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Why Some Animals Are For Eating

Thanksgiving on the beach on Hutchinson Island was full of surprises, the biggest of which was a discussion about how when we are young we are taught that some animals are for petting and others are for eating, and the details of this lesson are accidents of birth and geography. We aren’t born with some kind of condition that says chickens are for eating and cats are for petting. Instead, we are born to parents who believe that, in a culture that reinforces that. We are taught to discriminate against and in some cases despise certain animals because of some rumor, superstition, legend or even papal edict.

Our literature, our holy books and our art from the past all inform our culinary choices and even our tastes. They tell us what was accepted yesterday, and unless we begin to think for ourselves, we’ll continue to mindlessly reproduce traditions, whether or not they have any meaning today.

I haven’t eaten dog meat, but when I did eat meat I would eat anything and in fact was known to say I’d eat a dog, a cat, or a human leg if I had the opportunity, as if you’re going to kill someone to eat them, does it really matter what species they are? If I put the meat in front of you , you might never know the difference between dog meat and human meat and chicken meat. Whether or not you find it "gross" to eat it (I’m not referring to the taste, but to the idea of eating it) is entirely mental and is determined only after you know the origin of the meat.

The reason people who eat hot dogs are appalled to find they might be eating canines, is that they were born into and/or assumed a certain cultural paradigm that includes a detailed list of attitudes toward animals such as: which ones are for eating, which ones are for petting, which ones are for entertainment and sport, and which ones have been domesticated and are now for roommates. If I were born in the UAE, I might be spending a lot of time and money working to abolish camel racing.

Part of our culture is the media that confirms the values we’re supposed to have. When we’re young, we play with all manner of furry creatures and stuffed animals, and most of us enjoy that experience and feel a kinship with other creatures. At the same time, our parents and the world around us tell us that our instinct of kinship is not acceptable, and they begin to whittle away at any connection we naturally experience with other creatures. Our impulse to play, love, care for, or even simply respect the life of others is pummeled, daily, by just about every message we receive, consciously or otherwise.

The values I innately had as a child were destroyed and replaced with values that are convenient for American culture, but are in reality arbitrary. They’re really not values at all: they’re a set of consumer specifications. American culture trains me to be a certain kind of consumer–one who fits easily into the existing set up of industries and priorities, while making the least amount of trouble.

Of course, that all came crashing down when I made the conscious decision to take back my morality and my definition of justice, and alter my behavior accordingly. And fortunately, I haven’t been alone on the journey to reclaim the ethics of our relationship with nonhuman animals.

Morality involves intention and deliberation, but the perpetuation of our American culture relies on our refusal or inability to attend to the most important aspects of our daily lives. Looking at our behavior through a lens that deconstructs our ethics is not supported in our culture.

It’s time for that to change.

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