Lots of people ask me why I’m a vegetarian so I’m writing this blog so that, in future, I can in the style of our politicians, refer questioners to the answer I gave a moment ago.
I’ve been a vegetarian, on and off, but mainly on, for about 25 years and while the question arises less often than it used to, probably because there are more of us about, but it still arises surprisingly frequently.
The reasons, in fact, have changed over the years and each casts a light onto the way I view the world in which we live.
I decided to become a vegetarian when I first had to commute to work. It was not a commute as is probably visualised now…three lane carriageways completely blocked by cars wedged bumper to bumper..but it was a 25 mile trip from my home to work. I was young, early 20’s, had my first company car and was always dashing from one important meeting to another. My drive to work took me through the Cheshire countryside and I became aware of the dead bodies of creatures, mainly rabbits and hedgehogs but including foxes and badgers and birds, strewn across the roads. For me their flattened bodies became a symbol of the way that we all race about with little or no concern for the world around us.
Becoming a vegetarian gave me daily thinking time – a physical reminder that my actions were not without consequence.
My job took me into factories, hospitals and, crucially in this context, food factories. Here comes the second reason.
The casual cruelty inflicted on pigs waiting for slaughter at a bacon factory was shocking – animals being tormented and teased in their pens. Once again it was the thoughtlessness that affected me. I don’t think that the guys were being deliberately cruel..they just didn’t think at all.
The third reason came later when considering the role of industrial scale farming.
Millions of acres turned over to rearing animals for meat. Even at a hugely simplistic level this cannot be energy efficient. If we eat a vegetable the energy stored in the vegetable turns into energy that can be used by the human body. If animals eat vegetables the energy is converted into animal body. We kill the animal and eat some bits so, also taking into account the loss of energy in sustaining the animal up to the point of slaughter, the use of energy is less efficient by having the animal as a middle man.
So vast areas of the world dedicated to rearing livestock rather than growing crops … but I do eat dairy products and I expect that dairy cattle farming is a responsible for more acreage than beef cattle so I don’t totally follow my conscience here …. but I am aware of the conflict.
And where are the animals reared? Beef flown to the UK from Argentina and lamb from New Zealand. Now I know that this is true for vegetable products, the only apples I was able to buy in a small store in the north of Shetland had been grown in Brazil, but it was the transport of meat that first made me think about the excessive air miles needed to get cheap food on our tables.
So my arguments for being a vegetarian are not really about animal welfare, I agree with limited animal testing of pharmaceuticals in certain circumstances, for instance. but they are about THINKING.
We don’t do enough of it.
We should think and not just rush headlong through our lives, filling our trolleys at Tescos with barely a thought for the impact of our purchasing decisions, hurtling through the countryside without any consideration for the world around us.
So rather thatn asking me “Why are you a vegetarian” as yourself why you’re not. Or ask yourself do you really need lamb from New Zealand…or apples from Brazil.