Sentient Omnivores

Originally written in 2003

Human beings are sentient omnivores. This gives us certain rights and obligations with regard to other creatures.

We eat just about anything. Our bodies are designed to have a certain balance of these things. Certain cultures have ‘evolved’ to have more tolerance for a diet weighted more towards meat and probably others toward a diet weighted more towards vegetables. Most of us require a good balance of the two, though vegetarians/vegans can, with effort, get the proteins their bodies require through a delicate combination of different types of vegetable life. But whatever we eat, we do, in fact, eat. As creatures of this planet we have a right to try to get what foods we need and want, and a right to do our best to protect our food sources.

Many creatures are omnivores like ourselves and we don’t expect them to become vegetarians. Many creatures are carnivores and though their table manners may seem somewhat repugnant to us, I’ve never heard it suggested that they become vegetarians either. There is no nutritional reason why human beings should feel any pressure to change our natural eating proclivities. From our digestive system to our teeth we are designed to eat both plants and animals. On behalf of the majority of humanity I’d like to tell proselytizing vegetarians to eff off.

We have the right to try to protect our food sources. If that means keeping cattle in corrals and chickens in chicken houses, that is perfectly all right. If it means putting poison out to kill snails in our gardens, that is perfectly all right. If that means setting dogs on ground squirrels in our fields that is perfectly all right. If that means putting up electrified fences to keep deer out of our gardens, that is perfectly all right. If that means putting traps out for cockroaches in our kitchens, flypaper hanging from our ceilings, and mousetraps in our cupboards, that is perfectly all right. I’m sure my point is clear.

But we are not simply omnivorous creatures. We think, we reason. It is my contention that this places a burden of responsibility and obligation upon us.

There is no reason to kill things that we have no intention of eating and that are not threatening us or our food supply. In fact, it is wrong to do so. It is wasteful, cruel and/or vain. Hunt the deer if you are going to eat it. Don’t hunt it for its head. If you’ve eaten the deer and want to put its head on your wall… well it’s a bit crass, but it can’t be said to be wasteful, other than in the sense that it deprives those useful creatures that dispose of organic waste for us of a meal. Wear the rabbit fur if someone, at least, has eaten the rabbit. Would you like to eat a mink? I didn’t think so. Cowhides are empty before they become leather. I don’t know for certain that we eat those cows, but I’m guessing that if we don’t, our domesticated animal friends do.

Don’t step on ants outside. What have they done to you or yours? And what about spiders in your house? Black widows and certainly some other kinds of spiders are genuine threats to your life or health. Most spiders are not. And have you thought about what spiders eat? Bugs. Would you rather have bugs eating your food, or spiders eating the bugs? I’m not saying you have to live with them, but I am trying to suggest that killing them just because they are there is not only cruel and wasteful but is ungrateful as well. If you don’t want them in your house, transport them outside where they can continue their good work (even if it no longer benefits you). If you encounter a rattlesnake beyond the bounds of your own land, shooting it is mere cowardice. It is just going about it’s business, which primarily consists of eating rodents. Somebody’s got to do that, and it probably isn’t going to be you. If you respect the nature of the snake, it will go on its way and you can go on yours. If you find a snake on your property, the proper thing is to remove it or have it removed for you. If you have a nest of snakes, the only practical thing to do to protect yourself may be to exterminate it.

I don’t fail to recognize that along with sentience comes imagination. We can be afraid when we’re not being threatened because we can imagine danger. We can “what if” like nobody’s business. We don’t corner the market on making mistakes, of course. We also can be lazy. As with any fault, beating ourselves up about it is not productive. It is much more useful to forgive ourselves and try to do better in the future. I’m not asking anyone to feel guilty because they have killed spiders in their houses. I certainly have. Sometimes it is easier than carrying them outside. Sometimes they are simply too scary looking to approach close enough to trap and transport. I can only do two things at this point: focus my energies on behaving in a more humane fashion and educate my children to have respect for all living things.

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