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Wednesday Food: Killing Comfort

Discussion topic for eaters of meat: have you ever killed the subject of your meal?  Did it change your meat eating experience, or did you come away nonchalant?

My curiosity was piqued after I enjoyed a modest Sunday crab boil hosted by your Heteronomous editor.  He and The Girlfriend purchased two living Dungeness crabs and invited me over to partake.  Upon my arrival I was introduced to Mork and Mindy who were calmly chilling in the fridge.

I felt a little squeamish, mostly because to me, seafloor crustaceans look like giant intergalactic bugs, and Adam hovered an arm’s length away.  But The Girlfriend was totally indifferent to our cautious distance, and seemed so comfortable handling the ill-fated crabs that I was led to believe she grew up a shochet‘s daughter, or privy to some kind of elite Russian assassination squad.  And so their fate was sealed as the simmering water began to boil and they were moved from fridge to sink for a final rinse and then, inevitably, from sink to pot.

As I watched their defiant claws slip under the lid I honestly didn’t feel that bad.  Maybe it was the Tom Collins clouding my empathy, maybe it was because I’ve never had a sea creature as a pet, maybe generations of chicken farmers have left me genetically predisposed to coolness toward animal death.

Have you used the argument that you would be comfortable killing something yourself, to justify eating meat?  Does having control of the death allow you to rationalize the kill?  And has killing something yourself– fish, lobster, deer (whatever else your killing)– improved your experience of eating it?  Were you careful not to waste its parts?

I admire The Girlfriend’s commitment to the process.  Perhaps I should read more Kafka…

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March 23, 2011 - Posted by | Wednesday Food

20 Comments

  1. i occasionally kill nude mice and it forever cured me of eating meat and perhaps having babies too, cz that’s how the embryos look like at some stage of their development i guess

    Comment by read | March 23, 2011

  2. Interested persons should read David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster”, which is on point. (Better still, the longer version that appeared in the book of the same name.)

    Comment by The Grouchy Musicologist | March 23, 2011

  3. I do agree that we are definitely too far removed from the source of our food, and I also admit that there are few things I’d be willing to kill myself in order to eat them. However, despite these beliefs I doubt I’ll be giving up meat anytime soon, and I do have conflicted feelings about that (except every time I eat bacon and dream of heaven).

    Comment by Hill | March 23, 2011

  4. I have a couple of basic rules about meat eating:

    1. If I want to eat an animal I must either kill one myself, or if not feasible witness the slaughter of at least one and consider my feelings afterwards.

    2. If someone is throwing meat away, I will frequently eat it as I see wasting meat to be far worse than eating it.

    Also, I’m pretty sure there is a faster and hence more humane way to kill a crab that more or less destroys it’s nervous system via the rapid insertion of a knife into the area right behind it’s eyes. Putting live crabs into water and boiling requires a lot of time and thus a lot of pain to the animal.

    Comment by Stormface | March 23, 2011

  5. Did y’all gather ’round the porch post-repast for a sip of brandy whilst watching the lynching of a dark-complected gentleman from an old oak on a neighbouring lawn?

    Comment by Blythe | March 23, 2011

  6. Do clams and mussels count?

    Comment by ben | March 24, 2011

  7. Blythe – that’s a little shrill. As a lifelong vegetarian myself I think it sounds like you have a pretty good point to make, but I’m having trouble hearing you over the din of your ad hominem…

    Comment by Gabe | March 24, 2011

  8. Yeah, I mean, it’s not like they’re cannibals.

    Comment by ben | March 24, 2011

  9. Flesh is flesh and life is life. What does species matter, Ben?

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | March 24, 2011

  10. I’m interested to see what would happen if there were a cockroach or mouse infestation at the McFarlane house.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | March 24, 2011

  11. I confess to going by feel rather than logic when it comes to my feelings toward animals. I feel bad for the animals that provide my dinners when I see their brethren, but not bad enough to stop eating them.

    One time I saw a truck full of pigs I assumed were on their way to a not-so-happy ending and I thought the looks in their eyes were close enough to my dog’s that I might be able to stop eating pork. I thought so until I saw bacon at a buffet that week.

    On the other side of the equation, I put myself literally in harm’s way whenever I see a stray dog because I always try to assess its situation to see what I can do to return it to its owner. Except the time we found a stray with a rope tied around its neck. That one got a vague “Brown chow mix found” ad in the paper (because it was required) before being turned over to a pet fostering organization.

    Deep down, I know my affinity for animals should preclude me from eating them. But I’ve done vegetarian before and my hatred of onions of mushrooms makes it very, very difficult.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | March 24, 2011

  12. I’m not convinced that you ask out of any genuine concern for the mice or insects. Your hypothetical is a common rhetorical tactic in conversations such as these. Given that you boil creatures alive for trivial reasons, it is doubtful that you have any actual concern for the fate of animals.

    But, I’ll play. So long as the mice stay in the walls, I have no problem with them. There are mice in our walls and as far as I can tell they’ve never been out. (I’ve never found mouse poop in the house.) Should that situation change, a three pronged strategy would be pursued.

    1. Remove the food source
    2. Block the entry point
    3. Capture and return to yard

    If the problem continued, then we’d have to wait until spring, find the entry point to the house and install a one way door.

    I’d like to think that our cleaning standards preclude a roach problem. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in my life. Except on tv.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | March 24, 2011

  13. That seems like a sensible strategy. In an urban environment, though, roaches can strike regardless of one’s personal cleaning habits.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | March 24, 2011

  14. I avoid urban environments.

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | March 24, 2011

  15. I expected I might strike a cord with this post. I’m glad to see a range of perspectives.

    Stormface, nice guidelines, I could get behind that. You make a good point about waste, too. And we had thought to use the knife method, but not knowing exactly where to do so would involve blindly stabbing into the thing and that’s needless.

    Ben! Yes!

    Matt, I think your first comment illustrates how we all feel on this subject. On the use of animals for food especially, we all seem to go with our instinct (that it’s repulsive/ acceptable), and then attempt to rationalize it.

    It may not be a justification, but killing something for food makes me far less casual about eating meat. And while consuming less meat may not be as good abstaining completely, surely it’s better?

    Blythe, you’ve definitely made your point. I’d like to hear more about what led you to adopt the eating habits you have. But alienating people with genuine interest in knowing more and doing better is hardly productive to your cause.

    Comment by ebolden | March 24, 2011

  16. I used to eat meat and a lot of it. I also grew up going hunting and fishing with my father when I was really young. I don’t have any interest in doing any of that ever again though. I’m not sure I really like the intellectual principle at work here with the meat-eaters. Watch something die and see how you feel. That’s surely not something you’d want to extend to all ethical parts of your life? Watch a bomb fall on Libya and see how you feel. Watch the population of a city systemically excluded from good nutrition and see how you feel.

    I really hate the way these debates usually go. Someone who eats meat always accuses a vegetarian/vegan of harboring a beautiful soul. The implication is then that you either eat meat or you have all the problems that go with having a beautiful soul. I tend to be a bit less universalist in my vegetarianism than Craig, but it isn’t like we’re idiots. We made a decision to do something that have obvious aspects we have to think about. Fuck, it happens a lot that I go out with meat eating friends, mostly when they’re men, I have to give an account for why I don’t eat meat.

    As for the lobster. It’s common practice you kill the thing before you eat it now. Even assholes like Gordan Ramsey think its barbaric not to. So… for fucks sake, kill the thing quickly first if you have to kill it at all.

    Comment by Anthony Paul Smith | March 24, 2011

  17. The implication is then that you either eat meat or you have all the problems that go with having a beautiful soul.

    He’s like one of those weird chappies in India who dissolve themselves into thin air and nip through space in a sort of disembodied way and assemble the parts again just where they want them. I’ve got a cousin who’s what they call a Theosophist, and he says he’s often nearly worked the thing himself, but couldn’t quite bring it off, probably owing to having fed in his boyhood on the flesh of animals slain in anger and pie.

    Comment by jms | March 24, 2011

  18. people talking about cannibals, i recalled this funny cartoon
    the second part is there too

    Comment by read | March 24, 2011

  19. I helped out with a slaughter at Deep Springs when I went there. One student shot the cow between the eyes. Another else chained its hindlegs to the backhoe. I drove the backhoe around to the slaughter block, where the cow’s blood was drained and its organs were carefully removed. Later, when it was down off the backhoe and onto the block in sections, I hacksawed off the hooves.

    I had been a vegetarian for a while at Deep Springs but stopped after I realized that these were the best cuts of meat I would probably ever have, and the closest to the process I would ever be. I stopped eating flesh, fowl and fish in 1997 for travel/girlfriend-related reasons, and started eating fish again four years ago. I attribute the whole thing to a kind of muddy spirituality.

    Comment by k-sky | March 25, 2011

  20. APS,

    You are right, the principle doesn’t apply well universally. I don’t eat much meat so I’ll be reconsidering eating any at all, unless it is headed for the garbage, a situation that arises on a less-than-monthly basis. I was 100% vegetarian for a couple of years so maybe I’ll go back.

    Comment by Stormface | March 28, 2011


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