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Eating Tiddles

“Waste not, want not,” was Delia's motto. She had a great respect for the thriftiness of her parents' generation, people who had lived through the war and most of their lives with relatively little. She had learned a lot from them, skills virtually no one her age had, such as how to skin a rabbit and make tasty, simple dishes from offal.

So when she heard a scream of brakes one day outside her suburban semi in Hounslow,and went outside to find that Tiddles, the family cat, had been struck by a car, her first thoughts were not just of regret and sadness, but practicalities. The feline had been bashed but not run over. In effect, it was a lump of meat just waiting to be eaten.

The pungent meat stew her family sat down to that evening was of a kind not found on many British dining tables today, but Delia"s family was used to eating cuts of meat that were no longer fashionable. She had told her husband what had happened, of course, and had always been direct with her children. Still, the youngest, Maisie, ate reluctantly and cast her mother occasional accusing glares over her steaming bowl. Delia was sympathetic, but the child surely had no reason to think she had done anything wrong.

Source: 'Affect, culture and morality, or is it wrong to eat your dog?' by Jonathan Haidt, Silvia Helena Koller and Maria G. Dias in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65 (1973)

The power of taboo is very strong. In the West, as in most of the world, most people eat meat with no moral qualms at all. Sometimes the flesh they dine on has been produced from animals kept in terrible conditions. Some farm animals, such as pigs, are more intelligent than many household pets.

Yet eating certain types of meat is seen as repulsive. Many Britons think eating horses or dogs is barbaric, whereas British Muslims think it is eating pigs which is repellent. And eating pets is considered particularly repugnant. Rabbit stew is perfectly acceptable, just as long as it isn't the rabbit you gave a name to and ~ kept in a hutch.

Is there any moral basis to these judgements, or are they no more than culturally conditioned reflex reactions? Assuming you are not an ethical vegetarian, in which case all meat eating would be wrong, it is hard to see how morality comes into it. And in the case of Delia, it may be more moral to eat the family cat. After all, we do think there is something immoral about wilfully wasting resources when so many in the world are poor. So if eating meat is not wrong, and a source of meat becomes available, discarding it would seem to be wrong – not, eating it. On this account, Delia is a kind of moral hero, doing the good deed most others do not have the courage to.

It might be objected that to eat a pet is to betray the trust that the relationship with it was based on. You cannot just flip from being a friend and protector to pragmatic farmer. That is nof only psychologically difficult, it also undermines the basis of the human-animal relationship.

It is not difficult to imagine, however, a culture where eating pets, or even friends, is seen as the logical culmination of that relationship. In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, the armoured bear, lorek, honours his dead friend Lee Scoresby by eating him. Although most of the books' readers are children,

Pullman says that they seem to have no problem accepting the naturalness of this.

So perhaps the question of whether an animal is friend or food presents a false dichotomy. It is not only morally acceptable to eat our dead pets, it is culpably wasteful not to.

from The Pig Who Wants to be Eaten by Juian Baggini

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