I could never kill an animal, but I sure do enjoy eating them. This hypocrisy gnaws at me every time I criticize a hunter or slice through a juicy filet at a high-end steakhouse. How can I be against hunting and remain a carnivore, especially in a place like Boulder where I couldn’t toss a t-bone without hitting a vegetarian?
In my lame defense, I tried being a pescatarian (fish and dairy allowed), and lasted four months (I’ve got gut issues, and as I quickly found out, the worst thing I could do was load up my digestive tract with veggies). On principle, I don’t eat deer, elk, lamb, baby cows, or rabbits—these animals are too cute, cuddly, and serene, and I enjoy watching them. Ugly animals, however, are on their own. Still, I’m not completely heartless, even to the less attractive animals. I allow pigs, chickens, turkeys, buffaloes, and adult cows to live free range, cage free, grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone free lives before ending up on my plate. Still, it’s not enough. No animal wants its life taken, even if it was born and bred for that purpose (or has pink hairy skin like an old man’s head or a red waddle dangling and swaying like your old aunt Selma’s bosoms).
I realize the gaping holes in my justification the minute I serve up a free-range rotisserie chicken for dinner and try to explain to my five-year old son (usually after he has tried to ride our Irish Wolfhound, Winston) that we are never mean or cruel to animals. I did not kill the bird in front of us, but I am most certainly the reason for its death. How can I wash my hands clean of this every night?
The answer has been complicated. I once thought that it was okay to eat animals as long as it was done out of necessity and with respect and intention, much the way Native Americans hunted so that their families could eat and have shelter and clothing. They gave gratitude to the animal for its spirit and nourishment. I based my rationale on the moral judgment that killing should never be fun, done for sport, or bragged about in your living room with the head of an elk dangling above the mantle. For this reason, I’ve been hard on hunters. Yet, regardless of the hunter’s celebratory attitude about bagging a ten-point buck, a clean shot from a rifle might be more merciful than some of the barbaric and inhumane practices at many slaughterhouses. But whether I buy my meat from Safeway or go out to shoot it myself, the end result is the same. I cannot look an animal in the eye and take its life, but I have easily let someone else do it for me.
And while I’d like to say when I slice into a filet that I eat mindfully and with gratitude like the Native Americans, I rarely think about the food on my plate. Case in point: As a carnivore, I’ve often gathered friends together for a big meal, purchasing and cooking more food than I know we can ever eat without guilt that I’ve sacrificed an animal for my own enjoyment and wasted its life with my excess.
For all of these reasons this Christmas, I decided to go back to being a pescatarian. I lasted until April, when I went to New Zealand, tired of fish and chips and veggie pies, and succumbed to the local delicacies of lamb and venison and beef. It’s with no little shame that I write this.
This weekend, I returned to the States and hopped back on the wagon. I still wear leather hiking boots. And, even though scientists have recently discovered that fish can feel pain (duh), I can’t see a time when they’ll be off my menu. I’m just taking it one day at a time.