I usually don’t pay much attention to human interest stories, but the tale in our local newspaper of how Salem residents rallied to protect a mother duck and her brood of 10 ducklings moved me.
The duck nest was in a bush next to a downtown office building. Employees from nearby businesses kept the nest safe until the ducklings hatched, then they and other people protected the mother and newborns as they waddled their way across busy streets all the way to the Willamette River. One passerby even let himself be lowered headfirst into a storm drain to rescue two ducklings who had fallen in.
This tale of so many people taking the time and trouble to aid some ducks made me think, in a clichéd but sincere fashion, “It helps restore my faith in human nature.” It reminded me of my wife’s rescue of some city ducks a few years ago, though I have never questioned Laurel’s love of animals and dedication to making their lives better.
Such as by not eating them. We’re both proudly churchless and don’t believe that morality can, or should, be proscribed in any sort of “Ten Commandments” form. However, like almost everyone we don’t think that people should harm others. So the Golden Rule that is reflected in the teaching of every world religion, treat others as you would want to be treated yourself, seems to be an excellent universal ethical guide.
As vegetarians, we consider that the meaning of “others” includes animals. So the good people of Salem who helped the ducks get to Minto-Brown Island garner a hearty round of moral applause from us. We wonder, though, how many of these folks went home that day and ate meat for dinner while they told their family about how they had helped save the ducks.
As I wrote in my “Dozen desperate ducklings dodge death” post, “it was fitting that vegetarian Laurel saved the ducklings, because it would have been the height of hypocrisy for a meat-eater to feel self-righteous about helping them, when he or she would be eating other animals for dinner the very same day. Plain fact: anyone who isn't a vegetarian isn't an animal lover, no matter what they say. You don’t love animals by killing them.”
That last line sounded a bit harsh to me when I originally wrote it, and it strikes me the same way now. But I still have to agree with what I said, no matter if it offends some meat-eaters: You don’t love animals by killing them.
I try not to be a holier-than-thou vegetarian. It doesn’t bother me to be with people eating meat and I don’t look down on people who eat meat. I loved meat myself until I was about twenty-one. At the time I was still eating fish. During a trip back to my mother’s house from college she served me a prawn. I remember looking at it curled up on my plate and thinking, “That animal once was alive, and now it’s not, because of me.” Since then, for thirty-six years, I haven’t eaten a bite of meat.
For that prawn made me realize that I was part of the demand for animal flesh that causes fish, cows, chickens, sheep, turkeys, ducks, pigs, and other creatures to be killed. Many people consider meat-eating to be one of the pleasures of life. Well, I don’t like the thought that my pleasure comes at the cost of someone else’s pain, whether that someone is a person or an animal.
Some years back I wrote an opinion piece for the Portland Oregonian, “Vegetarians, honk your horns,” about why protesting fast-food restaurants is a better cause for a moralistic crusade than is picketing adult shops. Granted, there are some victims in the porn industry, but the meat industry causes much more pain and suffering—both to the animals that are killed and the people who eat them.
If meat was a drug, it would be illegal. Or at least highly regulated. Almost every meat product would be marked with a sticker: “Caution, may greatly increase the risk of death from heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases.” And if the cautionary sticker included animals’ point of view, the list of negative effects would be longer: “Consumption of this product results in severe pain, panic, and distress to those killed in its making.”
I’m happy that 11 ducks were saved in Salem last Monday. I just hope that the people who saved them were moved to consider whether animal lovers can also be animal eaters. In my opinion, you’re one or the other. A dog or cat lover would never consider eating Fido or Fluffy. So how can someone who claims to be an animal lover eat animals?