Why I was a pro-choice vegetarian

Sometimes my pro-life friends express bewilderment at how someone could advocate for animal rights — going so far as to become a vegetarian — while having no problem with killing unborn humans. That viewpoint used to make perfect sense to me. And while I certainly don’t agree with it now, I find it to be a intellectually consistent (if chilling) way to look at the world. If it’s of any interest to others, here is why I used to be a pro-choice vegetarian.

———-

For me, being a pro-choice vegetarian was a direct result of my atheistic worldview.

The way I saw it, all life on earth is just chemical reactions, therefore the only thing that makes a human more valuable than, say, a gnat or a squirrel is that we’re more complex. One of the main signs of our complexity is our intelligence, so I began to associate evidence of intelligence with value. I don’t think I ever made a bold, conscious decision to adopt that viewpoint, it just seemed to be obviously true — for example, we don’t have a problem with killing a simple bug like a spider, but most of us would be opposed to killing a more advanced lifeform like a dog.

I would think of this sort of thing whenever I ate meat, imagining the fear the pig must have felt before it was slaughtered for my BLT sandwich. I did a little bit of research about modern-day slaughterhouses and was disgusted to hear about the suffering that these animals endured. I decided that I would no longer eat meat. In particular, I would avoid the meat of higher animals who were more aware of their own suffering such as pigs, cows and chickens. I did continue to eat fish (particularly shellfish), however, on the grounds that as less intelligent animals they didn’t experience the range of suffering that the higher animals did when they were killed.

Seeing the world through this atheistic idea that there is a spectrum of worthiness of life with the least intelligent creatures on one end and the most intelligent on the other, and that all life on earth was to be judged by this same standard, had chilling implications when it came to human life.

While I donated money to PETA and other animal rights organizations to help save pigs and cows, I also donated money to Planned Parenthood to support the abortion industry. I had not the slightest qualm about the idea of an early-stage abortion. On my spectrum of worthiness of life, young human fetuses were way to the left — right down there with mollusks and worms — because they could not display any intelligence. As I detailed more in this post, I could not imagine asking a woman to turn her life upside down and devalue herself for a lifeform that had all the value of a crustacean.

Occasionally, however, I would get a glimpse of the reality of just how cold my worldview really was. For example, one time in college I heard a professor make the statement that it would be more ethical to kill a newborn baby than a pig since pigs are more intelligent and aware of their surroundings. I scoffed at the absurdity of such a notion. Yet when I tried to argue with his position, I realized that he was actually using my worldview to justify his position.

Also in college, I heard a classmate (who had a reputation for doing a little too much LSD) make the statement that it would be more ethical to use severely mentally disabled humans as a food source instead of the higher animals since those humans are less intelligent. I thought it to be one of the most ridiculous, offensive, disgusting statements I’d ever heard. I was even able to come up with some defense about it being wrong because we’re evolved to protect members of our own species…but such a coldly scientific argument sounded somehow lame and hollow. There was absolutely nothing in the atheist lexicon that could articulate just how morally repugnant such an idea really was.

It wouldn’t be until years later, after my conversion to Christianity, that I realized that my heart had always known something that my head did not: that humans are infinitely valuable and dearly precious — every one of us, at any age, our ability to display intelligence notwithstanding. Somewhere inside, a part of me knew it all along, which is why I was so horrified at the professor’s and the classmate’s statements.

One of the many things that fell into place when I began studying Christianity was its view of the dignity of man. Reading sections in the Catechism about the inherent value of each and every human being was like reading an articulation of something that had been written on my heart all along. Through the Christian worldview I was able to maintain empathy for animals while understanding that human beings, who posses God-given eternal souls, are in an entirely different category than other lifeforms.

These days I have gone back to eating meat, although I still don’t eat pork and am trying to move our family toward only buying meat products from companies that treat their animals humanely. More and more I see the mentality creeping into our culture that intelligence = worthiness of life, that human life is no more valuable than intelligent animal life, and it frightens me. Because, as I know from personal experience, the fruits of that worldview are chilling indeed.

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40 Responses to “Why I was a pro-choice vegetarian”
  1. katemcdonald says:

    I am really glad I stumbled across your blog…growing us a believer, I am excited to read your writings and see things from a new viewpoint.

    This post was very thought provoking. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    The logical thought process you describe here is both rational and horrifying.

    Great post, Jennifer. Again.

  3. Catholic Mom says:

    This view of human life=animal life is creeping into our schools. Take a look at my son’s experience in 9th grade English class.

  4. 'Becca says:

    I am a pro-choice “vegetarian” who eats seafood…but not for the same reasons! Animal-rights arguments always have bothered me for the same reason that “human beings, who posses God-given eternal souls, are in an entirely different category than other lifeforms” bothers me, which is the same reason that racism bothers me: These arguments assume there’s a struggle which somebody has to win.

    I’m convinced that a diet with little to no meat is healthier for us and a wiser use of resources. The grain used to feed cattle to make hamburgers could be used to feed many more people. I believe it is important for each of us to be as “small” as we can in our use of stuff and in our self-aggrandizement, to make room for others–both other people and other parts of God’s Creation: animals, plants, mountains, water, even those extraterrestrial things you mentioned in your previous post. They are not created for us to plunder but for us to respect, use appropriately, give thanks for, and seek harmony with. The fact that eating too much animal and not enough plants makes people sick, like the fact that burning too much stuff makes people sick, is a sign that we are not meant to go that route.

    “The environment” is not something that exists beneath us and separate from us. It is our only home in this life. It is God’s Creation, we are only part of it, and our job is to take care of it and use it wisely. Yes, we have God-given eternal souls; that does not mean we get to wipe out other species or force them into unnecessary suffering. They too are God’s, and disrespect for them harms our souls.

    I do eat meat sometimes. If a calf suffered a short brutal life to make veal, and a plant’s ovaries were pulled off to make tomato sauce for that veal, and gas was burned to cook that veal, and a person’s labor went into making it, but now because somebody didn’t feel like eating it it’s headed for the landfill…I will eat it! Better that I take those nutrients into my body and make use of them than that they be wasted. WASTE is a terrible sin and one of the most prevalent in our culture.

    Abortion is one point on a continuum of worse and worse wasting of human life. One of the things I do in my job is study young men who have wasted each other at a much later stage. To me it is worse–for them, for the people who loved them, for humanity overall, for the whole environment–that they were wasted this way rather than aborted. That doesn’t mean I have “not the slightest qualm” about abortion, like you did, and it doesn’t mean I or anyone should get to tell any woman she MUST have an abortion. But it is a reason I think abortion should be available, a reason I think contraception should be available, a reason I think responsible sexual behavior should be encouraged, and a reason I think our culture should be more supportive of parents and children.

    You said that “the inherent value of each and every human being…had been written on my heart all along.” But you also realize that people know killing a spider (which is not an insect, BTW) is more acceptable than killing a dog. Why do you think that is? Inherent value of humans, only, above all else, does not explain this knowledge which also is written on our hearts.

    It seems to me that you’ve just exchanged one hierarchy for another. Instead of “intelligence is value”, you’re thinking “being human is value.” The fruits of THAT worldview are chilling, too. Taken too far, they will upset the balance of the world God gave us.

  5. Jennifer F. says:

    Becca – thanks for the catch that spiders aren’t insects. :)

  6. Bender says:

    The problem is that some of the “most intelligent” are actually the most stupid and ignorant. They are only the “most intelligent” because they have decreed themselves to be so and because they have the ability to impose that view. They are more intelligent than some other members of the world community because they are more powerful. In short, might makes right.

    In actuality, their genius is only in being ignorant, in rejecting authentic truth in favor of counterfeit knowledge.

    Meanwhile, the lowest of the low, the meekest of the meek, are often far more wise and knowledgable about real reality than the hubristic geniuses could ever conceive of being.

  7. Shelly W says:

    I love seeing the world through your two lenses. I’m so glad you take the time to share your perspective. I’m learning a lot from you.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Isn’t it ironic that the “most intelligent” on the planet seem to have the least amount of survival instincts? They basically are the only ones who take themselves out of the gene pool. Go figure.

  9. Jackie Parkes says:

    Hi Jennifer do you mind adding my blog to your links? I will add yours it got mislaid I think when I changed blogs!

  10. Michelle says:

    Another great post. I’m always shocked at the disconnect in our society when it comes to human life. Recently PETA asked Ben and Jerry’s to use breast milk instead of cows milk in their ice cream. It was disturbing.
    Every life is worth bringing into this world and is part of God’s plan. That life may not be “ideal” by our standards and it may in fact be short or unexpectedly painful. But that persons life is here for a reason none the less even if it’s to help the rest of us grow. Being on my second pregnancy I have a hard time believing that anyone could think of an unborn child as just a mindless/ soulless clump of cells. My first introduction to my sons stubborn streak was actually very early in my first pregnancy.

    We seem to be very concerned with deciding what the value of other peoples lives are. Should this person have been born at all is a common question asked by people. But ultimately who are we to shirk God’s plan.

    Don’t get me wrong we don’t have the right to abuse and mistreat the other creatures on this planet. We shouldn’t destroy the planet either. We need to be good caretakers but not at the expense of the human race. The food supply can and will support the human population if used correctly. The starvation in the world has more to do with socioeconomic causes and misuse of that food. I am very interested in developing and using clean sources of fuel, but honestly the biofuels are using valuable food crops in your car.

    All over the world populations are declining at a dangerous rate thanks to abortion and birth control. France and Germany are paying citizens to have babies. Current projections in Russia are that their population will completely disappear in the next 20- 40 years if they keep their current abortion rate. In places like Japan and Germany there is a huge shortage of labor (in key areas of infrastructure) due to the declining population. The population in this country only appears to be growing because of immigration. There is not only a decline in the birth rate amongst citizens, there is also now a marked decline in the birthrate as soon as the first or second generation of immigrants. We may convince ourselves that less people save the planet, but the reality is that by killing off our population through contraceptives and abortion we are not going to have a large enough population to maintain the level of living that we all enjoy.

    There is a man from Baton Rouge LA who is trying to get a bill on the ballot that would start an incentive program to steralize the poor. More deciding who’s life is worth it. Just remember the poor are who frequently hold the jobs we hate to do. Not only that they can and have been any one of us at many points in our lives (certainly has been me for most of my life). Do you want the government or someone richer then you deciding if you are “fit” enough to have kids?

    This kill the babies save the whales world view is going to have some very dangerous consequences. We need to be good stewards of the earth and have faith in God’s plan. Murder and genocide are not a way to save the earth.

  11. The Koala Bear Writer says:

    Wow, that is a VERY scary worldview. I’m glad that you have realized how shallow and empty it is. However, there are still many out there who share those perspectives, and as you say, equate intelligence or ability with worth. So those who are deemed “worthless” because they can’t think or do — the unborn, the elderly, the handicapped — are being killed. May God help us!

  12. www.antiquemommy.com says:

    Most people tend to come to their position on abortion and animal rights emotionally, politically. Your position is rational and your arguement is thoughtful and well constructed. And now I must go think about where I stand.

  13. Alan and Jen says:

    I would be interested to know what companies you have found that treat their animals humanely. I am not even sure how to begin such a search but the suffering of my dinner meat disturbs me. Please share!

  14. Jennifer F. says:

    I would be interested to know what companies you have found that treat their animals humanely.

    Our grocery store has poultry products that are from “free range” chickens who the company claims are treated well, though I haven’t confirmed that from external sources.

    The main thing I’m interested in right now is joining a meat CSA (see this site if you’re not familiar with CSA’s — they’re awesome). Basically, there are some local farms around here where you can get meat products from the family farm animals who are treated humanely, not loaded up with hormones, etc. The only issue is that you have to buy it in bulk, and I don’t have a big enough freezer yet to buy that way.

    Hope that helps!

  15. Karen E. says:

    Jen, a great post. I, too, was a PETA supporter when I was pro-choice (I never made the full switch to vegetarian, though)and had many of the same thoughts, arguments and realizations.

    I find that the Catholic worldview takes into account many of the things you mentioned, Becca. I don’t want to get into an argument here, but I was struck by this in your comment:

    “‘The environment’ is not something that exists beneath us and separate from us. It is our only home in this life. It is God’s Creation, we are only part of it, and our job is to take care of it and use it wisely. Yes, we have God-given eternal souls; that does not mean we get to wipe out other species or force them into unnecessary suffering. They too are God’s, and disrespect for them harms our souls.”

    The Catholic faith teaches that we should and must have respect for the earth — we’re called to proper stewardship of all things. But, if we should not wipe out other species, we also should not wipe out a life that has already begun. You seem to switch perspectives here a bit, saying that an abortion will prevent unnecessary suffering.

    Your view seems to come from compassion, and I respect that. But calling an adult’s life — even when it comes to a tragic, violent, or ugly end — is a view of hindsight. You’re saying, “If we could predict who would lead an ugly life and die an ugly death, we could save them the trouble.”

    That’s a view of not only an impossible hindsight but also one that doesn’t take into account the lives that may have been touched or changed by that “wasted life” before its demise. Those are things we can’t see or know, and that’s precisely why we can’t make the choice to wipe out that life before it has a chance on this earth that God gave each of us.

  16. Betsy says:

    Sooo interesting! But why don’t you eat pork? I have to eat a high-protein, low-carb diet for medical reasons, and I tend to eat a lot of pork since it’s often cheap and easy. Educated me!

  17. newine says:

    First of all, great post, Jennifer. Your honesty and clarity continue to impress.

    ‘becca wrote:

    [the idea that] “human beings, who posses God-given eternal souls, are in an entirely different category than other lifeforms” bothers me, [for] the same reason that racism bothers me: These arguments assume there’s a struggle which somebody has to win.”

    Let me suggest two things here:

    1) The notion that human beings, in all of our marvelous colors and forms, (including pre-born, handicapped, aged and otherwise broken or incomplete) are superior to other life forms is a revelation, not an argument; (bender, take note).

    God chose to let us know, through scripture, that He made us in His own image. Thus we are all ‘special’ in creation whether that makes sense to us or not and whether we like it or not. In our pride, individuals may, and often do, declare themselves superior. That is very different from the entirety of humanity being told they have special status (and thus responsibility) as God’s children.

    What I suspect bothers many about this special status is the fullness of what it implies about how we ought to conduct our lives and act towards one another, i.e., a massive responsibility we could not possibly fulfill without the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

    2) The notion of ‘winning’ is a thoroughly secular, Darwinian concept, not one drawn from the Christian worldview. In the latter, as others have pointed out, we are put in the position of stewards — not to be rapacious with respect to the earth, but neither to be cowed by it, slinking off into some dark, cold, self-justifying, low-carbon corner in which we regard cows as sacred and apologetically munch on organic grasses.

    Natural selection (i.e., the game in which each must earn his or her right to survive) is an idea and a phenomenon observable in nature and even human beings (e.g., when caught up in worldly rules and institutions). It does not explain even begin to explain our origin, much less our destiny. Those who have attempted to go that route have brought humanity to some very dark places indeed.

  18. annie says:

    Interesting post. I am a pro-choice vegetarian myself, however I don’t really share your former worldview.

    I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons; I don’t want something else to suffer for my life. As humans are very adaptable omnivores who can eat almost anything and synthesis the nutrients we need, I don’t require meat to be healthy. I refuse to kill something so that I might live, especially when it’s needless.

    I’m also an atheist. For me, this means all living beings are similar and deserve respect, as we are all bound by mortality and life on earth. I have no more right to murder my neighbor than a cow.

    While I would personally never have an abortion because it would be wrong for me, I cannot know everyone else’s lives. I find abortion to be troublesome and upsetting and would prefer to combat it via other means (better education, birth control, etc). I don’t see what’s to be gained by legally outlawing it. In fact, more lives would be lost, when desperate women seek out desperate means to terminate a pregnancy.

    I see it all as a limiting suffering. Abortion is sad and an ultimate failure. However, so is an unwanted pregnancy forced on a woman. I’d rather see us eliminate the need for abortions and actually create a culture of life for everyone.

  19. Quinn says:

    Just remember that every atheist is different and that your viewpoints when you were an atheist do not represent the midset of atheists as a whole.

  20. Jill s says:

    When my husband and I go to the movies, the audience will gasp with horror and whimper when an animal is hurt or killed, but will not be phased one iota by any human beings being maimed or killed.

    We are strange creatures aren’t we??

    The dialogue on your blog is so great. I love all of the different viewpoints.

  21. The (Almost) Amazing Mammarino says:

    Powerful post, Jennifer.

  22. newine says:

    annie wrote: “I am… pro-choice… I refuse to kill something so that I might live, especially when it’s needless.”

    I’m curious then, what remedies she would propose for the problem of others killing things (e.g., the pre-born) so that they might live, especially when it’s needless.

  23. 'Becca says:

    There is one thing I really don’t understand about what Michelle said:
    All over the world populations are declining at a dangerous rate thanks to abortion and birth control. France and Germany are paying citizens to have babies. Current projections in Russia are that their population will completely disappear in the next 20- 40 years if they keep their current abortion rate. In places like Japan and Germany there is a huge shortage of labor (in key areas of infrastructure) due to the declining population. The population in this country only appears to be growing because of immigration. There is not only a decline in the birth rate amongst citizens, there is also now a marked decline in the birthrate as soon as the first or second generation of immigrants. We may convince ourselves that less people save the planet, but the reality is that by killing off our population through contraceptives and abortion we are not going to have a large enough population to maintain the level of living that we all enjoy.

    Yes, population growth is shrinking in Japan and many European countries. Yes, the rate of births to native-born Americans is lower than it used to be. But U.S. population is growing because of immigration. The populations of many other countries are growing. If you stop thinking about the populations of COUNTRIES, and think about the population of the WORLD, which is now larger than ever before…what is the problem???

    This is less important, but it puzzles me too:
    Recently PETA asked Ben and Jerry’s to use breast milk instead of cows milk in their ice cream. It was disturbing.

    Why is that “disturbing”? Because it disturbs your assumption that the milk of another species is more fit for our consumption than the milk of our own species? I’ve got no problem with people drinking cows’ milk (I’m writing this between swigs of coffee laced with it!) but I find it weird that people so quickly reject the idea that human milk might be an acceptable food for adults as well as babies.

    If you keep pumping after your child weans, you can keep making milk for quite a while. If I could have gotten a job where I sat in a cubicle all day eating and pumping–you know, like a cow–hey, that sounds like a pretty good gig! Especially if it came with Internet access or at least a good reading light. :-)

    I agree with many of the other things Michelle said: The food supply could support a larger human population if used more wisely. Using food crops for engine fuel is not a wise use of resources; biofuels should be made from quick-growing plants we can’t eat, such as grasses or hemp, the fuel Henry Ford designed his car to run on. Forced sterilization of the poor (or anybody, except maybe repeat sex offenders) is reprehensible–and I get really upset when anybody who advocates it calls themselves “pro-choice”! Murder and genocide are among the clumsiest forms of population control, in addition to being evil.

    Jennifer, I agree that CSAs are awesome! This is my 8th year in a vegetable and fruit one. If any readers are in the Pittsburgh area, check out kretschmannfarm.com.

    Karen E., I know that Catholicism, like many religions, teaches responsible stewardship. But I often see people turning away from that teaching, saying things like, “It’s a choice between the environment and my family, and my family is more important.” That’s a false choice.

    You’re saying, “If we could predict who would lead an ugly life and die an ugly death, we could save them the trouble.”
    That’s a view of not only an impossible hindsight but also one that doesn’t take into account the lives that may have been touched or changed by that “wasted life” before its demise. Those are things we can’t see or know, and that’s precisely why we can’t make the choice to wipe out that life before it has a chance on this earth that God gave each of us.

    I realize that it’s an impossible hindsight and that I can’t know if we’d all be better off if that person had never lived. But neither can you know that we’re all better off because he did. God gives us the ability to create new humans, the capacity to think about when and how to use that ability, and free will. I understand that the Catholic teaching is that people must use free will only to decide when to have sex, and anything beyond that is wrong. I respect that belief and people who live it fully–it isn’t easy! I’m Episcopal, and I believe it is possible for people to decide to prevent or end a pregnancy in a way that is acceptable to God, and these decisions are best left between them and God, not a matter for other people to decide.

    Newine wrote:
    What I suspect bothers many about this special status is the fullness of what it implies about how we ought to conduct our lives and act towards one another

    Good point. A big part of the reason I get upset over the “special status” is that people often focus on the priveleges of it and ignore the responsibilities. I don’t mean that Jennifer is doing this, necessarily; I just saw the possibility of her story being read as, “Now that I know humans are superior to all other lifeforms, I started eating meat again because animals don’t matter.”

    BTW, Jennifer, I noticed when you posted your weekly menu that it was pretty low in meat. I think a low-meat diet is really pretty good in terms of health and responsibility; it’s not necessary to eat NO meat ever. I don’t mean to seem like I’m picking on you for deciding not to be 100% vegetarian.

    The notion of ‘winning’ is a thoroughly secular, Darwinian concept, not one drawn from the Christian worldview.

    Here again, I know what Christian teaching is. That doesn’t mean that Christians–who live in and are influenced by secular society–never fall under the sway of these “us or them” arguments.

    Annie wrote:
    I am a vegetarian for ethical reasons; I don’t want something else to suffer for my life…. I refuse to kill something so that I might live

    So, then, you only eat fruit, dairy, and eggs, which can be taken without killing the organism that produces them; you don’t eat vegetables like cabbages that are killed? or are animal lives the only ones that count?

  24. annie says:

    newine, I am for better education, contraception (condoms or hormonal birth control), etc., so that people don’t find themselves in unplanned pregnancy situations as often. Adoption is also a wonderful and loving option, and I am happy that people choose it if it works for them.

  25. Michelle says:

    Becca:

    I wanted to clarify why I was disturbed at the breast milk thing. It does disturb me because there are human babies that need that milk. There are human milk banks that collect milk for babies that are in need of that milk. There are only 6 in the country right now, but they are needed and they need more donations. The fact that people would rather put it in ice cream then support human life is what disturbs me. I should have made that clearer.

    Unfortunately the “growing world population” is more then slightly deceiving. You’re right that it is technically larger now (and we also now maintain an infrastructure that requires a larger population as well). At this point we are creating generation gaps which will have extreme consequences when the larger older generation finally departs the work force and this world (elder care is also one of the areas suffering from labor shortages around the world). I was looking at the long term affects of what was going on. Immigration is not going to be able to fix those gaps because it’s the same gap worldwide. I should have been more clear about that as well.

    I am glad that we do see agree on some stuff though. Thank you for responding to my post.

  26. annie says:

    Becca wrote:
    “So, then, you only eat fruit, dairy, and eggs, which can be taken without killing the organism that produces them; you don’t eat vegetables like cabbages that are killed? or are animal lives the only ones that count?”

    Yes, animal lives are the only ones that count. Surely, this must be obvious to you. I’m concerned with things that have nervous systems and feel pain. Plants don’t suffer; animals do.

    I’m concerned that you’re just being intentionally obtuse, and I don’t understand your hostility. I hope I’m reading you wrong.

  27. 'Becca says:

    Michelle, thanks for the clarification about milk. I see your point now.

    I have read that the populations of some other countries, notably in Central America and Africa, are heavily skewed toward younger people. I have not seen anything indicating a big “gap” in the world population.

    Annie wrote:
    Yes, animal lives are the only ones that count. Surely, this must be obvious to you. I’m concerned with things that have nervous systems and feel pain. Plants don’t suffer; animals do.
    I’m concerned that you’re just being intentionally obtuse, and I don’t understand your hostility.

    I’m not hostile; I was trying to clarify your reasoning. I appreciate that you came back to answer the question.

    No, it is not obvious to me that plants don’t count, don’t feel pain, and don’t suffer. Plants breathe what we exhale and exhale what we breathe; that’s pretty important! We could not live without them. There is some research (though it hasn’t been a popular topic) showing that plants react electrically when they are harmed or even threatened with harm. Aside from that, I have a strong feeling (what Jennifer calls “written on my heart”) that plants have some sort of sacredness and meaning. Just because it isn’t the same as ours doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Of course I feel more kinship with other people than with animals, and more with other vertebrates than with plants, just because I can relate better–but I’m not sure that I hold insects or spiders or crustaceans in higher regard than plants.

    So, maybe you think I’m stupid and silly, but I feel sorry for people who don’t “get” the sacredness of plants. It adds a lot to my daily life. I don’t feel guilty for the suffering of the plants I eat; it is natural for living creatures to eat one another. I do feel respect and gratitude for those plants.

  28. lyrl says:

    I think Jennifer has a good point about the logical end of being vegetarian because it’s wrong to eat meat. As ‘becca pointed out, though, there are a lot of other reasons to be vegetarian: more efficient use of food resources (making food more affordable for the poor and the charities that help them), environmental stewardship, and health.

    Eating little meat works toward all those goals, too; for myself, I found it very difficult to eat just a little meat. Going vegetarian was easier.

    On the abortion issue: many people see conception as a bright line, and therefore superior to viewpoints that see large gray areas. But I don’t see fertilization as turning human (non-person) cells into a single, unique person: identical twins (or triplets, or quintuplets) as well as gestational trophoblastic disease (embryos that turn into tumors instead of babies), for example. For myself, without the bright-line argument, I find conception to be an unconvincing place to draw the line.

  29. Gregaria says:

    Jennifer, I am a little confused about something you said in your post. First you said that you were a vegetarian because you didn’t want animals to feel pain when they were slaughtered, but then you said that you were a vegetarian because the animals you would be eating had a certain level of intelligence. (I realize that there were some animals you thought were less intelligent and therefore alright to kill and eat.) Do you/did you equate the ability to feel pain with a certain level of intelligence? In other words, did you think that the more intelligence an animal had, the more pain it was able to feel?

  30. Jennifer F. says:

    Gregaria -

    Do you/did you equate the ability to feel pain with a certain level of intelligence? In other words, did you think that the more intelligence an animal had, the more pain it was able to feel?

    Thanks for your question.

    I associated intelligence with general awareness of / comprehension of suffering.

  31. noreen says:

    Wow. Great post.

    This is something I have thought about a lot as a life-long pro-lifer. And this offers some clarity. Additionally, this conversation on the blog has been helpful, too.

    I’d be interested in knowing where people draw the “bright line” as to when life begins if it is not at conception.

  32. 'Becca says:

    Noreen, I believe that there is no bright line. LIFE begins before conception; your eggs have been alive since they formed in your ovaries before you were born (that’s one of those staggering realities that I just have to stop and marvel at every time I think about it!) and every sperm has a unique life from the moment it is formed. Each egg or sperm has only half the DNA of a person, but it’s alive. Egg and sperm don’t combine DNA until several hours after they meet. The question is less, “Is it alive?” than, “Is it a person?” and that question is much harder to answer.

    When I was pregnant myself, I was very alert for signals that might answer this question. Certainly the fetus was alive and had its individual habits, but it was kind of like having a pet who lived under my skin. I could not sense him as a separate person until 15 hours before he was born, when I woke up feeling that there was a person in the room I had never met before. Other mothers have different experiences. Only God knows exactly when he puts the soul into each person.

  33. Michelle says:

    Noreen:
    I definitely believe that life begins at conception and that life is a person. I’ve always believed that but I really think my first pregnancy proved to me that this belief was true. From early on my son showed me his personality. He was always very stubborn. He used to sleep either stretched out or with his butt sticking up (and he still does). He’s always loved music. My husband and I used to open up our itunes library to see which songs he liked the best and he still likes those. Now his favorite toys can play music (and be climbed on nothing like a little multitasking). He used to and still does hate being in large noisy crowds.
    The other day he was gently kicking my stomach and the new little baby was kicking him back. Probably a sign of things to come but it was interesting. The second little one seems to be just as stubborn, but a little more laid back about crowds and noise. That’s been my experience with pregnancy so far.

  34. Nzie says:

    thanks for a very thought-provoking article. I have been considering vegetarianism (did it for Lent) as a part of my faith life, particularly following an intense prayer experience where afterwards I felt like I couldn’t eat any of the meat in my fridge from Easter. I have not moved on this yet, however, because the my family always has meat as a central part of the meal, and it is difficult. But your description of the worldview is on point for more than just you, even though naturally it does not represent everyone.

    ‘becca said:

    I understand that the Catholic teaching is that people must use free will only to decide when to have sex, and anything beyond that is wrong. I respect that belief and people who live it fully–it isn’t easy! I’m Episcopal, and I believe it is possible for people to decide to prevent or end a pregnancy in a way that is acceptable to God, and these decisions are best left between them and God, not a matter for other people to decide.

    I was puzzled at first by this comment, thinking perhaps you means Catholics think free will is only about sex, but I guess you mean that the choice is in sex alone, and then no other choice exists or is supposed to? I guess I would modify that to say that of course there are always choices- and some of them are right, and some of them are wrong. There may be times when it is not sinful (the criteria for sin are 1. free choice; 2. intent; 3. knowledge of right and wrong) but it is always wrong. (I speak from a Catholic perspective, naturally there are others who disagree.)

    I would simply urge you to consider that while there is a value to an individual’s privacy, some things override that. The principle of non-harm seems to be extended to mothers in crisis pregnancies, but not to their children. And to me, it makes very little sense unless one does not have a principle that human life has value simply because it is human life. It asserts a primacy of some life over other life, and any time that has happened in history, the results have been catastrophic (think Hitler, Stalin, etc.) It is also unsurprising that both abortion and the ideologies of Hitler and Stalin were concerned with eugenics (look up Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes – both of whom, incidentally, also saw abortion as a way to limit certain populations – African Americans, in Sanger’s case; it is unsurprising that today the majority of abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods).

    anyway, I appreciate your opinion, just wanted to offer a different perspective. Thanks to all who have shared thoughts, and Jennifer for a great blog!
    ~Nzie

  35. KitXune says:

    I, an atheist, have created a video reply to this article, which can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1jsQZFMWUA

  36. Anonymous says:

    The only way an animal can be treated humanely, is if it is not killed…

  37. Northside Radiology Associates says:

    I'm a pro-choice vegetarian, who has basically gone from being Catholic to being atheist. I'm against abortion, though — I personally believe life begins at conception. Just as I don't want to force others to becoming vegetarians, I don't tell others they can't have abortions.

  38. mauman says:

    It's interesting to me, Jennifer, that as you developed a relationship with Jesus Christ, you lost some of your compassion.

  39. Your interview on Nunblog pointed me to this one. I always love reading your archives! This is brilliant. I always wonder how so many of my pro-choice friends are viciously adamant about animal rights and abortion “rights” at the same time. This gives me a good glimpse into some of their minds :)
    Jenna@CallHerHappy recently posted..7 Quick Takes vol. 20 Leah Darrow Edition

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