I had dinner with a long-lost friend a few years ago. As I have experienced before and since, such reunions are exciting in anticipation and satisfying in the shared memories but do not typically demand a sequel. The lack of further dinners is relevant to explain why I never got the chance to follow up on the most salient point in the evening, which arose from the following anecdote. Why exactly she related this story to me, I can’t remember, but she told me that her daughter was on the verge of buying a house in the northwest, where she resides, but absolutely could not do so because there were some cows that lived very close by on the other side of a shared fence. The rural nature of the property appealed, but the problem was that she knew that inevitably the cows would be taken for slaughter and would no longer be there. Her daughter would find the daily reminder posed by their absence disturbing. I was quite impressed that her daughter was sensitive to the realities of farmed animals –that even those who live in the best of bucolic settings exist as a commodity and face the stock truck ride to the slaughterhouse, complete with all the terror that hell could ever hope to mimic.
The waiter appeared as if on cue after the conclusion of this story and took our order. With god as my witness, and I would not have the nerve to make this up, she ordered steak. First, she asked if I minded. I did not eat meat and must have expressed that to her or else she would not have asked my permission, but I was so flabbergasted that I did not know what to say, other than to mumble something about ordering what she wanted. Now, I would react differently. Now, I would suggest that her ordering steak was incongruous with the concern for the cow, which, by the way, was not just her daughter’s sentiment but also her own. I would ask with genuine interest how someone could care for one cow and eat another. I missed an opportunity to encourage a meat eater to face her food.
She is not the worst offender when it comes to the hypocrisy of “loving animals” on the one hand and eating them on the other (the culmination of much suffering to the animal and in many cases its companions, not to mention loss of life). The category of the worst hypocrite goes to those who hold themselves out as scientists of some sort, who have studied animals and have concluded with much fanfare that lo and behold animals too have thoughts, social bonds, emotions, and are way smarter than “we” ever thought, yet they still relish a good piece of animal flesh to chew. Such scientists have found yet another way to exploit animals—this time for their professional aggrandizement. When called out on the disconnect, they reveal a stunning lack of thought, responding like robots programmed with certain data: we eat animals, that is what we do. If they are uncomfortable with a mindless answer like that, then, even worse, they indulge in a pseudo-scientific response: “I have seen a lot of predation in nature, so I am part of that circle of life.” How facile is this statement, let me count the ways: not all animals are predators, so if you are looking to nature for an example, why choose the lion over the giraffe? And if you align yourself with the lion, please don’t insult that creature who has to kill in order to survive by comparing it to yourself or the mighty modern-day hunter. No one could say with any honesty that he has to kill deer to survive; probably step one of a hunting we go is a stop off at McDonald’s to maintain that paunch. Now let us strain our credulity to the max and consider how predation in nature bears any resemblance to the farm — to the crates of confined chickens, the cruelly immobilized pigs, the mutilated turkeys, the transport truck to the slaughter house. I think the pseudo-scientists next area of study should be animal behavior when animals are separated from their young prematurely, when they lose their mind from overcrowding and confinement, when they confront the confusion of suddenly finding themselves crammed onto a truck, and when they hear, smell, and see death.