Faversham Stoa is a philosophy discussion group meeting on the 3rd Tuesday of every month from 7.30 to 9.30pm in the The Bull in Tanners Street. We cover a large range of topics. If you have an idea for a topic that you would like us to cover why not drop us a line? There's no charge for membership and everyone is welcome to drop in. Just bring your brain and some beer money!

The pig that wants to be eaten

After forty years of vegetarianism, Max Berger was about to sit down to a feast of pork sausages, crispy bacon and pan-fried chicken breast.1'v1ax had always missed the taste of meat, but his principles were stronger than his culinary cravings. But now he was able to eat meat with a clear conscience.

The sausages and bacon had come from a pig called Priscilla he had met the week before. The pig had been genetically engineered to be able to speak and, more importantly, to want to be eaten. Ending up on a human's table was Priscilla's lifetime ambition and she woke up on the day of her slaughter with a keen sense of anticipation. She had told all this to Max just before rushing off to the comfortable and humane slaughterhouse. Having heard her story, Max thought it would be disrespectful not to eat her.

The chicken had come from a genetically modified bird which had been 'decerebrated: In other words, it lived the life of a vegetable, with no awareness of self, environment, pain or pleasure. Killing it was therefore no more barbarous than uprooting a carrot.

Yet as the plate was placed before him, Max felt a twinge of nausea. Was this just a reflex reaction, caused by a lifetime of vegetarianism? Or was it the physical sign of a justifiable psychic distress? Collecting himself, he picked up his knife and fork….

Source: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams (Pan Books, 1980)

Concern for animal welfare is not confined to the small percentage of the population which is vegetarian. This should not be surprising since, if mere killing were the issue, then vegetarians would not swat flies or exterminate rats, which many, though by no means all, are happy to do.

There are two main reasons for maintaining that the rearing and killing of certain animals is wrong. First, there is the issue of the conditions animals are kept in. Here the problem is the alleged misery of an animal while it is alive, rather than the fact of its death. Second is the act of killing itself, which brings to an end the life of a creature which would otherwise have a decent future. The first issue can be dealt with simply by making sure the animal is kept in good conditions. Many people who are concerned for animal welfare will nonetheless eat meats such as free-range poultry and lamb, which cannot be intensively reared. However, this still leaves the second rationale for vegetarianism: objection to the act of killing. But what if we could create animals that had no interest in their own survival, simply because they had as little awareness as a carrot? How could it be wrong to deprive them of an existence they never knew they had? Or what if the animal actually wanted to be eaten, such as the bovine imagined by Douglas Adams in 'The Restaurant at the End of the Universe'?

The protagonist of that novel, Arthur Dent, recoiled in horror at the suggestion, describing it as 'the most revolting thing I've ever heard'. Many would share his revulsion. But as Zaphod Beeblebrox objected to Dent, surely it's 'better than eating an animal that doesn't want to be eaten'? Dent's response seems to be no more than a version of the 'yuck factor' – the kind of instinctive recoil that people feel when confronted by something that doesn't seem natural, even if there are no moral problems with it. Organ transplants and blood transfusions seemed freakish when first conceived, but as we got used to both, the idea that they are morally wrong has died out, apart from among a few religious sects.

People may talk about the dignity of the animals or of a respect for the natural order, but can we seriously suggest that the dignity of the chicken species is undermined by the creation of a decerebrated version? Isn't Priscilla's death entirely dignified? And aren't even organic arable farmers, who have selected and bred varieties to grow on a mass scale, tampering with the natural order anyway? In short, is there any good reason why the vegetarian of today should not share a table with Max just as soon as his menu becomes a reality?

from The Pig Who Wants to be Eaten by Juian Baggini

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