On Indigenous People and Animals
A couple of years ago I catalogued the dozens of excuses/rationalizations from well-meaning, compassionate people about why they eat animals, and all fell into one of six categories:
- It's what god wanted (and other versions, such as: That's why they were put on the earth. . . . By god.)
- God thinks vegetarians are evil, and we want to please god. Not to be confused with #1, this one comes directly from The Bible. Cain was a farmer, Abel was a herder. Cain was the bad guy, Abel was the good guy. Net message? Cain=farmer=evil murderer; Abel=slaughtered animals=victim/good son.
- We are physiologically carnivores. First of all, very untrue factually. Second, if the people who believe this would eat all of their "meat" unseasoned and raw, after having killed the source animal with their bare hands and ripped open the carcass with nothing but said hands and some teeth, I'd feel like maybe their argument was at least sincere. In fact, I'd even permit them to not ever kill anyone, but rather to eat the kill of another that has been quietly decomposing for a day or two, as many carnivores do. And let's not forget they'd eat no grains and the only vegetables they'd eat would be the partially digested ones from the stomachs of carcasses. Now, who's a carnivore?
- We can't get everything we need without eating animals. We simply cannot survive without killing them! It's us or them! Tell that to the American Dietary Association.
- We're smarter and more evolved and have more to offer the planet, so we should be able to do as we please. This speciesist rationale, also known as because we can, should be replaced with because we have a conscience. Because we have a conscience and can choose nonviolence over destruction, domination and death, we should. Why choose violence if you don't have to?
And my personal favorite:
6. As long as you say a prayer for their souls and thank the beasts, you can eat them without bad karma, just like indigenous people. If you've seen Avatar, you know that this excuse has gotten a fresh boost from the people of Pandora, who, in their Gaia/Lovelock-ian splendor kill animals and teach the lead male, Jake Sully, how to properly do so. The lead female, while teaching Jake, is even excited when she shoots her bow and kills a . . . whatever he was. Of course, she teaches Jake the prayer that makes killing the animal all better. Not sure if the animal sees it that way.
If you're going to claim that it was good for Native Americans so it's good for us, please know that they had an ecological ethic that we simply don't share. They killed only what they would eat, used practically every part of the beast, killed him themselves, and didn't consider animals beneath them as we do. Saying a prayer and thanking the animal are parts of a larger spiritual context and a relationship with "Mother Earth" that most mainstream people in the developed world don't ordinarily live by. And yet they romanticize and even fetishize indigenous people's practices when it's to their advantage. The fact remains, however, that if you don't need to kill anyone to survive, no amount of storytelling and mythmaking (or myth borrowing/co-opting) around that slaughter excuses it.
Finally, as for saying a prayer for the soul of the animal you've just killed or are about to eat, I find that backward. When you eat the flesh of another, it's your own soul (if you believe in souls) you should be praying for. Ingesting suffering can't possibly be good for anyone's karma.
A disturbing trend I've seen among the used-to-be-called-New-Age, but now called "spiritual" people, is the co-opting of all things Native American (both North and South). They do their sweatlodges (I actually did one out of curiosity, and yes, it's really hot in there! And they make you smoke, which is something I am very much against and I'm sorry, but I don't believe that tobacco is healing my spirit). They have their dream catchers, their animal skin rugs and their drum circles. They burn their sage, they claim to have read all of Carlos Castaneda, and they couch their eating of animals in spiritual terms. They say they are taking the abundant gifts Mother Earth gives them and they are grateful for the sacred experience of communing with her. The "sacrifice" of the animal will feed their souls. They speak of their part in the universal circle of . . . .
Are you annoyed yet?
All of the talk of ritual and the flinging around of "sacred" and "spirit" doesn't change the cold, hard fact of killing someone, or having someone do it for you, and then eating that someone when it's not necessary–no matter who you are or what tradition you come from. But in my experience, humans will draw from anybody's history–or dig their heels deep into their own–in order to justify what they want to do: Eat animals because they enjoy the taste of them.
—Photo of dreamcatcher from Flickr user deimiannn