It's hard not to think about when you're sitting in front of a plate of beef heart.
Is eating meat OK? Is there any way to justify mowing down on this plate of pork cheeks?
These were the questions I was forced to confront when I dined recently at one of those downtown Toronto eateries populated with pretty people nibbling on pickled pig parts. For such a progressive looking bunch, they didn't seem too concerned about the moral implications of enjoying the Tuscan offal sausage. Usually I'm with them.
But my dining companion had doubts. She had concluded that eating meat isn't moral. Every bite of bacon she takes is infused with just the faintest hint of guilt.
I said nonsense. I'm on Team People. Animals want to eat us. It's only fair to eat them in self-defence.
My friend reminded me that we're not at war with chickens. They can't fight back. We're dispatching them in factories at an almost unimaginable scale. In 2013, the U.S. slaughtered nearly nine billion chickens -- 8,648,756,000 in a single year.
On the surf front, it's pretty clear tuna aren't interested in eating us. But we can't seem to stop devouring them. There's a reason the Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi is freezing huge amounts of the stuff. We're pillaging the oceans like a pack of drunken Visigoths and ōtoro will go for a pretty penny when bluefin is extinct.
In short, my self-defence argument didn't exactly check out.
But animals are dumb, I argued. Maybe I should stay away from dolphin, or octopus or even pork. But beef? Cows just sort of stand there. And fish? Fuck fish.
Except we have no idea what that cow is thinking, my friend reminded me. We don't even know what's going on inside the so-called lower species. We've only just begun to scratch the surface of what seemingly simple creatures like invertebrates feel when we kill them (mostly pain). So we really should stop to consider the suffering of lobsters when we boil them alive.
And even if we are smarter and more sensitive than other species, we should ask ourselves an important question: What happened the last time we started carving up our own species into more and less superior sections?
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But I wasn't ready to give up. I dream about rendering fat from guanciale for carbonara. I find most vegans incredibly annoying. But when I actually dissected my arguments for eating meat they fell apart like lovingly-braised pork butt.
Then, a moment of insight.
"I have incisors!" I exclaimed. "We evolved to eat meat. It's what our ancestors did, it's natural." I sat back smugly in my chair. Paleo for life
It was at this point that my friend made me feel the way I do when kids spell words like "sdrucciola" at the Scripps Spelling Bee -- stupid.
She reminded me that our ancestors raped whoever they could get their hands on. Luckily, we know better now. If anything separates us from the animals, it's the capacity to transcend our instincts.
My eyes dropped to the brushed concrete floor. I was all out of arguments.
I realized I don't eat meat because it's moral. I eat it because it's delicious.
And, for now, I'm OK with that.
These days a trip to the grocery store feels a good bit more gruesome. I think about the gestation crates that hold sows so tightly they can't even turn around. I think about the veal calves that spend their short lives chained up in their own filth. I think about the baby chickens boiled alive or ground up like paper in a shredder.
And then I don't buy those things. I try to eat less meat and opt for ethically produced options when I do. But I don't pretend what I'm doing is moral. It's not.
I've simply decided that I don't want to become political about something I love as much as food. Because politics saps the joy from everything.
There's a passage in "1984" that has always stuck with me. The protagonist, Winston, has just had sex when he comes to a realization:
"You could not have pure love or pure lust nowadays. No emotion was pure, because everything was mixed up with fear and hatred. Their embrace had been a battle, the climax a victory. It was a blow struck against the Party. It was a political act."
I don't want to feel that way about dinner.
That's not to say that vegetarians are equivalent to the oligarchs in Orwell's Oceania, but there is something to be said for apolitical pleasures. And there are few things more pleasurable than pork.
I know our food system is broken. We're dispatching untold billions of animals with less care and compassion than we extend to the grass on our lawns. But when I think about the scale of the problem, I simply feel overwhelmed.
If I were to consider the political and ethical ramifications of every action in my day I would become completely paralyzed. To obtain ideological purity I would have to become one of those people who goes off the grid and starts wiping with leaves. And I get angry when I'm provided with anything less than two-ply.
Life is just too short to worry about the ethics of everything. And sometimes being bad just feels too good.
So I'm keeping the bacon. My organic, locally-raised, absurdly-expensive, bacon. It may not be right, but it certainly is delicious.
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