So this is gonna be a biggy, and I need to make a few disclaimer points before I start, that are actually part of the general message I’m trying to convey, but if I don’t say them then…well, actually I’ll start, hopefully you’ll get the point. As always I encourage debate..but please don’t attack me too aggressively, I’m very sensitive sometimes (ah what the hell…rip in to me all you want), just remember I’m more open to changing my mind from a reasonable argument and an aggressive one. feel free to skip down to the main bit (I’ll flag it up for you) but please don’t lay into me until you’ve read it all.
The main disclaimer is to say (and this is actually part of my entire ethic..as opposed to the aspect I’m about to focus upon) the following: My Ethics are Mine, I don’t expect anyone else to live up to them. Hell, I’m optimistic that one day I’ll live up to them, I don’t think I do yet. I am not criticising your way of life. If anything I am attempting to critique mine. It is important for me to think that everyone lives up to their own ethical standards. I don’t expect anyone but me to live to mine. Everyone must make their own decision about what is important to them and live by it. I will sometimes try to make people question their own ethics, and make sure that they stand up to their own reasoning. This is what I’m doing when I challenge people on wordpress or anywhere on the minterget, I’m just making sure they’ve thought through what they believe and it adds up to something that makes sense to their own moral code. If it does…then I may still disagree with you, (sometimes right to the core of my being) but I will respect you more for it. (‘I may disagree with what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it’).
What I’m going to do here is attempt to look at what ethics mean to me, by looking at one of my ethics, actually one that I think is interesting and that I’m well practiced at defending (or at least explaining). I hope that somebody finds this interesting, because I do, and I’d like to hear what people have to say, and they might have to read for quite a while before I’m done. Apologies. Also, everything here that I claim as ‘fact’ HAS been researched, but mostly through conversation and reading sources that may or may not be unreliable. If you have hard facts with verifiable sources that contradict or confirm my statements…please give them to me. I’m here to learn.
So, here comes the main bit:
I am a Vegan. Well, that’s not strictly true. I consider myself an ‘ethical Vegetarian’. This means that 80-95% of what I eat (and what I use) would be considered Vegan (the percentage may even be higher, but it does vary from week to week, but I’ll get to that in a moment). For those unsure of the difference, Vegetarian means doesn’t eat meat, a Vegan doesn’t use any animal product. Examples of things covered by Vegan but not (necessarily) Vegetarian are things like milk, cheese and all dairy, eggs, wool, honey (for some people…I do eat honey), basically anything that has used an animal to be produced, even if it doesn’t directly involve animal flesh (you can eat eggs without killing chickens, for example). There are always fuzzy edges on these things, and I try and live by certain rules (my ethics) in regard to where I stand. Honey is one of these fuzzy edges that I find difficult to justify, I just don’t see the treatment of bees in general as being cruel or a waste of resources, if someone convinces me of this, then I will change my mind, feel free to try.
There are several reasons why i pursue this nearly vegan diet and lifestyle. The first (yet not most important) is animal rights issues. Most farming, especially the industrialised stuff that packs our supermarket shelves with new milk everyday, is necessarily cruel on animals. Cows are pumped with hormones, and effectively artificially inseminated to ensure a steady flow of milk (cows only lactate when pregnant or recently pregnant). Most people have seen the conditions on chicken farms and they way chickens are slaughtered. Even free range chickens are killed at end of lay (ie when they are no longer at maximum efficiency) and used for meat (this is one way that traditional vegetarians can contribute to the slaughter of the animals they try to avoid harming). My personal morality dosn’t see humans as being necessarily better than other animals. Yes, we do have higher brain function, which makes us different, but we come from the same root (be that evolution or God, you decide), and are not inherently better. This higher brain function is what gives us the ability to have this discussion (along with the fact that our society has developed computers etc that allow this to be published around the world…which is pretty damn cool, even if only about 6 people seem to ever read it), and to consider the morality of how we act. This gives us our reason to discuss what is right and wrong, but not what gives a right to kill and mistreat animals. I try to avoid causing this kind of pain to animals, both directly (I’d never kick a cat), or indirectly (I won’t pay someone to kill a cow for me). I don’t think it is right to economically support an industry I disagree with in this way, so I don’t, by not buying animal products of any kind (mostly…I’ll get to that in a minute).
Second reason is ecological. Put simply, meat farming wastes more land (a limited resource) than non meat farming. Theoretically, the land needed to feed one person beef alone could feed 20 vegetarians. This is because the cows in question need to be fed vegetable matter in order to fatten up for slaughter. Some of the energy they are fed is wasted through the cows movement, and general living, meaning that more ‘energy’ gos in that comes out. this is called the trophic pyramid (I think). The more steps on a food chain the more energy is lost, because each step uses up more of what was below before it is killed. This is all very logical, but if you don’t believe/understand this you should be able to look it up in a basic biology textbook or just google tropic pyramid or food chain and look for the answer, don’t trust me…look it up. Lots of other ecological debates rage but basically they can all be summed up by saying that we have a better chance of surviving (as a whole race) if we use our resources more efficiently, as far as I can tell, vegetarianism is probably the most efficient.
Right, so that’s the two main reasons out of the way, there are others, but I don’t want to bore you too much. One important thing to me is the fact of the alienation of the buying of something from the actual processes that happen. i think most people who go veggie do so when the see mistreatment of animals in industrial farming and suddenly realise what had to occur to put the meat on their plate. The same works for reducing fuel miles…the carbon emission levels from eating something from the other side of the world are horrendous, yet we expect to reap the benefits of globalisation and be able to just pick it off the shelf and not have to think about it (something like 20 times the weight of each individual kiwi fruit in carbon is emitted to fly it from New Zealand to the UK). Anyway, this is a bit of a tangent, but it is relevant to what’s coming up.
So, we’ve set up the basis for my beliefs here. What I really want to talk about is the exceptions (perhaps even exceptions that prove the rule). There are a number of things I consider alright, despite the fact that they are not strictly vegan, and I consider them what ensures that I live within my ethic, whilst being able to sometimes enjoy eggs and cheese and wooly jumpers and leather sandals(somewhat irrationally, I haven’t yet been able to extend this to meat, even though I could…I just find it very difficult to eat meat, whatever the situation…damn my emotional heart). Here are the key exceptions, in no particular order. First up is ethical farming. Now this is a matter of personal preference. I have so far only found one farm I agree with the ethics of. It is called Hen Heaven and is based in Henfield, not far from Brighton (Yes, its in Henfield, and no, I’m not making this up). Basically it is a sanctuary for ‘liberated’ battery chickens. These chickens have been freed for some reason or another (possibly illegally by animal rights activists but its impossible to be certain) from other, less ethical farms. Here they are allowed to run totally free in an incredibly ample space, and are treated well (with total respect) by the owner and any volunteers who go up there to support the activity. The whole place is run by a wonderful (if slightly mad..but then, aren’t we all) woman called Linda. I’ve been there and volunteered myself, and this means that I’ve checked the circumstances, believe them to be appropriate and fair (no animals are killed there, they either die naturally or are killed by the foxes which inevitably (and possibly regrettably) overcome the defences setup to prevent access). For these reasons, I believe eggs from hen heaven to be suitable fayre and eat them whenever I have the opportunity.
Secondly, there is what is occasionally called freegan food. This is food that isn’t vegan or veggie (I generally will eat animal products but not animal parts, as mentioned above) at all, apart from that it is going to waste in some way. This means that it is not economically supporting the industries I object to. Judgement calls have to be made on this sometimes, as to what counts and what doesn’t, which is, as always a question of checking your personal ethics. The one that I think is always justified is skipped food. Remember the supermarkets I was talking about earlier..how they always have plenty of milk and eggs and everything else, nice and fresh and not going out of date for a reasonable time after purchase. Ever wondered how they pull of that trick? It’s achieved by throwing stuff away as it approaches its sell by date. This means that the more adventurous scavenger can often check out the skips round the back of supermarkets (or any store for that matter) and hunt for food. As long as you eat it fairly soon after acquiring it. this stuff can often be totally healthy and ready to eat…just not always totally fresh as a daisy. Be careful, don’t eat anything that’s going to kill you…but that’s always good advice. I believe that this is good usage of food that is going to waste. I am not contributing to the demand for this product (supermarkets try to throw out as little as possible, to maximise profit) as I’m not engaging in the supply/demand interaction. All I am doing is feeding myself with food that was obtained by means I consider cruel. to me, in this circumstance this is alright, because the cruelty has already happened and I’m not contributing to it, directly or indirectly.
Thirdly, and this is the one I don’t actually take part in myself, because I haven’t had the opportunity and a bit squeamish about it: hunted food, ideally hunted by me. This one may be a bit controversial, but its all about being attached to the actual process of where the meat comes from. Hunting is often necessary to maintain biodiversity within a community, or just maintaining the ecological balance somewhere. There are plenty of examples of this, many of which I am unaware of, its the reasons foxes have to be hunted in the UK (although I am against the fox hunting sport, i am probably pro the idea of foxes being hunted). This part of it is actually questionable: I mean what gives us the right to mess with ecology? i actually believe this, I’d rather we let ‘nature’ sort it out. Unfortunately, it’s too late to do this, as we’ve cocked it up plenty already. I reckon nature will sort it all out in time (after some kind of nice big extinction level event) and life will return in a different form sometime after…the real circle of life…I have a lot of faith in life…just no always humanity). Anyway, as it is, we pretty much just have to do what we can to preserve some kind of balance, and ethical hunting (like they have in Canada, (as I understand it) with quotas and laws and rules and limits and stuff to ensure that everything is able to survive and live well, a balance is maintained, and no more is killed than is needed), its like the Native American thing of respecting the animal you’ve killed, using it thoroughly, and always being aware of local animal populations. Its a question of being in harmony with nature and being direct in your actions and, it should go without saying, being humane in your methods. I believe this is allowable, though I’m not sure if I’ll do it myself (I haven’t yet). NB this also extends to ethical small scale farming, especially permaculture and small communities, which is actually what I most directly support.
Anyway, that’s the basics (sorry if its quite a lot of basics). All I want is for this to have given you some food for thought. I want to know what you think. The point I’m making is mostly about not being dogmatic. I believe it is important to always question every action you take, and see whether it really fits into your moral compass in general. If it does, then you are living ethically, whether you agree with my ethics or not. Please comment to ask questions or clarifications. I have missed out a hell of a lot of details because I’ll be really interested in what everyone has to say about this. Oh, and to my long time fans (ha), don’t worry, i’m sure I’ll be being silly again soon, (in fact I’ve got one or two planned posts that are very silly…if still actually about important issues).
Sorry for being boring, but I kind of had to…I just had a chat with one of my exes about ethics and needed to continue that conversation here…just to clarify my mind, if nothing else.
Thank you for listening