As I sat in a café, wondering how to begin this post, fate threw a gift into my lap in the form of a French family at the table beside me.
The two parents were visiting their daughter, newly enrolled at Goldsmiths; the mother, bleach-blonde haired but with the darker, Mediterranean features of the south of France, had just enquired as to how her child was adapting to life amongst the English.
“Ma coloc [flatmate] est végétarienne….”, she began, “et je ne la comprends pas.”
“She told me that she loves animals and doesn’t want to hurt them. So I told her, I like animals too, certain animals I like a lot in fact…I don’t want to hurt them either, but they taste so good, how could you not eat them?”
The parents nodded in agreement. Her father weighed in:
“Well, she may be right that it’s sad if animals are hurt. But to eat no meat at all? I find that a bit extreme.”
This exchange encapsulates, on many levels, the main arguments given for eating meat. Though attitudes in the UK are far ahead of those in France – where I frequently encountered outright incredulity at my vegetarianism – this is still a response that I most commonly encounter when talking to omnivores here: ‘But meat just tastes so good though!’
Maybe you’re thinking this to yourself, right now: meat tastes good though. And I agree, it does. But frankly, an appeal to personal pleasure is a poor justification for an issue so clearly touched by morality and ethics. It’s just not an argument that would stand up in any other situation.
Tell me something: Why is taste, the crudest of our senses, exempted from the ethical rules that govern our other senses? If you stop and think about it, it’s crazy. Why doesn’t a horny person have as strong a claim to raping an animal as a hungry one does to killing and eating it? It’s easy to dismiss that question but hard to respond to it. And how would you judge an artist who mutilated animals in a gallery because it was visually arresting? How riveting would the sound of a tortured animal need to be to make you want to hear it that badly? Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.
And why could there be no other end? Because what we do to farmed animals is frequently so horrific.
For example, we keep pigs – animals with an intelligence comparable to dogs – confined in cages with no stimulation, to the point that many go insane from boredom.
We breed chickens that grow at such an abnormal rate that their muscles deform their bones, leaving them in constant pain.
We slaughter animals in such a way that they spend the last moments (hours, days) of their lives in abject terror, as they are beaten, shocked, strung up, and in some cases have limbs amputated while still conscious.
I’m not against eating animals, per se. I don’t think there is anything morally wrong with killing them, on a basic level. But I refuse to eat meat because the farming industry operates in a way that considers animals as machines, from which to extract the maximum output for the minimum expenditure, regardless of the practices this entails.
At the end of the day, that’s not something I find justifiable, however good they may taste.
And in light of that, I don’t think it’s the vegetarians who are extreme.