Whilst working away at my hotel job recently, one of our regular guests learnt I was studying Vet. It always brightens your day when a stranger praises your life choices, but after the obligatory conversation about my favourite animals and options for specialisation, I’m often questioned about whether I’m a vegetarian. Initially this both confused and irritated me- I felt it was akin to asking a midwife if she’d ever give birth. I grew to realise it stemmed from an assumption I’d witnessed the horrors of farming or been turned off by my dissections, which has indeed happened to some of my friends.
To me, whether or not you eat meat should remain a personal preference that you should never need to defend. It’s an unnecessary argument- you should live in a way that pleases you and you alone. I’d estimate about 40% of my cohort would be vegetarian, which is understandable as the champions of animal rights (and the poppers of abscesses- enough to turn you off meat, cottage cheese, dairy, animals, life…). I will always believe in being a veggo, but personally, I will never become one.
Rather than rant about your choices, I’m always fascinated to hear the factual rationale behind decisions. So instead of aggressively defending being a carnivore, let’s be frank. Excessive red meat consumption is linked to cardiovascular disease and obesity, and processed meats have such high levels of saturated fats and salt they should be illegal.
But I feel as a vet student that’s where I should stop- because as vets, that’s not our job. For me, it’s about these guys.
Aside from personal health reasons that mean I must eat meat, I can say with confidence that I, like so many, genuinely enjoy it. I have also developed a keen interest in the relationship between how we keep the animals and the final product.
Having worked on farms and in vets across NSW and Europe, there have definitely been times where I’ve questioned the gravity of the task. There’s so much more to eating meat than plucking it off the shelf at your local supermarket, and I shop with that constant state of awareness. We’re continuously confronted by animal welfare decisions when selecting our food- cage eggs, free range or organic? We may think the decision is easy- grab the RSPCA approved one and you’ve done your bit. Dig a little deeper, and you realise that to be RSPCA approved, the only ‘enrichment’ the broilers are given is a 2.7m long bench per 1000 chickens.
The issue of meat production is so multi-faceted. People are quick to judge, but forget that the farmers are trying to make a living, doing what we aren’t, often in conditions that threaten their entire livelihood. My pig placement was one of those doomed ‘intensive farming’ houses, where sows spend their entire lives in stalls, being rotated throughout the system until they die. Many people refuse to eat pork for this reason. It was also located in far north NSW where temperatures exceed 40 degrees. The property had no walls- it was excellently ventilated, air conditioned and fantastically clean. Had the property been free range, there just wouldn’t be enough shelter to prevent horrific sunburn without them being indoors. The workers had an absolute adoration for the pigs, and the pigs enjoyed treats and had plenty of enrichment. The property owner confided that his viability is completely dependent on the price points made up by the supermarket chains. If his pigs were 1mm too fat, whole dollars were taken from the carcass weight of the animal. 1mm!
Rather than ignore the problem like so many, I want to be a consumer who eats meat in a way that is sustainable, cruelty-free and benefits the farmer. As an avid customer and part of the next generation of vets, I feel I have an ethical and social responsibility to immerse myself in the industry problems and be part of the solution.
Making animals feel happy and safe in their lifetime, regardless of their outcome, is a number one priority. With any luck, being part of the solution will involve radically changing how animals are treated, and their end will be in a completely calm, painless and quick manner across the board. Improving their life, the farmers wellbeing and consumer conscience will mean if we choose to eat meat, we can enjoy it knowing we’re doing our bit. 🙂