We Americans love red meat as a culture, too. We’re a bit persnickety about the animals we’ll eat, though. We generally recoil at the thought of eating horse meat, for example. But it’s eaten in a lot of the world, and actually rather commonly in many places. We don’t eat dog or cat meat, but they’re part of several Asian cuisines. (If you’re spooked by that thought, don’t ever look it up on Wikipedia, by the way.)
In the United States and many other places, it’s taboo to eat what we consider to be companion animals. The horse, the dog, and the cat are all sufficiently capable of thought, and even rudimentary emotion, to bond with us. We can make close friends with them. We don’t eat our friends.
Oh, and did you know pigs are smarter than all of them?
If I’m eating an animal that is smarter than my dog, then what are my ethical and moral obligations to that animal when I raise it for food?
I know what it is to think. I know what it is to reason. If I can see any amount of convincing evidence of these traits in an animal being raised for slaughter, then I think I owe it enough humanity to give it a reasonable life. I owe it an environment in which it can naturally parent, not a living death in a farrowing crate. I owe it an environment in which it can enjoy its mother’s milk, not its peers’ blood.
You don’t have to be an ultra-leftist wacko to be repulsed by factory farming. Are you getting that yet?
“I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we’ve got to do it right. We’ve got to give those animals a decent life, and we’ve got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.” – Temple Grandin
I first encountered an article about Dr. Temple Grandin maybe ten years ago. She has studied livestock behavior extensively, and her web site (linked in the previous sentence) is a treasure trove of research and design she’s undertaken. She’s done things like design slaughterhouses and corrals with gently curving paths, so that cattle cannot see what awaits them. Go spend some time there. This is a remarkable person.
During my Lenten vegetarianism, and particularly toward the end of it, I considered what behaviors I might be able to sustain long-term. Going vegan is out of the question. I think I learned during those 46 days that staying vegetarian isn’t something I’m ever going to do, either.
But could I eat just seafood (pescatarianism)? I tried that for a month once. I could keep a sushi outing and my favorite shrimp, but I’m not sure I could do it indefinitely.
What about just seafood and poultry? That seems a little more doable. That doesn’t complicate Thanksgiving. I could still have the habanero wings at Cricket’s. Turkey bacon.
I think I’m mostly headed for that. Actually what I’d say is “I don’t habitually eat mammals.” That still green-lights me for the alligator appetizer of which we’re so fond at The Original Oyster House, or the occasional frog legs.
I would make exceptions when I was reasonably sure how an animal had lived before it got to my plate. When I get rigorous about locally sourced and cruelty-free meat this summer, I could see myself buying some pork from my stepbrother when he buys a pig, when he knows the farmer and how the pig lived and died. I could see myself purchasing bison meat from a farm that uses a sniper rifle to slaughter its animals.
There are lots of experiences that would be totally shut down for me, though. I could never order beef or pork in most restaurants again. (That’s a lot of favorite entrees crossed off.) Could I get by indefinitely? With poultry and seafood remaining green, I think I could.
Think about your favorite dog or cat, whether this is a living animal or one in your fondly-remembered past. Are you all right continuing to habitually eat animals with even larger mental capacities, when you can reasonably assume they haven’t lived decent and considerate lives?