Consumers of foie gras should be force-fed this Bob Herbert column from today's New York Times--in part about the force-feeding of ducks "to produce the enormously swollen livers from which the foie gras is made." I actually thought it was geese, but it makes no difference. The creatures are force-fed three times a day in this manner: "The feeder holds a duck between his or her knees, inserts a tube down the duck's throat, and uses a motorized funnel to force feed into the bird." Aside from that, the hideously crowded conditions and the genetic breeding to deprive the birds of the ability to quack add to the horror of these lives sacrificed to the human appetite.
I admit that I'm a meat-eater, and though I have not eaten foie gras in recent memory, it has not been out of principle. From now on it will be. I have been made increasingly aware, however, that ducks are not alone in the treatment they receive at human hands, and Ellie and I have not been careful enough about the meat we buy. In fact, we have been thinking more frequently about changing our diet. It disturbs the conscience to know about the source of much of what we eat, not only for the treatment of the animals but for the cost to the environment of their breeding and readying for market. Bob Herbert's article has simply added to the burden of responsibility I accept with each bite of pork or steak.
But then there's the "meat" of Herbert's article--the human toll. His piece is about the rank abuse of workers in the industry, the long hours, poor pay, and lack of legislative protection that reduces them to almost slave-labor conditions. As he points out, it's a disgraceful exploitation of the human need for work and sustenance--a subject on which he speaks more knowledgeably and more eloquently than I could myself.
What Herbert does not address in his column is the hidden, unknowable damage inflicted on the human psyche by our addiction to the flesh of our fellow-beings on this planet. I cannot but imagine the dehumanization that follows on employment in an industry that, first, horribly mistreats animals and then slaughters them for our consumption. Equally imponderable is the damage done to the psyche of those of us who do the consuming, willfully unaware of what it is we do. Can our spiritual lives go unscathed when our bodies take in not just the meat, but the history of what brought it to our table? For how long can we remain in denial about the consequences of our consumption on the planet that we communally inhabit?
These are deeply troubling questions for one who has been a life-long carnivore. I have to confess that the solution--to give up eating meat--does not come easily to me. Even though I know what I "should" do, I have more inner work to be done before I reach that "obvious" conclusion.