My last steak was masterpiece. A tall cut of beef cooked medium, seasoned with salt and paprika and served with a bleu cheese sauce. Asparagus so tender teeth were irrelevant, with a nicely aged grape juice and Devil’s Tower of potatoes complementing the flavor of it all. I’ve enjoyed many meals like this, but recently, because of several morality and ethics conversations initiated by the vegetarian faction of my house, I am struggling to find solid justification for eating meat beyond, "It’s delicious."
All right, that’s not entirely true. It's also convenient, high in iron, a staple of American farmers, and a lot better looking and smelling than most other forms of protein. But is it ethical, on a person-vs-animal level, to consume this particular form of aliment?
First-hand observation of vegetarians supports the theory that humans can indeed survive without eating meat. Their food might not be pretty, nor readily available and the resulting meat-substitutions and menu searches for the (often lone) vegetarian option can get embarrassing. But the bottom line is, humans do not need, in a basic sustenance and survival kind of way, to fry our furry friends.
And yet most of us do. I am not a PETA-Evangelical, an animal rights activist, or even one of those people that treats their dog like a child. Other animals did not ascend to the top of the food chain for a reason (the fossil record indicates that they were too busy watching LOST, but I can’t be sure). In fact, it was the efficient nutrition of our omnivorous diet that allowed us to socialize and develop the brain that separates us from our banana-loving brethren.
But if there were nothing more to my personal favorite source of protein than bringing it home from the store and trying to avoid getting that red juice on your clothes or kitchen-counter as you undo the shrink-wrap, there would be no debate about the morality of chewing on a recently sentient being. Does my culinary urge to eat meat justify the pain the animal goes through to end up on my plate? Sadly, my answers vary depending on the state of my stomach. If I’m full, it will usually be a somber, "No." If hungry, an enthusiastic "Yes." If eating… "Yummmm." It seems hunger validates my own, and others, love of meat, spinning that moral compass until hunger is satisfied.
But what that blind hunger and "yummmm" comes down to is an ability to look another live creature in the eyes and think, "You have never wronged me, in fact, our paths have never before crossed… I would like you dead and served with portobello mushrooms." Does the complete lack of compassion, sympathy or empathy in this situation suggest a certain xenophobia inherent in being a meat-eater? Should the predator instinct suspend reason?
If I'm going to ask unanswerable questions and get all choked up over industrial beef-production, I should at least acknowledge that without the extreme demand for these animal’s rear-regions, their bovinal buns if you will, most of them would never have been born. Claiming butchering rights because you facilitated birth, however, gets a little deific for me, however, and I have deliberately stayed as far away from faith as possible in this article in the hopes that points regarding the human/animal metaphysical relationship and the hypocrisy or barbarism of a meat-eating household with a pet-cemetery won’t even occur to the reader and save us all a bunch of time.
I asked several meat-eaters at meal-times to justify their dietary habits. With the exception of the hypo-glycemic, whose Doctor recommended that she not become a vegetarian for vague blood sugar reasons, the conversations generally went like this.
Me: I'm not so sure there is a moral justification for eating meat.
It’s interesting that at no point in the research or writing of this have I considered giving up meat. Not for a second. Even with the most outrageous arguments I usually have a, "I wonder what would happen if…" moment where I rapidly go through the consequences of changing sides in the decision. Not with meat. And now I know why.
It's not a blood lust, xenophobia, or predator instinct that drives me to add that second beef-patty at In-n-out; it is my history with the alternative. I was subjected to the tastes of Tempe and the gastronomical limbo of Tofu at such a young age that the memory of it literally scares me back to beef every time I see someone forking those jiggling white cubes into their mouth. I know better, but I subconsciously associate those soy-substitutes with the standard punishment at my house growing up: joining the popular organic diet of the month. Instead of "no TV for a week" it was "try some of these Kombucha and wheatgrass pancakes." Without meat, my life would feel like constantly being 11 years old and grounded for the weekend. At least, that's my excuse. Feel free to borrow it.