On the way back tonight, I had a conversation about farming* with the girl/woman who lets me go in her car on the way back from tutoring.
She is a delightful person - I could probably listen to her talk for hours, with her bleached blond hair and wild, wild eyes. Very warm and expressive and speaks in this almost distracted way, like she is floating among dandelion seed puffs, yet she somehow simultaneously gives you confidence that she knows exactly what she's talking about.
Anyway, she grew up on a family-owned, commercial farm, playing with her siblings alongside animals which she her family would eventually eat. It was just really interesting to hear her perspective on it all. The way that the animals were always well cared for and respected, but that she thought it was foolish the way that some "animal rights people" personify non-human creatures and how they form opinions without even being familiar with how things really are. It is probably true to a large extent. I mean, how many religious vegetarians/vegans actually grew up on a farm or have spent significant time caring for farm animals? Probably not many, I would wager. On the other hand, the detachment with which she spoke about it all was rather disconcerting. It was such a part of daily living for her and her brothers and sisters growing up. I imagine you sort of would have to have some degree of emotional detachment from the creatures - to categorize them differently from yourself - or the cognitive dissonance would be overwhelming. And maybe that detachment is more than a defense mechanism, maybe it is perceiving things as they really are. There really is no way of knowing whether humans are a unique category of living organism or whether the "animal rights people" have it correct.
In my world, someone who has lived with, cared for, known, named, and eaten the same animals... that is rare. So I do value this opinion tremendously.
She asked me how long I've been a vegetarian (over ten years now) and why I don't eat meat (once I found out what it was as a child I didn't really have any appetite for it - the fact that it was the muscle of animals, the fact that I have muscle, it was just all too much for me to deal with - it just doesn't, hasn't ever really, felt right to me at that sort of gut level). At this point, she leaned over to me as we drove past the turn indicated on the GPS device, those crazy eyes glimmering as though she were about to share a delightful but horrifying secret. "Imagine if you had to live among the animals you ate for meat." I admitted that it would be pretty intense. She described one cow that was born with only three legs. They called the cow Peggy, for this reason. The family decided to raise Peggy like any other calf until she reached the size at which her legs couldn't support her body weight. At this point they slaughtered her and sat down at the dinner table and ate Peggy. "It would have been inhumane to let her grow any larger." She recounted the entire story with the same sort of jolly, reflective detachment.
And I had to agree. It would have been inhumane. They gave Peggy the best life they could have given, everything a little three-legged cow could have wanted, and then didn't allow her to suffer. And in some ways, I think I even have more respect for people who actually acknowledge the creature they are eating. I think of my humble grandfather who would hunt deer and other small game to provide food for his family to eat during the days or weeks or months - however long - when his factory workers' union was on strike. A man who owned beagles as much for function (hunting) as for companionship. From all I know of him, he did not kill animals for sport. He respected the dignity of every living beast.
I don't really have any conclusions. Just some musings.
*Well actually, a gchat earlier primed me for the farming conversation. Streetsorz was describing how everything is cooked in lard in the South and I began rambling about how vegetarians and vegans can often act/be perceived as self-righteous.