestyle.
And then on we went to China. Good lord, if it called a duck but it doesn’t look or quack like a duck, it’s probably not a duck. And I’m not even talking about the Peking duck we apparently got one night, a meal so bad we had to go the McDonalds after to cleanse the system. But while meat-eating came across as highly natural for humans in Mongolia, it was in Nepal and India where I first saw that vegetarianism is actually viable and natural. Mis-education on the subject leads most people to believe that adequate nutrition is not possible without meat. Lots of tut-tutting about lack of iron and protein. However, we trekked through the Himalayas with guides and porter who ate nothing but lentil daal, vegetable curry and rice twice a day. As these guys go all the way to the top of everest. In India, we stayed in a friends house where we were served a feast of six or seven dishes every night, all vegetarian, and all tastier than any meat dish back home. So by the end of the trip, I had learned two new pieces of information. Not eating meat was both viable and tasty. However, while we ate more non-meat meals when we got back, this new found wisdom was more the carrot than the whip on my journey. After my wife became pregnant, we stopped eating red meat because it became a random pregnancy anti-craving . So by the middle of this year, we were down to eating meat maybe three times a week.
And then I took a train trip back to Dublin one friday evening from Ennis. It was probably 9 at night, darkness begining to move in on a July summers night. The train cut through the midlands, through fields speckled with small herds of cows. Clouds were looming and there was a slight drizzle. In one particular field the cows retreated to a sheltered corner and looked out fearfully at the approaching storm and down at their young. Something dark lurked in the night for them and they seemed afraid. They knew not what it was but they looked scared. They had no idea they would be chopped up and eaten in just a few short months but they new nothing of that, they just looked out fearfully at the clouds in the distance. And it was at that moment I decided I could never eat meat again. Not because of some dubious chicken I ate in china, or to save the planet, or to loose weight, or to keep fat levels down, or because animals are purely treated in the meat industry. But because I looked into the eyes of those fearful cows on that field somewhere in Carlow, and I saw fear, the fear any sentient creature, be they man or beast experience when their life and that of their young is threatened. And just how pathetic they seemed standing out in the drizzle, worrying about the weather when they had no idea their brothers, sisters, sons and daughters would soon be chopped up in an abbatoir up the road along side themselves.
Now I can torment myself about when to draw the line on what a sentient creature is. Some draw is under homo sapiens. Some between the cow and the chicken (pollotarian), some between chicken and fish (pescetarian). I am drawing it under all those. I still feel guilt, not so much a bout organic eggs but about drinking milk. Not because I think milking cows is cruel. One way of looking at it is the cows need to earn their living like we do. But all the males dairy offspring that are put down or turned into veal. I would like to be a vegan but it is next to impossible. Another hundred years maybe it might be possible without being obnoxious with more advanced synthetic production.
However, I genuinely believe if we move forward a couple of hundred years, man we have outlawed meat-eating for ethical reasons, and he will looks back in horror at our generation thinking we should have known better, just like we do at cannibals in papa new guinea or the rapist caveman clubbing women.