Subj: Vegetarianism is viable
Date: Thursday, January 26, 2006 9:35:13 PM
Hello, Mr. Davis --
I read your column, "Shouldn't we live in a 'nation under tofu'?," in today's online edition of The Daily Cougar. My wife and I have been vegetarians for 7 1/2 years, and we agree with many of the points you made. Your attacks on the meat and poultry industries were right on target: the widespread horrific animal abuse you described is well-documented. It's hard to say which is worse: the frequent incidences, as reported by undercover journalists, of sadistic individual workers joyfully torturing animals that may be sick or injured; or the fact that other abuses such as debeaking and tail-docking are considered perfectly acceptable and are prescribed corporate routine. (Don't even get me started on the treatment of laboratory animals.)
My wife and I are not zealots. We don't go around naked, chanting slogans, to protest the wearing of fur; we don't mastermind midnight break-ins of laboratories to liberate mice and monkeys. (Though I'll admit we agree with the principles of those who do--just not their methods!) And we don't actively try to convert any of our friends to vegetarianism. If our example would inspire someone else to try it, or even just ask a few questions, we'd be immensely pleased. My point is--and I think you understand this--vegetarians are generally not wild-eyed radicals; they're just (often shy and gentle) people who care.
So I hope you'll accept that it is in this spirit of reasoned thought and discourse that I am moved to point out what I consider to be serious errors in those few points you chose to make against vegetarianism (or the prospect of its becoming more widespread in America). . . .
Much as we might enjoy the fantasy of seeing America go 100% vegetarian, it's just that: a fantasy. Realistically, vegetarians take what little satisfaction they can from watching their proportion within the general population increase by tenths of a percentage point in a decade. No one need "worry" what would happen if the country went vege overnight. But to suggest that it could not work, even in theory, is a mistake.
You seem to consider the following among your strongest arguments:
"Just consider a world where everyone was vegetarian. The extra land needed to cultivate staple crops -- corn, wheat, rice, soybeans -- would destroy the habitat of innumerable species in grassland ecosystems."
But I insist that that is more than a mere inaccuracy: it is the exact opposite of the case! People do eat grains, and in a meatless world they'd doubtless eat more of them. But where does the huge majority of grain crops go now? To livestock feed!! Human vegetarianism dramatically reduces, not increases, the demand for cropland (and its attendant commodities, like water [the water used to irrigate the crops, which is over and above the huge quantities the livestock take in directly]. . . .). The degree of reduction might vary one way or the other according to how much livestock might be raised for other domestic purposes (e.g., veganism would reduce cropland even more than "basic" vegetarianism, because: no cows for dairy products or leather, no sheep for wool, etc.). What about those chickens? One chicken's small, true enough, but each little chicken is force-fed grains, mostly corn, on the factory farms, and there are some 9 billion chickens in the U.S. Everett Dirksen, a U.S. Senator from Illinois a few decades back, famously said: "A billion here, a billion there . . . . Pretty soon you're talking real money." Replace "money" with "corn," and that chickenfeed ain't chicken feed.
Your argument that domesticated animals depend on humans for their existence has within it a grain of truth, but to me the opposing argument is very much stronger. Drop Tabby or Fifi, who has perhaps become an inconvenience, out of a speeding car on a rural highway, and yes, s/he'll all too promptly be history. (And, true to form, Americans play out such scenarios by the thousands.) But by and large, I think species are pretty resilient. A few examples off the top of my head: stray dogs form packs in residential neighborhoods; Texas ranchers angrily declare war on what they describe to be out-of-control feral pig populations (whose numbers are contributed to by escaped domestic hogs); Australians angrily declare war on what they describe to be out-of-control feral dingo populations (whose numbers are contributed to by escaped domestic dogs); Australians angrily declare war on what they describe to be out-of-control feral cat populations (whose numbers are contributed to by escaped domestic cats). What about cows? Certainly they couldn't live in the wild, could they?! Well, it seems to me I've read that in the 1800s, a species of bovine called buffalo existed in the wild in the U.S. by the hundreds of millions. They fell prey to predators, all right: humans. First, the Amerindians, who hunted them for life necessities but kept their numbers close to constant. . . and then settlers of European descent who finished them off, hunting them to extinction, almost exclusively for sport. I will admit that if all domestic cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens, and, OK, pets in this nation were set free tomorrow (which most certainly isn't going to happen, but just talking hypothetically), an awful lot of them wouldn't make it. But many would, and from these, large and robust populations could develop in very short order. (Humans would be overrun by them: maybe that's the bigger fear!) As far as that's concerned, why should it be considered impossible, even in theory, in this country what is already daily reality in others? Think of India, where almost none of their 1 billion+ population eats beef, or Arabic and Semitic countries where few eat pork: those species seem to be doing just fine. Has anyone asked the animals how they feel? The whole argument that (I'm paraphrasing) "They don't know enough to realize it, but they really depend on us for their existence" sounds, with all due respect, similar to arguments used to support slavery, colonization, male domination, etc.
Again: you made some good and important points in defense of vegetarianism, and we are grateful. This e-mail may not be preaching to the choir but perhaps to someone who genuinely appreciates choral music. Thanks for the good words. You don't need to go vegetarian, and I'm sure you won't; I'm just pointing out that the idea that many more Americans could do so is not as infeasible (or harmful) as you may think.
In closing, I'd like to recommend a beautiful book, "The Pig Who Sang to the Moon" by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Ballantine Books), which expresses more thoroughly and far more eloquently much of what I've been trying to say here.
Eric Brahinsky (UH alumnus, music, 1976-79)
San Antonio TX