I had an interesting conversation with my friend Bob the philosopher the other day. When I talk to philosophers, I realize how much I love philosophical thought. But I also realize that, much as you might rather coo-coo over someone else's adorable baby rather than have one of you own, I'm glad I'm not an actual philosopher. I suspect I'd fall into a cycle of premise questioning that would suck me into an abyss.
But anyways. We talked about the meaning of life. What gives life meaning? There's nothing ironic or tongue-in-cheek about this question when you discuss it with a real philosopher. Bob raised an idea that has stuck with me. He explained that many philosophers posit that life is given meaning by the experience of pleasure. That is, our sense that life has worth is rooted in the soil of subjective experiences that make us happy.
This all seems rather simple - until you think about it in terms of food. Eating makes us happy and, in this sense, eating gives us reason to find meaning in life. Meat and dairy, moreover, gives most people added pleasure. These items, from what I recall, can taste very good. I realize that committed vegans often reach a point at which animal products lose their appeal. But it's very likely that at one point in time, these goods puts a smile on their faces.
The implications of this connection strike me as important. In an environment that fails to question the ethics of eating animals - which is to say, in most environments - there's nothing to interrupt the conclusion that, as the saying goes, food is life. And if you include animal products as food, well then animal products are life. If eating meat becomes synonymous with a meaningful life, any attempt to disrupt the association will be met with wrath.
Two lessons to draw from this observation. First, understand the wrath. Rather than scoff at it, or get in yet another Facebook fight, just be appreciative of why the call to stop eating animals sends so many people into fits of apoplexy. Second, do not stop delivering the message that we must stop eating animals raised for food. Too often we think it's a matter of convincing individuals, one by one, to stop. Really, though, it's about creating an atmosphere in which the assumption that eating animals is integral to the meaning of life is questioned.
It's the larger culture that must be destabilized. The converts will then follow.
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This article originally appeared on James-McWilliams.com.