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Tuesday, November 18, 2003  

Reflections of a reasonable vegetarian

Brian Flemming, who can always be relied on to have something intriguing on his mind, is wondering about the animal rights movement.

Imagine a Martian is given an assignment by his superiors: Go over to Earth, study the humans there, and determine how they feel about the other animals on their planet. My guess is the first lines of the resulting report would read as follows: "The humans on Earth revere the non-human animals. Also they despise them. Also they have no feelings at all about them. At any given moment the humans will passionately rally to save the life of an animal, and in the next moment will slaughter another one without mercy. They will find unremarkable a lifetime of human-imposed suffering by a million members of one species, while finding the nature-imposed suffering of a single member of another species to be a tragedy worthy of heroic measures. The only near-guarantees of survival for an individual animal on Earth are to be of a species deemed 'cute' in that particular geographic region or to fall into a novel predicament and receive media coverage."

A news story is the impetus for Brian's musing. An alligator was recently captured by officials of the U.S. Postal Service. Someone had tried to ship it and it gnawed its way through the carton.

The alligator will remain at a shelter for a week before being shipped to a northern Illinois sanctuary, said Len Selkurt, executive director of the Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control. The sanctuary owner will then take it to Florida, he said. Alligators longer than 20 inches (50.8 centimeters) are not allowed to be sent through the mail, and officials said the shipment from Milwaukee to Colorado was under review.

Brian has a suggestion: "Kill the alligator." He points out that doing so would save money, time and hassle. Furthermore, being killed is the fate of many an alligator, so why spare this one? I'm inclined to agree with Brian, though his suggestion may be tongue-in-cheek. If no one wants the alligator or it isn't eligible for pet status, euthanize it.

Why are you gasping? Let me guess. You saw the word 'vegetarian' in the headline and thought, 'she's a softy when it comes to animals.' Not so. I'm middle-of-the-road in regard to animal rights. I definitely stop short of considering animals equal to humans.

Brian is puzzled by the dichotomous attitude most Americans have toward animals. There is the touchy-feely anthropomorphization common in childrens' stories and the cards sold at chain card shops. Then there is the reality of the diet of most Americans -- replete with the same animals. Talking about irony.

I've been a semi-vegetarian since college. Not a lacto. Not a vegan. A reasonable vegetarian. I don't eat poultry or red meat. Fish and seafood are fine, except for mussels, which I'm allergic to. I don't have a rationale to offer for my vegetarianism. All I can do is tell you my story.

I ate meat as a child. In fact, growing up partly in the rural South, I observed animals going from chickens and pigs to drumsticks and ribs. My mother and aunts killed chickens by chopping their heads off. My father and uncles would shoot a hog, hang up it up to drain the blood and then butcher it. You are expecting me to say that grossed me out. It didn't. Like most humans throughout history, I was not particularly concerned with how the pork roast got on the table as long as it got on the table.

I was influenced somewhat by the anti-meat movement in college. Apparently, I examined whether I really wanted to eat meat. I decided I didn't. But, don't congratulate me, yet. The decision likely had to do with the fact most of my favorite foods were not meat. I actually like vegetables. Legumes? Potatoes? Greens? Bring'em on. I didn't mind passing up beef ribs, pork sausage or chicken wings. Pork chops are another story -- I miss them to this day. On the other hand, I refused to eat chitterlings from the get-go because they stink.

I haven't backslid. No red meat, pork or poultry has passed my lips in years. But, my conversion to vegetarianism was and remains incomplete, including philosophically. I don't agree with much of what is written about grazing ruining the environment. Corporate farming of grains and vegetables is probably equally harmful. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals often embarrasses itself in my opinion. There is something perverse about ignoring human suffering while focusing on the tribulations of farmed minks. Here in Portland, a hospital is picketed several times a year. People from PETA parade around the complex beating drums and chanting a female researcher's name. They castigate her as something akin to a war criminal. Her crime: She is performing research on paralysis using four domestic cats. Though I think it should be humane, I am not opposed to the slaughter of animals for food. After all, carnivores and omnivores behave the same way in the wild.

My failure to conform to what is expected of vegetarians includes not swearing off non-food uses of animal products. I have a Eddie Bauer Stine jacket and a leather office chair. No qualms strike when I am buying leather shoes or a new purse, except about the cost.

I consider myself a reasonable vegetarian because I believe I have reached a balance. I'm in no danger of depriving myself of needed nutrients by being an anti-meat extremist. Nor do I hold eating meat against other people. If someone decides to join me in vegetarianism, fine. If another person wants to pig out on beef spare ribs dripping with a chorizo-based sauce, that's fine, too. I'm willing to leave the choice up to the individual.

Brian goes on to say, in regard to the reptilian reprobate,

There is only one way that all of this effort could make logical sense to me: If every decision maker involved is a vegetarian. Going on the (probably safe) assumption that these decision makers (and those who agree that saving the alligator is the right thing to do) are not vegetarians, how to make sense of it? For example, in order to solve the minor problem of their own hunger tonight, these alligator-savers will likely elect to have, say, a chicken killed, when obviously they could have sated their hunger without killing any animals at all, if they truly believe that one shouldn't kill an animal to solve a problem.

As I said before, I don't have a problem with the star of this drama being offed at all. See you later, alligator. I am a reasonable vegetarian.

Note: Brian delves deeper into the issue of animal rights. He is looking for a philosophy that negates PETA's: "Animals are not ours to use for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation." Read his entire entry here.

12:46 PM