AUGUST 18, 2010 6:22PM

Open Call: Conflicted carnivores

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At Salon, we've been thinking a lot about the ethics and politics of meat consumption. Earlier this week, we published a piece about one man's experience eating horse in Mongolia -- and the shocked reactions of his American friends and family to his decision. Today, the incomparable Francis Lam wrote an article about slaughtering a chicken because he felt an obligation to, at some point in his life, kill his own dinner.

Both of these stories reflect ways in which we grapple with the idea of eating meat. Every culture has distinct notions about what types of animals are acceptable to eat. While most Americans would balk at the prospect of eating dog, it's a popular dish in parts of China. Ham is a staple for Christmas dinner, but pork is anathema for observant Jews and Muslims.

Today, more and more questions arise about what circumstances make eating meat acceptable. Does the animal have to be raised under "humane conditions" or is it all right to eat meat from a factory farm? Does killing an animal with your own hands allow you to consume one with a clear conscience or should you avoid eating flesh altogether? Must you consider the environmental impact of your food choices or are there other ways you can help out the planet?

We want your to hear about the conflicts you have had about eating meat. Please note: We're not particularly interested in sanctimonious diatribes from either end of the spectrum. We're looking for personal essays that reflect how you've grappled with any qualms you have about your own meat consumption.

Be sure to tag your posts "conflicted carnivores."

Please note that by participating, you're giving Salon permission to re-post your entry, and acknowledging that all words and images in your post are your own, unless explicitly stated. If you would like to participate in this Open Call but not have your post considered for republication on Salon, please note it in the post itself.

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Sorry, Emily, but I am most definitely a sanctimonious diatriber from the carnivore end of the spectrum.

My late wife and I grew up in the Midwest and when I brought two geese home to the farm we had just purchased she named one Foie and the other one Gras... should kind of give you our take on the subject! ;~)
Two words come to mind for me: Frog. Legs. There have been other episodes...Good chewy juicy open call, Emily!
I didn’t make this world and neither did you Emily consequently I find myself at the top of the food chain and in order for me to derive sustenance I must consume other organisms. I prefer it that way to being at the bottom or anywhere else other than the top in the food chain therefore I never grapple at least about this.
I do my best to only eat meat raised under humane conditions. I also avoid pork (in honor of my maternal Jewish heritage, 'though I'm primarily Christian in practice) and lamb and veal (because I don't want to eat a baby animal). Also, 'though I enjoy eating meat, I don't eat it with every meal or even every day. I probably eat three meat-based meals per week, on average.
I don't think you have to be vegan to be a good person. Humans are naturally omniverous. I do believe that we have choices, though, and should make them mindfully.
Healthy meat eating is an expensive luxury. Done incorrectly it leads to disease of both oneself and the planet through global warming. The United States animal product supply needs to be recognized as toxic waste with the FDA asleep at the wheel. Basic preventive measures of eating lowfat chicken breasts and avoiding high fat egg yolks to avoid pesticides and artery clogging saturated fat is a must. Red meat itself should be a rare treat because it is carcinogenic and free radical creating. Along those lines it is important to only purchase either naturally low fat commercial meat (buffalo) or grass fed free ranged meat. Humans are carnivores so I have no problem with killing animals for food, but if only for selfish reasons we need to make sure we aren't killing ourselves in the process.
Australopithicus afarensis was running around the Afar depression in Africa about 3 million years ago, picking up bits of dead animals, feeding-literally-its brain, this likely led to our very existence.... I wonder when it became wrong or immoral to eat animals? Is it misplaced sense of empathy?
For me, the decisive question is do these animals suffer and actively enjoy, or do they just feel pain and good without conscious thought of it. Most people fail to attribute the consciousness (at least a human-like one) to animals and justify their carnivorism on those grounds. Others draw the line at vertebrates and will eat fish but not mammals, granting a cow this consciousness but not that tuna.

For me, veganism is a totally viable option on all fronts. We know it takes 10lb crop to get 1lb meat return, so veganism is indeed more efficient. People have been at least as healthy on vegan diets.

I'll leave aside for now the practical health matters (which I think is pretty catastrophic for meat-eaters) as well as the environmental factors (the high cost of cheap meat environmentally speaking).

Considering then, solely the moral grounds I'd say the burden of proof is solely on the carnivores to justify their actions. Though the vegan position is akin to feminism being attributed a militant nature, I think we reserve the safe ground, in that there is no way in which we can be found in the wrong. The worst outcome for us is that our dietary concerns are found to be unnecessary; but never wrong.

I'd like to propose the following hypothetical, which I find to be decisive. Say we wake up tomorrow to find that there is conclusive evidence that animals are conscious and do indeed suffer and that they do enjoy their lives. What is the carnivore to think.

And now the reverse. What if instead evidence comes down that animals really are more like automata just reacting to stimuli like a computer and not truly conscious of their lives. What is the vegan to think.

I think the stakes are too high to hedge your bet on convenience in this case. Would traditionalism and convenience really trump genocide even if your belief is that the latter case is 99x more likely.

Of course I do acknowledge the near impossibility of either event coming to be.
Conflicted carnivores
I just disemboweled a chicken that was killed by a raccoon. It was one of my layers and I watched it die so the meat was fresh. I had to convince myself that letting the meat go to waste was more criminal than eating what is essentially a 'pet'. I have rooster that probably needs to be put to sleep since he was attacked by a cat and then 3 'teenage' roosters. I can't because he's really a pet. Rhode Island reds are the friendliest chickens you can have. Why I can eat one and not him is where the confliction comes in.
1. The "food chain" argument is so totally and apparently specious, I am surprised it persists. Not only is that model no longer used in science; not only do humans not eat the carnivores who eat the herbivores, etc.; not only does it imply we have no free will in our decisions about what to eat; not only does it avoid the fact that, in our present circumstances, we do not have to eat meat to live; but also, taken to its conclusion, the argument would justify a cannibalistic serial killer's overpowering and eating another human being.

2. Philosopher Peter Singer's book, Animal Liberation, lays out a very difficult-to-refute argument against meat eating (and "speciesism") solely on the basis of physical suffering. It is THE seminal work on this subject and should be mentioned in the intro., not just the recent "pop" work by Pollan and others.

3. Pollan's writing has been helpful in brining attention to the issue, but he is intellectually dishonest. All of his conclusions point to the fact that meat eating is ecologically unsustainable and bad for human health, yet he never can bring himself to stop eating meat. He either is blinded by his own culturally-instilled prejudices and can't give up meat, or he intentionally and cynically avoiding an overt endorsement of vegetarianism to increase the mass appeal of his work.
...and if we are not conflated carnivores? Some of us have resolved this question and are tired of being told we made the wrong decision. Personally I was a vegetarian and then learned it didn't work for me. I consider the decision to add meat back into my diet an adult one, without black-white emotional ramifications that so often plague teenagers. Those that need to shout it from the rooftops, not to mention convert everyone in their path, come off pretty juvenile.
I became a vegetarian after watching Faces of Death in my early 20s. I used to love gyros, but then they showed a lamb being skinned alive and screaming. I always said I loved animals, but I then realized what a hypocrite I was for paying someone to do that to them. I became a vegan a few years back after finding out just how cruel and tied to meat the dairy industry is; to me factory farming is an abomination of nature.

If we are the top of the food chain, then an alien race that was more intelligent than us would have every right to eat us, right? To Serve Man!
I don't expect everyone to understand, but for those of use who used to eat meat/dairy and abstain for ethical reasons, it's not hard at all. I know meat tastes good, I just want no part of how it gets onto the plate. It's barbaric , unecessary and just plain evil.
First off, I'm not interested in convincing anyone to change their eating habits or diet. I can only speak for myself. To each his own.

After being a meat eater for 6 decades and eventually having to go on 2 blood pressure meds (Altace & diuretics) as well as cholesterol meds.(Lipitor & Zetia) while my blood pressure stayed borderline hypertensive and cholesterol stayed at around 200; I watched as friends went vegetarian and were able to get off their meds. So my wife and I took the plunge.

The first month was hard. However, as we developed a repertoire of recipes we began to reap the rewards. I'm now off of all meds and my blood pressure averages around 116/70. Cholesterol hovers round 150. We sleep better, have more energy with other positive benefits as well including losing belly fat for me and hip and thigh fat for my wife.

For us, the results are inescapable. A vegetarian diet is healthier. It's not about being immortal. It's about not spending the last years of our lives decrepit and/or bed ridden. And now that we're acclimated to the diet, we never miss the meat.

Plus, there's no danger of eating factory farmed, hormone infused, e-coli contaminated food. We quit eating most dairy products decades ago when Monsanto began to put more pus into milk with rBGH. I have a huge garden so most of what we eat is gourmet vegetables.

BTW we just finished making 4 batches of Francis Lam's "Weapon's Grade Ratatouli" and froze it. It's the most delicious ratatoulie I've ever eaten. We used up the last of our heirloom tomatoes for it.

Life is good.
Despite the public's justifiable horror about eating horse or dog flesh or other non-traditional meat, if we were honest we'd take a closer look at our own consumption of pigs, cows, chickens and other animals raised their entire lives in hideous, cramped conditions in factory farms. Kicked and beaten when ill or injured, jammed into sweltering trucks, these animals make their last journey to a blood soaked killing floor. The pain and terror animals experience in slaughterhouses is the same everywhere. And in the U.S., the animals we slaughter number in the billions. Chickens in our country are hung upside down by their legs, "stunned" in a fetid, electrified bath and are often still conscious when their feathers are torn from their bodies and their throats are slit.

People have been so systematically desensitized to who their food really is that many are blind to the fact that when they eat “pork,” they are eating a once living pig." Steaks" are cows. Ribs and wings are body parts. Euphemisms make turning a blind eye to animal suffering that much easier.

Pigs, cows, and chickens are living, feeling, thinking animals who feel pain every bit as much as we do, and value their lives. They are horrified at the sights and smells of the slaughterhouse and are afraid to die. Like us, they’ll fight for their lives and struggle to avoid pain.

To check out great recipes and tips for how to make the easy transition to veganism, please visit http://www.GoVeg.com and http://www.VegCooking.com.
I am in no way conflicted about what I choose to consume.
I am a human being and an omnivore.
I eat that of which I like the flavor and avoid that of which I don't.
I have hunted for my dinner, squirrels, deer, etc.
I fish.
I love to eat bluegills and walleye.
I am not one of those self important, smug types who need to harangue others about what I think they should/should not eat.
That gets really old really fast.
My BP averages approx 110/68 on I have average cholesterol.
BTW-I'm 71.
I eat meat, love it especially beef raw. a new york steak slightly marinated and trimmed makes me fee strong for some reason. I started this as a chield. In fact there was never a large enough portion for me at the family dinner table. one or two smal lamb chops, just a beginning.

However my son and his wife have taken to growing their ow food and it bothers me tha they buy cute little piggnets and four month later now at twoo hundred pounds and actirng like dirty noisey pigs/hogs slay them for meat to be shared with others of the same ilk up in british vcolombia, texada island. I do't mind the chickens treated this way but they do not have NAMES. and they also grown their own veggies.. this is all very confusing to me. If it tastes better and saves money there is virtue in it, but bu the time you buy their food, the pigs and chickens and do all the nasty dirty pig raising checkn raising work. you just have to love it. . .enjoy it. and I can't imagine that. I suggested raising beef for those new y ork steaks on the hoof so to speak, but they like their PORK. sheseeh.. .
Back in the 60's and early 70's, my father supplemented the family income with fur trapping. I may be one of the few people on this planet today who can attest to how yummy beaver meat is (get your mind out of the gutter!). My father had a knowledge of and respect for wildlife that very few other people, including "tree huggers" have achieved. He is an intelligent, kind and sensitive man who is now in his late 80's. He quit fur trapping when it became unprofitable, and it largely became unprofitable because of the work of anti-fur activists. I have no objections to that. Society evolves, things change. Nonetheless, I have to admit that my father's fur trapping helped to fund mine and my brother's college educations.

As a horse owner, and as one who watches the horse industry rather closely, I have seen how the closure of our domestic horse slaughter plants have contributed to the severe depression in the horse economy. I think that the closure of the plants have led to increased suffering, due to the long distances that horses are now hauled to plants in Canada and Mexico, and because of the horrific conditions at Mexican plants.

On the plus side, there is less incentive now for thieves to steal horses to sell at killer auctions, because it is not unusual for horses run through the auction ring now to not get any bids at all.

The anti-horse slaughter activists deny that closure of the domestic plants has had anything to do with the bad horse economy, and they deny that there is a surplus of unwanted horses. To claim that the closures have not had an effect defies logic.

Activists also tend to lay all the blame for any horse overpopulation at the feet of the world's largest breed registry, the American Quarter Horse Association. But the fact is, a significant number of AQHA breeders have cut back or quit. The larger problem, as I see it, is that backyard breeders and irresponsible breeders of all types are still going at it. For example, I saw an ad on Craigslist for a mare and foal for sale for $400. Never mind that the pair are not actually, in fair market value terms, worth $400 -- the seller said that the mare was an unregistered Quarter Horse but that she registered her with the "half quarter horse registry." She then bred this mare that has no market value to an AQHA stallion and "registered" the foal with the "half quarter horse registry."

Let me explain: the "half quarter horse registry" is merely a diploma mill type of operation that imparts no additional value to any animal it "registers."

So, what the owner of that worthless (in market terms, not as a companion animal) horse did was exacerbate the problem of too many horses of too little value, when she bred the mare. If it has a uterus, you just have to breed it???

A friend of mine got into her head that she was going to breed her mare to an unregistered, worthless Paint stallion, because she could "afford" his $150 stud fee. I explained to her just how stupid that was, because not only would it be producing another worthless animal, but because one can go to any number of fall production sales and pick up registered weaned foals of good lineage for as little as $25.

Anyhow, getting to the meat issue; I would eat horse meat. Once the animal is dead, meat is meat. However, I would be concerned about whether it was made to suffer excessively and unnecessarily when slaughtered.

Activists brought about the closure of our US horse slaughter plants because they were concerned about unnecessary suffering, and because some of them are just flat out opposed to killing any animal for any reason. However, I think it would have been better to have lobbied for improved handling and management rather than to have closed them altogether. I sympathize with their concerns but think they went about it all wrong.

I have killed animals for food with my own hands. The way I feel about is that it is a very heavy responsibility, not to be taken lightly and not to be done with disrespect. I do enjoy eating meat occasionally, but my diet overall tends to be more vegan in nature.

There was a time when I trained horses professionally, and sometimes my clients brought me horses that were unpleasant and unsafe to handle. If I could not gentle the animal with a couple weeks of daily, humane handling, then I sent it back home to the owner and told them they needed a better trainer. The fact is, not every horsie is a nice horsie. There are so many NICE horses out there now who need good homes, I think it is stupid to waste time and resources on the ones that are temperamentally unsuited to be safe, happy, reliable riding horses or companions. For most people, a nice horse is one that is friendly and affectionate like a dog, and naturally inclined towards being ridden for recreational purposes. (For professional riders or serious amateurs of elite venues, such as A circuit hunter-jumper shows and so on, horses that would be too "hot" for general riders may be suitable.)

I am in favor of preventing or reducing unnecessary suffering. At this point, what concerns me most is how elite level AQHA show horses are treated. The AQHA has for too long turned a blind eye towards horrifically cruel training by some of its World Champion trainers. For example, some of these guys will literally flay the skin from a horse's belly with their razor sharp spurs until the horses are bleeding, with stips of flesh hanging. These guys will tie horses with their heads up so high that they are forced to stand on their toes. And yet, no one does anything about it. The next time you see anything about AQHA shows, think about that.
I don't know if there is any scientific basis for a conclusion on the relative merits of meat- or meatless consumption. Such a conclusion would be hard to reach, I think, because the consumption of meat or the abandonment of it may be associated with other behaviors that are known to be healthful or unhealthful; for example, ingesting too much cholesterol (in meats). That "heavy feeling" some experience after meat is probably due to the concentration of blood in the vessels of the stomach and intestines during digestion. Eating smaller but adequate portions would probably alleviate that feeling.

I notice that associates who are vegetarians have food on their minds more than I. They have to choose from a more limited variety, and that requires more planning. I think we, meat eaters, can learn from vegetarians to eat less meat and more nuts and legumes - probably a good idea.

As for the ethics of killing animals, how we treat them when they are alive seems more important to me. The first animals we ought to stop killing and mistreating are other human beings. Obama take notice!
I'm eat meat, and while I'm not conflicted I was surprised to find how compelling I found Coetzee's take on that issue and others in "Elizabeth Costello." Unlike a previous US president, I happen to enjoy my broccoli.