[This post was inspired by someone mad at Katzen, a cookbook author, who used to be vegetarian but switched to eating Organic Meat, aka happy meat.]
There are three main arguments in favor of a vegetarian diet. Two arguments for vegetarianism and veganism are unrelated to animal welfare: environmental concerns and health.
The third is mighty complex. Killing sentient beings is unethical. But so is cruelty and inhumanity, if only for the brutal state of mind it evokes in those who practice it.
On an ethical basis, vegetarianism rules out food derived from killing animals. This leaves edge cases such as insects, animals that die of old age or other natural causes, and products that don’t require the immediate death of an animal, such as honey, milk, eggs.
Except for Jains who favor not killing anything, insects are little sympathy, especially termites, mosquitos, flies, and other pests. Viruses, yeast and bacteria, likewise, are generally considered insentient, and fair game for breakfast.
Milk on the other hand, has evolved into factory farming. The cattle industry in the US is not like the one in India, where cows are sacred and generally not killed at all. The economics of milk encourage farmers to be inhumane to the cows and to kill the extra calves. An ethical vegetarian can’t leave these issues alone.
The story is similar for chickens. In egg production, old chickens, roosters are extra and will likely be killed, again, economics encourages farmers to overcrowd chickens and raise them in appalling food factory conditions.
There is also a few more edge cases relevant for vegans. The farming of nuts, a vegetarian and vegan staple, usually involves shooting, trapping and killing squirrels, chipmunks. O-L-P vegetarians who do mind killing highly evolved an intelligent mammals, but don’t mind eating fish, also have to remember that net caught fish often entails the death of bycatch, which can include dolphins, porpoises, turtles and other marine life at least as evolved an sentient as their landbased counterparts.
What can be done?
Organic Milk and Eggs. The Organic label doesn’t necessarily require humane farming, but often as a side effect, organic milk comes from cows raised in more humane conditions, where they are more likely to be in a field instead of a factory.
If anything, the state of farm animal welfare has gone backwards in the last 200 years. The pragmatic vegetarian should be encouraging their non-vegetarian friends to switch to fish, beef, chicken, and pork that puts animal welfare and the environment first. No one is served by the hog farms that turn entire counties into stinking cess pools, no one is served by gratuitous cruelty to animals, slow & painful deaths, no one is served by fishing stocks until the fisheries collapse. Vegetarians, who are often the most interested party in animal welfare, need to be engaged in the discussion on happy meat and not attack it as a rationalization for back sliding vegetarians or as a sign of insincerity.
If vegetarians exit the discussion on happy meat, the condition of farm animals will continue to deteriorate, even if vegetarian movement in the US could double or triple in size, which is rather unlikely.
Can’t we all get along?
Vegans, I supposes, could and maybe do begrudge the vegetarians their milk, eggs and honey. However, vegetarians begrudging the omnivores organic or happy meat helps factory farmers much more than the vegetarian movement. Without a happy meat movement, there is no economic pressure on the farm industry do do anything but to make the extraction of calories from animals more cost effective, regardless to pain, cruelty and inhumanity.
to be continued….