Rabbit for Dinner? Talking to Meat-Eaters about Vegetarianism.

I dedicate this blog to Phil Wollin, a big-hearted philanthropist with a pure vegan soul.

The world’s most famous restaurant is the Michelin 3-star elBuli on the Catalonian Costa Brava. The chef is Ferran Adriò, often proclaimed “the greatest chef who has ever lived.” The restaurant itself, known as “the most imaginative restaurant on the planet” receives more than 2 million reservation requests every year, of which 8,000 are accepted. The chef made world news recently when he announced his final meal at the restaurant, which was closing down after 45 years.

I happened to meet a friend of the chef, who proudly showed me, on his iphone, a photo of the main dish from this historic occasion. Could I guess what it was? No. The brains of a baby rabbit.

The next night I treated my best friend to a meal downstairs at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, also one of the great restaurants of the world. The chef made us a vegan meal, but what was on the menu for the others? Rabbit.

Why should this upset me so? Because I have lived with rabbits, and they are wonderful, affectionate, complex little beings, with friends, and relatives, and feelings that go deep, and of course, like any living person, they have likes and dislikes. And what they dislike the most is to be grabbed and feel the pain of dismemberment as a predator, including a human predator, targets them for death, and later, a meal. They are young and don’t know this can and will happen. Like all young animals, human and other, they look forward to a life rich in happiness. Alas, we show no pity and no concern for their hopes and desires.

The same is true of all the other baby animals we eat (and have you considered how we don’t seem to eat the young of other predators?). People eat lamb, and suckling pigs, and pullets and cockerels (chicks basically), and baby calves and all kinds of baby birds.

So my question is how can the sophisticated, educated diners at elBuli and Chez Panisse bring themselves to so happily place the limbs of young animals in their mouths and ooh and aah at the delicious taste? What keeps them from seeing the suffering they are part of? Can they not look past the tasty morsel at the end of their fork to the life of misery and suffering that preceded? How do they so thoughtlessly carry on eating animals who could just as easily be their friends or companions the way dogs and cats are?

Had the diners been eating dogs and cats or parrots we would have been disgusted. We would think we had landed ourselves in a horror movie. Yet what is the difference? Is there any essential way in which a dog is different than a pig? In intelligence, in potential loyalty, in the ability to feel love and affection, they are very similar animals. Probably, when you think about it, all animals, including human animals, are similar animals when it comes to feelings. We are all, essentially, feeling beings.

So how and why do we turn off our feelings when we enter a restaurant? Or when we sit down to dinner and dine off fellow sentient creatures? I am not sure how to ask this question of my meat-eating friends, without losing them as friends. Yet I feel an ever-increasing urgency to begin this dialogue. How can it be done in a courteous, friendly and above all, useful fashion? I invite those of you who regularly follow my blog to help me out on this.

P.S. The reason I dedicated this blog to Phil Wollin of Kindness House (Google him) in Melbourne is because when he talks about the suffering involved in eating meat in a public forum, people by the hundreds not only give him standing ovations, but many tell him that they have now eaten their last piece of meat. We need more Phil Wollins in the world.

About jeffreymasson

My new book BEASTS is out this March from Bloomsbury http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608196159/ or the eBook http://www.bloomsbury.com/us/beasts-9781608199914/
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22 Responses to Rabbit for Dinner? Talking to Meat-Eaters about Vegetarianism.

  1. Lori Wheeler says:

    Well said!! And I know it is a difficult subject to bring up and sometimes I just shut up but most times I don’t and yes it is an easy way to lose friends! I just don’t understand how many people just don’t get it!! Not only do we need more Phil Wollins in the world, we need more Jeffrey Moussaieff Massons in the world too🙂

  2. Kim Bartlett says:

    I simply do not know how not to offend people, since the mere presence of a vegetarian or vegan at the restaurant table of people ordering meat makes them uncomfortable. Often someone says something like, “I hope you don’t mind us eating meat in front of you,” and then the bomb goes off, because I compulsively say what I think, which is, “Would you mind if I ordered a piece of a grilled human baby?–because I feel the same way about eating animals as you probably feel about cannibalism.” And then, because I cannot hold my tongue, I usually add, “If you’re going to eat meat, you might as well eat your grandmother.” SO, meat-eaters avoid me and I avoid them.

  3. We all have the answer why people can be disconnected from the indifference of eating animals. Unless you were born a Vegan, you made a journey from from tradition, taste and false beliefs to compassion. Modern society has removed from our sight the killing and we see only what is enjoyed by all. With the abundance of non-animal product foods today, how many would choose to be the butcher?

  4. Demelza says:

    It’s a tough one. People don’t really relate what’s on their plate to a living breathing feeling creature. It’s food, it tastes good, so why not eat it. I know I was that way up until recently, but the more I found out about what REALLY happens to these poor animals the more I was repulsed by the thought of eating meat and also any other animal product. It was like a switch had been flicked and suddenly I was aware and able to make a choice and a difference. I’m eager to tell my friends/family what I know so they might be enlightened too but it seems hard to broach the subject without them feeling like your attacking or judging them for their choices. I just try to keep what I say short and sweet and hope to plant a seed so that they may want to know more. :o)

  5. Everybody please note that I have misspelled Phil’s last name. It is Wollen! Look him up. Some amazing speeches! Jeff

  6. Louise Rhodes says:

    I often wonder how I can still eat meat while I feel very compassionate towards animals.
    I think Michael is right in that I don’t have to do the killing myself, so I don’t have to cope with the suffering animal in front of my eyes; but on the other hand this is even worse for me, and I feel like a coward because I think doing the actual killing of a free animal (not farmed) is more dignified for both.
    I was raised and still live in Argentina. People eat meat here on a daily basis, it is always there, in the bolognese, the “milanesas”, the stews, ham sandwiches, chorizos, barbecues. I know this is no excuse, and although I am avoiding pork because I really think they are like dogs, I really don’t understand why I still eat meat when I actually feel sorry for animals and their suffering.

  7. magpie says:

    I have a very special ‘calling card’, our dog, who is just so cute and attractive (a pure white Pekinese) that whenever we are out together he gets lots of human attention and that affords me the opportunity to tell the admirers that, ‘he is a rescue dog’ ‘Ahh’ ‘from a meat market’ ‘oh?’ ‘Yes truly our dear little dog was squeezed into a tiny crate with his siblings at 3 weeks old in an Asian street market.’ Shoppers came and poked and prodded the fat pups and soon all his littermates were purchased. Alone now, unweaned and terrified he trembled as kind hands lifted him out and took him home to love and now he lives with us. People immediately start to criticize a dreadful culture where people actually eat dogs. This is my cue to point out in a very reasonable tone of voice that our culture thinks nothing of eating lambs, piglets, calves et al. Sometimes I leave it at that, however, sometimes I am able to engage them in conversation and point out the cruelty involved or the effects on health of a flesheating lifestyle.

  8. Girija says:

    Gosh ..! Jeff, I have been smiling at the timing of this post from the time I read it. Last weekend, we had a guest who was curious about our vegan ways and asked_ a_ question and my husband kinda answered it strongly. Of course, it was only my opinion and I am sure many of you, including Jeff may have sided my husband! His argument was along the lines of, truth is always somewhat “harsh” so don’t try to sugar coat it and definitely don’t be apologetic about it.
    I often get all caught up about this “how” part of telling the truth ..

  9. Patty Bowers says:

    Perfect. Thank you Jeffrey. I too face the same difficulty ALL the time of trying to talk to friends. It’s like I am trying to spread my beliefs onto other people. It’s hard to remeber that we are all on different paths and that each soul is getting what it needs in this lifetime, for it’s own evolution. STILL, animal cruelty and suffering pains me deeper than any other issue.
    As Cardinal John Newman wrote: ” Now what is it that moves our very hearts and sickens us so much at the cruelty shown to poor brutes? They have done us NO harm and they have NO power of resistance; it’s the very cowardice and tyranny of which they are victims which makes their suffering so especially touching. There is something so very dreadful, so Satanic, in tormenting those who have never harmed us, who cannot defend themselves, who are utterly in our power.” (Capitolizations of “NO”, mine). How a conscious society can easily overlook this very essence of the problem is a burden that the more compassionate of us have to bear. We do what we can do to alleviate it and educate as much as possible, but then we have to let go of the consequences or we will continually DESPAIR. Thank you for your work in furthering the ending of suffering of animals..

  10. Zhiwa says:

    This is a question I, too, struggle with. My strategies are two-fold: one, I encourage carnivores to simply be mindful about where their meat comes from. Here in Montana, I have many friends who only eat meat they themselves kill, and I have a lot more respect for them than those who eat at McDonalds. The big problem here is ignorance, not malevolence. So part of our challenge (as vegetarians and, for me, as a Buddhist) is simply to overcome that ignorance mind-by-mind. The other strategy is more urgent — the only way we are going to stem global climate change is by changing our diets. Politicians simply are either unwilling or unable to address an issue of this magnitude. As Americans, we have a special responsibility, and it begins by drastically reducing or eliminating our consumption of livestock – especially red meat. And I reinforce this point with the recent study of 100,000 people over 20 years that proves that eating any amount of red meat decreases your lifespan, and the more you eat the sooner you will die. For more, visit my blog:
    http://www.tumblr.com/blog/earthivore

  11. Patty Bowers says:

    HI Zhiwa,
    I live in Montana too, and say DITTO to everything you wrote. I have witten and spoken about how much LAND & resources raising cattle consumes ( & of course the health and ethical issues),and how many more people we can feed by raising (non-GMO) soy and grains on that same amt. of land. I have asked Senator Tester two times about his having cattle on his land, blah, blah, blah and it is the only ques. he has not addressed. He has addressed my ques. about not using GMO seed for his grains and said “Never! Absolutely NEVER!”. It is especially difficult to get through to these many-generational Montana farmers about the meat issues. And I know NONE who have given up meat because of health, environmental or ethical issues, despite being informed of the facts. EDUCATION IS EVERYTHING. Keep up the good work!
    Patty Bowers
    Polson, Montana

  12. wildwoman says:

    I do not know that Phil,but I know you and now,i almost not eat meat….so,keep writing! And,I live in Argentina,with the best “asado” of the world!

  13. Patty Bowers says:

    FANTASTIC Wild Woman! What a great life-enhancing choice you have made! And now you can help inform others about the benefits of not eating meat! I celebrate your fabulous choice not to eat sentient beings and to help the planet by eliminating meat from your diet!

  14. Ashu says:

    It’s difficult. None of us can be as righteous as we would be if we had the law on our side. I mean, we’d mention it, right, if a friend came back from the counter with french fries and a human head on his tray? But if it’s the ground up body of cow, well, it’s up to us if we want to make an issue of it. I nearly lost a friend a few days ago, on Facebook, when I responded to a shared post designed to provoke vegetarians. Curiously, she herself is veg, but I believe her husband runs a Kentucky Fried Chicken here in Pune, India. Recently, another post, in Hindi, had been doing the rounds in local Facebook communities, denouncing Kentucky Fried Chicken for cruelties extraordinary even amongst slaughterhouse restaurants. This had perhaps provoked her. On the other hand, I should be glad for the same indulgence when it is shown to me: the other day, I was walking home from work with a colleague, who is a quite strictly religious Tamil brahmin, and when the subject turned to animals, and I confessed that “I only suspend ahimsa in the case of mosquitoes”, he was rather shocked, and replied that “as far as possible I never kill anly living thing”. However, I know no vegans in the brahmin community into which I have married, and find it impossible to make people understand that ALL “gomata’s”, of even the nicest dugdhalaya, end up in the slaughterhouse when they are past their milk-giving years.

  15. Patty Bowers says:

    I wish I understood what those words like “gomata’s”, etc. mean but it seems to me we still have a CHOICE of whether to eat the dead flesh of other beings or not. Personally, I can’t imagine it, although this was an evolution for me since I was 20. For me, the longer you don’t eat other beings, the more incomprehensible, barabaric, and revolting it seems to do so. I realize other people do not feel this way but I would still encourage others to try to make a slow transition by eating meatless meals 2-3X a week and see how you feel! You may feel lighter, more energetic and clearer. As time goes by, you might lose your desire for meat altogether & your consciousness may change that way too. If for no other reason, this is good for the planet, and more fields would be used to raise beans and grains instead of grazing cattle. This feeds MANY more people than meat does.

    • Ashu says:

      Sorry, Sanskrit words: ahimsa, “non-violence”, gomata, “mother cow”, an honorific name for the cow, dugdhalaya, “milk house”, place where cows are kept and milked.

      • Patty Bowers says:

        THANK YOU Ashu! Yes, definitely will not eat gomata ! Did know what ahimsa means, & it’s a beautiful, succint word. We all need to know that other beings have feelings too and they do not want to be killed and only have life so that humans can EAT them. They deserve to live their full life with their own families, in their own enivironments and having their own choices of how to spend their time. I feel so lucky to live on a planet with so many other different 2- & 4 legged beings, and we need to honor and respect them & allow them full lives. This is such a beautiful and wondrous time in Montana because there are little baby lambs, calves, horses, chicks, etc. and it is such a delight to watch them frolicking around in their mostly natural lives and fields. They enjoy their lives too! But there is the sad realization that they will experience awful terror and slaughter so they can become dead flesh for others to eat. I wish we lived in a world full of compassion & ahimsa. Thank you.

    • leavergirl says:

      Turning pastures into bare fields where soil-life is damaged is that last thing the planet needs. We need to convert fields into grazing grounds so soil can recover and carbon and water gets sequestered. Maybe the whole “let’s feed many more people” notion is misled? After all, that’s what got us to 7 billion… just sayin’…

  16. marcie says:

    I do not know how to approach this subject with people, it seems just my presence and them knowing I’m vegan creates quite the hostility. And I’ve not criticized or said a word.

    But I love you writing, it makes me feel connected and inspired, where usually I feel apart in this world.

  17. Patty Bowers says:

    ME TOO! This is the only blog I take time to write on and respond, because Jeffrey’s writings are SO excellent, so timely and so important.

  18. Zia says:

    When speaking to others about diet, I try to only express my feelings because NO ONE will argue with someones feelings. So I say “I love and respect non human animals so therefore I could never eat them or their products.” That is better than “You should not eat animal products.”

  19. Patty Bowers says:

    You are right AND also there is the fact that eating meat consumes HUGE amounts of resources that the rest of us would like to partake in at some point, ALSO that we, as taxpayers have to pay for the diseases and illnesses that meat eaters get and alot of non-meat eaters do not get. So others eating meat affects and costs us as well. For me, the main issue is the sadness and suffering of animals but also, as a vegetarian/vegan I have to carry some of the FINANCIAL LOAD of the meat eaters. So I feel it is important that others at least get the education about the CONSEQUENCES of eating meat to themselves, the planet, to the health system, and our taxes. It’s always a difficult issue but if we have the intention of just educating and then LETTING GO of the outcome, we have done our part! :o) Namaste’, Patty

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