The death of Cecil the Lion, slain by some bumpkin dentist whose life appears to now be hell, very quickly reached the point of hypothetical comparison, and today we keep moving down the line: eating chicken is “morally worse” than killing Cecil the Lion, says Vox’s Dylan Matthews. Now we must talk about why this is stupid.
Matthews’ argument is essentially: the way chicken is produced for mass consumption in America is profoundly inhumane, and by purchasing and eating chicken you are playing a role in a process that kills more animals in worse ways than the way in which one bald man killed one lion named Cecil.
As far as his assessment of chicken production, Matthews is right. The mass churning of chickens in this country is repulsive and unbecoming of a society that thinks of itself as the crown jewel of civilization. Matthews’ article on Vox dot com sufficiently explainers many of the very bad things we do to chickens, and this New Yorker story from earlier in the year goes into detail about the horrifying illnesses you can contract from eating the meat.
Matthews is arguing that the method in which we kill a chicken—by raising it in obscenely cramped quarters where it stews in its own shit, at which point we inject it with chemicals so that it doesn’t fall ill before the slaughter—is worse than the method in which Walter Palmer murdered Cecil the Lion, which was by shooting him first with an arrow and then, 40 hours later, with a gun.
Matthews’ calculation is fairly simple. Maybe you think he is right about which method of murder is worse, or maybe you think he’s wrong. I think it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that there is a utility to the mass murder of chickens, which is that people have food to eat. It’s true that we don’t have to eat chicken, but humans must eat protein, and chicken is a protein that is readily available, relatively cheap and, if you don’t contract salmonella, more or less healthy. There are plenty of good reasons to not eat chicken, but there are also plenty of good reasons to eat chicken, too.
As an individual, you can step out of the chicken production cycle pretty simply by making a choice to not eat chicken. But if you want to eat chicken, there’s really not much you can do about the way in which chickens make it to your grocery store. It helps if you can find and/or afford organic chicken, but if you can’t then you’re a slave to a system that is controlled by people with far more power than you. Those people—the people who kill and sell chickens, with the help of politicians and bureaucrats who work tirelessly to protect them—have an ugly and repugnant goal: to make as much money as humanly possible. You, meanwhile, have a far more humble, and noble, goal: to not be hungry.
In the case of Walter Palmer, there is no utility to killing a lion. A dentist from Minnesota travelled to Zimbabwe to stalk and shoot a lion because he wanted to? Because he could? Because it made his dick throb? Because he could put its head in his home and measure himself as a man?
Consuming chicken is necessary, even if narrowly so. Killing a lion for fun is in no possible way necessary. If you make a choice to eat a chicken breast, you are lazy, maybe, or unimaginative, or merely just a pawn in a shitty world that values capital above all. If you make a choice to travel halfway across the world to shoot a lion, you are a villain, and you relish it.
[image via AP]