eating animals

The subject of eating animals has often been a topic of heavy debate in this little mind of mine. Not so much whether to eat them or not – I’ve been a vegetarian since I was twelve – but what it means to treat a living thing as an object or a vehicle for satiation; also, how to be ethical in a system that uses animal products for so many things. I thought it would be pertinent to write about this since I just read an article in the New Yorker about Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book (non-fiction this time) named, aptly, “Eating Animals.” Well, and with it being Thanksgiving and all, I suppose it's somewhat relevant.  I have yet to finish the 352 page foray into the well-traveled world of omnivorous ethical dilemmas, but I already have the sense he takes a slightly different approach than most. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his previous novels, “Everything is Illuminated” and “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” The latter of which I devoured audiobook-style during my first drive/move to LA from Vancouver; I made it all the way to Sacramento, compelled by the humble and engaging characters, unable to put them to rest. This time, his characters are living, both internally and externally, sharing both insightful investigations and factual fodder. Inspired by the birth of his son, and the desire for a consistent and informed moral foundation, his journey takes him far beyond the reaches of a writer’s study, into factory farms, slaughter houses, and even the sensual smells of his Grandmother’s kitchen. Despite the obvious soapbox trap, his voice remains, like his fiction, compelling, humble, insightful and humorous. Since I was 9 years old, when I realized the stuff inside my McDonald’s hamburger was the same stuff that amounted to my hamster, guinea pig, and rabbit, I felt conflicted about ingesting this mysterious, yet delicious, substance. For a few years, I went back and forth, often swayed by my school's “hamburger day” or an exciting Thanksgiving feast; following the norm was also just easier. Eating the lasagna my friend’s mom made for dinner, shoving the pangs of guilt into the pocket of my Guess jeans, was much easier to swallow than thought of causing trouble with my pickiness. But after a particular, some might say spiritual, experience when I was twelve, I never (knowingly) ate another animal. One misty autumn afternoon I was running along the dyke near my house and stopped at the one farm left in our newly developed neighborhood. By the fence, solemnly, stood a lone cow - not eating, not mooing not even walking, just staring... at me. I stared back, and with the earnestness and intensity only a twelve year old can come by honestly, said simply, “I can’t eat you.” As sentimental as it may seem, my decision grew more from the discomfort with my logical inconsistency than a heartfelt emotional reaction, however that was probably what pushed me over the edge. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved animals, even my stuffed ones were deserving of my affection at one time. Growing up, our house was rarely rendered petless. So I asked myself, how could I love and nurture animals of all shapes and sizes, and yet support their slaughter and consumption for nothing more than human enjoyment. (I say enjoyment because I don’t believe humans need to eat meat to survive, at least not in our technologically advanced society.) I could possibly produce a similarly sized publication as Foer’s if I were to knead out the complexities of my ongoing internal struggle, the issue is far from black or white, but overall I’ve come to terms with the fact that it involves a constant evaluation and re-evaluation of my values. I’ve never been one to preach about my choices and for some reason this particular one is something I've felt solid about ever since I made the decision to stop eating meat, but I do think it’s important for people to at least ask themselves how they feel about it and why. Aside from the effects on the earth and the animals themselves, I think by the worst effect is the destruction of our own humanity that results from objectifying living beings. The disconnect between our actions and our values, when left unexplored, leaves an ever-widening gap in our experience of ourselves.

I encourage you to explore your own feelings on the subject, or even check out Foer’s if it interests you. Here are what some other reviewers and essayists have to say...

‘You Know That Chicken Is Chicken, Right?’ by Michiko Kakutani

'Mau-Mauing the Flesh Eaters' By Jennifer Schuessler