Meat is not murder, but where do you draw the line?

George Monbiot knows – the logic of a meat eater.

Many on Social media have been outraged by his eating of a roadkill squirrel, but it is the hypocrisy of any meat-eaters among that group that is truly shocking.
It seems to me we need to draw out what it is all about, this argument over meat, veganism, and morality:-
Is it all about the morality? (as in “meat is murder”)
Is it mainly the health factor for you?
the sustainability?
or the “I can’t kill anything” position?

I know a couple of individuals who are apparently at the opposite ends of the whole vegetarian/omnivore debate:
First up, a friend, let’s call him John, is an omnivore.
He loves his meat, and fish, is not too bothered where it’s sourced from, or even if it is still alive when it goes in the mouth.
This end of the spectrum I call “all is allowable”.

At the other end of this spectrum comes a former Jain Monk I met at a Hindu retreat in west Wales. His name has probably changed again by now but then he was going by the name Krishna.
He believed that we should all have evolved by now, beyond eating the flesh of living things. He also believed in veganism to the point of rejecting every purchase if it had any trace of animal matter in it whatsoever.
When he was a Jainist he had a mask with fine gauze to prevent him accidentally inhaling any flying insects (and thus killing them) and he trod carefully, and some co-monkeys used a soft brush to clear the path they walked to avoid stepping on any walking bug – though he admitted he only saw this actually happen once.

Morally the latter position appears easier to defend
Logically, it doesn’t feel as though it is sensible however.
There are groups who take it a step further than moderate Jains in believing that vegetables can feel pain and should not be killed. The Fruitarians (Virginia McKenna’s children are devotees I believe) would not eat a carrot as the whole plant is killed in its devouring. Fruit and certain vegetables that grow like fruit are the only permissible edibles – I suspect that this diet would probably lead to premature death if followed permanently – some say this dietary craze was what caused Steve Jobs’ pancreatic cancer. Most vegans I have known rely on B12 injections sooner or later and anyway, can never objectively untangle the web of moral conflict that I outline below.

I have questioned many people as I draw the line very differently to either extreme myself, and this has raised many more questions…

If your “line” is, to avoid all killing of any living animal, (sentient or otherwise) then you can only fail. One of the most obvious ways is in the washing of the face – every time you do this you kill over a million bacteria.
As well as living on your face, bacteria also enjoy a symbiotic relationship with humans by inhabiting the gut – and a dose of antibiotics usually reveals just how essential these are to proper digestive tract health. Dying to avoid defeating a bacteria that kills you is just selecting one type of bacteria’s survival over another.


George Monbiot’s position is pretty much where I sit – nothing wrong with eating meat, wearing leather, eating butter, cheese, yoghurt and more importantly, Lindor and the odd Crème Brulée.
Much more important is our attention to the ethics of how it is produced, the unsustainable nature of a meat-dominated diet in the context of world population survival, and the notion that we should not waste what we accept as an unavoidable by-product of our modern lives. We do not appear to want to curtail travel in a world where vehicles kill more badgers and foxes than insane culls and disgusting hunters have ever managed.

I agreed with a friend who said that the native American idea of “respecting the animal you kill for food” is a good one, one that involves remembering you take on the spirit of that animal. I share a liking for his idea that we could positively use the apparent cowardly aspect of, not being able to kill anything but still wanting to benefit from the deaths, to apply a simple planet assisting rule.
That rule is: After the age of say, 18, you can only eat animals of the type that you have, at least once in your life, killed yourself. (this would mean I could eat beef, chicken, game birds, mice and insects, but not pork or lamb)

Of course, it is unenforceable and impractical in modern Britain, but thinking about it, at least, should be compulsory. It is up to you where you draw your line, just never pretend that there is a definitive one that everyone can or should adopt.



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