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Doris Lin

A Streetcar Named Denial - The Conscious Carnivore

By April 9, 2009

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Girl with Rabbit
Rabbit meat may be a grey area for one "conscious carnivore."
DCA Productions / Getty Images.

An article in the food section of the New York Times Magazine titled, "The Grass-Fed Menagerie" touches on a theme that seems to be gaining in popularity these days - the conscious carnivore.

There are various terms - the conscientious omnivore, the compassionate carnivore, for example - but they all mean the same thing: meat-eaters who feel justified in their meat-eating. There's even a book titled, "The Compassionate Carnivore: Or, How to Keep Animals Happy, Save Old MacDonald's Farm, Reduce Your Hoofprint, and Still Eat Meat."

The common thread tying these conversations together seems to be that the omnivore who is aware of the environmental destruction and animal suffering involved in animal agriculture and eats meat anyway is morally superior to the ignorant omnivore.

Yes, some of them choose organically produced meat or cage-free eggs, but these "improvements" are negligible considering the amount of suffering, waste and resources involved in animal agriculture.

In "The Grass-Fed Menagerie," author Peter Wells discusses his efforts to make his four-year-old son aware that the meat on his plate used to be a living animal. Wells uses the term, "happy, conscious carnivore" to describe his son, who says to his shrimp cocktail, "Hello, shrimp! You’re dead!” However, Wells and his son have one conversation at a sanctuary for farmed animals that reveals that his son might not be so happy about eating animals:

The animals here aren’t raised for food,” I explained. “But most of the farmers you know from the farmers’ market do raise animals for food.”

“What does that mean?”

“Those farmers take good care of their pigs, and then when they’re big enough, they kill them to make meat for us.”

“But that’s sad,” Dexter said.

Sometimes he thinks just like a 4-year-old. It’s a great disappointment to me.

Setting aside for the moment the questionable description of the pigs' care, why is Wells disappointed that his son feels sad about the death of a living, sentient being? While the author attempts to instill in his son an indifference to animals he eats - shrimp, rabbits, chickens, pigs and others - why is the article notably silent on cats and dogs? Wells laments the anthropomorphism of animals in Disney films, as if any hint that non-human animals might have emotions and are capable of suffering should be hidden from children. But if his son started torturing puppies for fun, I suspect he might have a different view. The author alludes to this dichotomy when he recognizes that his son may someday refuse to eat rabbit, but includes a recipe for rabbit meat.

Many of us were raised this way. Cats, dogs, whales and koala bears are deserving of human empathy. Pigs, cows and chickens are not. Rabbits may be in a grey area. But while most parents don't go out of their way to tell their children where meat comes from, the consciously carnivorous parent wants to desensitize their young children to animal suffering as early as possible.

Now going back to the care of the pigs, in what universe does taking good care of someone mean killing them when they are big enough to eat? Probably the same universe where legally blind witches are allowed to operate day care centers in their gingerbread houses.

I have not read the book "The Compassionate Carnivore" except for a lengthy excerpt that appears to be the introduction to the book. Here's the basic gist of it:

Most of us have distanced ourselves from our meat, protecting ourselves from the truth that we are eating animals. Yet we don’t need to protect ourselves. Ignorance is not bliss. Being a carnivore who’s asleep at the wheel means someone else is driving. Being a carnivore who wakes up, looks around and engages means you’re in charge. Being in charge is good . . . Enough with the guilt. I’ve struggled with it for years, and have finally accepted it’s a total waste of time . . . [Farmers and consumers] can support each other by totally bypassing today’s food distribution system, and in doing so, I’m positive we can create better lives for meat animals, farmers, and consumers alike.

It's funny, because when I think of "better lives for meat animals," I'm thinking that "better lives" means life and not death. And when the author, Catherine Friend, talks about "bypassing today's food distribution system," I'm pretty sure she's not talking about freeganism or eating roadkill. The book's title makes it clear that she's not talking about veganism or even vegetarianism. Instead, Friend suggests that the solution is humanely raised meat, as if veganism is out of the question, even though veganism is the only answer.

This line of thinking is dangerous to the animals, to the environment and to ourselves. Nine billion land animals are killed for food every year in the United States. Countless acres are already devoted to growing the grain to feed them. The oceans are being emptied of fish to feed pigs. Waste from factory farms is destroying low-income neighborhoods, not to mention our oceans, lakes and streams. And some people want even more land devoted to producing meat to satisfy our carnivorous appetites?

I'm not arguing for confinement or for cage-free farms. The solution is veganism, and it's right there, in our grasp.

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Comments

April 9, 2009 at 10:04 am
(1) janet says:

People need to wake up to the fact that eating animals has no benefit to humans, animals or the environment. Great article!

April 9, 2009 at 5:22 pm
(2) Stephanie E. says:

Doris, what an excellent post. I’m including it in my roundup today. And bravo especially on this:

“Now going back to the care of the pigs, in what universe does taking good care of someone mean killing them when they are big enough to eat? Probably the same universe where legally blind witches are allowed to operate day care centers in their gingerbread houses.”

How perfectly put.

April 10, 2009 at 10:49 am
(3) Suzanne says:

Bravo! Linn tells it like it is. Just like you can’t be “a little pregnant”, you can’t eat living creatures & be humane, healthy or environmentally-responsible.

September 30, 2009 at 10:44 pm
(4) hungry for meat says:

this article is laughable, not only do you have some ridiculous comparisons such as, “in what universe does taking good care of someone mean killing them when they are big enough to eat? Probably the same universe where legally blind witches are allowed to operate day care centers in their gingerbread houses.” but you haven’t even read the book you are smearing! what a joke. also how can torturing a puppy be related to killing an animal for sustinence. you base you whole article of fallacies. This is why no one listens to granolas. too much bravado and self satisfaction. to bad for you

March 17, 2011 at 7:27 am
(5) Vegans Are Idiots says:

The only denial present here are from the dumb AR psychopaths who think that meat is cruel, unhealthy or environmentally safe, and the same vegans who fail to accept the fact that animals also die in the production of fruits and crops.

Vegans are nothing but propaganda-spouting sheep.

(Edited to conform with About.com User Agreement)

July 20, 2011 at 7:42 am
(6) mark says:

vegans are psychotic … humans need meat, period … to claim otherwise is simply insane … the only thing we need from plant foods is fiber … this fellows quest to minimize animal suffering without doing anything as absurd as cutting out entire food groups is quite noble …

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