Posts Tagged ‘science’
I love bacon.
Perhaps more accurately, I am fixated on bacon.
Due to some new resolutions to get in shape, I find I must abstain from my usual diet of putting bacon in everything, alas. But today, I learned something upsetting.
Okay, it’s something I already knew from reading John Robbins’ book Diet for a New America back in the ’90s, but it’s also something I put out of my mind when I stopped being a vegetarian about 7 years ago.
Why, you might ask, is that upsetting?
Would you eat your dog?
I really hope the answer to that question is “no,” and if it isn’t, please don’t tell me. I know that I would not eat a dog because I know dogs are smart, sociable, friendly, and companionable. We also have certain cultural designations for our domesticated animals: pigs and cattle are “livestock,” while dogs, cats and ferrets are “pets.”
The basic rationale for this distinction is that livestock animals are pretty dumb, and best suited for use as food. Except what if they’re not all that dumb?
“[Pigs are] very curious, and they’ll charge off on their own,” said John Webster, a professor at the University of Bristol in England. “They will investigate the world with their noses down and batter through like a small boy.”
New research shows that chickens can be taught to run the thermostat of the chicken coop, and that even the lowly cow has a surprising inner life.
Cows have been known to form lifelong friendships, and one recent study found that they actually show excitement when they’ve learned something new “as if they’re saying, ‘Eureka, I found out how to solve the problem,’ ” said Donald Broom, a professor at the University of Cambridge.
Also, it turns out it is not that uncommon to keep a pig as a pet. Many people keep chickens in Austin, although I assume more for eggs than for companionship. A cow might be problematic as a pet, especially if you have a small yard or live in a high-rise condo.
I once read (I forget where, so add a  in your mind here) that most livestock animals would not survive long in the wild, as they have been bred over thousands of years to serve specifically as livestock. True, I cannot imagine a chicken would survive long in the wild if there are any weasels around, and a cow might make a tempting target for
drunk frat boys coyotes or wolves. The ancestor of the modern cow, the aurochs (known to fans of George R.R. Martin) was pretty bad-ass, at least until it was hunted to extinction. Does that mean we have to eat them, though?
So what does this all mean? Am I going to follow on my refusal to eat squid and octopus by also refusing to eat pork products?
(As a side note, I am a big fan of squid and octopus, and I suspect that they will be the ones to succeed us as the dominant intelligent species on earth should we mess this whole thing up. I for one welcome our new cephalopod overlords!)
The real question is whether we can make arbitrary distinctions about what animals to eat based on cultural history (i.e. dogs are pets, cows are food). Please note that I am not arguing in favor of eating dogs for intellectual consistency. But do I return to some form of vegetarianism, even if I made a mess of it the first time I tried it? Is vegan the way to go, on the theory that if you shouldn’t eat animals then you also shouldn’t manhandle their breasts (for milk) or muck about in their bird uteri (for eggs)? Should animals get legal protections similar to humans, sort of like the way Spain extended legal protections to apes?
I’ll think about it. You think about it, too. I’m going to go watch Charlotte’s Web and have some bacon while I consider my options.