Today many people regard vegetarians and the notion of vegetarianism as a little quirky. After all, "real" people eat meat... lots and lot and lots of meat. Steaks, hamburgers, barbecued ribs, hot dogs, fried chicken, turkey, duck, ham, pork chops, bacon, lamb chops, tuna, salmon, sea bass, cod, shrimp, oysters, clams, whale and dog for the highly civilized Japanese and Koreans. Yum. Yum. Lip-smacking good.
"Everywhere there's lots of piggies, living piggy lives, clutching forks and knives, to eat their bacon." (George Harrison)
But this question of vegetarianism is a very old one. Many of the great Greek philosophers recommended it. Their argument was strictly moral. It is wrong to kill animals when you do not need to do so for sustenance.
Other revered voices advocated the vegetarian diet: Confucius, Buddha, Asoka, Zoroaster, Seneca, Da Vinci, Newton, Shelley, Rousseau, Voltaire, Emerson, Montaigne, Schweitzer, Darwin, Kafka, Shaw, Twain, Thoreau, Edison, Tolstoy, Sinclair, Wordsworth, Einstein, Wells, Bronte, Alcott, Wesley, Luther, Schopenhauer, Ghandi. It's a virtual who's-who of intelligence and creativity. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, Adam and Eve were vegetarians.
But on this subject we have not listened to these, the wisest of teachers. No, still we gorge on the flesh of our animal cousins. Indeed, now as never before in history. Oh, today we must have meat, lots of meat, as the centerpiece of every meal, whether Whopper or Wellington. Why? Because we are addicted to it. We love the taste. Yes. But mostly because we are unthinking, uncaring, lazy, conformist consumers.
"It is no easy task to pull out the hook of flesh-eating from the jaws of such as have gorged themselves with luxury and are (as it were) nailed down with it." (Plutarch)
In this modern age we have so many more facts in front of us than these great minds.
We have a plethora of scientific studies that prove beyond doubt that a vegetarian diet is healthier than any which is animal protein based.
We know that the meat products that are served to us so appealingly packaged, so remote from the bloody abattoir where the screams of the innocent never cease (and we would never, ever consent to visit), are really nasty pieces of work, tainted with rodent droppings, insect parts, bacteria and intentionally loaded with chemicals, drugs and hormones, not anything comparable to the at least more authentically procured meats of yesteryear.
We know the human population has exponentially exploded since their time. We know that we are pushing the planet beyond its sustainable limit. We know that over a billion people in the industrial countries are ravenously consuming everything they can stuff into their faces. We know the high environmental costs of vast cattle, sheep, hog and chicken production. We know it takes 15 pounds of grain, over a thousand gallons of water and a gallon of gas to produce one pound of beef. We know the serious air and water pollution that these factory farms produce. We know we are fishing out the seas, yanking out everything we can as fast as we can. We know that we cannot continue on like this. Yet four billion people in the emerging economies such as China, India, Indonesia now aspire to live like we do. While another billion, hopeless and helpless, needlessly starve for want of a more equitable sharing of our planet's resources.
We also know that eating meat is not natural for our species. No other ape, our closest biological cousins eats much, if any, meat. Our entire physiology, including our teeth and intestinal tract, dissuades it.
But what do we do with this information? "Supersize me! Give me a Double Whopper!"
"And truly, as for those people who first ventured upon eating of flesh, it is very probable that the whole reason of their so doing was scarcity and want of other food." (Plutarch)
Our ancient ancestors learned how to kill and eat animals. They did it to survive. Even then, the majority of their sustenance generally came from foraging vegetable matter.
But we are not those people anymore. We do not have to kill animals any longer. We have advanced. We have supermarkets filled to the brim with the most delectable fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, breads and pastries and sweets from around the world so as to flabbergast kings and emperors of old. It is well past time that we grew up, accepted our responsibilities for who we are and what we do, thinking and acting with more concern for our own well being, compassion toward other intelligent beings of creation, and mindfulness of our individual and collective roles in preserving and protecting the planet home.
Seven billion animals are killed each year to feed gluttonous humans. Ceasing the needless and wanton killing is a critical threshold we must cross in our evolution as a species.
"But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun and light, and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy." (Plutarch)
So the arguments against flesh-eating are strong and compelling, the arguments in favor flimsy and whimsy. It comes down to individual character and the will to control oneself, and rise to a higher level of consciousness and being. Yes, it comes down to morality, doing the right thing, compassion, Dharma: the right thing for yourself, for those other living creatures, for the Earth, and for the Universal Spirit (God).
If you haven't examined your own true beliefs on this very important subject, and taken action to support your convictions, well, you are just another piggy, living a piggy life.