In industrialized societies, it makes a lot of sense to minimize one’s consumption of factory-farmed meat, because of the immense violence being used against our fellow animals in what can easily be called “concentration camps”, and the large environmental impact of the GMO feed required, the emitted greenhouse gasses, excrement runoff, and new strains of disease (or their resistance to antibiotics) that are cultivated there. We think it absolutely unquestionable that factory farming has to be stopped. We do also agree that meat consumption has to decrease among the general populace, optionally to levels that were considered the norm in most places until very recently ( e.g. Meat on Sundays, leftovers on Monday, Tuesday, etc.) and that it would be a lot better if anyone who wants to eat meat has to kill the animals themself. This last point alone would lead to a decrease in meat consumption among “civilized” folks who prefer outsourcing the necessary violence to poorly paid immigrants in industrial slaughterhouses.
That being said, there is no reason why humans shouldn’t eat meat if the animal comes from a large enough population (so that the loss doesn’t have any negative impact on future population levels of that species), is locally sourced, had a good and free life, and (optionally) comes from a wild animal that one has killed oneself.
There is no argument brought forth by vegetarians that is convincing enough for us to give up eating meat.
First of all, it is unworthy of even discussing whether humans naturally eat meat or not. All primitive tribes ascribe great value to meat, and it is generally seen as more desirable (although harder to obtain and less frequently available) than plant foods. Humans evolved from scavengers and opportunistic hunters of small game (Australopithecus) and started becoming predators themselves soon after. There is abundant archaeological evidence for meat consumption among humans throughout the last three million years, and not a single prehistoric human has been discovered whose remains point to a diet consisting exclusively of plants.
While the argument that hunter-gatherers should more accurately be called gatherer-hunters has some merit (because most indigenous societies have a larger part of the people gathering than hunting on any given day, get most of their daily calories from plants, and because gathering is always successful – plants tend not to run away – whereas hunting is not), it is more than obvious from any respected anthrolologist’s records that meat is an important part of the natural diet of human animals.
Vegetarians (and especially vegans) often claim moral high ground on the basis that their diet causes “less suffering” or is “cruelty free” – yet we cause more suffering and cruelty by digging a terrace to plant cassava (and accidentally kill dozens of worms, bugs, grubs, and crickets) than if we shoot a squirrel or catch a fish. Further, it is undoubtedly not a goal of Life and Evolution to not cause any suffering, or to have the highest possible number of all animal species in any given environment. Some animals can even harm their environment if their population grows unchecked (hello, humans!), so it makes sense from an ecogical perspective to limit their numbers a bit through natural and mindful predation. This is what many predators do with their prey. Wolves, for instance, contribute to the health of elk and deer herds by killing off sick, old and weak members, leaving the rest of the herd stronger and preventing their prey from suffering longer.
There is also increasing scientific evidence from the newly established field of plant neurology that plants do indeed suffer, too, and they feel pain, stress, fear, and a range of other emotions just like us animals. You cause harm everytime you harvest a plant (or even a part of it), so avoiding all harm is impossible if you want to keep on living. Those findings are still controversial (usually among those who haven’t yet read anything about it) and get ridiculed by vegetarians and vegans with the same arguments devout meat-eaters used against claims of animal sentience by said vegetarians and vegans. We highly recommend a number of very good books about this topic [1, 2, 3].
We are (relatively) large mammals and therefore we cause some harm to smaller creatures (like ants we inadvertently step on or mosquitoes we swat instinctively) – and sometimes to larger creatures as well. This is nothing special in Nature, and we humans have no moral obligation whatsoever to refrain from doing what’s natural.
Vegetarianism makes sense as long as your only source of meat is the supermarket. But anybody who wants to live off the land will have it a lot easier, both nutritionally and as regards taste, if meat is at least occasionally a part of the diet.
Killing animals and plants is something nobody can ever avoid, and therefore it is better to accept that killing is a part of living (death is the price for life) and do it consciously, mindfully, and respectfully.
We had people trying to convince us that eating meat is “bad” and we should “just leave the animals alone”. First, it is remarkable that somebody who is completely unfamiliar with the environment we inhabit thinks he knows better than us what we should eat (read: what our environment has in abundance). Second, only somebody with the mindset of a colonizer, missionary, fascist, or conquistador (if there is much of a difference) thinks that he can go anywhere in the world and tell the people there what is best for them. (Incidentally, we once met a vegetarian who told us, when we pointed to Inuit societes, that he thinks “people shouldn’t live in that climate anyway”. That is a stark accusation from someone with an environmental footprint larger than fifty Inuit communities together. Well, we think people shouldn’t live in cities anyway!)
As for our guests and volunteers: we will not change our eating habit if someone stays with us who – for whatever reasons – abstains from eating meat. We are well aware of the problems inherent to meat consumption in industrialized societies, and none of those problems apply to us. On most days we eat vegetarian anyway, and if we get our hands on some meat we won’t cook an extra dish in addition. Overly dogmatic behavior (“There is fish sauce/shrimp paste in the food?!”) is to us a sign of ingratitude and disrespect. If you don’t like meat, leave it in the pot.