Would you be willing to go to a slaughterhouse and kill a cow? Do you eat meat?
No, and yes. There. Am I done? Can I go now?
Dr. Gregory Stock makes sure there’s no moral dilemma left untouched in The Book of Questions. I don’t like this question, because I’m not sure what it says about my character.
I knowingly and willingly kill flies, spiders (unless they are Daddy Longlegs), and mosquitoes. I have, on two different occasions, passively murdered mice. The one that died by poisoning took her last breath in the middle of my living room floor (my dad swore to me it would eat the D-Con then run outside and die while it was searching for water and I’d never see it), and I cried for an hour thinking of the babies I had orphaned. The second one got caught in a trap at work, but the trap had not humanely broken the mouse’s neck, and I had to club it to end its suffering. Cried about two hours, plus had nightmares, after that one. I used to fish with my grandfather, and finally stopped trying to revive the bass and bream by mouth-to-mouth once I realized I was going to have to fillet them whether they were still flopping about or not.
But even though I am technically a serial killer, there is no way on this earth I could kill a cow. Or a pig. Or a chicken. I don’t have any good reasons for being selectively homicidal. I don’t believe animals and insects that are small or don’t meet the classic ideal of cuteness have any less right to life than other creatures. If I had endless hours in the day, I would probably catch the flies that bang themselves senseless against the third floor windows and the spiders that drop from my ceilings like Marines rappelling from a Blackhawk, then turn them all loose outside (like I do with moths and ladybugs). I have switched to live traps on the rare occasions when I can hear a mouse scrabbling about in the walls. And my husband’s refusal to eat fish has converted me to a catch and release angler. Slowly but surely I am reforming my murderous ways, although the flies and mosquitoes will probably never be able to stop looking over their shoulders.
I have always said that if I had grown up on a farm, I would be a vegetarian. Not only would I not be able to slaughter an animal myself, I wouldn’t be able to stand knowing someone I loved was doing it either. But I didn’t grow up on a farm, and I eat meat. It doesn’t bother me in the least to let some faceless butcher in a distant city do the dirty work so I can throw a steak on the grill. Buying beef from a refrigerated case is cold (no pun intended) and impersonal. All I’m looking for is the package with the leanest cuts and the smallest bones. My brain does not wander to what this creature looked like on the hoof, with its velvety nose and long-lashed brown eyes. I don’t allow myself to think what its life might have been like, good or bad, neither lush green pastures nor dirty, crowded feedlots. My head is firmly in the sand…I see a plastic-wrapped styrofoam tray of meat, nothing more, nothing less.
I feel very conflicted about this attitude…if I am not willing to kill a cow myself for food, why am I not morally opposed to someone else killing it for me? Killing is killing. I feel that somehow I am a hypocrite, although I realize I am in the company of millions of like-minded carnivores. I guess the easiest thing to do is just carry on not thinking about where the meat I’m buying has come from and not worrying about the ethics of the whole situation. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go throw a beef stir fry in the pan, because all of this deep thought is making me hungry.