Over the last few years, I’ve had a relationship with food that seems perpetually in flux. When I was 17, I became a pescatarian because I read it was more environmentally friendly to not eat meat. Indeed, in Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer notes that factory farming is more detrimental to the environment than driving; PETA states that “A staggering 51 per cent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture, according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute.”
One year later, I took a class on philosophy and ethics with one of Douglas College’s own fantastic professors, Marilyn Kane. I credit this class and Kane with convincing me to become a vegetarian and cut out seafood.
This is partly because I realized I’d been arbitrarily drawing a line between the intelligent pigs, cows, and dogs I did not want to eat, and intelligent fish, although I never really bought the assertion that “fish don’t feel pain.”
Two years later, I went back to including fish in my diet. I’ve also, on occasion, indulged in non-vegan gravy, and turkey at Thanksgiving. My flip-flopping has caused me to consider what sort of an animal- and environmentally friendly diet I can maintain.
Making ethical choices is difficult, and it’s why I’ve so often strayed from vegetarianism. The choice to be a pescatarian, vegetarian, or vegan is difficult because it’s ideally longterm, if not lifelong. While it isn’t impossible to grill eggplant at a barbecue, or pass on turkey at Boxing Day, it can be hard; it’s a commitment, a choice you make every time you choose not to eat meat.
Forms of vegetarianism are also extremely political, although increasingly normalized. Something I’ve found over the four some-odd years that I’ve leaned away from an omnivore diet is that people really do not want to hear about animal treatment. While I understand this preference to not pull back the curtain, it’s frustrating to me: it’s a cop-out from making an informed decision on something that affects everyone every day.
Here are some facts:
A staggering percentage—the vast majority—of farming is factory farming, which employs inhumane methods. We’re all aware in the backs of our minds what this entails: small quarters; a lack of exposure to the outdoors; maltreatment, if not deliberate cruelty. Practices to improve efficiency and ensure that meat is pristine include cutting off the ends of turkeys’ and chickens’ beaks, “to prevent them from attacking each other in their crowded, unnatural conditions. No anesthesia or painkiller is used,” as LiberationBC.org reports.
Although ideally we might opt for organic, free-range animals, these are industry terms which have all but lost their meaning. As LiberationBC.org states, “The first thing that one needs to know about labels such as ‘free-range,’ ‘free-run,’ ‘cage-free,’ and ‘natural,’ is that legally, they mean very little. There are no laws specifying what these labels constitute, and hence, no third-party certification to ensure that rules are followed.”
Commercial fishing is the brethren of factory farming: PETA reports that “90 per cent of large fish populations have been exterminated in the past 50 years.” This isn’t because we’re eating fish with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but in part because of “bycatch.” Bycatch are the animals (from sharks, to birds, to porpoises, and everything in between) that are accidentally caught due to the wide nets that are cast; these animals often die in the nets, and are thrown back—reportedly 85 per cent of the catch in shrimp trawling is bycatch, and is disposed of.
I don’t fault anyone for their dietary choices. There are a variety of reasons someone might choose not to go vegetarian; and many point out that factory farming, while undeniably cruel, might be inevitable in order to feed our ever-growing populations. I’m still figuring out what I’ll do with my diet, although I’m leaning towards selective and ethical pescatarianism. These are lifelong decisions we all negotiate with, based on where we are in life and what research we do. If you want to learn more about the subject, I highly recommend starting with the aforementioned Eating Animals.