The Carnivore’s Dilemma

 Six months ago I wrote a piece outlining three solid, evidence-based reasons why I should quit eating meat.

One had to do with diet, another with animal welfare, and another with exploitation of illegal immigrant labor by some large meat purveyors.

These are persuasive reasons. I still like them. I was thinking about them just the other night while grilling some hamburgers.

Half a dozen times this summer, I’ve thought about those reasons while buying chicken, pork or beef at the grocery store. Pascal said the heart has reasons that reason itself does not know. So does the stomach, it appears.

A few reflections on this stomach vs. reason dilemma:

1. I still believe the three reasons are correct as a guide for behavior (my behavior, I stress; I’m in no position to preach to anyone else here). But so far, they have not moved me in the direction I still think I should go.

2. It’s certainly possible that I’ve overestimated the motive power of reason and reasonableness. Our species and meat go back a long way together; thousands of years of history are on the side of ribs, hot links and porterhouse steaks, the thought of which is making me hungry right now. (I really like stuff like tomatoes and eggplant, too, but I’m not sure I’ve ever drooled over them.)

3. This seems to be connected with what I’ve called the Core/Veneer problem. Carnivorousness is a Core reality for human beings, while the concerns raised in the Three Reasons are later Veneers. N.B.: Veneers are not fake; they’re real, but may lack the deep motivational power of the Core.

4. It’s not as if I’m trying to climb Mt. Everest or play shortstop for the Yankees by October. Millions of  people lead happy lives as vegetarians or vegans. They’re not lying miserable in some hovel clutching a wilted hunk of lettuce. Bookstores abound with books filled with delicious non-meat recipes. It would take a bit of effort to make the change, but I’d probably like it once I crossed over.

5. There’s a Comfort Zone thing going on here. Suburban Ritual, I guess.  I enjoy standing around the grill on warm evenings, cooking something and sipping a beer, tossing a morsel to the pup now and then. I don’t know how she’d take to asparagus bits.

6. Without universalizing my problem, I do think there are implications here for the Bigger Picture about change. It’s hard. It’s hard to drop a bad habit and pick up a good one. It’s easy to go with the momentum, the thing you know.  I say this with respect for reformers who try to make us better: If you love coffee, or wine, or CSI Miami, or cursing a blue streak, try cutting it out for a month. Seeing how hard that is to do, you may understand us poor intransigent creatures a bit better.

 7. Finally, for now, here’s a meta-reason why I feel bad about the failure of reason in this case. I’m certain that if I spent an hour in a slaughterhouse, seeing and hearing and smelling the actual process by which those hamburgers come to my grill, I’d probably quit meat cold that day and never make eyes at  another brisket. 

 My point: I’m maintaining my current lifestyle thanks to ignorance–deliberate ignorance, actually. I may as well have a bumper sticker that reads: “Thanks, But I Don’t Want to Know How the Sausage is Made!”

 That’s not something to feel proud about, and I don’t. The question is, what will I do about it? More to come on this.  


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