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Our "Schizoid" Relationship with Animals

There's an extensive article on animal rights in the latest issue of the New York Times Magazine, "An Animal's Place." Near the beginning, the author makes this observation:

There's a schizoid quality to our relationship with animals, in which sentiment and brutality exist side by side. Half the dogs in America will receive Christmas presents this year, yet few of us pause to consider the miserable life of the pig -- an animal easily as intelligent as a dog -- that becomes the Christmas ham.

We tolerate this disconnect because the life of the pig has moved out of view. When's the last time you saw a pig? (Babe doesn't count.) Except for our pets, real animals -- animals living and dying -- no longer figure in our everyday lives. Meat comes from the grocery store, where it is cut and packaged to look as little like parts of animals as possible. The disappearance of animals from our lives has opened a space in which there's no reality check, either on the sentiment or the brutality.

I asked my kids what they thought of this. Duncan had the strongest opinion:

Well, it's a nice thought, but we're only raising the pigs to be killed. They really don't know any better. There's nothing more to them than that. That's their place in life. The author talks about savagery, but we could just go out with knives and kill wild pigs that do have freedom instead.
I spent a few years as a partial vegetarian, eating fish but no other animals. I took up eating poultry about a year ago -- it can be hard to eat healthy at times without having chicken as a choice. Lately I've taken to eating the occasional steak or other beef -- perhaps once every couple of weeks or so -- and even the rare serving of bacon. Sometimes I wish I was still mostly vegetarian, but I do enjoy the range of options available to me now. I wish, though, that I could easily find meat that has been raised and slaughtered humanely.

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