by Betty Fussell
Cry instead for the carrot, weep for the orange, sorrow for the rice, sob for the water we ingest by the gallon. But let’s not pretend we made the rules to which we are always, of course, the exception.
Let other forms of life — rooty things, leafy things, flittery things, creepy crawly things, finny things, feathered things, hooved things, clawed things — play the game by nature’s rules. We’re above all that. We’re human. We’re intelligent. We make our own rules. We decide what and who gets eaten. We feel smug about our choice.
Let’s leave smugness to those who will eat nothing with an eye in it, nothing that has blood in it, nothing that is “sentient” — whether clam, crayfish, carp, cow, chicken or child. But sentient? Capable of feeling and perception? Defined by whom? By us, of course, in our cosmic club of PLU. PLUs think a stone has no life in it because it is not sentient in the way we are.
Read Czeslaw Milosz on the life of a stone, read Shakespeare for heaven’s sake. Who are we to determine the order of the universe by the measure of what we perceive to be human consciousness, human feelings and human perceptions? Who do we think we are?
Do we think we are kings of the mountain, pinnacles of the evolutionary chain, because we think and feel in our big-brained way to do smart things like kill and eat each other? Do we think all created things aspire to be us, if only they’d been born lucky — like us? Do we think our end will be different from any other form of being in the great cycles of life and death, mutability and permanence, light and darkness?
Before we cry for those we’ve adopted as “us” — the cow, pig, chicken, goat, fish, partridge, deer, buffalo, all of those with eyes in their heads — let’s cry for Adam and the human condition. It is those who fear death, and the end of human sentience, who fear forms of being different from their own. They fear and refuse to acknowledge the fact that all men and women live, like everything else, to die.
We did not create ourselves. We are not exempt from the rule that life feeds on life — whether in the form of cow, orange, rice or water. If you can’t stomach that, don’t rationalize it as virtue. In such a big universe, smugness is about the size of a mini-quark.