Having a non-mainstream diet means being more deliberate about your food. My perspective is that I like the taste of meat and want to continue eating it, but find it morally indefensible.
In the places I’ve lived, many people don’t eat much meat so no one asks me about it, but sometimes people make fun of it. I think it’s easier for me as a girl to not eat meat and not get heat about it, but some people might view it as a holier-than-thou attitude and get offended by it, plus there’s somewhat of a negative connotation about vegetarians being wimpy and annoying, bleeding-heart bozos. Some of my male vegetarian friends avoid conflict by saying they don’t eat meat due to health reasons.
Being vegetarian means you think more carefully about everything you’re eating. When you do whatever everyone around you does without thinking about it, when questioned it can be easy to automatically rationalize whatever you and everyone else is doing as correct, otherwise why would everyone do it? Growing up in a Chinese household with a lot of meat, that’s how I felt about vegetarianism until I read DFW’s essay for Gourmet Magazine “Consider the Lobster.”
Aside: Most Chinese people eat a ton of meat. Chinese people will eat anything. If China doesn’t care about human rights, how are Chinese people supposed to even imagine the concept of animal cruelty? For example, I was telling my cousin about my beloved cat, how sweet this cat was, how much I missed her. My cousin said, “Oh, I used to have a great cat! Let me tell you a funny story.” This story began with how my uncle was mad the cat was on the bed, so he picked up the cat by the leg and threw it across the room, thereby breaking its leg. Thus for the following months this cat was confined to the bathroom, where its only occupation was the observing of people using the toilet, so that afterwards it also used the toilet as well! Ever after, this delightful, intelligent cat would comically race into the bathroom in the morning whenever it saw anyone heading in and start using the toilet first. The person wouldn’t be able to shoo the cat off since it would immediately start pooing, so everyone would have to wait till the cat was done before being able to go to the bathroom in the morning. No one thought this story was anything but pure comedy, and the preface about the cat’s broken leg was not shocking to anyone: a cat thrown across the room by the leg had the emotional equivalent of “I was going to the store one day when-.” (This story also illustrates how Chinese people often find poo and other bodily functions funny and will not hesitate to tell poo stories, especially to good friends and family.) So yeah it can be weird being a Chinese vegetarian.
Animals are inferior to humans. We control their lives and their environments, but I would hope that if aliens from outer space came to Earth they would show mercy to the inferior humans, which to them would be like animals ripe for enslavement, breeding, eating, labor, etc. Do unto others, right?
When I first started thinking about it, I was reluctant to conclude that eating meat was not The Right Thing To do. After all, I’m a good person, and I eat meat, therefore eating meat should be Good. Plus it’s so delicious! DFW’s essay caught me off guard and snuck in behind my cognitive dissonance.
To animals, we humans are like all-powerful gods. Before honestly and openly questioning whether I should eat animals or not, I was like an indifferent and uncaring god. After thinking about it, I decided if I continued to eat meat after being unable to defend the position, I would then move into evil, cruel god zone, and I didn’t want to do that- I want to a be a benevolent, compassionate god. My argument isn’t based on logic or rhetoric, it’s based on compassion, empathy, and the hope that karma will cause aliens to spare my sweet, delicious brains.
It’s not a question of whether the life of an animal is worth as much as the life of a human- clearly it is not. No one typically needs to eat animals to survive- I only eat them because I like the taste. So the real question is if an animal’s life is worth as much as the enjoyment or entertainment a human gets from eating the animal. If you think you will get more utility out of eating the meat than the cost of the animal’s suffering and whatever costs there might be to the environment, then from a utilitarian perspective, eat it.
This is subjective and each individual’s decision. Sometimes, the dish really is that delicious! Sometimes my mom would insist on cooking me chicken soup when I was sick, and if I didn’t eat it she would weepingly smile, bravely trying to hide her obviously broken heart. If my mom cooked a dead baby, I’d probably have to eat it, so sometimes you have to choose the animal’s suffering and death over the suffering of another human being.
It’s not that easy to think about doing something differently from the default behavior I grew up with- far easier to just be on autopilot and do whatever my family and friends do. But as someone who cares about utilitarianism, I feel good whenever I choose not to eat meat even when part of me wants to. I feel like I’m being slightly self sacrificing, even though it doesn’t cost me much and is probably on average benefiting my body and wallet.