Friday, July 12, 2013

Thoughts on Meat and Morality: Contradictory Feelings, No Easy Resolution

I've been in a bit of a dry spell lately, blog-wise.  There are plenty of subjects I want to write about, yet so many of them, especially issues relating to religion and politics, have already been covered to death by other bloggers, and I often feel I have little to add.  So I've decided to spend a little time writing about various aspects of food, both as it's own subject, and the areas where food intersects with my morality or intellectual life.  I have thought a lot about these issues, but have never reached any strong conclusions the way I have with other subjects.   I can tell you my political position on abortion, gay marriage, drugs, or any of a hundred contentious issues, and explain my reasoning pretty fully.  Yet many various issues related to food, especially the ethics of meat, remain unsettled questions in my mind.  Maybe exploring them openly will help clarify my thinking.

I am very tender-hearted when it comes to pets.  I have to be careful about owning them, as I can become quite attached.  I have shed tears over the death of a dog that wasn't even mine.  Laddie was an awesome fucking dog.  I still think about him sometimes, long since his death at a ripe old age.  While I try not to anthropomorphise too much, I have no skeptical problem with believing that many animals have a fairly robust emotional life and maybe slightly higher intelligence than many people seem to think, and that emotional bonds between humans and at least some other mammals are real, mutual, and common.  I've always been a bit of an "animal person" at heart, even beyond the cute and cuddly.   I have a full respect for all species, even the ones that don't much like me.  The natural world fascinates and inspires me.  I love watching nature documentaries and observing animals in the wild- even the hawks that silently ride the winds above the outskirts of town capture my attention with the simple grace of their movement.  As a child I could spend an hour or more watching bees hover and buzz as they collected pollen from the plants in the yard.  When I observe life, I can feel a kinship, a love, for even the worms crawling through the soil, without any special effort on my part.

 All that sounds very nice and peaceful and earth-conscious, but I have a confession to make.  Despite these deep and real emotional and intellectual bonds, I am the carnivoriest Carnivore that ever gnawed the meat from a bone or licked the delicious dripping fat from his own lips.  (Keep the jokes to yourselves, pervs!)  As graceful and beautiful as a bird can be, I have no problem eating the ones that taste good.  If it was to turn out that there is a Heaven, it would have to include fried chicken, or be no Heaven at all.  I can empathize with an insect, even admire the lowly worm, yet more than a few worms have been gruesomely impaled on a hook by me, just so that I could catch and kill another, more delicious, and more sentient, life form.  Some of the more ardent animal rights advocates might say that I have tortured and enslaved a helpless and harmless animal, and made it an accomplice in the murder of another helpless, harmless animal, just to gorge myself on the once-living flesh.  If someone actually said that to me, the only response I would feel justified giving would be: "Well, that's just terrible.  Could you pass me the pepper, and that lemon there, please?"  Since I'm a get-along kind of guy, I would try not to smirk while I said it.

Simple fact is, I have killed for food, and not out of strict necessity.  Like so many other life-forms on this planet, I'm a killer. And I'll do it again, with a deep respect for the source of my food, but without a moral qualm or a trace of regret.  By PETA standards, I might be considered a dangerous psychopath who can turn off deep emotions like a light switch.  But to In & Out Burger, I am a polite and pleasant customer who knows the difference between fresh and frozen hamburger, and appreciates the fact that they do, too.  Who's right?                          

There seem to be deep contradictions within me.  Or, do I simply have different, yet justifiable standards for separate situations?  Looking around at nature, eating meat seems perfectly natural.  But are there reasons, perhaps important moral reasons, or more practical economic or environmental reasons, to suppress what seems so natural to me and so many others?  I have thought about these issues, off and on, for over twenty years, but have yet to find any solid answers.  While I have plenty of good reasons for eating meat, I still have no rational arguments built around those reasons.  I know I could do without it if I had to, and I have heard all manner of arguments against it...moral concerns, religious concerns, environmental concerns, health concerns, economic concerns...some of them even seemed to make sense.  Yet none so far has overcome my natural desire and my willingness to satisfy it.

There are no other issues in my life quite like this one, in which my emotions, intellect, usual character, and actions are so seemingly disconnected and compartmentalized...and I'm curious as to why that is.

I have no overarching goal in discussing this, except to explore issues.  I have no plan of posts leading to a definite conclusion, no agenda to push.  It will likely be a hodgepodge of posts from a variety of perspectives on issues of food and meat consumption, on living and killing to live.  I've had at least a slight interest in food-related subjects since I was a kid....from farming to the restaurant biz to home cooking to food history and world cuisine, and the practices and ethics of all of these, it's a huge and fascinating set of subjects that I have read about and thought about for years, without ever developing any kind of coherent philosophy beyond a somewhat contradictory set of personal opinions.  If I write it all out instead of just think about it, maybe I'll even learn something.   Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.