The Universal Notebook: The meat of the matter
Are you a vegetarian? Neither am I, but we probably should be, both for the good of our bodies and of our souls.
In a recent newspaper column entitled “How Will the Future Judge Us?,” Princeton University philosophy professor Kwame Anthony Appiah prophesizes that posterity will look back at our penal system, our segregation of the elderly, our pollution of the environment and our industrial meat production with the same incomprehensible horror with which we regard slavery.
“People who eat factory-farmed bacon or chicken rarely offer a moral justification for what they're doing,” Appiah said. “Instead, they try not to think about it too much, shying away from stomach-turning stories about what goes on in our industrial abattoirs.”
Guilty as charged. I am a carnivore. I eat nasty things like hot dogs and hamburgers with relish (and pulled pork with barbecue sauce).
There exists a moral spectrum of meat consumption, with unrepentant meat-and-potatoes men who eat their steaks bloody and rare at one end and masked Jains, who cover their mouths and noses so they don’t accidentally breath in live insects, at the other. In between are various degrees of vegetarians, vegans, macrobioticians, fruititarians, localvores and people being fed intravenously.
I like to think of myself as a compassionate carnivore. I don’t eat much red meat and rarely if ever eat such ethically tainted delicacies as milk-fed veal, goose liver pate and Big Macs. Two of my three daughters are what I call qualified vegetarians. They’ll both eat seafood and one will eat beef if it is organic and locally raised. The daughter who won’t eat meat used to go to a day-care center that occasionally fed the kiddies venison, moose and bear stew, so I guess I understand.
I’ve always thought of folks who’ll eat fish but not red meat as cowardly carnivores. They’ll eat salmon, I suspect, because salmon don’t make any noise when they die. And they’ll eat tuna because it comes in cans, not out of the sea. Having watched Maine darling Linda Greenlaw haul majestic swordfish aboard her boat with pikes on “Swords,” however, I’m having second thoughts at the moment about eating swordfish.
But it’s pork that gives me the most pause. Just knowing that Austin DeCoster, he of the evil eggs farms in Maine and Iowa, also owns industrial hog farms in the Midwest makes me realize that my pork chops are probably not cruelty-free. (That and the fact that I have seen pigs slaughtered. It’s not a pretty sight.) Sometimes I even think I can taste the fear in the chops. That’s why I smother them in sauerkraut.
It seems pretty clear that we would all be better off, biologically and environmentally, if we just ate the grains we feed cattle instead of running it through beef critters first. Maybe burger-flavored Cheerios are the answer.
I would never presume, of course, to tell anyone what to eat (just what to think), but I do hope that readers will, at the very least, feel a twinge of guilt next time they slice into a sirloin. Guilt, after all, is the driving force behind all human progress. But then, as the French say, “Chacun a son gout.” Which, roughly translated, means “To each his own goat.”