‘In the bag’ I imagine must have come from hunting. The gilly, I suppose, carried the bag with all the birds that the hunters had shot. It makes me think about our attitude to hunting and how it has changed. In the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth there was a frenzy of big-game hunting in the
colonies, and no idea of the effect of it or, apparently, of the ethics.
Then there was a revulsion against it, as there was in the States about the careless slaughter of the great herds of bison. But the impression I have is that in the States it is still very popular and carries a weight of meanings about manliness. And still in this country it has a lot of tradition. People aspire to be able to afford to buy shooting rights, and of course there is fox-hunting. It is something I know too little about, but that doesn’t stop me from reflecting on it! Anyway, tradition there is, but it doesn’t appear to
refer to the prey. There does not seem to be any ceremony around them, around their killing or their eating.
It is very different among aboriginal people, whose lives are such that they are close to animals, observe them, and respect them. And the custom of asking permission of the animal to kill it and eat it seems to be widespread among them. (In Africa today such respect is not obvious. Again, I do not know how typical they are, but the poachers there treat animals with apparent brutality.)
Our standard attitude is ambivalent, sentimental, and not very admirable or rational. Of course there are different attitudes, from those who are vegetarian on principle, those who don’t like to think about it but enjoy eating meat, those who do think about it and make distinctions, often hard to justify but clung to, and those whose attitudes have changed because of their experiences.
Basically what I am trying to say, very confusedly, is that I find it very hard to reconcile being a predator, albeit at one remove, with my desire to be loving, peaceable and respectful of all life. And it is the same basic problem as the conundrum of why a beneficent spirit allows suffering. I wish I could share the matter-of-fact attitude of farmers and hunters – and carnivorous vets like my daughter – who manage to eat meat without guilt.