Affirming my meat-eating habits

Without getting too political or personal about my omnivoracious eating habits, I wanted to share this excerpt from Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma as he outlines very nearly how I feel about eating meat:

Even if the vegetarian is a more highly evolved human being, it seems to me he has lost something along the way, something I’m not prepared to dismiss as trivial.  Healthy and virtuous as I may feel these days [Pollan is temporarily abstaining from meat so he can gain a better appreciation of the animal suffering in meat-eating], I also feel alienated from traditions I value: cultural traditions like the Thanksgiving turkey, or even franks at the ballpark, and family traditions like my mother’s beef brisket at Passover.  These ritual meals link us to our history along multiple lines—family, religion, landscape, nation, and, if you want to go back much further, biology.  For although humans no longer need meat in order to survive (now that we can get our B-12 from femented foods or supplements), we have been meat eaters for most of our time on earth. This fact of evolutionary history is reflected in the design of our teeth, the structure of our digestion, and, quite possibly, in the way my mouth still waters at the sight of a steak cooked medium rare.  Meat eating helped make us what we are in a physical as well as a social sense.  Under the pressure of the hunt, anthropologists tell us, the human brain grew in size and complexity, and around the hearth where the spoils of the hunt were cooked and then apportioned, human culture flourished.

This isn’t to say we can’t or shouldn’t transcend our inheritance, only that it is our inheritance; whatever else may be gained by giving up meat, this much at least is lost.  The notion of granting rights to animals may lift us up from the brutal, amoral world of eater and eaten—of predation—but along the way it will entail the sacrifice, or sublimation, or part of our identity—of our own animality.  (This is one of the odder ironies of animal rights:  It asks us to acknowledge all we share with animals, and then to act toward them in a most unanimalistic way.)  Not that the sacrifice of our animality is necessarily regrettable; no one regrets our giving up raping and pillaging, also part of our inheritance.  But we should at least acknowledge that the human desire to eat meat is not, as the animal rightests would have it, a trivial matter, a mere gastronomic preference. By the same token we might call sex—also now technically unnecessary for reproduction—a mere recreational preference.  Rather, our meat eating is something very deep indeed.

Concerning morality and the matter of considering an animal’s rights, here’s another good quote to chew on:

Morality is an artifact of human culture devised to help humans negotiate human social relations.  It’s very good for that.  But just as we recognize that nature doesn’t provide a very good guide for human social conduct, isn’t it anthropocentric of us to assume that our moral system offers an adequate guide for what should happen in nature?  Is the individual the crucial moral entity in nature as we’ve decided it should be in human society? We simply may require a different set of ethics to guide our dealings with the natural world, one as well suited to the particular needs of plants and animals and habitats (where sentience counts for little) as rights seem to suit us and serve our purposes today.

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One thought on “Affirming my meat-eating habits

  1. Pingback: Reading Update: The Omnivore’s Dilemma « Paperback Fool

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