I eat meat. That is, I willingly consume the flesh of animals. My cat also eats meat, but he doesn’t know that it is anything but food.
A while ago, I was babysitting for some neighbors who have a farm. While I was preparing lunch I learned that their middle daughter, Sarah, is a vegetarian. Her father makes a living by raising pigs, sheep, and laying hens; one day while he was slaughtering a chicken for dinner, Sarah realized that she did not want to be part of that killing by eating the chickens’ meat. It really struck me. This seven year old had the self awareness to decide she was not comfortable eating that which required the death of another creature.
I had seen the antithesis of this some years before while I was working on another farm. There, we often brought animals to churches for various functions, mostly nativity pageants at Christmas. For Easter, the pastor at one urban church asked us to bring some sheep and baby lambs to present as a living metaphor for the Lamb of God. Also at this service was a haunch of meat, cooking on an open spit, representing the sacrifice made by Jesus. The congregants were encouraged to visit the cute little sheep and then take a piece of the roasted lamb, a powerful juxtaposition of life and death. Most members of the church stopped by me, enjoyed the antics of lambs at play, took a small piece of meat and went in.
One woman was truly enchanted by the lambs and spent a while with me asking me about life on the farm and how I spent my time working with the flock of sheep. She even lamented her lack of land, saying she would love to be able to keep sheep but urban life prevented such luxuries. As the time for the sermon drew near, she moved over to the roast and took some for herself then turned with another piece and offered it to one of the frolicking lambs. When I stepped in to prevent this, she looked perplexed for a moment, then said, “Oh yes, of course, they eat grass.” This woman simply could not conceive of meat as anything but food. It was completely lost on her that the present for the charming lamb was cannibalistic until I explained. She knew, as most people do, that meat comes from animals but she totally lacked the conscious connection of her food to its origin.
I believe that when I choose to eat meat, I decide to respect the creatures that lived and died to provide me with that meal. Sarah realized that she did not want to be a part of the slaughter animals and made the choice not to eat meat. However, those people who do not choose, but like my cat simply eat, have lost the connection to their food and a little part of what makes humans more than just upright animals.