Why Did I Change?

At a social event today, a friend of a friend asked me a question that sincerely seemed to interest him. “Why did you become a vegetarian?”

The answer to that question is pretty simple. I was about 20 years old, and had been thinking about my diet for quite some time. Then this thing made the news, where consumers were concerned that the price of beef was being manipulated, and suggested a consumer boycott of beef for a week. This sort of thing appealed to my hippie sensibilities, and I joined in.

In those days, I ate a lot of Burger King Whoppers. It was summer, and my travels often took me by the Burger King on Logan St. in Lansing. The window of the van was down, and oh how the smell of those flame broiled chunks of beef used to waft into the Dodge with me. I stuck it out though. When the week was over, I didn’t go back to beef. I’ve been sticking it out for 45 years now.

I’ve been thinking about that conversation all day. The question that wasn’t asked, was why had I remained a vegetarian all these years? No beef, pork, poultry for 45 years? That is a little tougher to answer, but as I walked around with my thoughts today, I did come up with something.

One of my neighbors and good friends raises a pig a year for meat for his family. This little guy has a pretty good life. He has a spacious pen full of clean straw. He can go outside whenever he wants. He has plenty of food and water. And this little guy also has human interaction. When I walked by his pen, he stood on his hind legs with his front legs on the pen wall, and begged to have his ears scratched. He looked as though he enjoyed the process. He seemed to get plenty of this sort of attention from the family that was raising him.

The children in this family understand something better than I ever did. They know where their food comes from. They understand that when their pig has to leave, that he’ll return in paper wrapped packages that go into the freezer. When they have some bacon, they’ll think about their pig.

I am capable of many things, but what this family accomplishes with their farm animals I just could not do. I have not been able to convince myself that my taste for bacon is worth exchanging a life for.

My guess is that my neighbors don’t save much money by raising their yearly pig, compared to what they would pay in a grocery store. That is because pig raising on an industrial scale is much more efficient than it is on the scale of a small farm. That efficiency translates to not much of a life for the pigs, however. Piglets are separated from their mothers very early, and kept in separate pens. Since the outside is full of dangers for them, they are usually kept inside. Their food and water arrives automatically, and their waste removed by conveyor. When the correct weight is achieved, they are shipped off to the slaughter house, and that is that.

So I guess if I would have been asked why I’ve maintained my vegetarian diet all these years, the above would be part of the answer. Surely, I feel, we can consume the food we like without being cruel to the animals that provide it. If all pigs were treated like my neighbor’s is, I still wouldn’t eat meat, but I think I’d feel better about the whole thing.

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