Thursday, June 24, 2010

On Eating Lions

The following is an e-mail exchange between myself and my good friend Andrew Slack of the HP Alliance. The subject is eating lions.

Andrew:

I've said it before and I'll say it again: eating lions is wrong:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/world-cup-2010/7848758/World-Cup-2010-US-restaurant-to-serve-World-Cup-lion-burgers.html

Soooo f*cking horrible.

Me:

If you're not opposed to eating animals in general, why is this so bad? If they're raised (and presumably slaughtered) humanely and are bred in captivity and not removed from the ecosystem that depends on them, why is eating a lion worse than eating a cow? Is it a matter of intelligence of the animal? If so, it may be that pigs are smarter than lions, but it doesn't make news when we eat them.

Andrew:

Look man, you can come at me with all of your "intellect" and burst my self-righteous bubble with "facts" and even expose my childlike hypocrisy and simplistic sense of reasoning with your "brain power" but if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: "I'm totally right in my opinions even if they sound irrational - even if I don't know what I'm saying - I know what I'm saying."


So yeah - I'm definitely overreacting to this story and I'm sure if you say so, pigs are smarter than lions. So let's then just say that when it comes to eating meat, I'm sort of a simple minded rank-in-file American. And now let's take a step back and look at me as a specimen to better understand what the issue driving the "average American meat eater" (me in this case) is with eating lions. And perhaps something valuable about either the human psyche's past, present, or future can be gained by looking at my habits and knee jerk, frozen-in-childhood reaction:

I was raised with the idea of the pastoral farm. With "Charlotte's Web" and illustrated books with happy pigs and cows and chickens. In my formative education, I don't think of cows, chickens, and pigs as being tortured and injected with hormones. I think of them as happy animals with smiley faces walking amongst happy but very serious farmers whose daughters have hearts of gold as their dogs and cats run around the barn and the corn field. Then at some point, I eat all of these animals.

But lions, tigers, and bears are another kind of creature. A creature that is to be feared and revered for their majesty and their predatory nature. As a child, I feared that these animals would come and find me and eat me. I also grew up learning that the human race drew these animals (mostly lions) on caves. (this may not be true: but this is what's in my brain). I have an unconscious understanding that there is and always has been a deep and abiding respect that humans like myself have for wild animals with the lion being the king. The lion being the king of the jungle.

The fact that a lion could tear me to shreds in a fight - it not only instills me with a sense of fear but a sense of deep respect. The idea of raising these beautiful and mysterious creatures to kill and eat in a commonplace burger feels on a visceral level like cheating. It's cheating nature. It's cheating life. It's ruining the mystery. It's using our advanced tools and weapons as people to separate ourselves from "the fact" that humans run the happy pastoral farms and those creatures are happy under our command, but we are the foreigners, we are the strangers, we are the hunted, in the dark and mysterious worlds of the jungle and the arid endless world of the desert.

Pigs may be smarter than lions but they were never cast as the king of wildlife - royalty amongst all of nature, even higher than people. In order to feel at home in the universe, I want to respect nature's chain of command and not f*ck with the king. You saw what happened in the Scottish play! Look, there really is something to that. Once you cast something as the monarch - the hunter above all others - the idea of raising it like a "commonplace" farm animal for slaughter not only feels perverse but like all of nature and all of my loved ones will come under threat. The sky will bleed red and the wind will carry locusts. Or whatever it says in Revelations.

Signed, your friend who is a terrible simple minded meat eating American consumer with an oddly introspective nature.

Me:

Can I post that on Tea and Food?

Andrew:

Sure!

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5 comments:

Megan Carroll said...

have you read "eating animals" kinda same argument if you eat a cow, why not a family dog...?

Anonymous said...

Family dogs are trouble because of the level of emotional attachment, but I would see no problem with dog meat in general. I realize some people do it, but getting emotionally attached to an entire species seems silly to me. The U.S. aversion to horse meat, in particular, really bugs me.

Anyway, thank you for this post, which does actually help shed some light on people's inexplicable aversions to off-the-beaten-path meats. I get it better now than before. This also helps me know how I want to teach my children about food.

Now, if I could just understand people's problems with offal. I can get the bad associations of the digestive track, but what could bug someone about my eating heart or brains?

Anonymous said...

Well, I "get" your friend's objections; basically, he's saying that culture is too strong for the individual, and that the majority of us will ignore reason in favor of acculturation and association. And he's right; most of us will.

But where I'd say he's kind of implicitly wrong is that we don't actually HAVE to do that. A wild boar is as majestic and wild (assuming those words have any meaning other than our associations, that is) as a lion. A boar, or a bull, can shred a man as quickly as a lion, and some do; that fact isn't changed by which ones make more picturesque appearances in our picture book or who's higher on the food chain. I'd recommend Carol Adams' *The Sexual Politics of Meat* as an okay--sometimes disorderly, but still basically groundbreaking--look at the way our IDEAS about meat (and, go figure, gender) shape how we treat it when it's alive. (Of course, one prejudice Adams leaves unexamined is in what way a vegan lifestyle based on innocent photosynthesizers "celebrates life rather than consuming death," unless she thinks of plants as always-already dead...but everyone has blind spots.)

Long post--sorry. Short version: question the associations. They aren't immutable. If we're prepared to raise and torture and eat cows and chickens and emus, there really isn't any special reason why we shouldn't do it to lions. And if we're not willing to do it to lions (or lambs), maybe we should eat more veggie burgers. If anything really does separate the humans from the beasts--a point on which I'm not terribly certain--maybe it's the capacity to change our minds and question our certainties.

Catherine

Jay said...

I can't believe this post was generated by a man who used to implore people to "eats the meats."

Besides, I don't understand the logic of "Lions can eat us, so we shouldn't eat them." But then, maybe it's because I have a hard time completely paying attention to all of Slack's logic.

But the most important reason to not eat lion? Not kosher!

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