Thursday, October 9, 2008

FOOT IN MOUTH: Stay out of my kitchen, PETA

The McGill Tribune - Tuesday, October 7, 2008

By Eric Weiss

I was at Oktoberhaus last week, drinking a beer and pondering the sexual implications of sausage on a stick, when something occurred to me. Back when I named this column, I intended to put my foot in my mouth with controversial material-something I have yet to do. So instead of writing another self-indulgent piece about some movie you should have seen, I'll discuss something a little meatier.

I'm not a vegetarian. Why? Because I sleep better at night knowing that something died for my dinner.

Alright, that isn't true. But like most people in this country, I enjoy meat and I don't think my dietary indulgences are morally reprehensible. It's about time somebody explained why it's okay to chow down on a succulent, juicy hamburger. And it's about time somebody told People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to fuck off.

I eat meat because it's delicious. I don't care about scientific or philosophical explanations-eating meat is intrinsically pleasurable, and I don't want to live the rest of my life without tasting bacon. According to the Canada Food Guide, meat is an important part of a balanced diet and I would much rather get my protein from poultry than soy.

Beyond the sensory pleasure of consumption, meat has real cultural significance: it brings people together to share good food. Some of my fondest memories were formed around my family's kitchen table, and with Thanksgiving right around the corner, a festive turkey dinner will be on Canada's collective menu. Like most foods, meat transcends social boundaries. People of all persuasions can unite thanks to the harmonizing influences of filet mignon or pepperoni pizza.

For me, vegetarianism can't compete: tofu, tofurkey, toveal, and to-whatever are inadequate substitutes for meat. Don't get me wrong-I don't hate tofu. When prepared properly, it's quite tasty. But no matter how well it's made, tofu still tastes like tofu-not meat. It's not the same, so don't pretend it is.

Eating meat is not wrong. Our ancestors ate meat in order to survive and we've inherited their place at the top of the food chain. Like most people, I distinguish between humans and animals in questions of morality. I might risk my life to save a child, but never to save my neighbour's cat. So why should I apologize to the cow I'm having for lunch?

I don't have anything against vegetarianism. It's a popular lifestyle choice that can be made for any number of reasons, ranging from health concerns to spiritual fulfillment. If that's your preference, more power to you (and I mean that). But it's not for me, and I'm sick and tired of zealots turning vegetarianism into a moral crusade.

Believe it or not, I don't eat meat to be cruel. Yes, I've been known to club baby seals and feed puppies to sharks, but that has nothing to do with my diet. I'm sympathetic to many criticisms of the meat industry. Foie gras and veal (neither of which I eat) can only be produced through torture, so I understand why people oppose their production. I also support greater regulation and accountability in the meat industry.

A diet that includes meat is still compatible with the humane treatment of animals. The condescending and inflammatory propaganda of groups like PETA-who tried to exploit Tim McLean's murder for publicity this summer-is insulting to meat lovers and drives us away from the animal rights movement. Turning vegetarianism into an all-or-nothing proposition creates an unnecessary divide between those who eat meat and those who don't. The ways in which animals are raised and slaughtered should be improved to avoid needless cruelty, but my diet isn't responsible for an industry's shortcomings.

Alienating the majority has never been a recipe for progress. I'll support campaigns to improve the meat industry, but only with a compromise. Dear PETA: I stay out of your kitchen, so please stay out of mine.

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