Should intelligence determine whether animals are food?
I’ve been warning you for about a year now that octopuses are aliens, to be feared but also revered, and only eaten if you’re sure you can live with the concept of eating a very smart hand-brain. Apparently Gwyneth Paltrow has caught on to this, writing to her L.A.-based goop staff on Slack:
They have more neurons in their brains than we do. I had to stop eating them because I was so freaked out by it. They can escape from sea world and s — by unscrewing drains and going out to sea. #tangent.
They do have a lot of neurons, GP, but not more than we do. They also have three hearts and motherfucking SUCTION CUPS on their arms!!! Many widely acclaimed books have been written about these cunning cephalopods, and many of them address the idea of intelligence, consciousness, and a lot of other collegiate-sounding topics.
If you’re going to go down the intelligence road, we should probably talk about pigs. The issue of abstaining from eating animals because is so thorny, because where do you draw the line? Don’t plants have sophisticated lives too? And what about pigeons, a.k.a. squab? Food preferences aren’t really logical or even terribly defensible in a court of law. They can be moralistic, sure, but they won’t be consistent. As Natalie Angier wrote in 2009:
I stopped eating pork about eight years ago, after a scientist happened to mention that the animal whose teeth most closely resemble our own is the pig. Unable to shake the image of a perky little pig flashing me a brilliant George Clooney smile, I decided it was easier to forgo the Christmas ham. A couple of years later, I gave up on all mammalian meat, period. I still eat fish and poultry, however and pour eggnog in my coffee. My dietary decisions are arbitrary and inconsistent, and when friends ask why I’m willing to try the duck but not the lamb, I don’t have a good answer. Food choices are often like that: difficult to articulate yet strongly held. And lately, debates over food choices have flared with particular vehemence.
So don’t eat or not eat something because Gwyneth Paltrow does or doesn’t. First off, you probably can’t afford to if it’s like, magic powder that you have to add to your matcha smoothie every morning. And second, you should wade through these decisions and feelings by yourself. I have a hard time knowingly eating factory-farmed meat or dairy, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done it. I realize that an easy way to rid myself of this anxious burden of deciding what is “okay” or “ethically consistent” to eat would be to just never mind about vertebrates entirely, or at least the mammals to start and maybe just keep the chordata because of the omega-3s, but the anxious burden is frankly the thing that makes me feel alive and human.
It is extremely amazing that humans get to sit at a restaurant and be like, “Should I eat this thing that I know is delicious, particularly when grilled to a sweet char, and which I would never make for myself at home because it’s a pain in the ass to handle and prepare plus I don’t even own a grill? Or should I abstain from eating it because I have read literally hundreds of articles about how cool these creatures are, like, is it morally inconsistent to be in awe of something and eat it anyway?” This is the privilege of being a human and I think the only way to not be a monster about it is to stay curious about your motives. At least you’ll have made a conscious choice.
And when the octopuses take over our planet (if we don’t acidify their oceans first), they will not care what you did or ate, because that sort of contemplative torture is just a made-up human thought experiment to keep society sort of always a little broken so that its constantly fixing itself. The octopuses also won’t care what you said on the internet or who the president was.