spacer
The Vacuum Issue 4 spacer Issue 4
Killing Animals Is Okay
by John Catherwood
spacer
I confess: I am a lapsed vegetarian. For several years I refused to eat meat on moral grounds. I still firmly believe that many animals commonly used as food sources in our society can feel pain, sorrow, loss and fear, and that many farming and hunting practices are cruel. But the lure of Peking Duck was too much and I fell off my moral high horse one night in Donegal Pass. The inner Omnivore was again unleashed, and since then I have determined to live up to and by that title - if I am going to eat meat then I should be prepared to eat anything, so if it is a legitimate part of some world cuisine, I should at least try it. Frogs, snails, insects, reptiles, lagomorphs, rodents and birds have lost their lives for my pleasure. I used to chant the mantra 'Meat is Murder', but now I add that murder usually tastes good.
spacer
Murder is perhaps too strong a word. Even when I was anti-carnivore, (but lusted in my heart for bacon sandwiches) I thought that the intentional killing of a human being for pleasure or profit was far more serious than the killing of any other animal. Yet now as I sit before a stuffed pork fillet and savour the aroma the death of another creature purely for my pleasure can still give me the odd guilty pang. The guilt is stronger when I think of junk food. The average burger from an American chain is hardly worth the life of the gherkin, never mind the cow. Yet the death of a bullock to make a fillet steak on ciabatta sandwich, with beef tomatoes, fried onions, mushrooms and a touch of horseradish mustard is something almost admirable. Surely my pleasure over a coq au vin outweighs any brief suffering the coq might have undergone? The plain fact is that I rate my pleasure gained to be greater than the pleasures lost to the creatures I eat.
spacer
I am reinforced in my self indulgence by the attitude of another lapsed vegetarian friend. After six months as an aid worker in rural Africa, eating a monotonous diet of cornmeal and thin milk she decided that in a world of hunger we should think ourselves lucky that meat is so easily available. It is just too ungrateful to refuse to eat good food that the rest of the world would (literally) kill for. 'Remember the starving children inŠ' as mother used to say.
spacer
spacer
Of course we are not starving, and meat is plainly not necessary, but while I am complicit in the death of millions, I am not just killing for sport. Yes, I am killing to serve my pleasure, but the pleasure is not in the death, it is in the dish. Those who kill foxes, rats, slugs or wasps because of their nuisance value are not morally the same as those who hunt just for the adrenaline rush. There are other ways of getting the same kick that do not involve cruelty, but when it comes to food, there is no pleasure substitute. Textured Vegetable Protein can never replace roast lamb. Of course I want it to have been a happy lamb, well cared for and painlessly killed: a life worth living. Yet it is a life that would never have been lived if I had not demanded that the lamb be bred for the table in the first place.
spacer
Even so, there are some things that I will not eat just for pleasure. I cannot find it in me to condemn those faced with starvation in the arctic for killing and eating whales, but I cannot condone Japanese businessmen for doing the same. Chimpanzees are shot for meat in Africa, and I agree that if that was really the only source of food then I would do the same, but I cannot help feeling that it is mere convenience that is being served. Of course it is mere convenience and the satisfaction of my selfish taste that makes me choose meat on the menu: if I had to hunt the animal down, kill it, skin it, gut and cook it I might not be so keen on Rabbit Provençal. But rabbits are not like whales or chimps. Those animals are obviously intelligent, thinking, feeling creatures, too close to being people. Since I would only kill and eat a human being (against their will) in the most desperate circumstances I cannot justify killing an ape or mammal that is so similar in its capacity to think and feel and suffer. So I donate to Save the Whales and Help the Great Apes, and feel a warm glow when I buy Hedgehog flavour crisps, even though they don't taste quite like hedgehogs. Is it hypocrisy? I hope not.
spacer
Killing Animals Is Okay
spacer
spacer
home | information | issues | artists & writers | columns | reviews
spacer