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November 17, 2009

Eating Animals

Filed under: Philosophy,vegetables — Mr. Henry @ 11:15 am

Have you noticed lately that vegetarianism has been on the upswing? Jonathan Safran Foer has been hectoring us about the evils of Eating Animals, cataloguing our collective moral depravity and bloody Morlock slouch towards planetary destruction.


What accounts for the ascendancy of this idea?

Is it wrong to dine upon the flesh of sentient creatures? Granted, the noble pig is clever. Like Mr. Henry himself, a pig can admire its image in a mirror. But what about the chicken, the sheep or the cow? What pull do they have on our heartstrings?


Ever since Mr. Henry watched a video in the Monterey aquarium documenting an octopus delicately tasting the arm of its beloved handler and then erupting in pulsating colored stripes of delight, he has foregone pulpo on the menu. What a glorious creature, the octopus, prince of invertebrates, capable of unscrewing a mason jar. Show me a pig that can do that.


Why can’t people live in harmony with animals without resorting to the barbarism of slaughter?

The answer is time. While a pig has all day to root around for the tastiest tubers, modern persons like ourselves need to cook something dense with food value, get it done, and get going. It is damnably difficult to find satisfaction in vegetables alone if you are cooking in a hurry, unless you happen to be one of those raw-diet enthusiasts, in which case you and the pig share the same diet and possibly the same flavor profile (hence the South Seas nickname for tasty captives, “long pig”).


And what can we say about the inevitable smugness that clings to vegetarians? It’s maddening when a table guest announces that meat is vile succor. Perhaps South Seas cannibalism started right there. A local chief just had enough of that superior attitude.


  1. Should not a gracious host inquire as to his guest’s dietary preferences/requirements before anyone comes to the table?

    And if he does not, should not a guest gently inform their host of said preferences/requirements before the work of shopping and cooking has been performed, while providing guidance for how those preferences/requirements may be met?

    I am sorry that the manners of Mr. Henry’s vegetarian acquaintances have been poor, but it is likewise poor form to tarnish every vegetarian with the “smug” brush. I am omnivorous, but outnumbered in my immediate family by (ovo-lacto) vegetarians. Without exception, they graciously eat those dishes that suit them, make no comment as to our meat-eating, and leave the best of the Thanksgiving stuffing (cooked in the bird) to us.

    I see no reason why I should have any more antipathy towards them or their food choices than I do towards those family members who require meals without certain allergens.

    Comment by caia — November 18, 2009 @ 1:45 am

  2. I agree with caia. I am a celiac, meaning gluten upsets my physical constitution. I try to gently inform hosts of my condition and offer to bring a dish in order to reduce their stress. The same should hold for vegetarians for whom animal product is against their personal constitution. We are built as omnivores from out grinding teeth to our hunter leg muscles. But we also have a mind and a conscious that allows us free will and the ability to live in community, sensitive to others’ needs and resilient to others opinions. I suggest we omnivores not allow the herbivores to make us feel any less for our choice. I also suggest to those few herbivores whom make their menu their martyrdom that they consider what the motivation is for their choice. If it is about kindness to animals, remember your fellow man falls in that category too.

    Comment by Melie — November 18, 2009 @ 8:45 am

  3. Oh my dear Mr. Henry, I did love you so. But that was all before I knew what inevitable smugness clings to me. And you, who brought me so close to the delightful caper!

    It’s tragic really … but smugness is a grievous fault, and grievously must vegetarians pay for it.

    Comment by monkeyparts — November 18, 2009 @ 9:00 pm

  4. As I do not trust a man who does not drink, I am ambivalent to a man who does not eat other creatures.

    Comment by Fever — November 19, 2009 @ 12:17 am

  5. This comes up a lot on the Backyard Chicken Forum. We don’t raise meat birds but we do have 9 laying hens in our suburban Boston yard, and they live a far better life than the average battery hen, who is pathetic creature eking out her life in a tiny cage with four other chickens and laying eggs continuously for 9 months until her genetically engineered body declines in production and she is culled for dog food. Our heirloom breed hens live a happy life in their coop and run, eating bugs, seeds, feed and table scraps. I see nothing wrong in eating meat, but the animals who produce it deserve a decent life before they meet their maker.

    And the meat and eggs they produce is also far healthier and better tasting than anything produced in a factory farm system.

    Comment by Phyllis — November 19, 2009 @ 11:43 am

  6. This is going to be long! Read only if you can deal with that.

    I’ve been on both sides of this table–as a vegetarian and as an omnivore. I recall that vegetarians can be smug (I’m sure many are, I’m sure I was!), but there are also omnivores who will invite you to a meal knowing you eat no meat, and then offer you nothing but meat dishes throughout the meal. Some go as far as to cover your vegetables in meat gravies, or cook them in meat fats or broths–without telling you until you’ve had a bite. There is also that other ominivore activity: grilling the vegetarian at the table about his/her food choices, under the guise of polite curiosity–when really the goal is to impose one’s own inhospitable opinions about your food choices, hoping that the rest of the meat-eating table will chime right in to criticize the vegetarian.

    So it can go both ways.

    We are definitely built to be omnivores–but there is the reality about our food production these days that makes eating meat and meat products difficult. Nature requires that animal foods be part of the human diet–we can consciously make some passable substitutions and stay away from animal foods, but we do so often at the expense of real health. The reality about Nature is that it isn’t some “Disney” concept–Nature is cruel, and life demands that death take place in order to sustain it. You can’t be a vegetarian and not know that even plants “live” and have to die in order to be food–but there is a much darker truth about who controls vegetable food production in the world at large, and how much cruelty one creates even as a careful vegetarian. It may not be through direct action, but it is through indirect action–just as most meat eaters are cruel in the same way.

    When I was a vegetarian it was because I was aware of exactly how food–meat and vegetable–are produced in this world, and I didn’t want any part of that. At that time, where I lived, they were not so many real food producers, Slow Food had not caught on yet worldwide, “official” nutrition was still promoting “low fat/no fat” as the way to be healthy, and the idea of sourcing food that might be grown by someone you know, particularly if you lived in a city, was still unheard of on the larger cultural scale. If you weren’t conscious enough to stay away from supporting the activities of companies like Monsanto and Cargill and the two or three meat producing corporations in the world, you would be encouraging their unethical, dangerously unnutritional practices just by feeding yourself, you’d have no choice in the matter. There were fewer options then, truly: but I have to say many vegetarians are still unaware of the fact that they support these unethical practices simply by eating the “alternative” “meat free” foods geared towards them, which are also grown by the same companies, often to the detriment of local farmers and national economies. I have a hard time believing Tofurkey is nothing more than Monsanto controlled GMO soy, stuffed into a shaping mold and painted pale yellow before being seasoned with MSG in all it’s legal appellations–and that somewhere an entire nation is being told what to grow to feed us while its own populations are left unable to feed themselves with their own traditional foods.

    The bottom line is that vegetarianism is no hedge against unethical, cruel practices conducted by Big Food, whether it be against animals we consider “food” or animals such as ourselves. So much more thought is required all around, if this is one’s goal. But we do have better options to “buy local” on a larger scale now, and for growing our own food, and this makes things a little easier in terms of conscious choice. We’d all go much further towards having access to real, nutrient rich foods of any kind if we stopped seeing each other as “opposed” rather than closely aligned.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — November 27, 2009 @ 8:33 am

  7. ChaChaHeels, it’s true that Monsanto-controlled GMO soy is easy to come by in meat substitutes, particularly in brands like Boca or Morningstar, but Tofurky is GMO-free.

    Comment by Milford — December 5, 2009 @ 2:39 am

  8. Well, “GMO free” has become one of those “impossible-to-prove” descriptions. Since the GMO seeds are patented, and many of the biotech/agribusiness companies producing them have been successfully prosecuting farmers who opt to grow heirloom or non-patented seed for their crops yet somehow find their seeds “crossed” with the GMO variety, it’s clear the “cross pollination” has contaminated grain and pulse crops all over the world.

    You could argue that this was accidental and unplanned, but when you consider how much money has been spent to impose legislation regarding who owns seed patents, and how much money is being spent to enforce those laws and prosecute or sue those who “transgress” against them (none of which would be spent if it couldn’t be recouped) you really have to wonder if the world wide cross-pollination “accident” was any kind of accident at all. I mean, the total market domination pay-off gained by taking any competitor’s farm and equipment in fines is a great bonus, don’t you think? In the end, all farmers either buy and plant your genetically modified seed directly from you, every year (seed saving is illegal too now) or they grow it against their will, when your seed contaminates theirs. Either way, there’s tons of money to be made and only one kind of seed being grown.

    That being said, there’s a slim chance that the soy is non-GMO, I’ll grant that. But free of MSG and all it’s variant names and all its forms? Not a chance. To me, it’s just as bad.

    Comment by ChaChaHeels — December 10, 2009 @ 6:48 am

  9. Oh the “gracious host should take orders, like a waiter” issue again. No, they should not. They should provide enough food that people who don’t eat something don’t have to starve. Other than that, they’re good.

    It’s “would you like to accept my hospitality” not “would you like to tell me what I can serve in my own house.”

    Comment by raincoaster — December 10, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

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