Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sheep: Confessions of a meat eater 5

Why did I ever eat sheep?

On occasions, I got to see sheep in the countryside, and I enjoyed following them around. They make the cutest sound, and the babies are a joy to watch as they playfully frolic where ever and whenever they get a chance. These gentle and docile animals would never harm a human being, and their warm, soft fur is heavenly to touch. They are occupied with eating grass and other green leaves, however the black pellets they poop are not smelly. In a group, they stick together and follow the leader, but one or two teenagers always tend to stray.

As a child, I knew sheep were raised for wool and food, and I derived no pleasure in seeing one killed. The animal screamed in fear and pain, its eyes budged out of their sockets, and there was blood spewing everywhere. Really gross. But then it gets worst as the process of taking the animal apart started. Raising sheep was uncommon where I grew up, and its flesh was more expensive than that of a cow. Lamb and mutton were delicacies, and although I was taught to desire them, I never really did.

Interestingly, most non-vegetarian parents object to their young children witnessing the slaughter of animals. This objection betrays a sensitivity present in parents and children alike. Maybe parents are afraid the violence might leave a harmful impression on children, who may grow to revel or abhor violence. Are non-vegetarian parents more scared of the latter outcome?

Why did I eat flesh for twenty-four years? Was it because I physically enjoyed eating meat? Cooked flesh, flavored in a hundred different ways, can be tasty. The odor of some meat dishes can also be pleasurable. The general opinion at the time was that eating meat not only helped to develop stronger muscles and bones, it was actually essential for survival.

There were psychological reasons for eating flesh as well. Take for example, the power over animals implicit in the act of eating flesh. For people at the bottom rung of the social scale, this boost in self esteem can be important, especially for women, minorities, children, the poor. You may not be able to enjoy the life of those above you, but at least you are not as bad off as the poor animals you are eating. In other words, you pick yourself up by putting others down.

Why did I do that? I've come to accept that almost all human behavior is conditional and situational. Under the conditions I was placed, and in the situation I was in, I did what was expected of me. I was socially conditioned and psychologically programmed to eat creatures I felt a natural affiliation toward, and the consequences for nonconformity as a child includedridicule and physical abuse. So, I towed the line and played sheep.

Children and teens eat flesh because as dependents they may not have a choice. But as adults, we continue to put our minds to sleep, and blindly follow one idea or another, this leader or that preacher. Deconstructing years of programming and abuse requires a critical mind, a willingness to question authority, and the courage to stand out from the crowd. Why was I able to do this while many others cannot or are unwilling to do so?

Can a sensitivity toward all life be taught, or is the propensity toward nonconformity an innate trait?

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