There seem to be as many excuses to eat meat as there are land animals killed for such a purpose (10 billion in the U.S. each year, by the way) and though I have heard many of these excuses, I have yet to hear a convincing reason. I don’t think people really give much thought to the justifications they create; or rather, they have never really been challenged when they say such things as “If we didn’t kill and eat animals, the world would be overrun with them” or “These incisors in my mouth prove that we were meant to eat animals.” Lacking the space to address these tenuous arguments, I would rather focus on one that sounds fair enough on the surface, but which falls apart upon closer examination. It goes something like this: "Eating meat is my personal preference, and since I respect your desire not to eat animals, I would appreciate your respecting my preference to dine on them."
The problem with this justification is that it assumes there is no victim, no other. It implies that the meat-eater’s desires, traditions, culture, or taste buds are superior to anything — or anyone — else and that because of this, he or she is absolved from the harm eating meat causes.
As a society, we collectively decide that certain behaviors, certain actions, certain personal preferences are inappropriate or morally reprehensible, particularly when they cause injury or harm to another. When confronted, abusive parents or spouses often protest that it is nobody else's business how they treat their child/wife/husband, that people should not meddle into their affairs, and that they can do what they like in their own home. Though there was a time when the law protected such people and practices, this is no longer the case. As conscious consumers, we make choices every day about the products we buy — we choose those that do not contribute to child labor, those that use the least amount of the Earth's resources, those that do not exploit indigent farmers. How, then, can we possibly ignore the animals whose miserable lives have been so violently cut short because we hold onto a particular taste preference or habit? The animals whose bodies we have locked up, used up, and cut up for our enjoyment are no different than the victims of domestic abuse who, if they had a choice — if they had a voice — would choose not to be tormented or killed.
When we take away the choice of another and then use that as license to hurt or kill, we are participating in an egregious act of cruelty — whether we do it ourselves or pay others to do it for us. We only tell ourselves that our personal choice is our own business — our own preference — so we can sleep soundly at night. A choice made from personal preference might be the color I paint my bathroom, the kind of car I buy, or the way I style my hair.But a personal choice to hurt someone else? Deconstructed, it comes out looking like an unpleasant credo to live by. Yet, because millions of people do live by it, billions of animals unnecessarily die by it — year in and year out.
There are as many reasons not to eat animals as there are lives that could be saved by making a simple dietary change. One of the joys of being vegetarian is that my behavior is consistent with my values, and though it’s not a perfect world and I’m not a perfect person, it feels pretty good knowing that my personal choices reflect nonviolence, compassion, kindness, and simplicity. Adopting a vegetarian lifestyle is the best choice I’ve ever made, and I’ve never had to offer any excuses for it.