I don’t eat liver. Doesn’t matter what animal it came from, it is literally the body’s filter, and I’m not putting that in my mouth. Unsurprisingly, a large portion of humanity does not share my distaste for consuming fleshy contaminant processors. Take foie gras, for example. It’s a special kind of gross, prepared organ, which Wikipedia describes as “the liver of a duck or goose that has been specially fattened.” Thing is, “specially fattened” is a euphemism for “force fed with a metal tube.”
This was brought to my attention recently, as a student from my school was recently arrested for secretly recording video from inside a foie gras farm, and, allegedly, stealing some ducks. She’s facing up to seven years in prison for this.
Now, I am a meat eater. I love meat, hell, I evolved to eat meat, as did the rest of you (assuming all of our dear readers are human). That being said, I don’t like meaty foods that require inhumane treatment of the animal that material’s coming from. It’s why I don’t touch veal. I think an animal should get to live its life like an animal, with its own kind, moving around, eating, sleeping, having sex… If the meal in question requires that an animal be pumped full of chemicals and locked in a box to restrict its movement to keep it tender, I will have none of that.
In general, the issue of “animal rights” is a tricky one, for a variety of reasons. Mainly, because our use of animals is almost ubiquitous across every area of our lives. We eat their meat, we ride on their backs, we drink their milk, we feed them to our other animal friends… It’s hard to step back and reconsider something so inextricably incorporated into our lives. And of course, there are other things that make the topic a sour one for many…
But humor me here, Fellow Meat Lovers. Lend me your ears, Perpetuators of the Vegetable Holocaust who are already judging me for my love of hamburger. There’s a lot more in question here than you’d think.
Take, for example, the recent court case in New York over an individual named Tommy. Tommy has been kept, by himself, in a cage, for several years. Tommy is a chimpanzee, and the legal team from the Nonuman Rights Project has been trying to secure his liberation from his owners using the common law. Their goal is to “change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere ‘things,’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons,’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”
I should note that this is very different from trying to grant animals “human rights.” They just want the law to recognize animals as autonomous beings, especially those species that are extremely intelligent, and, therefore, capable of understanding their situation. Unfortunately for Tommy, the court ruled that he is not a person, deeming that such a ruling would be a slippery slope.
Listen, they’re not wrong. A decision like that really would open the floodgates, and that’d be tough to handle. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t happen!
Let’s look at just a tiny slice of the evidence out there being used as an argument for granting some animals personhood. We’ll start with chimps. Chimps are self-aware, they demonstrate tool use, form cliques, gossip, hell, they even have tribal wars. And, when they’re kept in captivity away from their own kind, they end up being socially maladjusted, kind of like a home-schooled human kid (I was one of those, so I can say that).
There’s also plenty of research on dolphins and orcas out there, and if you haven’t seen Blackfish yet you need to. Those buggers are smart. And crows? Don’t get me started on crows. Too late, you did. Turns out, crows are capable of analogical reasoning, a high level of cognition previously only attributed to primates. Oh yeah, and rats demonstrate empathy. Rats recognize the pain of their friends, and their own suffering is increased by it.
All this to say, there are some pretty damn intelligent animals out there, and they have incredibly complex emotional lives. We’re only just scratching the surface on a lot of this, but as we continue to discover more about how animals think and feel, it’s going to become increasingly difficult to ignore.
And again, it won’t be easy. This is a complicated moral issue. It’s one thing to redefine animal cruelty under our laws, so as to get Tommy the Chimp into better living conditions. But granting him personhood brings up a lot of other questions, like, can a chimpanzee commit a crime? How intelligent or emotionally rich does a species need to be to be granted personhood? I’m not prepared to answer all of these questions, but at the very least, I think we need to treat it like the major issue it is and start thinking about it more as a society.
Don’t let PETA comparing the American Kennel Club to the KKK dissuade you.