Lunch, Hold the Soul [essay] by Amy Friedman

My good friend Tiffany recently told me that she’s become a vegetarian, though she still eats fish. This technically makes her a pescetarian, but still not someone who eats the things I love. I’ve recently given up gluten as it makes me violently ill, so now that both meat and gluten have been removed from our combined menu, all she and I can really do when we get together for lunch is go out for breakfast. When I asked her why she’s made such a dramatic life change, she told me that for some time it has bothered her that she consumes living beings with souls. Clearly she does not recognize fish as spiritual animals, and considering that they eat until they pop and they poop in the same water they ingest, I can’t say I disagree with this assessment. A Ph.D. student at Cornell recently hypothesized that evolution has mercifully rendered fish mentally deficient in order to spare them from the harsh reality that they don’t get the luxury of having sex for the purposes of mating. If humans had only the responsibilities of raising children without the joys of making them first, all while submerged in our own waste, we’d probably wish for IQs somewhere around room temperature, too.

As a dog owner, I can attest to the fact that some animals do have souls. My dog certainly does. He’s a three-pound Maltese named Findlay with so much personality that I’ve convinced myself that he serves as the head of the Chicago Dog Council (and that such an entity even exists), and when I’m not home I’m sure that he holds council meetings in my condo. I picture him sitting on one of our breakfast bar stools guarded by Great Danes one on each side of him who wear shirts that read “bitches love us” on the back and sport sheriffs badges on the front. They ensure that dogs of various breeds and sizes keep from fighting each other, refrain from having accidents on our wood floors, and they listen as Findlay barks orders about patrolling the neighborhood and “dealing” with the cats that troll the alleys at night. Cats, unlike dogs, are soulless sociopaths, murderers all, plotting, scheming, laying in wait for just the right moment to pounce and end it all. This is why the dog council is necessary, of course.

“But can’t you make an exception and just eat ugly animals?” I ask Tiffany.

“I understand that way of thinking,” she tells me, “I’m totally a Cutetarian.”

“Cows aren’t that cute, especially from the side,” I say. “What if you just ask for a side of beef? Then you guarantee that you never imagine a cow head on.”

Tiffany disagrees: “Cows are kind of cute,” she replies.

“Okay, what about only eating animals that die of natural causes?” I ask. “Clearly not those that die of disease. But what about eating a cow after it has ‘met with an accident’? Like what about only eating cows from farms that make them exercise and then only eating a cow that’s fallen after failing to keep pace on the treadmill? Or how about only eating cows after they’ve been hit by cars in rural areas once they’ve become road kill?”

“So I should only request meat from cows that have been hit in the head accidentally so that their bodies remain intact?” Tiffany asks.

“Absolutely!” I exclaim. “Or you could eat cows with mental but not physical illnesses. You could eat a cow that commits suicide and jumps in front of a car, say, or you could eat a cow that’s a cutter and accidentally bleeds to death. Then the loss will not have been in vain.”

I can feel her looking at me askance as I say this.

The choice to eat animals or animal products is almost always non-sensical and inconsistent, no matter who makes it. Another friend of mine believes that abortion is wrong because unborn children potentially have souls, and as long as that potential exists, abortion must be considered murder under any and all circumstances. In his view, we should be prosecuting doctors who perform abortions as well as the women who submit to them. Does he also believe that animals have souls? You bet. But he eats meat. He avoids the ethical dilemma when confronted with this clear contradiction; instead, he insists that if animals didn’t want to be eaten then they wouldn’t taste so damn good seasoned on a platter surrounded by rosemary fingerling potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts. Is it wrong to terminate a human embryo? According to him, a thousand percent yes. And is it wrong to kill a living, breathing lamb or cow or duck for a decadent dinner? Well, it depends on who’s preparing it and how long you let it marinate in a red wine reduction.

These issues parse too many deeply divisive ethical quandaries. I prefer to keep it simple: I only eat animals that don’t hold council meetings in my living room.


Image of 1930s Switchboard Operator

[Refer: This essay refers to Suzanne Antonetta Paola’s essay “The Soul, The Catholic Theologian Argues.”]

Image by cookbookman17

Amy Friedman teaches English at Harper College and earned her MA in Comparative Literature from Northwestern University. She is a regular contributor to Newcity, and her creative nonfiction and poetry have appeared in Fractal, Extract(s), Crack the Spine, Rougarou and other publications.