Friday, May 18, 2007

So why do we eat meat?

Talking with a colleague at work this past week, the question was raised why do we eat cows (the greater context of the conversation being about how attached we are to our pets i.e. how do we decide to love one animal and eat another). This made me think about my own many years of buying, preparing and eating meat for myself and my family.

My earliest experience with meat would have been before my earliest memories. I remember my mother and father telling me that the family doctor had recommended pureed meat for me before I was a year old. This I believe, in an effort to build up my hemoglobin or some such, although I can't be sure (and Mom and Dad are both gone now).

When my own children where babies, and I started to introduce them to our food, I had this little hand cranked grinder. My husband and I thought this was the greatest gizmo - we would put a 1/2 cup of whatever we were eating, grind it up and serve it to our baby. Certainly, it was more economical as we did not buy too much jarred baby food from that point on. Somewhere around 7 to 9 months of age, our boys were eating everything from spaghetti with meat sauce to pork chops with vegetables.

The point is, we are served meat from the earliest time in our life. Whether or not our taste buds actually "like" this taste or sensation makes little difference. Right at the front of us, smiling and encouraging us to lap up every last drop is our mother or father. I am not saying this is bad parenting. What I am saying is this is conditioning that has gone on for many generations. We think meat is good. Good to eat, good for our health and therefore good for our children.

Conditioning is first, followed closely by insidious de-sensitization. So where does the "de-sensitization" come into view? At what point do children figure out that beef comes from a cow, pork from pigs, buffalo wings from chickens and on and on... (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the tooth fairy....). Figure it out we do though, and before long we can completely disconnect the thread between the calf and the veal, the bacon and the pig, etc.

Even more odd is why we accept the whole shebang? Many of us have pets that we adore (most of the time) and consider them parts of our family. In our house alone, along with the bipeds are one dog, three cats, two ferrets and several fish!

Again, I can only explain this as conditioning. As a society, most of us are so far removed from the slaughterhouse, from the farm and so close to the grocery store and the seemingly endless supply of a variety of cellophane wrapped pieces of muscle. Not one of us ever discusses the pain and suffering involved in raising and then killing millions (yes, millions!) of animals on a daily basis. We certainly never discuss it with our children - why would we want to expose them to such horror?

It seems so strange to me now this whole culture of eating another animal's flesh. If I had been born in a Hindu culture, I would never know the experience of eating meat. But here I am - living in a meat-eating culture, living with meat eating people, surrounded by people eating meat, surrounded by mass media about eating meat, keeping meat eating animals, wearing clothing made from the skins of animals. I have spent most of my years eating and enjoying another animal's flesh.

What made the change for me? I was in the right place at the right time and I opened my eyes (believe me I wanted to close them). Once I knew, I could not go back. (I remember vividly one of my co-workers asking me the next day why would I want to watch those kind of images.)

I suspect people don't want to know so they can continue to enjoy eating their meat.

Not long ago I was asked if I had "turned" anyone in the family. I wish... but really, it can't be done (I've tried). The decision can only come from within. But I am encouraged when questioned and even challenged (although that isn't nearly as pleasant) . Questioning is a good thing. It leads to clear vision.

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Anonymous said...

Interestingly, in cultures where meat eating is relegated to a festive event, and even then, in small amounts to just add some flavour to the food, diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer were unknown. Meat eating was an activity that could only be afforded by the wealthy. As living standards increased, people began to eat "festively" every day, and diseases that had been unknown began to arise. We, in the West, were becoming ill from diseases that were unknown in the East. Now, as the countries in the East have living standards increase, and adopt lifestyles to copy the West (something that boggles my mind), they, too, are succumbing to the disease their ancestors never had. Top all of that off with the fact that modern man sits on his collective behind in front of a computer (such as I am doing right now), and not slogging in the field anymore to work off all the excess fat being consumed, it does not bode well for us, the animals, the health care system, etc.

Compassionate Consumption said...

Thank you for taking the time to provide this insight into the historical view of meat-eating. I appreciate the information.

Anonymous said...

For Steve M on March 12/08:
My apologies Steve - I accidentally clicked on "reject" instead of "publish"; as you took some time to send a thoughtful remark I wanted to at least acknowledge it here with my thanks. (If you can send it again to the compassionate consumption blog, I will be more mindful in publishing it.)
(P.S. Being somewhat of a techo-peasant, I tried to do a cut and paste from my inbox, but that didn't seem to work either.)

Steve Maggio said...

This is a nice synopsis as to why our society says it’s acceptable to eat certain animals legally, yet if you were to treat a cat or dog in the same way, it would be animal abuse. Most people would never kill and eat their pets, yet they don’t think twice about biting into a hamburger…. It’s because we’re all conditioned to believe that it’s acceptable.

Another funny point I think that should be brought up is that many of us who think that eating certain animals is fine, believe to a certain extent that animal abuse is wrong. Most people would never agree with dog-fighting, cock-fighting, or starvation of animals. Some people even believe that fur-coats are wrong, but as soon as it starts to be inconvenient for them, i.e. their food, they break off from this idea that animal abuse is wrong. Killing animals unnecessarily for some things is wrong, but killing animals for food is O.K.

Cock-fighting is a great example. Most people believe that it is wrong, but would cock-fighting alright if we ate the birds after? -- Most people would say no. Again, people are being selective. Their chicken they eat undoubtedly experienced pain. As long as they believe that it went through less pain, it’s acceptable.

As soon as it’s inconvenient for people, they make exceptions. I suppose it makes them feel better about what they are doing.

Compassionate Consumption said...

Good morning - I'm happy to see you did get my message! Your summation is key...people (including me) don't like to feel dis-ease so they disassociate themselves from whatever conflict is causing the unsettled feeling or completely numb out. But it can and does happen, where one instead of turning away, confronts the issue. Takes one to be brave, honest and courageous - and I suspect that the more one does this, the easier it gets to stand your ground. (For young people, as they haven't accumulated too much baggage, and have lots of spirit and energy, great things are being accomplished!)
Best regards Steve.