Deer Me

Here’s another strange and meandering article in the Guardian, “Happy Hunting” by Tristram Stuart. In fairness, he calls for a radical reduction in meat consumption and highlights just how environmentally destructive the meat industry has become. But he also says vegetarians should concede that the alternative methods of hunting and meat farming he espouses are ethically acceptable. Unsurprisingly though, I find that idea somewhat problematic.

With regards hunting, the idea is that animals killed during culls, even though the meat in question would seem rather uncustomary by today’s standards, should be served up to us rather than going to waste. And yes, if animals are being culled it doesn’t make much sense to refrain from eating them if we find the idea appetising, but the real problems arise when we start to question whether or not those culls are justified in the first place. This isn’t to say that culling can simply never be a legitimate practise, but the justifications on offer here seem dubious at best. For instance, he cites how we need to kill grey squirrels as they’re a threat to the native reds and a “pest to forestry”. Now I’m no ecologist, but that doesn’t sound like much of a need to me; I mean, how are red squirrels so preferable to greys that it warrants actually killing the latter en masse? And then killing the latter en masse again a few years later when their numbers reach the same point, and so on and so on. Furthermore, apparently, ethical vegetarians shouldn’t have too much of a problem with killing rabbits because, errm, well, there’s lots of them. As for meat farming it’s more of the same depressing point-missing stuff: As long as it’s sustainable – kill as much as you like.

Until meat is produced in [an ecologically] sensible fashion, vegetarians will continue to occupy the higher moral ground.If we could think past the idea that meat is murder, we would see that raising animals in this way actually reduces humanity’s heavy ecological footprint.

Well that’s key, and that’s just it. For one thing, as I’d have it, whether or not animals are being killed in a sustainable fashion a vegetarian diet would still be a morally preferable to an omnivorous one. Simply due to the fact that I consider killing animals to be morally unacceptable in itself, at least in circumstances like these where it’s just unnecessary for human survival and health. If you completely remove the idea that animals deserve any direct ethical consideration from the equation then perhaps these alternative methods, solely due to their ecological benefit, could be considered justifiable. But suggesting that ethical vegetarians should “think past” (which seems to be a slightly insidious way of saying “ignore”) the issue is a bit much to ask really – it’s absolutely central to why many of them (if not the vast majority) take issue with meat eating to begin with. In fact, Stuart only mentions animal suffering and death in any detail when vegetarians are to blame, indirectly, through their reliance on arable farming. When referring to his own involvement in animal slaughter, he switches to more euphemistic terms such as the rather mechanical “another way of turning waste into food” or skips the unpleasant parts entirely and talks only of “the resulting pork” and how “thoroughly good” it was. While I’d be the first to admit that we need to reduce our ecological footprint, if Stuart were to have his way, we would be repaying our environmental debt in animal lives.

How – when I gazed down my rifle-telescope at the exquisite animal grazing in the woods, twitching the flies away with its ears – did I manage to pull the trigger that ended its life? Although I have been culling deer for 13 years, it is still hard. But I did so by contrasting that one direct individual kill with the innumerable less visible victims of arable agriculture, and by remembering that at the last big party I attended there were barbecued prawns – farmed on bulldozed mangroves, fattened on over-exploited fish stocks, transported away from a hungry part of the world and served to an overfed elite. That I pulled the trigger no doubt came as a shock to some. But I hope that even the most dedicated vegetarian can withhold their fury, while hardened carnivores learn, as a matter of urgency, to limit their wanton destruction of the world’s ecologies

Well, I’m not all that sure I can withhold my fury. I think my fury is entirely appropriate given this depressingly real consequence of making such a basic logical mistake. “Hey, shall I kill this deer? Well, I’ve done a load of other bad stuff this week so, fuck it, why not?”


3 Responses to “Deer Me”

  1. 1 Rachel November 30, 2006 at 4:47 pm

    Tick, tick, tick, tick. I am very pleased you have taken the trouble to engage with these ideas in order to show their intellectual and moral decrepitude. Personally when I now read these sorts of illogical statements about vegetarianism (such as those of Stuart’s cited above) I tend to sigh and withdraw further.

  2. 2 Ed December 15, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Yeah, it can be quite depressing to see the same mistakes made time and time again; the point missed with the same sort of frequency, etcetera. That said, I possibly responded to old Tristram’s ideas a bit hotly. I think he means well but is perhaps a little misguided where these issues are concerned. It’s not like he’s a member of the somewhat deceptive and insidious crowd that frequently attack animal rights in the press and are more deserving of brusque treatment.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. 3 Hugh Janus January 15, 2007 at 3:13 pm

    Having met this Tristum Stuart (former Scots Royal family)I can only say that his aristocratic view animals really pssssss me off. He may have a double first from Cambridge and try and pass himself off as some Eco guy, but he is still a landowner and and an aristocrat with no problems breeding and killing livestock. Yet curiously, he thinks it wrong to kill wild animals. This ancestor of old Royalty is a hypocrit on the bandwagon.

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