PETA advocates for vegetarianism and veganism as the ideal, but is it really that bad to eat meat?
I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy a good nature documentary, and one aspect of these documentaries that is specifically satisfying is the action packed hunt. Everything about it is exhilarating; the vividly intent eyes of the predator, a female lion and an experienced hunter, as they stare at the oblivious prey, a Zebra, grazing the golden grass of the savannah. The lion crouches so close to the ground that her hay coloured hide blends into the ground, and she becomes a faint patch of slightly discoloured grass in the eyes of the Zebra. She licks her lips slowly and a bead of drool falls from her red tongue – her eyes remain fixed on the black and white figure of her dinner. Her instincts tell her to wait just a moment more, to savour the the tranquility before the chase, but as she glides just an inch further her muscles fill with readiness and adrenaline, her eyes glaze over and the pressure becomes irresistible. She waits just a bit longer – and a bit longer – and – a – bit – longer – and … POUNCE! She leaps onto the animal with full vigour and sinks her fangs into its succulent thighs. Her body is throbbing with power and the knowledge that she can survive a few more weeks before the next hunt.
Ironically, most of us can watch a Lion kill a Zebra like this without being repulsed by the brutality of it. Perhaps it would be seen as barbarous if it were a human leaping onto a Zebra, but something about it being the animal kingdom makes it acceptable. We can watch it happen in the animal kingdom because that is the natural order of things – It’s not cruelty, it’s nature. We can’t, however, bear the horror of watching the killing of animals in a slaughterhouse, it seems too sinister, too bloody for human eyes. But why? Why is it acceptable to watch one animal tear chunks of flesh out of another, but it’s unacceptable to see how our food is prepared?
Well, we humans see ourselves as above the animal kingdom – too civilised for the casual barbarity of the world of beasts, and we believe this even though we are exactly like other animals. We kill animals just like all other predators, but in order for us to feel comfortable eating meat, we have to do it in a different way; a more ‘humane‘ way. We perceive this humane way to be the moral way, but it is in fact more barbaric than the natural way. Eating meat is only wrong because of the way we humans eat it. It is not mandatory for a moral human being to be vegetarian, but if you do want to morally eat meat then I suggest you go and chase you dinner and kill it with your bare hands.
One book that inspired me to write this article was Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus. Harari talks about the origins of religion and how it was created to usher in the era of the agricultural revolution. This revolution was the introduction of hierarchical agrarian society: the societies that started farming first were the ones with the most stable source of food, and could therefore spend more time on other activities such as crafting, trading and creating political orders. Those who controlled the crops were the ones who acquired the most powers, and thus kings and lords and the gentry classes began to exist. Harari also discussed the idea that pre-agricultural societies were animist societies. They saw animals as equal to them, and they would treat animals as such. Humans would understand that animals are only aggressive when they have reason to be aggressive, whereas today we generally see animal aggression to be a symptom of their bestial nature. Religion was an excuse for animals to be seen as subservient to humans, and so we started to cage them up in farms and raise them to suit our needs and kill them to suit our hunger. As I was reading this, I began to think about the links between religion and human superiority: in the Bible, it says that God made all the animals on Earth and he gave man the role of protecting all of these animals. This blatantly puts humans on a higher position than animals, and it presents us as wiser creatures who are naturally dominant. The Bible also says that man was created in God’s image. This creates a familial bond between man and God – man is closer to God than all other creatures on Earth, so close in fact that he can barely be seen as a creature. This order makes human predation of animals special, humans eat animals because animals are the property of man and man has dominion over the life of his animals. This idea of human superiority is fundamentally a construct, and constructs can be created as much as they can be dismantled. In the modern day, we have begun to turn away from this archaic notion, but this has left us suspended in an air of confusion. We are ready to stop thinking about ourselves as superior to animals, but we are not ready to see ourselves as equal to them.
Part of this confusion has manifested into our chosen diets. Some, but not all vegetarians choose not to eat meat for moral reasons; because it’s wrong to eat animals that have no say in their lives and meat is an old fashioned way to gain nutrients in a world of supplements and GM foods. But is this a truly justifiable reason, or is it just a way to find some clarity in an age of uncertainty about humankind’s place in the world? This strand of vegetarianism borrows from both religious and animist beliefs because they pay attention the the feelings of the animals but they also still see humans as superior. These vegetarians seem to think that humans are too righteous to indulge in the same barbaric activities as the predators of the animal kingdom, but as we know, humans are barbaric and animalistic. We are territorial, instinctive, and we have a thirst for blood. We are most creative when we are finding ways to kill humans from other tribes. So in most ways we are just as animalistic as the rest, so why shouldn’t we eat other animals too, just like its done in the animal kingdom? Our human ego prevents us from seeing ourselves as equal to other animals, but the more we study animals minds, the more they appear to be similar to us. For a long time, humans have argued that animals don’t have complex emotions. An animal can feel pain in the moment that it happens, but it is not aware of the world enough to experience any emotions, such as anger or sadness, because of that pain. Yet studies have suggested that animals, particularly primates, can show symptoms of depression, and even mourn the death of their loved ones. Those of us who have pets know that dogs miss their owners when their owners leave during the day, and pets can show signs of sadness, happiness and so on. We may not be able to hear animals reasoning with each other or holding sophisticated debates, but maybe if we could understand them we would see that they are more complex than we think. Animals have even proven themselves to be good builders. Beavers build dams, birds build nests and moles build tunnels, but three significant species in this sector are ants, bees and termites. Ants are some of the best group workers in the animal kingdom. They build compounds that house thousands, and they even farm fungus in some of these compounds! Ants have agriculture too, it may not be wheat or maize but it’s agriculture none the less. Bees build complex hives with hexagonal pods for their larvae and to store honey, and they defend these hives just like we humans defend our homes or our countries from invaders. Most of all, termites are the master architects of the animal kingdom. These tiny bugs build mounds that are up to 12 metres tall. Together in groups of 1 or 2 million, they can move ¼ of a metric ton of soil and several tons of water every year to build their clay skyscrapers. To compare, the tallest human structure in existence (the Burj Khalifa) is 479 times larger than the average human, while the largest termite mound is 2013 times larger than the average termite. We are formidable builders, but termites out-perform us in terms of architectural engineering. Not only are their towers large, but they are air conditioned and heat regulated. Termites use convection currents to shift warm air to the top of the tower and out small ventilator holes, thereby keeping the entire structure cool. This design is so good that architects are starting to find inspiration from them. Termites managed to create monstrous structures without releasing toxic gasses into the air, so tell me again who is the less intelligent creature.
Humans and animals are arguably equal, so what does that mean for our eating habits. Should we eat other animals if they are equal to us? Well my answer is yes, you can inhale all the meat you want because you are not better than a lion or a wolf and you are just as animalistic as the rest of the animal kingdom. But the problem with eating meat is not really about whether it should be eaten, it’s about whether we are eating it properly already. We constrain our animals to inhumane conditions and force feed them disgusting food. We restrict their freedom and we kill them in a completely brutal way (by shooting a nail into its head). In the animal kingdom, the predator chases the prey and kills it with its own brute strength, while in the human world we raise them to be as fat and juicy as possible then we kill them in a cowardly way. At least in the animal kingdom the prey is allowed to live its life in the wild, and it gets to choose its destiny. When the prey is being chased by a predator it has a chance to run away and live for another day. While in our world, animals have no choice but to die. Vegetarians are right about one thing: the way we eat animals today is wrong. There is nothing wrong with craving a grilled steak or some fried chicken or a pork chop smothered in gravy, but if you are going to eat the meat, you better find it in the wild and kill it with your own two hands. If you are too lazy to find the meat yourself then stick with your salads and your fruit, because it’s not fair for animals to live undignified lives just because you have undignified eating habits.