Friday 28 October 2016

To eat or not eat meat, that is the question

Eilis O'Hanlon

Published 01/11/2015 | 02:30

MEATY COVERAGE: Sean Moncrieff’s Newstalk show
MEATY COVERAGE: Sean Moncrieff’s Newstalk show

Henry McKean headed down to Meath Street in Dublin for Moncrieff to get shoppers' reaction last Tuesday to the decision by the World Health Organisation to include processed meat such as bacon and sausages on a list of substances that cause cancer.

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"There's no link at all, I don't think," said the first one to whom he spoke. "Everybody eats sausages and rashers."

"And you look really healthy," the Newstalk reporter complimented her. "How do you remain so healthy?"

"Eating sausages and rashers," came the inevitable reply.

A similar scepticism ran throughout the coverage of this issue. Even the experts on Morning Ireland were urging caution. It was quite a contrast to the usual tone in which health scare stories are reported, particularly when it concerns alcohol, obesity or passive smoking, where the potential dangers tend to be played up, rather than down.

It suggests something interesting is going on here, namely that when health directives impact on their lives directly, people are less likely to be receptive to the message. No one thinks they're an alcoholic, so they don't feel the warnings about binge drinking are relevant to them; but as the woman said, "everybody eats sausages and rashers".

This reluctance to consider the implications of one's own behaviour was explored further on BBC Radio Four's Analysis on Monday, which asked: "Is it morally acceptable to kill animals for food?"

Presenter Jo Fidgin isn't a vegetarian. Indeed, as part of the programme, she selected a cow on a farm for slaughter and later ate its meat to see whether that changed how she thought about the issue.

It did. To a point. Fidgin was discomfited ("I've never met an animal I'm going to eat before"), but it didn't make her give up meat. This disconnect between what we say we believe, ie, that animals should not suffer, and what we do, ie, kill them for food, was what the programme explored.

The strongest conclusion was probably that the rarefied arguments of philosophers that there is no clear dividing line between human and non-human animals, so it's morally problematic to eat them, have much less impact on people's thinking than empirical evidence that animals aren't so different from us. Ultimately it just seems to come down to cultural conditioning.

Tara Duggan was in charge of Moncrieff midweek as part of Newstalk's traditional 'Give A Woman A Chance To Sit In For A Few Days While The Men Are On Holiday' policy.

Sean Moncrieff's afternoon show is nothing if not eclectic, and Duggan was more than a match for whatever was thrown at her, not least Thursday's discussion about gender quotas, prompted by the Fianna Fail row.

Over on the other side, Bob Geldof was equally compelling on RTE Radio One's Ray D'Arcy Show, talking about all manner of subjects from music to Travellers to economics to Scottish independence. It was a reminder of what a brilliant mind there is behind all the tabloid tragedies that have dogged his family life.

Sunday Independent

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