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Silicon Veggie

What Kind of Vegetarian Are You?

By Elisa Camahort

PEOPLE PUT things into neat packages to better understand them. When I talk about my vegetarianism, people say with a nod, "You're an ethical vegetarian." As opposed to a "religious" or "health-conscious" vegetarian.

I've honed my explanation over the years. The more complicated your answer, the more people find the exception—the area where you fail—the way to topple your convictions.

I used to say: How you spend your money is your economic vote. I don't want to contribute my vote to industries that participate in practices I find objectionable, like the suffering of sentient creatures.

But what if someone else pays? What if there's no suffering, if animals are plucked from their habitat and sedated, so they never felt pain or anxiety? Those challenges were good motivators to hone my ethos.

Now I say: I don't want to be responsible for the death of other creatures. Doesn't matter who pays. Doesn't matter if they suffer.

"Ethical" vegetarianism also speaks to this issue: What about humans? Would it motivate you to be vegetarian if you knew it would help humans? Most of the vegetarian "bibles" out there don't focus solely on animal victims. They talk about world hunger; about environmental degradation; about cancer and heart disease. They expose the costs to the human race of meat-centric diets. Certainly, that might motivate you for ethical reasons to take better care of the world and the people living on it.

This has been percolating in my brain since I read a New York Times editorial that described the slaughterhouse environment as deadly—for workers. They are usually underpaid immigrants; working unlawfully long shifts often without proper breaks; driven to work fast with dangerous machines, so they suffer a high accident rate. In other words, if eating meat doesn't kill them, producing it might.

Sure, people choose to work in the slaughterhouse. In the same way people choose to be homeless, choose to be locked into a Wal-Mart at night or choose to leave a poverty-stricken country with some oppressive regime in power. Sure, people make their living running these oppressive animal factories. People also make their living dealing smack, stealing cars or defrauding small investors.

It would be easier to say I'm a religious or health-conscious vegetarian. We yearn for black and white, right and wrong, easily categorized choices. Reality isn't so easy. But ignoring the reality, for both animals and humans, seems harder.

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From the March 2-8, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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