Never mind how I came to be babysitting a terribly neurotic fellow guest at a friend's house; let's just call her Annie and say that she valued her own precious emotions over reality. Anyway, after an hour of listening to her bewail the Horrors of Existence -- while she polished off a hearty dinner, changed into a prettier suit of clothes and surfed the 100+ channels on TV -- I was getting a wee bit tired of being polite.
And then she got to the subject of: "Oh, it's terrible enough that we have to die. It's unbearably horrible that we have to rot, too!"
For that, I had a comeback. Smiling gently, I retorted: "That's because meat -- live flesh -- is the most valuable food in the world, and everything wants to eat it. All living things are food for other living things, anyway. For example, when the wolf kills the deer -- actually, when a pack of wolves pulls down a deer and kills it -- the wolves eat everything they can: the muscles, the heart, the liver, the kidneys, and they'll even crack open the smaller bones to eat the marrow. But they can't eat everything."
At this point Annie stood up and started to wander away. I got up and followed after her, still giving my explanation.
"When the wolves give up and go away, then the birds come: the buzzards, the crows, the jays -- all the meat-eating birds in the neighborhood. They grab bits of hair and skin to line their nests, and they take any blood or soft tissue they can get: the guts, the glands, the gums and tongue and so on. But they can't get everything either, so when they're done the insects come: the sexton-beetles, the maggot-flies, even certain breeds of ants. They strip off the tendons, the ligaments, the mesenteries, the cartilage -- they take everything but the bones and teeth. And when they're gone, the microbes take over: the soil bacteria and the molds. They take more time, but given long enough they can break down even the teeth and bones. What we call 'rot' is nothing but microbes eating. The reason human bodies rot is because nothing else eats us first."
By now Annie was practically scampering all over the house, trying to outrun my words. I faithfully trotted after her, still talking.
"If you don't want our body to rot, the easiest way to go is arrange to be cremated. Any good crematorium can burn a dead body, even the teeth and bones, down to ashes. Then you can bury the ashes, in a handsome urn, or you can scatter them over the sea, or over some significant place on the earth. Or you can be generous, and donate your body to science. That's what I'm going to do: donate my organs for transplants, to save other people's lives. I've heard that they can even use bones for transplants these days, and of course they can use the corneas of the eyes to give other people sight. Anything that can't be used to help other people, they'll burn to ashes and put in an urn. I'll just have to decide who to leave the urn to..."
At that point Annie snapped out: "I'm going to become a vegetarian!"
I could see the connection of ideas; eating meat would remind her of the fact that someday she too would die and be eaten by something -- unless she made preparations otherwise, which would entail thinking about the nasty fact that, yes, someday she would die.
Well, having no sympathy for people who try to avoid reality, I followed with: "Well, if you're choosing that to be merciful, then you have a problem. Plants too are living things, and there's growing evidence that they have awareness. They protect their young, battle with other species, and communicate with each other -- by chemicals spread through the ground from their roots, or by gasses spread on the air. Flowers have scent not just to attract bees but to pass signal to each other. It's beginning to look as if plants have some sort of awareness, which means that they can feel it when they're cut, or uprooted. And the problem is that plants have no central vital organs, except possibly the corolla -- the section where the stalk joins the roots -- so, unless you can cut them quickly through the corolla, there's no way to kill them quickly and painlessly. They can feel themselves dying, and being cut up, and tossed into boiling water--"
But Annie burst into tears, ran upstairs to her guest bedroom and slammed the door.
I did not chortle, but only shrugged -- and strolled off to the kitchen, looking for something to eat.