this whole thread is really interesting...!
I'd like to share my views as another perspective in it all.
I've been vegetarian since I was 8 years old, not from family influence. They all ate meat and do from time to time though less because of my choice. My purpose was I did not want to have a chicken (or another animal) die against it's will for me because it had parents and children also. That is my rationale then and I stick with it still. Never has it been a political or environmental statement for me. I don't tie it in to my religion or spirituality though it can imply spiritual ideas. I simply wanted to minimize my support of killing- as best as I was able- choosing the path of least harm. I simply understand that if I try to hurt an animal it will try to get away and it will feel pain. Later I became vegan for 8 years when I learned about factory farming. Now I occasionally eat dairy or egg if it is around though I do not purchase it. 21 years later I am healthy and not passing out or emaciated, looking like death or what have you. No major health problems or malnutrition. It's been working for me, it doesn't work for everyone and that could be because of many factors- constitution, diet, lifestyle, genetics etc. so I don't advocate it as the example of health. I do advocate it as way to interact with the objectification of life and our choice in it.
my ever changing argument for being vegetarian:
I do understand and accept that farming, driving, consuming any product whatsoever, even breathing will inadvertently harm, disturb or kill life. It is interesting to me when meat eaters feel the need to point this out repeatedly. To point it out so strongly as a reason *not* to be vegetarian or why one thinks vegetarians 'are no better, no innocent, not any less harmful', I feel, is side stepping the issue of individual choice and collective responsibility. Using this logic it could be carried further that if grain is mass murder, than beef is even worse as a cow needs to consume even larger quantities than I would consume in the same amount of time...plus the cow needs to be killed as well....funny thing this interdependence it goes on forever in every direction if you want it to. How I see it using this logic doesn't ever make any death or killing less deadly or painful and simply being in a body will cause harm to some degree.
The frequent use of 'eating rice=mass murder' thinking by vegetarians also could also lead to the opposite extreme form of vegetarianism and even the religious 'ahimsa death' found in systems like Jainism. I find it helpful to take an idea to both extremes and see what happens. I think the Buddha's idea of the 'middle way' is useful...for lay people with 5 precepts it is not to 'kill a human' and advice not to engage in 'wrong livelihood'. For monks and nuns it is not to accept 'impure meat'.
What makes more sense to me than this obvious interdependence...is the intention and choices behind my purchases and eating. In what way can I most reduce deliberate or methodical harm by myself or for myself right now? When given choices that are in my sphere of influence what do I choose? What systems that intentionally cause harm am I supporting?
When I eat grains or vegetables it is not my intention to eat something killed specifically for me or requested by me- the 'consumer'. Nor am I asking the 'producer' to do it. The fact that people walked, tilled, harvested, transported and built buildings to sell those veggies will cause harm in the process but that is not the intention or goal of those activities.
On the other hand when I think about eating meat I consider that a individual life was bred, nourished, feed and then with a clear and direct intention was killed deliberately on my behalf against it's will...the whole thing, start to finish, was designed for me the 'consumer'.
I've applied the monastic practice of 'pure meat'... 'not seen, not known, not suspected to be killed on my benefit' to my purchases of food and so further along where my money goes for most services and products. Since factory farming and mass production of meat and animal products did not exist in the Buddha's time...I apply the label of 'consumer/customer' to myself when I enter a grocery store since the scale of production has changed. The products there are produced and sold by companies for anyone who is labelled 'consumer/customer'.
When I see, know or suspect intentional killing, theft, abuse etc. for the product I use I will choose a different supplier or source. This could be carried to clothing and products that employ child labor or unfair work practices etc. I can't stop it all from happening of course but I can make clear choices for myself.
So from my view then eating or not eating meat as an act is not inherently pure or ethical. I don't see any inherent value in it unless it is backed by and reinforced by intention and thought. Deliberately killing or asking others to on the other hand is usually a harmful choice.
Whether one does either with a sense of greed, arrogance, hatred, or unawareness to the process determines the 'purity' of ethics. For example...it would follow that to eat a meal of meat and rejoice in the death of the animal and be attached to the flavor of the animal's flesh would be 'rejoicing in death', to buy meat killed for me the 'consumer' would be 'asking another to do it on my behalf'. To eat a meal of meat that was 'purely offered' and to consider the life taken while not complaining or rejoicing in flavor/circumstances would be 'pure meat eating'.
For eating a vegetarian meal I try to think of it as a necessary medicine to support practice and that I need to turn over the energy gained through the work, sweat and blood of everyone who inadvertently suffered in the process to bring it to my table thus 'purely vegetarian'. To be vegetarian because it is a fad, diet, or I think it bestows special status, fame or rewards would for me mean 'impure vegetarian'. I can only live on the backs of others.
At the end of the day it is merely my opinion and I am responsible for my actions...it is up to others to figure out their minds in their own actions. I can't know the intentions of someone eating meat or vege so I am not assuming either is right. They have their reasons and I have my own as well.
On a side note- someone said the Dalai Lama tried being vegetarian but switched back to eating meat. One important point was not included- he eats meat every other day. The reason is to minimize his consumption but maintain his health according to his doctor's order. This way he can be vegetarian '6 months out of the year' and he promotes vegetarian eating in the Tibetan community. HH's main temple in Dharamsala only serves vegetarian food. A trend in Tibetan monasteries is to serve vege fare but monastics are still individuals and will purchase and eat meat outside of the monastery.
I was perhaps a little out of line pointing out the suffering that occurs regardless, and I think your view of minimizing suffering is definitely ideal as well your view of a 'pure meat offering'. I will try in the future not to be attached or enjoy the flesh that I am offered as I am currently certainly guilty of being attached to it. It is our responsibility to be aware of all the effort that has gone in too the food we intake and do our best not to waste the precious energy we have been given.
I am definitely against the meat factories and bred for slaughter animals that are on the plates of most americans. When in the past I've bought meat, I've always encouraged to buy free range meat or get meat that was hunted; I think hunted meat, though most hunters enjoy the sport, is generally a necessary thing as it keeps populations of animals in check. In this way we are playing a responsible part in the ecosystem by preventing over-population. So I tend to think of game meat as the 'most pure' meat.
In any case, thank you for the well thought out post. You simply ooze with compassion; it's beautiful (although my description maybe a little less so
Okay, enough DW for the night, sleep well everyone! (Or have a nice day depending on the part of the world you're in)