I am a guilty carnivore, a meat-eating child of a meat-consuming culture. Of course I have seen the videos, read the articles centered on the inhumane treatment of livestock and yet, I have continued to eat steak, burgers, bacon and chicken.
Along with the rest of the globe, I found myself outraged at the murder of the stunningly beautiful Cecil the lion, alarmed at the horrific disfiguring of elephants for their ivory, and the poaching of endangered species. I am a hypocritical supporter of animal rights, picking and choosing the animals I care about; the large creatures that live on television and in my imagination. Lions and Tigers and Bears… Oh my. Am I really any better than those big game hunters? Or the corporations that mistreat animals. Furthermore, who decided which animals desired to live without the threat of human destruction, which would be domesticated, and which bred only for consumption? Why do the lions matter while the stereotypical farm animals do not?
According to sources such as NBC news, pigs (the animals whose bodies become our bacon, pork chops, and tender pulled pork) have proven themselves as intelligent as chimps in certain scientific experiments. We would never consider eating a chimpanzee; that would be barbaric. And have you ever noticed how similar the eyes of a pig are to your own? Likewise, Discovery suggests that the calamari you always get as an appetizer was once part of a community that spread cultural information and communicated by utilizing a variety of different symbolic methods. Could they have been talking about the horrors of human eating habits?
The developed nation has separated itself from the food that it consumes. The chicken fingers we serve our children don’t have pictures of chickens on them, and the beef we eat is so far removed from the cow that we give them totally different names. “I think we will have veal tonight.” Translation: “For dinner tonight: Baby Cow.” We are able to continue eating what we do by not thinking about it. A large chunk of the vegetarians and vegans that I know quit animal products after spending time in a butcher shop, the meeting place of animal and food.
We continue to tell ourselves that eating meat is just a part of the circle of life. But why then do we frown on the hunting of big game animals. Would it be okay if the hunter told us he was going to eat the lion? No, likely we would be all the more disturbed, think about how people react to the eating of horses or dogs… We would rather see them suffering on the streets without enough food to eat.
All evidence points to the fact that vegetarianism is the ethical choice. But, like alcohol and hardcore drugs, meat is hard to quit. It is a food that I have become accustomed to, a food that I crave. I tell myself that this burger will be the last, but when I sit down at a restaurant, the chicken picatta is my thoughts long before I remember my ethical choice. And so I continue living my life of hypocrisy, guiltily tweeting about animal rights while munching away at a slice of pepperoni pizza.
Even now as I write, I consider a turkey sandwich for my dinner. I am desensitized. The animals that I want to feel concerned about no longer have the ability to elicit my sympathy. My brain has lost the ability to connect living animals to the meat on my plate. Even if I stand beside a cow as I eat my burger, the connection is missing; they are two entirely different things. Is it wrong that we eat meat? Completely unethical when we have the technology and skills to live without it? If it were wrong, wouldn’t a larger majority feel strange about it, the way we inherently know not to kill and eat another human? Who knows.
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