The machismo of eating meat

Tonight, I saw a fellow vegan retweet a posting from an omnivore thumping his or her chest about it, saying to the effect that he (chest-thumping is more typically a male behavior; I assume accordingly) ate meat, he wasn’t going to change, and vegans should stop wasting their breath.

This is a troubling statement. And the response we vegans have to it is somewhat conflicted. A segment amongst us view the continuing slaughter of animals as a holocaust; from this, they infer a moral imperative to take any actions necessary to stop it. Some of us advocate nonviolence; I personally worry that framing the conflict as humans versus animals will backfire; animals will surely lose. Others see hypocrisy in using violence to stop violence. Still others extend a human right of self-defense to animals and those who would protect them. I doubt I have done justice to the wide range of views, but all of us, I think, would prefer to use persuasion.

Persuasion doesn’t always work. The ongoing hoopla over health care, for example, exhibits an irrationality which does not appear susceptible to peaceful means. And so the holocaust continues.

Whatever we think about the morality of treating animals as existing for human purposes, we should also acknowledge the incredible harm that the livestock industry does to the environment (summary here). According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, “livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of transport.” That’s not all. The livestock industry bears a heavy burden of blame for water usage, water pollution, land use, land degradation, deforestation, and biodiversity problems on our planet. While the FAO does not recommend the world switch to a vegan diet, the fact is that vegan diets would feed a lot more people, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and substantially improve our environment. But the trend lies in the opposite direction; we have a larger population and a larger proportion of them eating meat.

So people thump their chests about eating meat. But let’s consider the machismo associated with eating meat. Does it, in the vast majority of cases, reflect people hunting their food in any kind of a “fair fight?” Hunters are armed with high-powered rifles and plenty of ammunition; few animals threaten them in any way. And even they represent a tiny fraction of meat eaters. Does meat eating even reflect people butchering animals themselves, dealing with the blood and gore of a once living creature? Again, no. The vast majority leave the gore to someone else. They are buying meat at the grocery store. Hunting is reduced to scanning the frozen foods section for a frozen pizza. And given persistent gender roles, it isn’t even Mr. Macho Man doing that.

So, what exactly is all this chest-thumping about? Are people really so proud of destroying our planet, our species’ only home? Do we really want that portion of our planet not already buried under concrete plowed over to raise feedstock? And while it might make fireworks displays a little more explosive, do we really want our air filled with methane gas? Do hunters want forests and wild places destroyed and rivers filled with excrement?

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