January 13, 2009

Meat You in the Middle

Essentially, two moral positions dominate the landscape of meat eating - I was thinking recently - and these positions dictate clear courses of action. In one, killing animals for food is wrong—hence vegetarianism. In the other, cows, pigs, chicken and fish are ours for the taking, —ergo unapologetic meat-eating.

These two positions represent opposite ends of the meat-eating spectrum, and accordingly exclude a vast percentage of the population. What about those of us who eat meat but with unclean conscience? Those carnivores among us who will devour a steak, dominate chicken fingers and pile on the ham - but feel slightly guilty about it, would never hunt and care about humane animal treatment?

Politically, there's a rising movement by independent farmers, meat producers, consumers and activists who have taken the responsibility of being a conscientious, compassionate carnivore to heart, from the American Grass-fed Association to Certified Humane Raised and Handled, and countless small businesses and farms in-between. Prop 2 here in California sought to increase cage size for animals – whom later would be eaten.

If the end result is death for the animal, does it matter how you treat it while it's living? The end result is the same, right? According to New York Times columnist Mark Bittman it is, as he put it, "Once you venture that animals should be “treated as humanely as possible” before eating them, seems to me the ethical slope gets extremely slippery."

For me, and likely for anyone who has spent time on a farm or cares deeply about the animal(s) in their life, this statement is both ignorant and sad.

But vegetarianism and veganism? Both are noble causes. But trying to capitalize on the guilt and self-loathing attached to meat-eating is dangerous. Believing that killing a chicken is the same as killing a human is one thing. Bundling it in with the suggestion that an obese woman will look like Alicia Silverstone after she “goes veg” is another entirely; as is the suggestion that vegetarianism is inherently a healthier lifestyle.

Is it possible to put parameters around meat eating? Often people will readily eat chicken/fish or poultry but avoid beef. Health reasons aside, have we put a hierarchy on what animals are “okay” to eat? I wouldn’t eat a dog, dolphins are smart, and cats are cuddly. But chickens? Kind of ugly and taste great fried!!

The hypocritical nature of these types of arguments are obvious to me - particularly as a person who struggles morally with the concept of eating animals – Yet it’s no thang but a chicken wang for me to consume meat with every meal.

Carnivores site a biological factor in meat eating – That it is the circle of life, and as the superior species we sit atop the food chain. Which I suppose makes sense, if I’m a caveman whose lifestyle revolves around the hunt. Meat for the family, fur for warmth – killing for survival. But my ass drives an SUV to Bel Air and swoops up a lemon/garlic rotisserie chicken while snacking on teriyaki Oberto beef jerky.

So what’s the dilemma? Should we eat meat? I have no fucking clue. We’re past the point of requiring it for sustenance – we certainly could stand to eat less. But it sure as hell is delicious. And satisfying.

And as long as animals can turn around in their cages I suppose I can feel a little better about the steak I have marinating in my fridge.


get better said...


Anonymous said...

I sometimes struggle with steak - It's the most animal-feeling meat product... How bomb is bacon though?

Anonymous said...

Bacon is king.

Anonymous said...

I love meat!

Taylor said...

I have such guilt eating anything with a face - But only when I think about it - Which ironically is never when I'm eating meat. LOL!

Luke said...

i'm gonna let bacon give the eulogy at my funeral. also for an in depth review of this sub. check out Omnivores Dilemma. it good. he deals with the ethics of eating part et al.