|Joonas Konstig is the author of Ahneet ja viattomat (Gummerus 2008) and is currently working on his second book. His hobbies include hunting and nutrition research. He was a vegetarian for seven years, and no animal ever thanked him.|
FOR OUR ancestors, the lives we lead today would be nothing less than a wildest dream. Those poor creatures who skied here in pursuit of elks once the ice age ended would surely flip if they saw how much food we have now. In pre-Christian Finland, a banquet of meaty treats was once a post-hunt ritual. Today, anyone is free to turn every meal of the day into a veritable flesh-fest, swapping decidedly more delicious cream for the once-popular seal oil condiment. And they need not even venture beyond centrally heated conditions. Revolutionary.
And as we’ve learnt from our neighbours in the east, where there is a revolution, a counter-revolution lurks close behind. This gastronomic cornucopia is clearly too much for some to handle. A small but inordinately reputable group of people rebel against it in the form of a hunger strike called vegetarianism. While elsewhere in the world people are ready to fight to sometimes put animal-based products on the family dinner table, wealthy Finnish vegetarians choose malnutrition - voluntarily.
Is it already obvious that I’m no fan of vegetarianism? To be precise, I oppose the practice in all its forms.
There are three types of vegetarian. Firstly, some choose vegetarianism for health reasons. They believe that meat can be substituted in the diet with a combination of grains and a magic pill – that Chinese bean known as the soya. This is curious, since the vegetarians I meet are scarcely paragons of health; they have thin, sallow skin and are either overly scrawny or exceedingly plump.
Vegetarians may not have their own biochemistry textbooks, otherwise they would realise how dense in vitamins and minerals meat is in comparison with vegetables. This is not difficult to understand, since meat was the food which brought Homo sapiens through the ice age. Meat was our life and love for a million years, before some upstart went and ruined everything with his fancy baguette.
Others choose vegetarianism on ethical grounds; they opt for malnutrition because they do not want death. They believe that life is possible without death, without their taking up space in the world through their sheer existence. So they choose malnutrition.
This is a childish view, and one should be able to grow out of it. Teenagers in particular should be protected from it, since their self-esteem is shaky, and if they are told that they are not worthy of real food, they may well believe it. At some point, we all have to grow up and accept that life is death and every one of us will both eat and be eaten. Shakespeare taught us that we are consumed by maggots, and it is maggots we use to catch the fish we ourselves eat. There’s a weighty, well-worn wisdom in that, and an acceptance of the cyclical nature of life.
The third type of vegetarian refuses meat for ecological reasons. In his view, the world simply must have room for more people. This will require more arable land which people can then cultivate, so that they can produce more malnourished people to cultivate more land.
Forgive me for my lack of Finnishness, but I see no beauty in vast, crop-lined fields. For me, a field under cultivation is in the same class as a car park; one is used to cultivate barley, the other asphalt, and all other forms of life are shut out. But give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play…
The more I study the matter, the more it appears that the vegetarian striving to avoid violence only manages to redirect it. Instead of harming animals, he harms himself.