I was talking with the Flautist this weekend about being vegetarian. She is one and always has been while I am an omnivore and always have been. I have tried just eating veggies at times but it has never lasted long as I always felt my diet lacked something and I had serious meat cravings. She told me about an argument against being vegetarian she had trouble with, which was essentially that growing crops kills plenty of animals so even vegetarians kill animals in order to eat. This is of course true to an extent, but could easily be abused.
Let's be frank. If you live in modern society your existence kills animals. Your home is on land that could have housed animals. Your food comes in trucks that run over animals. The farms that make your food slaughter insects by the millions, dismember worms, groundhogs, and other underground critters, and wipe out forest habitat. Your clothes and vehicles and everything else you have also comes from processes that wipe out animals.
Your very life is perched on a gigantic mountain of dead creatures. Doesn't matter how environmentalist you are, how vegan you are, or how much it bothers you. The only way to stop murdering other creatures for your own life to continue is to die.
Deal with it.
So given that we can't avoid being mass murderers of animals just by living in the society we live in, what are we to do?
We could decide that animal lives are clearly irrelevant and tuck into veal cutlets for every meal while throwing away as much waste as possible.
But we could also be thinking creatures and realize that we can't avoid the carnage we cause but we can minimize it. Nobody can claim to be pure, causing no death and suffering by their passage, but we can work on ways to try to make the devastation we all leave behind a little less.
Being vegetarian is a fine way to do that. A cow takes up far more cropland than veggies do, so vegetarians leave far less death behind them even if you ignore the death of the meat animal itself. There are also strong arguments for vegetarianism from an environmentalist standpoint for basically the same reasons.
The two main reasons I see for people advocating vegetarianism are environmentalist and animal rights related. Both have the same sort of structure though, for my purposes. In our lives we destroy animals and do environmental damage whether we want to or not. Also in both cases we can lessen that damage.
The trick is to not get caught up on any one thing, to my mind. We don't have infinite energy, money, or attention. We can't reduce the animal impact of our eating to zero, so absolutes like "It is wrong to kill animals for our food" aren't useful in the real world. However, we certainly can take steps to try to make our impact less and each person is going to have different ways they try to do that. Different people have different compromises that they can manage.
Some people can manage not eating meat. Some can use no plastic. Some can never fly in a plane. The trick, I think, is to get away from absolutes. It isn't that flying is right or wrong, it is that it has problems we should acknowledge. Same goes for so many other things. We should look at people with the expectation that they make real, serious attempts to make the world better in the ways that make sense for them, even if those ways aren't the ways we ourselves choose.