A zoonotic thorn in the flesh

COVID-19 has sparked a debate about whether public health should supersede food choices and local culture. We get into the (bush)meat of the matter

The more fundamental something is to existence, the stronger our reactions to it. It’s why religious texts are stubborn about the virtues and vices of food and drink. With farming came civilization, and with civilization came the expectation that we’d outgrow bushmeat or wild meat. Any violation of this expectation is equated with barbarism. We’re taught (not without reason) that what is of the jungle must remain in the jungle, and what is of the city must remain in the city. We retch when “urban jungle” becomes more than an epithet, but also swear by the industrial agriculture that ramped up H5N1 and salmonella and gave us mad cow disease, campylobacter and LA-MRSA. Farmed animals mourn, empathize, plan and have personalities just like their wild counterparts do. But we don’t feel strongly for chicks that are ballooned to adult sizes and livestock that are bred to death. Because we think less of animals that are bred to die for us, and because cultural practices are more embedded than bioethics.

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