I came across the below tweet on Twitter and it made me start thinking about how inconsistent people’s values are when it comes to animal welfare.
Why is it socially acceptable to eat one type of animal and not another? How did one type of animal become an acceptable pet and the other primarily to be eaten? Are people even consciously aware they have made this distinction in their mind?
There are a lot of reasons why people eat meat, and the biggest one of those is that it’s socially acceptable to eat certain animals. Cows, pigs, lambs, chickens and turkeys are the UK and most of the western world’s favourite. Alongside this you’ll find plenty of cod and tuna being consumed too. If you look further afield you will come across the infamous examples of the Chinese eating cats and dogs, and the associated furore from people who like cats and dogs.
The fact that we deem it unacceptable to eat cats and dogs because we keep them as pets but will so happily eat all the other species readily highlights how inconsistent people’s values are when it comes to animals. You could if you wanted to keep any of the aforementioned animals as pets. If you are willing to eat one set of animals for food, but not another because of sentimental reasons then what you are saying is that one set of animals is less valuable than another set of animals in your own belief system. If ethically that makes sense to you, then so be it, but personally I think it’s a weak argument.
My own diet has never been too heavy on animal products as I’ve never particularly enjoyed the taste. The only exception to this is beef and dairy which featured in my diet 2 or 3 times a week. Compared to a lot of people, this is already on the low side but I decided in November 2018 that I wanted to do a 30 day vegetarian challenge. I didn’t expect the challenge to be particularly difficult as I was already consciously trying to reduce my meat intake in the first place. I figured the only time I would struggle is when I was on the road for work or going out for dinner with my girlfriend.
The 30 day challenge sort of came and went without much of a fuss. At no point in the 30 days did I actually ever struggle, in fact it was easier than I expected. However since then I have reverted back to eating meat maybe two or three times a month as a ‘treat’. When I reflect on this, I soon realise that I am only eating meat for the pleasure of eating it rather than any other reason. I think what makes it easy to eat meat in those moments is that the meat never really looks like it has come from an animal, so it’s really easy to dissociate the food you’re eating from the animal it has come from. This dissociation plus the convenience of having meat so readily available is ultimately why I have eaten meat for as long as I have.
This then leaves me with an uncomfortable truth that if I really claim to care about animals and their welfare, can I really indulge in eating an animal as a convenient ‘treat’? Why is the life of that animal only worthy of being consumed and other animal lives cherished as a pet? How can I enjoy eating meat but simultaneously be outraged when witnessing animal cruelty, especially when the former can only come about as a result of the latter?
I can’t see how someone can really say they care about animals and their wellbeing while also saying they are happy to eat meat. They could say they feel some animals are more valuable than other animals, or that some animals deserve to be eaten and other’s don’t. I personally can’t rationalise that, and ultimately, this has lead me to the conclusion that I can’t eat meat unless I am willing to accept I do not care about animals and their wellbeing. To say otherwise is to be contradictory in your beliefs. Therefore from this point onwards, I am going to give up all meat and commit to being vegetarian.