carnivores and conscience

Some people are uncomfortable with caring for an animal that will end up on their dinner plate, in which case they should really question what it means to be a carnivore. One of the things I like best about Vietnam was that almost all of the food was local. Restaurants either ordered their food from a nearby farm or were a direct front for the farm itself. In most cases, sitting in your cheap little plastic sidewalk table, you were within direct line-of-sight to the animals you would be eating. The meat is tough, there are bones to pick out, it is a mess to eat, because you are eating something that used to be alive, that has run around free, snarling, and feral. In contrast, the meat of American livestock is soft from being confined to a factory-farm for the entirety of its short, unhappy life. We prefer things to be tender and convenient to consume, like fishsticks and chicken nuggets, an abstraction of food without bones or tendons, neat and tidy in a batter-fried shell. Anything the corporation can do to disconnect your bountiful dining experience from its finite, grotesque sources in the real world.

I am the first to confess hypocrisy, I’ve never slaughtered a pig but I like to eat bacon. In real life I think pigs are cute, but I admit that this cuteness is pure socialization. In the jungle country I ate dog meat, half-hatched duck eggs, and goat’s blood, two of which are illegal in the U.S. I didn’t enjoy them because I knew what they were, and I have these deep-seated Western notions about what animals should be cuddled and infantilized as pets and what animals to keep out in the barn awaiting the cleaver. However, even the Vietnamese are not immune to polite euphemisms. There is a phrase “thịt gô gô” which roughly translates to “woof-woof meat.” Half-hatched duck eggs are themselves a euphemism for aborted duckling fetuses; there is some meat, the bones are soft enough to chew, and the yolk has not been completely used up yet.

It is one thing to justify eating animals; perhaps because their souls are smaller or more delicious than ours, but more probably because we evolved from omnivorous hunters with introspection. Whatever the reason, we should be able to apply the same argument to justify eating plants. As a digression, I do not mean to imply that only carnivores should have a conscience. Vegetarians and vegans do not get sole claim to the moral high ground if they ignore how their food is grown and where it comes from. Bonus points if it breaks your heart to eat a rose, or a venus fly-trap, or whatever passes for a cute plant these days.

It is another thing to deny that we are eating animals, to ignore the consequences of inhumane treatment or over-ranching land, and to pretend that we ourselves are not animals. If you think I am a bad person for eating puppy dogs, you are probably right. And if I think that you among all humans are especially delicious, then I am probably also right.


~ by Paul Pham on 30 April 2007.

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