Killing a Pig with Peter Singer: Thoughts on Animal Liberation

January 18, 2016

At some point last year, I stopped eating meat. Despite my love for cheeseburgers, cheap hot dogs, and saucy, bread-y sesame chicken, I'd come to realize that I didn't agree with the way we mass-produce it. Maybe I didn't agree with the idea of killing animals to eat them at all. I could not in good conscience go on eating it, so I stopped...

... until Thanksgiving. Over the holiday, my dad, my boyfriend and I all went into the Florida swamplands with the intention of killing a pig. I wanted to see how being directly involved in an animal's slaughter would affect my feelings about eating it.

A bona fide Florida swamp man guided us to a clearing and left us to wait, my dad with rifle in hand. No more than an hour later, we were standing beside our kill. My boyfriend took a really powerful picture of him with it right before it was butchered. I realize this isn't something that everyone wants to see, so feel free not to click the link. (There's a bit of blood, but otherwise no gore.)

A day or two after the hunt, I started reading Animal Liberation by Peter Singer. First published in 1975, this classic is a rousing call to action against the many atrocities of factory farming. Singer's argument revolves around the concept of "speciesism," or humankind's inherent belief that they are superior to all other animals, and how it leads us to devalue animal suffering in favor of our own ease and enjoyment.

As critics are quick to point out, he can be extreme (he equates our treatment of animals with slavery, which had my head cocking more than a bit), and I'm less than on board with his PETA endorsement. Regardless, so many of his main points were too cogent for me to ignore:

"The principle of the equality of human beings is not a description of an alleged actual equality among humans: it is a prescription of how we should treat human beings."
"If possessing a higher degree of intelligence does not entitle one human to use another for his or her own ends, how can it entitle humans to exploit nonhumans for the same purpose?"
"The question is not, Can they reason? nor Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"  

I do not regret killing the pig nor eating it, but I don't know that I could ever do it again. The ninety or so seconds it took to die were some of the most deeply uncomfortable moments I've ever experienced. This was an animal that had free reign of its surroundings until it died, too, unlike many of the animals that end up packaged for sale at the grocery store. I'm slowly coming to terms with the fact that I may never have my beloved sesame chicken again.

I'm still figuring out what to do about other animal products, like eggs, milk, and cheese. I get the sense that I'll be "figuring this out" for some time yet. I'm grateful to have had Singer's seminal work to refer to at a crucial moment on my journey.

Ultimately, Animal Liberation is heavy, polarizing, and the kind of book you absolutely have to read for yourself. I think that all kinds of eaters and activists will find plenty to think about, and I'd love to have more people with whom to discuss it!

Have you read Animal Liberation? Let's chat!

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