Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Zen of Eating Meat

I have to start off by saying that this isn’t a Halloween article, and it isn’t particularly scary – well, maybe a little, depending on your point of view.  It does concern a serious issue, though; one that has been troubling me for some time.

When I go into town (Washington, DC is the town I refer to here; I live just outside the city in Maryland’s Montgomery County), I usually go to the area called Foggy Bottom.  This is near where a lot of federal agencies are located, but it’s also home of George Washington University, sometimes known as the ‘university that ate Washington.’  That nickname comes, by the way, from the fact that GWU has spread over Foggy Bottom like an infestation of tape worm, devouring some neat old buildings and changing the skyline completely – but, that’s another story.

My tale is about the student activists you encounter the moment you come off the Foggy Bottom Metro station escalator, and in particular, the PETA folks.  They have their little signs stuck up all over the place, and from time to time will be there on the sidewalk handing out pamphlets and stuff.  I used to think they stood for a worthy cause; after all, as a Buddhist I firmly believe in avoiding gratuitous violence and showing respect for all living things, so they’re stand against cruelty to animals seemed something I could support.  Then, though, they started the campaign against fishing, and they’re dead set against eating any animal flesh.  Sounds simple enough on the surface, but, when you think about it, the logic falls apart.

I’m assuming their objection to eating animals is because of a belief that like us, animals have feelings; pain, loss, etc., and, I suppose I can’t really argue with that since I know animals can feel pain, and have seen what appear to be a sense of loss when an animal has lost a mate or young.  I know they feel fear; I grew up on a farm and once had to put down a herd of typhus-infected hogs; when the first two died, the rest panicked; probably from the smell of blood.

I come from Texas, a state that has a reputation of being gun-happy, and hunted from an early age.  I never, though, hunted for pleasure.  When we hunted, it was for food, not trophies, or just killing animals for the heck of it.  I gave up hunting, and guns too, many years ago, and now get my food from the super market.  I don’t fish anymore, but that’s more from lack of time than any sensitivity to hurting the fish.  You see, what I’ve concluded is that PETA hasn’t thought this thing through enough.  I agree with them that gratuitous violence is a no-no; no cock fights or dog fights, I hate bull fighting, and beating animals, or inflicting cruelty on them (such as stuffing food down their gullets to enlarge their livers) is just plain wrong.  But, killing them as quickly as possible for the purpose of converting them to food, well, the world is sometimes a painful place.

One could be tempted to think that PETA is endowing these creatures with souls.  I’m not arguing that point; just pointing out that if this is the case, what about the fact that all animals eat other animals, with the exception of herbivores.  Big fish eat small fish that eat smaller fish, which eat one-cell organisms; lions eat antelope; and so it goes.  If it’s wrong for humans to eat animals, is it not wrong for animals to eat other animals?  And, while we’re on the subject, what about the fact that when we die, our flesh is eaten by the smallest of animals, the microorganisms in the soil?  Doesn’t that put them at the top of the food chain?

Just a little food for thought – no pun intended.