I boarded the plane, stowed my small carry-on and sat down next to a woman who occupied the window seat. When the stewardess turned to us for our meal orders, the woman, middle aged with clear smooth skin requested the vegetarian meal and I ordered the beef stroganoff. In an effort to be friendly and and maybe even more, I asked if she was truly a vegetarian. This she confirmed with a nod and an mmm as she continued to read a magazine, then later turned to look out the window. Message received.
Half way through the stroganoff I commented that my dish was quite tasty and asked about hers.
“You don’t eat meat in order to save the lives of animals; is that what you said?”
“Yes, so they needn’t be slaughtered for my pleasure.”
When young, I had seen chickens and cattle slaughtered and the gut-wrenching sight stuck with me for half a century. Nevertheless I was still able to relish my stroganoff. Wanting to continue to engage the woman in conversation I asked, “Would you as a human being prefer to have the opportunity to live on this earth under ordinary circumstances for let’s say only one, maybe two years, or not live at all. Those are the only alternatives you have to choose from.”
“Is this some kind of a trick question?”
“No. Take it on face value.”
“Well if they were the only two alternatives then, sure, I would choose to live one or two years rather than not at all.”
“I would too…and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t.”
“I agree. But how does that relate to eating meat or not.”
“Well, if animals could reason as we do, do you think any animal in the entire animal kingdom would choose to do otherwise?”
She thought for a moment and said, “No, I’m sure they would choose some life over no life, whether they could reason or not. But where are you going with this?”
“Well…imagine you are a college-educated steer on a ranch in Wyoming. And someone walks up and asks whether you would prefer to live the life you’ve lived over the last two years (or even one) and then face your demise next week…or not have lived at all.”
She thought I was still trying to trick her. “Well, I don’t like the question but in answering it truthfully, I would need to say I would prefer life (albeit one cut short) over never living at all.”
“I would, too. On that we agree.”
“So, where’s this going?”
“Now stay with me here. If everyone on earth from time immemorial had been vegetarian like you, and never ate meat, think of all the billions of animals that would never have been raised and therefore never given the opportunity to enjoy the simple pleasures of life: eating, breathing, romping on a hillside under the sun and seeing other animals, trees and streams.” She closed one eye, chewed on her cheek and looked for the trick.
“Hum. I don’t like this. There’s got to be a trick buried in there somewhere.”
“I don’t think there is. Isn’t it like many things in the unfair business of life. An unavoidable link connects the good with the bad. How many people would choose not to fall in love because heartbreak is a possible consequence? We know heartbreak is often linked to love but we fall in love anyway because the pleasure outweighs the pain. Same for eating meat. Our pleasure (I should say mine) in eating my stroganoff is offset by the months, maybe years of pleasure it brings to the animal that needed to be slaughtered for me to have my meal. I hate the idea of slaughter. I love to eat meat. Living even a short life is an undeniable pleasure. It would seem that the inescapable conclusion resulting from my not being a vegetarian is that I have brought more pleasure to more animals than the person who is a vegetarian.”
“I don’t think I like you,” she said with a smile.