painting by Benedict Olorunnisomo
Human nature. It is the foundation of humanity. How we know the difference between right and wrong, and how we can care about something are not traits that we learn. They are instincts that have been written into our DNA. Whether you choose to embrace your nature or to ignore it, it is still there non the less.
I believe, regardless of our reasoning, our decision to go veg stems from this basic code written into all human beings. Be they economic, environmental, ethical or even dietary, our motivations behind this life changing choice are all rooted from the same place. It is because we simply feel that it is the right thing to do. For all the arguments we make in defense of this lifestyle, “knowing that it is right” is the one that always goes unexplored.
The positions of vegetarianism have always been made clear. Whether its the true impact the beef industry has on the planet, or just simple knowledge of how slaughter animals are treated, the arguments are always based on logic and understanding. There is one point to this lifestyle, however, that goes beyond logic or understanding. It is so ingrained into who we are, that we overlook it entirely as a point to be made.
The point that I wish to make is that, in our natural state, every human has an aversion to the sight of bloody meat. We see it most when we are young and inexperienced, before the years dull and desensitize us to what our instincts scream out when we see blood and flesh in its uncooked state. It is gross and offensive to our senses. A wolf at any age would find this picture of raw flesh quite appetizing. When I realized this, it occurred to me that anytime someone cooks a hamburger, or boils a chicken, or fries a strip of bacon, every time they season it, dress it, and serve it on a plate, they are in fact making every effort possible to make this bloody piece of meat look and taste like something that it is not.
How we see animals is also an important clue in discovering who we are as a species, and what role we fit into within the animal kingdom. Just googling images of the word animal can be a revelation. What you see are pictures of animals at their most proud and majestic. You see cute pics of little baby animals, and animals doing tricks. More importantly is what you don’t see. What you don’t see are pictures of steak. You don’t see images of hamburgers or chicken wings or pork chops. This is because somewhere, consciously or subconsciously, we simply do not see animals as our food. How many times are these farm animals depicted as loveable characters in our favorite movies and TV shows? More importantly, how often do those same characters end up in the slaughter? When you really hammer it out, it seems so obvious that humans have no nature predilection towards harming these little guys.
If killing and butchering animals is so natural and acceptable for us, then why is it done behind closed doors? Why is it that you never see animals being slaughtered in childrens cartoons, or any kind of television show with a PG rating? More interesting is what happens when you look for graphic footage of animal slaughter on a website like You Tube or Hulu. The videos are blocked and you need to prove that you are over 18 to view them. It’s as though the content is rated R, and deemed unsuitable for children. I believe it is of course, and I believe most people would agree. But it’s why this graphic material is “inappropriate for some users” that I find most compelling (the same reason why slaughterhouses go to such lengths to prevent footage made of their true exploits). We know its wrong, we know that children would be traumatized by seeing this. We know that we would be uncomfortable seeing images of animals being butchered as they are. That is why such footage is so hard to come by. Few people actually go looking for it. So how natural can slaughtering animals be, if most people can’t even bare to watch someone else do it?
Another point of curiosity regarding human nature, and his relationship with his fellow animals, is how most people react when they see a cow in real life. The reaction is usually an urge to pet the animal; as they would with a dog or a cat. Cows were so easily domesticated, in fact, that the hunting of cattle was largely unnecessary. The same thing applied with pigs and chickens. It was just easier to keep them close at home. Its unfortunate, but the affinity we have for animals is also what leads to their exploitation. We are social animals after all, and we tend to socialize with animals; as we see when one reaches to pet a dog or a cat, or even a big grass eating cow. It would probably look pretty ridiculous if the human tried to pounce on the cow as a predator might. Even if a group of humans attempted this feat, we don’t possess the tools or abilities to prey upon the animal. I’m not even sure if a human could kill a full grown cow, not without using a weapon of some kind. Our teeth are not nearly sharp enough and jaw can not open wide enough to do any discernible damage. When a human chases a chicken, again, there’s nothing natural about it. It’s a ridiculous often humorous sight to behold.
There is something fundamental about a carnivore, and that is that they do not cringe at the sight of blood or guts. A true carnivore will hunt and kill its prey; something that very few humans ever do. A true carnivore does not concern itself with the screams of the animal it is chasing or the species of meat that it eats, or the age of the animal that it hunts. Humans are very different from this. We generally feel sympathy for a screaming animal and would typically avoid killing their babies. As for the species, well, humans are surprisingly selective. A wolf or a lion probably wouldn’t have much problem eating the meat of a dead dog, for them its just food, and nothing personal. A true carnivore will eat every part of the animal it can, from the intestines and the liver, to the skin and the eyes. They will eat it raw and without remorse, never concerning themselves with getting blood on their faces or wet meat on their skin. You can say humans don’t do these things because we are civilized and evolved, but the truth is, we don’t do it because it is simply not in our nature.
Regardless, there are still people who handle dead animals and raw meat. They are able to do so without gagging or recoiling at the mere sight of it. I believe it is because they have just gotten used to it over the years. They have literally trained themselves to ignore their baser reaction, which is to gag and shy away. What human would eat a plate of raw hamburger meat by the way? Uncooked chicken is full of salmonella, uncooked pork is full of trichinella worms, and uncooked beef can even harbor deadly strains of the E. coli bacteria. We can only seem to eat these meats when cooked of their natural properties. If humans were meant to eat these animals, then why do we not have an immunity to these diseases as their other predators do? We can only seem to stomach these meats when they’re thoroughly cooked away of its natural properties. Humans are so unadapted to raw chicken meat in fact, you don’t even need to eat it to be poisoned by it. We can get sick simply from handling it and forgetting to wash up afterwords.
In any case, it is hard to deny that when we are young, we are as grossed out by bloody meat as any vegetarian. Human nature is not a characteristic that defines who we are as a person, but it does define who we are as a people. Our experiences are what lead us down that road. They guide us and nurture us and eventually shape the platform for our eventual decision making. For some, their experiences lead them to believe that eating meat is perfectly natural. There is no denying that our ancestors saw the flesh of animals as an opportunity, and we may have become predators in our pursuit of them, but we never became true carnivores, not where human nature is concerned.
I cannot offer this as proof that that people were meant to be vegetarian. I can conclude, however, that if you give a person a choice between a fresh apple and a fresh animal carcass, the choice is pretty clear.