Monday, June 17, 2013

How a Lhasa Apso made me eat my vegetables

For a long time, I thought about eating my dog. After years of devouring cows and chickens and pigs and little lambs, why not deep fry a Lhasa Apso? So yeah, I thought about it. Though clever, he still wasn't as smart as the animal that gave me bacon. Though cuddly, his hygiene was in serious doubt. And the nail in the miniature coffin: none of the other animals I ate without a second's thought had ever bit me.

Horrifying, you say? Absolutely. My little schnookems wasn't just another animal, he was a friend. He had a little personality. He got happy. He got scared. He got pissed. Sure, he couldn't solve a Rubic's cube, but then neither could I. The point is that he was a complex character, one capable of sensing your mood and licking your hand when he thought you were down, while also having the independence of mind to launch premeditated raids on trash cans for spoiled Pastrami sandwiches while you had your back turned.

What got me thinking about rolling my dog around in flour and setting him in the oven for 45 minutes wasn't that I'm some sick, broken soul, though that may have been part of it. It's that I couldn't make a good case for not eating him while still eating other animals capable of being happy and scared and pissed. Living in Nicaragua at the time, I regularly saw big, fat, lumbering pigs hanging out in people's front yards, playing and cuddling with the family dog. Little piglets looked like puppies from afar, some black, some white, some with spots.

My heart would melt when I saw the little critters. I gained newfound respect when one of their 400-pound elders was walking down the street in my direction and it decided, no, buddy, you cross to the other side. And got to thinking and was forced to confront an uncomfortable thought: I was fucking Cruella De Vil, at least if she wore v-necks and had an active social media presence.

Apparently, and this makes sense to people, it is incredibly wrong to turn dalmatians into fur coats, but not to hang a pig or cow by its hind legs and sever its jugular vein with a knife and watch it bleed to death. If you actually think about this, which I studiously avoided doing for a good 27 years, it makes no damn sense. And indeed, in some cultures your furry little friends often end up on the dinner plate, not because the people are more cruel, but because they are just more consistent. They don't necessarily see a morally significant difference between a dog or a cat and a pig or a cow.

And if you think about it, there isn't. That occurred to me when I, a little piglet in my eye, began trying to rationalize my meat eating. I wasn't confident in my position. I was defensive. Mostly, I was lazy. It was a behavior to which I had grown accustomed and I couldn't, or wouldn't, consider it rationally. Ugly as it was, and this is no real excuse, but: I had grown up in a speciesist household, calling animals names like “sausage patty” and “hamburger” that I'd never address them by face to face.

Put aside your strawmen. No one is saying animals are people too. No, angry white men, Little Miss Piggy will not be taking your job. You will not be denied entrance to law school because of some lefty, “PC” board of admissions decides to take a chance on some muskrat from a broken home. And no, blades of grass do not experience consciousness the way an animal does, which is why even meat-eaters will concede trampling to death the one is very much different from trampling to death the other.

We know that animals, including the ones we eat the most of, can experience suffering. We know that some animals, including the ones we eat the most of, are arguably smarter than the dog you will cry over when it dies. We know this. And we know that we can get by just fine without inflicting this suffering. In fact, science suggests those who give up eating animals aren't just fine, but better. One recent study found that vegetarians have a 32 percent lower risk of heart disease. Numerous studies have found that vegetarians live longer. Eating plants isn't just good for your nagging liberal guilt, but for your body.

What do you have to lose? Maybe there's nothing morally wrong with eating an animal (there is), but why take that chance and inflict unnecessary suffering? There's a reason many states are trying to ban video footage of corporate slaughterhouses: they don't want you to see what goes on inside. Because it's fucking terrible. Your steak went through a lot of torture before it reached the steakhouse. And it didn't have to.

Eat a salad, you asshole.


  1. This is the argument of the well off. Eating is not a moral endeavor. You do it, or you die.

    And you might as well moralize the cheetah.

    Or the spider.

    1. Most vegetarians are poor. Most societies traditionally viewed meat as a luxury; only in the affluent West is it a staple of every meal. That is because eating meat costs more than eating vegetables (particularly if you add in health care costs).

      I am also a human being, not a cheetah. Cheetahs capture their prey; humans torture their prey at corporate agriculture facilities. Since humans can get by just fine not doing that, I don't think we should do that.

    2. Give poor people a choice to eat meat, and they'll take it, Charles. Food isn't moral. It's food.

      Let's not turn it into a spiritual exercise in moral superiority.

    3. Ah, yes: the poor are incapable of making moral decisions about their diet. They're like animals, aren't they? It's only we, the blogging few, who have the luxury of analyzing our actions through the rubric of "right" and "wrong." Even the most devout Hindu or Buddhist would devour a steak given the chance, I bet.

      I choose to believe this because I'd rather not give up bacon, otherwise if I were honest I might think repeating "food is food" is sophistry on par with "sex is sex" (reproduction being a basic necessity of life we mustn't subject to moral hand wringing, an idiot might argue).

    4. No, the poor have fewer choices, everywhere. Eating meat is not a moral decision. It's a matter of need, taste and pleasure. In a society where meat is available, those who can choose it will more often than not.

      And the poor in the US rather obviously have different options from the poor in Uganda.

      Eating is just not a moral exercise. How food is distributed is.

      "Food is food" is a statement of fact. What constitutes food for you is rather obviously different from someone else, but you didn't leave it at that.

      You moralized. And you moralized, obviously, from a position of snobbery and superiority. That's your business, but let's not pretend that it changes what food actually is.

    5. Your self-serving hunch aside, millions of people choose to reject meat for moral reasons. Half of India does every day, and not just because they don't have the means to eat meat, but because they have decided, often for religious reasons, that enabling suffering simply for one's individual pleasure (not need, however much you want to assert that) is immoral. It is your snobbery that reduces their agency to economics; as if it is only we in the West who would consider the moral implications of our daily lives.

      No matter how much you assert that "eating is not a moral exercise," it is. It's why people think cannibalism is wrong. Life is a moral exercise. I don't need to torture animals -- and that's what corporate agriculture and meat-with-every-meal means -- to live well. The opposite, in fact. "Pleasure" is a feeling, not a justification.

      You like the taste of meat. Fine. That's your business, but let's not pretend there's anything else to your argument.

    6. "You can't tell Fido from a hamburger. Fine. That's your business, but let's not pretend there's anything else to your argument." - fixed.

      "It is your snobbery that reduces their agency to economics; as if it is only we in the West who would consider the moral implications of our daily lives." - To this I would say who's morality are you refering?

  2. Hredd Necque2:10 PM

    Look at little Charles go! He sure is "funny" now that everyone who actually WAS funny has quit blogging.

    Must feel great to be a 10th string waterboy eh Charles? Hurry and bring me a cup of water. I'll reward you with a dull joke you can recycle here next week.

    Even when he tries to imitate Mike Flugennock's SMBIVA blog cast of characters with ghost-written "commenters," little Charles is a yawn-inducer.

    I bet he paid $25 for his tofu salad at Chez Ypstere, too.

    1. You are so in love with me.

    2. Hredd Necque10:14 AM

      Thanks for telling us what you say to the mirror every morning.

    3. I'm being very generous by allowing you to continue trolling here, Oxtrot. Please try to up your game.

    4. Hredd Necque9:11 PM


      You are a clever one. You speak in cryptographical terms. Can I please have the key to your crypto language? I don't know what an "Oxtrot" is, and I would love to learn.

      I'm just a humble admirer of your great wisdom and vanguard comic sensibility. In fact, if Bill Hicks were alive, you'd overshadow him for sure. Better timing, deeper insights, and more clever turns of phrase.

      In fact, I'm guessing "Oxtrot" is one of those secret handshakes you share with your closest fans. "When I say Oxtrot, take a sip of your fine adult beverage." Somewhat like the Bob Newhart Show drinking game, where you pound a beer if someone says "Hi Bob!"

  3. Ansel5:09 PM

    Nice piece man. Ignore the trolls. Makes me feel guilty about abandoning vegetarianism when I went to Haiti a few years ago, and not picking it back up when I came back.

  4. Not making light of your moral stance, but the climate change angle alone should be forcing people to change their habits. And by people I mean countries, governments.

    As with anything endangering our very habitat, it shouldn't be a matter of making moral choices at the supermarket. The fact that the supermarket gives the opportunity to trash your habitat for generations to come is the problem.

    We managed the Montreal protocol. Our governments could govern.

  5. jcapan7:41 PM

    “Even the most devout Hindu or Buddhist would devour a steak given the chance, I bet.”

    There are all kinds of Buddhists and Hindus, Charles. And their devoutness has nothing to do with whether they eat meat. Are they not authentic practitioners of their faiths if they fail to make the moral choices you have? My friends and family are nearly all Buddhists, yet they eat everything, albeit all things in moderation as opposed to the all-or-nothing Puritanism of the west.

    And you’re right: “No one is saying animals are people too.” What virtually every scientist Darwin onwards has said is that “people are animals too,” having all the anatomical traits of omnivores. Some would even argue that the cause of our burgeoning environmental dystopia, not to mention the hollowing alienation of 21st century life, is that we have lost touch with our animal selves.

    Arguing for humane practices and as Mathmos says the reduction of the industry for the sake of the planet makes perfect sense. But surely you can also admit that telling people they’re morally inferior is also self-gratifying, and ultimately counterproductive.

    1. Why the pedantry? You know as well as I that there are millions of Buddhists and Hindus who consider vegetarianism a core aspect of their faith.

      More to the point, though, you, like the other commenters here, have failed to address my core argument, which is that humans do not need meat in order to live. Science, in fact, shows that eating meat is harmful to one's health. What then is the moral argument for continuing to do so, despite the fact that we know it entails significant suffering -- torture -- and is a leading contributor to the destruction of the environment? I'm still waiting to hear one.

      You may consider this conversation counterproductive, but when I first mused about vegetarianism on this blog a year ago I was confronted with such self-evidently dumb and defensive arguments for eating meat that it pushed me to reconsider my own ambiguous position. I trust others are reading these comments too.

    2. Well, humans don't need internets to survive either and you clearly use that. Science has also shown us that meat gave us the calories needed to develop large brains, and that eating some meat is healthy. Yes, obviously eating factory farmed meat is going to be deleterious to your health, but eating meat that comes from an integrated farm where the animals eat plants that humans can't metabolize and provide manure which is necessary to produce annual vegetables without chemical fertilizers is actually much better for the environment than a diet based on monoculture soy, wheat and corn.

    3. Not to mention hunted meat, considering that humans have wiped out most of the natural predators of deer in my neck of the woods (PA) and created much more habitat for them (they live in forest edge ecosystems, PA used to have much more deep forest and much less forest edge) it is actually very ethical to hunt them for meat.

    4. One final thing, eating meat doesn't mean that you can't eat vegetables too!

  6. It's almost laughable that vegetarianism and veganism needs defending. Of course, some may claim it's a luxury of the rich (and in some respects that can be true and same can be said for war) but most rich are still not vegan/vegetarian. to say it's moral is only a small part of it. I don't have any clue what Jack Crow is actually saying.

    I also coulda sworn I read this same post here like a year ago.

    1. Click on the link in the third paragraph. This is my followup to last year's musing.

  7. ah, gotcha. good stuff dude. id think any anarchist or quasianarchist would abstain from meat just not to take power over another being.

  8. Anonymous9:46 PM

    not a moral choice but an economic necessity:

    any look at a supermarket or any other food store: vegetables are cheaper than (decent) meat.
    Yes you may buy the cheap stuff but it's obvious that stuff is so horrible for you there's no argument to be made for it, rich or poor. The poor in America like the poor in the "official" third world have the same choice: vegetables are cheaper than meat and give you just as much or more vitamineralories. Just not as much protein. So what, who needs so much protein anyway?

    pigs are still stupid. dogs are complete morons and pigs are pretty dumb. most of your human friends aren't going to be too brilliant...
    this could be solved by going cannibal.


    I draw the line at not meat for reasons of taste (which the moral aspect is quickly making problmatic).
    If it's free range:
    beef and chicken.
    I will eat free range beef and chicken.

    Fish. Come on...for god's sake it's a fish!! Next it'll be inconsistent to eat bugs.

    I'm hoping to find the wherewithal to find out more about my meat sources. But I'm scared it'll be bad. I'm hoping I can live with beef that were free range and killed by bolt-to-the-brain instant death, not surrounded by other panicking animals.

    We're such a lazy society it's truly evil. Between not knowing about your slaughterhouse, not eating meat and trying to regulate slaughterhouses to be as painless as possible, we go with 1 and 2.

    One day I'll be rich and I'll buy a little plot of land and raise and kill my beef by giving them a heroin OD.
    Not saying it won't be expensive., remember.

    One thing, health.
    There is just no doubt that I'm healthier without eating certain beef. Beef gives you pimples. The fish and chicken I eat don't. I don't know what it is yet but will keep my attention on the issue.
    I can suck down twix, marshmallows, hard candy and cheese-fried nachos till I'm woozy. no pimples. Beef --> pimples.

  9. Anonymous10:08 PM

    Free range eggs forever. It costs $1.50 more per dozen to support chicken farming where they aren't squished up and pushed to a breaking point where they torture each other. Yet people still think that free range are fancy and only for fancy eating, while the regular eggs are for cooking/baking.

    I don't understand the labeling of the omega acid eggs. Are they free range or not? It doesn't say. If they were just well fed but cooped up in concentration barn conditions, then they still led a needlessly horrible life. I don't buy them because they don't say "free range/free run".

  10. steve9:41 PM

    If you want to get carnivores to think about it,
    ask them if they would eat synthetic meat given the choice.

    Synthetic meat exists and is on its way one day. If it could look, smell and taste as good as a new york steak, would you eat it instead of a new york steak harvested from a slaughtered animal?
    Just a question to elicit thought. They do the guilt tripping on themselves, no need for you to make the effort.