So… eating pets?
Noah Millman in TAS:
Having just got back from Iceland, where they eat foal, I’ve been thinking about the phenomenon of eating meat from animals one might, alternatively, keep as companions/workers. Examples:
– Peruvians and Ecuadorians eat guinea pigs, which they also keep as pets. Not very different from Americans or Brits eating rabbits, which they might also keep as pets, though less-frequently than the Andeans do guinea pigs.
– South Koreas eat dogs, which they also keep as pets. Not so different from folks who keep pigs as pets, but I don’t think that’s quite as common.
I’m sure there are other examples. This is a question for John Schwenkler more than anybody, but what do people think about this phenomenon. Creepy? Normal? Actually healthier than not?
John Schwenkler takes up the case as requested:
One distinction that immediately leaps to mind is that between keeping a pet in and around the house just as a loosely attached being whose role in the life of the family is viewed by its members as ordered simply toward the provision of meat, and having a pet that is viewed – perhaps absurdly, as some might insist, though obviously these things come in degrees – as a part of the family, as “one of us”. The latter model is of course the one that predominates in American households, and I can imagine that e.g. Rod might have had a good deal more trouble serving up the dumplings with that hen who turned out to be a rooster if he’d given it a name and allowed it to curl up with him on the couch; by contrast, I recall a friend from Kansas describing a family who’d bought a calf and straightaway named it “Meatball”, just so the kids wouldn’t get any illusions. (Perhaps the person who really ought to be taking on this question is Caleb Stegall.) Hence the relevant question would be: When e.g. a South Korean family has a dog around the house that they plan to put into a stew, do they view and treat it in the same sorts of ways that most Americans treat their pets? The bonds of attachment and affection that such treatment naturally engenders would, it seems to me, make it a great deal more difficult to go in for the kill.
And the ball bounces to Caleb Stegall, who picks it up:
“Pets” as a category are a symptom of the deeper rot and sickness of conspicuous consumption in American culture and life. Eat your pets? One may as well ask if it is morally acceptable for one to eat his new sports car or eat his country club membership. Which is to say, the question is a non sequitur which will inspire suspicious backwards glances at the questioner, as if dealing with some kind of sociopath.
[…] In the words of Wendell Berry above, man’s flesh is magnified in the flesh of another. We love our animals because by and through them we are more fully human. Pictured above is my Hereford, newly calved. I was there at her birth on this chill and snappy late winter morning, and have taken care of her ever since. She has grown fine and strong, and nuzzles me with her wet nose every morning. She is not long for this world, as I am just finishing her off with a diet of mixed grains, and she’s off to the butcher in a few weeks. Nearly 1,000 pounds of good food, which will feed my family for a year.
Will I be sad to see her go? No. She was a good old girl. She loved in her cowish way, and fulfilled her telos with bovine efficiency and good grace. I am thankful to her, and to her creator for her, and even moreso for the home economy by which the flesh of my sons is magnified in and by the world that they have seen and touched. They are strong sons, and I am well pleased.
And Rod Dreher:
All I’m saying is that I’m not letting B’rer Caleb near our Roscoe unless he puts down the fork and the hot sauce.