I’m a vegetarian. But you probably wouldn’t know that about me unless you had a meal with me. Even after that it probably still wouldn’t be obvious. I don’t like to talk about it because in the past, I’ve received a lot of unprovoked and frankly rude criticisms for my dietary choices. Once, I was very aggressively told I was an idiot when one particularly impertinent young man questioned my rationale after I passed up on some pork dumplings. “But you don’t even know my reason!” I cried, appealing to his seemingly missing empathetic side. “I know the reason. It’s because you’re stupid, that’s why,” he responded with an air of grandeur. After facing so much negativity around my lifestyle choice, I became reluctant to talk about it. When people ask, I tell them I’m a vegetarian for environmental reasons. Sometimes, this energizes people as they feel passionately about the environment. Others scoff, “who cares about the environment? One vegetarian can’t make a difference,” or, “You won’t even see any environmental differences during your lifetime”. I typically let the subject drop at this. The truth is, I’m not a vegetarian for environmental reasons–at least not entirely. I’m a vegetarian out of spite.
The topic of my freshmen writing seminar had something to do with people, God, and our relationship with the Earth. A peculiar and crude man, Heinegg motivates students by challenging their beliefs with his own well-thought out pessimistic argument that he delivers through screaming it at the class. I still remember the first class session when he told us his thesis for the class: as humans, we are irrationally selfish machines conditioned to take all that we can from the Earth. Our fellow inhabitants of the Earth as well as the Earth itself are left destroyed in our wake. And there is nothing we could possibly do to remedy this now. He taught the class based off of his book Dim and Dimmer: Prospects for a New Enlightenment in which he argues that the current ecological crisis we find ourselves in is a result of humans acting irrationally as a result of civilization, religion, and our drive for stability. The only way to fix the Earth is if there is a collective ‘new enlightenment’ among humanity so that the whole world changes their behaviors. However, because of our immense selfishness, Heinegg argues this will never happen.
After weeks of being yelled at, of being told I was a selfish product of my DNA that conditioned me to act no other way, of being taught about all the atrocities the meat industry, slaughterhouses, and factory farms commit, and of being told there was nothing to be done, I cracked. I believe in any situation there are three courses of actions: ignore it, accept it, or do something about it. I could not ignore this situation as that would mean I am just another piece of evidence for Heinegg’s thesis. I also refused to accept it. I refuse to accept the idea that the world is such a pessimistic place–I couldn’t live in such a world. Which, by the way, is a point I brought up to Heinegg once in class. I asked him that if he really feels everything is as hopeless as he claims, why not just kill himself? He responded that life was like a piece of fruit that he was squeezing all of the juice out of and he wouldn’t just throw that away before he’s done with it. Unwilling to end up like him, I decided to do something about it. So I became a vegetarian.
I don’t know that turning to vegetarianism is really a way to counter Heinegg’s view of the world. He could just as easily argue that when faced with the facts, I turned to vegetarianism as another selfish measure to make myself feel better for the harm humanity has caused. However, the change to vegetarianism does match up with my own personal morals–to leave the Earth in a better way than I found it and if I can’t do that, at least not to make it a worse place. I believe that by refusing to buy into the meat industry I am, at the very least, not causing more harm. This is not to say that those who eat meat are making the Earth a worse place. Meat eaters in my opinion are not the problem. The problem is the industry. The way factory farms raise animals, if you can even call it that, exemplifies the selfish, irrational behavior that Heinegg is constantly yelling about. If this is a topic that interest you, I suggest you read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals. Out of all the books I was forced to read for Heinegg’s class, I found this one to be the most informative.
All of this aside, the world’s overconsumption of meat is just one problem pushing us further and further into the ecological crisis. Knowing all of this, is it even rational for me to say I’m a vegetarian for environmental reasons? Does it make sense to subscribe to something that in the end may have no impact on the world? Well the way I see it is that I can only control what I put out into the world. Although Heinegg may disagree to the degree of control we have, I can choose to be a vegetarian and I can choose to talk about it.
I started this article by acknowledging my reluctance to talk about vegetarianism and this is true. I do not wish to shove my message down another’s throat. Often, when other’s view actions as threatening to their own beliefs, they turn to anger. But when I do have the opportunity for an open minded discussion of my dietary choices, I will tell people I advocate for less meat consumption and I implore people to educate themselves on the way their meat is treated before it lands on their tables. I’ve seen the impact I’ve had on those around me just by being a vegetarian. My father has stopped eating meat and my mother has started purchasing meat from a family farm where the animals are treated, to my understanding, better than they would be in factory farms. This probably still isn’t enough to reverse the long time damage that’s been done on a large scale. But it doesn’t hurt me to try.
Who cares about the environment? Let’s assume Heinegg is right about everything. The world is already doomed despite anything we do. Therefore I entreat you, do something, do anything to at the very least not make the world a lesser place. You don’t even need to do it for the love of the planet you call home. Do it because you’re a selfish creature, which, despite all the odds and all things rational, will still try to do and be good. You lose nothing to try.