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I was a vegetarian for two years in the mid-1990s, mostly because I used to listen to a lot of Moby. It came to a stop on my wedding day—someone put a piece of chicken in front of me, and I said, ah, what the hell.
Then, three years ago, I made a go at being vegan. That lasted about two weeks—I was shitting like a goose. So then I became a vegetarian again, which lasted about nine months, but it is hard to be a vegetarian in the South. The vast majority of restaurants will not have a single thing on the menu that isn’t meat, aside from French fries. I ate a lot of French fries that year.
The reason I have made a couple of attempts at not eating meat is because, as Morrissey once sang, meat is murder. I believe that animals have souls. If you’ve ever owned a cat or a dog, you know this to be true. They need food and water, but they also need things further up in Maslow’s hierarchy—they need love, they need acceptance, and they need friendship. They can experience physical pain, but they can also experience psychic pain. I am no hippy-dippy new-ager, but the longer I am alive, the more I wonder if there really is such thing as reincarnation. I may have been a cat in a former life, which would explain a lot.
A little over ten years ago, my wife got a couple of pet chickens. They were golden comets—quiet, and good egg-layers. I was a little scornful of the chicken idea at first. But if you’ve ever owned chickens, you know that chickens have personalities. My wife named them Kuku and Choma. Kuku was the dumb, slow one, and Choma was the mischievous one. My wife used to speak to them in Swahili, and those damn chickens actually learned Swahili. They knew their names, and they knew “chakula,” which means food. My wife would say “chakula,” and they would come running, to get grapes. Wouldn’t you know, after a few months of this, I started to feel not so good about eating chicken. You know how many chickens are eaten every year in the world? 50 billion. 50 billion chickens. And they are all unique, with their own personalities. I get pretty sad just thinking about it.
After a few bouts of vegetarianism, I have come to the conclusion that I have to eat meat. I have a great deal of respect for vegans and vegetarians—I just can’t do it. My wife and I did eat a lot of Beyond Meat for a while (and I made some money trading the stock), but as you know, the synthetic meat is not so good for you. The next frontier is lab-grown meat, and I can tell you that once lab-grown meat finds its way to grocery stores, I will eat nothing else. I would say that industrial farming is much more humane than it was 30-50 years ago, but it’s still unspeakably cruel. Nobody likes to think too hard about where their food comes from. They’ll eat a steak, but they’d be unable to pull the trigger on killing a cow if someone handed them the gun. And my guess is that if they ever spent any time in an abattoir, they’d lose their taste for meat altogether. I’ve never been in a slaughterhouse, but I read about it when I was in high school—lost my taste for meat back then, too. We love our dogs and cats, but cows and chickens and pigs have souls, too. They are unlucky enough to be animals we eat. Imagine if there were live dog futures.
So I think the ethics of eating animals are pretty bad. We’re carnivores, we’re apex predators, so it must be done. I will make a prediction: in 10-15 years, people will feel the same way about eating meat as they do about fossil fuels today. And by then, there will be more alternatives, including lab-grown meat. And it will turn into a political argument, and there will be the bitter clingers who stick with their non-ethically sourced, all-natural meat, post pictures of steaks on Facebook, read Gateway Pundit, and put meat bumper stickers on their cars. There will be conspiracies about the World Economic Forum and eating Frankenfood, which is pretty much happening already. There have been some studies showing that the climate impact of lab-grown meat is not too different than that of industrially farmed meat. That is not why you do it—you do it to prevent suffering.
Which brings me to the subject of hunting—the ethics of hunting are very complicated. Say you shoot a deer. On one hand, deer are like rats, they’re everywhere, and who cares? On the other hand, this was an animal that living a pretty good life, running around, eating trees, completely free. I think if you’re going to hunt deer—which I don’t understand at all, because who takes pleasure in killing something?—then it’s less problematic if you actually eat it and make use of all the parts, rather than just killing for the joy of killing. I have one or two Facebook friends who will go deer hunting and post pictures of dead animals online. Not cool, not cool at all. One of them has a LinkedIn profile picture with a truly enormous cigar hanging out of his mouth. LinkedIn. My powers of detection tell me this person does not vote for Democrats. I think there is a sharp ethical difference between eating meat you get from the store, and not thinking too hard about where it comes from, and actually killing animals with your bare hands. I try very hard not to kill things. I will wreck my car before I run over a squirrel. I don’t even step on cockroaches in the bathroom anymore—we can coexist peacefully. As for the trophy hunters, there’s about a thousand turds waiting for them in hell. I don’t generally get spun up in moral panics, but that fucking dentist that killed Cecil the Lion a few years back deserved everything he got. Don’t get me started.
Aside from the vegans and vegetarians, you have people called “pescatarians,” who eat only vegetables, and fish, on the grounds that fish don’t have feelings, or something like that. I assure you that fish have feelings. I got invited to Camp Kotok a few years ago, but passed when I found out it was all about fishing. I don’t particularly like it when some dude has a profile picture of him holding up a fish, gasping for air. When people go deep-sea fishing, and they catch a big-ass fish, what do they do when they bring it on deck? They beat it into submission with a bat, spraying blood everywhere. Not barbaric at all. Keep in mind that I used to be in the Coast Guard, and I was constantly boarding fishing vessels. I boarded a Mexican longliner that was catching shark. They’d bring the shark onboard, slice off the fin, and kick it back in the water. Nothing I could do about it, it was Mexican-flagged, but this kind of stuff goes on all the time. It is estimated that there were ten times as many fish a hundred years go as there are today, and there were ten times more fish a hundred years before that. The settlers wrote about being able to walk ashore on the backs of cod. People like to be climate warriors when it comes to cow farts, but if they were really concerned about the climate, they’d be doing something about the oceans. As usual, it is all for show.
As you know, I have seven cats. I rescue the hard cases. Vesper was a feral cat, having been hit by a car. Uma was living under a dumpster. Wendy was abandoned, left outside to starve, and was hit by a car. Tars was at a kill shelter, with a death sentence. Yellow was abandoned. Stripe was a stray cat. Only Xenia had owners—they surrendered her to the shelter when they got divorced. We have given them happy, healthy, wonderful lives. And I’m junior varsity when it comes to this stuff—you should see the hard cases that Beth Stern works with—Howard Stern’s wife. Follow her on Instagram and see what I mean. I joke with my wife that if we won the Powerball, I would save all the cats, donating $10,000 to every cat rescue in the country. I also like dogs, too—I like all animals. Some people try to prevent human suffering, but I am less sympathetic to that cause—people frequently play a role in their own suffering. Animals don’t. They didn’t ask for any of this.
There has been substantial progress. Even in the last ten years, people are taking much better care of animals. There is much more to be done. I’m not an asshole about it. I can be friends with hunters and fishermen. I can be friends with people who eat ribs (because I eat ribs). But as I have written before, we are undergoing a process of civilization, and it’s happening at the speed of light. Peter Luger’s is going to be serving petri dish steaks in 20 years, that much I can guarantee.