Meat comes from living things that suffer and feel pain.
If we eat animals, can we really say we care about them?
The three of us got to the bar and ordered some beers. Proper beers, mind you, because we are men of taste, or at least openminded. The sun was setting, the temperatures dropping, so we found a table outside on the patio. It was here where I demonstrated how seeing the big picture is just as important as having a set of ideals.
We got our food. I abstained from ordering meat, explaining my moral and environmental values. We talked and ate. The sun set. We talked and ate some more. Soon, we settled our tab, and stood up to leave. Sage asked Nate, “Aren’t you going to eat those?” motioning to the couple chicken wings he had left. Nate said, “No, you want them?” Sage shook his head, so I grabbed one and started to eat.
“Now this makes me think different about you being a vegetarian,” Sage said.
“Well, I never said I was a vegetarian.” I replied. “They’re going to throw it away.” I finished and grabbed the remaining wing. “It’s wasteful. The animals died needlessly if this goes to the trash.”
Our ideals must be in context
I thought about this when I heard about the protests against the management of Chick-fil-A for giving money to anti-gay groups. Many people, gay and straight, recognize the management’s actions as trying to prevent the freedom of gay people. But do they understand that the principle should be applied in context?
If we value liberty, we must value liberty wherever it is threatened. Is what Chick-fil-A is doing worse than what the Chinese government is doing, not allowing their people to vote? Should we be taking a stand and boycotting Chinese goods before worrying about boycotting Chick-fil-A?
Both groups are acting in disrespect. But they are different.
These two situations are different in how the motivations are acted on: China has accomplished their goal of taking people’s right to self-determination and liberty, and Chick-fil-A is trying to limit sexual freedom. If we choose to be actors in this life, we must decide, is it wrong, and if so, what do we do about it?
Life is more than ideals. It’s about the application of those ideals.
The difference between China and Chick-fil-A is important. Just as when I chose to eat meat that evening, it wasn’t because I stopped valuing animals, but because I saw their waste to be worse than not eating them.
Here in the US, most of us do not live in desperation. We have first world decisions that most of the world does not. Do we have the morals and courage of our convictions to change our lifestyles, even a little, in response to the disrespect from both Chick-fil-A and the Chinese government?
I say we do.
Dan Buettner travelled the globe and found societies where many people are living over 100 years. And these centenarians are not sitting at home or in retirement villages, or using advanced health care to get them there. The video Buettner brings back is surprising, and his advice may surprise you even more. Longevity in these regions is not only based on diet and physical fitness. It’s based on our relationships.
The commonalities between the societies include what you’d expect: A plant-based diet with little to no meat. It includes not eating to fullness, and an active lifestyle. In addition, Buettner finds another similarity: These people are self-sufficient. They walk or ride bikes to where they need to be. They are spiritual: They all have a sense of purpose. They respect their elders and put family first. The children take care of their parents when they reach old age. And they interact with the community.
Buettner puts together a compelling picture based on some real life information. The simple fact is, longer life means doing something of value and being valued. And really, this sense of purpose is something we all know. We just…got a little distracted.
“…when you think about it, your friends are long-term adventures, and therefore, perhaps the most significant thing you can do to add more years to your life, and life to your years.”
I was out walking with Jesse the other day. The sun was setting and the western skies were aglow with shimmering orange and yellow and red. We passed a home with a back yard that was carefully landscaped with evergreen trees. They were clustered within neat rings of stone. A decorative stone bench sat at either end of the yard. There was small, neatly trimmed shrubbery flanking the area.
“That yard looks like a park,” I said.
I thought about the care of the owners to ensure that the branches were trimmed. The stones and benches clear of weeds. The grass surrounding them cut. I said, “I wonder what the yard is going to look like in a hundred years. Will the yard even be there? Will it be destroyed? Will the family have moved on, and will there be another family owning the place?”
The transience of life
I think about how much the yard was appreciated. I think of our constant struggle to keep order. Maintaining our hygiene, cleaning ourselves, walking about, working, exercising, cleaning again. Picking out the soap and shampoo that we like, maybe it’s the cheapest, or the one that has best scent, or the one used in all the salons, or the one that’s not tested on animals.
Finding the restaurant with the tastiest dishes, the ones we must have, and we’ll pay for it, because nothing else is good enough. Maybe getting fast food, because we just want to eat something, anything. Or going to places that get their ingredients locally. Or having a garden, or not eating animals because we do care, we care a lot about our actions…
Does it matter?
Eating, brushing our teeth, eating again, brushing again, stopping the rot, keeping the bacteria at bay. Our diligence! Cutting the grass, cursing the rain, cutting the grass again, trimming bushes.
Again and again and again.
Going shopping to replace worn clothes, or just because it feels good. Trying to make more money, searching for that job that will make us comfortable, that income that’s just out of our reach, if only we could get to it.
Until we don’t do it anymore
Until one day, we stand at the gates to be judged. The gates of truth. Our conscience. And we ask ourselves if we spent our time wisely. Did we make an effort to do the right thing, or did we follow the crowd? Did we work too much, too little? Did we care about our contribution, about the consequences of our actions? Did we care about people, about the future, or did we throw up our hands in helplessness? Did we worry too much, or did we enjoy our life?
I looked at the yard and thought all this, because this is what I do. I thought about the big clock. Tick-tock. And then I stopped thinking of that. And I started appreciating everything a little bit more.
The perfect backyard and the perfect person? Neither is possible. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for them.
Rituals. We follow them without thinking. Some rituals are habits that we consciously try to form, like healthy exercise and diet. Other rituals are generally environmentally influenced… like going to church, going out to eat, or putting up a Christmas tree.
This past weekend, I went out to run, not having exercised the week before. My ritual is to run about six miles over a certain route that takes me through a subdivision and down a main street. I considered shortening the run, given my week-long inactivity, but I didn’t. I also thought about slowing from my usual pace. I didn’t follow that advice either. At the end of my run, I noticed a stabbing pain in my left Achilles tendon. I had injured myself, and it was all because I was accustomed to my ritual, and I didn’t want to change it.
We can form seemingly good habits, like regular exercise or a healthy diet. Some dietary habits are so ingrained in our minds that going against them seems like going against nature, like the practice of eating meat. As we have become more technologically advanced, we don’t need to slaughter our own animals or go to a farm, so we don’t see meat as coming from a living and breathing animal that can suffer and who raises its young, unless we take them away for veal or lamb chops. We don’t see that we have put these living things in factories where they aren’t animals anymore, but units of production on an assembly line. Input: corn, antibiotics, and hormones. Output: meat patty on our plate.
As human beings, we have the capacity to think through our actions and make a plan. Our mindfulness is our most important quality, otherwise, we are at the mercy of our environment and the whims of a culture that allows slavery to exist, restricts people from voting, and allows banks to defraud their customers, almost causing world-wide economic collapse. If we can recognize when a ritual is good or bad, we can make an exception and not blindly follow it.
So stop every once in a while and assess your habits and judge whether they are making you happy. You will probably find something you can change that will drastically improve your life and the state of the world you live in.