Friend or food?


Grant Levinson, Staff Columnist

A few weeks back, my teacher told our class a story about a university professor trying to teach his students that sometimes there were negative consequences for doing the right thing. When his students first arrived that year, the professor presented them with a small fish they were to take care of while taking his class. However, there was one rule: no one was to touch the fish under any circumstance.

As the year went on and the students fed the fish and cleaned the tank, they naturally bonded with it, and the fish quickly became not just a fish but a pet they all cared for.

Towards the end of the year, the professor strolled into the room one day, grabbed a net, scooped up the fish, and threw him on the ground. Instinctively, two girls at the front of the class ran over to save him. While they did the right thing, the professor immediately suspended them for disobeying the one rule he had set, hence the lesson that good actions sometimes bring negative repercussions.

Many of my classmates were visibly appalled when they heard this. How could someone do something so cruel? While

I understood their reaction, as the professor’s act was a clear example of animal abuse, my first thought was, “what is the difference?” I sat there pondering how the same people who were saddened by a story of a single fish could, without hesitation, enjoy cod nuggets for lunch twenty minutes later.

I was convinced their reaction to the fish story was genuine, but that would mean there was something I was missing.

What were they using to determine if an animal was a friend or food? In essence, who decided we should love dogs, but eat pigs?

Now, I know what some of you are thinking: the difference is simple; we eat one and the other we don’t. The ones we choose to love usually hold some special significance, like pets or symbolic animals like dolphins, while the animals we don’t connect with provide us with something necessary–food. But we can all make choices about what food we eat, so why have so many of us made these choices to befriend some animals and eat others?

Beliefs and ideologies are passed down through the centuries, so a child’s views are often influenced by their parents, leading to a self-sustaining cycle. The idea that certain species are considered food is one cycle that seems to contradict the human instinct to empathize with animals.

We go from a genuine respect for other beings to not even confronting the morality of eating animals.

While you may not see this as an important belief to deconstruct, let me tell you why this is something that we can and should challenge. First, let’s take a quick look at how it manifests. Early on, every animal-loving child is fed meat before they can understand that their food was once living.

Then, when we finally learn the reality, our brains have already been infiltrated by the propaganda all around us. Books like “Big Red Barn,” a popular children’s book that depicts farm animals as living their best lives, and the cute, happy cows on the sides of milk cartons portray industrial farms as utopias for the animals. As a result, we develop a false understanding that these animals are willingly on these farms, happy to give up their milk or wool, and happy to die for our consumption.

We believe that certain animals are only worth the value we place on them, whether that be the taste of their flesh or the product they can produce. But do we really believe this, or is it something we’ve been conditioned to believe?

To all the meat and dairy consumers reading this column, I pose a question: if we are a society that truly cares about animals–which we all say we are–then how can we justify our arbitrary separation between those animals we call friends and those we call food? I encourage you to reconsider what you believe is a justifiable reason to categorize animals into these groups. Can you personally produce a morally substantive difference between a pig or a dog? What about a parrot and a chicken?

At some point, we must consider if we genuinely care for all animals or if our love is selective and destructive.