The phrase “Do not eat anything with a face” sounds like a motto. In fact, it is the one. This thesis has launched a heated public discussion lately. Participants have represented various branches of human knowledge: from zoologists to nutritionists, and from ministers to psychologists.
The outcome of this debate directly concerns many different groups of people. It goes beyond the vegetarianism and omnivore dilemma. A popular opinion on whether to eat creatures with faces is trenchant for those who profit from the meat industry, i.e. farmers, wholesale sellers, and retail dealers.
So the question arises why to refuse from eating any living creature that has a face or a resemblance thereof. There is a detailed elaboration for this thesis that has evolved lately. One should also avoid eating anything that comes from the creature with the face. In fact, it mostly concerns milk. Not eating anything that has its face virtually means adhering to a plant-based diet, which officially is a vegan one. Such eating regime includes fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, and algae of all sorts, as well as honey, pollen, and other bee-breeding products. For some purposes of brevity, it is reasonable to refer to this type of nutrition as just a plant-based diet. People should refuse from eating any creature that has the face or anything that resembles it.
Advocates of this position bring forward a number of arguments presented below.
The first argument in favor of plant-based nutrition combines ethical and philosophical stances. It is generally believed that having the face implies as having consciousness. It may be presumed that from a merely intuitive feeling that we get when we look into the eyes of the creature and hear it make sounds through its mouth or breathe through its nostrils. Almost any species goes with this description: a cow, a dog, a chicken, even a fish, to some extent (except that it breathes with its gills). The highly developed consciousness means a well-functioning brain, which is a feature of a sensible creature. Therefore, the more developed the creature’s face is, the closer you are to cannibalism if you decide to consume it as a meal. After all, they ask rhetorically if you would not want to be eaten by a more developed creature. If we think hard enough, we can notice that even our everyday language is designed to undermine other species. We use he or she to talk about people and it refers to animals. Our pets are an exception, but we should draw a line between our pets and animals in the wild nature. They all are equally valuable from a viewpoint of nature. Therefore, it is hypocritical to treat pets as family members and other animals as the meat for consumption.
Refusing to eat creatures with a face is not merely a dietary choice. However, it is rather a defining characteristic of who we are as intelligent species. This issue has an ethical, aesthetical, and political content. It is also a question of identity for people who have chosen to live consciously and do the minimum harm to the environment.
The second argument in favor of a plant-based diet is the religious one. Whereas biologists and zoologists contemplate the brain and consciousness issues, religious arguments emphasize the presence of a soul in every living thing on the Earth. All key religious teachings (Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) contain one or another form of dietary restrictions. They prohibit eating meat on certain days of the year or under certain circumstances. Those who embrace the concept of Karma say that it gets back to you. It happens for such things like eating animals being intelligent enough to realize it when they are being killed for pleasure.
Marcus mentions that, “Homo sapiens are the only species on Earth that can kill for pleasure and in moments when not driven by hunger” (78). Let us set aside a criminal side of the question and not occupy ourselves with the things like murder out of rage or out of greed. Humans are the only living creatures that postpone consumption of animals they have killed (sometimes for months).
Also, people are the only ones who use fire, heat, vapor, and other means of thermal processing for their food. In fact, Buddhism presumes that the reincarnation circle can bring anyone of us to become any living creature, including all types of animals. If one follows this theory, then it turns out that when we eat a cow or a lamb or anything else that has a face, it might be a soul of a human trapped in that body. Advocates of the plant-based diet also use the argument that relatively few people are ready to kill an animal themselves before eating it. Even some of them would be willing to do it with bare hands, remove its skin, fur, feathers, and eat the meat raw. In fact, it is what a decent carnivore does. Even if we assume that the meat will be cooked on fire, very few people will agree to do the slaughtering with their hands, less they are in danger of starvation. Documentary stories from famished regions of the Earth, namely in the XX century, prove that a large part of the population felt disgust to killing domestic animals for the survival. They even preferred to consume barely edible roots or herbs and even garbage instead of meat.}}
The third argument in favor of the plant-based diet is the biological one. Biologically, there also are respectable reasons to refuse from eating meat, fish, and poultry. According to Marcus,
Human bodies were created the same as herbivores. We don’t have the instinct to kill for food. We only have the need to protect our lives. Most importantly we don’t have a straight, extremely short, smooth-walled intestinal tract the way a carnivore does. Such internal organ structure allows the flesh they eat be digested and removed from the body quickly because dead meat begins to putrefy and rot quickly. (309)
There is one more biological argument against eating meat. According to Wells, the slaughtered animal reacts to the pain and stress by releasing large amounts of hormones into the blood system (88). Even when the body of the dead animal is drained, no blood is left, and the corpse is prepared for processing, the muscle tissues still contain the concentrated hormones inside. The farmers can stop the animal from producing those hormones only by making it unconscious at the moment the killing happens.
They may inject relaxants or other chemicals into their systems. Certainly, it does not add to the usefulness of an end product, especially for children. Therefore, one should not feed a child with meat meals until the kid is at least five years old.
The fourth argument in favor of the plant-based diet concerns marketing and commercial profits. Another argument to stop eating anything that has the face is a commercial dark side of food industry. There is an increasing amount of evidence to support the largely suspected opinion that food corporations exploit the organic trend of the latest decade as an advertising hook. Any time you order a hamburger, you are basically engaging in an act of a denial because the hamburger is edible protein in the shape of a disk.
It can be ordered medium or well-cooked, dressed with ketchup or mayonnaise, with onions or without. However, the fact remains relentless. This disk never resembles the original look of the source from which it has come from, i.e. the cow. It has been processed so much and to such extent that it is impossible to recognize what exactly this disk is made of. A consumer is left with no choice rather than to take the producer’s word that it is out of beef or pork or meat of other organically bred animals. After all, no one will bring their burger to a food laboratory to check its actual content before eating it.
Even if you are eating 100% meat products, the question is whether it is correct to think of them as of the natural and suitable food for a human being. Wells asks a rhetorical question in the first chapter of her book. If you fed a rabbit with meat products, would you think it mysterious if it began showing symptoms. Moreover, whether it would be a mystery as to what was the cause (34). Trustworthiness of the opinion in favor of the plant-based diet is supported with the personal experience of converted people.
For instance, John Robbins is an heir of Baskin-Robbins’ company, one of the major ice cream producers worldwide. Increasing numbers of people who have grown up in farming communities, ranches and raised in the meat-eating domestic culture, go and rethink the perception modes of their parents and grandparents. The transfer to a meatless way of life is an ongoing trend and a sign of an emerging environmental awareness. Concerning John Robbins, Megan Wells says: “Upon seeing the truth about animal products, how they are simultaneously killing both the Earth and us, he walked away from his family’s fortune and gives us an incredibly inspiring story” (36).
The thesis “Do not eat anything with a face” is rooted in social movements such as environmental vegetarianism and permaculture (short from permanent culture). The former is based on such a belief that animal farming and breeding cattle for purposes of nutrition is a burden for the ecosystem. Conventional farming develops in an extensive way and degrades the soils, let alone the alarming deforestation tendencies of the last decades. The permanent culture concept proclaims that human intervention into nature should not in any form change the way the system works and recreates itself every season, year to year. There are two large groups of plant-dieters out there: health vegetarians and ethical vegetarians. The motto “Do not eat anything with a face” is mostly adopted by the latter ones, i.e. by those people who place a spiritual side of this issue above all others. For them, avoiding meat and animal products is not merely a question of reducing their cholesterol level or cutting their saturated fats intake. Their motives are far less selfish and more level-headed. These people are driven by the thought that they are making this world a place with less violence. They do it with their everyday choices. Their so-called consumer behavior, as food marketers call it, is not merely a consumer’s world view. This choice is something that forces the food industry makes small yet significant steps towards a more ethical treatment of animals. First, it was the improvement of conditions for animals at farms; then, it has appeared to be as the reduction of the number of killed animals. Perhaps there is hope that someday a mere idea of killing and eating a creature with eyes will be appalling to people. There is no official policy to regulate this sphere of life. It should be said that there should be none. Instead, alternative ways of organizing the one’s diet should be known, discussed, and implemented.
There are other celebrity advocates of the plant-based diet. For example, Alicia Silverstone, who has launched a website promoting the following motto. The creatures with faces are not for eating. Vegan celebrities include well-known names such as Jennifer Aniston, Moby, Brad Pitt, Jared Leto, Ellen DeGeneres, Prince, Ozzy Osbourne, and many others. We can also recall Steve Jobs with his famous passion to fruitarianism. These facts fuel the public interest for nutritional issues. They inspire fans of these celebrities ask themselves questions, express doubts, do their research, and shape their informed opinions. After all, independent thinking is always a good thing. A number of simple facts presented by Marcus make one contemplate for the one’s eating habits:
20 million people in the world die from malnutrition annually. 100 million citizens could eat sufficiently, using the land freed by reducing meat consumption by 10% of people. 80% of US corn is grown to feed the cattle. 95% of oats in the United States goes to feed animals raised for their meat. Every two seconds, a child dies from malnutrition. (67)
Also, Marcus states that “40,000 pounds of potatoes can grow on an acre of land and only 250 pounds of beef can be produced on a similar area. For 1 pound of beef, 16 pounds of soybean and corn are necessary” (81).
In my opinion, the thesis “Do not eat anything with a face” is useful in a broad social sense. It is because it raises the level of public discourse on nutritional and ethical issues. To be more precise, this presumption brings these two viewpoints together, makes them mingle, contradict and cooperate. Such process leads to raising the public awareness of a healthy dieting topic, provoking a lively discussion among civilians as well as promoting a dialogue between local communities, business, and the government. Personally, I support the thesis that refusing to eat anything with the face is a dietary choice of future generations. It is the options for the people with a higher consciousness level.