Hypocrisy is always on the menu when carnivores dine
As a roaring hypocrite, I am often asked: “How come you eat meat and still claim to be something of an animal-lover?” My usual response is to make comical, borderline-offensive “me no speaky English” noises until the interlocutor has left the room. I then settle back to my lovely sausages.
This reflection is triggered by the continuing horseburger scandal. Most of us had assumed that the lips, eyelids, glands and scrotal residue that make up the average hamburger were almost entirely derived from cattle. It transpires that a good portion of that unlovely flesh may have once been part of Harry the Horse.
There is, of course, a genuine consumer issue here. If a product claims to be made entirely of dead oxen then one should reasonably expect to encounter only the faintest traces of other species.
But queasy feelings about the nature of the intruding meat have allowed the story to gain unusual degrees of traction. For no good reason, Irish and British carnivores have long had moral qualms about eating horse meat. The French include it on menus.
In Kazakhstan they eat it by the herd. But the Anglophone nations retain sentimental objections to Dobbin kebabs.
A class of sly racism colours these discussions. Commentary on the Korean taste for dog meat often suggests that the practice is somehow less civilised than eating deer, pigs or sheep. Did you know that they eat monkeys in Cambodia? Calm yourself, dear. Have a meat pie and a cup of Bovril. Awful people, aren’t they? It shouldn’t need to be said that no sensible moral distinction separates the eating of horses and the eating of cows. Somewhere in the cave years we decided that whereas nags are for riding, stroking and cuddling, oxen are for fattening, slaughtering, mincing and serving deliciously between hunks of bread. Horses get names. Cattle get mustard.
The human animal is brilliant at talking itself into hypocritical moral absurdities. Cats are no cleverer than pigs. Yet I keep one of the former on my couch and retain shredded, spiced tubes of the latter in my fridge. Dogs are no less lovely than geese. Yet the thought of force-feeding Fido until his liver bursts and then turning those innards into pâté would give even a Frenchman pause for thought. (Yes, I know I am indulging in racist barbarian-bashing. Well, this column’s subject is, in part, hypocrisy.)
The sad news for carnivores is there is no easy route out of this quandary. What exactly is the criterion for inclusion in the forbidden-meat file? Is it intelligence? Well, that may explain why we don’t fancy eating monkeys, but it doesn’t clarify why we object to spreading kittens on toast. Those things are barely bright enough to stand up straight.
There is no obvious place to draw this particular line. Some pesco-vegetarians argue that fish are so stupid they cry out for the grill and the herb butter. Tell it to the panicked lobster, buddy.
Cuteness is certainly an issue. Amazingly, some otherwise intelligent carnivores object to eating rabbits because they are so diddums cuddly with their wovely ears and their yum-yum twitchy noses. Fair enough. Let’s apply this distinction across the animal kingdom. Fluffy dogs with waggy tails remain off the menu. Balding, mangy mutts whose eyes weep rheumy puss henceforth qualify as starters.
The unhappy truth is that once you justify the consumption of one animal you justify the consumption of all. We can, with some effort, make moral and practical sense of the prohibition on cannibalism. Aside from anything else, no advanced society could function if its members viewed each other as animated pieces of meat. That aside, carnivores must accept that, by the standards they have adopted, all other phyla remain potential sources of lunch.
One could, of course, argue that one distinction worth making – indeed, the only one worth making – is between animals that are raised and slaughtered in humane fashion and those that are not lucky enough to be so treated. After all, it hardly concerns the goose or monkey what becomes of its flesh when it has been put gently to sleep. Unfortunately, the carnivorous hypocrite finds this intelligence of little use in disentangling his or her hopeless attitude to the mouth-watering pig and the cute-as-a-button kitten.
These divided feelings offer evidence of a moral uncertainty – deeply buried in most carnivores – as regards our savage attitude to the animal kingdom. From a distance of two centuries, we marvel that the US founding fathers could argue for the equality of man while permitting the revolting practice of slavery. Future humans may feel the same when watching us cuddle up to one mammal while dousing another in pepper sauce.
We are a weak species.