Vegetarianism can be quite the controversial topic, with many people choosing not to eat meat or particular types of meat for varying reasons – be that moral, financial or simply down to taste and preference.
But how should I stand on the matter, from the point of view of a vet student?
While on EMS, I’ve been met with differing opinions. At my lambing placement, the farmer’s mother just could not understand why anyone would be vegetarian and believed that we especially – as future vets – should not even entertain the idea. In stark contrast, the farmer and his family at my dairy placement were quite surprised when I told them that I eat all types of meat, and claimed that every previous vet student they’d had was vegetarian.
These views may simply arise from generation differences, with older generations still firmly sticking to the “you get what you’re given” attitude. But is it more than that? Are we, as vet students, expected to have an opinion one way or the other?
Vets contribute massively to the meat industry; they need to be present in abattoirs, and the aim of farm vets is to keep the industry going. On a day-to-day basis the farm vet is likely to undertake routine tasks (TB testing, pregnancy diagnosis or the occasional caesarian or surgical correction of a displaced abomasum), but if you look at the bigger picture, these all contribute to helping the meat and dairy industries run smoothly. The farm vet also plays a vital role in advising on improving production and maintaining high welfare standards in order to produce the optimum quality and quantities of meat.
So, if a farm vet spends their life oiling the cogs in the meat industry, surely it’s entirely counter productive to be vegetarian?
Of course, there is the moral argument against using animals for meat. But, as ambassadors for animal welfare, should vets sit on this side of the fence?
There is the opinion that any type of farming instigates cruelty and unnatural methods of some degree, and that, as vets, we should not stand for this. Dedicated to ensuring good welfare of all species, we, of all people, cannot turn a blind eye because we are faced with the reality of what goes on behind the scenes of the meat industry.
But we are not vets yet. And how much of the “student” in us dictates our diet, whether we like it or not? The hard truth is that meat is expensive to the average student, and a lot of us subconsciously undertake the decision to eat very little meat purely due to finances.
While I respect other people’s decisions to become vegetarian, I could never do it. Since we have a pig farm in the family, meat eating has always been a way of life, not a choice – not that I genuinely think I’d be forced to eat meat if I didn’t want to, but vegetarianism is just “not done” in our family (and I always get packed off to uni with enough home-produce to last me the semester).
As for seeing “behind the scenes” of the meat industry, I have very strong opinions on farming, and the reasoning behind methods and techniques that may be deemed as “cruel” to the outsider. These views stem from my farming background, and the ignorance of non-farming folk often frustrates me.
While vets have a much deeper insight into the meat industry than the general public, I’m not convinced that this has a particular effect on our choice in being vegetarian or not – and I don’t think being a vet student changes your opinion in one direction or the other.
However, I do believe that if someone genuinely had very strong objections towards the meat industry, they would find a veterinary course very difficult to handle morally. Even if you’re set on purely becoming a small animal vet, we all get immersed in the meat industry to some extent.