I have always been fond of animals, and I never liked the idea of eating them. However, it took me quite a while to actually do something. I knew a vegetarian lifestyle can be hard, no gettin’ round that. You have to know your nutrients, and make sure to get them all. It will be tricky for people to invite you over for dinner. Your body will freak out a little during the first weeks. Bacon is delicious, and my mom always buys organic meat. It was just easier to suppress how I felt.
Animals have brains, that’s not rocket science. They are living creatures, not so different from us. Animals think, they feel, and they have the ability to suffer.
There is a difference between animals and animals of course. Oysters probably don’t know much about the outside world. In fact, their nervous system is so simple it’s doubted they can even feel pain. Cows on the other hand are far more intelligent, but (at least in Sweden) they are usually treated pretty well. You can see them strolling around on big grassy fields, free to do pretty much what they like. They have plenty of food and space. They live in a protected environment, and even the slaughter is relatively gentle. I seriously think these cows have a much better life than they in the wild.
Then, there are the animals that do suffer – and suffer a lot. Pigs are actually quite clever; the same level as dogs, to the extent intelligence can be measured. No one would force dogs to live in dirty factories, cramped together with a hundred more. Still pigs are, and that’s not the worst example. I won’t go further into detail here but I think we have all get what I’m talking about.
Sadly, “happy cows” only make up for a small percentage of our meat consumption. The vast majority of food producing animals (is there a word for that?) are not treated as if they are alive. We all know this, and most of us think it’s wrong. We’re just too lazy to do something about it.
Reading Life of Pi was sort of a wake-up call for me. Making it far too short, it’s about a boy who’s stuck on a life boat. In order to survive he has to catch fish, but he doesn’t know much about hunting. Reading about those fishes, how they gasped for breath while Pi figured out how to end them, was very unpleasant. I didn’t just share their pain (both fish and boy), the way one normally would, when reading about something terrible. I was disgusted. Afterwards, I couldn’t eat gravad lax – one of my most beloved foods – without thinking about that fish. In fact, I couldn’t eat anything that had been alive without thinking about that fish. Pi obviously isn’t the average slaughterer, but he made me remember where meat comes from: animals.
I think I had already made up my mind by then, but I still did plenty of research before making it final. I read books and interviewed people, I searched the forgotten corners of internet forums. My biggest source of inspiration was probably Eating animals, a great book by Jonathan Safron Foer. This not only strengthened my decision, it also made it easier to explain.
There are shades of gray, not just black or white. I don’t think torturing animals for the sake of our pleasure should be legal at any time or place. I say pleasure, because we could all live happily ever after without meat. If there would ever be a situation where I could either torture a chicken or stop a child from starving, I would save the child. Such situations rarely if ever occur though. An animal which DIDN’T suffer would be something else entirely. In fact, I think we should make use of it’s body after it’s had a happy life. I still wouldn’t want to eat it though. Even if I could trust that it had a good life, it would still have been alive. It would still have had thoughts and feelings, and because of that I wouldn’t be able to eat it without feeling bad.
I think I’ve always been a vegetarian at the back of my head, but telling people about it – changing my life because of it – is something else entirely. It’s hard. Still, I wish it hadn’t taken me so long.