(These are my recent musings about Vegetarianism triggered after watching the anime “The Promised Neverland”.)
I pride myself on my ability to debate ideas about moral philosophy and especially defend my own moral positions. I know this sounds like any conspiracy theory nut who is convinced about their tinfoil theories but I hope I am self-aware enough to not fall in that trap. Admittedly, I have been wrong before and I regularly update my viewpoints when I learn more about the world¹. I hope that I introspect enough to check if my current views are airtight given my current understanding of the world.
There is however one moral position, that I cannot defend however hard I try — Non-vegetarianism or killing animals for food. I am born in a Muslim family and let me tell you, all the stereotypes about Muslims cooking absolute bangers with meat are completely true. I cannot think about a happy life without home-cooked biryani or slow-cooked Mutton as my Grandma prepares it. To top it all off, my love for other south-east Asian culture means that I love to eat Tonkatsu ramen or Chicken-Pho. Given how much happiness I get from eating meat, I eat meat quite regularly.
Coming from India, a lot of friends who I respect and love to have interesting discussions with, are vegetarian due to their religious beliefs or by choice. Frequently, as part of our pseudo-intellectual discussions, the topic of morality of eating animals comes up and I am never able to defend my current practice. At that moment, I feel like the Indian guy who tweets about #feminism but then demands a hefty dowry from a girl’s family during his marriage arrangements.
I hope I may not be a complete hypocrite. At home, maybe due to religious or economic reasons, we used to eat meat once every month or two. This changed when I left home and started eating out regularly where I can easily order any meat or chicken dishes. Being a lazy, gluttonous brat in a city full of splendid restaurants, I would order online mouth-watering chicken dishes daily. But again, inspired by a variety of reasons, I have started reducing meat consumption to previous levels. At the same time, I cannot think about going all the way to being Vegan and stop using Milk products too (Cannot do without my milk tea). I guess, baby steps first.
The more important question is why I have suddenly started feeling bad about eating meat if I have been enjoying it for so long. Personally, maybe I have too much time to think these days. However, there is some stuff that I came across recently which have rekindled past debates with my friends about —
“Why eating meat is bad? If it is bad, Why do I still eat it then?”
This anime hits differently
(Spoilers for “The Promised Neverland”)
Recently, I completed an anime called “The Promised Neverland” on Netflix which I really enjoyed. It is a recent Shonen-mystery show about a group of 6 to 12-year-old kids living in an orphanage. The orphans are given an excellent upbringing with no lack of necessities as opposed to a run down and full of sinister sisters' orphanage cliche. They have a loving “Mama” who adores them and takes care of them. Not only they are taken care of, but they are also made to study hard and compete in difficult exams to get good scores. The kids are unsure about why they are made to compete but this upbringing makes them quite smart for their age. The children are then sent to a foster family as they turn twelve but sometimes sooner.
The major twist is revealed at the end of the first episode — the kids that leave the orphanage do not go to a foster family. The kids discover, by accident, that they are actually taken to heinous large monsters who eat these kids as a delicacy. And the mental training these kids undergo? That was because the demons enjoy eating the kid’s brain and precocious, intelligent kids have brain meat that most royal of the demons enjoy. The “Mama” is part of an organization that consists of humans who supply demons with human children's meat.
This setting feels too close to home, isn’t it? You might think, this manga/anime is yet another message-driven heavy-handed tirade about animal rights (PETA doesn't help the cause as their bad messaging adversely affects all messaging on this topic). After finishing the animated series and all the 180 chapters of the manga, I can assure you it is no such thing.
At its core, this story is a mystery-thriller showing how a group of smart kids eventually escape from the orphanage and bring change to the world. It is full of action, emotions, and drama about how they fight for survival in a world ruled by demons. There are no monologues about how this is similar to how we treat animals and the kids happily eat meat in this anime without blinking twice. There are aspects of the plot that I am skipping which makes the story about a lot of things other than this message. Story of a human — “Mama” and why she sends her “beloved” kids to death echoes of Nazi guards doing horrible things because they felt it was part of the system. The reason why the world is ruled by demons and not humans is a fantasy mystery with no moral lessons, that we uncover slowly through the chapters.
At the same time, I cannot ignore the allegory it sets up in the background. The intention of the author might be to show a horrible situation and how humans can fight their way through anything. However, intentional or not, the visceral images of demons eating kids as delicacy or factory production for cheap human meat does echo the debates that push support for ethical animal farming or veganism. If we extend this allegory to our reality, humans are the demons that eat these chickens by killing them when their meat is most fresh. Humans/Demons are strong and rule the world and believe animals/humans to be an inferior race. This justifies their killing of animals/humans for these demons.
This idea of using images of animals in pain is a common tactic used by PETA to dissuade people from eating meat. However, this is not effective as people make fun of these images and believe the arguments they make to be irrational non-sense believed by “snowflake liberals”. I have also observed people who turn vegetarian because they felt pain looking at this imagery relapse really soon. Their mirror neurons that feel pain at such images stop firing and are overcome by hunger hormones which make them desire delicious meat².
Let’s think logically!
(Ideas based on the video by CosmicSkeptic)
I started this article by lamenting my inability to support my non-vegetarian practice. Is it moral to kill animals and eat them? Can we support the practice through a philosophical position beyond convenience?
Why I eventually fail to convince myself or others on the practice is because, in modern times, we have built enough technology to support the nutritional requirements of the whole population using a majorly plant-based diet. Even if our current production does not match the demand, we have the tech. to scale sustainable farming to achieve this goal. This fact discredits all existential arguments that claim that we need to eat meat to continue as a civilization.
This fact also breaks the general argument used by meat-eaters like me to support the morality of killing animals. It goes as follows — animals are inferior to humans because they are less intelligent or sentient or somehow feel less pain. This is a false dichotomy of having the option of either killing humans or killing animals and since animals are inferior to humans we can kill them. Actually, the dichotomy is between the worth of animal life and human tastebuds since we do not need to kill animals to support our civilization. Given this choice, it is difficult to explain why we so readily accept the killing of animals just to satiate our luxurious desires, which by-the-way can also be satisfied with other food items.
The main argument above also depends on classifying animals as inferior based on a trait like Intelligence or Emotional Intelligence. If that is true, then it begs the question — Would you be fine with killing humans which have low intelligence or emotional intelligence? Whatever trait you pick for demarcating a line between humans and other animals, can also be used to draw a line within humans. Does that then justify the killing of humans with less desirable value for that trait for a bigger cause like supporting civilization?
A common “gotcha” that people use is to give a situation where you have to choose between an animal and a human. For e.g., Suppose you were stranded in a desert with a chicken and a human. Would you kill the chicken? Maybe the answer is yes but this situation is not representative of our modern world. Also, we can do the same with two humans — Now you are stranded with two humans, one old and one young or one with high value for a trait and another one low. Philosophically, this is a complex problem but practically people might pick the old person. Again, thankfully, this is more a fantasy/dystopia situation similar to the “Promised Neverland” not representative of our own world.
Also, this kind of moral logic was used to justify racism where racists believed people of color have low IQ and hence need to be subjugated for their own benefit. In India, colonial Britishers used the same logic to justify their rule as a benevolent one by their Queen — If not for the more intelligent rulers, the savage locals would have killed each other. We now believe racism is wrong not because we are biologically identical to each other but because these facts are irrelevant to the moral question about slavery. We believe all men are equal, not in their traits but because they are born with their inalienable rights independent of their class, color, or creed. Why can’t we expand the circle to include animals to provide them with similar axiomatic rights?
I think the final and most important argument people use to justify meat-eating is through their religion. God made the world with all its wonders for humans to use and prosper. That is why God gave human souls but did not give any souls to plants or animals. We can kill things without a soul and be safe from any moral repercussion directed by our Gods. However, there are other religions like Jainism or Hinduism, where all life can feel pain and have souls and therefore the followers are strict vegetarians. To my secular eye, this distinction of what has a soul and what does not is an arbitrary decision that differs between religions. This is similar to how a racist thinks where we arbitrarily assigning a trait to one section but not to the other. We assign a soul to humans but not to animals similar to how racists assign a complete human intelligence to one group of humans but not another. I don’t have an in-depth understanding of any religion to tackle these questions within the framework of these religions.
Also, there are more empirical reasons to reduce meat consumption. Animals can carry pathogens that can transfer to humans through their meat consumption. The current coronavirus pandemic, as well as past pandemics like SARS, responsible for such widespread disruptions and death, were directly caused due to meat consumption. An even bigger threat is looming over humans that cannot be solved with any vaccine — climate change. Meat consumption is a major contributor to carbon emissions³ and shifting to a plant-based diet could be an important factor in avoiding the catastrophic future promised by climate change.
Given how these ideas seem extremely logical, you would expect rational adults like me⁴ to follow through with their conclusions. Irrespective of that, I know I will be ordering some meat dish next time we have a celebration with my friends this Christmas. On that day, I can only think about the fried chicken I’ll soon be ordering.
Excuses, excuses, and so many Godamn excuses
My refusal to stop loving meat even after being defeated by “facts and logic” might make you imagine me sitting on a corner, like a blood-thirsty hound salivating, as I dream about the next time I get to taste blood. Fortunately, I am not that addicted to the taste of meat or blood. Rather than getting pangs for eating meat, akin to what a smoking addict might feel, I feel my situation is more comparable to social drinking. Many people dislike drinking or feel like drinking is not good for them, and it is easy for them to not drink if they are alone. But then a friend visits or someone asks you on a date and you cannot say no to a glass of wine or two. There is a cultural aspect to drinking that makes it quite difficult to quit.
Similarly — Along with the nostalgia about home-cooked chicken, I also like trying out different dishes across different cuisines and many of them contain meat. If I am going out with my friends and we go to a Vietnamese bar, it seems almost criminal to order vegetarian Pho. Moreover, I cannot even think about missing the delicious mutton my Grandma cooks during the Eid celebration back home. There are so many foods in the world that I have yet to experience and in that moment of deciding which dish to order in a new place, the ideas about animal violence and climate change seem so distant. At one end, these amazing cuisines that contain meat appeal to a base curiosity in me to explore new things, which pervades my sub-conscious consistently. While, on the other hand, the grand ideas about veganism are either something I think at 3 am while alone or maybe are just an aspect of virtue signaling I want to display to my friends. In a clash of these desires, we all know through Maslow’s pyramid what wins.
Additionally, there is a practical aspect of having Non-veg. food — Nutrition. According to buff-looking dudes on Youtube, we need 1–2 grams of protein per kg body weight to sustain good muscle mass. Given how this is becoming a priority in my life⁵, I need some reliable protein sources in my diet. Meat or eggs are easy and tasty sources of Protein. Beans are good but man do they make the room smell bad⁶. I know there are ways around these diet limitations but they cost time and effort. And of course, I have been lying to you till now. I am not eating Non-vegetarian food once every few weeks, but almost daily. I have boiled eggs almost daily along with my dinner and am quite comfortable with their presence in my diet.
So, what’s next?
“Well, this was maybe educational and definitely a bit of an over-share. But what is your point?” — you might be thinking.
I think I can reply this way — “I don’t know. Maybe this is just writing practice. Tell me if you have any ideas.”
I am still unsure about what I believe in, and more importantly, what I can practice. My goal while writing this was to actually consolidate these thoughts that have been nagging me at the back of my mind. I feel like this might be relatable to people who feel guilty about eating meat but still enjoy eating it. Writing it out also forces me to look at the facts of eating meat by writing them myself.
I like meat a lot and I also secretly feel that making a solemn promise alone doesn’t matter as stopping my personal consumption cannot stop poor animal farming practices. Therefore, I don’t think I will stop eating meat altogether even if I try to make such a resolution at 3 am. My current answer is to reduce consumption in daily life as much as possible which means I have to inculcate a number of habits. One unexpected benefit of this horrible pandemic for me personally was that I have stopped eating out frequently⁷ and started cooking food at home. This is partly why I am able to reduce meat consumption and I hope I stick to it when things go back to normal. And, slowly I can lean-off meat altogether or maybe technology solves this problem for me as it does with everything else⁸.
 I learned a lot about trans-right after following this amazing youtuber— ContraPoints
 Well, I have never stopped eating meat even after looking at the visceral painful images, so I can only assume.
 I know cow farts have a lot of methane and methane is a strong greenhouse gas. And cows fart a lot! For more definite data, you can google this yourself.
 Calm down, I am just joking. We are all irrational.
 Supermen on YouTube tell me to get a healthy body before I can even think about getting a girlfriend.
 You guessed it right. Flatulence is the word I am omitting here.
 I realized that eating out has another big shortcoming — It creates a lot of waste. For someone who wants to minimize their carbon footprint, eating out less maybe is one of the best things they can do. Not that it matters, as huge corporations will keep on polluting the world to increase shareholder value and keep on laughing at your attempts to follow the 3-Rs or eat less meat.
 We have plant-based substitutes and even lab-grown meat is slowly becoming affordable.