I have had this title on this web-site for some while, but had not got round to writing the article. Indeed, I have been planning to write this since I was at university. Part of the reason that I have delayed so much, is that there are simply so very many reasons why vegetarianism is a bad thing that this essay threatened to develop into a tiresome tome of a thousand pounding reasons not to become a veggie. Here follows what I hope will be a tolerably short list of reasons, most of which attack the subject by countering the many and various daft arguments in favour of vegetarianism. At the end of the essay, I shall offer my theory to explain why people really become vegetarians, which is quite a different reason from the one they cite.
I became a vegetarian because it is a better nutritional diet.
This is a bizarre argument, largely because the reason is so flagrantly false. The tiniest amount of enquiry into the subject quickly reveals that meat is exceptionally nutritious. Weight for weight, almost any meat is more densely packed with nutrients than almost any plant. There are a few nutrients which are impossible to get without eating meat, and a significant number which are very difficult to get without eating meat. Whereas a meat eater is in little danger of missing out on these nutrients, a vegetarian has to be very careful to eat the right foods in order to get enough of them.
Vegetarians are healthier because the average vegetarian is lighter than the average meat eater in Britain.
This is a fact. It is true that veggies are on average lighter. This is an argument based on modern wealth and excess. For almost all of the past, the problem for humans has been getting enough food. Obesity in a significant proportion of the population is a modern problem, brought on us by the ease of access to large amounts of sugary food, plus a lesser amount of exercise, and a retention of old instincts which made our hunting and gathering ancestors crave sweet things, fatty things, and salty things. Early humans evolved these instincts in a world where very sweet things were very rare, salt a vital rare nutrient, and wild prey animals were lean.
Now things are different, and whereas our instincts did not in the past lead to obesity, today they often do. This is not an argument for vegetarianism, however. This is an argument to persuade people to play more football, go dancing once a week, avoid Mars bars, and not to stuff cakes and cheap burgers into their mouths while watching Jerry Springer. Cheap, low quality meat with a high fat content does contribute to obesity in the modern world, but plenty of people manage to stay fit and lean and eat meat. There is nothing unique about meat for making people fat. A sedentary veggie eating cake all day will get fat too. However, vegetarians are perhaps less likely to stuff cakes into their mouths all day, because the sort of person who goes to the drastic step of forbidding themselves to eat meat is also the sort of person who is unlikely to stuff cakes down their hatch. The type of person who becomes a vegetarian is clearly the type to be quite obsessed by their diet, and so unlikely to over-do it on the cake front. Indeed, one only needs to view the denizens of the local “health” food shop to notice that many vegetarians are clearly underweight, which brings that average weight figure down quite a bit. Being underweight is not healthy. It is a modern and pernicious misconception that thin is good. Thin is not good. Fat is not good. Just right is just right.
A recent government report said that one in four sixteen year-olds in Britain is over-weight. It is also true, however, that the unfortunate offspring of middle-class parents quite commonly suffer from something which has been dubbed “muesli-belt malnutrition”. These children are fed on low-fat, low-sugar, low-salt diets by their health-faddish parents, and therefore not unnaturally end up with sometimes quite serious malnutrition. Skimmed milk is not for giving to growing kids, who need fat to grow. It is dreary grey water which might possibly suit over-weight adults.
If modern meats which are commonly available in shops are a bit too fatty for modern sedentary life-styles, then this is a reasonable argument for people to exert very effective consumer pressure by simply buying leaner meat. The farmers will quickly get the message, as indeed they already have.
I became a vegetarian because I was told about what happens to meat in the gut. It stays there for ages and rots, getting infected with bacteria.
This argument is based on squeamishness and terror-tactics. That some veggies were converted to their creed by this argument is evidence that scare stories can work, even if they are rubbish. The notion that meat stays in the gut for much longer than other things I find amusing. The intestines are long narrow tubes, and food is worked along these tubes by the automatic contraction of bands of muscle around them. How might some vegetable matter over-take some meat? “Beep-beep! Pull over! Fast-track non-meat produce coming through!” Similar myths exist for meat’s sitting in the stomach for an age, in some cloistered waiting room, apart from less sinister food forms. No it doesn’t. Take a look at an anatomy text book and look at the shape of the stomach, then tell me where the separated-out meat stays for its alleged extended period. Also, offer me a mechanism by which the meat might be separated out in the first place. Last, offer me a reason why on Earth the body would have evolved to separate out meat and then harm itself by letting it go toxic.
That meat rots in the gut is true. However, it is also true that all food rots in the gut. The gut is filled with bacteria all the time. The bacteria break the food down. This is how digestion works. When your food exits your body in the form of faeces, a quarter to a half of its weight is made up of bacteria. If you hate the thought of bacteria in your body so much that you wish to avoid any breeding in there at all, then I’m afraid that even if you ate no food at all, you would not achieve your aim. There are more parasites living in and on your body than there are cells of your own body.
I became a vegetarian because I care about what I put into my body. I don’t want to put chemicals in there, nor anything dead. Plants are natural, so they can’t be harmful.
Everything about this argument is so fantastically wrong that it is difficult to know where to start. How caring about what one eats should lead to vegetarianism of all things is a little baffling. The notion strongly implies that meat eaters do not care what they eat. There is clearly no logic in this.
The use of the word “chemicals” makes it clear that the user of this argument has no idea what the word chemicals means. All matter is 100% composed of chemicals. Your body is made up entirely of chemicals, as are all kinds of food. Do you ever drink water? That’s a chemical. I can give you the formula if you’d like: H2O - two hydrogen atoms in a molecule with one atom of oxygen. Personally, I mix mine up in a lab myself, because I don’t trust anyone else to do it properly.
Some people seem to believe that if a substance is made, refined, or used by man, then it is a chemical. Weed killer is by this definition a “chemical”, although sometimes this is exempt from “chemical” status if it is derived from a “natural” source. That people shopping in modern supermarkets might somehow avoid this type of “chemical” by avoiding meat is bordering on the insane. Look at the list of ingredients for almost any packet or tin of food and you’ll find all manner of colourings and preservatives. Have you noticed the amazing way that the piles of fruit today are near blemish-free, and all the apples in the apple tray are the same size and colour, and beautifully shiny and round? Now guess how many modern refined chemicals it takes to achieve that. Ever noticed that a French Golden Delicious (a) tastes of nothing and (b) lasts for months in your fruit bowl? Do you ever read the list of ingredients for a pack of fresh meat? There isn’t one. True, in America, farmers do use growth hormones in raising meat, but this practice is banned in Britain, and there is so far as I know no evidence that the vaccinations that animals get have any effect on humans who eat them. I don’t see why they might have. Animals develop immunities to thousands of pathogens they encounter in their lives. Vaccinations just introduce them to a couple more, so why should their immuno-response to these pathogens be any worse for the meat eater?
That a person might not want to put anything “dead” in their mouth is a weird notion. How might one define dried and then boiled pasta as “alive”? That would require a rather broad definition of “life”. I don’t see that a slice of raw apple is really “alive” either. It cannot reproduce itself. It is the product of life, certainly - a complicated arrangement of chemicals, but an arrangement which is unstable. The slice, whether you eat it or not, will not remain a slice of fresh apple for very long. Your toenail clippings were created by a living form, so are they alive? The pips of the apple might be defined as alive, just as all seeds, such as wheat, since they contain all the DNA of the plant in a viable form which might lead to reproduction. However, few people eat many raw seeds in this viable form. Even if they did, those seeds are surely moribund once they are swallowed. So, vegetarians eat very few things which are alive, and those that they do eat die inside them. Not a convincing reason for vegetarianism. Some seeds are tough, of course, and pass through the digestive system without being harmed, and exit the body still in a viable form. That they can do this means that they pass no useful nutrients to the eater, which doesn’t make them a very effective diet.
The last part of this argument, that plants are natural and therefore harmless, is so very definitely wrong that it should be a compulsory part of school education that children are made to see the tremendous error of this nonsense. The plain fact is that all plants are poisonous. They are poisonous in that they contain toxins. However, people can eat plants and apparently suffer no ill effects. The reason for this is that animals such as humans have evolved an ability to tolerate those toxins. We can eat some cabbage and live, because our bodies go to some effort to counter the toxins in a cabbage. The reason that plants generate poisons is simple: they don’t want to be eaten. The leaves of a cabbage are its solar panels and its body. If a grazing animal comes along and eats those leaves, then there is no more cabbage. Consequently, cabbages have evolved to produce poisons, so that fewer things can eat them. Some animals will evolve the ability to eat cabbages anyway, however. Evolution is a constant arms race between species. Some animals, like cats, are carnivores, and these have very little tolerance for plant toxins. Feed a “healthy salad” to your cat and very soon you will have a very ill cat. Try giving it celery if you want it to die quickly. Other animals like deer can eat all sorts of leaves which would kill a human very dead. Between cats and deer on this spectrum are humans. Our bodies can tolerate the toxins in some plants, but not most plants.
Some of these plants which we can eat, we farm. Farming changes the rules of evolution somewhat. If a plant like a cabbage is too toxic, it won’t get farmed. If it is less toxic, then it gets farmed, and humans help it to reproduce despite is poisonousness. Humans continue to breed the plants for their own ends, producing tastier, hardier and prettier varieties. Sometimes, however, the breeding programme has the side effect of increasing the toxicity of the plants. A couple of years ago a variety of lettuce was withdrawn from sale in British shops because it was found to be too toxic.
So, if you want to avoid eating toxins, then eat meat. Animals keep their poisonous parts very definitely separate from their non-poisonous parts, and the only poisonous mammal is the male duck-billed platypus, so if you stick to mammals and as long as you avoid eating the poison sacks on the feet of the male duck billed platypus, then you can be 100% certain that your diet is toxin-free. If by contrast you want to guarantee that everything you eat is poisonous, eat plants. If you cook some plants, you can kill most of the toxins. Potatoes are a good example. Fruit is different, because fruits evolved to be eaten, but not necessarily eaten by humans. Certain fruits when perfectly ripe are seldom very toxic. If you eat unripe fruit, then you will get ill. If you eat over-ripe fruit, then you might get ill. If you eat the wrong fruits then you might die. Fruits are of course only naturally available at short periods of the year, which explains that there are no examples of healthy human frugivores. Humans could not have evolved to eat an all-fruit diet, because in the wild past, all those that tried, died.
I became a vegetarian, because I want to live in a more natural way.
A lot of modern feminist and vegetarian literature is today propagating a lie. There is a myth that that “Man the hunter” is a myth. It is not a myth. A huge amount of study has been done on the hundreds of human hunter gatherer societies around the world. There is no tribe in which the women hunt and the men gather. Nor is there any tribe which eats only plants, although there are a few which eat all-meat diets. Typically, hunter-gatherers alive today eat about one-third meat, one third fish, and one third vegetable diets. Of course, today hunter gathers are living on the margins, not in the best hunting territory, and so can’t hunt the big herds they once could, so plants are probably a bigger part of the modern hunter-gatherer diet. In Britain, archaeological data and calculations based on climate and the like make it clear that humans relied on large ungulates (hoofed animals, especially deer) for about 80% of their diet.
Part of the daft modern myth is that our distant hunter-gatherer ancestors did not hunt splendid and dangerous big beasts, but instead for the most part grubbed up worms and the like. This is wrong. Hunter-gatherers try to kill the biggest animals they can find. This is their best strategy for two reasons. The first is purely economic. To feed itself, a group of twenty hunter-gatherers would have to work hard and gather 20,000 mussels per day, which would require access to an enormous mussel bed, which wouldn’t stay enormous for very long. By contrast, one man killing one cow will feed the whole group for nineteen days. The second reason is status. A man who brings down a giraffe will be far more impressive than a man who bests a gerbil. In Africa, elephants only have Man to fear. Humans for many tens of thousands of years have been the predator species which specialises in killing the really big prey. The best theory for explaining the extinction of a lot of giant species such as the auroch and the woolly mammoth, is that human hunters killed them off.
So, smile at yourself in the mirror and observe your omnivore’s teeth, and rejoice in your good fortune that you are a member of a species which gets to eat such a wide and tasty diet. If you want to live more “naturally” then for the latitude of Britain, you will almost certainly have to increase your meat intake dramatically. Remember to eat all the bits, mind. Many modern people make the mistake of eating just the muscles of the animal. Eat the heart, the liver, perhaps the contents of the stomach, and savour the delicacies like the eyeballs.
The equating of natural with good is a mistaken one. There was a time, when few people lived to see old age, and when people celebrated Man’s gradual triumph over the savage natural world. Nature was red in tooth and claw, and life for most was nasty brutish and short. Today, pampered middle-class idiots who have never known which years were bad for crops, let alone feared a bad harvest, have the ludicrous luxury of associating nature with goodness. To them, earthquakes and cuckoos, vipers and vampires are all good, because they are natural. Presumably unnatural things like schools, vaccinations, police forces, and photography must all be bad because they are unnatural.
I became a vegetarian, because stock farming is not economically viable. We could feed the Third World if everyone became a vegetarian.
Stock farming is viable. We know this because people do it. If it were not economically viable, then no one would rear animals for slaughter. They do, and have done for a very long time. Meat commands a good price in the shops. People all over the world like meat, and are prepared to pay good money for it. This is not a passing fad.
The belief that we could feed the Third World by being vegetarian is not only misinformed, but cruel. For one thing, we could feed the Third World already, without killing off all our herds to make way for cereal crops. Moreover, it would be the cruelest blow to the Third World if we did. After World War Two, it was realised that asking Germany to pay “war reparations” would be a mistake. This had been done after the Great War, and had been a failure. How could Germany pay? In money? No - she (or, since this is the Fatherland, he) was bankrupt at the time. In goods? Perhaps, but this would bankrupt the countries receiving those goods. Think about it - you are a manufacturer of lorries in Britain. You hear that Germany is going to be forced to give Britain lots of lorries. Does this make you happy? No, of course it doesn’t, because you know that as long as free lorries are coming from Germany, no one but a fool is going to want to buy your lorries. You should sell up quickly, and lay off all your workers. The Third World is largely an agricultural economy. By giving free food to an agricultural nation, you at one simple stroke render the country bankrupt, and make beggars of all its farmers. Why should any African farm owner go to the effort, risk, and expense of farming, when he knows that he is in competition with free and superior products from the rich world? Meanwhile, why should any British farmer go to the effort and expense of producing food if he knows it would just be given away, and he get nothing for it? Becoming a vegetarian will do nothing at all to feed the Third World. One thing you can do to help the Third World, is invest heavily in GM crop research.
I became a vegetarian because I don’t want to finance death. I don’t mind wearing a woollen jumper, because they don’t kill the sheep to get the wool.
By being alive, you compete with other animals. You take up space, breathe air, drink water, eat food and a thousand other things in competition with other animals that would like to do the same. Thanks to people like you, there are no wolves or bears in Britain, but there are more rats. The notion that wool is okay because it doesn’t kill the sheep is a tortuous and pathetic rationalisation. In parts of Britain where sheep are scattered and far from market, it is not worth shearing them, because the trouble and expense wouldn’t be worth the price of the “clip”. Even where sheep are in neat fields near towns, some farmers question the value of shearing. The hair of a sheep is a tiny proportion of its weight. It then requires a lot of processing before it can be made into trendy jumpers, so most of what you pay for it in the shops is for that processing. It is not economically viable to raise vast herds of sheep just to harvest one percent of their bodies. Sheep are reared for meat. Lamb is the meat of young sheep, and is much more popular than mutton. Half of all sheep are male, and very few of these are kept for breeding. At least the argument that wool doesn’t finance death isn’t quite as daft as the argument that the leather on your shoe uppers doesn’t either. It is very difficult to get an animal’s skin off it without killing it - it just won’t keep still.
In fact, of course, by eating meat, and wearing leather and wool, you are financing life, not death. The sheep was a species which was close to extinction in the Middle East before it became farmed, and thanks entirely to farming, sheep are some of the most common mammals on Earth. Being domesticated is one of the best things that can happen to a species. Humans become the slaves of that species, and work to promote the genes of that species. Grass is a good example. A huge proportion of the Earth’s dry surface is covered with grass, thanks to Man.
I became a vegetarian because I think that farming animals is cruel. Farmers do not care about the welfare of their animals.
No, farmers do care about the welfare of their animals. Partly this is because the sort of person who chooses to spend his life looking after animals is probably the sort who would care. Stock farming is not for the faint hearted. A dairy farmer has to milk his herd up to three times a day, every day, including Christmas Day, and when he has flu. Moreover, the farmer has a very strong vested interest in his stock. The healthier his stock is, the more money he makes. Money is a tremendously motivating factor. Over-crowded, over-stressed, under-fed, diseased cattle produce little milk, and get a rotten price at market. Content, healthy plump cattle are the reverse.
That someone might think that farming is necessarily cruel seems to belie an ignorance of reality in the wild. In the wild, a sheep would have to look for food, compete for it, jockey for position in the herd, look out for predators, guard its offspring, and it one day would die because of some accident, perhaps a fall, some nasty illness, or it would become weak and have its throat ripped out by the local predators. By striking contrast, the life of a farmed sheep is rather different. A farmed sheep has complete protection from predators; all the food of exactly its favourite kind at its feet all day every day, for which it does not have to compete; no competition for mates; no need to guard offspring; free health care; free haircuts; it is very unlikely to die in childbirth, and unlikely to die a nasty death. True, half a ewe’s offspring are taken away and killed. However, in the wild, a ewe would lose most of its offspring anyway, and in nastier circumstances. By the standards of the natural wild, a sheep’s life is about as cushy as a life could possibly be.
To suffer, a creature has to be aware that it is suffering. There is no reason to believe that sheep are conscious as humans are, and very good reason to believe that they are not (see this essay on consciousness - you will have to use your browser’s BACK button to return here).
The above used sheep as a main example. Some animals, one might argue, are less lucky. That farming can be cruel can be argued for certain particular examples. Pigs are quite intelligent, and there have been times and places where sows have been chained in tiny pens while rearing piglets. Such practices have been banned in many places, including Britain. Even if one accepts that such practices are cruel, these are not arguments for vegetarianism. They are arguments for farming reform. If it bothers you that much, buy free range meat. If some manufacturer of a type of chocolate bar did something of which you disapproved, would you then refuse to eat anything with sugar in it? You might if you were mad, but were you more sane, you might remember never to buy those chocolate bars, and you might write to your MP to lobby the company to stop being naughty. If all the people who really cared about animal welfare became vegetarians, then the only people left buying meat would be the people who didn’t care whom they bought it from, and these would just buy the cheapest or tastiest, regardless of cruelty. The caring people will only pack an economic punch in farming reform if they use their money to buy meat from the good farmers.
One type of modern animal lover is the little old lady who lives in her country cottage, with seventeen cats. While she writes letters to newspapers about the cruelty of modern farming, her cats are catching, playing with, torturing, maiming, and occasionally eating about twenty small creatures a week, each.
I became a vegetarian because crop farming is more efficient than stock farming. 100 units of food energy fed to an animal become only 10 units of meat, so meat production is inefficient.
That a well-fed middle-class town-dwelling person should be so concerned about the efficiency of farming is questionable. There are many inefficient things in the world. Dancing is a waste of energy. Most males of most species never breed, so malehood in general is inefficient. This sort of argument is, perhaps even more than the rest, a clear indication that the reasons a person declares for being a vegetarian are very different from the real reasons they became one.
In fact, stock farming is efficient. That’s why it has never died out. For thousands of years, people have farmed, and feared starvation, and throughout all that time, they kept animals for slaughter. Animals are a way of keeping food fresh, and making it mobile. Their hearts beat, their immune system immunise, and their legs walk. Animals are a way of using up otherwise useless vegetable matter. You grow a pea plant, and harvest the peas. The peas are a tiny proportion of the plant. This seems wasteful, but you can then feed the rest of the plant to a pig, which turns the pods and stalks into pork. Shelling peas requires effort, and then you have to store the peas. Letting your pigs into the field where the pea plants were takes two minutes, and the pigs do the rest. While they are there, they root about, and turn over the soil for you, and fertilise it with droppings. Animals are also a good insurance policy. Crops fail, but the mass loss of stock is very rare.
Figures for how much more one acre of vegetable land can produce than one acre of pastureland are often used to support vegetarianism. The comparison is an unfair one. Producing vegetables intensively, requiring high inputs and high labour, on good rich downland soil, near towns, is no fair match for the extensive farming of sheep on a distant Welsh upland. The actual test is economic. If vastly more could be produced and sold per acre of one type of farming rather than another, then everyone would swap to the type of farming which would make them all rich. Try intensive vegetable farming on the Brecon Beacons and you will go bankrupt.
I have heard arguments based on the “10% per trophic level” concept which seem to contravene the First Law of Thermodynamics. 90% of the energy fed to a pig does not disappear. Energy cannot be destroyed this way, but it can be converted into other forms. Most of it falls out of the other end of the pig in a very useful form indeed, although it does smell a bit. The rest is converted mainly into heat. That pigs produce methane is sometimes cited as a worry by climate-change doom-casters. Animals have always produced methane. The huge wild herds of ancient British deer are now gone. We have pigs, cows and sheep instead, and I’m unconvinced that pig methane is worse than deer methane.
I don't want to eat anything that I wouldn't be prepared to kill myself.
This one is an interesting argument, that at first glance might seem to be an effective attempt to grab the moral high ground. On closer inspection, however, it turns out to be rubbish. Is a rich advertising executive prepared to harvest a field of wheat? Probably not, but he’ll still be happy to eat the bread. Would he be too squeamish to kill a cow himself? Perhaps, but is squeamishness good?
Modern removal from the process of killing has left many people with a distaste for killing. The strongest association with killing in people's minds today is with killing other humans, and this is a thing done criminally or cruelly. People who like killing other people are a menace to society, but men who liked hunting deer were a boon to the society of our ancestors. There can be no innate distaste for hunting, or we would have died out. The ability humans have evolved to be squeamish is almost certainly one that was to do with self harm and the harming of allies or the provoking of human enemies. Squeamishness itself is not a virtue in all circumstances. If it were, we would all be trying to fake it all the time: “Oh no – a shoe! Yeargh! No I can’t bring myself to touch it! You put it on for me!”
What is the analogous example we can find that shows this argument to have logic? “I don’t want to watch any stunt that I wouldn’t be prepared to do myself”? “I don’t want to view any painting that I wouldn’t be prepared to paint myself”? “I don’t want to laugh at any joke that I wouldn’t be prepared to tell myself”? None of these makes sense, so why does the meat eating one make sense? Some people are better than others at telling jokes. Let them be the comedians. Today, no one has to kill all the meat he eats.
A man might argue that he doesn’t want to enjoy the products of a company that exploits its workers cruelly. This is fair enough, and it could act to make the world a happier place for others, and thus it would be morally good. Broadly, the argument would be “I don’t want to benefit selfishly from something that makes the world a sadder place overall, because it would make me feel guilty, and my feeling of guilt is a sign that I am a good person.” This is fine, and it could be applied well to, for example, buying wildly over-priced trainers made in a tiny sweatshop in the Third World. For it to work with the meat argument, however, it would have to be demonstrable that the effect of eating meat is to make the world a sadder place overall. For my answer to that one, see the rest of this essay.
I became a vegetarian because we don’t need meat.
It is possible to live without eating meat. It is also possible to live without watching films, without conversation, or without holidays. We don’t need to drink tea. This is a total non-argument, and when I hear this being used, I know that the person saying it has no idea why they really became a vegetarian. The idea that we should ban ourselves from doing anything which isn’t necessary is so stupid that this section can be very short.
I became a vegetarian because that’s the way society is going. Thousands of people every minute are becoming vegetarians.
There are so many figures going around for how many people are becoming vegetarians that it can be very confusing. Yes, the curse of vegetarianism does seem to be generally on the increase, though I suspect that it may have peaked. The current generation is already rebelling against the eco-nazis and global warming pessimists, and I suspect will back-lash against the tree-hugging leaf-eaters pretty soon. What the vegetarian lobby sometimes forgets to mention is the number of people who recover from vegetarianism, and start eating meat again, which is over half of them. It also for convenience often includes fish and even bird-eaters amongst “vegetarians”.
That other people do something is an indication that it is fashionable. Fashion is not good, it is just fashion. Most people wear daft fashionable clothes, and later see photographs of themselves as they were and cringe from embarrassment. Most people do all sorts of inadvisable things, and this is no reason to copy them. The only reason to copy other people’s bizarre practices, is to keep “in with the crowd” for social safety’s sake. In 1930’s Germany, it was very fashionable to go to Nazi rallies, but hindsight has taught us that perhaps this wasn’t Germany’s best move. Again, this argument simply does not work. If anything, it is an admission that the speaker of it has not thought for himself.
I became a vegetarian, because I care about biodiversity.
The best people for increasing biodiversity in Britain are probably game keepers. They oversee the pheasants, most of which do not get shot, and they manage all sorts of habitats which are shared and enjoyed by many other species of both plant and animal. Stock farmers tend to have smaller fields, and hedgerows of Britain are not just a significant proportion of the land, but act as highways from one place to another for all manner of species, since they are connected unlike little islands of woods.
If no one were allowed to farm animals, farms would grow crops instead. The first thing to go would be all the animals. Once the rural landscape were rid of cattle, sheep, and the like, fields would get larger, for the convenience of the combine harvesters, and hedgerows would go. Wild animals like rabbits would now be a more major pest. No farmer would want animals eating the plants, and so the war on such animals would intensify. Grown in the fields would be domesticate species of food crops, and so the number of plant species would decline.
All the parasites of animals would suffer too, and the parasites of the various rarer or extinct plants forced out by the prairies of wheat. Also, the predators, the foxes and stoats, would die out.
An alternative to the above is that Britain could become a giant playground, reliant on foreign imports of food, and turning over its landscape to dirt bikers, paint-ballers, horse riders and other such people who might find a use for a bit of ex-farm land. This is a rather large discussion topic of its own, and beyond the scope of this essay, but I do suspect that this is not a great future.
I became a vegetarian because it is the future.
There is an annoying connection made by many people that the way things are going is necessarily good, and/or inevitable. Perhaps the current trends are bad, and the future will not be as good as it could be. Perhaps things are heading a certain way, but this does not mean that we are powerless to stop them, nor does it mean that we should not try. This argument does not work either. One has to supply actual reason for vegetarianism, and this is not a reason, it is just an excuse at best.
In the future, farming may change beyond today’s recognition. Perhaps plants will all be grown in super-efficient orbiting greenhouses, with no soil but liquid nutrient vats instead. Perhaps geneticists will breed seeds which give rise to nutrient-packed super-tasty foods, every cell of which will be dedicated to feeding humans, and not to supporting the weight of leaves, or making thorns to ward off non-existent predators. By the same argument, perhaps lean tasty meat will grow in vats in perfectly cubic bone-free lumps. Today it is possible to grow human skin for grafts. Perhaps one day we will be able to read and write in DNA code so well that we will be able to grow leather jackets. The time when a tray in the shape of a leather panel of a jacket could be used to grow a perfectly even follicle-free sheet of pure white leather is probably not very far off. Whether any of this will come to pass has no bearing on whether one today should become a vegetarian.
One danger of vegetarianism of which I became aware when I lived with two nurses, who had seen examples of it, was damaged babies. Vegetarian parents had misguidedly fed all-vegetable diets to their poor babies. Babies have small guts, and cannot cope with a large volume of food. Since meat is so much more nutritious than plants, it is necessary to feed babies very large amounts of vegetarian food to satisfy them, and hence the problem arises. This used to be rare, but some hospitals are now seeing a steady trickle of cases. One could argue that it should be illegal to inflict this sort of nonsense on innocent babies, and that vegetarianism should be unlawful below a certain age. One might also argue that personal liberties include people’s right to damage their own children.
A daft myth I’ve come across is the “fear toxin”. The notion is that animals release these into their blood-streams at the point of death, for some reason. The reason is never included in the myth. When an animal is about to be eaten, the one thing it wants more than anything else is not to be eaten, and all manner of chemicals are released into its bloodstream to save it. If the chemicals do not save the creature, for it to live on and breed, then they are of no consequence for evolution. A cow is not bright orange, warning predators that it is poisonous. Cows are not poisonous, which is why in the wild they fear predation. A warning signal would stop the predator from attacking in the first place. Once the creature is dead, poison is too late. Evolution does not select for spite. There is no reason that the chemicals associated with fear would be any more toxic to a predator than any other emotional chemical. The warm feeling of contentedness chemical might be the deadliest. Fear is not a thing, tangible and bad. It does not taint in the romantic way that believers of this myth would like to think it does.
Any butcher of carcasses knows that a well-slaughtered animal is easier to cut up. An animal which dies tensed up will be tense after death and difficult to cut up. An animal which dies relaxed will be easier to cut up. There is therefore a definite vested interest within the industry to kill animals without stressing them first. If “fear toxins” really existed, wild predators would be very ill much of the time. Actually, evolution would quickly see to it that any predator became immune to the effects of such chemicals.
I became a veggie simply because I don’t like meat.
At first this might seem like the most reasonable of arguments. People are different. Some people can eat aniseed and keep a smile on their face. Perhaps a person might genuinely not like the taste of meat. If so, then it would be unreasonable to drag them into the street and force feed them lard. On reflection, though, it doesn’t quite add up.
People like the same things. People prefer comfort to pain, temperate warmth to bitter cold, kindness to cruelty, strength to weakness, fun to boredom, laughter to grief. A species that evolved to eat a mainly meat diet will also have evolved to like meat. We do. We even prefer good meat to bad meat, cooked meat to raw. Indeed, anyone who eats meat and enjoys it will know that meat is the most gloriously delicious thing there is. It has a peerlessly nice texture, and a great taste. More, after a vegetarian meal, a person misses out on the protein rush that meat gives. This, I’m told, is one of the cues which switches off the feeling of hunger (others are the physical feeling of a full belly, and a steep rise in blood sugar levels). Consequently, vegetarian meals are never as satisfying. It is very unlikely indeed that a person would really not like meat. Further, there are many types of meat, and it is even more unlikely that one person would dislike all of these tastes by coincidence.
The meals these people do eat often imitate meat, and meaty things. This does not match the argument that they do not like meat. If a lack of liking were the only reason, then they would have no objection to eating meals with a little bland meat in them. A little mince in a stew wouldn’t bother them in the least, but strangely, it bothers them a lot.
The people who claim that they don’t like meat just happen to be predominantly of certain predictable sorts: females, trendies, liberals, politically confused, collectors of allergies, urbanites, dungaree-wearers, etcetera. While it could be coincidence that these people also happen to be the people who happen not to like meat, the chances against this are ten to the power of my overdraft to one against. There must be another reason.
AT LAST - THE REAL REASON PEOPLE BECOME VEGETARIAN
Vegetarianism is the new Puritanism. This is my belief. It is also one of my arguments against vegetarianism, and although it may at first seem a flippant argument, I believe that it is very powerful. Vegetarianism is miserable. It attacks one of life’s greatest and surest pleasures - enjoying good food. Anything which makes people less happy is bad.
The jump from not liking meat very much, to banning oneself from eating any of it ever, is a huge one, and one which is made by people behaving in a religious manner. If one didn’t approve of certain pork farming practices, one would not then refuse at a dinner party at someone else’s house to eat a stew because it had been cooked in the same pot as some beef mince. One would not read the label of a packet of ice cream to see if there were “non-dairy fat” in it, nor look at the label of some jam to see if gelatin has been used. That people go to these wild extremes is proof that their behaviour is religious in nature, and not rational.
Puritanism isn’t fashionable at the moment, but vegetarianism is. Puritanism is founded on the belief in gods and such like, and these beliefs do not reside comfortably in the modern world, when we know that the Earth is round and the galaxy rather big. Instead, we have vegetarianism, which appeals to the same people for the same reason. Vegetarians have the same notions of purity of behaviour.
Self-denial has certain advantages. It is a discipline, and requires effort, and the success makes the person so succeeding feel stronger and more in control. It also makes them feel superior to the rest of us who indulge. We become the weak in their eyes. We indulge in sinful meat eating, enjoying ourselves, while they smile inwardly at their specialness. If we all became vegetarians, they would lose their specialness, of course, and the Christian church has found this many times. People want to know that they alone are going to heaven and everyone else is going to fry in hell. The church always split every time it got too popular.
Enforcing self-denial on others also has its advantages. It is a test of loyalty. A woman knows that a man must love her if he forsakes sex with all other women. A woman looks for self-denial in a man, since it is a sign of strength and loyalty. Such a man might make a better father. The ability to defer pleasure shows maturity. A man who just wants fun fun fun now is unlikely to be a responsible father. A man who can plan ahead so far that he only gets his final reward in heaven is a man who will stick around and help pay for the kids.
Most vegetarians are women. In Britain, a person is doubly likely to suffer from vegetarianism if he is female. Part of the reason for this is that women like the taste of meat less than men. This stems from the fact that women have inherited the instincts of gatherers and men those of hunters. In all hunter-gatherer societies today, however, women prize meat. They love meat, just not quite as much as men do. The greater reason, I believe, is that women use vegetarianism to test men. By requiring men to deny themselves pleasure, they test the resolve of the men, and their loyalty. It is a very effective test of loyalty. The proof of this is that the VAST majority of men who succumb to vegetarianism (I’m afraid I have lost the figures, which weren’t 100% reliable anyway, because the accurate comprehensive study of this has not be done - it would cost a fortune, and no one needs to know that much) either have vegetarian sexual partners, or are trying to get some. Just as tellingly, when men split up from their veggie girlfriends, they near invariably start enjoying meat again. This goes to prove amongst other things that men really will do ANYTHING for sex.
Of course, some men do stay vegetarian for many years, even if they are without a girlfriend. A man who has been a veggie for many years has proof of his dedication to the god of plants, and will perhaps one day impress a chick with this loyalty. It is a long term strategy. To disprove this, you will have to find that there are many men who have been vegetarian for many years, and in that time have had large numbers of girlfriends, most of whom have not been vegetarian. Good luck.
Put this theory to an average veggie and he or she will deny it. I am not saying that this is why people consciously choose to become vegetarians, but I believe that it is the underlying reason, and whereas the reasons given by veggies invariably collapse under the tiniest of scrutiny, my theory is consistent with the facts as I know them. My theory explains why someone who claims to be a vegetarian because he once saw some pigs living in a squalid sty, then makes the illogical leap to making a complete pain of himself at a party by insisting that the ham be served on a different plate from the potato salad, as if somehow his touching of that contaminated plate could harm a pig, despite the fact that everyone else is not just touching the plate, but actually eating the ham. The wild illogicality of this stance combined with the firmness of it makes it clear to me that such people are not clear rational thinkers, but instead worshippers at the alter of the New Puritanism.
I think that if my theory became widely understood and agreed with, then vegetarians would look and feel increasingly silly, and would more obviously occupy the moral low ground. I don’t think that there is any real danger that vegetarianism will ever become the norm, because meat is too nice, and membership of a club is no privilege if everyone becomes a member. The club has to be exclusive in order to be appealing.
On the other hand, bacon works better than anything else. For American readers, I should say that bacon as the British know it is a rather different thing from that which gets called “bacon” in the States. Our bacon is mostly delicious meat, with enough fat to make it scrummy.