A few weeks ago I wrote a Flash that explored some of the shadowy fringes of hunting. My feedback ranged from “You brute, you shot at Bambi!” to “Quit whining and just shoot the damn deer, ya pansy.” The range and intensity of these reactions suggests that in writing about the doe I missed, I hit a bull’s-eye of nerves.
Meanwhile, as that article went to print, some very unfortunate things were happening in my neighborhood. My cat Goose was hanging around the neighbor’s bird feeder, taking advantage of a time-proven hunting strategy, like a hunter setting up at a haystack. Goose was hunting for fun, rather than food, and like the hundreds of thousands of songbirds that die every year from such feline perversion, these birds were destined to be batted around for no better reason than shits ’n’ giggles.
Enter my neighbor’s dog. Exit, rather, from his house, at breakneck speed. Exit Goose. Not from the yard, unfortunately. Goose died that afternoon, all for the shits ’n’ giggles of canine perversion.
Goose hunted spiders too, maybe hobos. And he ate them. He was a good Goose, the greatest. My friend Masm suggested that Goose went on to greater challenges—like Michael Jordan when he took up baseball, but in a good way.
Like Goose and the dog that got him, many people hunt for the sheer joy of killing. Some rationalize it, some don’t. Others do it for the meat, and usually enjoy the hunt as well, some parts more than others. These days, most humans don’t need to hunt to survive, but besides raising your own meat, hunting is the most honorable way of getting it. Thing is, we don’t even need meat anymore.
Now we can survive without eating animals, although in the past, eating meat shaped humanity. Under the pressure of the hunt, the human brain grew in size and complexity, and around the fire where the meat was cooked, language and culture flourished. Hunting feels good because it is linked to survival, much the same way that shelter, warmth, food—and other, ahem, primal urges—all feel good.
But times are changing. Maybe in the future, a different set of tools will be necessary for survival, tools rooted in compassion and cooperation rather than “the law of the jungle.” Our skin is already capable of producing vitamin D...maybe someday we will evolve into photovoltaics, like plants, and not have to eat anything. Some people already claim to be “breatharians”—eating no more than the air they breathe.
The book Animal Liberation was published in 1975 by Peter Singer, now teaching at Princeton. On the heels of the Civil Rights movement, Animal Liberation argued that women, blacks, and homosexuals are being included in the white man’s widening moral circle of “equality,” and it’s only a matter of time until the raising and killing of animals will be looked back on as barbaric acts of our past, as indefensible as slavery, or the Holocaust. While Singer’s argument continues to gain impressive momentum, factory farms are ever more viewing animal life exclusively from the cold Cartesian vantage of production units, creating horrifying lives for millions of animals. Which direction are we going? Sometimes I wonder if today’s vegans are leading the charge in a new evolutionary direction.
But there is something menacingly Puritanical about this idea of subduing base desire. What’s next? Will we ‘play god’ and train wild animals to not hunt either, unraveling the predator-prey relationships that helped weave the fabric of ecology? After that we can deprogram the sex drive and use test tubes instead…
Meanwhile, many organic farmers will point out that “someone has to make the shit” necessary to keep the soil productive. And on the larger farms, combines chew up field mice and bury gopher holes by the thousands while pesticides poison more than Goose ever bagged. Perhaps if our goal is to kill as few animals as possible, people should eat the largest possible animal that can live on the least intensively cultivated land. And here we are back at ranching and hunting.
And there I was at Thanksgiving, eating the goose that I had been planning on eating since before Goose died his warrior’s death at the bird feeder. It was strange, but somehow made the whole meat discussion all the more immediate, and gave us all context to be thankful for Goose, the Buddha cat who enjoyed torturing songbirds in his spare time. And thanks to all the edible animals who gave their lives so that my life can continue, including all the leftover goose and stuffing and gravy sitting in the cold garage, next to the blue hubbard squash and the sweet potatoes and the ducks in congealed fat, waiting to be heated, and the pecan pie and the pear torte and the pumpkin cheesecake.
Mostly I’m thankful for the human privilege to contemplate my own evolution. If god is change, then evolution is how we can play god.
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