Is a chicken a sentient being? When I was a girl, I thought not.
I ate chickens. At my uncle’s farm, I ran away from them. I saw a dozen chickens fight over hairless mouse babies which they had discovered under a straw bale. The devastated mother mouse ran away almost as fast as I ran. I was disgusted.
In time, I came to see chickens differently. I still thought chickens were yummy as food, but I began to wonder about the birds which ended up on our table, and the people who were raising them. Seriously, I really began to wonder.
Stories of wire crates, deformities, stories of out and out inhumane conditions began to appear on TV, in the papers, online. I suspected the stories were true; they opened my eyes. Yummy or not, I quit eating chickens.
I quit eating fish when I learned deep sea trawlers were decimating one species after another in the oceans. The nets sweep all living creatures in the waters because the nets are vast.
I did not have to ask myself if dolphins and whales were sentient. Who would question that? Dolphins, porpoises, whales, turtles, creatures whose names we probably do not even know, are destroyed in trawler nets. We then stand at the supermarket counter to choose “fish” fillets of species we have never heard of, only because the familiar species are no longer to be found. What is a snapper anyway? And is it sentient? It’s a reef fish. Are reef fish sentient?
I have heard there are lion burgers. I first learned about the death of Cecil the lion on As It Happens, CBC Radio.
Twenty-four hours later, dumbfounded by what I was reading online about Walter Palmer, the part-time dentist, part-time big game hunter, someone said ‘He killed a lion. So what. Some lions are actually raised to be eaten.’
I asked myself if that possibly could be true. I also asked myself if there is a significant difference between eating cows or pigs which are raised for food, and lions which are raised for food. I don’t want to eat any of them.
About ten years ago, I realized I could never willingly, purposefully kill another creature to eat it. An urban-dweller, I do not need to kill to eat. There are so many truly wonderful and nutritious things out there, why would I want to kill to eat. Not for me.
Some of the people I love, regularly eat meat and fish. I cook for them. I have cats, and I feed them pet food. Some might find these behaviours hypocritical. Not a problem for me. I don’t want to eat meat or fish, and I do want cats. Those are my personal decisions. Others will make decisions for themselves.
My problem is this: I am struggling with a conundrum which, for the present, I cannot answer. It pains me. I am struggling to understand Walter Palmer, who is apparently a sharpshooter. He used a crossbow which did not kill Cecil on the spot. Forty hours later, after tracking down the lion, Palmer finished him off with a gun. “Sportsman.”
Personal decisions come into the equation. I don’t know Walter Palmer, so without the background story, I remain with a general question: is the big game hunter a sentient being?
I’ve met hunters. Generally, very fine people, they have families and friends. And that is at the heart of the conundrum. I cannot and should not judge. For now, then, I simply do not understand.