Few arguments are more amusing for me to sit back and watch than one between the unashamed omnivore and the fervent vegetarian. For whatever reason, people tend to really dig their heels in on this subject, and pretty well immediately begin digging up the most extreme examples they can to "prove" their point. Meat eaters will offer a pseudo-educated lecture on the nutrients missing in a vegetarian diet, and scream hypocrisy if their opposition has ever been so bold as to take a Tylenol. Vegetarians will put forth an emotional appeal that would make Satan himself weep, describing in gruesome detail the brief and tortured life of the animals that land on your plate. Both will make the occasional valid point, but all in all, it tends to turn into a competition of convincing propaganda.
Here's the thing. Yes, most of the meat that gets to your plate was probably not acquired in an awesome way. Yes, it is possible to get all of your nutrients through a vegetarian diet. Yes, there are many moral and nutritional arguments in favour of limiting your meat intake. Yes, a lot of animal testing facilities and meat manufacturers engage in horrific practices. Yes, there are plenty of perfectly acceptable and equally beneficial animal alternatives. But it is also true that humans are designed to consume meat. It is also true that many of the products we all use and take for granted came by way of animal somehow. It is also true that diseases and infections that would have otherwise killed us can be treated now, thanks to animals. And, believe it or not, it is also true that a middle ground can be sought, here.
The more we all learn about the meat industry, animal testing, and the questionable treatment of many critters, the bigger the moral dilemma we face. More and more people are opting to become vegetarians or vegans, and I, as an (almost) vegetarian myself, greatly appreciate this. But this is no place for extremism, either. When people venture over to either extreme of any issue, the chances of doing overall harm are far greater than doing any great benefit. We have to keep a lot of things in mind here - what are we replacing our meat with? Is that sustainable, and ecologically sound? Is it rational to completely remove animals from everyone's diet, or would it make more sense to force changes in the industry? What alternatives do we have, or must we create, to animal-based medications? What will the economic impact be if we greatly shift our perspective, and what steps are we taking to avoid a collapse? While I'm morally on the side of animal rights activists, I also realise that this isn't just a moral argument. If it were, the right choice would be quite clear: stop doing what we're doing. But there is much more than that to consider. Current hunting and fishing laws make it difficult to sustain ourselves on only what we can catch. Free range farms are a great alternative, but not available to many. Vegetarian alternatives are more ethical, but often difficult to justify ecologically and financially. Many medical treatments involve animal testing/products, and do not currently have a veg-friendly counterpart. The meat industry, for better or worse, generates a lot of income, creates a lot of jobs, and provides a lot of affordable food - if we want to destroy it, we'd damn well better be prepared to replace it.
If we really want to see positive change occur, we cannot come at this with knee-jerk reactions from either side. We have to recognize not just the moral implications of our actions, but also the ecological, economic, and medical. We have to be rational, and not force ourselves into boxes. You don't have to be either a tofuwrappedinlettuceite or a wrapitallinbaconite. You can cut down on meat, but still go fishing. You can be a vegetarian that indulges in cheese now and then. You can eat only free range animals. You can be a vegan that grows your own veg. You can raise your own chickens, and do with them what you will. There's no reason to believe you have to adopt either extreme. If we can at least all agree that the current way of doing things isn't fantastic, and there are better alternatives out there, we can all make a change for the better.