When I posted about deciding to allow Martin to eat limited meats and meat-based broths, Adrian predicted that I might receive two sorts of responses. He thought commentators from the vegan/vegetarian camp would question the earnestness of my ahimsa, since I’m willing to serve my son flesh. Commentators from the other side of the fence would fault me for not doing so sooner, saying that if this might help Martin, then previously I was stymieing his progress in deference to my personal ethics.
I am thankful that I’ve received no such responses, neither on the blog, nor via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or the Twitter feed (@findingmykid), nor in person. So far, everyone has been supportive.
Thus more or less armed with approbation, I meant to let the issue go and post no more about the meat decision (as opposed to its implementation—be prepared to hear plenty more about that, as this vegan goes stumbling through Carnivordom). Subsequently, however, I became aware of at least one other vegetarian family reading my blog and facing the same choice, and I changed my mind about posting again. In the hopes of helping others settle, one way or the other, here is my reasoning in greater detail—
When it comes to human-to-other-animal interaction, I try to let two principles govern my conduct.
First, non-human animals are sentient beings with their own interests, and are entitled to possession and use of their own bodies and products thereof. If I do not need what belongs to an animal, I do not take it. I do not wear fur, leather, suede, silk, or wool because I do not need to. And after researching nutrition extensively, I concluded that neither do I need to eat animal flesh, parts, eggs, or milk to be healthy; indeed, it appears to be healthier to forego such foods. Therefore, I am a vegan. I became a vegetarian when I was 16 years old and a vegan when I was 21. I am now 39 years old.
Second, humans come first. That rule seems self-evident to me, because I am a human. Just as I put my family before outsiders, or my community before strangers, I put my species before other species. What’s more, I rank other species and their interests according to how like humans they are. Though it doesn’t always feel this way when I watch the news, humans are the gold standard. We enjoy the most complex lives. Mosquitoes, for example, are not much like humans. I react terribly to mosquito bites, with painful swelling that can last for weeks unless I get to an antihistamine within five minutes. I therefore kill mosquitoes when I can, and I haven’t lost any sleep over that. On the other hand, our cat Freddie (as I’ve noted before; sorry about all the feline scatology) pees outside his litter box. This is at least as annoying as having to take occasional mosquito-related antihistamine, yet I would never kill Freddie. At least not over the peeing.
I applied these two rules to Martin’s situation as follows: It appears that Martin, with his unusual digestive and dietary issues, might benefit from eating animal flesh—unlike a healthy person, for whom a well-rounded vegan diet (as I see the world) is the better choice. Does that mean Martin needs meat? I suppose it depends on how one defines “need.” Certainly, Martin can survive without meat. He might even heal without it; after all, he’s made a lot of progress already. The need, if need it is, arises insofar as animal flesh might help him heal faster, or more completely.
So Martin’s need is not a matter of life or death. For the animals involved, however, Martin’s meat eating is matter of life or death; they are being killed for the possibility that Martin can achieve richer and more fulfilling experiences. On a balanced scale, Martin would lose: An animal’s life, in toto, would outweigh Martin’s hope for a better life.
But the scale is not balanced. That’s where rule no. 2 comes in. Martin is a human, and my son. He starts with a whole pile of barbells on his side. The question, if we’re right about meat helping Martin, becomes whether animal life outweighs the difference between (1) Martin healed as far as possible without meat and (2) Martin healed as far as possible with meat.
I found no easy answer to the question, so stated. I don’t even know the second half of the equation. What is the difference in Martin’s healing going to be with meat, as opposed to without it? I read what I could find on the issue. I asked questions of Martin’s Track Two team. I pondered. I prayed.
In the end, with Adrian’s support, I made the call in Martin’s favor. At least, I hope this winds up being in Martin’s favor. We’re going to try meat for a couple months and see what happens.
We’re doing our best to impose some ethical restraints on the process. We resolved to accept meat only from organic farms where the animals have ample space to roam, or meat from game hunted wild, without bait. None of this eliminates cruelty, of course; the animals are still being slaughtered. But there’s something to be said for kindness before death. We’re also focusing on bigger animals, to minimize the number killed. No pigs, though. I know pigs. They’re smarter than dogs and darn near as affectionate. Too close to humans.
Two nights ago I made my first batch of beef stock. Tearing apart the meat nauseated me. Adrian played back-up, sitting on a kitchen stool and trying to distract. He explained that the white film edging the cut was fat, and not super-durable plastic wrap like I thought. In the end, I managed to get flesh and fat and bone into the slow cooker, along with organic vegetables and herbs. I set it to cook overnight, and yesterday morning I strained a jar of stock for use this week, and a glass container full to freeze for next week.
My oldest brother, one of Martin’s namesakes, is also a decades-long vegan and a person whose judgment I trust (most of the time; a little sister can’t buy into everything). Yesterday he sent me this email:
I guess if the two main reasons not to eat meat are for cruelty and health, and the nice farm is not cruel, and it is actually healthier for [Martin], then you have to give it a go, because both main reasons are kind of accounted for. . . . I feel for you, this is tough! We feel crummy giving our cats fish, and we didn’t even give birth to them. Anyway, I do think you should review this link before using too much chicken.
I clicked on the link he sent and found an article titled, “Bolivian President Says Eating Too Much Chicken Makes You Gay.”
It’s still nice to get in a laugh, once in a while.
Really appreciate reading your thought process here. Very clear-thinking (and acting) as far as I can see. I also like to keep in mind for myself that other decisions make a just as big (or in some cases, a much bigger) impact on animal wellbeing. For example–buying a plot of land and building your own house breaks up an entire ecosystem and likely leads to death of dozens of animals if not more than that. Similar arguments can be made w/r/t driving, flying, otherwise polluting the water and air. This is not meant to lead to…is it reductio ad absurdum? thinking…as in…well, I can’t stop living, so I won’t even stop eating meat. But just that we can all keep in mind – esp when facing tough decisions like this – the bigger picture in terms of our ecological footprint.
Thanks, Rachel. You make a valid point. One problem with meat is that it’s so direct; I’m literally holding the evidence in my hands when I prepare beef broth. And I did want to make it direct, by meeting the animals and seeing where they live and so forth (although I was not able to bring myself to request a viewing of slaughter). It would help (?) my decision making if I could see the effects of all my choices so immediately, and maybe might even lead me to conclude that letting Martin eat meat pales in comparison to all the other destructive stuff I do! (One note in that regard: I take comfort in living in an urban area, where we’re all piled on top of each other. Less footprint, more sharing of energy costs, etc.)
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