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Why is it OK to eat a cow, but not OK to eat a horse?

There are so many people on the planet who eat meat. I’m not criticising this, as it seems to be pretty natural for our species. Though it is nice that we have the option of choosing to eat mostly vegetables if we’re that way inclined. Carnivores, real true ones (“obligate carnivores”) actually can’t handle vegies because of the way their digestive system works. This includes raptorial birds.


A cavy, otherwise known as a ginuea pig

But why is it that some animals are eat-able and the mere suggestion of eating others can get people very upset? The answer is simply cultural programming. Even in our sheltered society, kids grow up knowing chickens cluck, fish swim and we eat them along with cows and pigs. But puppies and guinea pigs are not on the menu. In other cultures, things are the other way around: people eat dogs and guinea pigs, and in other places won’t touch a cow or entertain the thought of pork.

What keeps people from eating the animals that are on their culture’s ‘not food’ list? There are two things: love and disgust.

cow carving

carving of a holy cow

In our culture, we fawn on anything fuzzy with big eyes. The conservation movement has capitalised on this caring inclination so that we also think dolphins and other less fuzzy creatures are worth keeping because they are beautiful and intelligent. The fact that extinction could cause problems for the ecosystem we are part of isn’t the main way that they motivate people to donate. In many other cultures, those ‘good’ attributes aren’t stressed, and the animals (mokeys, fuzzy and intelligent as they are) get eaten on a regular basis. Religion plays a role too: cows are holy to some, so eating one is obviously out.


A horse

In many other cultures disgust keeps animals off the dinner table. Pigs are one animal that are considered ‘unclean’ since they are rather indiscriminate scavengers. They’ll go through people poo piles in places that don’t have sanitation, so pretty understandable. Rats probably aren’t something you revere or salivate over either.

This ramble begs some questions: what values would it be helpful for people to come to agree on and share about all animals? What could motivate people to adopt those values?

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