I leant over the buffet, choosing my meal in the Camargue, and decided to try the dish below.
The young manager approached and explained each of the foods I had on my plate. She came to the one in question. “Bull pate” she announced.
Suddenly I was hurled into a relationship with my food. This was much more intimate than ‘beef pate’. This had a gender, for goodness sake.
I could almost piece together his life: grew up with other calves, gambolling and tussling; kept ‘entire’ for fighting; didn’t make the grade; had to go. So not only a bull, but a nice one, one who didn’t want to hurt people. And here I was eating him.
I dreaded that the manager might tell me his name. I hoped fervently that it wasn’t Ferdinand.
Now, I grew up on a farm. I’ve seen sheep from birth through death to plate. No biggie. If you eat them, you should know what you’re doing. So why this response to the bull pate?
A little while ago I decided it would be best for the planet’s rapidly diminishing fish stocks if I stopped eating them. Later, when snorkelling in the north of Western Australia and marvelling at the beauty and grace of my swimming companions and their interactions with each other, I wondered whether I would be able to catch and eat a fish.
The basis for my behaviour change was information, but my son’s reason for suddenly becoming vegetarian after years of loving meat, was not simply based on an understanding of the toll meat-eating takes on our planet, and hence us. Instead, he announced, “Animals are my friends. You don’t eat your friends.”
On the other hand, a family with whom I was acquainted in my childhood, bought and raised a piglet. They hand-fed it and it lived close to the house. It’s hard to imagine a child not becoming attached under such circumstances. The difficulty was that the pig was for the family to eat. The parents were one step ahead of the children on this one. They named the piglet Christmas Dinner. And it was.
So eating friends is possible if one accepts that as their destiny.
I am unable to eat kangaroos, having had them as companions as a child and, just as importantly, learning of their family structure and individual differences in a documentary. For example, some kangaroos are more effective parents than others and, not surprisingly, pass these parenting skills onto their offspring. How could one choose whom to eat? How could one disrupt the matriarchal society? It would be like killing an elephant. And yet, kangaroos are the animals Australian meat-eaters should be consuming since they do not damage the environment in the way that all introduced animals have done and continue to do.
Animals do eat other animals. So perhaps I am merely obeying innate physiological and psychological drives in my consumption of them. Or is my continued eating of other animals simply because I don’t care enough about them? Am I insufficiently engaged with them to over-ride my desire for gustatory pleasure? In my case, the answer has to be yes. And, in terms of the planet, do I feel that the little flesh I eat has no real impact? Is that attitude simply pulling a swifty or is it genuinely the case that my consumption is so small that the land, water and fossil fuel use are sustainable? Given that no fossil fuel use is sustainable, I am, at least in part, kidding myself.
I explain my response to the bull pate like this: If I eat beef or bacon or mutton, I can consider I am eating a substance. If I eat a bull or a ewe or a member of an interdependent society, I realise I am eating someone.