A question: do you think people should be allowed to kill animals for pleasure?
If you belong to the majority of the population, your answer would be: “No, of course not. Not for pleasure.” You’re thinking about bullfights, trophy hunting, or barbaric traditions with animals in other countries.
When I tell you that in this case you are probably also against the killing of animals for food, I assume that already you might be feeling feel a certain resistance. Possibly you may be aware of some defense mechanisms, and you may entertain certain thoughts about the writer of this piece. Still, I hope you read on.
Food, you say, is not just about pleasure. Food is necessary.
Yes, food certainly is necessary. But meat is not. Both scientific research as well as the practice of millions of vegetarians and vegans around the globe, have shown that Homo sapiens can perfectly do without meat – or any animal products. Anyone who still believes that they are necessary for health, should have his ears checked, or works in the meat sector.
One of the reasons why our society generally condemns the killing of animals for bullfighting or trophy hunting, but not the killing of animals for food, probably has a lot to do with fact that most of us are not involved in the former but we are in the latter. It doesn’t matter to most of us if bullfights and bullfighters are morally frowned upon or even outlawed – it doesn’t affect us because we’re not participating. It’s easy, in other words, to be against them. Eating meat, on the other hand, is something that most of us do any day. We are steakholders (pun intended).
Your steak, your pork chops, your chicken nugget, your sausages… there’s a lot at stake here. Your habits get in the way, and they prevent you from thinking straight about what you eat. However rationally and objectively you think you are considering all of this, the meat you love so much works a bit like alcohol: it has an inebriating effect on your reasoning powers. As a professor of mine once said: “One quick way to drive people furious and incapable of reasonable thought is to start a conversation about their habit of eating meat.”
Maybe that’s not the case for you. But still. Maybe you say the killing of animals is fine because in nature animals kill each other too (as if we are as limited in our choices as other animals are).
Maybe you say that we have always eaten animals (as if that is a moral argument).
Maybe you would suggest that animals can be killed because they have no idea of their own identity or their future (as if all people have that).
Maybe you argue that many people would lose their job if we massively stopped eating meat (as if the economy always has to have the final word).
Maybe you believe that our first concern should go be with human suffering (as if not eating meat would take away part of your attention or compassion for people).
Maybe you only eat “humane meat” (as if such a thing exists).
Maybe you say that nobody should tell you what to eat (as if in this you are not influenced by your parents, your culture, your housemates, advertisements, or the offer and discounts in your supermarket).
During the first half of my life, I loved to eat meat, and ate lots of it. From experience I know that quitting meat is not easy for most people – especially men. But I do believe that as a society we are moving in that direction. Our ethics evolve. Yesterday we did things that we don’t approve of today. Today we maintain practises that will be frowned upon tomorrow. This is the way it will go with killing animals for food. Till the day comes when psychologists and sociologists will try to explain in long papers how we could ever do to animals what we are doing today, for gustatory pleasure. They will wonder how it was possible at all that decent people, who sought to improve the world, who had the cognitive and moral apparatus to choose and to do the good – and who often did that – could just ignore who was on their dinner plate, and how he or she got there.
Because we want to keep eating meat, we refuse to seriously think about our steak, we avoid the confrontation and we make sure that the link between meat and the animal behind it is as vague as possible. I dare ask you to finally start taking animals seriously, and to begin to see animals as one of the many oppressed groups that we can still find in our society today. With more than 65 billion victims a year (sea animals not included), it is a very large group that deserves our attention and our compassion.
I dare to ask you to finally start to think about our relationship to farmed animals, in the same way as you think about other important issues: with your head instead of with your stomach.