To Eat Meat or Not – That is the Question

August 21, 2010

Reading Francis Lam’s insightful piece on killing his first chicken (http://tinyurl.com/25tluql), I scroll down to see the number of comments: 79. Then I look at the number of comments on the previous post about corn: 11. As I keep scrolling, I realize that every post about meat-eating has elicited a huge number of comments. Clearly it is something that is of deep concern to many of us.

It’s a good sign that we are finally coming face to face with the most serious ethical issues of eating. But it is also, I’m convinced, a measure of how deeply removed we are from the true business of keeping ourselves alive. To thrive without killing is virtually impossible, at least if you include insects among the living. There is no way to harvest fruits and vegetables without destroying the insects clinging to the roots, the leaves, the very fruits themselves. Are insects no less deserving of their lives than mammals?

And what about fish? Why is it that there is no outcry about the killing of fish? Is it because most of us have gone fishing at some point in our lives, and it is such a familiar occupation that it renders this particular kind of killing comfortable? Or is it that fish – like insects – are so removed from how we see ourselves that their death does not upset us? We do not anthropomorphize them as we do the pigs and sheep, do not ascribe feelings to them.

For most of human history, most people have lived too close to the edge to have the luxury of debating these issues. In a world where those who do not hunt or raise animals to eat will die, killing for food is simply to join in the solemn dance of life. It is a measure of the sheer abundance available to us in the modern world that we are starting to consider these issues.

It seems to me that the question should be posed in the present rather than the past. The issue is not how human beings have behaved throughout the ages but rather that, given these new circumstances how can we best live ethical lives?

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3 Comments

  • Mckinnonkate says:

    I think you’ve framed this nicely, Ruth.
    It is time that we take better stock of the reality of now.
    I consider every carton of organic, free-range eggs I buy, every farm chicken, to be equivalent to a contribution to the Nature Conservancy or any other environmental group.
    Each ethical farm operation we can support is a contribution to our future. I realized at some point that to dither over an extra two dollars for eggs or milk, and then send $100 to a political candidate who promises to help change factory farming is, at this point, crazy.
    Instead of supporting people who promise to make things better, I’m going to just go ahead and use whatever small amount of money and energy I have to actually… make things better.

  • cybercita says:

    I stopped eating meat for exactly this reason. I remember how I felt years ago visiting friends on their farm the day they killed their pigs. The pigs knew exactly what was happening and screamed and screamed in fright when they saw the guns.
    If my friends pulled a chicken out of their freezer and roasted it, I was very happy to eat it and found it delicious. On the other hand, if they offered to “do in a chicken” for dinner, I would counter the the suggestion by remarking on all the basil in the garden and suggesting pasta al pesto instead.
    I came to the conclusion that since I knew very well that I couldn’t kill animals for food, I wouldn’t eat them anymore.

  • In a recently released book, British farmer & former editor, Simon Fairlie, says eating meat in moderation may be good for the environment. Article in Time: http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2024133,00.html?utm_source=streamsend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=12761415&utm_campaign=Food%20News%20Wednesday%2C%20October%2013

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