As a defender of animal rights I have faced occasional criticism from my peers because I am not truly vegan in my eating habits. I will occasionally order shrimp tacos for dinner, enjoy Honey Nut Cheerios made with real honey for breakfast, or use an anchovy cesar dressing on my salad. My actions are admittedly hypocritical in that they go against my philosophy that every living thing has a right to just be. I have, in essence, elevated myself to the status of a god in these circumstances, judging one life form against another, deciding on my own terms if it is worthy of an untethered existence or simple consumption. I have created for myself a line. We all have one— even the most carnivorous members of our society. Almost all humans draw a line against adding one another to the food chain, even though intellectually and physiologically we know the nutritional value is obvious. For instance, it would be hard to consider dining upon a human infant, even if you were in the throes of great hunger and that infant was left untended and available. Other predators would consider the child a succulent feast, but humans would blanch aghast at the very thought, until…and here the concept blurs somewhat as we realize, lines can move. We can alter their course under extreme circumstance, or maybe even remove them altogether. Facing the proposition, “We will die of starvation by tomorrow unless we bludgeon, slaughter and consume the neighbor’s baby,” that baby would be in real peril. We know this for a fact from real incidents in our history.
But those are extremes, and fortunately my life circumstance has not yet faced me with one. So my line is more intrinsic. It’s the line I need to protect my psyche from self-destructing. I have chosen this line with care, and it is filled with emotional content. My friends, many of whom are not even close to being vegan, have asked for some guidance while still sneaking animal products into their diets. The god in me is quick to tell them that if an animal can experience joy or pain, not just instinctive reflex, it certainly shouldn’t be considered food. If it can reason, perceive its surroundings with curiosity, demonstrate playfulness or feel emotions like sadness, however primitive in our one-sided human evaluation. Any animal who could look up with pleading eyes that cry out, “My god, what are you going to do to me?” shouldn’t be ours to use and destroy. The dedication in my novel, The Meat Hunter, is a thesis on this very kind of terror. It reads, “This story is dedicated to the second pig in line. The one who must watch… and wait… and know.”