Why Do People Only Love Cute Animals?

The ethics of meat eating are a curious, tangled concept that I suspect many have struggled with over the years. I know that I am very fascinated with the ways in which people separate out what animals are good for eating versus those which are taboo, and how cultures and individuals navigate these societal “rules” concerning the eating of the flesh of animals, especially when cultures with differing rules on meat intersect on a personal or global basis.

With the rise of the Internet, I have found it easy to get a glimpse at what other people think about meat eating, and I find myself confused at all of the logical inconsistencies, hypocracies and emotional outbursts that people put forth in the defense of this or that position on the eating of animal flesh.

As longtime readers know, one of my greatest irritations is with those who like to eat meat and will eat meat, but who say, “I can’t stand eating meat that looks like it came from an animal.” This is hyppocracy at its height in my mind; if you are unable or unwilling to face up to the fact that meat comes from animals who had to die so you could eat them, then you have no business eating meat.

To me, this attitude is nothing but disrespect to the animals who die to make meat wrapped up in the pretense of sensitivity, and I believe that this sort of attitude tacitly supports the hideous treatment of animals in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations–the typical method of meat, milk, and egg production in industrial agriculture) and their attendant slaughterhouses. Why do I believe this? Because for people who don’t want to face up to the death of animals involved in meat, the less they see of these creatures before they come wrapped in sanitary plastic to the grocery store, reduced down to their constitutent parts, the better.

And frankly, that is how CAFOs and large slaughterhouses run–on secrecy. Michael Pollan had a hard time getting to see CAFOs when he did his research for The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but he -did- see them. What he absolutely was not allowed to see was the action that takes place in an industrial slaughterhouse.

I do not trust any industry that keeps their working secret, much less an industry that is supposed to be producing food for me. Slaughterhouses should be run so cleanly and ethically (the technology is available to run these places ethically) that they would not mind having glass walls so that observers could peer in night and day and see the inner workings for themselves.

But, alas, I fear that until more people either stop eating meat altogether (and I advocate that for a great many people, including those who whine about not wanting to think about the animals who died so they could eat hot dogs), or switch to eating locally produced, ethically raised and slaughtered animals, or until consumers put pressure on the government to pressure the meat industry to produce their meat under ethical guidelines, we are going to continue to see animals suffer grieviously under the current CAFO system.

I am very glad to see more information coming to light about the methods used by CAFOs to produce the vast majority of the meat eaten in the US, because I do believe that most humans do not like to see animals suffer unduly. And suffer they do in the current model of meat production. Chickens, cows and pigs are raised under barbarous conditions, and are treated in ways that make them unhealthy, and cause many to die before they are slaughtered. Egg production and milk production on the industrial model are no less harmful; any time an animal, a living, breathing, being, is treated not as a living creature but as a commodity, or what is often called, “a production unit,” in the industrial farming jargon, they are turned into an object, and as we know, objects cannot suffer. However, even if the CAFO operators would like to believe that their animals are objects which cannot suffer, what is coming to light from many sources, including Pollan’s book, Peter Singer’s newest book, The Way We Eat, and elsewhere, is that these animals are suffering, and suffering on a grand scale that is difficult to imagine.

So, what has this to do with “cute” animals?

Well, it is just that I have, in the past few weeks, run across some items on the internet that gave me pause, and made me wonder about how exactly an individual makes their own ethical decisions regarding meat, the production of it, and whether or not they will eat it.

And the conclusions I am coming to are these: people, for the most part, do not think about what they eat, nor do they make decisions about what they eat based upon rational thought. Primarily, people react emotionally, and in doing so, they do not apply any logical consistency to their arguments, and instead, simply react in a knee-jerk fashion when it comes to their food.

Americans, by and large, have very strict culturally defined standards of what animals are for eating and what animals are not for eating. Because our population is not homogenous, these culturally defined standards are fluid from place to place, and differ according to whether you are talking to a rural person or a city person, a person of Anglo-Saxon background, or one from another ethnic group, or whether you are talking to someone from one region of the country vs. another, but one thing seems to hold quite strongly across many of these groups: it is bad to eat cute animals.

The root of the cute animal rule seems to lie in how strongly we Americans attach to our pets, especially cats and dogs. We consider our cats and dogs to be part of our families, and it disgusts us to think of them or animals like them being eaten by other people in other cultures. It becomes a sort of cannibalism in our eyes for someone to even consider eating a cat or dog, and we are repelled, and our emotional reactions are visceral and often violent.

Cats and dogs are generally undeniably considered to be cute animals. We infantilize them when we keep them as pets, treating them as perpetual children, and we are attracted to their child-like loyalty and the devotion they show to us in return.

I want to make clear that I do not in any way think that this sort of love for animals is wrong; I love my cats and dogs very much, and would take it very personally if someone were to steal them, kill them and eat them. But, I also do not think that it is my business to tell people in other countries, who have other customs, that they may not eat cats and dogs, just because I love my own. That is a kind of culinary cultural imperialism that I find to be both odious and arrogant, and I do not think it is anyone’s right to engage in such behavior.

But, let us continue on.

This adoration for cats and dogs extends to other animals among some Americans. Rabbits, which are often kept as pets in the US, are also very cute creatures, with soft fur, long ears, fuzzy tails and big eyes. However, rabbits are also raised as food livestock on farms, and eaten, and although rabbit consumption tends to be low in urban areas in the US, the eating of tame or wild rabbits in rural areas has been a tradition since our pioneer days.

However, if you look at some posts around the food blogs on the Internet, and read the comments, you can find many people who are vociferously opposed to the eating of rabbits, strictly on the basis that they are “pet animals” (thus, cute), and because of that, are sacrosanct and are not to be eaten.

Rabbit is still commonly eaten all over the world, and enjoyed, but to many Americans, the idea of eating a cute little bunny, a creature who is the harbinger of spring and Easter, and who is embodied as the wise-cracking, beloved Warner Brothers animated icon, Bugs Bunny, is just this side of barbarism.

Many urbanites hate the thought of eating deer, which remind them of Bambi (damn you, Walt Disney and your cuteness fetish!), and they rail against hunters for being drunken, out of control “Bubbas” who sweep through the forests with high caliber weapons and shoot at anything that moves, just so they can get a ten-point buck head to stuff and put over their mantlepiece.

Well, the truth is, there are a very few hunters who fit that description. Most of them are ethical folks who are among the most concientous of gun owners who take safety seriously and who love nothing more than to be outside in the woods. They also tend to have a much more realistic view of their quarry than the folks who live in cities and decry hunting; hunters recognize that without regulated hunting, whitetail deer populations would continue to soar and many deer would starve every winter, because they lack natural predators other than mankind in their habitat.

Hunters understand that humans have created an inbalance in nature when it comes to deer, and thus, it is our responsibility to try and correct that imbalance.

They also know that venison tastes delicious, and is a healthier alternative to eating corn-fed, saturated fat laden CAFO beef, even if the deer are pretty and remind us of Bambi.

And then, we come to horses.

Even more than rabbits, or deer, when the subject of eating horses comes up, it sends Americans into a tizzy. Horses are part of our national mythos–they are a symbol of the Old West, of pioneer expansion, of cowboys riding the range, of the Native Americans of the plains hunting buffalo, of the great cavalry charges of the Civil War. They are still part of our pomp and circumstance; horse-drawn hearses bear our dead presidents to their resting place, instead of the more ordinary and thus less romantic and symbolic motorized variety. They appear in parades, they are the stuff of which many adolescent young girl’s dreams are made. Race horses of the past loom large in our collective consciousness, and are lionized in memory.

All of this symbolic baggage surrounding the horse leads people to react completely emotionally when it comes to the fact that 90,000 unwanted horses are killed in the US each year, and are slaughtered and sent to other countries in order to be used as meat. These 90.000 horses, many of which did not have much of a life to look forward to, have a lot of Americans up in arms over the practice of horse slaughter, if the 315 comments on a recent Slashfood post on the subject are any indication. There is actually a bill before Congress to make the practice of slaughtering horses illegal; interestingly, this bill is opposed by The American Quarter Horse Association and The American Association for Equine Practitioners.

The wording of H.R. 857 opens with an emotional paen to the mythology of the American horse: “Horses have played a significant role in the history and culture of the United States. Horses in the United States are not raised for food or fiber. As a non-food and recreational animal, horses should be protected from slaughter.”

The main reason the bill was brought forward by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican of Hopkinsville, Ky., is because of the trauma that horses who are bought up at auctions around the country undergo on the sometimes 24-hour trailer ride to the slaughterhouse. Horses, which are often sick and injured, are loaded up into double-decker livestock trailers, which were designed for carrying pigs or cattle, and are driven across country, often on rides 24 hours long, to get them to one of the few still operating slaughterhouses in the US. He readily admits that it isn’t the methods of slaughter, or the slaughter itself that bother him, but it is the inhumane way that the horses are treated on the way to slaughter and the suffering they undergo before their deaths that upset him and pushed him to bring this bill forward to Congress.

I love horses. I remember going three times a week to the stable in my youth, and taking riding lessons, even though I suffered horribly from allergies to horsehair and horse dander. I used to load up on my allergy meds, take my two hour lessons, and then ride home in the front seat of the car next to my mother, with my eyes swollen shut, with hives on my face, arms, hands and neck, and a nose so runny I would go through half a box of tissues before we got home. Every week, my Dad would look at me, shake his head and say, “You going to quit?” and I would answer, “No” as I went off to a shower and to rest until the swelling, hives and sneezing subsided.

I have volunteered in horse rescue, and have donated money to the cause of helping save unwanted horses that would otherwise go to slaughter; however, I do not think that the slaughter of horses should necessarily be outlawed in the United States.

I really hate to see horses suffer, just as I hate to see any animal suffer, but I don’t really understand why someone would object to the cruelty of how horses are transported to slaughter when cows and pigs are transported the exact same way, and are often in just as bad health.

Why is it bad for a horse to suffer, but not a cow?

Why is it okay to eat a pig, but not a rabbit?

Why is it fine to let chickens suffer in battery cages where they have no room to move so we can eat eggs, but it is wrong to hunt a deer which has lived in freedom its entire life?

I have no problem with people who see animals suffering and so they become vegetarians. I think that is a perfectly sensible reaction to the plight of animals as they live in our current industrial model of agriculture. In fact, if I did not have access to ethically raised beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken, eggs and dairy, I would be a vegan myself, as I -refuse- to knowingly support the way that CAFOs treat animals with my money. However, I have taken the time and the energy to identify and support alternative means of agriculture in my local area, so I don’t have to resort to veganism.

But, I do have a problem with people who decry the ill-treatment of horses destined for dinner plates in Europe, Japan or Canada, or who freak out over other people eating rabbits in the US, just because they are cute and fluffy, or who get incensed when people in other countries eat cats and dogs, while they themselves buy pork, beef, veal and chicken at the grocery store and support the hideous suffering of these animals in CAFOs.

I have a big problem with that, because what these people are saying is this: “I don’t like to think about cute animals, like cats, dogs, rabbits, deer and horses suffering, so I oppose it, but I will keep silent on all the suffering that pigs, cows and chickens do in the process of industrial agriculture because they taste good and I am too lazy to seek an alternative means to eat.”

So, it is okay for pigs, cows and chickens to suffer, mainly because they -aren’t cute enough- to warrent being treated well?

What kind of twisted, messed-up logic is that?

What makes cows -uncute- as compared to horses or deer? Ever seen a calf? They are as cute as Bambi any day. Ever pet one? I have–they are sweet. In fact, many fully-grown cows are adorable–look at a Gurnsey or Jersey milk cow. Look at those big eyes with the movie-star lashes. They are gorgeous.

Pigs are challenging, but as babies, they are among the cutest creatures on earth. And while some of the adult members of the species can be mean and vicious (they will attack people if they take it in mind to, and can kill if you aren’t paying attention), there are some who are very charming creatures, if you ignore the smell of their manure. And pigs, when housed such that they can stay clean, have a dignity and intelligence to them that is palpable.

And chickens. Why are they not cute? They sure are cute as babies, all fuzzy and yellow and peeping. When fully plumed, some breeds of chicken are colorful and striking. Some of them are funny-looking, and many of them are downright cute. They are soft, too, and like to be petted, and some of them can sing. Did you know that? They can. I know, because I used to sing with them, and cuddle them every morning when I gathered eggs.

I have had extensive interactions with most types of farm animals, and they all have qualities about them that are attractive. They may not all be cute, nor are they all friendly critters, but they all have traits to them that make it so humans can relate to them as other beings. They can be affectionate, they feel pain, they feel pleasure, they are gregarious and they are all creatures who deserve respect, care and dignity.

Here’s the way I think about it: no animal, even if it is destined for a dinner plate, (perhaps, especially if it is going to become an entree) should lead lives of unrelieved suffering. End. Of. Story.

Nor should they be mistreated on their way to the slaughterhouse, nor should they be killed in an inhumane fashion.

It is as simple as that. We cannot, in fact, must not, make artificial demarcations in our minds between which animals are allowed to be eaten and which are not, based only on emotional beliefs. We must look carefully at the situation of all animals, and decide how they are to be treated not only in their deaths, but in their lives. If we punish individuals for making dogs and cats suffer, then why do we tolerate the wholesale suffering of our food animals? It doesn’t make sense, and worse than that–it means that we can make artificial divisions in our minds that are not based upon logic, or fact, but instead an emotion.

Where does such thinking end? Does this sort of inhumane treatment of -some- animals end with just animals, or can it desensitize us to suffering such that we can turn our heads and ignore the suffering of other humans, because they are not valued by us, or are too different from us to warrent care?

Not caring about the suffering of some animals is a slippery slope that I do not think that most people want to go down.

What is my solution to this issue?

I propose that more people turn away from CAFO-produced foods. Whether they start supporting smaller farmers who use more ethical means to produce meat, eggs and dairy foods, or whether they become vegans does not matter to me. There is no one way for consumers to vote with their food dollar, and I think that indidviduals can come to a decision that fits with their own food preferences, budget and belief system.

I also propose that if there is to be legislation involving the slaughter of any animal, that instead of banning the slaughter, that it demands humane treatment for -all- animals both at the slaughterhouse, and in transport to the slaughterhouse; such a law should also be strictly enforced with fines and jail sentences for those in violation of such a law. I also would like to see better government oversight and involvement in CAFOs, because not only are these facilities bad for animals, they are bad for the humans who eat the animals, too. They are dens of disease and environmental degradation, and as such, should not be tolerated by consumers. I’d love to see our government, instead of listening to large agriculture industry lobbiests instead be bombarded by demands from consumers that they clean up CAFOs, and maybe even one day put them out of business.

I also propose this–love the animals who not only are our companions, but who also feed us. Look at the pigs, cows and chickens. See them. Really see them. Look at where they live and how they live. Really see it, and know it for what it is. Look them in the eye, and then look at what is on your plate. They give their lives so we can eat–doesn’t that mean that they deserve respect and yes, love?

If you love the animals you eat, really love them, and know them, and stop looking away and simply accepting the way in which they are treated in our names both in life and in death, then I guarantee you will change the way you see the world, yourself and the other creatures who live in it. You will have increased the compassion in the world, and in doing so, you will have taken a postive step toward making the world a better place for all of us to live in.

27 Comments

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  1. Barbara – I love it when you write stuff like this. I hope that the people who ned to see it, see it. Did you ever stumble across from this post from the Old Foodie a few months ago. I thought it was very interesting.

    Comment by sam — June 14, 2006 #

  2. This reminds of a time when I was in a New Zealand airport going back home to the Philippines and I was buying something at one of the shops. The saleslady asked me where I was from and when I told her she gave me this look of horror and said, “Don’t you people eat dogs?!” I was taken aback because I personally don’t eat dogs but then I realized that Filipinos have this reputation for eating dogs. I also realized that while I was in New Zealand I myself was at first horrified to see deer and rabbit on the menu. So I replied, “And you eat deer and rabbit!”

    Comment by Macky — June 14, 2006 #

  3. Great post. I’ve seen people turn up their nose at me because I eat lamb, only to tuck into a nice juicy beef steak. That makes no sense to me at all.

    Comment by Stephanie — June 14, 2006 #

  4. You know I agree that its “culinary cultural imperialism” (an awesome expression by the way :) ), but I’m still not sure I could eat horse or dog meat. They’re just far too personal to me, but then again I’m not trying to make other people feel guilty for doing so.

    The only thing I would add is that the people who work in those slaughterhouses should also be treated ethically. Most are migrant workers who are facing real poverty and are at great risk of repetitive stress injuries not to mention losing limbs. I could go on, but I always want to add when people talk about the ethical treatment of animals – what about the people?! I’ve noticed that a lot of people concerned about animal rights seem to not give a damn about anyone with brown skin. Somehow I think if we actually began to adopt a system of ethical labor laws the concerns for animal well being would come along to. And probably vice versa, since smaller operations often pay living wages as well. Oh well my 2 cents.

    Tonight I shall dream of pesto :).

    Comment by mujeresliebres — June 14, 2006 #

  5. YESYESYES.

    Israel has a population of foreign workers from Thailand, and occasionally there’ll be a case in criminal courts involving a few Thai workers stealing a dog or a cat and eating it. Being a vegetarian (and trying to be a free-range, cruelty-free consumer, when I can), I am still appalled at these cases. They reflect the worst case of ethnic hypocricy. Had these folks stolen a cow from someone’s herd, it probably wouldn’t be an honest thing to do, but would there be such an uproar? Certainly not.

    There’s another aspect to the cute animal syndrom. In Vietnam and in other countries, insects of various types are eaten and provide a good source of protein. Western folks often shudder with disgust at this. I gotta say, this is entirely a cultural artifact. I mean, wouldn’t you expect people to feel BETTER, not worse, at the thought of eating an animal who wasn’t a mammal, and therefore shared less common qualities with us?

    This is too confusing and strange to me, and therefore, I vote for soy and veg.

    Comment by Hadar — June 14, 2006 #

  6. I don’t know about most hunters being conscientious and ethical. I’m not sure what the ratio of sport to trophy hunters (and fishermen) is, but trophy hunting/fishing bothers me deeply, as does catch-and-release-for-fun fishing. I periodically read Field & Stream, and I came across a quote from a bass fishermen (bass fishing is primarily catch-and-release) about how eating bass would be “like eating the family dog.” I have to wonder if he regular sticks a hook in his dog’s mouth and yanks it out for fun. The thing is, that’s a pretty typical attitude in hunting magazines.

    I’m all for food hunting/fishing (although ecologically speaking, humans are a poor substitute for wolves and other nonhuman predators, according to some Berkeley studies the past few years), but I don’t think “most” hunters really think critically about their hunting practices that much.

    The only animal firmly on my arbitrary too-cute-to-eat list is the stingray, and I fully recognize that it’s arbitrary (so no clam chowder for me). Cats are on the I-heard-they-taste-bad list, although since I have cats I’m not entirely sure I could eat one. It squicks me, nonrationally. I do think the too-cute-to-eat concept is irrational, as is not liking to think about meat coming from animals–but how do you convince people to abandon nonrational gut reactions? Maybe the best we can hope for is to recognize that they’re irrational, but respect that everyone has different irrational food beliefs. Don’t make me eat scorpions, I won’t make you eat rabbits–or whatever.

    I think mujeresliebres brings up a very important point about slaughterhouse workers, too. Humane slaughterhouses would be better for humans, too, both workers (most slaughterhouses are not places anyone should have to work) and consumers.

    Comment by Mel — June 14, 2006 #

  7. My daughter in law, mostly a vegetarian, off and on will eat meat. One Easter I had her and my son over for dinner. The day before she called and asked if I were going to serve ham, which I was, and she told me that pigs were very intelligent animals, almost as smart as dogs, so could I serve chicken instead. It didn’t matter to me so I served a stupid chicken. Sigh.

    Comment by Linda — June 15, 2006 #

  8. Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

    We need to be careful about mixing issues. The right to choose what kind of food you are willing to eat does not supercede the rights of others to define their own family units to include non-humans. For instance, I find it right and appropriate (in contrast to an earlier reader) that someone who steals a pet for consumption should be punished more harshly than someone who steals an animal viewed as livestock or poaches from a public wilderness area. This distinction is not because the pet is “cuter” but because the act causes greater emotional harm as the pet is part of the self-defined family.

    In general, the ethics around eating are a personal matter. I only have an issue with them (even if the logic is not clear to me) when someone tries to impose their standards on me. There’s another interesting discussion about whether a society has the right to set common standards… possibly, but increasingly tricky in multicultural settings.

    Comment by frumiousb — June 15, 2006 #

  9. Hey Barb, I think I found the reason behind the whole horsemeat issue in an article in the last issue of Saveur. They were talking about horsemeat consumption in Slovenia and had this little interesting bit to add:
    “In A.D. 732, Pope Gregory III declared the eating of horsemeat “a filthy and abominable custom.”

    We, as Americans have a tendency to follow old world traditions long after the “Old World” has moved on from them :)

    Fry me up a SpacePony sammich with mayo an onions!
    -=Bryian=-

    ((732 C.E., Pope Gregory III ordered the cessation of the consumption of horsemeat in a letter to Boniface(Saint), his missionary among the Germans after hearing that horsemeat was being used in ‘Pagan’ rituals in the northlands. ))

    Comment by Bryian — June 15, 2006 #

  10. Hey, fantastic post and like this one, it did give me something to think about.

    Two things:
    1) “Culinary cultural imperialism” – A+. :) Good turn of phrase.
    2) I was talking with some friends of the low-income variety and heard something that i honestly thought had been gone from our culture for a long while. The quote was this: “Well my husband is hunting again now that he’s recovered and since we could find an old, hand-me-down freezer, a deer will feed our family for a month, easy.” They are farm co-op people, and buy local meat when they can, buy lettuce when they can’t. The husband referred to is a bow-hunter of deer and rabbit. I know how very hard it is to vote with your food dollar when it is more than 1/4 of your budget, as theirs is, how difficult it can be to justify paying more for something ethical or moral reasons when it is so very easy to pay less, with less work. But what surprised me was that hunting actually played a role in the staple food supply to their household: something i hadn’t heard of in real life, in our age of highways and supermarkets.

    Comment by Donius — June 15, 2006 #

  11. Hear, hear! A very eloquent statement. I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I do eat it, and I try to be aware of where my meat comes from (this is a more recent development as I have gotten more educated about CAFO).

    I love rabbit and venison (and lamb), and I am always baffled by people who decry this (but rabbits are so CUTE…) while tucking into a big plate of veal milanese, for example. I grew up in an area where the first day of deer hunting season was practically a state holiday – and many people relied on venison to feed their families. I had a friend growing up who raised rabbits for meat. They had “pet” rabbits allowed in the house that they named, and rabbits for meat kept in the barns that were not named – and they were able to keep the two separate in their minds.

    I think people who eat meat are often hypocritical about what it is they are eating.I think if you are a carnivore you should respect that something has been killed for your dining pleasure – whether that is a chicken or a rabbit. Respect that by appreciating the food and being aware of where it came from, and supporting farmers who raise and slaughter their animals humanely.

    Comment by Diane — June 15, 2006 #

  12. In some parts of the UK, rabbit is still frequently hunted or shot. Personally, I much prefer wild rabbit.

    I feel very strongly that hunting and shooting and fishing are a reasonable way to provide good food. I would prefer any day to eat an animal that had lived a wild life according to it’s nature than some factory-farmed animal that had had a short, un-natural and usually painful life.

    If my grandfather hadn’t been able to hunt rabbits for the pot during the depression of the 1930s, I probably wouldn’t be here today.

    I don’t agree with people putting themselves above the food chain.

    Hunting has a bad image, which seems odd to me. In cities, people frequently blow each others heads off with guns, and this seems to be taken as a fact, whether people like it or not. But let one rural person kill a “fluffy bunny” for food, and all hell breaks loose.

    Comment by Steph — June 15, 2006 #

  13. Excellent post.

    A few quick addendums:

    -though his Les Yeux Sans Visage gothic surgical horror flick gets all the accolades I find Georges Franju’s Blood of the Beasts the better film. It’s a surrealistic documentary partially reflecting upon mid-century French horse and sheep slaughterhouses(in B/W).

    available on the Criterion edition:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0002V7O0Q/ref=pd_bbs_null_1/002-3423910-3868053?s=dvd&v=glance&n=130

    As a youth I raised rabbits as pets. Folly, indeed. :)

    But, out of all the cats and fish I’ve owned over the years I still remember my first bunny: Mrs. Buns. When rescued from being put-down, in fear, she took a chunk out of my palm. Over the years she evinced enormous intelligence and love? She’d pry at the backdoor when she wanted in, she’d hop on the bed to “watch” television. Or, she’d simply rest in my lap. All of this when she wasn’t seeking electronics cords to terrorize. One of my favorite pets.

    However, I can seperate my Mrs. Buns from the rabbit I might enjoy in a whatever brasserie.

    I’ve never eaten horse…but given the opportunity, I would.

    There’s a controversial Hasidic Jew-run horse farm/slaughterhouse not too far from Chicago. They raise and fabricate horsemeat for export.

    Of course Chicago’s former slaughterhouse empire has all but vanished from view. All that’s left of Sinclair’s muckraking target is the entrance archway on the Southside.

    An exhaustive speculation in and of itself is the idea of future cloning and/or vat-ing of animal-esque flesh; meat that has had no life as an animal.

    so much more to ponder,
    Chris

    Comment by Christopher Gordon — June 15, 2006 #

  14. Eric Schlosser talks a lot about slaughterhouses in his book “Fast Food Nation” (which I highly recommend). The way that humans and cattle are treated is, to be honest, horrifying.

    I’m one of those people who doesn’t eat mammals (though I will occasionally eat poultry [organic if possible], and I love fish) but the main reason is because, as you said, much meat raised in the US as ecologically unsound, and (as mentioned) the animals and humans are treated terribly.

    I don’t think that eating rabbit is more terrible than eating lamb or pork–but I wouldn’t eat either.

    However, I also refuse to eat at fast food restaurants, because of the way they treat their employees, and try to give my business to places that have a reputation for treating their employees well.

    But those are MY choices, and although I can share my opinions with people, it is not my place to tell people what they should and should not eat.

    As far as hunting, I live in WV (which is what first drew me to your site) and I have friends who hunt to feed their families, and have also had the unfortunate experience of hitting a deer with my car (on two separate occasions no less).

    I don’t understand how people can claim that hunting is cruel, when far worse (in my eyes) is allowing the deer population to explode so that the animals are driven onto roads where they are killed and injured in huge numbers every year.

    In short, I totally agree with your post; thank you for writing it (and check out “Fast Food Nation” if you haven’t already read it.)

    Michelle

    Comment by Michelle K — June 15, 2006 #

  15. There is not much more to be said. I could not agree with you more on this. Folks who decide their views on these issues based on cuteness factors are about as amenable to discussion as religious fundamentalists, however.

    Comment by lindy — June 16, 2006 #

  16. Sam–thank you for posting that link. I hadn’t seen it before.

    I know you like these posts–it was, in fact, a question you asked me in the comments of “Meat Comes From Animals….” that helped prompt this essay to start fomenting in my mind a while back.

    I do know that some of these posts have done a bit of good–I have gotten email from quite a few folks whose opinions or thoughts were changed a bit by one or another of these essays.

    Macky–one of the things I dislike greatly about some of these instances of culinary cultural imperialism, is that they are slyly encoded racist comments in disguise. The disdain shown for the Chinese by some Americans, because they “eat cats, rats and dogs” is just thinly veiled racist attitudes emerging, and I really dislike such statements. That means, that when I hear them, my dander gets up, and I start arguing.

    Though, I have to admit, I like your approach too! It made me smile.

    Stephanie–I had the same problem growing up–I was one of the few Anglo-Americans in my school who ate lamb. The only other kids who didn’t think we were barbaric were the ones from Greek or Lebanese families! But the attitude makes no sense, you are right, and it didn’t even make sense to me at the time.

    mujeresliebres–I am glad that folks are liking the phrase, “culinary cultural imperialism.” It is something that I feel strongly about, in part, because, as I mentioned, such attitudes often are thinly concealed racism, which is something I find to be odious.

    That said, I would not go out of my way to eat dog or horse, or cat. But, if I was in someone’s home, and they served me such a dish, and it was from an animal that was meant to be eaten, and it was given in all honor and with good will, my personal code of honor would demand that I eat it and praise it out of politeness and out of my obligation to the host.

    But, that is just me.

    Hadar–part of the reason that the stealing of a pet causes uproar is because of the bond of love shared between pets and their human families. People do not tend to bond as strongly with food animals (though, we did bond with them more than most people think we would on our farm), so one could see the theft of a beloved pet as a crime not only against the owner as in a loss of property, but also against the pet and family as a case of terrorizing the family and causing them great emotional pain.

    Do you see the difference?

    That said, cattle and horse rustling used to be hanging offenses in the old west of the US for a good reason–stealing cattle or draft animals could cripple a pioneer family and cause them to starve. That is why thieving of that sort was dealt with so harshly at the time.

    Just a little historical note, there.

    Mel–where I am from, we don’t have much in the way of trophy hunters or “big game” hunters. That may be what led to my statement–where I am from, men, women and kids hunt to put meat on the table for the family. Yeah, they may have a trophy over the fireplace, too, but they don’t ever shoot an animal or kill a fish just to have it stuffed–that trophy is of secondary importance. What is most important to the hunters of Appalachia–which includes poor folks in West Virginia, S.E. Ohio, Kentucky, parts of Tennesee and on south–is that they get meat for the freezer.

    These folks might read Field & Stream, but those are pipe dream mags for them, not factual representations of their lifestyles. Most of what you see in those magazines are from people of higher income brackets–and frankly, I don’t know many of those folks. I tend to know about the people who hunt deer, turkey, squirrel, rabbit and bear to eat them, not stuff them and mount them.

    I probably should have mentioned that in my essay, now that I think on it.

    Linda–I am glad it didn’t bother you, but it would have struck me as somewhat rude had a guest said that to me. But, then, I can also see her point–hogs are smarter than chickens. I just don’t like guests dictating what they will or will not eat when they’re invited to someone’s home for dinner. That, to me, goes against the manners with which I was brought up.

    frumiousb–I do have issues with others imposing their beliefs or food choices on anyone. I also agree with your point on pets–it is a big problem to take a beloved member of the family and kill it to eat it by stealing it, whereas it isn’t such a big deal to steal a livestock animal. I see the emotional impact as very different, and as one that needs to be addressed legally.

    But, still–I think that we need better laws to protect livestock animals from suffering unduly in their lives and deaths, too.

    Bry–a large part of the Pope’s issue with horseflesh eating had to do with its involvement with Pagan rituals in the Northern European countries–particularly in rites sacred to Odin. Horse sacrifice, with the blood and bones being consumed by the god, and then the meat being consumed by the worshippers, was fairly common in the far north at that time.

    I also don’t know how much impact that has on modern Americans. I think that our squeamishness regarding horse has to do with our status as a set of English colonies–the Brits are very fond of horses in an emotional sense, and with how important horses were on the frontier. Without horses as draft animals, cavalry mounts and mounts for cowboys and other folks, people would not have been as able to make the westward expansion. The railroad followed the wagon trains, the pony express and the sod-busting lone settlers long rides, and so to kill and eat a horse would be seen as wasteful, unless it was on its way out of life already. It would also be seen as a horrible crime, to take a family’s horses from them, because without them they have no mobility or the ability to plow the heavy prairie soil.

    But, that is still an interesting bit about the Pope.

    Donius–I always forget that not everyone was born in, or has lived in Appalachia, so hunting for -food- is not seen as a normal, everyday part of life, and so it is surprising to folks.

    Not to me. I know these folks and I support their need to feed their families cheap, healthy food. Hunting fulfills that need–they were the sorts of hunters I was talking about in my post.

    Hunting isn’t just a pastime for some people. For some–it really is a necessity.

    Thanks, Diane–thanks for the kind words. I agree with you that people who eat meat can often be odd about how they decide on what is edible and not.

    Steph–I am so with you on the wild vs. domestic rabbits issue. Wild tastes better!

    I also agree what if some of our ancestors didn’t hunt, we likely would not be here having this conversation….lots of folks forget that.

    Chris–the issue of vat grown meat is something I covered very briefly in an earlier essay–”Meat Comes From Animals, Deal With It, Or Eat Vegetables.” I would like to write about it at length, because it is one of my favorite SF concepts from the Vorkosigan novels by Lois McMaster Bujold, and is one that I think we are very close to experiencing now. I wonder what sort of ethical issues the presence of vat grown meat will cause for vegetarians, and I also wonder if we will lose a great many domestic livestock, because they will not be necessary anymore. The loss of different breeds of animals saddens me, but I do think that vat-grown meat is a viable and ethical alternative to producing meat by killing animals.

    But I would only eat it if it tasted good…..

    Hello, Michelle–glad to hear from another Mountaineer!

    I have read Schlosser’s book, and probably should review it here, but I loved it. I thought it was a lot of fun to read, and was an eye-opener on many issues, and it helped push me away from grocery store and fast food meat.

    For that, I am grateful for Schlosser, because farm-fresh meats are so much better tasting and better for us to eat!

    Lindy–I have, if you can believe it, gotten some folks who might otherwise be unamenable to discussion to think and discuss. There is hope for the world.

    But yes, I have also irritated fundamentalists of various sorts, too.

    But, I keep writing. And hoping that my words do some good out here on the Internet.

    Comment by Barbara — June 16, 2006 #

  17. i only read up to the 11th paragraph because im tired and everything u wrote was just blurry – you talk to much *sorry* anyway, i’ve lived in the bush all my life and i eat steak everynight, just a good slab of steak, we can have our freezes stocked up for months on the one kill – cows are my favourite animal, i see and work with them everyday, the ways in which they are kept and brought up are mot bad or cruel, i love them as much as i love my horses, but they taste really good as well…i was a vegetarian once….for about 6 hours but it never worked because dinner time came around again and i had to eat (steak is the only meat i eat) ANYway…im just saying that people can think what they want to think but this whole “i wont eat my favourite animal, they are to cute” crap, but im gonna eat what i wanna eat.
    catcha later
    ~…pOsSuMn…~
    (i think that whole comment was irrelevant)

    Comment by Skye — June 17, 2006 #

  18. (“I don’t understand how people can claim that hunting is cruel, when far worse (in my eyes) is allowing the deer population to explode so that the animals are driven onto roads where they are killed and injured in huge numbers every year”).
    Just to respond to this, As many deer that die from being struck by vehicles would equal that of humans being struck by vehicles; if it wasn’t for the laws that are present in todays world people would be low in number’s as would animals because humans messing up the food chain by removing the wolf’s and other carnivore species is what messed up the process anyway.
    Sadly then the world would be better off because due to less people thier would be less disease, less hungry people, and less problems in all aspects of life.
    Yet, people because they have a need to feel secure and safe, removed the carnivourous species from the wild that threaten human existence therefore messing up the natural limit of life that exists in this world.
    Well, thats my two cents…:)
    Oh, and as for the laws I was talking of the street lights, crosswalk’s, stop signs and laws that control our life, considering deer don’t understand when and where to cross like humans are shown to do with the help of signs and laws…

    Comment by PV2 Jones — January 14, 2007 #

  19. Furthermore, just in case you would like to know, I am a vegitarian; and I thought I would help you out a little with a site that has some interesting information, thaaat is if your interested… Check it out…

    http://www.thenazareneway.com/index_vegetarian.htm

    Comment by PV2 Jones — January 14, 2007 #

  20. You are a great writer! You should be a little more careful with typos as it takes some of the punch out of your writing.
    About the horses, it might have occurred to you that many are offended by horse slaughter because the horses live for years as co-workers and companions with humans before being sent to die. If cows were generally used for riding or racing people would be offended by their slaughter too.
    The only downside to the “hunters replace predators” theory of hunting is that predators seek out the weakened deer, thus helping the species. Hunters do the exact opposite.

    Comment by Jasmine Blackforth — May 25, 2007 #

  21. okay, this is not right! I love animals and they dont deserve to be hunted. i think that this website is sooo true! Thank you

    Comment by 'animal lover — June 14, 2007 #

  22. I love this article- and anyone who doesn’t get it- grow a heart!

    Comment by Annette — September 28, 2007 #

  23. Well I didn’t actually read the whole thing but I get what you mean, but wouldn’t it be great if all animals were like cats,cheetas and teigers ect. Because they are soooooooo cute, smart and did i mention cut!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    By from the one and only CAZ

    Comment by caz — September 30, 2007 #

  24. Great Article! Honest and none hypocritical although I think chickens are cute :)

    Comment by Mike — February 19, 2008 #

  25. Thank you, Mike.

    I think that chickens are cute, too. And cows, but I think I made that abundantly clear in the post…..pigs, I am not as hung up on them being cute, though as babies they are adorable.

    It doesn’t stop me from eating them–I just make certain to get meat from sustainable farmers.

    Comment by Barbara — February 19, 2008 #

  26. If you don’t hunt, you ethically should not eat meat. When you hunt you are part of nature and life like the Native Americans.

    Comment by Matt — September 15, 2008 #

  27. I love this! I have bookmarked it and am currently sending it to all my friends.

    Comment by grrsawn — October 27, 2008 #

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