Friday, August 10, 2007

Morality and the Poor Beasties

Today I had lunch at an Indian restaurant with a couple of friends. I had the palek paneer (spinach and homemade cheese), and my friends each ordered the vegetable masala. The topic came around to vegetarianism. As usual, all of us said we were trending that way.

I became a strict vegetarian in high school, when I worked in a deli slicing meat and sidestepping giant slabs of beef hanging from hooks in the backroom. I regressed to "chicketarianism" in my late '20s, out of exhaustion with trying to maintain a diet that people still (but no longer) seemed confused and discomfited by. One of my friends at the Indian restaurant had been a vegetarian for four months; the other said his recent GI problem may force him off meat altogether.

And that's how lots of us are about eating meat: it's a guilty habit we're always gearing up to break.

This month's Atlantic has a terrific, unusually hard-hitting article on the topic, not (for once) about the pitiful suffering of farm animals, but about meat-lovers who acknowledge animal suffering but manage to do a moral two-step around it. They care about the "poor beasties," but never seriously enough to actually stop chewing their way through them.

BR Myers, in the first attack on Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma") I've read, describes the mental processes at work when a meat-eater debates an animal-rights advocate:

"One debates the other side until pushed into a corner. Then one simply drops the argument and slips away, pretending that one has not fallen short of reason but instead transcended it. The irreconcilability of one's belief with reason is then held up as a great mystery, the humble readiness to live with which puts one above lesser minds and their cheap certainties."

That's a process at work in any number of arenas. Encounter facts you don't like, throw up your hands, and declare it's all beyond any of us figure out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

But I like meat. That said, I won't purchase meat if I know the animal suffered intolerable living conditions. I will not buy or eat veal.

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