From the butchery down my street
I went to the market to get some fish. The butcher had a whole cow’s head onto the block. He sliced the bottom, cut the tongue out, and put the head on the ground. I was a bit shocked but he and everyone in line looked nonplussed. I eat beef, but I am not accustomed to looking it in the eye. This is extra strange because cows are effectively my neighbors. Yesterday this big pregnant white cow came into the garden to eat some grass. We hand fed it a few mangos and I petted the beast, which was really quite sweet. The thing that gets me is the eyes. Even on the dead cow, the same poignant eyes.
So, is it wrong to eat cows? I like cows. I asked a kid and he said he liked cows and that we shouldn’t eat them. Then I told him that hamburger was cow and he changed his mind. Which is pretty much my dilemma.
There are numerous reasons to not eat beef, chief among them is that it’s not necessary. You can get perfectly adequate protein and pleasure from vegetarian food. Eating beef comes at the cost of animal death, terrible suffering in western industrial farms, severe environmental degradation, etc. The question is not whether one should be veg or non-veg, that is somewhat black and white. My question is, what are the moral gradients of meat?
Obviously, we don’t eat humans. I think we can all agree on that. Is our eating of other meat a gradation on that moral concern? Human evolution began with, uh, stuff and then more complex stuff, fish, reptilian stuff, mammals, monkeys, etc. I will argue that we feel squeamish in the reverse order. There is a core of self-concern, and then a broader widening of the concept of self.
We came from plants a long long time ago, so it is OK to eat them. Fish, old, barely remember the last family reunion, safe to eat. Reptiles, I guess, but still scary. Dinosaurs did turn into chickens and turkeys, however, and those are fine to eat. Then mammals like pigs and cows which – despite being intelligent relatives – are still good to eat. Note that two major religions (Islam and Hinduism) do break off here. Then monkeys, which very very few people eat, then humans, eaten by even less, and finally God, eaten only by Catholics and Anglicans.
Most casual vegetarians or vegecurious like myself will eat along this scale. Eucharist – no, human – no, monkeys – no, beef/pig – maybe, chicken – OK, dinosaur – definitely, fish – sushi? fuck yeah, vegetable – of course.
Beef/pig are both a bit close to home, which is why ethical systems seem to break their carnation off before others. Which I now get. In America you might see cows from a distance, but here I literally have one in my yard each morning. And it’s really cute. It’s got these eyes which honestly look a lot like mine, and they look the same even when its head is severed and on the block. Which is starting to freak me out a little bit. I am simply not used to making eye contact with what I eat. Sometimes you catch a reflection of yourself.