Tuesday, 14 July 2009
Meat is Murder (Tasty, Tasty Murder)
The Guardian's Word of Mouth comment section, like many popular topical internet message boards that allow the rationally-challenged to hold forth on issues way outside of their sphere of understanding, is a hotbed of vitriol and hyperbole. I should know, I'm a frequent contributor myself. And given the nature of the passions on both sides, it's perhaps not surprising that the issues surrounding the dispatch and preparation of animals for consumption should be a regular flashpoint. But it has been increasingly alarming just how far vegetarians (for it is mainly vegetarians, and their even more rabid cousins, the vegans) will go to find offense. I can just about understand how people who choose not to eat meat would be squeamish towards the slaughter and butchery of a cute little baby cow or a fluffy wild bunny, but when the cooking and eating of snails and crabs becomes an issue for the Animal Rights League you know all sense of perspective has gone completely out of the window. Take this gem, which appeared beneath Tim Hayward's excellent Giant African Land Snail adventure:
They're responsive, emotional and very sweet creatures. You can tell if they're in a "good mood" by how much they let you handle them, when they're very "happy" you can stroke them down their back and they move their eyestalks in happiness
Award winning writer? Was it a nice big heavy award that he can murder more things with?
It's. A. Snail. If you think a 5-inch gastropod is responsive and emotional, you should meet my ex-girlfriend. Convincing yourself you're receiving valuable feedback from an animal whose two main functions on this planet are to move very slowly and eat lettuce is desperately worrying - do you think maybe you're confusing "the moving of the eyestalks in happiness" with "the being of a snail"? Just a thought.
What's irritating, however, is that chefs and foodies are willing to make concessions to these sentimental extremists by going through ludicrous preparatory hoops to convince them that the animals in question have been "ethically" killed. Take crabs, for example. Essentially a nervous system in a shell, with what can only be loosely described as a "brain" so small you can barely see it, there's no more reason why you should care if a crab is "ethically" put to rest (whatever that means) than the troublesome ants nest in your back garden or the cockroach in your bread bin. And after all, edible snails and crabs can also be considered vermin in most cases. But in countless recipes on the web and in timid populist celebrity chef books, we are advised to put the animals in the freezer for half an hour to slow its metabolism down, then "ethically" jab a sharp knife in between its eyes to mangle its brain. Similarly for lobster - a sharp stab through the head is apparently the preferred method here, because if you omitted this pointless stage between the catching and the eating, PETA would bash your front door in and set fire to your children.
But I think I know why - jealousy. Given that we don't (generally) eat ants or beetles or mice or rats, the veggies are quite happy to turn a blind eye to pest control. But once they see us taking pleasure from eating something, suddenly the rules change and we're cruel and bloodthirsty carnivores who are only eating crabs and snails to make them mad. And if we are determined to eat the defenceless little things then the least we can do is feel guilty about it and be very sorry and admit we're just following a sordid and shameful urge for live flesh and don't deserve to enjoy it.
Well, the fightback starts here. We can concede, as omnivores, that an animal with big brown eyes and hooves should be treated with respect during its final moments, given that its brain is just about big enough to make such an effort worthwhile. But there's no way on earth we should feel guilty about the passing of crustaceans and molluscs and gastropods. Next time you get hold of a nice fresh lobster or Dorset brown crab, make sure it's still alive and kicking when you drop it into the pot. It won't make the blindest bit of difference to you or the animal, but it will serve the very important purpose of pissing the vegetarians off.
Edit: Photo courtesy of The Springfield Files