Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The clam. And murder.

It can be hard to question the arguments of vegetarians and vegans without sounding like I am becoming defensive or trying to rationalize my meat consumption and assuage my guilt. Maybe subconsciously there is some of that? There is a lot about the arguments of the animal rights crowd that I agree with. I think that factory farms are gross ecological disasters and the processed meat industry has not done much in the way of keeping us healthy. I also think that animals have been poorly treated in fur trade, science, as human companions and a number of other ways. I do not argue against any of that.

Where I take issue with the animals rights activists is in their claim that meat is murder. Period. No if's and's or but's.

My question is this: at what point in the course of human evolution did it become murderous to take the life of an animal?

The whole of human progression has been made with the use of animals whether used for war, transportation, beast of burden or food so there can only be two options for making the argument that meat is unethical: either there was some turning point where taking the life of an animal became immoral OR it must have always been immoral.

I think the later premise is impossible to defend simply because it requires the moralizing of the survival instinct. ancient humans, in a bid for survival, hunted animals. I see no way in which you can justify claiming that this was wrong.

As for the former premise, what was the event to cause such a turning point?

WhatIi have heard most often is that we do not need to eat meat to survive which makes the grotesqueness of modern farming that much more appalling. this is true. however, I would argue that we would never have gotten to a point where modern farming makes meat unnecessary where it not for slaughtering animals.

Before the development of agriculture humans where hunter-gatherers. our sustenance came from wild edible plants and the wild animals we were able to kill. The domestication of wild plants and animals changed the profile of our relationship with the environment such that we gradually made a transition from migratory foragers to sedentary villagers. In hindsight, the inevitability and/or the wisdom of such a transition may be debatable, however one unavoidable fact is that the stationary societies growing up around agriculture allowed for developments that were not possible within a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. namely, a higher birthrate, the development of complex political hierarchies and specialist craftsmen. the large population and the technologies resulting from these developments is what leads to factory farming.

Lets say we all became vegans tomorrow. a civilization with the technology and resources needed in order to provide food for everyone could only be made possible as a result of millennium of using animals as food and tools. A strange predicament. to say that the modern meat eater is wrong for eating meat is to say that all of human progress has been wrong.

To make this argument tenable one would have to completely abandon all modern progress and live without any modern convenience whatsoever much as our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived. which would then require you to hunt for food.

This is not to say that being vegetarian or vegan is a waste of time in any way. There is definitely some accountability involved in obtaining food humanely and responsibly and vegetarians and vegans are doing what they think is necessary to hold themselves accountable. However, I think that saying meat is murder regardless of how it was produced is an argument that can not stand up within a logical reality.

The question then becomes: "if you choose to eat meat, how to do so in a humane and responsible way?"

Im sure I dont need to bore you with the numerous ways in which people are attempting to raise animals humanely and responsibly. We are all familiar.

For me an important piece of the answer to that question is participation. In the civilization following the development of agriculture everyone but those working on a farm were separated from the process of food production and thus the ways and means of that process where utterly forgotten or ignored by the majority of people. I think this separation and the disconnect which follows is directly responsible for the degradation of our food supply. It leads to corner cutting for the sake of the bottom line. It also creates a mass of people who eat meat and yet are incredibly squeamish about the taking of an animals life. Humane and responsible animal treatment is only possible when the consumer holds themselves accountable for where their food comes from, demanding ethical and healthy treatment.

I only speak for myself but I think the best way to ensure this happens is to learn proper hunting technique from an experienced and ethical hunter and learn to do it myself

Of course I could stop eating meat. But as I have already stated I do not think killing an animal for meat is wrong. I would also feel as though I were being inconsistent with a meat free diet unless I were to eliminate animal products entirely from my life. This is what the vegans attempt to do but is something I believe to be impossible unless you are living in an environment completely removed from all modern convenience. Which as I have already argued would most likely require you to hunt anyway.
My first hands on experience in this learning curve was harvesting the humble razor clam.
It might not look like much of a beast but it will put up a significant fight. They sense the vibrations caused by you looking for their resting place and they begin to dig and they can dig very fast and they are very strong. more than once I had to dig my own arm out of the sand after chasing a clam into its hole, the waves washing sand in over my arm as I dug, the whole time gripping the wriggling, digging animal with just the tips of my fingers.

With a lot of luck and a little skill you get your limit and bring the bunch home in a bucket of salt water to gut and clean them

I think cleaning an animal is where you really earn your meal. For anyone that isn't completely desensitized or sadistic it can be a pretty powerful experience to hold something in your hand and feel the struggle of it resisting your attempts to kill it.

If you are like me and the only experience youve ever had in gathering food comes from the aisle of a super market then taking the guts out of something that is still moving will really make you feel the gulf that exists between your mouth and where your food comes from. For my part I wont ever think about the process the same way.

Chopped onion and garlic, a small bit of chopped mild jalapeƱo, white wine, olive oil, noodles, fresh basil. Cook the clam just long enough for it to color from translucent to opaque, about 50 seconds.

If you get the chance and you have any interest in the meat debate I recommend reading this website for the opposing end of the argument


  1. love this. i agree with your argument against "meat is murder" but still do admire parts of the vegetarian and vegan standpoint. i just wish the snideness on both sides could cool off.

  2. Too many words for me to read..I mainly look at pictures. However I am stoked you're writing.

  3. come sit on my lap little boy and i will read to you

  4. i'll sit on your lap.
    dude, this is awesome. one site i really like is and the movie "food inc" was awesome.
    i agree with what you've said above although i'm still not ready to make that jump of killing the animal myself.
    keep up the good work though!

  5. thanks walter. both of your recommendations are on my list of must see.
    not to diminish the life of the clam but i imagine there is some distance between its simple form and say a deer. we will see if i am so philosophical when im pointing a bow and arrow at something with 4 legs.

  6. Jane and I have committed to eating sustainable meats over the last 3 or 4 months. It isn't cheap, but it keeps me from eating some of the crap that I used to eat in the past. If you are interested in some meat that you don't have to hunt yourself, check out Swinery in West Seattle.