Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meat eating anti-hunters: a logical house of cards?

Bear burgers - 'horrible', superior
 or morally indifferent to beef? 
I have, on occasion, had chance to debate the morality of hunting with anti-hunters of the most nonsensical kind (at least to me) – those who will readily tell you that hunting is ‘bad’, all while tucking into a hotdog. I am amazed how the adherents to this argument fail to see that this is a clear invitation to repudiate this house-of-cards logic.

In my humble opinion, the ethics of eating animals is bifurcated insofar as you think it is either indefensible to kill and eat any animal, or you believe that it is in fact morally acceptable to eat meat. If you are an adherent to the former, then any accusation towards hunting as ‘wrong’ or cruel has some philosophical foundation. Of course it is not automatically granted immunity from debate under these conditions. However someone who does not eat meat or use products from dead animals, by virtue of this view, has a certain degree of absolution from the immediate cause of death of food animals (even this though is specious, as most food production results in significant numbers of animal deaths).

The aforementioned illogic exists in that under the aegis of a moral and often spurious environmental superiority, certain meat eaters will lambaste hunting as being unacceptable or intolerable because hunters aim to kill an animal (and should attempt this act with the utmost consideration for a humane and honourable death). My disbelief is how can someone with a demonstrable and very clear support for one form of killing can be so opposed to another form when the outcome is equal – the death and consumption of an animal? Making a conscious decision to support the rearing, handling and slaughter of a farm animal cannot conceivably be deemed more acceptable or less cruel than the shooting of a wild ungulate. In fact the converse makes for a more reasoned rationale. I am not snobbishly arguing that eating a factory-farmed pig is immoral (although I feel compelled to), that would be hypocritical as I eat them too; nor do I expect the meat-eating anti-hunter to take a weapon afield. This debate is about the apparent ‘wrongness’ of hunting, not about personal choice to hunt/kill or not. I will however claim that most livestock live and die far worse-off than most hunted game, the latter enjoying a no-doubt greater natural welfare. Ethically raised and slaughtered livestock would be an exception to the norm but they account for what, less than 5% of most animals raised and eaten in the west?

Interestingly, the apparent increase in hunting amongst ‘locavores’ and those concerned about where their meat comes from perhaps stands in testament to the shift of opinions amongst a particular segment of meat-eaters. However it does strike me as unlikely that this demographic was previously opposed to hunting. Alyssa B. Johnson captures this sentiment in ‘What’s the Harm in Hunting?’ (YES! magazine Spring 2011), writing that “When we don’t take part in the lives (and deaths) of the animals we eat, when we pass responsibility from consumer to farmer to CEO to stockholder, animals are disrespected, as evidenced by the horrific conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations”.

The strident accusations against hunting from people loading their fork with meatloaf really do stir my utter incredulity. I just cannot fathom how someone can find fault with hunting a wild animal, while encouraging the deaths of those on farms? It seems that they often find fault with a perceived or mislabelled ‘cruelty’- shooting a Moose is ‘terrible’ but fattening a steer in a feedlot before sending it down a chute to have a bolt shot into its head (sometimes incorrectly), is the acceptable order of things? Is this not solipsistic ethics? Constructing one’s relationship with animals in a manner that comforts your own conscience, despite the evidence? The complainants obviously believe that it is alright to kill and eat animals and I cannot see how they could argue to the contrary. They also tend to readily accept hunted products like jerky or sausage, with alacrity. It is just that certain animals are deemed untouchable, for reasons that are wholly unclear (and I am not comparing rare or endangered species here).

Then again, perhaps they think the Emperor really is wearing his new clothes?

© Brian Joubert


  1. Interesting post, Brian.

    You might be pleasantly surprised to find ex-anti-hunters among the ranks of the adult-onset hunting crowd. I know a number of them, including yours truly.

    Yes, I think part of the issue for meat-eating anti-hunters is their feelings toward certain animals (as "untouchable"). I think another part is their image of hunters and hunting, culturally speaking; it's not all "human predation" they have a problem with, but certain forms of it, and the people they think do it. (Marc Boglioli has a nice passage on this in his book A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH. I discussed it briefly in a post last year on "Redneck culture, city culture.")

  2. Thanks Tovar,

    I haven't met any previously 'anti' but rather a few people previously 'uneasy' before they decieded to try hunting. Many still remain a bit uneasy with the act but so do I - its important to remain reflective and considerate of ethics and morality.

    I also think the paradox of the anti-hunting carnivore is in part a function of the pluralisitic relationships we all seem to have with animals (i.e. some are like family while others are food).

  3. I think the hypocrisy stems from a hypersensitivity to the violence of guns and a habitual disassociation between animals and supermarket meat. We all witness so much gun violence in the media that it’s fairly easy for a non-hunter to imagine an animal being shot and to empathize with the pain of that. On the other hand, buying meat at the supermarket is a completely mundane activity that occurs so regularly that it becomes mere habit to buy, cook and eat a pork-chop without any consideration that it was once part of a living creature. The lump of meat no longer triggers any sort of empathy response in our brain.

    I once had a meat-eating friend call me a murderer after seeing a photo of a trout I had caught. I told her that I had in fact released that fish, but that when I do eat a fish - or any creature for that matter - I prefer to do the killing myself. I want to know the creature and take responsibility for that death. To me, it just seems a more authentic, truthful way to live. She was horrified. “That’s the last thing I would want!”

  4. Anthony,

    I think the popular sentiment around weapons is a good point (and an unfortunate phenomenon).

    I too have had a few discussions with people who recoiled at the idea of knowing where meat comes from. Most asked "WHY would anyone want to think about that?". There is a very strong willingness not to know where animal products come from, it forces us to accept hard truths about consumption choices, as you highlighted.