Why we don’t eat certain animals

retriever-348572_1280There is an asymmetry in our behavior towards animals that deserves being reflected upon more often:  We have our own pets at home, we care about them and we love them. Plus, we are incredibly sad if something ever happens to them.  At the same time, many of us do not seem to care much about the animals that suffer and die for meat production. How can we explain this asymmetry?

In fact, it can tell us a lot about the way in which our mind works. There are various reasons why certain animals are considered food while eating others would result in a public outrage.
First of all, it is clear that we do not eat our pets because we have a strong emotional bond with them. It seems completely nonsensical to us to even consider it. The same idea applies for pets from strangers, but it does not quite end here. Even if we knew that a certain dog or cat does not have an owner, we would still not eat them, so there is something more that makes these animals different.

One major factor is that our culture simply does not eat them. For some reason, most western cultures do not eat dogs and cats, so we intuitively feel that it is wrong, just because it is highly unusual. We could not justify this rationally since there is no coherent way to argue that eating cows and pigs is better in an ethical sense than eating dogs.

The last way  in which certain animals such as dogs and cats differ from the animals in meat production is that we are exposed more directly to pets. We have them in our houses; we see them in the park and so on. As far as cows and pigs go, a large portion of our population scarcely sees them – especially not in the conditions they frequently have to live under in order to make the mass-production of meat possible. Due to this very limited exposure, we are less likely to care about them. We do not have immediate contact with the cow suffering for our meal; we just buy the end-product in the grocery store. This demonstrates a completely natural – although irrational – way in which the human mind works: We care much more about beings that we are immediately surrounded with.

Let us make a little thought experiment: You are on the street and see a deer that was hit by a car and lies on the side of the street. The poor animal is clearly suffering and you have to wait by its side until someone comes to kill it. Later that day you hear on the radio that several animals died in a remote city when a farm burned down. Which situation has a higher emotional impact on you? Probably the first one has; which is completely natural, but does not imply that the second one is in any way less important. This brings us back to our original topic: The mere fact that cows and pigs suffer far away from us does in no way justify on ethical grounds that their suffering is to be favored compared to the suffering of animals which happen to be immediately around us.

This two-class view upon animals has to be reflected upon more often. I personally feel that it is a huge inconsistency in the worldviews of some people that is scarcely noticed. While starting to eat pets does not strike me as a particularly good solution to this problem, re-considering ones diet might be, but of course everybody has to decide this for himself.  

What do you think about these issues? Do you think it’s justifiable that some animals are treated very badly while others are not?


Fellow vegans, don’t shout at meat-eating strangers in public!

Recently, I have found myself thinking about the coexistence of vegetarians and omnivores in our society and how problems can arise from this in individual cases. Let me begin with the reaction vegetarians and vegans get from their friends upon telling them that they don’t eat meat.  Some people respond that it’s quite healthy and maybe that they have thought about going vegetarian too. Others might look up to you for obviously caring about animals, but declare that they could not do the same. While the latter reaction may very well challenge one vegan or another to start a more or less furious debate about how they very well could do that, it’s still one of the better reactions.

But then, there are these  slightly more annoying reactions when people start almost stereotypical conversations on vegetarianism, frequently including the famous thought experiment of you suddenly being alone on some island where killing animals is the only survival option. It’s often accompanied with unprompted self-defense along the lines of ‘but it tastes so good’ and ‘how could you give that up’ or even worse an unqualified ‘that can’t be healthy!’

After one presentation I gave about veganism at school, presenting ethical, environmental and health reasons to consider a vegetarian/vegan diet, an audience member even told me that he feels like I was declaring omnivores bad people. But I did no such thing. I simply talked about the reasons why I think eating meat is not a good choice which caused him to express self-defensive behavior. While this may be understandable from a psychological perspective, I think such reactions should be reduced. We’re tired of the stranded-on-an-island scenario and we might not want to hear that you find meat absolutely tasty and impossible to give up over and over again.

Now let’s change perspective. It is note rare that vegetarians and vegans mumble something about animal corpses when there’s someone sitting at the same table eating a huge steak.  This might be annoying on a long-term basis, but as long as it’s more of a joke and if no lecture on the ethical reasons to seriously consider a vegetarian diet follows – all while the other person keeps eating the steak – no harm is done.

I understand that some vegetarians tend to have the wish to talk to omnivores about eating meat and why they think it’s bad. After all it’s an important part of their lives and they have spent quite some time looking into reasons not to eat animals. But these conversations should only happen if the hopefully-soon-to-be-a-vegan in front of you agrees to have this conversation. Furthermore it should not be repeated over and over again without making any progress. I suggest that the more extreme vegetarians/vegans become aware of the fact that we will always – at least in the foreseeable future – live together with omnivores and interact with them all the time. It is therefore not a good idea to vigorously shout at strangers who dare to eat meat in public transport.

To sum up, we can identify negative, unhealthy reactions coming from both sides. Talking about stranded islands and entering a state of self-defense is about as bad as unaskedly lecturing people on veganism when everybody just tries to enjoy their lunch. If we try to reduce these, coexistence becomes a lot easier and is much more fun for both sides. After all, we are not isolated groups of people but human beings interacting with each other all the time. So why not make these interactions better for everybody?

What do you think? Did you ever experience extreme reactions upon telling people that you are a vegetarian or did you ever see a vegan giving people an overly-enthusiastic and annoying lecture during lunch time?

On eating coffee beans

Today I discovered that roasted coffee beans are not only edible but also quite tasty. They are very crunchy and taste like liquid coffee – just more aromatic. The caffeine in them is very concentrated so they should be consumed with caution. They contain large amounts of antioxidants, molecules required to repair and prevent damage naturally caused by free radicals in the body. The recommended amount of them is frequently not covered by our diets. Furthermore, coffee beans are very high in fiber, know to lower cholesterol levels and improve blood sugar levels. 
Sambuca, an Italian liqueur, is traditionally served together with three coffee beans, meant to represent health, happiness and prosperity.[1] Plus, Chocolate-covered coffee beans can be bought as a snack, if you want a contrast to their bitter aromatic taste. 

Did you ever eat roasted coffee beans or will you now? Please let me know whether you liked it in the comments. 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sambuca