It is somewhat strange that I can never associate a cooked chicken on my plate with a walking, clucking chicken that I would otherwise never hurt with my own hands. It just doesn't inspire the same warm fuzzy feeling. No doubt, organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Brown Animal Rights Club have come across many people like me, and dealing with us is one of their big challenges.
Plenty of people love animals but still eat meat. So what does that make us: hypocrites, confused or just plain normal?
I'm not sure how other people deal with it (or if they do at all). But I know that I have felt guilty about eating meat, especially at times when I've had fewer problems in life.When I first came to Brown, for example, and felt that fantastic feeling that everything is possible, my guilt made me reduce my meat intake gradually until I was eating no meat at all. It lasted for about a month and a half. Sure, everything was still possible, but it was made considerably harder in the face of chicken finger Fridays at the V-dub.
The part that I felt worst about was that my re-conversion to omnivore-ism wasn't because of a health or nutrition concern which would, in a way, legitimize my relapse. Rather, it was purely because I'd been eating meat all my life, and, un-PC as it sounds, I think it tastes rather nice, actually.
In an effort to reconcile my love of animals with my love of juicy, juicy hamburgers, I made my way to the volunteers who manned the PETA stalls on the Main Green recently. In response to my questions they asked me to imagine how I would feel if my own pet cats were shredded to pieces like some of the animals I ate were. It wasn't hard to do, with all those graphic images around me of animals being butchered and maltreated in every possible way.
But I can't expect to have the same kind of bond that I have with my pets with every other animal out there, and so it didn't really help make the connection between cooked animals and live ones.
Obviously, PETA might ask what the point of my caring about animals is when I'm going to eat them anyway.
Yet ironically, being eaten is not where the struggle ends for most animals, because there are plenty of other animal rights issues.
One of these is that the meat we eat is produced and processed using highly questionable means. For example, PETA's own Web site publicizes how Kentucky Fried Chicken stuffs chickens into filthy, overcrowded factories, and then drugs them so that they grow large, so large in fact that they can't even walk. This is obviously done to cater to the demands of a form of consumerism that is going out of control. But not only is this practice bad for animals, it is harmful for us as well.
The Web site cited the fact that KFC slits chickens' throats and drops them into hot water while they may still be conscious. Yes, the chickens will surely die, but there is no reason for them to be in pain while still alive.
Also, while plenty of people would agree that eating meat is justified, they would also agree that devouring the copious amounts of meat (and everything else too) that we do now is not okay. This over-consumption makes us bigger than we need to be, leads to global warming issues and inevitably causes us to waste food. Any student who eats at the Ratty is probably shocked by the quantities of meat thrown away every day, like I am. This meat comes from animals killed for no reason at all.
As somebody who cares about animals and the planet, I could help advance PETA's campaigns for all these causes — if only they wanted me.
Like any organization seeking major social change, PETA needs popular support, and so it should allow people to contribute what they can without being judged for what they decide not to renounce. As long as they help alleviate the conditions of animals in one way or another, they should feel a part of the animals rights movement, because they are still making a difference. And it should be okay if I turn up to a BARC meeting and eat a chicken patty, as long as I am helping the organization in another big way.
In the end, eating meat remains controversial. But animal rights groups shouldn't waste the goodwill of potential supporters of other animal rights issues. In asking everyone to do something as drastic as giving up meat, these groups may just be losing whatever support many people can give.
Fatima Aqeel '12 is an economics concentrator from Karachi, Pakistan. She can be reached at fatima_aqeel(at)brown.edu.