The man called about buying some rabbit. My friend Lila—ex-vegetarian and present-day purveyor of fine, homegrown meats—welcomed him to stop by the house late in the day. The rabbit would be cool by then.
“You mean it’s still alive right now?”
It was. And the caller, perhaps suddenly imagining Thumper hopping happily about, decided not to come that day.
“Maybe I’ll just come next week,” he said.
Lila—who, like her husband Dave, needs to know that their animals have lived well and died humanely—realized belatedly that she shouldn’t have given a potential customer quite so many details. But she was amazed, she told me, that “even conscientious meat purchasers need to disconnect from the real fact that meat is animal.”
To his credit, the man had gone to the trouble of finding a source of local, healthy, humanely-raised meat. But he balked, his conscience uneasy. Was he deterred by recognizing that “meat is animal”? Was he deterred by “the reality of individual death,” as Holly Heyser put it in her recent blog post? Quite possibly.
But there may, I imagine, have been another factor, too.
When I departed from the path of vegetarianism, I had to confront more than the recently-living individual-birdness of the chicken legs I was suddenly barbequing. I also had to confront why the bird had died. It had died for me.
That’s not how we usually think of it, of course. Buying meat in the store lets us tell ourselves a little story: It’s already dead. I didn’t cause its death.
But whether we acknowledge it or not—whether we buy meat in a store, get it from a farm, or kill it ourselves—the animal is killed for whoever eats it. In a sense, it is killed by whoever eats it. Maybe, in that brief conversation with Lila, the fellow realized that his phone call was about to trigger a rabbit’s death, as surely as if he had picked up the animal and done the deed himself.
That’s one reason I took up hunting. When I look down a rifle barrel—sights aligned with the head of a snowshoe hare or the heart of a white-tailed deer—I’m brought face to face with more than the exquisite living, breathing creature. I’m brought face to face with myself: the one who chooses to take its life.
© 2010 Tovar Cerulli