5

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Does the emotional capacity of certain animals affect your capacity to slaughter it for food? How might our Ancestors have been affected by this?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created July 14, 2011 at 8:02 PM

This question is spawned from another one of today's threads called "Compassionate Paleo"

There is a great discussion going on over there on the difference between killing certain types of animals for slaughter. By nature, this can be as 'argumentative' a topic as any, but that is not the point of my question.

Some people live by a blanket feeling of compassion for all species, and don't eat meat as a result. Others will chop a cow straight in half without blinking an eye.

If you think about how our early ancestors would might have handled this, and compare with certain domesticated animals of today, it might play a significant difference in what you are willing to eat based on your 'compassion' for certain species.

I don't know if you've ever seen the blog "Hyperbole and a Half" by a certain a creative girl. She put out a hilarious post about how she feels about spiders. It's definitely worth a look if you haven't seen it. Some people try to 'save' spiders, believing that they have feelings too. WTF? Not me. I have no compassion for spiders whatsoever, I tell you. To me, spiders are of satanic origin, and I quickly eliminate all intruders on my personal property, revelling in the fact that I have also, by default, eliminated any future breedings of said spider. And this girl shares my feelings almost precisely.

Now, that is not for slaughter to eat, but it's a neat segue story anyhow.

In the movie "Avatar", there was a big hoopla made about killing animals. They would talk to the animal and say "I see you, brother..." and basically show honor and appreciation as they killed, even wild animals.

Are certain animals easier to slaughter than others with regard to the animal's emotional capacities? Is it easier to kill and eat a codfish in the deep ocean than it is to kill and eat a giant Koi fish from your own pond, or a perhaps a goat whose number is up? Did our ancestors ever become connected emotionally with their kills before eating it? Maybe not, since they would have all been completely wild and there was not sufficient time to share emotional experiences with those animals? Does it change the game when dealing with farmed animals?

How does our ability to have compassion for living animals affect what you are willing to eat and does your own personal life experiences influence your decisions?

74f5d2ff6567edd456d31dfb9b92af61

(5227)

on July 15, 2011
at 06:03 AM

As a spider sympathizer, I simply must know: how does this image make you feel? ;D http://anirishmanabroad.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/eat-like-kings.jpg

B4e1fa6a8cf43d2b69d97a99dfca262c

(10255)

on July 15, 2011
at 04:25 AM

i love the sight of a mosquito in a web..and a house fly..and a moth

A642b5bc75a36fdce13fbf290f0c85a7

(385)

on July 15, 2011
at 01:03 AM

Yeah I meant something like that. Basically, the more similar something is to us the more we as a species (or at least, those in the specific culture I am a part of) care about it. And I totally agree that our current human reality paradigm is not static. It has been really refreshing for me to realize this. The beauty of life is its mystery--not a blind mysteriousness that we consciously avoid, rather, a mysteriousness that no words or structural modes of analytics can fully make light of. The fuzzy space between spirituality and science. I love it. I live it.

0bc6cbb653cdc5e82400f6da920f11eb

(19235)

on July 15, 2011
at 12:17 AM

What did spiders ever do to you?

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 15, 2011
at 12:04 AM

mosquitos don't spin webs and wait in the middle like a ninja. Spiders are the only ones that don't fly that can still get you mid-air. also it *feels* like spiders stalk people. plus mosquitos you can repel. plus mosquito hawks also eat mosquitos. and anyway we don't really have much of a mosquito problem in these here parts. what we gots is a spider problem.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 11:10 PM

i think you mean like, species-centric, or something, instead of anthropomorphistic. i'm with you here, pretty much. the relative sentience of vegetables isn't really on my mind, but you hit on something i consider to be crucial, which is a willingness to accept that our current human reality paradigm is not static.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 11:03 PM

i'm with you here, sort of. i think you mean like, species-centric, or something instead of anthropomorphistic. the relative sentience of vegetables isn't really on my mind, but you hit on something i consider to be crucial, which is a willingness to accept that one's own reality-construct is *not* the only thing going on here.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 14, 2011
at 11:02 PM

sigh, compassion is a noun and a verb, you know.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 10:45 PM

sigh .

Aead76beb5fc7b762a6b4ddc234f6051

(15239)

on July 14, 2011
at 10:07 PM

spiders eat mosquitos, ergo i have infinite compassion for spiders.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 10:00 PM

correction: eating bambi does *not* necessarily make one uncompassionate either.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 14, 2011
at 09:49 PM

what's more paternalistic than raising animals for food? and what's bad about paternalism re: animals?

A45af235ed4dd0b4f548c59e91b75763

(1936)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:43 PM

Grizzly bears just tend to shred people up for fun, Black bears will eat you.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:26 PM

what i've read about the traditional native american view of hunting and eating animals resonates with me and has comforted me when i find myself second-guessing my choices. gratitude and respect are key. i have a clear conscience.

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:10 PM

sure - so far they have been ridiculously easy - but they're still babies (no anthropomorphism here, nah!)

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:04 PM

well worded meredith. you've GOT to let us know how the chicken raising, egg eating goes. keep us posted!

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:43 PM

lol. of course bears eat people sara.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:42 PM

you dislike other bugs more than spiders? like what? some say roaches, but roaches are not really the primary food for arachnids. and while you're right about 'the grand scheme' and everything, the fact is, some animals do exhibit the ability to understand emotion better than others. a dog who whimpers and wags his tail and pees all over the ground out of love and excitement that you came home cannot be compared to a cricket. and to add to your closing comment, eating bambi does necessarily make one uncompassionate either.

1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83

(2435)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:35 PM

If it's big enough to crunch, I can't stand killing things (though I will, but I cringe. Ewww crunch!) Itty bitty spiders, mosquitoes, ants, no problem.

1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83

(2435)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:32 PM

Do we actually know if bears ate people? I guess they might, but actually eating them isn't something I think I've heard of.

1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83

(2435)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:22 PM

Pregnancy hormones getting to you, too, eh? ;)

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11 Answers

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10
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 14, 2011
at 08:23 PM

True foragers generally don't eat animals that they raised. I've seen this in many ethnographies. I posted an example about the Koyoukon:

A few years back, a government agency promoting the American agrarian ideal shipped baby chickens and piglets to Koyukon Indian villagers- people who have been hunters, trappers, and fishers all their lives. Some folks took to the notion, built pens, raised healthy pigs and successful flocks, and eventually found eggs under their hens. That's when things started going awry. After watching the chickens grow, many couldn't bring themselves to eat the eggs, and it was even worse to think of dining on the birds or pigs. "People felt like they'd be eating their own children," a Koyukon woman told me. "A lot of them said, from now on they would only eat wild game they got by hunting. It felt a lot better that way.

They also had complex religions that may have allowed them to deal with the significance on the deaths in their lives. For example, prayers and ceremonies after the slaughter of certain significant animals. They also often believed that certain animals offered themselves as sacrifices to humans. There was also a blending of borders between animals and humans. Some cultures believed that humans would be reborn as animals and vice-versa, creating a "circle of life" of sorts.

There is even the argument that our relationships with animals were what made us human.

In the modern world there is unjustified anthropomorphism. Believing that a spider can remember you or has feelings about you has little basis in science. But then there are animals that do share important characteristics with us like empathy and the ability to form bonds with other animals or people. If you slaughter animals yourself, initially these shared characteristics will likely make you feel highly uncomfortable. I believe that we should respect all the animals we eat, but we should have special reverence and compassion for animals that have the abilities to anticipate the future, empathy, bonding, and other human-like characteristics. When killing them we should do our best to make sure that they just have one bad moment in their lives.

And perhaps since killing them is often a significant event, we should make it special and not do it often. That's anathema to our culture of efficient capitalism. Slaughterhouse workers can kill hundreds of animals every hour. I know a slaughterhouse that was shut down by the USDA because they weren't killing enough animals per hour and the USDA said it was a waste to pay for an inspector there! I don't think this callousness is good for humans. Indeed, rates of crime and domestic violence are higher among slaughterhouse workers. My own personal goal is to slaughter/hunt my own animals. Because it's a bittersweet event, I have no desire to do it ten times a year. I'm more than happy with a deer or two + some game fowl in the fall, a pig for Christmas, a lamb and goat for Easter, and fish in the summer. These animals are important to me and I'm not sure I trust a slaughterhouse to kill them for me.

But that's also why when I deal with meat animals, I try to leave them to their own devices. When buying animals for our farm, we selected breeds that could pretty much take care of themselves. When you form a bond with an animal and that bond is returned, it's pretty hard to let go. That's probably why we don't really like to eat dogs or cats in our culture. I think the film Partitions underscores this. Even when farmers feign indifference, it is still hard.

5
0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:02 PM

My husband hunts - mostly birds but the occasional elk or deer. I think because they are being slaughtered in the wild, he has to focus more on precision it takes to shoot and hiding well and less on the act of killing itself. So, it's a bit easier to take.

However, we have just started raising five chickens which we will use for eggs. My four year old has named them. I now know that I could never kill them.

I also could never kill or eat a dog, dolphins or gorillas (or any primate). Animals that seem to be all reaction and no contemplative ability are easier (fish for sure). Also, creatures that are more like inanimate objects like clams - no problem.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:04 PM

well worded meredith. you've GOT to let us know how the chicken raising, egg eating goes. keep us posted!

0dbd7154d909b97fe774d1655754f195

(16131)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:10 PM

sure - so far they have been ridiculously easy - but they're still babies (no anthropomorphism here, nah!)

4
Fac1af832cc3c6a20059c41411fd0f6b

(1548)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:32 PM

It does not bother me. These animals would not have lived at all if it were not for us needing them. Their being useful to us is their evolutionary adaptation that insures that their lines are carried on.

I think that respecting them is important, and not just by giving them good lives in good conditions and clean, painless passings, but also by utilizing them efficiently in life as well as death. I let my chickens roam and eat the bugs. I feed my pigs scraps in a section of yard I intend to cultivate later.

Being emotionally attached to my food makes me try harder to treat it with respect.

4
A45af235ed4dd0b4f548c59e91b75763

(1936)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:27 PM

I think that compassion for animals is a fairly new human trait. I'm not saying that our paleolithic ancestors enjoyed hurting animals, but I doubt they really though about it much one way or the other. For one, they didn't get to buy meat all chopped up and pretty without face or guts. They had to stalk and kill their meat and they were watching animals die from a very young age. Also, animals were a mortal enemy until very recently (and still are in many places). A lion, snake, bear, wolf, boar, all could be the painful end. We look at these creatures as amazing and regal, I'm guessing they looked at them much in the same way you look at a creepy spider. Something that needs to die so it won't breed another killer. Plus, once dead, a tasty viddle.

I'm thinking the Avatar hoopla is Hollywood nonsense when compared to how, say Native Americans, would have treated their kills. I bet on the whole they had great respect for the animals that kept them alive, but on a one-to-one basis? I doubt it. Kill it quickly to be merciful, but I doubt they were talking to them much.

I was a commercial fisherman in Alaska for several years and I had great respect for the salmon that kept me going. I would try to dispatch them as quickly as I could, mostly so they wouldn't bounce around and break something. Heck, I even talked to them sometimes, but it wasn't a love poem.

4
Fbd2f71e901c267794d07c4b8cf2b5b0

on July 14, 2011
at 08:18 PM

I have always approached it with a Shamanistic perspective. I eat it to continue life, as it would do if our roles were reversed. It is a symbiotic system where we can work together.

I believe that our ancestors held many of the same views, as is prevalent in their religious views on animal spirits.

3
1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83

(2435)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:29 PM

I've been known to thank an animal for my meal as a way of saying "Grace".

The ability to kill I believe has a lot to do with how you're brought up. I can't imagine gutting a deer, but I've gutted a fish and it somehow seems a bit better. I would think that primitive peoples would have taught their children from a young age how to hunt and prepare animals. As far as respect towards the animal? That's a tough one to speculate. I think that some people probably took great care to pay respects to their dinners, while others may not have cared. Just like we are today.

2
A642b5bc75a36fdce13fbf290f0c85a7

(385)

on July 14, 2011
at 10:13 PM

What about plants? Is it anthropomorphic of us to ignore the levels of sentience in vegetables and fruits? It is easy to laugh this question off, but I think we as a society have by and large overlooked this possibility. Nonetheless, many researchers are constantly exploring the realms of sentience in non-animal species such as bacteria and plants. Trees send some form of communication through their root systems. Bacteria in yogurt and potted plants have been shown to change levels of electrical impulses when their livelihood is imminently threatened. There are many other examples. It fascinates me.

Obviously the degree and type of feeling that non-animal organisms have in comparison to ours is going to be much different. Maybe we will never even understand the life of a plant (or bacterium), how they feel, and what they feel. But would it not be ignorant to bypass them completely in this discussion?

Taking this a step further, I often wonder about "nonliving" objects entirely. A mountain is nonliving, but does that mean it is appropriate to blow it up and scrape out its insides?

What I am getting at is this: compassion is purely relative. I reckon many ancestors had incredible compassion for mountains, plants, animals, and humans. There more than likely were those who did not. In any case, I think it is important to overcome the framework of thinking that we are encultured into. Just to consider, you know?

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 11:10 PM

i think you mean like, species-centric, or something, instead of anthropomorphistic. i'm with you here, pretty much. the relative sentience of vegetables isn't really on my mind, but you hit on something i consider to be crucial, which is a willingness to accept that our current human reality paradigm is not static.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 11:03 PM

i'm with you here, sort of. i think you mean like, species-centric, or something instead of anthropomorphistic. the relative sentience of vegetables isn't really on my mind, but you hit on something i consider to be crucial, which is a willingness to accept that one's own reality-construct is *not* the only thing going on here.

A642b5bc75a36fdce13fbf290f0c85a7

(385)

on July 15, 2011
at 01:03 AM

Yeah I meant something like that. Basically, the more similar something is to us the more we as a species (or at least, those in the specific culture I am a part of) care about it. And I totally agree that our current human reality paradigm is not static. It has been really refreshing for me to realize this. The beauty of life is its mystery--not a blind mysteriousness that we consciously avoid, rather, a mysteriousness that no words or structural modes of analytics can fully make light of. The fuzzy space between spirituality and science. I love it. I live it.

2
B4e1fa6a8cf43d2b69d97a99dfca262c

(10255)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:37 PM

i don't kill spiders because they eat other bugs that i dislike more.

i do not assign human traites/characteristics to animals preferring to view them in the grand scheme that is our world. all things have a purpose and it is not uncompassionate to allow that purpose to be fulfilled in my opinion.

not eating bambi does not necessarily make one compassionate.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:42 PM

you dislike other bugs more than spiders? like what? some say roaches, but roaches are not really the primary food for arachnids. and while you're right about 'the grand scheme' and everything, the fact is, some animals do exhibit the ability to understand emotion better than others. a dog who whimpers and wags his tail and pees all over the ground out of love and excitement that you came home cannot be compared to a cricket. and to add to your closing comment, eating bambi does necessarily make one uncompassionate either.

B4e1fa6a8cf43d2b69d97a99dfca262c

(10255)

on July 15, 2011
at 04:25 AM

i love the sight of a mosquito in a web..and a house fly..and a moth

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 10:00 PM

correction: eating bambi does *not* necessarily make one uncompassionate either.

2
66974b2cb291799dcd661b7dec99a9e2

(11121)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:22 PM

I do have compassion for all living creatures, but form a food perspective I would kill and eat any kind of animal from cows to horses to dogs or rats. I do not become emotionally attached to my food ;) perhaps this is because I was born & raised on a farm and grew up hunting & fishing. I have also eaten grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, ants, bees, snakes, most things that swim, crawl, run or fly would be considered as potential food. I was raised being surrounded by Native American Spirituality and I understand the natural world and respect the animals I eat and when I do kill them I always thank them for allowing me to take their life so that I may incorporate their body into mine and continue to live. In the past I could have been the prey item helping to maintain the life of a cougar or bear, little difference. The only difference I see is depending on what part of the World I would find myself in I would choose to kill & eat the local fauna, but no discrimination.

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:26 PM

what i've read about the traditional native american view of hunting and eating animals resonates with me and has comforted me when i find myself second-guessing my choices. gratitude and respect are key. i have a clear conscience.

Af1d286f0fd5c3949f59b4edf4d892f5

(18452)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:43 PM

lol. of course bears eat people sara.

1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83

(2435)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:32 PM

Do we actually know if bears ate people? I guess they might, but actually eating them isn't something I think I've heard of.

A45af235ed4dd0b4f548c59e91b75763

(1936)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:43 PM

Grizzly bears just tend to shred people up for fun, Black bears will eat you.

1
6120c989fd5b69f42a0834b69b87955b

(24553)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:33 PM

I have not trouble clubbing and cleaning a fish, but I can't bring myself step on a spider. I think I've somehow made a deal with myself to only take life for sustenance and not for aesthetic reasons.

1fc9c11cf23b2f62ac78979de933ad83

(2435)

on July 14, 2011
at 08:35 PM

If it's big enough to crunch, I can't stand killing things (though I will, but I cringe. Ewww crunch!) Itty bitty spiders, mosquitoes, ants, no problem.

-1
559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 09:42 PM

deleting my response b/c it wasn't an answer to jack's question.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 14, 2011
at 09:49 PM

what's more paternalistic than raising animals for food? and what's bad about paternalism re: animals?

559aa134ff5e6c8bcd608ba8dc505628

(3631)

on July 14, 2011
at 10:45 PM

sigh .

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on July 14, 2011
at 11:02 PM

sigh, compassion is a noun and a verb, you know.

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