Sometimes I find myself thinking about life, the universe and everything as I drive from school to school, as I do in the course of my work. The other day as I was driving along (somewhere just outside Bedale, I think) it struck me that I have been a vegetarian most of my life. I went through a comparitively brief period eating fish as well as vegetable matter (during which I was, I suppose a piscatarian) but felt uneasy about it, and went back to being vegetarian.
Sometimes people ask me why I'm a vegetarian. It usually crops up at dinner-parties (not that I go to a lot of dinner parties, although I'm always open to invitations). I usually shrug and say that I've been a vegetarian for so long I don't really think about it. Part of the reason for this is that I'm not evangelical about it - we all have to find our own way through life in such matters. Another part though is a cop out, if I'm honest. If I say why I am a veggie then we'll all rehearse the same old arguments I've heard time and time again. (Similarly, I'm a double bass player - and whenever I take my bass somewhere, someone will say "Cor, that's a big violin, mate". Spare me).
If I say I don't want animals to be killed so that I can eat, someone will ask me what I'd do if I were stranded on a desert island with nothing but lots of grass and a live sheep. Would I kill the sheep or starve? My favoured answer to this is that if I were stranded on a similar island with the questioner instead of a sheep, I'd probably eat him, so what? Seriously, though, would I kill the sheep? Perhaps. However, I remember reading about a Zen monk who lay down before a hungry tiger for the tiger to eat him, saying that the tiger needed to eat more than he, the monk, needed to live. Why should a sheep die so that I might live? If the hypothetical situation became suddenly real, though, I'd probably eat the sheep. Who knows?
Whatever I did to the sheep would prove nothing. Being a vegetarian for me is nothing to do with maintaining some sort of imagined purity of body or action. For example, I'm sure I take in the odd bit of invisible lard. If I visit someone and they offer me a piece of cake, I don't ask them what they made it out of. At this point, another dinner-guest will pipe up that in that case, I'm not a really vegetarian. Give it a rest, please. It's like telling a Christian they're not a Christian because they go to dinner parties and indulge in gluttony.
Do I wear leather shoes? Yes. I'm not a vegan. As I said, it's not about personal purity. I don't see the point of that sort of approach and anyway, it's about doing what I can sustain and not give up on. I am attracted to veganism though. Someone will say how it can't possibly be good for one to be a vegan. Some of the best fell runners I've ever know have been vegans, so it can't be that bad. I try moving towards it now and again, but it's hard to do and I back off. Keep it personally do-able, sustainable.
I think one of the annoying things about the predictable discussions that arise when vegetarianism pops up is that half the people round the table have a sneaking feeling they would quite like to be vegetarians. Some people only feel happy when they've got half a dead cow on their plate, but not all. As with smokers, some meat eaters have a giver-upper lurking in there, trying to get out. If they can beat me to their satisfaction in the sheep on the island and the leather shoe arguments then they can keep their latent half-hearted giver-upper locked up until the next dinner party.
What I tend not to tell people over dinner is that if you don't eat meat for 35 years then all that conditioning wears off, and the idea of slaying another creature with eyes, ears and a brain, chopping it up and chewing on it's innards seems quite shocking. Don't get me wrong, I understand perfectly why other people do - I used to do it myself, without a second thought. And if I had to eat meat, I'd rather raise an animal and kill it myself. Which reminds me, I forgot the "carrots have feelings too" argument. Spare me. What would you rather do - pull up a carrot or poleaxe a pig? Intuition tells me I'd rather pull up a carrot. Don't knock intuition. As Einstein said: "“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
Thanks to Turnstone for the Einstein quote.
4 years ago