Dear Mr. President,
An exotic meat restaurant in Arizona is coming under fire for serving lion burgers in honor of the world cup. I think this discussion highlights an amusing sort of hypocrisy in our culture, the squeamishness people develop when faced with the ugly consequences of behavior we try to tell ourselves is harmless. I suppose food is harder to swallow when it's got the face of cuddly cartoon creatures acting out their own version of Hamlet. But eating Simba, or Nala, or even Mickey and Minnie, is no worse than eating any of the millions of nameless, long-suffering factory farmed cows or chickens or pigs that are sold and consumed every day. I believe there are ways to respectfully and healthily raise animals for food, and that the healthier the animals, the healthier the resulting food. My moral objections to eating animals is because of their mistreatment in the current system, not because of their cuteness. I think any one who can eat a chicken should have no problem eating a lion. Or, for that matter, a dog.
Our belief in the greater value of some life, life we find familiar or attractive, manifests itself in far more sinister ways than objections to certain types of food. I think it is this same sense of differentiated value that makes us believe an American life is worth more than an Iraqi or Afghani or Palestinian life. That allows us to condemn a 15-year old boy to Guantanamo bay for 8 years of torture without a trial on allegations of killing an armed, armored and uniformed soldier of an invading army in the middle of a war. That makes us crow with victory at the hanging of an old man, or to find ways to legalize torture, so long as we don't call it that. Who are we to determine the value of a person's life based on the language they speak, the country they're born in, or the God they pray to? What criteria must a person or animal meet for their death to matter? To be called a crime?
Every living thing will have its share of suffering. I think that our goal ought to be to avoid making more of this, whenever possible. I don't think we can create world peace, or eradicate injustice or suffering for all. But I think that it's a noble end to work toward. The way Americans live, the things we eat and the things we buy and the violence we export, have a terrible cost that most of us will never have to face. I don't know if this is avoidable, and I don't want to tell people how to live, but I think if we start by refusing to hide from reality, either in the guise of meaningless labels like collateral damage or enemy combatant or in the glossed-over realities of the origins of dinner, we'd all make better choices.
These values have to come from those that lead us, as well. Instead of spinning the truth into something more palatable, more acceptable to our sensibilities, our government has to tell us the hard truth about the consequences of our decisions, at the ballot box, in the battlefield, and in the supermarket. I think that real leadership doesn't shy away from reality, even when it's hard to stomach.