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.