A few further thoughts about ourselves and other animals.
First let me emphasise my belief that in all our doings ‘human beings come first’. My only worry is that often when those words are used it is in part an excuse for doing nothing about either human or non-human animal suffering, rather than about making a genuine choice between incompatible alternatives.
Next, we need to remember that humans are sometimes inhumane, towards other humans, and that non-human animals are not always savage. What seems often to be overlooked is that animals are able to form complex social relationships and experience grief in times of separation and loss. I have heard it argued that because other animals kill for food, we may do so too. I say that doesn’t follow but in any case there is a certain irony in the fact that the very animals we choose to kill and eat are mostly themselves vegetarian.
May I also add that whilst I uphold animal liberation, I am a bit of a separatist. That’s to say; I feel that other animals should be given scope to live their own lives, as much as possible on their own. We should leave them alone as much as we possibly can. I am no longer a keeper or even a lover of pets of any kind. I find pet lovers rather sentimental and often indifferent to the cruel treatment of animals they don’t own and who, or whose products, finish up on their table. What’s more I am appalled by the way pet owners permit their charges to foul the pavements, our pathways and parks. Think of how they would react if children were permitted by their parents to do the same. In the same way I am astonished that elderly men, who have never and would never have changed a baby’s nappy, not even their own baby’s, should follow their pet dogs, clearing up their mess with such selfless devotion.
I’ve heard it said that if abattoirs were made of glass, we would all be vegetarians. So why is it that the mass media, who cover the most shocking events in war, and include scenes of the most bloody violence in film drama, steer so clear of the everyday scenes of life and work in the abattoirs of our own country? I for one cannot remember a single interview with a slaughter man, exploring what he does and what affect it has on him, let alone on the animals.
Another question: In an age of ever ‘greener’ politics, why is it that we hear so little about the sheer wastefulness of meat eating? We have to use fertile land to grow protein crops, which we then feed to animals. Animals turn out to be a very inefficient converter of protein in that the yield of protein in their meat is only a fraction of the protein they are fed. This is not only wasteful of animal life, but also of good land, and even more critically, of water.
I must say I also get a little irritated by the frequent complaint that children these days have lost touch with agriculture and need to be re-educated in order to understand the connection between animals, food and farming. Attempts to do this are usually so sanitized that the children are left ignorant of the process by means of which a whole, live sheep, pig or cow, gets to be a neatly and bloodlessly packaged tray of meat at the supermarket. To describe the use of animals in the processing of human food without mentioning slaughter is, I think, like giving an account of war and soldiering without reference to guns, weapons, fighting and killing.
Finally, may I assure you that giving up meat eating does not necessarily entail the sacrifice of all your traditional pleasures. The synthetic meat business is booming. Sausages, burgers and, yes, even ‘bacon-butties’ are all available in meatless form. You probably won’t be able to tell the difference – but the animal will. It’ll still be alive!