Yes, I am a hypocrite, I love meat

One morning when I was in primary school, my teachers gathered the class together to watch a special video.

I didn't know it then, but that video would haunt me for the rest of my life, especially at what should be the most relaxing times at night.

I'm talking, of course, about dinner. The film, a look into how animals are reared and killed for food, was probably classified as a documentary but wouldn't have been out of place on the horror shelf, titled Triple Murders: The Brutal Killings Of Animals, Children's Innocence, And Your Appetite Forever.

My class and I watched, aghast, as the creatures we had been taught to see as cuddly, sentient and even wise - we had recently read Charlotte's Web and would go on to study Animal Farm the following year - turned out to be capable of no narrative other than doom and terror.

Neither individualistic nor independent, they trooped, ungainly and unthinking, in indeterminate hordes to their painful shrieking deaths - and our beloved hamburgers.

One of my friends swore off meat immediately, an oath I seem to recall she managed to keep for about a week before McDonald's rolled out samurai burgers or some other yummy promotion.

The rest of us might have skipped the char siew mee stall at that day's recess. But we would soon display the strong stomachs - and healthy capacity for denial - that would help us one day grow into full-sized adults.

For me, meat has always been the highlight of any meal. I love horse sashimi, rabbit stew, kangaroo steak. I've eaten whale - raw, in burgers and everything in between - as well as emu, crocodile and ostrich, among others.

The only thing I flinch at are innards, which are a fleshy reminder that what I'm eating isn't a tidy, faceless, factoryproduced fillet, but a living creature evolved enough to have its own pumping heart, winding digestive tract and articulate tongue.

Rest assured I am well aware of my carnivorous hypocrisy. But the truth is that I, like many meat-lovers, usually need a more visceral jolt to connect what's on my plate with what I see in the zoo.

One such jolt came the other day when I saw the controversial photo that British author Jeanette Winterson had posted on Twitter.

"Rabbit ate my parsley. I am eating the rabbit," she wrote, succinctly captioning what one journalist called a Tarantinoesque picture of a half-skinned dead rabbit: furry-earred and doe-eyed on top, shiny pink intestines hanging out the bottom.

The revenge killing looked gruesome and tasty at the same time - Ms Winterson posted photos of the rabbit simmering in cider with rosemary and thyme - a cognitive dissonance that makes me worry I will now feel hungry every time I see a dead body.

The Internet, however, predictably exploded in outrage.

"U make me sick," one reader responded. "I will never again read a word u write.

Rest in peace little rabbit."

But as Ms Winterson pointed out, along with another photo of her cat tucking into the rabbit innards: "No waste no packaging no processing no food miles."

In other words, her lunch that day was humane and eco-friendly - more than what most of us can say about our chicken rice.

A similar uproar took place recently in Yulin, China, the site of the notorious annual dog-eating festival, where activists estimate 10,000 dogs are slayed for food each year.

One animal-rights activist, who has spent her life savings rescuing dogs from being eaten, drew a clear line between edible and inedible animals.

"Grass-eating animals are meant to be supplied to humans. But these companion animals, such as dogs and cats, they are meant to contribute to human production - such as drug-sniffing dogs or watch dogs," she said.

What she didn't mention was how cats, the laziest animals on earth, contribute anything to human production; or why she wasn't fighting for the rights of chickens, some of which are also kept as companions, or pigs, which are highly intelligent.

The trouble is that humans have double standards and refuse to admit it. Most of us think other people should adhere to our own beliefs, without acknowledging that we may be wrong or that there are other valid points of view.

Worse, we often don't even recognise our own lapses in logic.

That is what lets us enjoy foie gras and shark's fin, but throw a fit when anyone even jokes about eating Cottontail, Fido or Meowmeow.

But if you think about it, the only logical position is that either all animals are theoretically edible, or none is. It's a line many of us - including me - can't quite toe. Foie gras and shark's fin are among my favourite foods, yet it's impossible to ignore their cruel origins - specially now that I have two cats.

So until I can give up all meat, or give up my cats as food, I will have to live with my inconsistencies and let others live with theirs.

That's the only way to prevent life from turning into its own horror movie - of intolerance and, well, dogmatism.

fiochan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 29, 2014.
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