The Difference Between Cannibals and Vegans is Smaller Than You Expect

How Do You Decide What You Eat?

I only eat ethically raised animals, and I do not eat anything from a pig. I think what makes my choice interesting is how I came to this decision: consciousness.

I believe that all humans decide on what to eat (or not) based on relative distinctions of consciousness. Though most are not aware that they do this.

For example, let us pretend there is a scale of relative consciousness—loosely defined as an awareness of self and ability to feel things.***

Humans are at the top of the scale because we have an immense capacity to contemplate our selves and have an incredibly wide range of emotions. We are differentiated from lower mammals biologically because we have a pre-frontal cortex. 

Almost no one eats others humans.

Dolphins and elephants are very close to this capacity. Very few humans eat dolphins or elephants.

We tend to believe that cats, dogs, and horses are highly self-aware and have distinct personalities (whether or not this is true). So we tend not to eat dogs, cats, and horses. Although more people eat dogs, cats, and horses than elephants or dolphins.

We consider other mammals like cows and rabbits less intelligent and self-aware than cats and dogs, so we are much more likely to eat them. 

Next comes birds, which do not have the same cognitive abilities as mammals, so we tend to be more okay eating them (note that hardly anyone eats parrots or other intelligent birds).

The scale continues, and as we get to less and less complex beings, more and more humans feel no moral qualms eating them. Most people eat fish, because they are not that conscious. Everyone eats plants, even (and especially) vegans. But plants are conscious, just less so—or at least everyone agrees that plants are living. They react to stimuli, they communicate, and they change their behavior. So I believe that vegans, vegetarians, pescatarians, and others are all making decisions based on complexity of consciousness.

The point is that we all draw a line somewhere, and that line is usually based on a scale of consciousness. Even if the motivation for where your choose to draw the line, and why, differs.

Back to pigs. When I learned that pigs are smarter than dogs, I stopped eating them. I felt that I would have to be okay eating dogs if I were okay eating pigs. And I am not personally okay with it.

Where do you draw your lines?

Image: Some rights reserved by The Pug Father


***In the tradition of Alfred North Whitehead, I believe that everything has some sort of interior “prehension”—that even atoms have a proto-consciousness, an ability to react and communicate. As things get more complex, there is more and more complex consciousness. Or as Ken Wilber says, its turtles all the way up and all the way down. See the following article for more on the philosophy behind this idea.

Evolution and Eating 

Category: Body


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