Eating Your Spirit Animal

Food, like sex, sometimes has a complex political subtext.

The politics of food made from animals can be especially complex. There are ethical, environmental, moral, and health arguments for and against the consumption of meat.

There are also gender issues associated with meat consumption: why is meat, particularly red meat, associated with masculinity? For example, check out these adverts from Australia, the UK, and the US: all satirical, and all accept the premise that masculinity is inexorably connected with meat consumption. Some feminists believe this connection reinforces objectification of women, arguing that it casts women as the passive supplier of flesh, and men as the active devourer.

Regardless of your own point of view, this seemingly simple basic need for the sustenance of life – the need to eat – has become a complex political subject.

And it’s complicated further if you’re a furry. If you identify as an animal person, it’s impossible to ignore that we live in a world where animals are commodities.

Furries tend to celebrate their animal identity in varied and creative ways. Most furries create an alternate personality – an anthropomorphic animal avatar – and accept this identity as a version of themselves. We furries ‘become’ this identity, because we act like we genuinely are our avatar. This belief in our alternate self makes our furry identity real.

Our day-to-day actions are often interpreted through the lens of our furry identity. This extends to the food we eat. So a furry who identifies as a carnivore might enjoy eating meat. Or perhaps a meat-lover might choose to identify as a carnivorous species.

The arguments for and against meat consumption can be summed up succinctly: meat eating is bad because it causes suffering; meat eating is good because it’s tasty and a societal norm.

These points of view (both of which are valid and true) can be given a furry twist. A carnivore furry might be drawn towards eating the natural prey of his species, such as a cheetah with a taste for venison. Or a vegetarian might make a connection with their herbivorous avatar. And if your furry species is available for human consumption… it gets complicated.

The four most common furry species available for human consumption are listed below. This data, as ever, comes from the Furry Survey.

  • dog, 8.4% of furries
  • rabbit, 2.7% of furries
  • horse, 1.4% of furries
  • kangaroo, 1.0% of furries

All other species commonly consumed by humans are chosen by less than 1% of furries. The full league table can be found on an old Livejournal post of mine, here.

Some of these furries go out of their way to eat their spirit animal. I can personally think of two examples: a friend of mine once species-hopped to kangaroo largely because of his affinity for roo meat; and a deer friend who was thrilled to find venison ham for sale.

But for other furries, eating their spirit animal is taboo. In many cases, the reason for their revulsion is closely tied to their choice of species in the first place. For people who work or live with animals, and feel a strong affinity for them based on that social experience, the idea of eating those animals can be akin to cannibalism.

It’s also common for the taboo meat to be one that is not normally culturally considered to be food. It’s especially likely where the species in question is normally thought of as a pet or companion animal. In western-centric furry circles, this often applies to dog meat and horse meat.

Horse is a common meat in France and Japan, among other places around the world. Dog is a common meat in parts of Asia and Africa.

The ethics of raising dogs or horses for meat is no different from other animals. Whenever an animal is raised as a commercial enterprise, there will sometimes be a conflict between the best interests of the animal and the greatest profit. Sometimes the best interests of the animal will come second. This is true even where the animals are not being raised for meat: it’s true whenever there is a profit motive, including work animals (such sheepdogs) and animals raised for sport (such racehorses).

This ethical argument does not apply when there is no commercial interest, such as raising a pet.

There is suffering involved in the raising and slaughtering of any animal. There is no reasonable argument that raising horses or dogs for meat is ‘bad’, but raising, say, cows or pigs is ‘okay’. Horses and dogs are domesticable and intelligent, but so are pigs: pigs can be domesticated as pets or as work animals (truffle farming for example).

The commonly-held taboo on whale meat is similarly flawed. Whale is eaten in Japan, Norway, Iceland, and elsewhere. The arguments against whale hunting and consumption are hypocritical unless you are applying the same arguments to mainstream meats.

The arguments against whale meat can be roughly condensed into:

  • Whales are intelligent creatures who suffer during the hunt. (It’s likely that more suffering is caused by pig farming, as they are very intelligent and often subject to poor conditions during life.)
  • Whales are endangered due to overfishing. (Much like many fish species around the globe.)

I’ve always thought that arguments against consuming whale, much like arguments against consuming dog (or horse), often smack of racism. Firstly, I don’t think people would hold such opinions if they lived in a culture where whale or dog meat is the norm. Secondly, the argument is often framed such that the target (eg Japanese for whale; Koreans for dog) is presented as a barbaric ‘other’, a subtle dehumanizing practice common to much racist hatespeak.

That said, there is no problem with having an aversion to the idea of eating a particular type of animal. The emotional response associated with eating your spirit animal can be particularly strong. For many people, this is an important part of being a furry.

There is no requirement for any personal choice to be irrefutably logical, be it religion or politics or attitude towards food. It’s natural to think of one’s self as rational, but this is wrong: we are animals and therefore driven by basic survival instincts. There is only one requirement for a personal choice: don’t try to enforce your choice on other people.

About JM

JM is a horse-of-all-trades who was introduced to furry in his native Australia by the excellent group known collectively as the Perthfurs. JM now helps run [adjective][species] from London, where he is most commonly spotted holding a pint and talking nonsense.

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13 thoughts on “Eating Your Spirit Animal

  1. I would also note that in Western countries, especially in the case of the horse but also sometimes the dog, the animals are not farmed for meat. The individual animals that are sent to slaughter are often former pets or working animals that were no longer wanted for some reason, or who were no longer profitable. This confounds the issue even further. If we find the idea of slaughtering elderly humans for food unacceptable, what does it say if we slaughter race horses who are no longer profitable?

    There is also another form of racism involved. In the US, horsemeat is not approved for sale as food for humans, but can be used as food for dogs or other carnivorous captive or domesticated animals. But we have until very recently continued to tolerate the slaugher of horses for human consumption on the condition that the meat be shipped overseas to Japan or Europe. This seems to be a kind of oxymoronic doublethink that I find hard to justify. The government says that horses are not suitable for consumption by Americans, but if Japanese people eat them it’s OK.

    1. It brings to mind Boxer’s fate in Animal Farm. It would be a better world if work animals could ‘earn’ the right to a peaceful retirement and full life. While I’m sure this happens in many cases, the best interests of the animal will sometimes come second if money is involved. And as you point out, the justifications for that can be clearly hypocritical.

  2. Here’s another one for you,
    I’m a Malamute, but I wouldn’t really have any problem hunting wolves. When some species reach that level where they become either pests, or a detriment to the local fauna, then you make the reasonable decision to deal with it. Like you were saying with the Kangaroos: I’m under the impression that Australia doesn’t really like them. They might send someone out to hunt them down and (as you said) sell the meat. It’s true that you may connect with your spirit animal, but you also need to see things as they are in some cases. If they’re a pest, You’ll need to get rid of them, If they’re delicious, what’s a little cannibalism among friends?

    1. Kangaroos are a pest in many parts of Australia. Kangaroo meat is often sourced from culled animals, which makes it one of the most ethically sound meats available (as well as being a particularly lean, healthy meat).

  3. It is interesting to me to see the endangered status of whales lumped with the ‘intelligent victim’ argument for the conclusion of racism. It does not follow that one is racist if they believe a different culture should not harvest a species to extinction – that is merely cultivation. If the Japanese were in some way managing the supply of whale so that a balance was achieved, then I (at least) would have no problem with their harvesting of the species.

    To speak to the idea of eating lion flesh (my fur species) – I think I would. I wouldn’t hunt it down (pun!) but if it was there, and wasn’t poached, I would try it.

    1. While a couple of whale species have become extinct, numbers in all species have increased since restrictions of whaling were introduced in the 1900s. Today’s whaling is generally restricted to species which are not endangered, and no species are in danger of extinction due to whaling, although it is a contributory factor in some cases.

      While this is hardly ideal, the fact is that non-human animals are treated differently than human animals. The situation is similar amongst many hunted animals, including many fish species.

  4. I’m neither opossed nor for the consumption of whales, dogs, horses, cats, etc., but if a species is threatened or endangered then I believe it’s not right to hunt them. I think as long as we’re not wiping out entire species just to put dinner on the table then we should have the right to consume them in moderation.

    The what’s-good-for-the-goose-isn’t-good-for-the-gander argument is ridiculous. If pigs are as intelligent as horses and dogs, why the hell aren’t they pulling bacon off the shelves? Oh, right, because people aren’t picturing Wilbur or Babe while munching on their thick, juicy bacon.

    If someone put a Steak d’Horse on my plate, I’d try it. I’ll try just about any kind of meat that isn’t human flesh or insects!

    1. Your comment there is actually the same reason I originally became vegetarian. If I think it’s immoral to ear dogs, cats, etc… then how CAN’T I apply that same logic to other animals?

      I’ve tried to avoid eating any animal that, for what I can tell, is capable if a certain level of intelligence (I include emotion as a type of intelligence).

      I’ve recently had to start eating fish and chicken though, because of possible malnutrition, and from the commonly eaten animals, they seem to be the least intelligent.

      1. I think it’s certainly understandable to avoid eating animals with some sort of intelligence- and I agree that the expression of emotions is certainly a sign of intelligence- but like most people, I simply lack the willpower to quit eating meat, regardless of how I feel about the animal on my plate. I think that with me, like many who become vegetarian, it would come down to a matter of personal health. If it allows me to live a longer, healthier life, and spares the lives of even a few pigs, cows, or chickens, then everybody wins ^^

        I wonder, though, do meat-alternatives taste good at all? I’ve heard many a negative thing about tofu…

        1. Don’t blame your willpower, there is a huge convenience factor. Meat dishes are easy to get and tend to be a lot more tasty and satisfying than most vegetarian alternatives. If you want to eat less meat, then choose a vego option whenever there is a good alternative, and don’t fret too much when it’s not available.

          You’ll get all sorts of different answers on the value of meat-alternatives. Meat replacements (usually anything high protein) probably work best when they are delivered in the style they were first used: tofu in south-east asian food, beans in Mexican food, or chickpeas in middle eastern food for example. I’m less convinced by, say, vegetarian sausages.

  5. The term “cannibalism” always gets me.. The term is so taboo that even if there is consent, it’s still consider “bad” just because it’s “cannibalism” (I get concern about this as a person who thinks people should have rights to do what they want with there body.).

    Anyway, “eating your own spirit” animal sounds interesting, but is it very special? What I mean is that, I think eating meat of a whole different animal, is probably as bad.. However, if there was consent, I don’t think it should be viewed as bad.. Even though some people probably will, JUST because (Depends on Spirit animal?) it’s consider “cannibalism”. Which always seems strange just because a certain action means something, when I think it’s about the effects like consent and non-consent.

    My ideas for anti-meat vs meat arguments:
    1. The way we get our meat is very cruel, and I don’t think it matters on Intelligence
    2. If other animals (Even humans) decided to give there consent to be eaten, then I think it’s fine
    3. Perhaps if we have machines to make meat out of matter, then that’s probably one way to stop the war.
    4. The number one thing of all: It should be about rights to live. i.e. Consent.
    Just like how the homo-sapiens has.

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