I use this blog as a soap box to preach (ahem... to talk :-) about subjects that interest me.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Eating Animals - Why I am vegetarian

In this post, I shall try to explain how I came to be vegetarian. I expect that you will find it unreasonable and perhaps even a bit weird. In any case, regardless of of how you find this post, I encourage you to read my next post on vegetarianism, where I will give you at least one valid reason for becoming vegetarian yourself or at least significantly reduce the amount of meat you eat. I assure you that it will have nothing to do with what you will read here.

I became vegetarian on January 1st, 1976. It was a new-year resolution. During the last hours of 1975, a doctor of medicine who also practiced homoeopathy and acupuncture told me that animals being slaughtered respond to the stress of their violent death by generating in their tissues a series of toxins. He then argued that when we eat meat and fish we inevitably absorb those toxins, thereby damaging our physical and mental health. At the time, I found such a far-fetched theory convincing enough to make me say: “You know what? From tomorrow I will become vegetarian!” Don’t ask me how I could even consider believing what in hindsight sounds like humbug. I have no idea. I had completely stopped drinking any type of alcoholic drink less than a couple of weeks before. Therefore, I cannot even claim that abundant libations to celebrate the coming of the new year had clouded my judgment. To my credit, I didn’t believe in that theory for very long. That notwithstanding, my unwavering vegetarianism has accompanied me ever since.

I was obviously ready to become vegetarian, and even a dubious and unscientific theory was for me reason enough to take that step.

A story I had heard about wolves and feral dogs had certainly contributed to firming up my resolve. It’s a nice story. The National Park of Abruzzo, smack in the middle of Italy, is the only place in the country where bears and wolves can be found in significant numbers. One of the park rangers told me that, to protect the wolves, they had to eliminate the many feral dogs that infested the park. The dogs competed with the wolves for food and, what was much worse, interbred with their wild cousins, thereby polluting their gene pool. The ranger told me that to get rid of the dogs, the only solution was to place everywhere poisoned baits. The wolves wouldn’t touch them, while the feral dogs would eat them and die. “But,” he said, “we have to keep doing it very assiduously, because only dogs that have become feral recently eat the poisoned meat. After a few months in the wild, the dogs somehow re-learn the survival skills necessary for them to distinguish between what they can and cannot eat.”

I found that story amazing. Despite generations and generations of selective breeding and life in captivity, in only a few months, the dogs were able to re-adapt to the wild. I asked myself: “Could we do it too? Could we ‘civilised’ humans re-discover the sensitivities that our ancestors must have certainly had? Perhaps, we can find within ourselves our ancient way of sensing what is good and what is bad for us.”

I know: such a “genetic memory” might just be a myth. “Moreover,” I thought, “if our conscious mind and the other higher functions of our brain mask the primitive instincts I am thinking about, how could one go about letting them emerge? Clearly, not by thinking about them. The only way must be an irrational one.” I felt that being vegetarian was a step in the right direction. I felt that not eating animals would help me in my quest. It was a deep feeling, not based on any logical conclusion. I had to follow it.

You will now certainly be asking: “Well, Giulio, did you achieve your goal? After decades of being vegetarian, have you rediscovered your ancient instincts? Can you detect when something would poison you?”

The brief answer is: “I don’t know.”

Considering that I am overweight and that I don’t seem to be able to get rid of my addiction to sugar, it would be reasonable to assume that I haven’t achieved my goal. And yet, I still find the idea of ingesting parts of dead animals deeply disturbing. Perhaps it is just a fixation. Perhaps not. After all, Buddhist monks agree with me that one shouldn’t eat that stuff. To explain the depth of my vegetarianism to some catholic friends, I once told them that for me eating the flesh of an animal is what they would call a mortal sin.

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