An ethical dilemma of our time is – is it ok to eat meat or should we go vegetarian or even vegan?
I am a vegetarian, bordering on vegan. The people that I argue with over this issue almost always take the line that it’s natural for us and part of our biological heritage to include meat in our diets. They then often go on to justify their position further by saying that if we didn’t eat animals then all those millions of cows, pigs, sheep and chickens wouldn’t exist at all and so surely it’s better that they live their lives, even if those lives are not great, and that we eat them.
It is an unavoidable fact that humans are or were omnivorous, i.e. we ate both plants and animals. Some suggestions for our evolutionary direction say that a shift, a few million years ago, to eating more meat or seafood was a shift in our behaviour that helped to propel us to where we are now as a modern, sophisticated, technological ape. This may well be true. Some vegetarians will attempt justify their ethical position by arguing that humans are not natural meat eaters and have always been vegetarian. This I find rather unlikely.
In terms of where we are now and the Next Level of Complexity in the Universe, it doesn’t matter whether or not, in our origin, we used to eat meat or not, or if we survived exclusively on stuffed baby seal hearts or ate only grass. It doesn’t matter. The lifestyle that we used to have over most of human evolution, whatever it was, has got us to where we are now. And where we are now is somewhere utterly unique on planet Earth. This is about choice. Whatever we were, we’re increasingly not and we can be whatever we want. We’re increasingly not a natural animal, so whatever our natural diet was, is less relevant.
As we have become relatively free from our biological and psychological constraints and as we have collectively moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Need we have room to choose. It’s about choice! We can, to a certain extent, do whatever we want to do and be whoever we want to be.
If we can make choices about our own emotions, go in search of new ideas, invent new technologies and decide to change the shape of the structure of human society and relationships, we also therefore have room for ethical choices. We have an energetic space in which to sit back and contemplate. Put crudely, once we’ve been to the shops and bought a weeks worth of food and returned to our homes, we can sit back and think. We have time for things that are above our basic biological and basic psychological needs.
We are now in a position to take advantage of the luxury of ethics.
Vegetarianism, for me, is a good ethical choice. The increased complexity and sophistication of society with more technology and opportunity means that I can have a vegetarian diet and take in all the nutrition that I need without it being a problem – at all. Vegetarianism is not hard to do. By making this choice, for me, animals no longer have to suffer for me. As I said, some people argue that it’s better that the animals are alive and exist at all and we eat them, rather than they not exist. I don’t think it’s a problem for these food animals that they never existed in the first place. I don’t bemoan the non-existence of all sorts of non-existent things, animals or people! The farming of animals has huge environmental consequences. Roughly speaking, you can produce something like ten times as much food from the same area of land if you grow only plants as compared to growing only animals. If the whole human population of Earth was vegetarian, a huge amount of the Earth’s surface would be free from the need for us to use it and could provide additional range to our rapidly shrinking ecosystems. Or to put it another way, on a veggie diet, you could have a larger global human population, assuming humanity operated sustainably. Animal farming is also currently responsible for about 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, adding to global warming and climate change. Vegetarianism is arguably better for your health.
Quite simply, vegetarianism is better for me, it’s better for animals and it’s better for the planet. Veganism is better still. And all I have to do is to decide, to choose, to commit to this ethical choice and change my lifestyle accordingly.
These kinds of ethical choices are consistent with free-will choices that we can make with our increasing freedom as we move into the Next Level of Complexity in the Universe. We have become more autonomous in the Universe and relatively free, and increasingly free, from the laws that apply to the previous levels of complexity that are the foundations of where we are today.
Whether what we do is thought of as either historically natural or unnatural is no longer relevant. It’s all about what we choose to be. And choosing a better moral position, giving up eating meat, seems like an easy choice. We can choose that as our new ‘natural.’
Most of this blog is from my book. For more on this and other 21st century issues, you can find my book as either e-book or paperback on:
Amazon UK – Use this link.
Amazon US – Use this link.
In fact, whatever country you’re in, it’s on Amazon.