Thursday, November 11, 2010

A question for squeamishness vegans

A common argument made about eating meat - and to a lesser extent all animal products - is that if you wouldn't be comfortable slaughtering (or butchering, or even just cooking) the animal yourself, you have no business turning a blind eye while others do the dirty work and digging in at the barbecue. It occurred to me that if nearly all of us would be too squeamish to take apart a delicious mammal, a similarly large proportion of the population would be grossed out by performing surgery. Yet no one, to my knowledge, argues that the squeamishness of the general population is an argument against performing surgery - necessary or elective. There is obviously a moral difference between cutting into flesh to save a life and doing so to make dinner extra tasty (as well as a difference between human and non-human life, one I won't sidetrack over to here). But the argument isn't typically that it would be sad to kill a cow, but that skinning it or whatever would be gross.

None of this, of course, applies to the ethical or environmental arguments for lentils over lamb. (It did, however, occur to me after preparing a dinner of lentils and lamb, lentils picked both to recreate an amazing meal at a restaurant in Frahnce, and because the cost of lamb chops necessitates a side dish that comes to well under a dollar for two. I rarely eat meat, but when I do, I like it $19.99 a pound and marinated in garlic and rosemary. I am, however, drawn to squeamishness veganism, because if I stop and think of what goat cheese, for example, is, it stops seeming appealing. This does not, however, put me off of croissants.)


Britta said...

This claim to me is both annoying and patently false. For hundreds of thousands of years, humans have been eating AND killing their own meat. It's only quite recently with the rise of and increasing concentration in urban centers that people haven't been slaughtering the animals they eat. In vast swaths of the world, people DO butcher their own animals, and in those areas, vegetarianism is pretty much unheard of.
Sure, I personally wouldn't want the job of slaughtering animals, but if I'd been raised on a farm or had to move to one, I bet I'd get used to it pretty quickly. I also am not grossed out by the thought of killing animals, or that meat was originally an animal. Yes, pork is from pigs, beef is from cows, chicken is from chickens, and it's not a huge stretch to say most people who eat meat are fully cognizant of that fact.

Sigivald said...

Are there such people, who refuse to eat meat solely because they're grossed out by the idea slaughtering it themselves?

I've seen an argument like it a few times, but always as a half-hearted adjunct to Bambiism or a moral objection or the like.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


I don't think I'd much mind killing an animal for food, either. Then again, I've been known to see lambs grazing in a field and think, tasty!


It's an argument those convinced for other reasons give to convince the unconvinced, to convince them that they're hypocrites. Idea being, if you wouldn't happily kill a cow, you're underneath it all a vegetarian.

Andrew Stevens said...

I had Sigivald's reaction as well since I'd always heard the argument framed as moral squeamishness (i.e. it would be sad to kill a cow), but then I realized the "gross" argument would most frequently be used by women to other women (and then only in places where hunting or agriculture are rare).

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Andrew Stevens,

Agreed re: city folk being more likely to use this argument, but I don't think urban or suburban men see their masculinity at stake if they express unwillingness to slaughter a chicken. I say this not to make some kind of general point about their being no difference between the sexes (women, for instance, do indeed talk about shoes more than men do), but because I don't see how it would much apply in this case.

Andrew Stevens said...

Nothing to do with masculinity. I think most people generally assume that men have stronger stomachs and less squeamishness. But I concede your point that I certainly know men who I couldn't imagine killing and slaughtering a pig because they wouldn't be able to stomach it.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

I thought the stereotype went in the opposite direction, at least with respect to blood. Menstruation, childbirth, and all that. (Scary insects are another story.)

PG said...

In vast swaths of the world, people DO butcher their own animals, and in those areas, vegetarianism is pretty much unheard of.

In Africa, South America and the Middle East, yes, but vegetarianism is a pretty familiar concept in countries with significant Hindu and Buddhist populations, i.e. much of Asia. Although vegetarianism among the Hindus I know has always excluded eggs (I suppose because they're like embryonic chickens?), which it doesn't seem to do as much in the West.