Three weeks ago, on May 5th, I decided becoming a vegetarian. Over the past couple of years, I had consciously kept my meat consumption to a low level, but I still enjoyed a good hamburger or tantan-men (dandan noodles) once or twice a week. But now I’ve resolved on going Zero.
There’s more than one reason for me to quit meat completely. My tipping point came during a sleepless night, when my mind – annoyed from the perpetual snoring of my room mate – was wandering off to arrive at a murky, half-dreamed image.
But before I describe it I have to go into some background info: Since the beginning of this school year, rules concerning livestock hygiene at ARI have become stricter. The Japanese government wants to halt the spread of diseases such as foot-and-mouth disease, so we have to follow new regulations. If a visitor carried an infection into our pig pens or chicken houses, we would have to kill all animals at once. But not only us, our neighbor farmers would have to do the same with their livestock, too. New rules determine who’s allowed access to the animals and who’s got to stay out. It’s a change from our former practice where just about anyone was welcomed to our farm without checks.
So, this issue, I was lying in my bed, half-awake with a stream of images emerging in my mind, where I saw all our chickens and pigs in this earth pit right where they’re constructing the new pig pens, and some of our farm staff had to bulldoze soil on them because we had found an outbreak. All our ARI community members were watching. And even though I was upset, I had to shoot pictures for documentation. The squeaking animals being buried alive was like those tv images I remember of the BSE scandal in the 90s, and worse, what the Japanese army did to Chinese citizens during the war, or National Socialists to Jews. I asked myself “What’s the difference between us burying these helpless animals and the worst dictatorships committing war crimes? These pigs and birds and cows, precious lives which we supposed to be taking good care of are completely and utterly at people’s mercy.” People, or market rationale, to be more precise.
I knew it was just a phantasy in my head, but it was like the last trigger that made me say “no” for good. Apart from losing my appetite, the question of what and how you eat is and has always been a moral one. Industrialized meat farming happens in death factories that look like something planned by heirs of SS General Theodor Eicke. We do not see the lives of animals that we label livestock (Nutztiere). I agree with my mother who calls what we do to animals a sin. Right now, for me, rejecting meat is to protest against a merciless society in which mistreatment of life as a commodity is the norm.
At ARI, I sometimes observe the butchering of small animals like chickens, fish and ducks. (We don’t have the livense and facilities to butcher pigs, so we “ship” them to the slaughterhouse in Utsunomiya. To “sip za pig” has become a euphemism here.) It makes me think deeply about life and eating and responsibility. I’ve always felt conflicted that I hadn’t had butchered chickens though I was eating them.
Those animals make a big noise when they are caught and put into baskets. But once the blood starts flowing, there’s no sound. I always feel pity, and I never understand how some people seem to have fun killing.
Being alive creates suffering. I want to at least reduce some of it. Years ago, I stopped eating sea fish, because of our plundering the oceans, and beef because of the nuclear power plant disaster. It’s time for me to say no to meat whenever I have the choice. I know that this is very difficult in Japan. They put bacon in every sandwich and salad. I know I have to compromise occasionally. But for me this is about something more than flavor. It’s a matter of justice, a matter of ethics. A matter of faith.