Continuing the food-related themes that have obsessed Culture Vulture since our kitchen blew up a few weeks back, we have of late been ruminating on the ethics, morality and healthfulness of food procurement and consumption. Aside from breathing and obtaining drinkable water, no activity is more essential to our survival than maintaining a sufficient supply of properly nutritious food. Given these simple facts, one could be forgiven for arriving at the conclusion that any healthily civilized society would devote a good deal of its operation to assuring that each and every person was supplied with clean air, pure water and healthful food.
But, based on a quick glance at the current state of human society, actually stating that conclusion in a public forum would be more likely to draw hoots of derision at one’s naïveté than nods of agreement with one’s wisdom.
Even people with the highest ideals for human interaction and cooperation often have a difficult time reconciling their concepts of what constitutes a good meal. Probably the most sharply drawn division is that between vegetarians and omnivores. A vast store of reasons both scientific and ethical can be given for choosing to exclude meat-based products from one’s diet, and an equally vast smorgasbord of reasons can be presented supporting the consumption of meat as a healthful nutritive path.
In the end, it all boils down to personal taste. If we choose to remain alive, we choose to eat. If we choose to eat we also choose to kill; there’s simply no way around that. We can choose to have other people do our killing for us and receive all of our food in cute little packages, but hiding the brutal realities of life in a plastic package doesn’t make them any less brutal or less real. It’s Culture Vulture’s contention that if every adult human had to personally kill and prepare, or at least accept personal responsibility for the death of every bite they take, there would probably be far less interpersonal violence in the world.
Which brings us to the central issue of this particular foray into rationalism: Does a soybean or a grain of rice or a carrot experience pain and horror at being torn from the ground and/or stripped from its mother plant and being thrown alive into a vat of boiling water or thrust between a set of saliva-slicked mandibles and ground to still-living pulp by some incomprehensible creature? Science may never know, but anyone who has ever observed the tenacity with which a plant clings to life in difficult circumstances might logically conclude that the life force in a vegetable is no more anxious or willing to be snuffed out than the life of a chicken, a pig, a cow or a salmon.
No matter how lovingly and respectfully we tend our gardens, the lives we bring into being there are ultimately nothing less than sacrifices to our own insatiable desire to live. And having grown up on ranches and raised, killed and eaten many an animal that I had a loving and respectful relationship with, all I can say is that in my opinion it’s not what you kill but how respectfully you kill it that defines your relationship to life.