HOLY CARROTS! George and Willene Hendrick, a literary couple who are now established in Urbana where George is a professor of English at the University of Illinois, started out decades ago at San Marcos. Quite often, in the late fifties, George would drift into the Observer’s offices in Austin, advising us in his wry, quiet way, and with his writings helping us to enliven our efforts in the literary dimension. George and Willene have published books together, including a critical study of Katherine Anne Porter; George is a specialist on Thoreau, an interest which led to Henry Salt, Thoreau’s first biographer and himself a humanitarian reformer and man of letters. Now, George and Willene Hendrick have published in England a Salt anthology, The Savour of Salt \(Centaur Press, Fontwell Sussex, Henry Salt, according to the Hendrickses, “was a child of privilege who became a partisan of ethical socialism and a tireless worker for humanitarian reform.” Before he died in 1939 he prepared his own funeral address, which was read on the inevitable occasion by a friend, and in it Salt said: “I have a very firm religious faith of my own a Creed of Kinship, I call it a belief that in years yet to come there will be a recognition of the brotherhood between man and man, nation and nation, human and sub-human, which will transform a state of semi-savagery, as we have it, into one of civilization, when there will be no such barbarity as warfare, or the robbery of the poor by the rich, or the ill-usage of the lower animals by mankind.” Determined to follow Thoreau’s example in Walden, Salt and his wife abandoned their privileged life and began living without servants and working for various radical causes. Salt also wrote many books, as well as hundreds of thousands of words for two journals he edited, The Humanitarian and The Humane Review. For several years now, I have admitted into my system of copious filings “AR” for animal rights. This worthy subject first presented itself in my personal amphitheater of values perhaps a decade ago in the form of written appreciations of the intelligence of the cetaceans, especially as explained in a large paperback book entitled Mind in the Waters, copies of which I have given as gifts. Surely if, by extension from amazement over and affection for whales and dolphins, we permit ourselves to feel degrees of concern for lower species in some proportion to their likely or perceived intelligence and their likely sensitivity to pain and pleasure, why then, all animals, all life lo! the doctrine of respect for life heave into view. However, Henry Salt took the position that eating of meat was uncivilized, barbaric, and unethical. He insisted that we keep in mind the fact that what we call “meat” is actually “dead flesh,” and, he went on to say \(as I learned from the evils inseparable from the practice of flesheating. The aversion to flesh food is not chemical, but moral, social, hygienic .. . Flesh-eating [is] not compatible with civilized life.” Regarding the Hendrickses as Henry Salt’s representatives on earth, I have mailed to Salt, in the care of George and Willene, my troubled response, which here I pass along to you pretty much as I sent it to Henry. Animal rights are one thing, and regarding the eating of meat as ethically vile is another. Aesthetically vile that’s a matter of mere personal judgement and opinion of the aesthetic kind, not moralizing and prescription. Ethically vile there’s the rub. I suppose, Henry, you would hold me base, barbaric, pre-civilized, that I do eat “dead flesh” roasted, baked, fried, smoked, ensouped, encasseroled, enhamburgered. Ay, and you may be right. There are, however, some difficulties I have espied, musing about the Savour of Meat as well as the Savour of Salt and the Lack of the Savour of Salt without Meat to Salt. I like meat. I would miss meat. FurtherTore, I have been affected, in responding to vegetarianism as if respectfully, by dietetic disquisitions which appear to establish that unless one is a dietetic specialist who takes in certain combinations of corrective beans, without meat one is deprived of certain essential amino acids, or at least one of them. Secondly, I wonder what we are to do about carnivores in nature. In zoos, to be sure, we can feed lions cornflakes, and snakes chocolate mice, but what about in the wild? I am just back in New York City from a month in the Adirondacks wilderness, a paradise with black flies. These flies have a right to eat meat, if I do, and eat me, and therefore meat, they most certainly did. One of them doesn’t just bite you, as a mosquito or some stinging fly might no, he or she tears off a tiny bit of your flesh and flies off with it, that is, with a piece of me, munching away. Henry, what shall we do about the bla’ck flies? Enroll them for a lecture series on vegetarianism at the Ethical Culture. Society? Thirdly, Henry, as to animal rights, I want as a species to be as kindly as we can get ourselves and each other to be, and as gentle, and give as little pain as possible; but I support medical experiments on because I believe it is more important to reduce and relieve human suffering than to serve an ideological ideal of reverence for all life. I believe in giving more ethical weight to the welfare of higher orders of life than to lesser orders, as best we can gauge these subjective categories. I wonder, in the fourth place, how you would enforce vegetarianism, Henry. The problem with being so ferocious about an ethical precept is that you are then morally obliged to enforce and obey it. I am as ferocious as I can muster against the mass murder of human beings, or the stealing from the working people and from the poor that masks itself behind theories of free enterprise. But if I let you prevail in my conscience with your rule, “flesh-eating is not compatible with civilized life,” why, then, Henry, to end such grave evil we must stop this abominable practice. And we have learned rather vividly since your time, Henry, about social idealism when it is translated into institutional requirements, as from Lenin and his successor Stalin, and as now from the likes of Falwell and Swaggart, that there are good limits to what you can defend forcing on people. Will we have hamburger black markets, and dens for roast beef, jerky, and lamb patties, which will be criminalized in law and temple as the dens of dead flesh? Concerning only myself, I am open to being convinced that meat is a vile enthusiasm, and I should give it up; I would hate to be cast outside the warmth of the circle you would set of “a comprehensive and reasoned sympathy,” and “the sense of kinship between all living things.” But are some ideas so beautiful, but also so totalitarian, that they are in their ethical essence an attempt at the domination of life no less ruthless and unkind than armies building pyramids of skulls? Or am I really, at my bottom, just a cynical hedonist, sophistically championing my barbaric and inanimate lusts of the palate, a being ethically inferior to the higher sensibilities that know best what is ethical to eat? Or, is it possible that the more beautiful an idea, the more beautiful also must be, in ambient awareness, sustained perception of evolutionary and ethical complexity, and restraint in applications, our services to it? Henry: Shall I stop eating meat? If so fish, then, too. Oh, hell: plants are alive too. Holy Carrots! Perhaps even you, who could see ahead to the day when we will replace General Foods with General Fruits and Vegetables, did not see ahead yet far enough, to General Edible Minerals! George and Willene Hendrick responded to all this, if not exactly as Salt’s representatives on earth, anyway as intellectual friends who took his point. “We are not vegetarians, either,” George wrote, “but we do have sympathy for his ethical concerns in this matter, concerns similar to those of Henry Thoreau in Walden about food reform.” George signed off, “Cheers from one cannibal to another,” and Willene added: “We did try to become vegetarians, back in the early days of George’s gardening planted soybeans and all. Sarah, our daughter, and I lasted three days before an unbearable craving for a steak set in.” R.D. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5 4f. evra,
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