Sunday, August 19, 2007

Where's the Beef?

When I started to take a serious interest in philosophy, sometime in the mid-nineties, my focus wasn’t all that good. I didn’t know where to start reading, or even what my specific interests within philosophy were. I tried reading about religion, language, logic, ethics, and politics. I found that I was interested enough in all of the fields that I could pick any and read until I knew everything. That kind of naïveté is also an indication of how much I needed to read. Know everything. Heh.

One of the books that made an impact on me early on was Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics:
Singer’s an Australian ethicist and animal-rights activist who has become infamous in America for taking some startling positions regarding abortion, such as the idea that any country (such as the U.S.) that routinely advocates the slaughter of animals for food can’t make coherent anti-abortion laws, since animals are more person-like than fetuses are.

Whether I agreed with Singer or not, he got me thinking. Two of the most fundamental parts of what I considered my identity were the simplicity of my meat-and-potatoes upbringing (heavy on the meat, please) and my love for animals. You’d think these two inclinations would clash, but until reading Singer I hadn’t given much thought to the fact that a hamburger was shredded cow muscle. I knew it, intellectually, like I know the capitol of Minnesota is St. Paul, but I hadn’t considered the implications carefully. Once I read Singer, though, I was forced to take responsibility for that awareness.

From that point on I’ve been considering vegetarianism. I’ve never taken a serious stab at it because of that other fundamental component of my identity: I’m a carnivore. Not only was I raised a meat-eater, I enjoy it. Something about the texture, the moisture, the flavor excites me on a primal level. Even full of knowledge, the idea of tearing muscle fibers with my teeth, liquefied animal fat running down my chin as I grind the flesh in my molars and swallow it in a thick gob, satisfies me in a way that chewing a mouthful of corn never can.

But it’s still just a matter of preference. I can survive without eating meat, and my conscience has been unsettled since I first considered this. So I’ve tried on occasion, halfheartedly, to avoid meat. Every time, though, the cravings have become so intense they’ve overridden my conscience and my consciousness, and I’ve gorged myself as only a dedicated gourmand can.

A couple of weeks ago Jess emailed me with news about a wedding she attended, and she told me about the people she saw there. One of those people was Greg, another Mankato MFA who’d relocated to Michigan. She said he’d gone vegan. That shocked me, because Greg and I used to sit in the office and talk about food instead of getting work done. Greg was more serious about food than I was, more gourmet than gourmand, and he wasn’t shy about meat. And now he was vegan, and had been so long enough to have dropped about fifty pounds. I could never be vegan, giving up eggs and milk and cheese, but that kind of dedication really impresses me.

Jess’s email was the last trigger I needed, I guess. Michele has also been trying to avoid meat (for some of the same reasons, and for others that I don’t share), so we decided to try a version of vegetarianism: pescetarianism. It’s like vegetarianism, but the diet includes fish and shellfish.

For the last couple of weeks we've bought no meat and prepared no meat-based meals. I finished the last of the sliced turkey yesterday, and now we have no meat in the apartment.

I don’t see pescetarianism as ethically superior to eating meat—it’s morally indistinguishable from it, as far as I’m concerned. But it is a step in a more ethically-coherent direction. If I can handle this, it should be a short step to eliminating meat altogether. And then my conscience can rest.

All I can do is try, right?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I need more time to absorb this before making any kind of comment.