(ANIMAL WELFARE/EATING MEAT) Much ink has been spilled praising celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain this week. How he explored the far ranges of human culture, bringing the world closer together by sharing how we all live and love and eat. How he was a man of the world, willing to do the culinary equivalent of walking a mile in another man’s flip-flops. How breaking bread broke down fear of the foreign, exposing our common humanity.
All of this is true and good – unless you’re an animal. Then Bourdain’s values become reminiscent of the Vietnam anti-war slogan: “Join the army, see the world, meet interesting people – and kill them.”
Because like many “foodies,” Bourdain never thought beyond how he can prepare an animal to eat to whether he should eat it at all. Of course he should, because being manly means eating everything in sight. You see this “manliness” everywhere, including on shows like Billions, where alpha-manhood is gleefully celebrated over the carcasses of elaborately grilled animals. You see it in a fast food President who believes more is never enough and possesses the puffy, bloated look of a guy who washes down his Big Macs with gallons of Diet Coke – 12 a day.
You also saw it in Bourdain’s unapologetic ethos. He reveled that: “Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay.” He bragged that it was dangerous to eat the world because you could get sick (manly!), never mentioning the danger it posed to the eaten and the planet we all depend on, or that good food, good eating, and a good life can occur without killing animals. He celebrated the military efficiency and hierarchy of kitchen careers the same way we celebrate the “band of brother” bonds created by war.
This is what’s manly.
Bourdain had no time for vegetarians and the dreaded vegans, their “Hezbollah offshoot.” This is a typically nice turn of a phrase, but also contemptuous because, you see, people who don’t want to participate in the torture of animals, they’re the terrorists – or effete and humorless ascetics who have no idea what life is about, which is to gorge on it all.
Nobody this week is talking about Bourdain’s promotion of unapologetically killing every non-human animal that trots, slithers, swims, or, in the case of sheep, gambols – before a Bourdain comes along and turns their kids into rack of lamb. That infliction of terror goes unmentioned.
Nobody is discussing the animals who are unable to move at all, standing in their own feces, pumped full of antibiotics – not because they’re sick, but because antibiotics make them grow faster in place, immobile as trees – like chickens in wire shoe boxes, pigs in gestation crates, or cows in feedlots.
Nobody in this week’s hagiography of Bourdain and his worldview speaks for the voiceless who can only communicate their pain and madness through grunts, squeals, and howls. The mute animals, innocent victims of a mentality that says to every creature, great and small:
“You there, you got a life? You like your life, little animal? Too bad, I’m gonna eat you. But not before I chop you up and package you so no eyes stare at me, reminding me of your life.”
Nobody is talking about how eating meat is a two-fer – it kills us individually through heart disease and kills the planet through CO2 emissions. Because cows, sheep, and goats emit more methane than coal. Because one hamburger takes 193 gallons of fresh water to create. Because the meat industry produces the same amount of greenhouse gases as all the vehicles in the world. So yeah, meat really is murder – or more accurately, suicide. Bonus? Millions die once antibiotics stop working because people take a dose with every bite of chicken or cow.
And nobody this week is discussing the endless human suffering of Bourdain’s philosophy. The starvation – nearly a billion undernourished people globally. The quadruple famines in Somalia, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Yemen that kill 20 million this year alone – a taste of famines to come. The lifesaving buckets of grain and the hundreds of gallons of water that a single piece of steak costs. The 65 million refugees currently wandering the planet – 21 million of whom from extreme weather events.
No, no, no. What life is really about is crowing over the deliciousness of pigs – smarter than dogs, able to fetch, play games, communicate, and learn commands – yet we stick piglets in a crate so the happiest day of their lives is the day they are killed. Then we eat them without a thought, while feeding dogs their remains – all so people who haven’t seen their shoes (which they can afford) under their belly fat in over a decade can die of a heart attack.
The toxic beliefs of “too much is never enough,” combined with the Pruitt-led evangelical belief that the planet was given to us by God to consume, is killing us and brutalizing our senses.
Bourdain, to his credit, reflected in one show about being given the honor of killing a pig with a spear by a village elder, and how it was almost impossible to do the first time, but he didn’t want to refuse and insult his host in front of his tribe. Bourdain explained how his crew almost fainted from the screams of the animal as it died, as well as how terrible he felt afterwards.
Then, being Bourdain, he honestly discussed how it got easier the second time. He wondered if it was something lacking in him or just part of being human. In short order, he barely gave subsequent killings a thought.
I’ll miss his humor and intelligence and passion; none of that was lacking in Bourdain. Killing those pigs was simply how brutality sanded down Bourdain’s capacity to feel an animal’s suffering, until their dying squeals became no problem at all. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we do the same with every bite of meat.
Bourdain’s relationship to animals was simply that of a typically-conditioned human. Well, a grown human. Most children are born with a natural love of animals, until it is eaten away, one swallow at a time. If mankind survives to a future, our children’s children will look back on how we treat animals with the same abhorrence that we now look at slavery. If we don’t survive, those children will gaze back at us, as they die from floods, crop failure, and the collapse of civilization, with incredulity. We were the selfish animals who destroyed our own habitat simply because we couldn’t overcome our atavistic addiction to meat.
Do we have the courage to evolve our concept of manhood? Grow our ability to feel empathy for non-human animals? Expand our worldview from exploitation to stewardship?
The lives of all Earth’s animals depend on it.
— Arthur Jeon is Co-founder of Global Animal and author of “City Dharma.” He is finishing a climate change thriller called “Manifesto.”