Date of Award
Dr. Susan Sutherlin
I wasn't raised in a vegetarian household. As a matter of fact, I have spent the majority of my life on a horse and cattle farm in central Kentucky. As a child, the process of raising our cattle for slaughter didn't strike me as a disgusting or unholy activity-my parents participated, after all, and they didn't seem to be adversely affected. Even when I became aware that some of the animals I had seen wandering the fields were slaughtered just down the road from our kitchen table, it never bothered me beyond an initial instant of discomfort. It wasn't until I happened upon the film Earthlings, a documentary discussing the variety of ways in which human beings utilize animals, that I found myself unable to compartmentalize my feelings of sympathy and disgust away from the dinner table. Images of cows drowning in their own blood stalked me constantly. Not only did I become unwilling to eat meat, I became convinced of the necessity of educating others, of bringing the entire world into this vegetarian lifestyle. As a means to this educational end, I decided to structure my honors thesis around one deceptively simple question: What makes a vegetarian?
The idea was fairly rudimentary. I wanted discover what makes vegetarians tick, and to inspire these qualities in others-I wanted to discover the recipe for instant vegetarianism. As my personal feelings on the subject are concerned primarily with animal welfare, as opposed to nutrition or environmental impact, etc., I first wanted to gather research that supported my own murky instincts-instincts that told me that non-human animals are just as capable of feeling pain and loss as we are. Once I knew that the inquiries of scientists and philosophers such as Temple Grandin, Peter Singer, and Marc Bekoff verified my own ideas regarding animal consciousness and the gross mistreatment perpetrated by the food industry, I was able to move forward with constructing my research.
As I knew that I had easy access to the population of Butler University, I decided to limit my study to Butler students between the ages of seventeen and twenty-seven. It bothered me somewhat to limit the socioeconomic scope of this project to a population comprised chiefly of middle- to upper-class, white students, but I was quickly convinced that such a study would be more effective in terms of drawing legitimate, structured conclusions. While a person's economic status may affect the decision to buy mass-produced meat products as opposed to the more natural alternative, identifying this factor was not as important to my research as was discovering how a given subject conceives of the animals that he or she consumes. I wanted to know what people are willing to eat, and why, regardless of the innumerable social, political, and economic classes to which they may belong.
The construction and execution of this project was, if nothing else, a fantastic lesson in self-awareness. I was forced many times to re-evaluate the ways in which I asked certain questions, to consider factors that I perceived as irrelevant to my own decisions, and to accept that my initial ideas were largely uninformed. While my primary question seemed simple and my goal obvious, the process itself was complex and required a great deal of flexibility. My working thesis has fractured and morphed several times throughout the past five months, but the question that started it all has remained the same: What makes a vegetarian?
Sekela, Mary Elizabeth, "The Vegetarian Question" (2012). Undergraduate Honors Thesis Collection. 183.