Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Carnivore's Defense

A recent story in the New York Times asked if any of us who call ourselves carnivores could offer an ethical defense for eating meat. Here’s mine:

As human beings, each of us has an ethical duty to help guarantee that our seven-billion member tribe retains a toehold on this planet. Just as we wouldn’t stop ingesting oxygen because it makes us emit carbon dioxide, nor should we stop eating meat because it makes us harvest lower life forms. Eating meat, for better or worse, got us to where we are today. With judicious application, it will help insure our ongoing survival. To wholly castigate the consumption of meat is to mark our kind, if not for extermination, then at least, in the short run, with less favorable odds for enduring. Where is the ethos in that?

While the jury is still out on whether our carnivorous ways flipped the genetic switch that gave us opposable thumbs, helped us walk upright and propelled us toward thinking abstract thoughts, there’s no arguing that the world would be a far different place today – and not necessarily a better place – had our forebears not parted ways with a wholly plant-based diet and started herding animals instead. Please note that we evolved from prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, not those who simply gathered. Nothing against those ancient fruitarians, but their DNA footprints dusted a dead-end road thousands of years ago, and those of us walking around today owe a hearty thanks to our esteemed ancestors who heeded the biological imperative of supplementing their diets with animal protein. In other words, let’s not forget who brought us to the prom.

Yes, meat has become way too big a part of the contemporary American diet. We need to scale back its consumption and take more protein from beans, nuts and seeds. Who knows? We might even devolve to the point that we can eliminate meat entirely and take sustenance solely from plant-based foods. When might that happen? Probably about the time our mouths stop sprouting incisors and our stomachs stop emitting gastric enzymes. In other words, not in this lifetime. Until then, it’s biologically unethical and no doubt unhealthy not to use our bodies in ways they were meant to be used.

Yes, eating meat means exterminating lower-life forms, but it’s nothing to get horribly hung up on. The whole “eat nothing with a face or that has a mother” mantra is little more than anthropomorphic manipulation of the heartstrings unless taken to its full extent, namely: “eat or breathe nothing with a face or that has a mother.” With every inhalation we take in zillions of microbes and dust mites, along with occasional gnats and flies (yum, more protein!) While those critters might not have faces to love or readily identifiable mothers, each and every vegan is guilty of murder on this front. Shame!

Far be it from me to base a meat-centric argument on the Bible, which has lots of dietary crazy talk, especially when it comes to shellfish, swine, dairy and combinations thereof. But for all its clumsy ethical codes, the Bible remains an elegant metaphorical explanation of how humankind came to be and how we might consider living if we want, you know, to continue to be. We should not take lightly the words of Genesis 1:28, which talks about how we should have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Except, when I was a kid and just learning to read, I didn’t know what dominion was. I thought maybe it was a type of onion. Which, I still believe is a valid interpretation. And I’ll take mine caramelized, please, with a little pig flesh on the side.


Bull Garlington said...

Also, it tastes really, really good.

Bob Morris said...

Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that part. Also, it's why we have incisors.

Doug said...

We have a restaurant in town that sells a T-shirt that reads "I didn't climb all the way to the top of the food chain to be a vegetarian..." 'Nuff said.