February 19, 2006

How I came to be a vegetarian

In 1999, the Makah tribe in Washington State, USA, got legal approval to hunt whales in the tradition of their ancestors. After they successfully hunted and killed a gray whale, I was pretty conflicted about the issue. On one hand, I support of the rights of Native Americans under the treaties that the US government has agreed to. On the other hand, I love sea mammals. I used to have incredibly peaceful and joyful dreams of swimming with whales and dolphins. I had an intuitive sense that the Makahs were on the wrong side of this issue, morally if not legally. But I couldn't justify it in my own mind.

Is all hunting wrong? I don't think so. I imagine that if I were a Makah living without agriculture in the fifteenth century I would join the hunt proudly, and join with my tribe in gratitude to the whale for giving up its life to keep the tribe alive.

But I couldn't shake the idea that this killing was wrong, because none of the Makah in today's society would suffer, even a little, if they didn't kill this whale. And that led me to look at myself. What's the difference between a cow and a whale? I imagine the whale is probably quite a bit smarter, but how exactly do you measure that? And is our intelligence the only thing that makes us valuable as living beings? How do I justify the killing that's done on my behalf?

So I became a vegetarian, as an experiment to see if I could do it and stay healthy. Agriculture provides us with plenty of nutritious food. I have been vegetarian for almost seven years now, without any dietary modifications besides giving up meat. I get plenty of protein from beans, grains, and dairy products, and I'm in great health. And I'm happier with my eating habits.


At February 21, 2006, Blogger oxeye said...

I think the Makah tribe defines themselves by their hunting. It is not their fault that what they do upsets our feelings. That is our problem. Life is all about consuming other life. It is the way things are. life on this planet is here for an instant and is constantly being replaced. That is not to say we should eat endangered species but even if we did it would be in line with the natural practices of other animals. when I quit eating meat 25 years ago, I did so because I thought it was wrong. Now, I'm no longer so sure.

I know rural people who slaughter their own animals for their own meals. They are very aware of how animals can suffer and take steps to kill them quickly. Then they give thanks to God before they eat them. Are they cold-blooded, or are my feelings of repugnance unrealistic and sentimental?

By the way, I like your dogs. I have two of my own and cannot imagine being without a dog friend.

At February 21, 2006, Blogger Jules said...

Right, and I probably wouldn't even oppose the Makah's legal right to hunt whales in a US court. I think US law is on their side, as it should be given what was taken from their ancestors. Of course, international law is NOT on their side right now, which is why they're not hunting anymore. A US treaty can't supercede international law.

I think if people are truly appreciative of the sacrifice and suffering of the animals they eat, and they make a legitimate effort to minimize that suffering, I think that's OK, especially if they're living off the land, and they are short of plant-based food. Those people you describe sound like good folks.

But what percentage of the US population would you say fits that description? On the other hand, nobody's perfect. I'm certainly in no position to serve judgement.

At February 23, 2006, Blogger DA said...

I don't oppose eating meat per se, I oppose factory farming, irresponsable hunting, etc. So I'm a Vegan but have no huge problem with someone occasionally killing an animal for food, especially in a non-industrial setting. However, I feel western meat-eaters are generally and basically just sort of greedy.

At March 05, 2006, Blogger me said...

Jules, I saw a moving film the other day called "Diet of Souls" all about Inuit hunters and their belief system - how they manage to live off of killing while simultaneously feeling that all animals have souls and should be respected.

more info on the film at the maker's website.

And I wrote a brief bit on it on my blog.


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