"Which is worse? The wolf who cries before eating the lamb or the wolf who does not."— Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

"Four Legs Good, Two Legs Baaaad" . . . on Becoming a Vegetarian

This recent Supreme Court case on Federal preemption of state laws has little to do with the subject of this post. I am linking to it because it contained a citation to a study on food production which stunned me:

"Justice Kagan calculated that 100,000 to one million pigs become unable to walk after they are delivered to slaughterhouses in the United States each year, based on statistics in a 2006 article in Pork Magazine called “Fatigued Pigs: The Final Link.”
Presumably, the pigs described in the study did not, like the Geico pig, scream "Wheeeeeeeee!" 


Everyone who buys meat in a supermarket should know how the clean pink morsels wrapped in plastic got there. Yet we continue to live in a state of denial - that is passed down from generation to generation - in which we ignore the cruelty, excruciating pain and suffering that is inherent in the industrial processing of animals for human consumption.

In middle school, I read James Agee's short story "A Mothers Tale," a political allegory on the danger of denial. The 13-page story graphically relates a story about a young steer's travels from a bucolic field to the horrors of an industrial slaughterhouse. Later, in High School, I read Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, another work of fiction that uses the industrial slaughterhouse as a gruesome backdrop for political allegory. When I was very young, I was taken fishing on occasion and found the struggling and gasping of the fish so uncomfortable to watch that, to this day, I seldom eat fish. Birds in cages make me uncomfortable, I almost always intervene when I encounter an injured animal, and I obsess on the treatment of dogs and cats if I feel they are being neglected by a neighbor.

I have had friends who grew up on farms who think my personal standards on the treatment of animals are unrealistic, and that my sensibilities are based on an anthropomorphic misunderstanding of the basic relationship between humans and other animals. I have also lived in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan where the relationship between people and the livestock that sustains them is much closer than it is in the West. The ritual slaughter of animals is still a common and regular occurrence in Central Asia.  Westerners who recoils at watching a sheep's throat being cut thinks nothing of buying food from a source that makes such a death look like a tender kindness by comparison.   

I remember going to a festival in a remote area of Kyrgyzstan where I was deeply troubled to see wolf puppies used as bait for an exhibition of the hunting skills of Golden Eagles. I'm not sure how I would react to seeing caged dogs awaiting preparation as food in a Chinese market.

Given all of this, I am puzzled by my disinclination to become involved in animal rights issues on a larger scale. Frankly, I am overwhelmed with the task of trying to grasp the complexities of how governments should protect human rights without sticking my toe in the philosophical waters of the animal rights movement. Nevertheless, I am an individual who is responsible for my own actions and a decision I have made is to try and become a vegetarian. I had already planned on going on a lengthy juice fast after watching this movie. If I am able to complete the fast, I should be able to integrate a healthy vegetarian diet into my life.

1 comment:

  1. For similar reasons, I quit eating meat a while ago, though I do the Buddhist thing of eating it if I'm a guest of someone who's prepared it already.

    I think it's dangerous to separate animal rights and human rights, but I'm not a humanist. Humans are the most destructive invasive species, and our only hope of not destroying everything is to stop privileging the rights of our own species over those of others.