WELCOME TO EARTH-4
A Column by J. Torrey McClain
I do not currently host a pet of any kind in my home. I grew up with a cat and dogs and I love to visit friends and family with cats and dogs, but it has been a long time since I have enjoyed the company of a pet 24/7. I add that preface because I want to say that I don’t have stories of a pet’s behavior that reveal “emotions,” “feelings” and “empathy.” I use quotes because I do not want to personify any animal mostly from a place of ignorance but also from a place of logic. How I interpret and see the world HAS to be different than a pet. But, I will not claim they don’t “feel,” I will not claim they don’t “learn,” I will not claim they aren’t “intelligent;” I just don’t know if human language has a word for how animals see the world.
As far as how humans treat animals, I understood about obvious cruelty like I’d see in reports of dog fighting, circus cages and pet abuse. I remember even in high school, thinking that the idea of anyone “owning” an animal seemed fishy to me and I began to think that zoos might not be the best idea, except in cases of endangered animals, injured animals, education or scientific study, but only in limited scale. I didn’t think much beyond this for a long time.
In my consumption of books due to my own curiosity and recommendations from friends, I read about nutrition. I read about healthy diets. I read about fast food ingredients and practices. I read about modern factory farm practices. I read about the idea of sustainable farming. All of this got stored in my noggin. Then, I watched the documentary Blackfish. I started to consider removing meat from my diet as all my experiences combined to form this idea. It had been simmering in my mind, but the impetus of the call to action came from Blackfish.
I have a friend that works in a scientific field in a museum and she said we may not know all of what happens at Sea World and what they do to benefit orca whales in studies there. I don’t know about the studies and I am not qualified to make a statement or even hazard a guess about the quality of that work. I do know they are a public company. As a person that has worked in the business realm, I know the goal for all businesses is to minimize costs and maximize revenue, especially those beholden to shareholders/private equity firms with an eye toward increasing the value of their investment. Orca whales are a cost to Sea World. I know what that means to me through my experiences.
I also will not judge what I saw in the behavior of orca whales in Blackfish. There may be emotions, intelligence and empathy viewable on your movie or TV screen. I don’t know. I can try to interpret what I see just like I interpret what I see in pets, but as a person not with the animal 24/7, I don’t really have complete information. There may be things the documentary didn’t show that could be favorable to Sea World. However, knowing what I know about other mammals that I see frequently (dogs and cats), the idea that other mammals have “personality” doesn’t seem far-fetched. I know that having a greyhound in a studio apartment with only short walks around the neighborhood concrete jungle sounds less than optimal, but I don’t have proof of that. That scenario can be compared to putting an orca in a tank that can be measured in meters where an orca can have a range of up to 100,000 square kilometers.
Once I get to that point of thinking regarding orcas, dogs and cats, I start to think about other mammals. Honey badgers. Raccoons. Otters. Elephants. I see adaptation. I see the use of tools. I see “anger.” I see “joy.” Then into my mind other animals creep like sheep, cows, goats and pigs. If I believe mammals might have “feelings” and they might have attachments to offspring, what does that mean to my diet?
Then I think of the intelligence of ravens to open zippers on snowmobiles from my time living near Yellowstone. I think of the trials of penguins in Antarctica to keep their chicks alive. I think of documentaries on Nature regarding birds of different shapes, sizes and colors that I love to watch. Then, I think of chickens, turkeys and ducks. They might not be the same as mammals, but they have nests and they take care of their young and provide me with joy when I see them in the wild, in a park or in a yard.
So, last year I decided to give up mammals and birds in my diet. I will not advocate for others to do the same because there may be health or food cost considerations. I know I am in a position to make that choice for myself and I decided to do so. I did it in steps, giving up beef, pork and mammals in August of 2014 and giving up chicken, turkey and fowl at the beginning of March of this year. I had a doctor’s appointment this week and got my best marks in a long while. There may be some correlation (as fast food without beef, pork, chicken or turkey pretty much eliminates most fast food which was probably my biggest diet concern), but I’m sure there are tons of healthy people that still eat meat by the bucket load.
I decided to keep fish and seafood in my diet for the healthy cholesterol and because the “feelings” I see in mammals and birds don’t seem to be present in fish. I could be wrong and will continue to reflect and ponder that part of my diet. (I will also look to add insects like crickets to my diet as they look to be a sustainable protein source in times of drought and I also picture them closer to fish than to birds and mammals.)
I write this because I am happy with my choice. I write this because thinking about the earth as ours to use however we want for profit doesn’t seem sustainable. I also write this because I highly recommend watching Blackfish. I can’t say that I have seen another movie that initiated such a large lifestyle change in me. There may have been other building blocks to my pescatarian decision, but the final catalyst was this superb documentary.