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Eating Animals

On June 6, 2005 I stopped eating meat products. It occurred to me that I ought to make a simple record of my experiences before and after this watershed event.


The route to this singular decision was rather long (58 years long, to be precise) and somewhat convoluted. From my earliest days, Iíve never been that big into the "eating thing". Even when the occasional opportunity arose to savor some especially delightful culinary offering, Iíve not been particularly enthusiastic about it. My mom* wasn't the greatest cook on the planet; and to compound that, as a child I was a damn picky eater. I was skinny as a rail. There were a lot of foods that I simply wouldnít eat, no matter how much I was scolded. (It was especially awful if the various foods on the plate were actually allowed to touch one another.) At some point very early on, I began to feel a vague sense of wrongness about the whole concept of eating.  At the extreme bottom line, I came to the notion that it was the horrifying act of animals eating each other. If there were a simple pill you could take to fulfill the appetite, I would have gladly swallowed it in lieu of ingesting "real" food. Basically, a totally weird kid.


Maybe it had something to do with watching my father* gorge himself -- loudly and, to me, disgustingly -- every night at the opposite end of our tiny kitchen table. It sickened me to hear the sound of his mastication Ė it seemed almost obscene. As I watched him shovel food into his huge jowls, and listened to his noisy munching, I could only think of a fat, hungry swine at a trough. It literally made me want to vomit.


Well, I eventually left that scene and got into one that was slightly more conducive to getting food down my throat without gagging. Back then, MacDonaldístm had not quite reached even the modest bragging rights of "a million burgers served" -- and I still remember when their store signs changed from noting the specific number of billions sold, to ultimately read "billions and billions sold". I began to help them hit that mark, and more. I found that even "mystery meat" in the college dorm cafeteria wasnít nearly so bad as the fare I had grown up with. There was, incredibly, an entire universe of better food out there. From skinny, I managed to get merely thin.


After I got married, I learned that the taste of food had a lot to do with the quality of the starting ingredients. That explained a lot about the awful food I ate as a child: quality equals cost. And cost (i.e., the cost of everything and anything) was a real issue in my family. From day #1, I made my wife -- each of them, in their applicable succession -- swear that never, ever would margarine be brought into the house instead of butter. To reinforce it, I emphasized that extremely painful capital punishment would be sure to follow any transgression of that rule.  And never again would I eat cheap, tough cuts of meat.


Eventually, decent restaurants began to sprout up within driving distance in our little burg, and I took advantage of them. Over the years, I grew from thin to approximately normal size. There were a lot more juicy, marbled steaks and greasy hamburgers eaten throughout that time. Nevertheless, I canít say that I ever got to the position of enjoying eating for its own sake. There was still that notion of something not right about eating, left over from my childhood.


Even though I managed to get past the more extreme edges of my early eating dysfunction, Iíve never eaten breakfast or lunch on a daily basis. The only exceptions have been while traveling or on vacation. Judging from others, I think this is perhaps extremely unusual. But with loads of solid and liquid carbohydrates and meat protein eaten at and after dinnertime, and my typical sedentary behavior in the evening, I managed to go from normal size to 20 lbs. overweight over the last 15 years or so. Despite that, I never actually felt overweight. Hell, it wasnít much more than the equivalent of a tenpin bowling ball to carry around all the time. A piece of cake (though I never really liked cake or sweets that much).


The fact is, I never could quite shake the nagging sense of guilt about eating meat -- animals eating animals. Nobody likes to dwell on the thought of how meat products are raised and slaughtered for human consumption. Itís better not to ponder that subject while youíre eating your tasty fried chicken or crisp pork chop. Anyone smarter than a boxful of hammers has some slight knowledge of how things operate in the abattoirs and big-industry "factory farms". Itís worse than any horror movie youíve ever seen. Itís easy for most people to repress that -- but not me. For many folks, itís a matter of assigning some special place for human beings in the chain of being, and refusing to admit that other animals have any kind of true emotional life and feelings Ė and souls. Or to revile the notion that humans are just another type of animal.  Again, not me.


What precisely is the definition of agony? Is agony a concept whose ownership is restricted to human beings? What do you do about a person (or an institution) that causes agony in another human being? Or in an infant or small child? Or in a dog? Or a cat? A bunny, a hamster, or a lab rat? A lamb, a calf, a chicken? These questions have always plagued me.


Letís walk along this particular continuum of pathos for a moment. Cows actually have it pretty good in a relative sense: a couple of bad days being transported to their penultimate holding pens, and a few moments of abject terror while being herded into a narrow, dark, blood-reeking corridor until they receive their final skull-smashing reward. But at least they had some good years in the field. Pigs are not so lucky, confined and unnaturally pumped-up. A slit throat while dangling by a hind leg on an overhead drag-line conveyor chain is their lifeís reward. The way veal is produced is unquestionably a crime and a sin on any universal plane you wish to name, with calves confined so tightly soon after birth that they canít even turn around. But the way poultry is raised and harvested is probably the most heinous example of animal cruelty. The animalsí entire life is one of unnatural existence, extreme suffering and endless misery. I wonder how it feels to live so crammed together with others, hardly able to move around freely? And to ultimately have your head chopped off, or to be hung upside-down and have your jugular vein sliced open?


I donít have as much of a problem with fish or seafood harvesting. Excepting aquafarming (which I know little about), fish live a life of natural freedom Ė until the point that theyíre snagged in a net or caught on a hook. Bad luck for them -- but at least they donít have to suffer too awfully long. Itís not like their whole life is characterized by incarceration, terror and the unending stress of living in an unnatural environment. Only trouble is, I hate the taste and smell of fish, and canít get near Ďem!  But I could justify eating hunted game of any sort, for the same reason noted above.  And at this point I'd rather maintain "plausible deniability" about the way milk products are produced.  Surely, they have to keep dairy cows somewhat content to get the product from them -- don't they? I have to draw the line somewhere!  But eggs are right out, since I know a little more than I want to about that industry.  But I cut way back on eggs years ago anyway, mainly for health reasons.


To make matters worse, I've never been particularly fond of vegetables or fruit. Thatís presents a rather big dilemma when you go off meat. Potatoes are OK. Rice is OK. Beer is great, good nutritional value in that commodity. But you can't survive on carbohydrates alone, can you? So I reckon I have to learn to like vegetables and fruit. I can do it. I can do it. (Keep repeating thatÖ)


Here is what Iíve experienced after only one week of meatless existence:

● My rate of flatulence has risen 10-fold (or so it seems).


● You would not believe the increased volume of feces that Iím producing, and the rate at which they are being produced. (Already this is way more than you wanted to hear, right?)


● Iím getting a lot stupider than I was. (This is not really too surprising. You are what you eat. My mentality is digressing from that of a cow to that of a vegetable.)


● My persistent heartburn is a bit better.


● My Karma doesnít yet feel lighter. (Considering that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of Wendyís Doublestm and MacD's Quarter-Pounderstm in my past to atone for, this is not entirely surprising.)


● My doctor, during a pre-scheduled physical exam this week, said I oughtnít to make this change so drastically. (But I never listen to him anyway.)


● My nighttime dreams areÖ somehow different. Maybe more interesting. Possibly related to the sex dreams that a plant pollen might have, wafting in the breeze or being transported by a bee to a deliriously wonderful rendezvous with a pretty stamen. Iíll get back to you later on thatÖ

OK, the truth is, I might just bag this odd tack tomorrow and get back into the "normal" American meat-eating regime. Itís a one-day-at-a-time type thing. I can conceive that for every week I persevere, maybe I can take a chicken out of the commerce stream. And in a year, perhaps a pig or two, and a cow. You might think it all seems rather foolish and futile; that my little program can't possibly make any difference at all in the grand totality of things. But thatís not my point, or my reason. Itís my personal moral sense and Karmic destiny that Iím dealing with here. As for everyone elseÖyou can damn well do as you like.


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* Rest in Peace. Although, if by some unthinkable stretch of religious dogma my mother and father were actually once again joined together in Heaven, I reckon I would be held guilty of extreme, unsympathetic sarcasm in rendering that comment.

See this excellently written book review by David Pearce of Taking Animals Seriously -- Mental Life and Moral Status (author: David DeGrazia).

One thing that has always distressed me is having to pass (or be passed by) a truck carrying caged hogs to slaughter.  I dream about those pink snouts sticking out for days afterward.


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