The Rationalization Game
Walk up to any meat-eater eating a steak and tell them that the cow they’re eating lead a sad, miserable life. Will they be surprised? No. Will they care? Probably on some level, but not enough to put down their fork and knife and denounce eating meat. Just as smokers rationalize doing something that they know to be harmful and wrong (“It helps me calm down” or “I just can’t quit”), so too do meat-eaters justify their harmful decision to consume animals. Within the myriad of rationalizations, the three most prominent excuses – The food chain cycle, humans are natural hunters, and disconnection – give meat-eaters the reasonings they need to tell themselves that eating animals is justified.
Rationalization: The Food Chain Cycle
From an early age, children learn about the food chain: the sun feeds plants, plants feed animals, and animals feed humans. If we remove animal consumption from this equation, it disrupts the “natural order of nature.”
It’s difficult to understand how some believe that moving humans from eating animals to eating plants will disrupt this natural order. Even more difficult to understand is how people can overlook the present-day reality of the “food chain cycle.” The reality doesn’t include a happy cow munching on grass all day long. It includes battery cages, packed transportation trucks and inhumane slaughter. By any account, being at the “top of the food chain” does not give humans free reign to exploit animals. We have turned animals from a living, breathing part of our natural world into products.
Rationalization: The Hunter
Many of the people who say that we are on top of the food chain will also argue that humans are natural hunters. To suppress this need is to deny a fundamental part of our human nature. Yet living in urban or suburban areas, where can one fulfill this primal need? It’s laughable to think that the supermarket qualifies as a field, and the frozen meat section is “the hunt,” but that’s exactly the rationalization that many people internalize. Armed with weapons of the hunt (shopping cart and credit card), the hunter approaches his target with caution, then quickly attacks, takes down his prey, and brings it home to feed his hungry family.
Rationalization: It’s Not an Animal
Disconnecting between a cute, sweet, living animal and the food on their plates is perhaps the most common practice among meat-eaters. It’s easy to understand how people can do it, as there is no resemblance whatsoever between a fur-covered cow and a hamburger. Question: “How can you eat that, knowing that it came from an animal?” Answer: “I just don’t think about it.” Easy.
What Needs to Change?
People want to eat meat so badly that they create rationalizations to justify it to others – and more importantly, to themselves. It’s easier to maintain the status quo than to really stop and think about what they’re doing. Will the disruption of the food chain throw off the natural balance of things and ignite a worldwide catastrophe? Do I really have a primal need to hunt, and does the supermarket fulfill that need? What was my hamburger before it was a hamburger?
The reason that the meat-eating rationalizations are so hard to erase is because we’re fed them starting at an early age. Perhaps the solution is reeducation. Teach children alternatives to “the food chain cycle” and show them how people are not just hunters, but gatherers and farmers too. Educate them about the realities of the meat industry and show them how to love and respect animals. Most importantly, teach children not to ignore reality and rationalize it away for their own selfish interests. Teaching the next generation to open their eyes and think for themselves will not only promote vegetarianism, but will create a more loving and caring world for animals and humans alike.