This morning Claude was cleaning intestines. We talked a little about the weather, then I asked about the intestines. I asked if it was a baby goat, a chevreau that was killed. We’d already eaten one earlier in the week in a stew. She said it wasn’t, that it was a chevrette, a female. I asked why they’d killed a grown goat instead of a baby again – she said that the goats should only suckle for a few months, but that this goat had stayed with her mother for too long – 9 months – and that meant that she wouldn’t have any kids. They killed her because she wouldn’t be producing. I thought it was a funny explanation coming from Claude, an older woman who doesn’t have any kids and is still living with her own mother.
She said that she didn’t actually kill the chevrette, but that a Muslim man across the valley who practices Halal butchery had done it. To her it was nothing but I said I liked it.
“Why? It’s no different, it’s still tripe,” she said.
“Well, it is different. He prays when he kills it, doesn’t he?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“That’s being thankful for the life, it’s gratitude, I think that’s good.”
“I suppose I’m more materialistic.”
“I’m not religious,” I said. “I don’t pray or give gratitude when I eat meat. But I should, and I hope the person who kills the animal for me does.”
“Yeah. Every life is something. Yesterday you said, ‘The actions of humans are more disgusting than anything we work with.'” [The comment referred to the animal cruelty humans are capable of when pursuing profit. It was a response to my complaint about a trash bag that could be described as fermented bee throwup.] “Well, the butcher praying over the animal and giving gratitude is something in the opposite direction of cruelty.”
In fact, in “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” Michael Pollan investigates the ethics of eating meat and with the help of animal ethicists he finally comes to this conclusion: if your actions create, on balance, more happiness than suffering in the world then they’re ok. In other words, if you support conditions where animals live happy lives and are killed humanely then you can eat those animals ethically. The argument can be made that some animals raised for food will live longer, happier lives than if they had been in the wild, and most will meet more humane deaths. This is the case for the goats here, I think, with the notable exception that the babies are sometimes killed, which I’d like to ask more about. On the other hand it seems pretty clear that on balance, industrial animal farming creates much more suffering than happiness.
One other issue Pollan brings up is whether eating Goat is good for Goats. Individual-level ethics is not necessarily how Nature and Natural Selection measure health, nor should it be how we measure health if we want to work with Nature. It would also excuse the death of a baby for the well being of the herd.
A few minutes later I’d put two and two together and went back to Claude.
“I have one more thing to say about this.”
“Gratitude is linked to the idea that what one has is ‘enough.’ The idea of ‘enough’ counteracts the pursuit of profit and maybe the cruelty it creates,” I said.
I’m glad I said it, but I felt silly – she might already know those things or she might just think I’m a young idealist from the city talking about abstract things that don’t matter out here.