Monday, August 21, 2006

Taboos

A six year old boy has a pet guinea pig which he loves. One day, in the act of cuddling it, he drops it and it falls to the floor. It is instantly and utterly dead.

Fantastic says Mum. A source of fresh meat. It would honour little Snuffles to eat him rather than bury him.

You are mortified at this (so is Snufffles but that is a poor joke). You don't eat pets where you come from. Why not?

Recently I have been pondering this in the light of programmes such as Escape to River Cottage, Jamie's Italian Adventure and Gordon Ramsay's F word, in which excellent chefs rear their own meat and treat it lovingly, then see it slaughtered (or in Jamie's case don't rear it but do kill it themselves - respect) and prepare it. If we do not feel there is anything intrinsically wrong with eating meat, what is wrong with eating the freshly road-killed cat? You can eat round the tyre marks.

This is a poser in Julian Baggini's wonderful book of thought experiments I am still working through called, 'The Pig That Wants to be Eaten.'

The power of taboo is very great. Some cultures don't eat pigs, some cows, some meat, some rotten milk - we all have our taboos. But are they more than cultural? Would labrador stew have been a greater mark of respect for the eccentric retriever Alex (RIP) than the pet crem.

Thinking about it.

6 comments:

Stewart said...

Back in the mid-nineties there was a short-lived discussion programme on BBC2 called "A Room With Two Views" which would pit two people with diametrically opposed views against each other to argue a specific issue (supposedly to see if they could come to some understanding... as if).

One week the debate was between a militant vegetarian and a livestock farmer, over whether it was acceptable to eat meat. I remember the (female) vegetarian got the farmer to acknowledge how much he loved his sheepdog (nothing sexual I assure you - it wasn't that kind of show), and how horrified he would be if someone tried to kill and eat it.

The vegetarian then gleefully taunted him for falling into the trap she had created. "Ah!" she said "well some people keep pigs as pets - imagine how they must feel when people like you murder pigs just to eat them?".

The farmer looked at her for a second before coming back with a riposte which I will never forget. "Young lady" he replied, "if you can't tell the difference between a pig and a dog, I don't see how you can expect me to take anything you say seriously."

Martin said...

Pig - interesting example. So (and not just to be awkward - I'm really not sure of the answer, and would find it helpful to have someone more experienced in biblical digging look at it), how come we can eat pigs now?

I initially thought Acts 10, but now think that in context this is talking about something else (ie Gentiles are now also clean in God's sight). Unless that's still a link via a different method of reasoning. Anyway, appreciate your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Pigs are delicious.

I would never eat any critter that keeled over dead of an unknown cause. Bad idea. Other than that, no reason not to eat whatever except for cultural prejudice.

Martin said...

St, any thoughts on my comment?

St said...

It seems to me that in the New Testament all the Old Testament ceremonial food laws are overturned (Romans 14:20). Such parts of the Law are done away with. There is one big exception:

One should not eat anything when in the presence of a 'weaker brother' who considers that food unclean. This applies as much to previously held scruples as to food thought to have been offered to idols (see Romans 14:13-23 and 1 Corinthians 8:1-13).

It is still important in terms of hospitality. Much world-wide, local hospitality involves the stranger going along with the culture of the host - thus the many programmes on TV showing travellers eating insects or drinking freshly slaughtered goat's blood etc.

I think my understanding of New Testament hospitality is to look out for the needs of the stranger. So if you invite someone round for dinner who is offended by meat-eating, rotted milk (yoghurt/cheese), fish or even cutlery, try to avoid making life difficult for them.

Martin said...

Thanks St, read Romans passage (and a bit around it), and the corinthians one, and it was helpful. And your summary is also good too. I'm bound to forget which passage this comes from, but the principles will stick. Once again, thanks for pointing me in the right direction.