Friday, November 30, 2012


I sometimes observe people embrace their consumption of meat by asserting, “I am a carnivore.” Sometimes it is even “Sorry, I’m a carnivore.”

What strikes me is that this is a defensive posture that seems to deflect agency or choice from the meat eater. Usually we use the terms carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore to refer to animal behavior. When we say that an animal is a carnivore, we are not talking about choices the creature makes, but rather what its nature requires (usually this is biological, but it is also environmental). So when the meat eater says “I am a carnivore,” there is a suggestion that this state is not the meat eater’s choice, but is rather required by the person’s nature.

By suggesting meat eating is in one’s nature, the conversation is also controlled, and questions of moral choices and ethical lifestyles are deflected. The meat eater suggests that eating animals is fundamental and definitional in one’s nature, not a matter of decision making. If the discussion is on those terms, how do you argue? You cannot tell a carnivorous lion it is wrong to eat other animals—the lion is neither right nor wrong, but behaving instinctively according to its nature.

To say “I am a carnivore” is to suggest one’s moral sense is no more than an animal's, that what we eat is a matter of nature and not choice. It is a dehumanizing form of self defense.