Lately, I have been meeting a lot of new people, and they ask me why I am a vegetarian. I explain my rationale to them with a combination of moral and environmental concerns. Below is my rationale; my goal is neither to come off as imperious, condescending or self righteous, nor is it necessarily to change you over to my way of thinking. If I do any of the aforementioned, feel free to tell me.
Morally, it is based off a foundation of viewing pain as being intrinsically wed with wrongness. Animals have nerve endings, thus can feel pain and suffer. When you brand a cow, does it not try to scream and shrink away from pain? Many of us frown upon wantonly incurring pain upon another. We tend not to like pain or condone torture because it causes suffering. Murdering can be considered wrong for not only what it does to the person but the effect it has on those close to the person, read on to see why this is relevant.
Tests have been performed on Rhesus monkeys and other mammals such as prairie voles. These tests have proved the ability for animals to be psychologically damaged in the case of the Rhesus monkeys, and for prairie voles, the ability to love and experience emotional states. So the chickens who are cooped up and driven insane by factory farming are being tortured psychologically. When a mother cow is separated from her calf the struggles to be close to one another and the psychologically damaging effects for both parties are dramatic and extraordinary.
People have said that because the animals don't know of any other life, they are fine and used to it. Adults who grew up in abject poverty and do not know of anything else are still well aware of the horrors they experience. We try to justify killing animals calling them stupid or unaware. A pig on average is more intelligent than a three-year-old child and yet we slaughter them and would think it atrocious to slaughter a human baby, something of lesser intelligence, simply because it is human. Really, is the pain inflicted upon animals worth the all too ephemeral pleasure you experience from eating their flesh?
Animals have a right to property just as much as humans do. Locke, in his arguments for rights to property, explains that a man has a right to what he sows, and this can be extended to animals. A bird should have a right to a nest, and a squirrel to the nuts he gathers for sustenance. We all seek out shelter and homes, and have similar needs for security. One would try to turn this around and say that animals are raised for the purpose of being killed and that the farmer has a right to what he sows (chickens, cows, pigs and the like). In which case I would say that one requires a hierarchy of priorities. The thing humans seem to hold most dear is the right to life. Atop this, one may have to ask one's self if the pleasure received from making a profit off of the murder of others is greater than the suffering the animals experience from being caged or for that matter even killed. In which case I doubt a human could be so sadistic to experience more pleasure from all that comes from killing innocent and caring creatures than the pain they'd experience from being slaughtered. Similarly with pigs, cows are strung up by their hind legs and have their throats slit, and oftentimes they are alive still to experience being skinned. Chickens have their throats slit and are still alive to feel themselves be dipped in a scalding "bath" to remove feathers. If the pleasure outweighs all that, then I fear for the state of the world more deeply than I thought possible.
Another critic may argue that humans are omnivores for a reason. Just because we are capable of eating meat doesn't mean we should; just because we are capable of murdering -- or by a less extreme example, being mean to everyone we meet -- doesn’t mean we should. And what of the animals like lions who eat gazelles and murder them? We have the capability to live very comfortably without eating meat; it is not a matter of survival in the slightest. For the lion, killing a gazelle is a matter of survival. One could also argue that we are the dominant species and should enjoy whatever powers we have as such. Just because a totalitarian government has the power to do whatever it wants doesn't mean it ought to.
Others will argue that animals can't think rationally or morally, and this is wrong. Dolphins will take pieces of sponge and use them as tools to accomplish various tasks and then return to the same piece of sponge till it has been used up entirely. Your pet dog doesn’t suddenly turn on you without reason. It will be kind to you if you have treated it kindly. Dogs especially have a sense of loyalty to you and to their pack, they will fight to protect you and show you the affection you show them. A lion has a sense of loyalty to its pride and a dolphin to its pod. It is generally accepted that there is morality in reciprocity and rationality in using tools and not "biting the hand that feeds you."
"If we don't use factory farming, the price of meat will skyrocket and only be available to the rich." This is what one objector may say. The fact is, over half of the world's population is vegetarian and get by just fine without meat. One's diet can be given protein via nuts, beans, fungi, tofu and soy products. Frankly, there are a lot of health benefits to being vegetarian, not the least of which is that our excessive eating of meat can lead to higher chances of getting cancer. Meat is a luxury -- an atrocious and inhumane luxury.
As if what is above isn't enough, it's time for me to pay homage to the environmental aspect of things. On Ecofoot.org there is a calculator that basically says how many Earths we'd need to sustain a meat-eater's lifestyle. Eating meat practically increases the number of Earths needed by a whole Earth. People are upset about setting aside 100 million tons of grain for biofuels; 760 million tons is fed to farm animals just so you can eat meat. That means 760 million tons of grain that could go to those who live in abject poverty, or into biofuels. According to Livestock’s Long Shadow
eating meat generates almost 40 percent more greenhouse emissions than all the cars, trucks and airplanes in the world combined. 21 percent of the carbon emissions that are chalked up to "human activity" actually comes from the animals we eat and mass produce. Animals in factory farms are oftentimes pumped with hormones that will make it into their excrement. This excrement is often not properly disposed of and goes into the water systems, about 1.4 billion tons of it (1996). Meat production has also been linked to severe erosion of billions of acres of once-productive farmland. About 80 percent of good farmland and half of the water in the U.S.
goes to animals we raise only to slaughter. If you remember in your 7th grade life studies science class, you remember the food chain and how at every level 90 percent of the energy is lost when you go up a tier in the food chain. This is verified when one realizes that an animal has to be fed about 10 pounds of grain or plants to produce one pound of meat.
There is so much information out there to show that eating meat is not only bad morally but also for the environment and for you, I frankly can't sift through it all. But that's fine. I encourage you to do some research of your own into not only the atrocities that occur in order to provide you meat in the first place, but to also check out your current footprint and look for ways to make your way of living a better one.