The New Meat: A Veg Response
By Elisa Camahort
ONE of my favorite movie lines comes from My Cousin Vinny. Joe Pesci's character is fretting over what to wear on a hunting trip. Marisa Tomei's character paints a picture of a deer in the forest, stopping to quench its little deer thirst at a little babbling brook, when out of nowhere it's shot in the head by a hunter. As Tormei puts it: "Now I ask ya, would you give a fuck what kind of pants the son-of-a-bitch who shot you was wearing?"
This scene leapt to mind when reading Michael Pollan's conclusion to his tome, The Omnivore's Dilemma. After handily making a case for veg*nism based on ethical, environmental and health reasons, he decides he likes bacon too much to give it up. So he comes up with a pseudo-spiritual, show-gratitude-to-the-pig, circle-of-life way to justify continuing to eat meat, but he doesn't follow the logical conclusion of his own arguments.
Now I ask ya: does the pig in the slaughterhouse give a fuck if you're grateful to it?
Let's be clear: "Organic" doesn't mean "humane." "Free-range" isn't a regulated term. Chickens are excluded entirely from the Humane Slaughter Act. The existence of a few bucolic locations which might provide a nearly-guilt-free meat-eating existence to a privileged few doesn't mitigate the fact that it's the products of factory farms that are accessible to the vast majority of nonveg*ns in this country. Most of all: Slaughter is slaughter whether 10 or 10,000 are killed per day.
And it's so unnecessary.
To quote a column I wrote two years ago:
I started to consider vegetarianism because I felt sympathy for the conditions of factory-farmed animals, antipathy for the violence of slaughter. But what sealed the deal for me was thinking it through: there was no reason not to be a vegetarian. I am not physiologically required to eat meat. I am not constrained in any material, important way by my vegetarianism. Do I sometimes whine about restaurants not serving me enough high-quality vegetarian food? Sure. But I don't starve. Is vegetarianism healthier for most people? Yes.
People say, "Animals eat animals-it's a food chain thing." They do. They are driven by instinct and physiological requirement. Unlike us, I doubt they have the thought processes to judge it. Nor do I think they feel guilt or regret.
But we do. If we want to hold ourselves up for our wonderful ability to reason and our finer feelings, then we should use both reason and emotion to make the more humane choice.
That would really separate us.
All I would add now is: Most nonveg folks I talk to don't want to think about what they eat, where it comes from and, most urgently, what it might have gone through on its way to their plate. I've heard "I don't want to know" or "I don't want to think about it" a lot.
The current trendy focus on sustainable and organic meat, coupled with the recent horrific revelations about Westland Meat Company, indicate that people are thinking about it more than ever. That's a good thing. Killing sentient creatures for pleasure, gustatory or not, still isn't.
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