A few weeks ago, I was sitting out near the man-made lake by the building where I work. The lake is home to a number of extremely large koi, large enough to swallow your small child whole. This particular day was “Bring Your Daughter to Work Day” and a father was walking along the lake with his daughter (who was not eaten by the fish) and a co-worker. The man pointed out the koi to his daughter.
“See those really large fish? They get that big because they don’t let people fish in this lake. So the fish just eat and eat and eat because there’s no one there to catch them.”
I was a little taken aback by this. The tone he said this in wasn’t one of, “See how happy fish are when you aren’t screwing with them?” It was more of, “Fish need us to catch them and eat them so they don’t get so huge.”
This sense of entitlement is pervasive among omnivores defending their meat eating. From the brutish “If we’re able to kill them, we should be able to eat them” to the awfully assuming “God put them here for us” to the it-stopped-being-clever-when-it-became-a-bumper-sticker “God wouldn’t have made animals so tasty if He didn’t want us to eat them,” the underlying theme is that it’s our right as The Mighty Humans to eat what we want, when we want. We see it when there’s a backlash against a foie gras ban when restaurants that fight against these bans are looked at as freedom fighting heroes rather than purveyors of the most obvious of cruelties. It’s a very different case from being entitled to use animals because we need them to live: we don’t. We just want to eat what we think is exotic or what tastes good.
I think that feelings of entitlement are also behind the “they need us to [hunt/milk/catch] them or else they’ll [overpopulate/burst/get huge]” arguments that frequently come up. In a sense, those arguments are saying, “We’re doing them a favor, so we should be able to eat them.”
I wanted to say to that guy, “Trust me. Fish definitely don’t need us to catch them. Just like cows don’t need to be milked and deer don’t need to be sniped.” Alas, I think my comment would have fallen on deaf ears. And it might have gotten me thrown in the lake.