Whenever I cook meat in my home, there is always that one moment in which I realize I’m holding a dead animal in my hands.
I pull out two chicken legs and notice the follicles from which feathers once grew. The bones sticking out of the meat suddenly look like one word to me: violence.
Somehow I’m no longer sure whether it’s alright for a chicken to die just so I can eat it. I suddenly see the chicken alive – a carefree creature running through the meadows.
Being vegetarian or a vegan is not a question of being alternative or leftist anymore. Even McDonald’s offers a veggie burger.
All arguments seem to speak for vegetarianism and veganism: the happiness of animals, the environment and human health. Whoever choses to eat meat really only has one argument left: it tastes good.
I write a weekly recipe column in DIE ZEIT Magazine. Whenever I write something about chicken wings or meatballs, I get angry e-mails and online comments. For some people, veal steaks are not food but leftovers of a murdered baby.
Just because others think that being vegetarian is modern and urban doesn’t mean I should, too. Maybe it’s a trend. Then I could wait until the trend is over, just as I did with tattoos. Some magazines have even already started a counter revolution – advertising meat eating as if there’s no tomorrow.
The chicken staring at me on my plate doesn't look like an animal but like food, in fact, good food.
I definitely have a guilty conscience and it’s no great feeling. I think the best thing is to slowly move into a state of denial – or to go and look for answers. Am I really destroying my ultimate surroundings and my own health by eating meat? Is it wrong to kill animals?
Let me be frank: I don’t like thinking about animals being killed for me. But the chicken staring at me on my plate doesn’t look like an animal but like food, in fact, good food. The anti-meat movement would probably call me “socialized by way of species.”
Observers of this trend have coined the word “species-ism,” which essentially means dividing organic creatures into species, for example, into humans and animals, in which case the animal is always the disadvantaged. Many vegetarians and vegans are “anti-speciests” – that is, they don’t believe in killing animals just because they are animals. The term “species-ism” hasn’t arrived in everyday parlance but this categorical thinking has been compared to sexism and racism by animal ethicists.
Before slavery was abandoned in the United States and before the women’s movement at the end of the 19th century, many people didn’t believe racism or sexism existed. They also didn’t believe such ideologies determined the actions of people. Maybe species-ism is the same.
There are complicated debates on the issue of whether or not to eat meat. What does death mean to an animal? Utilitarian thinkers, such as Australian philosopher Peter Singer, argued that killing animals should allowed if it were pain-free and for the purpose of filling a person’s stomach. An animal’s life could be taken because an animal has no relationship with itself, the future or death, Singer said.
Other philosophers contradict Singer’s theories, claiming that animals have as much an interest in living as human beings.
If murder and death were not sanctioned, the world would be a barbarian place. But with animals, it’s different: they don’t know civilization and therefore don’t know barbarianism.
Morally, you’re on the safe side if you don’t eat meat (and milk products). However, moral philosophical arguments in favor of giving up meat are not so clear-cut. What if animal ethicists were right in claiming that it is okay to eat animals as long as they are killed without having suffered beforehand? I don’t think it’s trivial to satisfy hunger by eating something as nourishing as an entrecote. There aren’t that many things that make life worth living. Don’t we have a moral responsibility to enjoy life?
I admit that I sometimes find some people’s love of animals a little phony. Such a love often suggests a slight disappointment with human beings. Some animals are wild, beautiful and mysterious, while others are affectionate and playful. And there are people who get on better with their pets than with their fellow human beings. That is especially true for some dog owners. In Berlin, for example, dogs with breathing problems can receive therapy.
If I wanted to change my life and become a vegan, I would not only have to give up French cheese but also what I view as the best of all dishes – fried eggs. I would also have to deny myself buttery apple cake and instead eat soy and lupines on top of millions of additives and aromas in food substitutes to give those foods some flavor.
My life as a vegan would be utterly complicated.
Translated by Sarah Mewes