I think that we as humans make a great to do about our ability to think and our general intelligence. We are greatly impressed with our own tools and our ability to use resources. Now I am not saying that this isn’t a truly wonderful thing, but I think that we need to use some of our other skills and abilities. I would very much like if we used our ability to communicate and work in groups and our abilities that allow us to understand other people’s perspectives, to be empathetic, and to be compassionate. I would also like it if we used our analytical thinking skills to really examine the choices that we are making as a species.
We have the ability to recognize that we are over populating the planet and using limited resources and fouling our own habitat. We as a group globally can recognize this.
I never buy the arguments that my being a vegetarian is a silly thing because other animals kill, are cruel, and are eaten in part because depending on the species they have more or less capability to emotionally process what their instinctual drives are telling them to do and they don’t have our capacity to recognize our actions, notice their impact, and make a decision among a set of wide ranging choices. Animals just don’t have the capacity to reflect and make choices that we do.
I think whether or not to be a vegetarian is very much a personal decision. Many people have differing ideas on what being vegetarian means also. Some people won’t eat mammals but eat bi-valves and fish. Others won’t eat any creature. Some will drink milk but won’t eat eggs or meat. Some eat only plant food stuffs. Also the reasons why people become vegetarians varies greatly. For some people it is a love of animals. Others it is for political reasons or environmental reasons. For others they are vegetarian because that is how they were raised.
I don’t so much care if other people are vegetarians or not, but I want them to be conscious of what they are eating and how this potentially impacts other creatures and the environment. I want people to examine and really think about what they are doing. This is hard when the muscles of a cow are cut into an unrecognizable form, placed on a styrofoam plate, and wrapped in plastic to be sold in a refrigerator in a grocery store far removed from the commercial slaughterhouse where the cow was stunned and killed.
I am very much concerned about being compassionate to other living creatures and I agree that raising an animal that becomes almost like a pet and then slaughtering it is callous and cruel. So are commercial farms where chickens are fed excessive amounts of hormones and antibiotics to simultaneously make them grow faster and fatter while keeping them kept in too close quarters and not having them get sick. This is cruel. It is also a disaster waiting to happen and the kindness of providing a less cramped living space and better conditions for the animals we raise for food may be a form of enlightened self interest. Consider the rise of mad cow disease and bird flu. I recently read that prions without any genetic material evolve as though they have DNA or RNA. Mad cow was caused by a particular prion. Bird flu came out of un-sanitary conditions in Asia and so far has not spread widely because of the form of the virus and its method of transmission. Hormones in meat and milk may be causing our children to mature earlier.
I very much admire people like Temple Grandin who examined how cows were taken to slaughter and devised a more humane cattle shoot so that the cows came to their death with less fear and panic. This helped the cattle industry, but it also helped the cows.
A friend from my online writing group raised the idea of deer who have been killed on the highway and if they should be eaten. I won’t eat them, but I have made the decision to be a vegetarian. I have very mixed feelings about eating a deer killed on the highway. First, I read an article in Mother Jones two years ago about how something like 40-60% of the species on the planet are predicted to rapidly become extinct within the next fifty years with the current rate of global warming and how this represents potentially one of the great die offs in the long history of the planet. The article talked about habitat destruction as one of the causes that is making the die-off look likely. Roads were sited as a factor in habitat destruction. In part it is because vegetation needs to be cleared to make roads and both the loss of vegetation and the heat retentive properties of asphalt or concrete add to global warming on top of the eventual use of automobiles on those roads. Another piece of it is that roads become barriers that are difficult for species to cross to migrate, get to needed resources, and to get to potential mates. This was something that was listed as being particularly problematic for larger species like predators who need large regions for hunting grounds.
So my response to the question about a deer killed on the side of the road becomes complicated. I think that in the specific instance of a deer killed on the side of the road the deer is dead and gone and will not come back. I personally will not eat it. However, there are people who could use the calories and I think the deer meat should be salvaged for distribution through a food bank or a soup kitchen. Now, as a reassessment of urban planning and resource management, I think more work should be available for people to do at home, less food should be trucked across country, there should be more public transportation, and there should be fewer roads and less cars.
We have the capability to communicate electronically and organize work without everyone being in the same room and yet people still often commute in for work that could be done some percentage of the time from home. This should be utilized more.
Most of the roads that are constructed as part of a national infrastructure serve a couple purposes beyond allowing the citizenry to move freely. They allow the transport and distribution of goods, resources, and troops. Highways are for trucking. If we could transport less food stuff and goods via trucks that would cut down on petroleum usage and emissions and global warming.
Public transport and a better train system in the United States could make fewer roads possible with environmental benefits that would follow.
I am going to take a wee bit of a tangent on this ramble.
Consider the outdoor space around where you live. How much of it is grass? Grass is a colony plant that thrives in wet, cool conditions. Sod farms thrive in early spring and late fall. Most people’s grass looks lush and green in the spring and later in the fall when it is wet. Watering grass is a huge waste of water and fresh water as a resource is in limited supply. To desalinate ocean water is hugely energy expensive. In the heat of summertime, grass to stay green needs to be constantly watered to maintain it. What else do you have as vegetation around your house? Viburnam? Holly? Cedar? I don’t know what is used for landscaping purposes in other parts of the world. Please consider if those plants are indigenous as a first thought. The next thought that I would ask you is if those plants are edible. Most are not and some are poisonous.
Most people have space around where they live that food stuffs could be planted in. Many indigenous and edible plants use less water than grass and are more beautiful than landscaping plants. Alpine strawberries are a perennial that creeps and makes a wonderful ground cover. Flowering kale is gorgeous. Carrots have lovely foliage. Nasturtium are edible. Onions are in the allium family. Basil loves hot weather and thrives without excessive amounts of water and it smells fabulous. We could all easily grow some of our own food in the space around our office buildings, our apartment buildings, and our homes and schools. Further, edible fruit and nut trees could be planted to make edible forest gardens that could make any backyard or park a place where low maintenance, organic “farming” could happen. We could cut down on the amount of petroleum used to transport food if we chose to use the resource of the land all around us in a much more thoughtful way. We could cut down on the amount of petroleum used if we all ate seasonally and locally. We could cut down on the amount of petroleum used if we preserved food and didn’t waste as much. We could cut down on the amount of petroleum used if we relied less on agri-business farms that promote mono-cultures and use petroleum based fertilizers and pesticides that require an ever increasing amount of them to maintain the fertility of exhausted soils.
Calories are calories. We have certain nutritional needs, but most people don’t consider that their food consumption entails unconscious decisions about environmental things like the use of the limited resource of petroleum. Most people have very unrealistic ideas about how much protein that they really need in their diets. Also, some animals that are raised for meat and considered more desirable use more resources and are harder on the land. So sheep can be raised in areas that other animals might not be raised in and preserve wetlands, but mutton in the US anyway is considered much less desirable than beef. Cattle raised for meat use quite a lot of resources.
I raise all this not specifically to encourage anyone to become a vegetarian but rather to think about the choices that they make in their day to day lives. Could you eat more healthy, with less impact on the planet, and in a way that reflects your own personal values? Are there other things that you could do to make less of an impact on the planet? I would very much like if we as a species became more reflective about our choices as a group.
For instance in the US, we get tax deductions for the number of children we have. Why not instead of giving a straight out deduction for every child, give a standard deduction for the first child, a lower deduction for the next child, and a penalty for the third child? Or go further and give couples an incentive for not having children if they don’t want to. No woman should feel obligated to be a breeder just because she can. Also having children because others are and it seems meaningless to not make the choice not to breed seems very thoughtless. Children are a huge obligation. Over population is a problem.
More thoughts. Why not put a huge luxury tax on private motor vehicles particularly vehicles that get poor gas mileage? Why not make it mandatory to include inner city farming zones where a city’s food resources are grown? Why not mandate that houses cannot be over a certain size without having solar roof shingles? Why not mandate that all new building construction have geothermal heating/cooling? Why not mandate that the dead are an organic resource and should be returned to the soil? Why not bolster the international internet infrastructure and make communication and the relaying of information easier and more free? Why not heavily tax all garbage collection and begin a program of resource retrieval in known garbage dumps and land fills?
I can think of more. Please add to my list or argue with me.