Embrace dirt, danger and death!

Roni, a fascinating Buddhist in Budapest (I just loved typing that), asked a great question on my previous post.  I thought it was an important question so, below,  I post my reply to her.  I have always wanted to write a post entitled “Confessions of an Ex-Vegetarian” and this post would be part of that story.  So, with no further ado, here is Roni’s question:

Hi Sabio & Other Readers,

When I went back from vegetarian to meat eater at the first time (for about 3 months) I could not eat anything that looked like an animal (but no problem with minced meat, sausages etc.). I was very surprised because both becoming a vegetarian and switching back to meat were opportunistic choices of mine — not ideology of ‘not harming animals’ behind it at all.

Is it familiar to anyone? Do you have any explanations for it?



My Reply:

Hi Roni,

I have friends that eat eggs but won’t eat the eggs of the chickens we raise and certainly don’t want to eat the meat of our chickens.  These friends feel safer buying their eggs from a nice sterile store perhaps because they feel safely isolated from the living thing.  Though a few brave friends will politely try our home-grown eggs, as they eat the fried eggs their disgust is palpable.

While in China, I have eaten cat meat hidden in stew well before I had the cat placed in front of me like an uncarved turkey.  Indeed intellectually knowing I am eating cat and viserally knowing I am eating cat are very different phenomena.  People have trouble even with fish.   In Chinese restaurants I will order a whole fish and eat all the meat from the tail to the gills — saving the eyes for desert.  Westerners have a very hard time with this but they will gladly eat a plastic-wrapped filet of fish that has had the bones, head and tail neatly removed so they need not see any real trace of the original animal.

Pig roasts are too brutal for some folks too.  Its tough when what you are doing is in-your-face.

We have taken our kids to see cows slaughtered. I think that it is valuable to understand your food.  Heck, some folks would gladly eat lettuce from the grocery store but pulling it from our garden and washing the dirt off it themselves makes it feel dirtier and more dangerous to them.

Embrace dirt, danger and death!


Question to readers:  What do you think?



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

17 responses to “Embrace dirt, danger and death!

  1. Thank you, Sabio!

  2. Jen

    I think yes, though I come from the herbivore end of the spectrum. Life lives on life, which might sound strange coming from someone who would rather not eat an animal. If you eat the animal, life will at some point return the favor. It’s how it goes. Same thing if you eat a vegetable. Some bug’s out there with his name on your molecules.

    But the illusion of sanitation and safety it would seem some people get from a grocery store is kinda silly.
    It’s a degree of separation from acknowledging death. Gimme lettuce with soil clinging to its roots any day.

  3. @ Roni:
    No, thank you for the great question. How was my reply?

    @ Jen:
    Reminds me of the line from a Joni Mitchell song that goes something like this:

    Hey farmer, farmer
    Put away that DDT now
    Give me spots on my apples
    But leave me the birds and the bees.

    You are right, “there is no free lunch” — we all eat each other.

  4. DoOrDoNot

    You are right on here. I think I need to do a meditation on embracing dirt, danger, and death.

  5. @ Sabio:

    It made me think about the cultural differences between Western and Eastern Europe. I remember going to the market for the first time in Holland (about 10 years ago) and seeing only one stall where the fruit and vegetables looked like the ones I was used to at home: a bit dirty, a bit unshaped, with spots and stains. That was the ‘biological products’ stall. (You can have a glimpse of markets in Hungary here)

  6. I tend to think that if I eat meat (which I do) I ought to kill and butcher it sometimes, to have the reality of that in my face. I’m morally deficient here; I haven’t done that.

    I’m thinking of taking up hunting feral pigs. In many places (Hawaii, for instance) they cause huge ecological damage, so killing them is arguably good karma. And it is certainly dirty, dangerous, and deadly; they fight back, and sometimes do kill hunters.

  7. Katruna Päron

    I agree with you. I dislike the double standard. I spent lot’s of time as a child on my grandparents farm and learnt not to be so squeamish. They were fishing and hunting and I went along to. The most important thing they did was really caring well for their animals and treating them lovingly. The pig came to get scratched as usually and didn’t know what him him. (His friend , my granddad. Reduced a lot of stress and pain fro the animals wich I think make them better to eat as well.

  8. @ DoOrDoNot:
    Go for it !

    @ Roni:
    Thanx for the link. It reminded me of my recent post called “Grocery Shopping Paths” where I wrote of shopping in Japan.

    @ David Chapman:
    May you cure your “moral deficiency” soon! It made me laugh envisioning you wrestling a wild boar. If anyone could win such a battle it would be you, but I’d take your warrior friend, Rin’dzin, as backup just in case.
    [postnote: ahh, she has visited us below]

    @ Katruna Patron:
    Great story. Thanx

  9. Life is messy. Why should our food be any different?

  10. I often hear the argument that Westerners like sterile distance from their food-as-animal in order to feel ok about it. That might be so sometimes, but I think the evolutionary mechanism underlying is the instinct to separate impurity from purity, which exists across cultures. Some of the ordinary Western diet is regarded as repulsive by other cultures. The thought of drinking milk, for example, is disgusting to many Koreans. (“Like drinking cow snot” according to a friend of a friend.)

    The anthropologist Mary Douglas did much worthwhile work on the purity/impurity boundary in relation to food. See:


    in particular, her book Purity and Danger.

  11. @ jezibelle :
    Well said!

    @ Rin’dzin :
    Interesting. I think it could be that both could be true. In other words, many folks (in the West) have lived in sterility that they put the real world partly into the “impurity” aspect of the brain.
    As you said, the brain’s impurity module has huge adaptive advantages. But all evolved brain modules are not designed by an intelligent creator but instead the survive because they work “well enough”. Thus with them comes all sorts of drawbacks — indiscrimanet impurity marking may be one.

    Cow snot may be tastier than we imagine but mammal mammary excretions is a rather repulsive notion once you are out of childhood. How many men would consider guzzling a glass of some an unknown woman’s breast milk but won’t hesitate with an unknown cow’s.

    We also know that in schizophrenia the purity module takes a hit and talk of feces and religion about — both marked as “sacred” (set apart) and become a dwelling point for many with psychotic issues.

    The trick, as you know, is to decide if our minds use us, or we use our minds. We do not have to be slave to our impurity reflexes, we can even use them to gain freedom by messing with them.

    Thank for the link — great stuff.

  12. George "Toad" Shope

    I once ate fried brains, just to see what it was like and they served it with cocktail sauce. So there I was, evaluating every chomp, thinking of how squishy it is and how that bloodly looking cocktail sauce went well with it and I almost puked. 😀

    The Golden Rule is, never evaluate what you are eating until its on its way out the other end. 😉 If kNot, the mind will play tricks on you and your stomach. 😀

    Ribbit 🙂

  13. I have to admit I’ve never given much thought to this issue until now. What I think now after reading your post and all the comments is that culture/exposure plays a huge part in how we process and incorporate things into our lives including the food we eat. As a child, I ate duck eggs from the ducks my grandparents grew. I thought having large, double-yolked eggs was grand. When it came time to slaughter the ducks, I ate roasted duck while my brothers all got sick. I grew up cleaning fish when they were caught, but I never ate the eyeballs. In Maine, the delicacy was tomalley (the green goop inside a lobster).

    We always had freshly grown vegetables except during in the winter. The root vegetables stored in the root cellar generally would last throughout the winter along with the canned vegetables, so store brought produce was at a bare minimum. I’ve never personally seen a large animal slaughtered, but I watched a video not long ago about it…a slaughterhouse isn’t where I would ever want to work, but I do enjoy an ocassionally steak. I think I may have rambled on my way to embracing dirt, danger and death! Am I forgiven?

  14. CRL

    Strange, while I am a vegetarian, I am surprisingly free of that double standard. I’m entirely fine with handling meat and being around the blood and gutsy bits. I do eat fish (eyeballs included) a remanent of my original reasons for becoming a vegetarian (fish are extremely stupid, and it is therefore not as bad to kill them as it would be to kill a mammal) and of my Catholic heritage (fish aren’t really meat, we can eat them on Friday!), which my family buys and cooks in whole, very fish-looking form. Still, as much as I explain to people that I have no opposition to killing animals in principle (only in practice, with a crowded planet and animals raised in dreadful conditions) people are generally surprised when the vegetarian is the only one comfortable getting her hands dirty in a dissection or walking through the butcher’s/seafood section of a chinese supermarket (fish and crustaceans pulled out of tanks and slaughtered in full view, trucks of pigs feet pulling up, etc…)

  15. @ Mildred :
    Sounds like you have embraced it all very well. Fun stories, thanx.

    @ CRL:
    Fantastic “inconsistencies” — for we all know they hang together in a fantastic way. Thanx

  16. om. I think i wouldn’t be able to switch back, my body doesn’t want it anymore, i feel lighter without dead meat inside…
    What to say about the post author : made me think of Cypher caracter in Matrix that decided to betray the Cause for the illusion of the bloody T-bone steak… 🙂

  17. @ Shivatronic:
    Well, if ‘dead’ meat bugs you, try eating live things.

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