How to become a vegetarian when you hate vegetables?
I grew up in a meat eating family, eating food made by a mother who hated vegetables. So it is normal that my food habits were essentially meat based. However, having been teaching animal welfare for the last 12 years, I am also aware of the appalling conditions animals are kept in, and the suffering they go through, just to end up as a stake in the plate of some ignorant human.
Until I started working on animal welfare (AW) I did not have a clue of how animals were produced. Studying and teaching AW brought me information and disgust for the production methods. But it also brought me pain in my consciousness. It made me feel cynical and inconsistent. So to ameliorate my guilt I started eating only products from free range animals. However, in restaurants I do not have this choice and each time I sank my canines on a juice steak I felt guilty.
Curiously my sense of smell started developing some curious abilities. I started smelling the scent of rotten when I ate pork or chicken and I became more sensitive to the smell of blood when I ate beef. These were enough to put off these meats. So I told myself that eating free range animals would not be so bad, providing they would have a quick and painless death. In nature sooner or later, prey animals will find their death at the teeth of some predator, so they might have developed mechanism to lessen pain and just let go at the time of death. It is believed that at the time of death animals release beta-endorphin which would remove the feeling of pain.
However, I could not deal with my cognitive dissonance.
I was wondering how cognitive dissonance works. If some scientists are able to reconcile their creationist beliefs with their study of genetics and evolution, the same psychological mechanism may be involved in reconciling a love for living animals and the taste of their meat on the plate.
In my case it has not been a problem to dismiss creationism from a very early age, but it has been difficult to reconcile my love of living animals and their meat on my plate.
Although animal welfare does not aim to stop us all from eating meat, the knowledge of what is going on in the food industry should be enough to make our guts rebel against eating any animal products.
So once again, I am trying to become a vegetarian. For the 5th time! Then I succumb to the temptations of meat. However, each time I fall in“sin” when I go back to meat eating, I drop a meat item from my diet. First stopped eating pork, then beef, what will be next? Chicken perhaps?
Which bring to my memory that my granny used to send me to the shops each time she had to kill a chicken for dinner. I could not see the suffering of an animal being killed and my granny, in all her peasant innocence believed that animals would take longer to die and suffered more and if we pitied them. So, to save myself and the animal from suffering she would find some way of sending me out of the house, to buy some butter or a bag of sugar. In my child’s innocence I did not realise that the number of chicken decreased each time I went shopping!
Later, when I lived in Denmark, my landlord, had a sheep roaming free in the farm. He kept this sheep for slaughter, but it didn’t stop me from taking care of the animal and developing some emotional attachment. When the time came to send the animal to the slaughter house I cried. He offered us half the sheep’s carcass which I refused, but my Danish ex-husband was happy to take it. It was hard to see him cooking the sheep and eating with so much delight, while feelings were hurt and my scent was tempting me. What a confusion of wild emotions where my animal side ( the craving for meat) fought my moral side ( the emotional attachment to that sheep). Knowing of my emotional struggle, the landlord said that was not actually our sheep, but the neighbour’s. As a tradition they swap their sheep so they don’t have to eat the one they cared for.
This is an interesting phenomenon.I’ve heard of people who used to do this with their pigs. They exchanged pigs with the neighbour at the time of slaughter because they could not eat their own pig.
I cannot eat an animal that I know. I feel that I am betraying the animal’s trust . This may be the reason why we eat animals that we don’t know, even if we claim to like animals. Attachment is a powerful factor in decision making.
I do not know each and every animal in the world , but through my teaching of animal welfare I became acquainted with the unacceptability of production methods and therefore I have a moral obligation to refuse eating animals produced in such fashion.
However this argument does not exclude the eating of free range animals, road kills or game, for these animals supposedly have some life quality. We are dealing with two different issues:
- One focuses on the production methods
- The other focuses on the act of killing a living animal
These are two different moral concerns! Abstaining oneself from intensively produced animal products is easy. By doing so we are making a protest against the food industry and an acknowledgement that their methods are morally unacceptable.
This argument, however, does not exclude eating free range animals. Here the moral dilemma is about the act of killing and not the greed that characterises certain production methods. This is also the main difference between those who describe themselves as “animalwelfarists” and “liberationists”. While those promoting animal welfare do not have a moral problem with the act of killing, but they have a problem with the quality of the killing methods, liberationists have a problem with killing. Removing the life from another living being. This will be the subject of my next blog as it is too deep to discuss it here.
In this posting, my concern is to answer the question, how do we help an “ashamed carnivore” like me, to become a fully fledge vegetarian, when I hate vegetables? I did not start eating salad until I was 25 and started cooking for myself . Until then I used to eat in the dangerous refectories of the University of Lisbon, which was always an adventure since you never knew when you would end up with some slugs languidly promenading on the borders of your plate, food seasoned with washing-up liquid, for the best, or when you would end up spending the night at the University Hospital urgency room suffering from food poisoning, for the worst Portugal in the early eighties was like a third world country and students were treated like the scum of society- maybe envy from the kitchen ladies !!! )
Despite my forced ingestion of salads and other greens, I derive no gustative pleasure what-so-ever from eating them. But I eat them because, as a biologists, I know that I need my greens for a healthy diet. I eat them as medicine, not as a Pantagruelic pleasure! So before I cook some vegetables I need to go through the quasi-ritual of self-suggestion, convincing myself that they make me look younger and give me healthier skin. So I eat them for the sake of beauty! One should never underestimate the power of vanity!
So how am I going to stop eating the meat that still enters the pearled gates that open to my pleasures if taste? Convincing myself that it makes me sick! The problem with this approach is that our brain is a bit late in establishing such stimulus-response association. The immediate pleasure of the tasteful grilled lamb steak, is stronger that the late response of an upset stomach. In its decision processes the brain weights pleasure against pain and rejects to a associate the cause of pleasure with the cause of pain. How can the same thing produce two different reactions? So pleasure wins over pain and the brain attributes pain to another less attractive cause , like eating peas for example, which supports our tendency for confirmation bias.
This is why Quorn is so successful among “ashamed carnivores” . It cheats our brain in thinking we are eating meat. Actually, if I worked for the Quorn brand, I would aim a campaign to people like me. Something like this: “ Quorn, a meaty pleasure without guilt!” They should target the market of animal lovers that feel guilty for eating animals. Put a big banner at any supermarket with a dead cow hanging from the slaughter house with the saying” You don’t need to kill to feel the pleasures of meat. Quorn, the ethical food for ashamed carnivores”.