The morality of meat

The morality of meat

I still chuckle when I think of my husband watching me tuck into a rack of ribs and remark, not unkindly,

‘Oh, how the mighty have fallen.’

Heavily pregnant, I’d finally, and wholeheartedly, succumbed to the meat cravings I’d been having for the past decade.

I was a smug vegetarian, I think  because I was conflicted about it. I believed (still do) vegetarianism to be an admirable (and increasingly necessary) choice, but eating meat made —still makes—me feel good.

My ideals and my desires—couldn’t marry the two.

Some of the greatest thinkers of our time, men of science and of religion, rejected meat, usually on moral grounds. This inherent morality, where you can point to peoples’ compassion, or lack thereof, makes the flesh eating debate tricky territory to navigate as it invites judgement—it leaves space for right and wrong, kind and cruel, virtuous and evil.

How can you be an evolved soul and still eat animals? Or be privy to how animals are farmed and not take a stance?

Even if you manage to manoeuvre your way round the cruelty, by just not thinking about it, as most of us do, our meat consumption is seriously bad news for the planet—something that’s harder to ignore with environmental issues so high on the agenda.

Those who’d espouse a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle have a powerful case. To skim the list of reasons to ditch meat:

  • Factory farming is pretty grim: cruelly confined spaces, growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, artificial fattening of animals, the heartbreaking mother-calf separation hours after birth.
  • Meat farming gobbles up resources. It’s estimated about 30% of our  (ice-free) land is now used for meat production. Huge swathes of rainforest are being cleared to make space for livestock farming.
  • The cows themselves are huge polluters, releasing toxic methane into the environment.
  • One stat from Cowspiracy that’ll scream out at you: it takes more than 2000 litres of water to make one hamburger. I still can’t wrap my head around that stat; it’s so grossly disproportionate it almost defies belief.

My kids are complete carnivores, so it’ll be a while before we embrace vegetarianism. But it is time to cut back—way, way back. Abstinence didn’t work for me. I’d cave then beat myself up about it, so I’m trying a different approach. To flip things around so that meat is an occasional treat rather than a staple. And to be more mindful about where and what meat we buy—though just thinking about that minefield gives me a slight headache (free range, organic, pasture fed, ethically sourced…)

Part of weaning off meat is having accessible, tasty vegetarian recipes up your sleeve. Check back soon for some of our favourites that can be made in a jiffy with minimal ingredients. Meantime the hunt for slightly more sophisticated, hearty vegetarian recipes continues; I know they’re out there. Anyone got great recipes to share?

Famous vegetarians
Einstein; Pythagoras; Plutarch; Leonardo da Vinci; Leo Tolstoy; Gandhi; Charles Darwin; Voltaire; Jane Goodall; Pamela Anderson; Natalie Portman; Paul and Linda McCartney; Steve Jobs; Mike Tyson; Bill Clinton; Hitler*

(*The Nazis apparently introduced animal protection rights that still exist today—the fine for hurting an animal was two years. If that’s not a study in the complexity of morality and the human psyche!)

rwe quote

einstein quote

Energy guzzlers

Energy guzzlers

It’s a small, seemingly insignificant thing but the absence of a machine or contraption whirring in the background to regulate the temperature or clean the air is one of the things I’ve loved most about moving back home.

In Beijing there was a constant hum in our apartment – of the air conditioner in summer, the heater in winter (who knew Beijing was sub-arctic) and the air purifier most of the year. Hong Kong was not much different (this is a city where department stores open their doors wide to pump cold air onto the hot sticky streets outside). In London it was the central heating for what felt like the better part of the year.

In Cape Town the air is beautifully clean and the temperature just so, so that you’re always comfortable, and it’s felt so good to be less of an energy guzzler. Moving home has coincided with a gradual awakening on my part – of a planet in peril as a result of our unrelenting quest for comfort and convenience. Maybe it’s having kids, maybe it’s middle age, maybe it’s having lived in such artificial city environments for close to a decade.

I do wonder though, if I moved back to any of those concrete jungles, would I just revert to my old ways? Crank up the aircon after a day in the insane stickiness that is Hong Kong? Or seal myself in my apartment, air purifier going full-tilt, after an afternoon breathing in the noxious Beijing air? What are the alternatives? Learn to be a little (or a lot) less comfortable?

I can feel smug about ditching the temperature control machines but I now live in a suburban house with a thirsty garden, and I haven’t used public transport in three years. I’ve swapped out one set of conveniences for another – if I did one of those carbon footprint calculations and compared life then to life now, I’m not sure I’ve progressed as much as I think.

It does feel though that once awareness has crept up on you, once it’s got your attention, it starts demanding more of you. What you know becomes compounded so that you’re forced to continually refine and adapt your thinking. You recycle furiously and feel great about keeping waste out of landfill, then investigate a little more and realise recycling is a sticking plaster, not a solution, and that what you actually need to do is stop accumulating. You become water-wise, flick those switches off and compost your food waste but then watch Cowspiracy and feel like you’ve had blinkers on all this time – gorging yourself on meat whereas in fact ditching meat could have a bigger impact that all your recycling efforts combined. You browse the sites of zero wasters displaying their entire years waste in a small glass jar – and then, feeling inadequacy creep in, you step away from the screen, go for a walk and get some perspective!

Learning is iterative and it’s hard to overhaul your life in a day, a week, a few months or even years. But you can always start and do what you can when and where you can, with the wherewithal you have at the time – and you can rejig things as you go along. And I think a journey of sustainability should be a joyful one – moments of outrage and maybe even exasperation at times yes, but ultimately something that brings you a semblance of peace in a crazy beautiful world.

“Little by little, one travels far”
– J.R.R Tolkien