Saturday, 1 February 2014

I respect your decision to kill

"Meat is murder. Delicious murder."
-
unattributed

At some level we probably are all aware of the fact that much of the food that we eat and enjoy every day
was specifically raised, often in dehumanising torturous conditions, and then viciously and uncaringly murdered, their carcasses disseminated without much thought or concern of its lifes, for the sole purpose of us enjoying food that tastes incredibly good, tasty, juicy, but is not necessary to sustain a healthy diet in the 21st century.

I am sorry if you were eating while reading this.

I became a vegetarian right before I went to university, after I spend a few minutes actually thinking about the food we all consume. Before that food was something that just tasted incredibly good; a steak and a glass wine so I could feel sophisticated alongside the adults, or the grease-and-food-poisioning taste of a döner kebab after my first nights of getting thoroughly drunk after midnight in the city. The relation between meat and animal suffering was one that was carefully hidden. You see "pork" and "beef" in supermarkets, which is not the same as "pig" or "cow". As a kid raised in a small village I saw milk cows grazing next to our backyard garden, but I didn't see them being taken away or slaughtered. If anything, the pictures of animals in supermarkets are that of smiling cows with their tongue sticking out, as if they too are anticipating taking a large bite of their brethren. And animal cruelty was not the systemic stuff of factory lines, but merely the targeted attack of a youth on a Youtube clip who hit his dog and was rightfully condemned by a nation. In the way that I was raised and conditioned to understood the world animals only had a little capacity for humanity - the pet dog you own and brings you a ball to play, the pictures of panda bears used to have you fork over money for charity.

Yes, the food you are having looks amazing.

And then I started to think, and connected the clip of a dog being beaten to the squeals of the terrified pigs on the way to the slaughterhouse half-way between my home and my school. I started watching documentaries and reading books. I learned that pigs have a far more developed sense of taste and smell than humans. That a "free-range chicken" in the USA could mean that the chicken had access only to a narrow window where it could view the outside. That 80 percent of pigs slaughtered suffer from pneumonia due to the terrible hygienic conditions and cramped spaces they are raised. I learned that, analytically, an animal - whether a stout or a feasant or a horse - had the exact same capacity of suffering that humans do, but that they don't have the means to communicate this suffering due to a lack of voice and because we hide factory slaughter away in the dark corners of our society, so no one has to voluntarily walk into the nasty truth of our sustained culture and tradition of meat consumption. Apart from the minimum wage workers who are often employed in industrial farming, who breathe the same disgusting air, are deafened by the continued squelching of animals about to be massacred, and who grow desensitised and in their helplessness commit acts of violence against the poor and defenceless ill and decaying animals before they are put to their death.

Oh, I'm sorry, I do hope you are enjoying your meal.

For an ethical vegetarian it is hard to remain silent, because you are convinced that your stance is the right one in an area of debate that is so important for you - because it's about 70 billion lives per year that matter to you. It is, in my mind, completely understandable that "radical" vegans or PETA-activists bring a worldwide nuisance upon the hordes of meat-eating humans. These are people who feel like they are part of a Civil Rights movement, or that they are Abolitionists, or first-wave feminists, or pacifist protesters.

But it's also deeply unhelpful.

My family - like most adults and children I know - get deeply upset when this is brought up at the dinner table. They don't think that they're murderers or complicit in killing - they are taking essential nutrients that they need in order to sustain a life in which they are working hard to care about other people; as teachers, and nurses. They are taking part in important rituals, where the spaghetti bolognese is passed down as grandmother's recipe and her cooking is fondly remembered, and over the beef wellington stories about the days are shared.

And of course they aren't killers - not in the way that matters to us, in the way that we think about them and understand their daily action. Those thirty minutes of cooking and fifteen minutes of eating doesn't constitute who they are in the slightest.

So I am forbidden to talk about my absolutist ethical stance on meat and murder, and slowly my family and friends accommodate my vegetarianism without any grumbling, and sometimes they remark that they love the vegetarian dishes they eat (apart from many meat-replacements, which tastes like dry spongy lies).

Recently I met a wonderful girl, whom I've grown incredibly fond of. She eats (and enjoys) meat. One of the things we agree on is the importance of good food (and maybe even more good drinks). In much the same way as people cook meat-free dishes for me, I want to make her a great steak (I'll go with a side of mushrooms and Valess).

If there's one word that you could historically ascribe to the Dutch and their political culture it would be "tolerance". The Dutch Republic became succesfull largely because in an era of religiously-motivated persecution of knowledge and socially condoned practices of ethnic persecution many intellectuals, free-thinkers and pioneers found their safe haven in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. It's the radical idea that your opinions or beliefs are no better than that of another person, and you should thus not patronise or coerce or condemn that other. And on a personal level it is something I have now ingrained about my lifestyle, as many vegetarians do. We don't publicly condemn or cry out a distaste for eating meat. We don't comment on how we've grown to dislike its smell. And we don't want to pay the price of social ostracism in order to defend the lives of killed animals.

At its core, here lies the difficulty. Edmund Burke told us that all is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing. But it's impossible to ascribe the terminology of evil to the choices of people that we care about and can only describe as being good human beings.

And thus ethical vegetarianism and the belief that meat is murder is in practice not an ethical position I hold, but a personal belief I subscribe to.

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