December 25th, 2008

Zim Sandwich

No animals were harmed in the making of this blog post.

For some time now I've said that I'm not a vegetarian, but could easily become one if circumstances required it. After all, I don't usually eat a whole lot of meat anyway, and will often choose food that caters to vegetarians (veggie burgers, soy-based meat substitutes, etc.) simply because I happen to really like it. I guess my taste for the synthetic extends to my food preferences as well! ;-)

However, I'd never actually tested my claim to see if I really could go meatless. For reasons which I'll get into below, I decided it was high time to test the hypothesis by not eating any meat for one week (including fish, but not including eggs or dairy products) and seeing how much of an impact it had on my day to day life.

That was over two weeks ago, and it's been a snap! I'd expected to run into some unanticipated problems, but so far none have materialized. It has certainly helped that femetal is planning on switching to a "reduced cruelty" diet starting January 1st and has been preparing for the transition by experimenting with various meat substitutes. I started this with the rough idea of reducing my meat consumption by anywhere from 50-90%. I now think that even 90% might be lowballing.

I'm still not planning on going completely vegetarian, but as a result of this faux flesh foray I've decided to adopt a flexitarian diet.

From Wikipedia:
"Flexitarianism is a semi-vegetarian diet involving the practice of eating mainly vegetarian food, but making occasional exceptions for social, pragmatic, cultural, or nutritional reasons."

There are only a couple of foods containing meat that I'm unwilling to give up (spring rolls from Phở Quyên and a variety of sushi/sashimi), but I'm also unwilling to put my friends/family in a position where they feel pressured to cater to me, either in preparing food or simply choosing where to go to eat. So I'm still down for holiday dinners and other special occasions, and if the group all wants to go to Doublemeat Palace then so be it.

Okay, so why? Well, there are a few reasons. Depending on what one eats and where one shops, it could prove to be a bit cheaper. It's also likely to be more healthy, notwithstanding the enormous quantity of cookies and other holiday treats I've been putting away lately. There are arguments (which I haven't yet thoroughly reserched) supporting the claim that meat consumption fuels an industry which has a disproportionate effect on the environment. Given that my body is designed to be omnivorous it also seems more energy efficient to reduce the number of steps between photosynthesis and my belly. Finally there's the ethical motivation. Here's my version:

I'm a utilitarian, and as such seek to maximize benefit and minimize suffering, whether the agents in question are human, animal, or AI. I don't consider an animal's welfare to be on par with a human's, but it must still be taken into account, and I don't find that the benefit I get out of eating an animal (assuming alternate nutrition sources are available) balances out the harm in slaughtering it. Of course, YMMV. I'm merely explaining my own thought process here, not lecturing anyone. :-)

At a Q&A sponsored by the Center for Inquiry last year, ethicist and philosopher Peter Singer posed the following question to Richard Dawkins (I'm paraphrasing): Given that we both subscribe to the idea of evolution by natural selection, and by extension that humans do not intrinsically occupy a pre-ordained special place in the universe, but rather are distantly related to all of the other species on Earth, how do you justify continuing to eat animals?

Dawkins' response was to concede the point- that given the variety of other food sources available to him there was really no need for him to eat meat. He continues to do so basically out of social convention and lack of discipline, but stated that he could see a time when vegetarianism becomes the norm.

In The God Delusion, Dawkins has a chapter entitled "The Changing Moral Zeitgeist". The basic idea is that what's considered moral and ethical in one time may be abhorrent in another, and that despite setbacks here and there on average the general trend is toward greater regard for life, equality, and the well being of individuals. The Bible endorses slavery. Were he alive today and still holding the same attitudes he did in his day, Abraham Lincoln would likely be considered on overt racist. H.G. Wells was a progressive in his time, but held attitudes which are nothing short of horrific when read in a modern context.

That being the case, and with an eye toward radical longevity, I'd like to try to anticipate where the zeitgeist is headed long term and move myself in that direction as best I can. Part of that involves advocating things like genetic engineering and equal (or greater?) rights for sentient AI's, and part of it involves reducing (and perhaps down the road eliminating) my meat consumption.

As an aside, I say "reduce" my meat consumption rather than "eliminate" as a concession to my own weaknesses. I'd rather be a flexitarian for the rest of my life than a complete vegetarian for a few months and then quit because I felt like I was missing out.

Bon Appétit!
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