Highland cattle

To beef or not to beef

In Animals, Blog, Food, Lifestyle by jennisheppard2 Comments

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Highland cattle

I have been vegetarian for 12 years, prompted to give up meat after watching a documentary exposing bad practices in a slaughterhouse. I remember I wasn’t so much shocked at the flouting of regulations, so much as what the regulations themselves revealed. The slaughter was inherently horrific and I decided I wanted no part in this cruelty.

Of course, as my conscience, the Vegetarian Society and my likeminded friends dictated, fish was also off the menu. But after more than a decade of resistance, it’s confession time. Last year, I returned to plundering the oceans.

This was not a decision I took lightly and in fact, I felt forced into it.

A decade ago, more than 5% of the UK population were vegetarian and it was fashionable among the restaurant-going middle class to give up meat for the greater good. A reputable restaurant was expected to offer a range of tasty vegetarian dishes and be sympathetic to vegetarian customers’ requirements.

Ten years later, in the foodie age of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and farmers’ markets, vegetarians now make up only 3% of the UK and the middle classes are abandoning vegetarianism in favour of slaughtering animals that have supposedly been “traditionally reared” on free-range organic farms.

More and more restaurants are replacing their vegetarian options with descriptions of how their cows grazed under rainbows and their lambs skipped through lush meadows. Vegetarians meanwhile are stuck with a mushroom risotto that is always substandard, no matter how fancy the restaurant.

I was finally pushed over the edge on an impromptu visit to a beautiful old pub in London, which prided itself on its good food. My friends were all served amazing meat and fish dishes – while I received mushroom gnocchi, in a mushroom sauce with a mushroom garnish. The only vegetarian choice on the menu and if I’m honest, damn disgusting.

In desperation and unable to finish my meal, I turned to my boyfriend and asked if I could try some of his fish. And you know what? That Guinness battered cod was tasty.

I reasoned that if I could start eating fish, I would at least have a back up for the increasingly regular occurrence of ending up in a restaurant which served only mushrooms – or in one case in Edinburgh, no veggie option at all. And so it began.

Since then, I have been racked with guilt over whether this is the right thing to do.

On one hand, fish stocks are low and they are animals too, so how can I justify resorting to fishing and consuming them now?

On the other, people like The Guardian’s Jenna Woginrich argue that we can only win the fight against animal cruelty if we get our hands dirty:

To be vegetarian is to be a pacifist, avoiding the fight against animal cruelty. Eat meat from sustainable farms, and we will win.

While I try to look at my return to fish eating as a chance to add my voice to those who seek to see fish stocks protected, favouring sustainably-caught fish and avoiding endangered species such as blue fin tuna, I can’t help feeling that the only reason I am in this position at all, is because of conscientious meat eaters like Jenna.

It’s all very well to take solace in the thought of animals skipping through meadows before they are killed and served up on your plate – but what if you never wanted to kill them in the first place?

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2 comments
Dan Orders
Dan Orders

Hi Jen, Interesting piece - my girlfriend's also a fish-eating 'veggie' (ie pescatarian, right?), and an ethical teaser I've presented before involves the choice of foregoing tasty meat for moral reasons, or enjoying ethically-reared meat, the point being that this amounts to a greater sum of happiness, as both the carnivore (enjoying the meal) and the animal (who otherwise would not have been born) benefit. Similar to you, Ari (the girlfriend) had a kind of epiphany when faced with the realities of meat production...in her case it was watching (or rather hearing) the slaughter of a pig on her uncle's farm. Anyway, imagine a perfect sustainable farm, where, indeed, lambs are skipping around, living life to the full, before being painlessly dispatched en route to our palettes via the gastropubs you refer to...well, morally, isn't the carnivore now in the stronger position, since her choice helped to bring the lamb into existence? If we didn't eat meat, the animal would never have enjoyed its carefree (albeit, in the case of a lamb, brief) existence. Another level to consider is the contribution of meat production to climate change...but that's a different matter Cheers, Dan

jennisheppard
jennisheppard

Thanks for the comment Dan, it's good to chew the cud right? You make a logical point that a greater sum of happiness is achieved if the carnivore can eat the meat they desire and the lamb (for example) at least gets the chance to exist before being dispatched painlessly to the carnivore's plate. But this only rings true if existence itself is inherently happiness-inducing. The meaning of existence would perhaps be better addressed in another blogpost/epic novel (or just by reading Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy) but I think it's worth questioning that point in this context. If the lamb had never been born, it wouldn't have known it had 'missed out' - if it had been born, it wouldn't have known anything else - so there would be no loss or gain of happiness there. Which really just leaves the happiness quotient up to humans and their confusing and often hypocritical views on the matter :)