Friday, December 2, 2011

To Eat, Or Not To Eat... Horses

NPR recently reported that President Obama signed a bill in November re-opening American slaughterhouses for horses. Many people - meat-eaters and vegetarians alike- are up in arms over this decision. When we think of horses, we think of beautiful, majestic creatures running through open fields, we think of pony rides we took as young children, and of books like Black Beauty that instilled in us a love for horses. How can we possibly kill and EAT them?? Well, if you're a meat-eater, the answer to that question should be simple: "Easy!"

The only meaningful difference between cows and horses--where eating them is concerned--is that we've been culturally conditioned to see cows as food and horses as pets (and at times tools and vehicles). If you open your heart and let the scales fall from your eyes, it's easy to see that cows are every bit as beautiful and majestic as horses. Cows have emotional lives, they feel pain and pleasure, and they are able to form meaningful relationships with each other, with other animals, AND with humans! Not so different from horses. Cows confined in factory farms SUFFER every single day of their existence. Even cows raised on so-called "humane" farms are met with a terrifying demise, kicking and fighting for their lives until the very end.

Of course I don't want horses to be slaughtered for food. I don't want any animal to be slaughtered for food. But as I see it, there are only two logically consistent positions to take. If you eat cows and other sentient beings, there's no logical reason for you to have a problem with people killing horses for food. If you do have a problem with people killing horses for food, you must realize that they are not at all meaningfully different from the other animals you consume on a regular basis, and vegetarianism is the only option.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Religious vs. Ethical Food Choices

It occurs to me that there is something very backward about the way our society views individual choices around food. Do you know that in most prisons, if your abstention from certain kinds of foods is based on an established religious practice, it may be honored? But if it is not religious in nature, and simply "moral," your request will not be honored. This mentality seems to merely be a reflection of the way our society at large thinks about food choices. Most people won't show anything but respect for their co-worker's request for a kosher meal at a lunch or conference, but do you think the same courtesy is afforded the ethical vegan who requests a plant-based meal? Experience tells me--not bloody likely. The same may be said of other religiously based food choices.

Think about this for just a moment. Choosing not to eat pork because an ancient book tells you that the supernatural being you worship forbids it: respectable and accepted. Choosing not to eat pork because you have come to the rational and compassionate decision that, because pigs are beings who experience pain and pleasure just like us (and our beloved dogs and cats), and possibly for other reasons, like the fact that the production of pigs as a food commodity is extremely damaging to the environment, etc., you believe it to be unethical and immoral to eat them: lunatic fringe of society.

In what world does this make sense?! Oh, yeah...this one.

Perhaps it is a product of my years as a Unitarian Universalist, with principles that affirm and promote "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning," "the right of conscience," and "respect for the interdependent web of all existence." There is nothing more sacred to me than a person doing the hard work of searching and learning and coming to a difficult and unpopular decision because your conscience tells you it is the right thing to do. And perhaps it is a product of my years of searching and learning (including academic study in areas of religion and spirituality) that leave me with little more than painful toleration of arbitrary and archaic religious beliefs and practices.

I certainly respect an individual's right to choose what goes in and out of their own body, whatever their reasoning. But I simply cannot understand the mentality that finds only such decisions acceptable when they are attached to a religious belief. Perhaps it is because people do not feel threatened by a choice based on religious belief the way they do about a choice made for ethical and moral reasons. If the choice is based on religious beliefs, it is easy to say, "That's your religion, and I respect that, but it's not mine, so it doesn't apply to me." But when a person makes a decision based on evidence, reason, a desire to do no harm, a sense of justice, compassion, etc... these are universally applicable ideas. It's harder to blow off. It challenges us to take a good look at our own behavior, whether we want to or not. Because we know they think it's wrong to eat what we're eating, we feel judged, threatened, defensive--even though that is usually the last thing on that person's mind. They're just trying to eat their damn lunch.

Other theories or comments on this phenomenon? I welcome your thoughts!