You will find my entry in a Times essay competition below, and the finalists here. You be the judge 😉
From the sophistry of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe with its cajoling moveable feast to the authoritarianism of The Bible with all its “do”s and “don’t”s, it must be clear (even to those who are blind as bats) that there is something fishy here. While we appear sheepish on the question of gobbling our own, we remain bullish on slaughtering whatever is at hand when it suits us, and we feel it’s as appropriate to kill for food as for sport or when our “interests” are threatened. Though we may scatter a few red red herrings to confuse our critics, any claims that it is ethical to eat meat (forget about the manner in which said meat is obtained) duck the same question, “Says who?”
“Because these have been given to me”, argue some religious types, advocating a shallow dominionism. It is as easy to invent a deity who whispers the following day’s ingredients in your ear as to pull a rabbit from a hat. “Chicken and egg”, argue those suggesting that magical realism is perhaps more prevalent in the politics of North America than in the literature of its neighbors, opining that they have beef with self-serving myth. And far away there are those, just as religious, who would instruct these Westerners all about sacred cows. Looking for proof in the Kate and Sydney pudding has produced little more on the topic than magazine contests.
But to tilt the frame of reference by a dimension, consider the contact between our species and another. Any alien confronting us would as likely stamp us out as a nasty, brutish infection or pop us into their gaping maws. While horror flicks may explore the possibility that another species might find us unpalatable (or, more intriguingly, yummy), the sensitive might cry out, “How could a sentient creature consume another sentient creature?” Indeed. And the brutal answer that comes echoing back through the cosmos is the same as that we see when we look into the still quiet water. Because we can. Those who live by the menu may well end up on the menu.
Taboos are just monkeys on our back, and we will eat our own, should it come to that. No, the one and only ethical basis for eating meat is the brutal calculus inherent in old Mother Nature. It is the ancient imperative, and though it could be forsaken by some, it is still worshiped as we worship fire, water, earth and wind. Eating anything at hand is our nature, and it would be unethical to be untrue to our nature. We are but pigs at Darwin’s trough, and to our own nature must we be true. Ecce Homo.
Nor will we find much in the way of alternative. It would be exceedingly difficult at present to avoid eating all life, for if we are to excuse ourselves from eating some life, then we must find some line between life and unlife, and such a voyage will prove no lark. Already there are those who argue that plants enjoy pleasant conversation. The same arguments that might preclude us from eating Cousin George might apply with respect to genetically modified corn as you never know what some geneticist may have slipped into that genome (George’s or the corn’s.)
No, Popeye had it right when he said, “I am what I am”, and we are what we are. Hamburger, anyone, or spinach?