The Vegan Paradox
Nature is ruthless. Everyone's seen the Discovery Channel footage: a crocodile snapping its jaws against the tender flesh of an antelope, lions tearing a zebra to shreds, cadavers of innocent prey lying around, their bones licked to glossy perfection. As grim as it may be, this is what keeps the circle of life flowing. Human beings may have evolved out of the jungles, but they still share a fundamental necessity with the animal kingdom: food. Dietary evolution has wired us to crave it for nourishment, and a big part of the nutrients that sustain our life are found in none other than meat.
Many people have also seen the powerful organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or simply PETA) footage on the wretched "hunting" techniques that go on in the factory farming industries: dozens of chickens crammed on top of one another in tiny cages, cattle getting their tails and genitals chopped off with rudimentary knives, pigs hung upside down, writhing in fear of being split open. This footage is so powerful, in fact, that it succeeds in converting thousands of omnivores into diehard herbivores.
Regardless of the shared need for nutrition, human beings are not wild predators. Our behavior can't be compared or justified by the food chain system that rules in the Sahara. To make matters worse, we're actually higher on the brutality scale; lions don't breed their buffalo inside jam-packed factories and proceed to torture them before the kill. It's no wonder that more and more people are converting to vegetarianism. They are willing to stiff their taste buds in order to boycott cruelty.
Unfortunately, the human metabolic system has not yet evolved enough to survive on a solely green diet. It still needs the essential nutrients found in animal products in order to function. This is why many self-guided vegetarians and especially vegans face an array of health hazards due to malnutrition. Excluding meat and dairy products from one's diet without strictly regimented supplements cuts off vital nutrients like protein, iron, zinc, calcium and vitamin B12. The deficiency of these nutrients can lead to dry skin, fatigue, anemia, osteoporosis, nerve damage and numerous other health concerns.
Although there are synthetic alternatives to most vitamins naturally occurring in meat and dairy, asking billions to give up animal products isn't just unreasonable- it also doesn't make evolutionary sense.
It's not nature that we need to be converting; it's the factory farming industry. Although vegans and vegetarians may be willing to give up taste, nutrients and health, most of the human population is not.
What neither informed side can argue, however, are the morally decrepit practices that take place in factory farms and slaughterhouses. "If slaughterhouses had glass walls, we'd all be vegetarians," as Linda McCartney, late wife of Paul McCartney once said.
In an ironic twist, the vegan philosophy wouldn't be saving cattle; it would be eradicating them. The domestication of wild animals about 10,000 years ago is what led to the species we have come to regard as farm animals. The gradual nature of evolution means that setting them free to roam the wild would almost certainly lead to their extinction in the game of survival of the fittest. They're simply not equipped for the boundaries beyond human controlled pastures.
This is not to say that they lack any amount of rights. Breeding them to be "death on a platter" may be morbidly necessary, but taking into account the passage of time in between life and consumption could ease some of the tension. It could finally distinguish people from lions and perhaps put a stop to one case of humanity committing inhumane acts.
The real life horrors that factory animals face are almost too much to bear. Not only are they deprived from natural behavior such as nestling and nurture, not only are they drugged and injected with growth hormones that render them deformed and useless, but they are also subjected to atrocious tortures before being slaughtered.
Even the companies who now claim to breed "free-range," "organic" and "care certified" animals have elusive and deceptive guidelines through which they attain the labels. These categories are mainly fabricated to lure consumers who are becoming more aware and concerned for animal rights and the byproduct thereof on their own health.
The next attainable step before taking the vegan leap, the happy middle, seems to be implementation of humane regulations on the treatment of farmhouse animals. Labels such as "free range" can, in actuality, ring true. Especially with the recent passing of Proposition 2, it appears likely that people are willing to sacrifice a few cents for the much needed transition.
Money loses its value when its grasp on the livelihood of farm animals is explored. It's the only thing standing in the way of allowing these creatures to take part in their innate behavior. The animals' lives should hold every possible natural freedom considering their sinister fate. At the very least, they should be allowed to graze in green pastures, spread their wings, and nurture their young.
Instead of engineering soy turkey and trying to get people to love stir-fried tofu, the more realistic goal would be to allow for genuinely happy cows.