The Meat Paradox: Empathy with Our Food

“Can’t you feel it?”
“Feel what?” I asked

“How we are turning into greedy predators, just like wolves. We have this need to kill more and more. Even if we had two hundred sables we wouldn’t feel satisfied, would we? Just like the devil, you see.”

He paused for a while. Then he added, “I suggest we calm down and stop hunting for a week or so.”

Rane Willerslev, Soul Hunters

In an article published in Skeptic Magazine last month, Mark Moffett described a phenomenon which was recently dubbed by psychologists and animal ethicists as the “meat paradox.1” The question at hand is why do people love animals but also want to eat them? For a large number of scholars and laymen, the meat paradox appears to be a bit of a conundrum. Why would we ever evolve a system that would make us guilty about something we need in order to survive? Why are we able to feel empathy for our prey when so many other predators seem to be getting by without these emotions at all?

One of the most common reactions to this paradox is the assumption that it is a recent phenomenon brought on by our modern lifestyles. Compared to hunter-gatherers who spend time physically hunting and killing their food, our separation from and inexperience towards the act of killing have made us soft. In other words, hunter-gatherers don’t feel this way and our feelings about killing animals are unnatural.

But as I accidentally came to find out, this view of our unique paradox can’t be true.

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