I haven't eaten a bite of meat in over forty years. Yet today I killed an innocent animal.
A gray squirrel, which I mistook for a not-innocent California ground squirrel -- who are continuing to drive us nutty (their newest trick is chewing voraciously on the bark of several much beloved trees in our yard, which could kill them if they're girdled.)
When my air gun arrived last year, I talked about how bad I felt when, as a pellet gun toting kid, I shot a songbird.
Today was no different when I found that the smallish squirrel that had been eating seeds on our lawn was a young gray squirrel -- I couldn't see the white patch on its belly, and its fur wasn't as darkly distinctive as that belonging to mature members of its species.
After I shot the squirrel, it struggled for life until I finished it off. Burying it in the brush, I kept saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry" while tears flowed. I don't cry often. But the anguish of causing pain to an animal who didn't deserve it overwhelmed my emotional circuitry.
Animal suffering is a central theme of Jonathan Safran Foer's "Eating Animals," a book that I downloaded onto my laptop and read as a Kindle for the Mac test. (Verdict: pretty unsatisfying experience; but that's another subject.)
Foer says, "On average, Americans eat the equivalent of 21,000 entire animals in a lifetime." Since I only ate animals up to the age of 20, one quarter of a normal life expectancy, I've got about 15,000 unslaughtered animals on the plus side of my karmic account.
So maybe I shouldn't feel so awful about slipping up on the gray squirrel kill -- especially since it met its end in a much more humane manner than chickens, pigs, turkeys, and other animals raised on factory farms do.
If you're a meat-eater, I dare you to read "Eating Animals." After all, If you're going to be responsible for killing 21,000 animals during your lifetime, you should know how they're raised and slaughtered.
Here's an excerpt from a review of Foer's book:
As in Dante, Eating Animals’s most powerful moments come in hell: Foer’s depiction of the factory-farming system is brutal and thorough—strong enough, I imagine, to win some converts.
He describes genetically freakish animals, some of whom can’t walk or mate, living in tiny cages in windowless sheds, suffering ritual mutilation and sloppy slaughtering (many of them end up getting boiled or skinned alive).
Unprofitable babies are immediately disposed of: electrocuted, thrown into a chipper, bashed headfirst into a concrete floor, or (in the case of irrelevant male dairy calves) sold to veal farmers. Slaughterhouse workers go crazy with sadism; toxic lakes of manure poison the environment.
None of this is new, but, as Foer puts it, “we have the burden and the opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular consciousness.”
The sheer brutality of the system seems to have pushed our centuries-long stalemate to a tipping point: Factory farming has become its own most powerful counterargument. And that transcends all cutesiness.
As Foer’s guide at the turkey farm tells him, “The truth is so powerful in this case it doesn’t even matter what your angle is.”
No time or inclination to read "Eating Animals"? OK, then take just a few minutes and read Elizabeth Kolbert's review in The New Yorker. It might make you pause at the meat counter before throwing your usual package of animal into the grocery cart.
Americans love animals. Forty-six million families in the United States own at least one dog, and thirty-eight million keep cats. Thirteen million maintain freshwater aquariums in which swim a total of more than a hundred and seventy million fish. Collectively, these creatures cost Americans some forty billion dollars annually.
...Americans also love to eat animals. This year, they will cook roughly twenty-seven billion pounds of beef, sliced from some thirty-five million cows. Additionally, they will consume roughly twenty-three billion pounds of pork, or the bodies of more than a hundred and fifteen million pigs, and thirty-eight billion pounds of poultry, some nine billion birds.
Most of these creatures have been raised under conditions that are, as Americans know—or, at least, by this point have no excuse not to know—barbaric.