Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Bird food and vegetarianism
Yesterday we got our new bird feeder from the RSPB. It's quite cool -- it sticks to the outside of our bedroom window with suction cups, so we can use it even though we don't have a garden, and with luck we'll get to see the birds close up. So far I haven't caught any birds in the act of eating, but a lot of the food has definitely vanished since last night. We have two types of food for the feeder: High-Energy Sprinkles and Fruity Nibbles, the latter of which sounds like something I might be tempted to eat myself. One reason I don't is that both these foods contain suet and are thus the only non-vegetarian foodstuffs in our household.
This sort of thing presents a dilemma for many vegetarians who have pets or feed wildlife. There are some people who feed their dogs or cats on a vegetarian or even vegan diet; they claim their pets thrive, but I've never heard of such diets being recommended by veterinarians, and even the Vegetarian Society has reservations when it comes to cats.
Another group -- which I tend to side with -- argues that it's wrong to force animals to eat a diet not naturally intended for them. We humans are unique in that we can live healthily with or without meat and are capable of recognising the ethical implications of our diet. But when caring for other species, we owe it to them to feed them the diet that evolution has suited them for. Even the folks at the Monkey Sanctuary, who are almost all vegetarian or vegan and are among the most passionate animal supporters I know, buy and prepare chicken for the monkeys in their care.
Still, I am aware that buying suet bird food requires an animal to be killed, and that does bother me. Yet I'm also aware of how important it is to feed birds, now that their natural food is becoming scarcer due to urbanisation and modern agricultural practices. I suppose if we hadn't thrown the natural world off balance, we wouldn't have to make this kind of choice.