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Chew on This

Animal Instincts

By Elisa Camahort

I was having lunch with a girlfriend recently, and she was lamenting how she couldn't stop thinking about something that was 99.9 percent likely not to happen. I said, "You know, there are lots of people who think what separates us from the animals is our ability to think, but an animal would never do that to itself. You'd never catch an animal driving itself crazy like that. That's really what separates us from the animals--we're idiots!"

Animals think. They can even plan; they understand cause and effect. My cat has learned where I keep the cat treats in my room, and has learned that I really, really want to shut her up at 6am. Her ritual morning whining is now augmented by her standing over by the cat treats, the subtext being, "Hand over the Pounce, and I shut up." I don't believe, however, that they spend a lot of time analyzing themselves, their relationships, their actions.

Animals feel. They feel physical pain, no different than the pain I feel. I also believe they feel emotional pain, such as fear or dread. They certainly feel contentment--and the opposite of that. It is their ability to feel, not think, that drives my commitment to vegetarianism. But it is the human race's ability to think and feel that drives my belief that vegetarianism is the logical choice for anyone, not just the emotional choice for me.

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.

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From the August 10--16, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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