I listened to two different—but related—stories about animal welfare this past week.
The first was an interview with the philosopher Christine Korsgaard about the status of animals. Do animals have rights? If so, what kind of rights do they have? Her conclusion was that, yes, they do have rights (the answer to the second question was more complicated):
Animals are ends in themselves, and shouldn't be used in any way without recognizing the good for that particular animal.
She echoes St. Francis of Assisi:
And all creatures under heaven serve, know, and obey their Creator, each according to its own nature, better than you. (St. Francis of Assisi, The Admonitions, Admonition V)
The second story discussed the price of eating pleasure foods—specifically, the practice of eating ortolan in France. To celebrity chefs in France, ortolan is more than a delicacy; it is food raised to an art form. But to animal rights activists, it's a case of inflicting every cruel practice imaginable upon an innocent songbird.
I don't know if I really have an opinion about whether eating animals is moral or ethical (although, I will concede that we have a responsibility to treat the animals we do eat in an ethical manner). I do know that I think the way ortolan is prepared and eaten is cruel, and for that reason I know I would never eat it.
However, I do like bacon, and I know that our factory farms do not treat Brother Pig with the respect he deserves.
I find that mindful eating helps me wrestle with this inconsistency. Here is how I incorporate this practice into some of my meals:
Begin the meal with gratitude.
I notice what I am eating.
I pay attention to the experience of each bite, its texture, taste, and aroma.
I don't do anything else—no reading, talking, or watching TV. I just eat.
I eat until I am satisfied; I am neither stuffed nor starving.
I observe my thoughts, but recognize them for what they are—thoughts, not facts.
Mindful eating reminds me that my actions are not isolated; that I am part of a great chain of being. It allows me to recognize and reflect on the fact that another being gave up its life to help me sustain mine.