or why I stopped being a vegetarian, by Mark Samuels
Meat is very tasty. There’s no getting away from it. Even vegetarians, with their meat-substitutes a la soya or quorn, enjoy the fleshy texture. But is meat-eating wrong? I used to think so. In fact, I was a vegetarian myself for ten years. So what made me go back to sausages, bacon, steak and the rest. One reason is that I was consuming so much of the meat-like substitutes that vegetarians eat, it didn’t seem like a big difference. Another was being confronted with a menu in a restaurant and having my choices made for me. But these reasons fail to address the question: is meat-eating wrong? So let’s deal with that issue head-on.
Firstly, by what criteria does the statement ‘meat-eating is wrong’ have any authority? Is it wrong simply because a group of people who don’t eat meat say it’s wrong? In that case, it’s only an ethical judgement which belongs to a given set of persons and has no claim to be a universal imperative. This set does not even have the added significance of being in a majority in their opinion, therefore it could not be claimed to be a democratic imperative.
Nevertheless, it must surely be a possibility that vegetarians are right and everyone else wrong but – and this is a big but – it would require the sanction of divine authority. In accepting this view, there is no inconsistency between a minority of person being right while the majority are wrong. One obvious example is in the case of abortion which, in his book ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’, Pope John Paul II firmly rejects, irrespective of the climate of current thought: “It is not possible to speak of the (woman’s) right to choose when a clear moral evil is involved”. Vegetarians, of course, have no recourse to divine authority.
It’s true that certain religions, the Hindus with their sacred cows and Jews with idea of pigs being unclean, have peculiar individual laws relating to specific animals but there is no injunction against meat-eating per se. I suppose Buddhism may be an exception — but it is a virtually atheistic system of belief that merely seeks to facilitate a state of Nirvana or non-existence as the world is, in itself, the source of evil. In any case, there is no divine authority in Buddhism.
Cut the sophistry, I hear the veggies cry. Our case isn’t one that requires an over-riding moral principle universal to all. Animals are entitled not to suffer. Why should meat be eaten when it is the cause of so much cruelty? To which one would ask: cruelty to whom? Cruelty to animals of course. Which beggars the question, do animals have rights?
This question, I think, is a very strange one. There is no concept of ‘animal rights’ within the animal kingdom itself. It is purely a human conceit. It is something which we have developed, of which an animal would have no understanding at all. The concepts of the ‘right to existence’ or the ‘right not to suffer cruelty’ would be completely confined to the human side of the equation. Is it therefore correct to extend human rights to creatures without understanding?
I think that those who answer “Yes” to this last question regard animals with as much concern as they do human beings. Indeed, some would maintain that animals actually matter rather more than human beings. Of course, the most glaring feature of this frame of mind is the anti-human prejudice that has crept in under the guise of a much wider sense of brotherhood. Not, you understand. the brotherhood of evil man, rather the brotherhood of animals, human being forming only one part of this association, and at that, a rather troublesome part.
If you really believe that human beings are nothing more than animals themselves, then you cannot eat meat. But just how far will you allow this bit of reasoning to take you? Some vegans regard vegetarians as little better than meat-eaters, and even vegans seem like devils to those who have taken up a completely macrobiotic diet. My advice to vegetarians is to try and start a revolution with a herd of cows. That day that Daisy mans the barricades is the day when all good men stop eating meat.