The Compassionate Carnivore

Recently, there has been a stream of authors writing about how wonderful it is to be a “compassionate carnivore” and be “shameless” (in the non-pejorative sense) about consuming animal products.

First, let’s look at the term “compassionate carnivore.” The first error that jumps out from that expression when applied to humans is that humans are not carnivores; not even remotely close. Consumption of animal products in the percentage of total caloric intake that carnivores consume gives us serious diseases and sends us to our grave very early. The second mistake that jumps out is that even if humans were carnivores, carnivores aren’t compassionate. Real carnivores who are living in the wild need to kill and eat flesh to survive. Carnivores are neither compassionate nor uncompassionate; they are merely doing what they need to do to get through the day or week. If they don’t kill, they die. It is that simple. The case of domestic carnivores, such as cats, the situation is more complex due to the possibility of finding adequately nutritious plant-based and/or synthetic alternatives to flesh. We humans, however, are a clear-cut case of a species that can live optimally and find all the gustatory entertainment we want on a well-balanced vegan diet.

So why have some of these authors chosen such a nonsensical term as “compassionate carnivore” with which to describe themselves? For one thing, by using the word “carnivore”, it seems that they want to imply, and perhaps even self-deceptively believe, that their consumption of animal products is a necessity, if not physically or nutritionally, then at least psychologically. In fact, however, from a nutritional standpoint, the reverse is true: animal products are detrimental to health in direct proportion to the quantity as a percentage of caloric intake as soon as that percentage reaches 3 to 5%. From a psychological standpoint, going vegan is just a matter of changing habits. Once the habit is broken, being vegan takes no psychological effort; only an effort to avoid food items with animal products. The longer we’re vegan, the less we’re tempted by the flesh and bodily fluids that we used to think we couldn’t live without. Indeed, many vegans, me included, are nearly as disgusted by the thought of consuming animal products as we would be with cannibalism, including breast milk and menstrual fluids (equal, of course, to the chicken’s menstrual fluid: the egg).

The other reason for choosing terms like “compassionate carnivore” is to camouflage the not-so-pleasant reality that is an essential part of consuming animal products: cruelty and unnecessary, intentional killing. Unfortunately for the self-styled “compassionate carnivore”, however, such qualifying terms have the same effect as dousing an unpleasant odor with perfume: you can smell both the cover up and the underlying stench equally well, and the combination smells worse than the bad smell alone. The self-deception is transparent, and the more convinced the “compassionate and shameless carnivore” is that he or she has accomplished a respectable cover-up with the “compassionate” or “shameless” labels – just like the perfumed fetor – the more of a spectacle it is.

For about six months to a year prior to going vegan, I remember that I experienced cognitive dissonance, mostly trying not to think too much about the ramifications of my diet for the sentient and innocent (in particular: What, exactly, was the difference between my beloved dogs and a pig or chicken?), and wondering if I could ever pull off becoming a permanent vegan. The compassion was there to a small degree, as evidenced by the cognitive dissonance, but it obviously wasn’t there to the degree that I could label myself “compassionate” with respect to the animals and their flesh and bodily fluids that I was consuming. I could have legitimately called myself “compassionate” with respect to my dogs or to humans in general, but with respect to those animals whose parts and fluids I was purchasing at the store? No way. My speciesism was still quite strong at that time and never subsided until I went vegan. For even a few months after I went vegan, some speciesism remained with me until I realized that it is also justice – treating similar cases similarly, and not merely compassion, which nonhuman beings deserve from rational, moral beings as much as any other sentient being born innocently into this world deserves it.

Perhaps some of those people who fashion themselves “compassionate carnivores” or “shameless carnivores” might soon take the compassion, conscientious, and discerning parts seriously and go vegan. In that case, there will be no need for swanky words like “compassionate” and “shameless” as a façade to dress up uncompassionate and ignoble behavior, because actions speak much louder than words. If phrases like “compassionate carnivore” and “shameless carnivore” are oxymoronic, then phrases like “compassionate vegan” and “shameless vegan” are redundant.

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