Friday, September 10, 2010

Face to face


'I'll never eat anything with a face on' say the vegetarians, a little glibly I tend to feel.  It's said that we start to look for the face anywhere and everywhere to know where we are, how we relate to our surroundings from a very early age, but is a face really the touchstone of relationship with another creature, an indication of a sufficiently high order to merit not to be killed and eaten?  What other criteria are there?

Shellfish certainly don't have faces - though I suppose snails do after a fashion - but I don't see many vegetarians partaking of those. Neither quite do cephalopods, but they are clearly advanced, intelligent creatures, more so than many fish, gentle and peaceable in the case of octopus and cuttlefish, savage and repulsive in that of Humboldt squid, but brainy either way.  I don't mind eating squid but I'll no longer eat octopus.

Then there's the presence or absence of a backbone.  I've been laughed at for this, once by the very person who was tenderly helping a tiny froglet across a quiet road talking sympathetically to it, while grasshoppers and other nearby invertebrates possibly at an equal level of development received no such compassionate assistance, but I do believe that the awareness of a skeleton, a set of organs, lungs and heart, a backbone with a brain on top, which, however tiny, look remarkably like ours, disposes us immediately to feel an enhanced level of kinship.

Of course we do respond in a similar way to bees, for example, and quite possibly caterpillars, but we've always been firmly taught of the virtues of the former, and like the latter, they are particularly endearing because, as one commenter pointed out, they are furry.  I wonder why, when we have largely evolved beyond furriness ourselves we have such a love, almost a need, for it in other animals?  Feathers are interesting but rarely inspire the same warmth of feeling.

It doesn't stop some of us eating them of course, though many of us feel more comfortable eating things with fur and scales than we do other mammals.  I know too that so much of all this is culturally determined, but I think all these thing do influence us.

However, the  face on the hornet as it is here does not make me warm to it, on the contrary, its expression appears hostile, sinister, horribly alien, though really, even the term 'expression' is misplaced and a projection, but even so...

It doesn't make me want to eat it either, but there are Japanese mountain folk who feel otherwise, and the hornets in question are considerably larger, scarier and bear us far more of what might be seen as animosity than our little crabro does.  But I'll come to those next time.


Kelly said...

Very fascinating post, seems I have been thinking a lot about the connections between things lately but have neglected to analyze the to eat or not to eat factor. Especially since I am such a picky eater.

christopher said...

You are such an amazing lady! I love this post.


What would I say to
your face? I am so used to
speaking behind you,
then sneaking away
to discuss you further with
like minded gossips.

You look like hornets
do to me, ready to strike,
ready to take my
meat right off my plate.

Rosie said...

I am only too happy to kill anything that bites me, but that is a separate issue. As far as eating animals goes, it sort of depends on the circumstances. If I have endless time at my disposition a vegetarian banquet is my idea of bliss. But if I have to eat meat out of convenience , I will, and enjoy it too. I'm not sure what I would do if my plane crash landed in the arctic and the only food available was a bit too close to my own evolutionary branch... probably, I would survive and bite the...bullet?

Rouchswalwe said...

I second Christopher! When I think back on all of the faceless and faced things I ate in southern Japan ... I feel the need to write a post about it.

HKatz said...

while grasshoppers and other nearby invertebrates possibly at an equal level of development received no such compassionate assistance
Well, the froglet will need something to eat once it has crossed the quiet road...

the polish chick said...

i have always been offended by the notion that eating puppies and kittens is wrong. it's either all wrong, or all right. just because we happen to find one segment of the animal population cuter than the rest, should not make it off limits. and if intelligence is the criterion (i love pigs, both as animals and as meat, and i know how smart they're supposed to be), then there is a large segment of earth's population that should be devoured for being ridiculously stupid.