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Hugo Rifkind

Hugo Rifkind: Why isn't eating meat as bad as bestiality?

I eat meat every day. And I don't feel guilty. Perhaps I should

4 January 2014

9:00 AM

4 January 2014

9:00 AM

So what I’ve found myself wondering over the festive period, again and again, is whether it would ever be OK to have sex with a sheep.

I mean, jeez, don’t take this the wrong way. I am not thinking of a particular sheep. There is not one in my shed right now, emitting worried, stricken bleats. Nor indeed am I thinking — that way — of any sheep at all. I’d be lying if I said sheep never crossed my mind at all, in the small hours of a cold and lonely night, but when they do I can only swear it is in a manner both chaste and numerological.

And yet this — sex with sheep — is where my thoughts repeatedly have ended up. Because it’s not OK, is it? Not, really, ever. And yet eating them is. And what I cannot figure out, try as I might, is why one should be so permissible as to be unremarkable, and the other not permissible at all.

It doesn’t have to be sheep. By the time you read this, many, many animals will have been festively and delightfully consumed. Here and across the world, and many of them by me. From the annual American Thanksgiving turkey genocide (45 million, they say, each November) to the endless rollcall of cows, pigs, chickens and everything else slaughtered thereafter. Gutted, stuffed, dressed, roasted, gnawed, binned. Imagine them all, rising up now, as a farmyard zombie horde, dragging themselves limblessly, or at least meatlessly, out of landfill. Reforming themselves like Ted Hughes’s Iron Man, perhaps, out of a thousand discarded sandwiches. And imagine their bleats, gobbles and moos could coalesce into intelligible noise. What would they be saying? ‘Aaat leeeast you didn’t shaaag me instead…’ No.

I focus on sheep, though, because out of all the commercially farmed consumable animals, ethically speaking, they’re probably the least complex. Chickens live lives too grim even to contemplate, pigs have their own grubby, petulant muck and misery, and cows have really bleak winters. Whereas sheep, at least until the bitter end, don’t do that badly out of us. Yet while this might make you feel a bit better about people eating them, it somehow probably wouldn’t make you feel much better about people having sex with them.

I am not suggesting, please note, that we ought to swap our world in which eating animals is fine and shagging them isn’t for one in which the opposite is true. Little point, really. There’s a notable lack of clamour for animal sex, after all, even from people who don’t otherwise seem to be that fussy. What I would like us to do, though, is be more aware of the generally utilitarian nature of our ethics. We eat them because we want to, and we figure out the morality afterwards as best we can. If indeed we even do. To be honest, increasingly I don’t. I just kind of go with it. Tuck in, thinking about something else.

Is this dreadful hypocrisy? Sometimes I think it is. I have killed animals, after all. Quite a few animals actually, with guns and bludgeons and traps and poisons and, on occasion, my bare hands. In the past I have argued — normally to upset people — that this gives me a moral right to eat meat that the less murderous don’t have. But that’s just nonsense, isn’t it? It’s the tip of the iceberg. If I personally had to kill or mistreat every animal which benefits me by its death or misery, I’d never do anything else. I’d go mad. I’d be the Captain Kurtz of the abattoir. I’d never sleep again. And I’d certainly never eat meat again.

Yet I do. Almost every day, and I don’t plan to stop. I suspend any sort of guilt about this, moreover, because I can, and because succumbing to it would just be so damn inconvenient. Morality isn’t what we think it is; I suppose that’s my point here. It’s something far more ad hoc and subjective than we can often honestly bear to think about. Unless I’m missing something. I mean, if you can tell me a good reason why it’s worse to screw a sheep than eat one, do write in. Although please don’t start talking about horrible STDs that only sheep have. Obviously you’d have to wear protection. Otherwise it would just be disgusting. Enjoy your turkey sandwiches.

The Big Society on wheels

Have they found a new sponsor for Boris Bikes yet? As I write this, they haven’t, and I hope they do. Not because I use them often, but just because I so wholeheartedly approve of the idea. And this, please note, is not just because they are bikes, and I’m a smug metropolitan libtard, etc. Rather, it’s because they were a popular, effective collaboration between capitalism (Barclays) and ordinary humanity (on bikes).

If they fold, these non-folding bikes, then it will be seen as Johnson’s own disaster. In fact, though, a corporate-funded, state-delivered, ecologically sound provision of transport to the masses is Cameron all over. Really, it’s the Big Society. Funny how we only notice it when it fails.

Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.

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