The more practical amongst us (or the especially hungry), might say that it's fine to feed of the carcass of animals. They argue that we've done it all along, and that it's a simple fact of life.
It's certainly true that our collective selves have been living off other creatures for a long, long time. And perhaps we could live without it. It's becoming popular to argue that meat is largely poison -- the dead flesh of another creature, stewed in the bodily wastes that the dead creature can no longer flush from it's system.
Some say it's unethical to consume the flesh of another creature, arguing that other creatures have the right to live too. Some have deep spiritual beliefs that those creatures are evolving, through multiple incarnations, into enlightened beings. In that sense, feeding off an animal for being one would be no different from a banker feeding upon a lowly streetcleaner for not achieving the same status. The fact that status might be incorrectly perceived only worsens this dilemma.
It can be argued that, since we can live by eating plants, we don't need to kill animals for food, and therefore shouldn't. There is an inherent assumption there, though -- that animals are better than plants. But don't plants live too? What makes one better than the other?
Yes -- there's the rub. This argument for vegetarianism has a fundamental flaw. It is founded on exactly the same belief in the superiority of lifeforms which the opposition, use to justify their consumption of meat. Interesting, eh?
So, let's get right to the heart of the matter. If both the herbivores and omnivores amongst us base their dietary habits on the belief in the superiority of one lifeform over another, then let's analyse that a moment.
Let's assume that the machinery of life has some purpose, regardless of whether we believe that machinery is Darwinian evolution, reincarnation, or whatever. Are we assuming that lower forms of life cannot have a purpose, except to serve higher forms? A brief glimpse at the food chain would certainly suggest such an arrangement. And, more importantly, given that every creature needs to consume energy from somewhere, it certainly seems that there is no alternative but to eat, drink and be merry. The second law of thermodynamics would seem to support this too, which (to oversimplify) basically says that we can't get energy without taking it from somewhere.
What if there is another option, however? There are other energy sources, rather than the bodies of other creatures. What if life is not about striving to the top, at the cost of every other being? What if we don't need to be parasites, feeding off other lifeforms? More importantly, what if we are already shaking off this unenlightened strategy?
It may be true that the majority of life succeeds on the basis of feeding upon it's neighbours. But there is another model of survival on this planet, and it's not uncommon. This model is symbiosis -- the interaction between two lifeforms for their common benefit. The symbiosis model occurs all the time, even within our own bodies, where bacteria feed off what we don't need, and help us to digest things we do need. We provide a warm, stable home for them in our guts, and they provide food that we cannot digest. Quite a bargain.
What if we can live that way? Is it possible to find a sufficiently rich variety of foodsources -- foodsources that are the byproducts of other lifeforms, rather than the lifeforms themselves?
Speaking for myself, I am one who sits between the two common arguments, believing that every creature, be it animal or plant has a right to exist. Regardless, though, I cannot see much point in choosing vegetable lifeforms over animal lifeforms as a foodsource. I would certainly welcome the option to survive in an entirely non-selfish way.
In the mean-time, however, what if things aren't as bad as we sometimes think? There is an argument concerning Darwinian evolution that our pets -- our cats and dogs -- are in fact very successful in evolutionary terms because of us. We have spread across the planet, and have taken them with us. We've killed many individual dogs, and wiped out entire breeds which didn't have the qualities we required. But we've also aided immeasurably those breeds of dog which aided us. Whilst we have, in a sense, fed on individual dogs, it could be argued that we have helped the evolution of dogs as a whole.
Might the same be true of our foodsources? It cannot be denied that farming has aided the spread of potatoes and other crops in much the same way.
I certainly feel that a truly symbiotic relationship would be best, but... what if, until we find a way to achieve this, we can assist the creatures we feed upon? Or, what if we can even manage to avoid affecting them too much, by replenishing stocks, and by assisting them in refinding their previous population levels? There have certainly been some efforts in this direction. If we achieved these goals, then... would we be as bad as some claim we are?
I wonder... is vegetarianism or veganism the right way to go? Does it really accomplish anything, except choosing a dumber looking victim (ie, a plant, over an animal)? What if we really work towards symbiosis? What if we make a more concerted effort to replenish that which we feed upon in the mean time?
This document, although a little out of date, states that only around one third of harvested fish are farmed. The rest, presumably, are simply caught in the oceans. Given that I can think of virtually no vegetables which simply gathered rather than farmed, I am prepared to assume that agriculture is more sustainable than fish farming. Beef farming, too, seems much more sustainable, given the lack of wild cows in my part of the world.
So, in conclusion, I wonder whether it is right to kill any lifeform for food. Perhaps symbiosis or synthesis will make that avoidable. Until then, though, I wonder if it is not the unsustainable foodsources that we should worry about most. Given that most vegetarians I've heard of, as opposed to vegans, will eat fish.. shouldn't they switch places? Wouldn't the "stronger" vegan position be to avoid unsustainable fishing, which might wipe out entire species. Shouldn't the "lesser" vegetarian position be to eat sustainable meats, such as beef?