Defensiveness and Willful Ignorance

“The power of willful ignorance cannot be overstated.”

I have found that food is one of those touchy subjects that gets a lot of people riled up and on the defensive, especially when discussing the factory farm industry to meat eaters. The truth is, I do not try converting others into becoming vegans, vegetarians, or pescatarians. I’m not on a crusade to save all the animals from being eaten. It’s not my style to criticize or preach to others that they’re wrong for eating meat just because I’ve made the decision not to eat most forms of it. In the spring of 2009 is when I became a pescatarian (meaning I consume no meat except fish and seafood). This diet has worked well for me, but I know it’s not for everyone, and I’m sure someone out there thinks it’s not the healthiest or most ideal diet. I’m also sure that some vegetarians and vegans look down upon me for consuming fish. None of that really matters, though, because I am ok with the decision I have made about my food choices. All I really desire is for people to become aware of the realities of the meat industry, specifically factory farms, so they can decide if they really want to support them or not.

I didn’t grow up on a full-fledged farm, but we had a large pasture surrounding the house where cows wandered and grazed the land. Though these cows were provided a comfortable, dignified life with plenty of fresh air and open space, I remember feeling very guilty sometimes as a child when I looked at these animals and understood that most cows’ ultimate fate is to become a hamburger on someone’s dinner plate. We kept some of those cows for years and years, long enough that I named a few of them. One of them, named Angel, was sweet enough that she allowed me to sit on her back like a horse. Almost like a pet cat or dog, I became so used to their presence that I respected the cows as living creatures whom I didn’t feel entirely comfortable eating.

I don’t know if it was willful ignorance or just plain ignorance, but I think into early adulthood I maintained the idealistic image of our large, green pasture as a typical home for all cows raised on farms in America. It wasn’t until 2009, at the age of 21, when I first learned about factory farms through a pamphlet someone was distributing at the local community college. It all changed for me shortly after I learned about some of the atrocities that occur in factory farms. The guilt just became too unbearable. I could no longer be a participant or supporter of the widespread animal cruelty that occurs in factory farms, so I finally gave up nearly all forms of meat.
farmI really don’t go around broadcasting to everyone that I’m a pescatarian, nor do I feel the need to discuss random facts about the farming industry with every person I encounter. That would probably be a little odd and off-putting. But when it is somehow revealed that I don’t eat much meat, it seems like I don’t have to do much at all to stir up the defensive side of certain meat eaters. To be honest, most people either show respect for my decision or ask a lot of the common questions like “What inspired you to do that?” and “How do you get enough protein?” I think some meat eaters, though, are preparing for criticism from me for not being a vegetarian. To any meat eaters out there, please be aware that not all of us are self-righteous about our diet or lifestyle, nor are we all trying to convert you. If/when you become defensive, it becomes slightly amusing because I recognize that such behavior often indicates that people don’t feel entirely comfortable with their decisions and actions. Once you’ve begun to justify an action that I haven’t even attacked, you have revealed more to me how you actually feel about it.

When I discuss animal cruelty in factory farms, I am not implying that eating meat is inherently bad and evil. Some farmers out there are trying to raise animals in more humane ways, and I’m actually supportive when someone says they purchase only organic, responsibly-raised meat from small, local farmers. You see, we’re not all intolerant and critical of eating meat. I just hope more people break out of the ignorance and stop turning themselves away from the truth. People can turn their heads and look the other way all they want, but the fact is, they’re still an active participant in widespread animal cruelty when they make uninformed decisions. It brings to mind that quote by Ayn Rand, “We can ignore reality, but we cannot ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.” So, my advice is to become informed. Be responsible. Always try to face the truth of what you are doing. When you no longer feel guilty or a desire to justify your actions, you’ll know that you have made the right decision.

Some meat eaters I’ve encountered admit that they don’t feel entirely comfortable with the decision they have made, but then they make the mistake of complaining about how their actions don’t matter in the grand scheme since no one else cares enough to change. Instead of worrying what everyone else is or isn’t doing, it is up to each of us to be mature adults who hold ourselves accountable for the decisions we make and to make those decisions based on our individual system of morals and values. You have all the power to contribute to a problem or to fight against injustice. Which side you join is entirely up to you.
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