I’m darkly amused when people say the words ‘flesh-eating zombie’ without a hint of irony. Why? Because those very same people are usually flesh-eaters themselves. I am, of course, referring to meat-eating.
It seems that when we say ‘flesh-eating’, what we really mean is ‘human-flesh-eating’. It’s interesting that nobody thinks about this – we’ve reached a point where most of us don’t even see meat as flesh anymore. We’re understandably horrified by the image of a zombie biting into someone, but the sight of someone eating a steak rarely provokes the same reaction.
A lot of this comes down to the way we process meat – we cut it into neat portions, wrap it in nice plastic packaging and (in most cases) cook it thoroughly before eating it. By this point, it bears little resemblance to the flesh it really is.
But there is very little difference between human flesh and, say, pig flesh. Both are largely made of up muscle, fat, tendons and blood, and it’s said that they taste similar. If someone fed you a human sausage, you might not even notice the difference!
Why, then, is eating one considered so much more horrific than eating the other? The most obvious answer is that one is cannibalism – we’re uncomfortable with the idea of eating our own species. But again, why is this?
I’d say it’s because we think of members of our own species as individuals. We couldn’t eat a human sausage without thinking about the person it once was – that person could easily have been our friendly next-door neighbour, or the cashier who often serves us at the supermarket, or even one of our loved ones.
Pigs, on the other hand, are usually seen simply as walking bacon. Most people have never met a live pig, and tend to think of them as dull and devoid of personality. Anyone who has spent time around pigs knows this is untrue – they are highly intelligent, playful and amiable creatures. But most of us would rather not know that we’re eating something – or rather someone – with feelings.
However, it isn’t just eating humans that we find abhorrent – for example, most people can’t stand the thought of eating a dog. Dogs live alongside us in our homes, and we see them as friends. If presented with a dog sausage, we would likely think of the individual creature on our plates in the same way that we would think of the individual person when presented with a human sausage (though perhaps to a lesser extent).
This emphasises how arbitrary the distinctions we make between species really are. We’re simply disconnected from the animals we exploit. But this disconnection can disappear – for instance, people who get a pet pig often find themselves suddenly unable to eat pork or bacon once they become attached to that individual.
If our distinctions between species are arbitrary, is eating pork (or beef, or chicken, or fish) as unethical as eating human meat? I’d argue that the answer is yes – we’re no more moral than zombies. I previously wrote about the myth of human superiority here – check it out if you’re interested.
I hope this post was food for thought (pardon the pun). Feel free to leave any comments or questions below!