I like sausages. This is a problem. Partly because of my deep belief that we’ve made a category error with sausages (a nice sausage, IMHO, is not, like all the supermarkets’ best brands are, with 99 per cent meat in it – an over-dense, indigestible, packed flesh-sock – but a cheap or frozen one with about 60 per cent meat, so what you’re eating is essentially a hot dog where the bread is deliciously invisible), but mostly because I love animals. And a sausage, despite the clever way we make it look, is actually a dead animal. That I like to eat. Which isn’t very loving.
For years I’ve had this position, that I’m basically a vegan in spirit. I accept all the ethical and environmental arguments about the awfulness of eating animals, but my stomach just won’t let me stop doing it. With a slight element of ‘it’s their fault for tasting so nice’. Recently, though, I’ve begun to believe – as in Simon Amstell’s brilliant mockumentary Carnage – that in generations to come, the fact we kill 56 billion animals a year for food will be seen as a genocide.
It is a genocide. What do we base our OK-ness with that fact on? What makes us believe that incredible amount of bloodshed is the way things are? The specialness of humanity. The sense, given to us by religion, that we’re top of the food chain because God made us – not pigs, cows, or salmon – in his own image. Although history has dashed the myth of specialness in a thousand ways – we thought the earth was the centre of the universe: it isn’t; we thought machines would never be able to do or think the things we can: they can, will and do – we cling on to it, most unthinkingly in our allowance of the mass killing of animals. Indeed, the discovery that undercuts the myth of human specialness – evolution – should have stopped it for good: we are animals, so really we’re just eating our own. The other animals just aren’t quite as clever as us. This doesn’t, in truth, morally allow us to kill and eat them. If it did, you, dear The Jackal reader, should be morally allowed to kill and eat members of UKIP.
“Science is presently discovering we’re not that much cleverer than animals”
Science is presently discovering we aren’t even much cleverer or intellectually different to other animals anyway. The latest research shows dolphins are so intelligent they’ve worked out how to help fishermen drive fish into their nets, so they get fed some of the catch (there’s an element of betrayal here, of course, but let’s not pretend it isn’t human-like). Crows and ravens have been found to use language. All animals feel, it turns out, pain, empathy, joy, and sadness. But none of this really seems to change our blithe acceptance that it’s fine to put them in sandwiches.
Here’s something that might: YouTube videos. Seriously. Let’s be honest, New Scientist is great, but it doesn’t reach a mass audience. A video of Einstein the Parrot doing impressions of other animals – not just birds, but pigs and wolves, although not, weirdly, the snooker player John Parrott – has reached 11 million. An octopus learning how to unscrew a jar (and therefore escape from it), four million. And my favourite, a gorilla in a paddling pool, spinning around and splashing, seven million. It’s my favourite because it’s not a task set for an animal by a human. The gorilla’s just having a laugh, being a big kid. It looks amazingly, intensely human.
Very gradually, YouTube videos of animals being clever, and perhaps more importantly, being ‘human’, will lead a new generation to realise – oh, they kind of are human. To a proper, visceral understanding that we’re all animals, we’re the same. And therefore have no God-given right – none – to kill others for our food.
So I’m going to try very, very hard, next time I’m in Tesco, not to buy any sausages. Not even their cheapest, yummiest ones.
David Baddiel is on a tour of the UK with My Family: Not the Sitcom from 28 January, 2018