Two Questions

Two factors prevent most people from quitting meat.  I arrive at that conclusion from conversations with various and numerous people – friends, family, and total strangers; the only unifying characteristic is that they do not think twice about eating meat. I could also for the sake of further anecdotal evidence invoke my own experience as a one-time meat eater.

The first impediment is the belief that humans need meat in their diet. Meat eaters feel they know the science when they haven’t read a single word on the topic, or maybe they have fallen subject to misinformation. The latest unbiased scientific evidence establishes that we can all do fine without meat (of course it actually says that we would be better off without meat). Given that this barrier is objective and factual, it should be easy to refute with the scientific facts; but, if people deny global warming and the need for vaccines, they can also refute the evidence that humans do not need meat. I think we can chalk this objection up to willful ignorance. Why would anyone prefer to remain ignorant?

The second reason cited for not feeling any compunction about killing and eating the body of an animal is that “those animals” are different from dogs (or cats, horses, dolphins, monkeys, let’s see, what other species are not on the menu?) I mention dogs because they are eaten in China, as a fairly recent article in The New York times informed us. I have heard more than once the exclamation with horror, “They eat dogs in China!”   I concede a difference between dogs and farm animals is that dogs are in our houses. That we have decided to treat them better than other species says something about us more than about them. If we had taken to having pigs in the house to keep us company, to assist us in finding food, and to be our eyes and ears, then they would have names and find a place in our hearts and we would then cringe at the thought of eating them. Pigs are as intelligent as dogs, trainable, sociable, affectionate, and useful.  Above all, pigs and all farm animals — all animals — have interests, feelings, emotions, and can suffer. To supplant the idea that it’s okay to treat farm animals in a way that we would never treat our dogs, takes one simple question of a common moral type: “Would I want my dog to be treated like that?” Because farm animals are kept out of sight, we have to exert ourselves a little to know what conditions are like.  Books, the internet, and documentaries will do the trick  (although it would be optimal if everyone got the chance to visit a real farm and slaughter house, preferably as a school field trip) and then, if the sights and sounds of those animals are not enough, then a little imagination is required: what if that was my dog subjected to procedures without anesthesia, constant confinement in metal cages in factories, forced impregnation, loss of puppies resulting from that forcible pregnancy leaving the mother bereft and whining with grief, forced feeding, and the miserable truck ride without any food or water to  hell, complete with the smell, sights, and sounds of death –a death that is painful, terrifying, and violent.

I assert that once people get over the beliefs that meat is a dietary necessity and that  farm animals are different in any relevant way, they will necessarily have to make a change because who would declare the following: “I know that I don’t have any need to eat meat and by that eating it, I am inflicting horrific suffering on animals, who despite being a different species, are as capable of feelings and suffering as my dog, whom I protect and love, but I will do it anyway because I don’t care about suffering.”

Who could say that?

The Meaty Family Reunion

I had planned the Memorial Day weekend trip to Oklahoma for the big family reunion for several months, working out the logistics of taking my parents, who at 86 and 91, make travel challenging. Little did I know that the trip would coincide with my fervent conversion to animal activism. Various ideas that had floated around my mind for years about animals and meat- eating coalesced just a few weeks before the trip when I read Animal Liberation by Peter Singer; that book explained that “speciesism,” i.e., favoring the human species to the cruel detriment of other species, is immoral, just as other self-serving and oppressive views, also ending in “ism,” are immoral.

One material way I expressed my epiphany was in donating to organizations and acquiring pamphlets and tee shirts.  One had the message “Compassion Over Killing,” with a paw print.  I began to consider the trip as an opportunity for activism. I was headed for a gathering of people who did not even consider questioning the culture of animal production for meat or of hunting. Some of my cousins had grown up on a farm and had raised “prize” animals for the FFA without any qualms about the animal’s destiny at auction.  Maybe I should wear my tee shirt. I debated with myself at some length about wearing it on the plane and to the first night’s potluck dinner. When I dressed for the flight, I wore a silk shirt and tossed the tee shirt in the suitcase.

We gathered Saturday evening for dinner, which, according to tradition, included milling and chatting before dinner and a time for each family representative to update the group on the latest news.  Amidst a lot of hugs and nice-to-see-yous I nailed my cousin Andy, who works for the Department of Agriculture, wanting to ask him if he had any experience with factory farms.  He did. To him, some were okay and some were “pretty bad.”  Then, changing the subject, he wanted to show me photos on his phone of two pigs that his son Luke had bought as part of an entrepreneurial project. He thought that it would show initiative and look good for college applications. I told him that pigs are smarter than dogs.  He agreed, adding that they have lots of personality and loved to have their bellies scratched.  I suggested that he keep them as pets and not sell them.

After dinner where every dish was laced with meat, we took turns standing to update the group. Hungry, I talked briefly about my husband and kids and, for myself, I stated that I had become very interested in animal rights, particularly opposing the cruelty of factory farming. Next to speak, sitting right beside me, was my cousin by marriage who focused, as mothers will, on her son, who plays soccer, football and… he hunts.  She proceeded to graphically describe his prowess at shooting the squirrels and harmless trundling armadillos in his backyard, “right between the eyes.” At that point she did realize rather suddenly that I might have found her anecdotes offensive; I chuckled and said that the slaughterhouse anecdote was no doubt next.

The next day I wore my tee shirt. We reconvened for breakfast and for a repeat pot-luck at the cemetery where we met to put flowers on the graves. I appreciate my cousins.  I have fond memories of things we did as kids; I remember their kindness at my brother’s funeral at that same cemetery, and I believe I will count on them to help me out when I show up there for my parents. But I think they can stand the challenge of a new idea without taking offense — or they might take offense.  It’s an offensive world, especially for people with ideas outside of the mainstream like not treating animals like commodities. It turns out that a couple of cousins that last day did ask my about my vegetarianism because they were truly interested.  Maybe my expression of concern for animals, either spoken or worn on my tee shirt, will be one little notion that, added with others, will someday make them question the practices of our culture towards other species