The arbitrary way in which different cultures have differing attitudes towards eating certain kinds of flesh reveals the irrationality and inconsistency of our current approach to morality and animal rights. Either it’s ok to eat all species or none at all. We are not gods of the animals– we do not have the right to pick and choose which creatures shall live and which shall die purely for our dietary or aesthetic fancy. We should not be the gods of deciding which species suffer horribly and which get pampered and respected as our beloved pets.
“The Christian pities the Jew and the Mussulman [Muslim], because they hold pork in abhorrence, and yet the Christian repulses the notion of touching horse-flesh. The Hindoo has an equal horror of beef. Mutton is by no means a cosmopolitan dish. … The Russians still abstain from pigeon … the Italians hold the rabbit in aversion. … The French eat on a small scale frogs, and on a large scale snails … which would be rejected by the English labourer, even if starving.” All Year Round Magazine – Anonymus, 1861
This excerpt wonderfully summarises the way different meats are regarded as taboo in different cultures. If we think carefully, the multitude of different preferences alludes to the fact that either all animals should be regarded as edible, or none at all. Finding one species delicious and another sacred makes absolutely no rational sense.
Let’s consider this further. If one culture believes that cows are sacred, and another does not, it follows that both groups cannot be correct since they are polar opposite views. We can then deduce that either cows are deserving of moral consideration and Western culture is wrong, or that Eastern culture is mistaken and it is acceptable to kill a cow. Which is more likely to be true? If cows deserve moral status, why do chickens, pigs, chickens, horses not? Or, if cows do not deserve moral consideration, why do horses? What about rabbits? These sort of comparisons help us to understand that having favoured and unfavoured species is arbitrary nonsense.
Recently, there was a hysterical scare in the UK that beef products had been “contaminated” with horse meat. Whilst it was primarily seen as a breach in consumer trust, no one deliberating the issue saw the madness in eating one meat but not another – this in itself is evidence of the stubborn cultural blindness to the wider moral issue.
To condemn the enslavement, torture and untimely ending of a life of one species, but consider it perfectly acceptable for another is absolutely irrational. Either we accept and recognise that all living, thinking, feeling creatures be granted the freedom from human harm or we attempt to argue that the eating of all things is acceptable. The haphazard, contradictory alternative – the current policy – of where we individually pick and choose when we care and when we don’t is a vile and abhorrent excuse for moral policy.