Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You Always Hurt the One You Love

Published in The Connecticut Post on December 17, 2009, with the title "Remember Where that Dinner Came From"

My mother used to say to me, “I love you so much I could eat you.” The expression brings to my mind the image of one person hugging another person, really squeezing them tight.

When it comes to animals, however, the more apt expression would be, “You always hurt the one you love.” For instance, “I love lamb” means that the person enjoys eating the flesh of young sheep after they have been butchered.

Believe me, I know that pleasure. The taste of a juicy hunk of rare meat is not at all abhorrent to me, even though I refuse to eat it anymore. I also have fond memories of chicken soup, and certainly that old stand-by, tuna fish salad. Now that I am not just a vegetarian but a vegan, I abstain from dairy and eggs as well. Oh, the omelets and grilled-cheese sandwiches of yore! -- giving them up has certainly been a sacrifice.

So when I hear somebody say, “I love lamb,” or “I love duck,” or “I love fish,” I understand. But now when I put that together with what my mother used to say to me, I am jolted by the juxtaposition. I want to say, “You love fish, but I love fishes. You love duck, but I love ducks. You love lamb, but I love lambs.”

Dog-owners who “love” all of these foods also surely love their pet. But they would never think to put him in pain or countenance his being killed (except to put him out of pain), not to mention eaten. And yet they have no compunction whatever about eating pork, which is the flesh of an animal equally intelligent, sensitive, and lovable.

What is going on here? There is no intrinsic difference between the animals. After all, many Koreans think nothing of eating dogs, while many Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists would not touch a pig. So the difference must lie in culture and in the person who is eating them. It seems an odd way to decide who lives or dies, who is pampered or who is tortured and slaughtered.

‘Tis now the season between two holidays that feature animals as the main course. On Thanksgiving the family sits round the table, whose centerpiece is a roast turkey. What American does not love turkey? But if you really got to know them, then I think you would love turkeys too. Then you could no longer enjoy this particular tradition.

One person who has devoted her life to getting to know and love turkeys and other domestic fowl is Karen Davis, Ph.D., founder and president of United Poultry Concerns, in Machipongo, Virginia. Here she tends to rescued and escaped birds in a “poultry paradise,” where the animals are allowed to live a natural life.

Dr. Davis describes the fate of most of their unfortunate kin. It is heart-rending and gut-wrenching. “Turkeys are crowded in confinement systems – including so-called free-range, a fraudulent term. When hundreds, even thousands of birds are forced to sit and stand in a crowded yard or in filthy litter, they develop respiratory diseases, ulcerated feet, blistered breasts, and ammonia-burned eyes. Turkeys are painfully de-beaked and de-toed without anesthetic to offset the destructive effects of overcrowding.

“If a 7-pound human baby grew as fast as baby turkeys are forced to grow, the human baby would weigh 1500 pounds at 18 weeks old. At the slaughterhouse, turkeys are torn from the crates and hung by their feet upside down on a movable belt. They may or may not be ‘stunned’ by a handheld electrical stunner, or by having their faces dragged through an electrified waterbath. The electricity shoots through the birds’ eyes, eardrums, and hearts causing ‘intolerable pain’ according to researchers.”

Then their throats are slit.

We now approach the time for the Yule ham. A young pig was killed so that you could eat its hind leg. Bon appétit!

Joel Marks is professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of New Haven. He can be contacted via his Website at www.TheEasyVegan.com .

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