Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I am normally a comedy writer, but I wanted to take a moment to explore an unsettling subject for many people: animal cruelty and specifically the eating of meat.  Although I am not a hardcore vegetarian, I definitely am trying—I used to eat a pound of bacon on a weekly basis and have meat every day for supper, but after a few years of figuring out some great vegetarian meal options, I am now happily eating beans, way more fruits and vegetables and vegetarian chicken fingers.  I'm not all the way there yet, but I can definitely feel the pull in that direction—the pull of doing the right thing ethically, nutritionally and from a climate-emissions standpoint.  But I don't want to talk about those things in this post—I saw a comment recently on social media whereby the poster said that it is impossible to think that someday the entire world will stop eating meat. 

Is that an outrageous goal—to have seven billion people or so entirely give up eating animals?  It certainly seems that way at first glance—for example, I just drove by a supermarket on the way home that was advertising that if I spent a couple of hundred dollars, I would get a free turkey.  (I assume the turkey that they would give me would be dead.)  Meat is everywhere—it sits on plates at virtually every restaurant, fast-food outlet and in the freezer in grocery stores all over the world. 

I happen to believe that vegetarianism and veganism are healthy goals from a nutritional standpoint, and environmental standpoint, and especially an ethical standpoint.  With that in mind, here are some (hopefully) positive thoughts on where vegetarianism is headed:
• Most people seem to agree that animals should not be tortured.  It has been my experience that when someone sees factory farm footage, or film of an animal in a fur farm, or a circus, they are usually outraged and saddened.  This may seem like a logical thought, that of course people are upset and angry—but it hasn't always been that way.  For example, bear baiting was a common practice in England in the 1800s.  For those who may not know, basically a bear was tied up in a pit and some dogs would attack the bear.  People sat in the stands and watched this like we watch a football or hockey game today.  It seems ridiculous by today's standards that people would pay money and sit there and watch a bear (or dogs) be killed, and the practice was outlawed in England around the middle of the 19th century.  Whew!  However, it still goes on today in parts of Pakistan.  Cock fighting (with roosters who fight to the death) and bull fighting (where the matador repeatedly stabs the bull to death) are common practice in parts of Latin America and Europe right now.  And of course, any self-respecting NFL Football fan knows all about dog fighting, ever since quarterback Michael Vick was indicted on felony charges in 2007.  However, these practices are definitely on the decline—where cock fighting and bull fighting were once proud staples of culture, on the cover of every travel brochure, they are not held in the same reverence as they were even a hundred years ago.  We can only hope that the next generation of tourists and citizens will not patronize these activities, and they will eventually go extinct (or be outlawed).  

• There are more vegetarians now than ever before.  When I was kid (about thirty years ago), vegans were definitely considered weird.  People would joke about them not having any energy, and if you insulted one they would try to fight you and faint, and vegetarians were considered wimpy and/or feminine.  Real men ate steak and bacon.  This attitude has definitely changed in many parts of the world and for the better.  There are many high-profile vegetarians in our society over the past hundred years, from Mahatma Gandhi to Elvis Costello and Paul McCartney.  If you think those guys are wimpy, how about NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath and tennis great Martina Navratilova.  I'm pretty sure either one of them could beat me up.  (I know that sometimes vegetarians will eat fish, but the point I'm trying to make is that these are high-calibre athletes and they didn't munch on a huge steak every day for twenty years while winning in their sport.)

• There are many more "partial" vegetarians.  While some hard-core vegan or vegetarian activists might scoff at the idea of being partially committed to something, the fact of the matter is that if someone goes vegetarian for one day, then that is one day better than if they didn't.  For many people, "Meatless Monday" has become a regular, normal attitude in their lives.  If everyone went veggie for one day a week, that would be the same (from a math standpoint) as if one-seventh of the world was vegetarian all the time.  That would be one billion vegetarians.  That definitely sounds impressive!  It is also important to note the psychological barrier that gets broken when a family sits down to dinner, eats a vegetarian meal, and they not only enjoy it, but they don't collapse from low energy after.  In fact, many people report losing weight, having better digestion, and generally feeling great.  The process has started and will be repeated by many people (and possibly increased) over time.

• There is historical precedence that attitudes can dramatically change.  People are sometimes a little reluctant to equate the fight for animal rights to any other causes such as gay rights, feminism, and slavery—so I am not doing that here.  However, it is interesting to note that over the past four hundred years, attitudes in general toward certain rights and freedoms have definitely changed.  Often people today will visit a museum or watch a documentary about slavery and comment that the idea of slavery is outrageous—and yet it existed in the United States less than 200 years ago.  I think it is outrageous that women couldn't vote—and that was less than 150 years ago in many countries.  The more we seem to learn and evolve, the more "equal" things seem to be, at least from an ethical standpoint.

During the Renaissance, dogs were routinely vivisected (that is, dissected while alive) by people trying to figure out how biological systems worked.  While originally scientists questioned if animals even could feel pain, now we know of course that this is in fact true.  It has been measured and observed.  We have laws on the books (like the U.S. Animal Welfare Act) that attempts to minimize this pain—and this is something that the public, on the whole, supports.  Animal experimentation is still being performed today—and while some people are vehemently opposed to it and others cite it as a necessary evil in the exploration of vaccines and medicine, almost all of us can agree that animals should be subjected to either no pain or as little as possible.  Most people have compassion—it doesn't make the news, but it is true.

• The world is becoming more science-based.  Despite getting most of the news of the world through the United States, the majority of the world's population is embracing science and the idea that experiments and observation are important tools to help us define the way the universe works.  Do lobsters feel pain when they are thrown into a boiling hot pot of water?  Thirty years ago, people would often say that lobsters didn't feel pain.  As a kid, I thought this was weird.  How could any animal not feel pain?  Recently scientists have put forward strong arguments that they do.  If we can observe and record this behavior, we must acknowledge it—we cannot simply ignore it.  Even if you don't care about the lobster, what about dolphins?  Fish?  Chickens?  Are human beings truly "special"—the only ones on the planet who can suffer, feel pain and be sad and scared?  All we need to do is spend some time with a dog or a cat to see that this is simply not true.  Biologically, all animals are physically very close to each other.  Mammals, for example, all have lungs, a heart, eyes and a circulatory system—and pain receptors.  So it stands to reason that although animals may not have the same level of intelligence as people, they can feel pain—and for that reason, we should ask ourselves if they deserve a happy life instead of one in a factory farm.    

So is true global vegetarianism an outrageous dream?  As of right now, it definitely looks like an uphill battle.  However, huge social change has happened over the past few hundred years—stereotypes on gender, race and human rights have been changed (and are changing), and what is acceptable today in terms of science and ethics has evolved as well.  Ultimately the only way something impossible can happen is to keep pushing forward until it becomes possible, then probable, and then a reality.