Only one of Donald Trump’s many actions in the four years of his presidency got my approval: his pardon for the Thanksgiving turkey.
A local turkey was pardoned last year, too, as described in the Nov. 20, 2020 issue of this paper (“The Many Moods of Monsieur Dinde”). “M.D.,” as he is called, was described in stunning detail, especially his personality: he likes to have his head scratched and socializes with all manner of beings, including people, goats, chickens, and his wild brethren wandering in from the woods.
All this is charming, but what caught my attention in the article was that “M.D.” was the only one of five locally raised “fryers” that was spared: the rest of his flock was apparently packed in a box and sent to slaughter. This made me stop and think: did only “M.D.” have the adorable traits described above? Or did his flock-mates take their personalities to the chopping block? I am assuming they did. Then a further question comes to my mind: having been exposed to the charm of a turkey, how on earth can you stand to eat one?
Oh, I am in trouble now: a vegetarian daring to remind people that animals have sensibilities. Of course, I do not have to do so. In this animal-loving part of the world, most of us know that all creatures great and small have their own lives, which they value. Current research tells us that consciousness is not an either/or phenomenon but, rather, a spectrum. All animals have varying levels of communal tendencies, enjoy play, show fear, and feel pain.
Before I get in even more trouble, let me state emphatically that I have the greatest respect for those among us who practice (responsible) hunting and/or the (humane) raising of their own livestock. These people are far preferable to those who wander up to the chilled supermarket bin and pick up a plastic-wrapped parcel of meat without a thought. I am not addressing those who hunt or raise animals on a local level because I am fairly certain that they have thought long and hard about the creatures they are eating and have made a choice to do so.
But the overwhelming majority of our population does not fall into that category. Most people just eat meat as a default approach to food. If they knew all the facts about the raising of the meat in our supermarkets, many, perhaps most, would stop eating it.
I will not discuss the environmental concerns associated with the raising of meat (but they are considerable), nor the dietary ramifications of a diet heavy in meat (also considerable). It is the ethical dimension of the practice I will stress.
It is pleasing to think of the family farm, but the small-scale operation that produced “M.D.” and his flock-mates represents a very small fraction of the meat raised in the world, far less than one percent. And it must be so. If everyone on this planet wants his or her steak, ribs, chops, or turkey burger, there is no way that family farms could meet the demand. Very few of us have the space or time, the skill or inclination, to raise our own meat. Instead, we rely on “factory farms” — much more factory than farm.
The details of these operations (and of course the attendant slaughterhouses) are horrendous. The animals on a factory farm are more commodity than creature. Their lives are short and nasty, and every day is full of suffering. It is the height of human solipsism to think that these beings are here only to feed us.
It has been almost 20 years since I have eaten meat. The smell of frying bacon has only recently faded in its appeal. I am not completely free of complications. I may yet be a hypocrite. I eat fish (for now) and eggs and cheese. But I can look a cow in her big brown eyes without guilt. I have simplified my life on one level.
Life without eating meat is no great challenge. It means a little less pain in the world, a little less suffering. That is its own reward.