Cruelty Free? Not me

I have been a vegetarian for over seven years now.  In that time, the way I view myself as an herbivore as moved around considerably.  I started with angst.  At that time in my life, eating meat was not only undesirable, I found it morally bankrupt.

I remember walking through the aisles of my local grocery store, astounded at the chilly walk of death–some sort of perverted mausoleum in which the dead bodies were packaged, displayed, and sold.  And then, there were of course those who simply wanted to marvel at the marbling of the meat.

Next I entered my holier-than-thou phase.  No longer was I so concerned with the morality of killing animals, I convinced myself that I was concerned about the environmental repercussions of eating meat in an overpopulated world served by an unsustainable meat industry.  Eating meat was still morally reprehensible, but for an entirely different reason.

Throughout the transition from animal lover to tree hugger, there were certainly oscillations in my perspective.  I became a member of PETA at one point.  I once even threw up upon accidentally eating chorizo in a breakfast burrito in a small town outside of Providence.

Last summer, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of living on a buffalo ranch in South Dakota for a week or so.  The land was beautiful, though invaded by European yellow clover, and spanned for over 25,000 acres.  On that massive plot of land just outside the Black Hills roamed the largest buffalo herd in the state of South Dakota.

There was nothing else the land could be used for.  Many plots of land had been turned into non-functioning farms for those who could afford them simply for luxury.  Still, others had been turned into housing subdivisions.  But this land, with its buttes, cotton trees, and vast meadows had not been altered in such ways.

In fact, it was the buffalo that allowed that land to survive as it was.  And even though it was the largest buffalo herd in the state, I could walk for miles across the ranch and never even see them.

Slowly, the ranchers would extract a buffalo from the herd and butcher it.  They would do this in such a way as to allow the population of buffalo to remain at a healthy, sustainable level.

The whole time I stayed at that ranch, I considered trying a hearty buffalo burger (they’re supposedly fantastic tasting and by far the most healthy type of meat).  Alas, I could never bring myself to do it.  It’s not because I thought there was anything remotely morally wrong with eating the buffalo.  I simply couldn’t do it.

I’m a vegetarian now.  That’s just who I am.  No more can I eat a piece of meat than a twig on the maple tree outside my window.

Yet there has been a trend among the vegetarian/vegan world now that is developing much to my consternation.  It brands itself as “cruelty free,” as if eating meat goes hand in hand with cruelty.

Of course, parts of the meat industry treat animals despicably (I won’t list individual companies).  But this assumption that killing and eating animals is somehow cruel is, to me, patently false.

We are all aware of the evolution of humans, so I will not delve into the development of omnivorism in our species.  We are all aware of the “food chain,” so I will not go into that either.  Rather, I intend to address the world’s animal rights activists and vegetarians.

There is no surer way to deter people from your cause than through antagonism.  And, quite simply, claiming to be cruelty-free does just that.  It antagonizes the vast majority of the world that eats meat.  Rather than thoughtfully discussing the issue, much of the vegetarian world has alienated itself from the general public.  It has become an entrenched niche–a veritable “you’re with us or against us” coterie.

This is one vegetarian who does not want to do that.  So, instead of claiming to be cruelty-free, why not cook your meat loving friends a tasty meatless dinner?  And to all you meat eaters out there–no hard feelings.

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