Eating animals

CW: violence towards animals.

What I said yesterday about believing vegetarianism to be a moral good intellectually but not emotionally isn’t quite true. I can’t stand human violence towards animals, it’s one of the few things that makes me really squeamish. But the day-to-day practice of eating meat is too far abstracted from the necessary violence.

I had a nightmare last month that still makes me feel a bit sick. In the dream I have to beat geese to death in order to eat. Actually they’re not geese, or quite a real animal, which explains the nightmarish quality of the dream. They come packed in the salsa packets that come with fajita kits, which they kick their way out of and extend a menacing eel head to look around first. The head and neck are like a slimy swan. The rest I can’t picture well except a) it’s a bird, and b) it’s the living equivalent of one of the shrink-wrapped chicken feet that have been sitting in our pod at work since a colleague brought them back from China. They’re incredibly violent without being very dangerous for an adult, I am repulsed more than in danger. I have to beat them to death in the head with a wooden spoon. This disturbs me so much I settle in a marginally more acceptable scheme: instead of waiting for the Alien-like violent exit, I snip a corner off the packets and with the same scissors sever the head that emerges to look around. There’s a terrible mess, but the end is at least final.

If I could connect the horror of this dream to my present every time I tried to eat meat, I would be vegetarian without question. During my last attempt at vegetarianism I read Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating animals, which I found enormously helpful in bolstering the intellectual arguments but strangely lacking in emotional force. This was in part by design I think: everything is couched in unemotional, exploratory moral-argument tones, to avoid the immediate negative reaction people feel when their consumption choices are criticised. I find the PETA strategy of vegan evangelism, footage from slaughterhouses and so on, to be extremely distasteful, not something you should force on others despite the worthiness of your cause. But if I am convinced intellectually of the rightness of vegetarianism, but also know that emotional motivators act more strongly on me than rational arguments, do I have a duty to watch those videos of my own accord?

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© Tom Harris 2015–2018.

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