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Meat is Murder?
August 7, 2006 9:42 AM   Subscribe

Is there any ethical justification for eating meat?

I eat meat and tend to feel okay about it most of the time, but I am sometimes troubled about the ethicality of it. Is there any sensible justification for eating meat, or am I going to have to feel guilty or give it up?
posted by ludwig_van to Religion & Philosophy (127 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
Many animals eat meat. It's very nutritrious in the sense that it is calorie-dense and supplies the body with many essentials. Of course, the nutrient qualities of meat have nothing to do with the current state of factory farming; is that what's bothering you about it?
posted by clockzero at 9:46 AM on August 7, 2006


A friend mentioned an article he read recently that hypothesized that PETA et al were extremely likely to revolutionize the meat industry. Not by getting rid of it, but by making it more ethical. Most people probably *do* care about the treatment of the animals that are being slaughtered, in the same way that many animal-rights activists do, but "stop eating meat" is not the only logical solution to that. Today you can get humanely raised, humanely slaughtered meat reasonably easily, and for me, at least, it's an ethical compromise that makes sense. I figure the extra money I pay for it not only ensures that I'm not eating pesticides, antiobiotics, and hormones, but also encourages the rest of the meat industry to move toward more natural/organic/humane practices.
posted by occhiblu at 9:47 AM on August 7, 2006


(That is to say, paying extra for humane meat is likely, in my eyes, to convice the entire industry that treating animals humanely is profitable; giving up meat entirely is unlikely to change things as quickly. Mainly because industries cater to people willing to pay extra money, instead of those spending no money.)
posted by occhiblu at 9:49 AM on August 7, 2006


Ethically, if you define ethics as the most amount of good for the most amount of sentient beings, my opinion is: No.

Why? Because our survival in no way depends upon it, and living without it has a positive, not negative, effect on human health.

For animals, the negative aspects of a carnivorous diet are obvious and FAR exceed mere death.
posted by Shane at 9:52 AM on August 7, 2006


I get where you're coming from. Like Peter Singer's attitudes: He concludes that the use of animals for food is unjustifiable because it creates unnecessary suffering, and considers veganism the most fully justifiable diet.

I tend to agree with him, which makes me feel bad (momentarily) about enjoying ice cream.
posted by skryche at 9:53 AM on August 7, 2006


It provides essential complete proteins that you can't get anywhere else (except succotash-type dishes...which really aren't that good).

Does your guilt come from eating animals or from the way animals are treated when raised/butchered? If it's the former, I think clockzero answered your question. If it's the latter, I'd say be selective with what meats you eat, as occhiblu suggested.
posted by BradNelson at 9:54 AM on August 7, 2006


There was a brilliant essay awhile back in Harper's called "The Oil We Eat," which argues (among other things) that procuring one's own meat is in fact the most ethical (or at least most sustainable) way to feed one's self. Worth reading for this and many other reasons.

Beyond that, I'm doing my best to slowly reduce my ecological footprint, and I can certainly justify eating the excellent local lamb and small-farm free-range chicken from my farmers' market much more easily than, say, couscous shipped in from Morocco. (And the ecology of industrially produced tofu is worse still, from what I understand.)

It follows from "The Oil We Eat" argument that from an ethical standpoint the best thing you can do for the planet (and hence for humanity as a whole) is reduce the petrochemicals required to produce your food and the distance it has to travel to get to you. I'm sure many vegetarians (and every vegan I've ever met) would disagree strongly with me, but then I'm pretty sure the only rights animals have are the ones we decide to grant them (rights being, to my mind, an utterly human invention).
posted by gompa at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2006 [2 favorites]


my opinion also is No, for the reasons shane said.
I tend not to be absolutist about it tho; i see it, rather, as something a 'higher' civilization would eventually accomplish (ie, a vegetarian society), BUT would accomplish it by voluntary acts by its citizens based on their own knowledge of its benefits and ethics (as opposed to by decree).

(I love using the phrase 'higher civilization' because it pisses people off, especially my meat-eating friends ;)
But I actually think such a society WOULD be a higher civilization, atleast in this regard.
posted by jak68 at 9:56 AM on August 7, 2006


I tend to find the ethics of minimal to no meat eating more persuasive, but I'll take a crack at this.

1.) Tradition. Humans have hunted an eaten meat for a loooong time.
Related to this, one could argue that hunting keeps skills alive that may be needed in the future. And, ethically, if you hunt you need to eat what you kill.
2.) Meat is a great source of protein, and other nutrients. While I think we tend to get way too much protein in our diets because we have such immediate access to it, it is hard to deny that meat is an excellent vehicle for it.
because of this, and the abundance of meat available I would argue that it contributes to longevity of life, overall, even though such over consumption may be also individually bad for you.
3) I think there is a more ethical way to eat meat, personally hunted/killed vs. McDonalds mindlessness.

In the end it is more of a continuum, some things are obviously indefensible, and some things are ethical but impractical
posted by edgeways at 9:58 AM on August 7, 2006


Re "Humane meat": it rarely exists. Free range, for example, means having access to the outdoors and sunlight.

It has been shown that this often means tens of thousands of chickens in a huge concrete-floored shed instead of battery cages. There may be a small hole in one wall that leads out to a fenced-in area with gravel ground. Not only can nearly none of the chickens make it out, but the outside environment is despicable to them. They cannot walk well on gravel, cannot insticnively grouse and peck for food without dirt, and are in an exposed area where they feel vulnerable to hawks (chickens like to stay close to bushes or cover from predators.)

Free range for cows can include concrete-floored stalls that do not allow the cattle to turn around or move but that allow them an hour or two of sunshine a day and some fresh air.

It's all a sham.
posted by Shane at 9:58 AM on August 7, 2006


The earth cannot sustain a planet of non-meat eaters with 6 billion and counting. Also, the earth is full of terrians which cannot be farmed but animals can be raised on. In many coastal communities fish is the only source of calorie and vitamin dense foods.

Outside of wealthy industrialized nations which fortify their foods, meat is the only available source of needed nutrients like B vitamins.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2006


Meat is a great source of protein, and other nutrients. While I think we tend to get way too much protein in our diets because we have such immediate access to it, it is hard to deny that meat is an excellent vehicle for it.

You can get the same protein from grains, legumes and vegetables without running it through a cow's digestive system first, LOL. and it costs a tiny fraction of the cost of meat to eat what is directly grown in the soil rather than to grow feed and feed it to cattle then kill and eat the cattle.

All this is old news dating back to Diet for a Small Planet and before.

By switching to a vegetarian diet you can also save the Earth more greenhouse gases than by switching from an SUV to a Prius. Literally.

The good ethics of a vegetarian or vegan diet go on for pages and pages...

The earth cannot sustain a planet of non-meat eaters with 6 billion and counting. Also, the earth is full of terrians which cannot be farmed but animals can be raised on.

Sorry, but again this has been disproved for ages and I have to call bullshit. If you can graze cattle on it, you can raise food on it.
posted by Shane at 10:04 AM on August 7, 2006


Possibly, but the quality of cattle foodstuffs is well below what humans typically get and may need. Arguably, this is not feasible because the economic interests once deprived of being able to sell meat, would sell more profitable cash crops (like tobacco) instead of low-yield low-profit grains.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2006


Depending on your starting principles, you can ethically justify almost anything.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2006


I wouldnt be so quick to call out 'bullshit' either. A traditional vegetarian diet has been shown to cause blindness and other problems because of a lack of vitamin A, which traditionally is had through animal products. This is why golden rice was made.

I feel its important to include poor countries in to the equation here. If this diet is universally good then why has it been shown to be universally bad to people who aren't wealthy westerners with access to fortified foods and vitamins.

As for the 'higher civilization.' They're no better than us, just much much wealthier. If they can afford to pick and choose what they eat (worldwide) then good for them. In the real world we have starvation and malnutrition to address first. Then wealth building. Then comes the luxury asking yourself if eating meat or fish is necessarily wrong. I'd rather see all humans healthy and happy as meat-eaters then poor and dying as vegetarians for the "good of animals."

As stated above, what are you assumptions? Are you saying "whats ethical for me as an overfed American?" Or "Whats ethical for all people considering how life is right now."
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2006


Many animals also rape, murder, and mame.

Many animals eat meat. It's very nutritrious in the sense that it is calorie-dense and supplies the body with many essentials. Of course, the nutrient qualities of meat have nothing to do with the current state of factory farming; is that what's bothering you about it?
posted by ifranzen at 10:20 AM on August 7, 2006


How about milk, not just meat?

Milk cows live cooped up in factory farms, pumped full of hormones, chemicals and antibiotics, kept constantly pregnant and lactating by hormnones like "Posi-Lact," and their newborn young go to the veal industry.

Veal calves are starved and kept in tiny crates so they cannot move, resulting in "tender veal meat."

Drink milk and you're contributing to the veal industry. Even "organic" or "free range" milk almost ALWAYS comes from cows whose calves are constantly sent off for veal production.

How about Mad Cow Disease and e-coli? Read Fast Food Nation as well as other books that contain testimony from (usually illegal immigrant) factory slaughterhouses and you'll find that the assembly-line, fast-paced slaughter process results in brain, spinal matter, and shit in the meat. There's nothing sanitary about a sluaghterhouse or careful about the process.

How about the potential bird flu epidemic? Even gov't officials have admitted that factory farming is making it spread and mutate. Hundreds of thousands of chickens, all living in incredibly SICK conditions in feces and urine and ammonia fumes, all of them with compromised immune systems, all of them packed into an area in which one diseased chicken spreads it to all the others practically immediately in the cramped space...

Just think about it all.

For your health alone, the best thing you can do for yourself is give up meat. That's not to mention the health of the animals and the overall health of the planet.

ETHICS? There you have it.

(And trust me, I'm 40-years-old, people think I'm <3 0, i'm in ass-kicking physical shape, and i'm vegan. all that protein deficiency bullshit is bullshit. and vitamin b12 deficiency? it's a bacteria. you cook meat, you kill the b12. i eat a little nutritional or brewer's yeast and take a supplement or two and i probably have much better b12 stores than any carnivore. i could go and and so easily... in the end, though, the decision is personal and it is your decision and i'll not tell you or anyone else what to do.)/small>
posted by Shane at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2006


Re "Humane meat": it rarely exists.

While this is true of many of the large-scale farms, it's not always true of all meat labelled natural or humane or free-range.

Though I do live in Northern California, home of hippies, small farms, and the agricultural land of milk and honey, so I do realize that access to such things may be easier here than in the rest of the country. But the incredible farmers' markets are actually one of the reasons I moved here.
posted by occhiblu at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2006


If you're a God person, there's always "God put animals here for us to eat them."

Disclaimer: I'm a vegetarian. (The above reasoning is tossed about a lot in the Orthododox Jewish community, which I grew up in. And it's actually sometimes used as a reason that vegetarianism is wrong--"you're trying to be more moral than God?")
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2006


I think there's an ethical argument for eating meat, but it's not anywhere near as simple as that for vegetarianism or veganism. My argument would be basically that in certain situations the efficiency of eating meat allows for more ethical behavior that more than outweighs the ethical problems of doing so. For an extreme example, in some areas of the world, it's either eat meat or die, and it's hard to do good in the world when you're dead, so eating meat is the more ethical choice.

Depending on your circumstances, you face a less extreme version of that, where you can either eat meat and spend your time doing good things, or avoid meat and spend your time avoiding meat. But this assumes you do spend your time doing good things and you would have to spend time avoiding meat.

I'd suggest you have more important ethical considerations than your diet. For example, you could be out saving the world and instead you're here on MetaFilter.
posted by scottreynen at 10:24 AM on August 7, 2006


The earth cannot sustain a planet of non-meat eaters with 6 billion and counting.

Can't google right now, but this strikes me as very confused. The way to maximize the agricultural production of any amount of land is to raise crops, not livestock. Livestock must also be fed, and only approximately 10% of the caloric content of food is tranferred carnivorously. In other words, if the amount of land used to feed one cow were instead used to grow crops for people, you could feed approximately 10x as many people as the cow would.

As yet, unlike Shane, I wouldn't call this a major ethical objection to meat though, since studies have shown that we have more than enough agricultural productivity to feed everyone easily. The reason people starve, as Amartya Sen showed, is because of problems in the distribution of food, such as government corruption and non-existent economies.
posted by gsteff at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2006


I don't think the "it's natural" or "it's been done for a long time" arguments are very good ones for what are probably the obvious reasons. I'm inclined to feel the same way about the nutrition argument, as it seems possible to get the same nutrients from non-animal sources, but I'm not a dietician.

As stated above, what are you assumptions? Are you saying "whats ethical for me as an overfed American?" Or "Whats ethical for all people considering how life is right now."

For me, I suppose.

I eat meat because I like it and that's how I was brought up, but I don't like to think that I'm causing unnecessary/unjustifiable suffering and pollution.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:27 AM on August 7, 2006


If you're a God person, there's always "God put animals here for us to eat them."

The Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)
has their own take on this and debunks many of the common Bible quotes casually thrown about to justify carnivores.

Just FYI, as far as kosher slaughter goes, a Jewish PhD, the head of the Tufts School of Veterinarian Medicine, explained to me that it is not humane. Cows have multiple large arteries leading to their brains, and cutting the "jugulars" does not result in a quick or humane death.
posted by Shane at 10:28 AM on August 7, 2006


If you're a God person, there's always "God put animals here for us to eat them."

That doesn't work for me either, I'm afraid.

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful responses so far.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2006


Also for many farmers its empowering. By mixing meat and grains they can eat what they need, survive an event that damages the crops but not the animals, and sell what they don't use. The efficiency of of being an omnivore and farming like one is good in itself.

Contrast the self-sufficient farmer to the starving over-populated urban or desert dwellers dependant purely on the goverment to feed them. Malice or incompetence in office means these unempowered people die.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2006


"It's all a sham."

Clearly, Shane's in the mood to lecture, not convince. There are plenty of ethical people who eat meat, and apparently only a small percentage of vegans who find evangelicalism unethical.

I'm concerned about the impacts and ethics of my diet, too, so I try to educate myself about the sourcing and living conditions of the animals that I eat, as well as other considerations like food miles (how far the food has traveled to get to me) and feeding efficiency. And there are many small farmers who care deeply about the quality of their livestock's lives, the quality of the food they produce, and the health of the people who eat their animal products. You can easily identify these farmers because their meat costs a lot more. :)

Here's what I'd recommend:

* Identify your ethical qualms or concerns.
* Define what kinds of behaviors or problems you're concerned about, as specifically as you can. ("I think factory farming is inhumane." "I don't want to eat animals that are fed meat instead of grain.")
* Educate yourself about the food options you have. Independent butchers, smaller local shops, direct-from-the-farmer suppliers, and yes, even Whole Foods can all play a role in giving you ethical sources of meat.
* Educate yourself about good food and cooking in general. Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" is a fantastic place to start.
* Make your first attempt at eating in a way that matches your guidelines, and iterate over time.

Special bonus tip!
* Don't listen to holier-than-thou advocates on either side who'll preach to you about their extremism. For your health alone, the best thing you can do for yourself is make good choices about what goes in your body, and where it comes from. Well-raised animals are tasteir. Happier animals = happier humans.
posted by anildash at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2006 [6 favorites]


Is there any ethical justification for eating meat?
Why does it need to be justified at all? If we're talking about ethics of eating meat, then the burden of proof is on its opponents to prove that it's not ethical.
posted by magodesky at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2006


In order to be able to suffer (that is, to have a conscious experience of pain), animals have to have phenomenal consciousness.
So if you assume that animals don't have phenomenal consciousness (and there are some pretty good arguments for that), there's really no ethical problem.
(This reasoning of course has some implications that most people -including me- find problematic to say the least.)
posted by snownoid at 10:36 AM on August 7, 2006


I'm a vegetarian, I've been a vegetarian my whole life, I doubt I'll ever be a meat eater.
But here are some arguments that I do and don't find compelling—

The arguments from tradition, nutrition and nature are bullshit.

But the Buddhist/mendicant belief that you should accept food that is offered to you is compelling. One of the only situations where I could see myself eating meat is if I was in a third world country and would be a greater imposition by insisting on vegetarianism.
I do believe that there is gradiation to consciousness and I do believe that there is gradiation to suffering, and am a realist (generally). I have family that farm (sheep, cows, chickens) and I've seen the variety of treatments that the livestock undergoes. Even "humane" slaughter is slaughter, and that's something that I'd rather not be a part of.
Again, with that said, I'd refer to the philosophy of being no more a burden by tempering my diet with the real world around me. While I don't hesitate to remain vegetarian here in the West, I also realize that this simply isn't an option in many places and I don't hold myself as somehow superior for my diet (something that bugs the shit out of me from fellow vegetarians— Herbavore Magazine, I'm looking at you).
posted by klangklangston at 10:40 AM on August 7, 2006


Shane: Temple Grandin has some interesting stuff about that (Jewish and Muslim ritual slaughter) on her website. (Apologies for the derail)
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2006


If everyone decides to stop eating meat tomorrow, the beef farmers will not be able to make any money selling their cows. If they have to continue wasting money on feed without being able to sell their cows, they will go broke. Most farmers, if faced with this situation will just kill and bury their cows and move on to something profitable. So are you willing to condone the wholesale slaughter of cows and waste of good meat because of your refusal to support the beef industry?
posted by JJ86 at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2006


"Why does it need to be justified at all? If we're talking about ethics of eating meat, then the burden of proof is on its opponents to prove that it's not ethical."

Not at all. The burden is always on someone who wants to take positive action to justify that action's morality.
posted by klangklangston at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2006


I'd say that "I enjoy it" is reason enough.

I mean, are you looking for some sort of reason that eating meat is somehow ethically superior to veganism, or that vegans are immoral? You won't find one.

If you come at it with a notion that animals have a right not to be eaten, of course you'll favor vegetarianism. I find it difficult to take what amounts to being against heterotrophy seriously, but others don't. If you don't think there's any such thing as a right not to be eaten inherent to all flesh, then veganism, omnivorism, or outright autotrophy all have the moral significance of your shoe size.

Meat takes more resources to create than vegetarian food does. If this really bothers you, you can always cut down on resources consumed elsewhere in your life. I would not worry that the grain that created your steak could have fed an African village for a week or whatever; that food wasn't going there in any case, and you can yourself buy enough grain to bury that village hip-deep if you want to. People aren't starving because you eat too much meat; they're starving primarily because their governments find it expedient for them to starve.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:43 AM on August 7, 2006


JJ86— As far as I know, there isn't any specific prize for bad faith arguments, so you can stop trying to win it.
posted by klangklangston at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2006


If you can graze cattle on it, you can raise food on it.

If you're going to drown this thread with your vegan rhetoric, you could at least have the courtesy to read the arguments you're trying to refute. If you had continued to his next sentence, you'd see that The Ghost of Ken Lay wasn't referring to animals that graze: "In many coastal communities fish is the only source of calorie and vitamin dense foods."

You want an ethical justification for eating meat? According to what I've read, smart people disagree about whether a vegan diet can provide as much nutrition as a balanced diet — and absent a scientific consensus, you should adhere to the diet most likely to benefit your health because you have an ethical responsibility to your family and to your children to remain alive.
posted by cribcage at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2006


And the angel of the lord came unto me, snatching me up from my place of slumber. And took me on high, and higher still until we moved to the spaces betwixt the air itself. And he brought me into a vast farmlands of our own midwest. And as we descended, cries of impending doom rose from the soil. One thousand, nay a million voices full of fear. And terror possesed me then. And I begged, "Angel of the Lord, what are these tortured screams?" And the angel said unto me, "These are the cries of the carrots, the cries of the carrots! You see, Reverend Maynard, tomorrow is harvest day and to them it is the holocaust." And I sprang from my slumber drenched in sweat like the tears of one million terrified brothers and roared, "Hear me now, I have seen the light! They have a consciousness, they have a life, they have a soul! Damn you! Let the rabbits wear glasses! Save our brothers!" Can I get an amen? Can I get a hallelujah? Thank you Jesus.
Life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on life feeds on...
posted by prostyle at 10:48 AM on August 7, 2006


I eat meat because I like it and that's how I was brought up, but I don't like to think that I'm causing unnecessary/unjustifiable suffering and pollution.'

Hunt, debone, clean and cook your own meat if you feel strongly about it.

Or as a product of current culture, realize that you don't need the dense or huge amount of calories that our manual labor ancestors needed and switch to veggies.

Keep in mind that since you're worried about "unnecessary/unjustifiable suffering and pollution", that there are other things you can do to combat this besides (or addition to) not eating meat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2006


Most nutritional arguments against vegetarianism are moot, as posting to AskMeFi more or less indicates someone with a level of education and income to be able to obtain the nutrients to balance his/her diet effectively. While a 19th-century polar explorer would probably have died of scurvy without eating raw seal meat, that would hardly justify the eating of it today.

If you like eating meat, eat it. Be the judge of your own ethics. I have more respect for an unrepentant omnivore than a guilty aggressor who ridicules other people's dietary choices.

(Disclaimer: vegetarian with vegan aympathies)
posted by methylsalicylate at 10:49 AM on August 7, 2006


ludwig_van, I respect you in any decision you make. But if you ever would like more info on easy ways to go veg or cut down meat consumption and eat non-meats, I'd love to oblige.

Also--you're in PA?--I'd be glad to gather a few friends and go out to Farm Sanctuary with you, where you'll meet INCREDIBLE, cool, friendly people, and animals who are the same. I was just there this last weekend and it was inspiring and enlightening (as well as a major party time.) This Summerfest is a FANTASTIC experience too, and I might be able to work out a good rate or something for you for the next one.

I'm not pushing, but if you ever want to know more, just ask.
"It's all a sham."

Clearly, Shane's in the mood to lecture, not convince. There are plenty of ethical people who eat meat, and apparently only a small percentage of vegans who find evangelicalism unethical.
I'm not going to take the bait and get emotional about anildash's inflammatory remarks, especially since I obviously provoked some kind of extreme (possibly guilt?) reaction from him, but I'll say this: if you buy free range products, you really have to research the source, because in most cases, especially in major grocery stores, it IS a sham. If you know the small farmer who raises your "meat" and s/he raises them TRULY free range, without chemicals that are harmful to you (including pesticide on their feed, which is common), and s/he slaughters them humanely, I don't have time to have any objection to TRULY free range organic "meat." It bothers me nearly not at all.

If everyone decides to stop eating meat tomorrow, the beef farmers will not be able to make any money selling their cows. If they have to continue wasting money on feed without being able to sell their cows, they will go broke.

The organic market is booming and is crying out for farmers to supply fruits and veggies. Why can't beef farmers, who are always going out of business anyway except for a select HUGE few, switch to selling to the organic market? It certainly puzzles the people who know of the situation.
posted by Shane at 10:50 AM on August 7, 2006


Animals have no inherent moral value; moral obligations exist only between human beings. Animals are purely instrumental to human ends. A being that cannot bear responsibilities cannot assume rights.

It is easier for us to be fed and nourished properly if we consume meat, because we are naturally omnivorous; we cannot break down cellulose the way herbivores can, and our teeth are not designed for a diet of plants.

Given that our moral obligations extend only to our species, it is morally preferable, or at least permissible, for us to maximize the convenience of our nourishment at the expense of animals. An animal can make no moral claim on our behaviour so long as that behaviour contributes to the furtherance of non-trivial human ends. (Good, easy nourishment is a non-trivial human end; the joy derived from torturing a cat, for instance, is trivial.)

That may not be a good argument, but there it is anyway, for your consideration.
posted by Dasein at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2006


I mean, are you looking for some sort of reason that eating meat is somehow ethically superior to veganism, or that vegans are immoral? You won't find one.

No, I'm looking for a way that eating meat can be ethically justifiable when the option to not eat meat is available.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2006


Also:

Keep in mind that since you're worried about "unnecessary/unjustifiable suffering and pollution", that there are other things you can do to combat this besides (or addition to) not eating meat.

Of course. Still, I like to be able to feel comfortable with the state of my general patterns of behavior, and eating meat is currently one of them.

I can understand the position of "Eating meat may not be the best choice, but I try to make up for it with my other choices," though.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:54 AM on August 7, 2006


How is "ease" not "trivial?" You're post was strong until that.
posted by NortonDC at 10:56 AM on August 7, 2006


er, "your."
posted by NortonDC at 10:57 AM on August 7, 2006


Not at all. The burden is always on someone who wants to take positive action to justify that action's morality.
But most meat-eaters aren't saying that people have a moral duty to eat meat. Rather, the argument is that eating meat is morally neutral. There's no need to justify it just like there's no need to justify any other day to day activity. Do you feel a need to defend yourself for getting out of bed in the morning? Or for brushing your teeth? Or cleaning your room? Of course not. Because the burden of proof rests on those who want to claim that the activity is not neutral. There's simply no reason to justify everything you do until and unless someone provides a compelling reason for why its is wrong.
posted by magodesky at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2006


Animals have no inherent moral value; moral obligations exist only between human beings. Animals are purely instrumental to human ends. A being that cannot bear responsibilities cannot assume rights.

That sounds remarkably close to the rhetoric of American slave owners before emancipation.
posted by Shane at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2006


Shane: "and vitamin b12 deficiency? it's a bacteria. you cook meat, you kill the b12."

B12
is not
Bacteria

Whole Foods
is doing more to make producers treat their animals humanely than PETA ever will.

My ethical basis: Life feeds on life. According to Hinduism, everyone has their place in society, and it's not everyone's place to live the life of a renunciate, so selling all your worldly belongings and forgoing efforts to try to make the world a better place for at least some people is unethical. You have to pick your battles. For some people, vegetarianism isn't right.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:07 AM on August 7, 2006


Animals have no inherent moral value; moral obligations exist only between human beings. Animals are purely instrumental to human ends. A being that cannot bear responsibilities cannot assume rights...

This is a very fancy way of saying, "Because."
posted by gsteff at 11:08 AM on August 7, 2006


"But most meat-eaters aren't saying that people have a moral duty to eat meat. Rather, the argument is that eating meat is morally neutral. There's no need to justify it just like there's no need to justify any other day to day activity. Do you feel a need to defend yourself for getting out of bed in the morning? Or for brushing your teeth? Or cleaning your room? Of course not. Because the burden of proof rests on those who want to claim that the activity is not neutral. There's simply no reason to justify everything you do until and unless someone provides a compelling reason for why its is wrong."

At the risk of derail, all of those actions you listed do have fairly simple justifications. That those justifications are readily apparent is why people don't bother justifying them. But when toothbrushes were introduced, their use had to be justified.
The primary justification for a meat diet, that the ease of transporting live meat made it able to reach areas where fresh vegetables could not, has fallen away. That is opposed to the fact that every meal made of meat stems from the death of a creature that can feel pain and understand pain.
So, again, those who which to take a positive action must justify it.
(And we're leaving aside the fact that no action that involves more than the individual is morally neutral).
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 AM on August 7, 2006


There's no need to justify it just like there's no need to justify any other day to day activity. Do you feel a need to defend yourself for getting out of bed in the morning?

magodesky, I think the fact that animals are alive and as far as we can tell are capable of experiencing pain and suffering puts eating meat into a different class of actions than getting out of bed in the morning.

However:

That sounds remarkably close to the rhetoric of American slave owners before emancipation.

Animals aren't humans, and I don't think that all moral laws that apply to humans apply equally to animals. I really don't feel that comparisons of meat eating to slavery and the Holocaust are appropriate.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2006


Not to imply that you mentioned the Holocaust, Shane, but I saw someone make that comparison somewhere else today, and I've seen it in the past as well.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:12 AM on August 7, 2006


Troy: Don't kid yourself, Jimmy! If a cow ever got the chance, he would eat you and everyone you cared about!
[Dramatic zoom onto a cow.]
Jimmy: Wow, Mr. McClure. I was a Grade A moron to ever question eating meat.
Troy: You sure were, Jimmy. You sure were. [begins rubbing Jimmy's head]
Jimmy: You're...hurting...me!
[source]
Ergo: It's us or them. That's a pretty good reason.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:12 AM on August 7, 2006


Anyways, saying eating meat is wrong is the equivalent of saying it is wrong for carnivores to exist. Lions, Tigers, and Bears (sort of), oh my!
posted by blue_beetle at 11:14 AM on August 7, 2006


B12
is not
Bacteria


Okay, okay: Cows pull up grass from the ground with some dirt containing bacteria. THAT bacteria is the source of B12 in meat. Cook the meat, you cook out the baccteria, you cook out the B12.

Sheesh, I was trying to give you the short answer.
;-)

Anyways, saying eating meat is wrong is the equivalent of saying it is wrong for carnivores to exist. Lions, Tigers, and Bears (sort of), oh my!

Naw! 'Cuz animals are creatures of instinct. Humans are creatures of choice.
posted by Shane at 11:22 AM on August 7, 2006


I have severe problems with low blood sugar if I don't eat meat and a lot of it. I've tried every other dietary restriction I could think of that seemed even halfway reasonable. The all-meat-all-the-time diet is the only thing that works. So I figure I have a valid justification for doing it.
posted by Clay201 at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2006


There are basically three arguments for eating meat: (1) tradition (2) pleasure (3) pragmatic benefits. Of course, most of these are weak arguments if you posit the existence of a non-human consciousness. But since the concept of a "non-human consciousness " is nonsense then it doesn't really matter which reason you choose.

And yes, this is simply a matter of definitions. Even if you accept that animals are not just dumb robots it remains the case that any sort of animal "consciousness" must be so fundamentally alien that it cannot be called consciousness (as we know it) in any meaningful way. This is the crux of the issue. The real question is whether certain animals are human enough to be accorded the special privileges we collectively grant humans. And it's a path that many people are simply unwilling to follow. Very few people will ever allow for a meaingful continuity between man and beast because once we begin grading animals on the "human scale" we will end up grading humans on the "human scale" and we will be unable to escape the calamitous conclusion that some people are more human than others. This is where "weak vegetarianism" falls apart.

"Why does it need to be justified at all? If we're talking about ethics of eating meat, then the burden of proof is on its opponents to prove that it's not ethical."

Not at all. The burden is always on someone who wants to take positive action to justify that action's morality.


This isn't really the case and this argument reveals the basic flaw in the vegitarian argument. If you posit that eating meat is an ethical decision it doesn't necessarily follow that it requires ethical justification. There are a class ethical decisions that escape meaningful ethical justification. The base example are random acts of kindness. While performing a random act of kindness is widely recognized as ethically good, few people would regard the failure to perform a kind act to a stranger as an ethical failure. The decision to perform a random kind act is an ethical decision but it exists outside of any clear ethical framework. In the same way, you might regard eating meat as ethically "wrong" but you'd be hard pressed to argue that eating meat is a "sin" and it represents a true ethical failure on the part of the individual. Thus the real answer may not be simply a matter of "right" and "wrong." Rather you might say people who eat meat are like people who leave the water running while they brush teeth. Collectively they're making the world a worse place but they're not really doing anything "wrong."

None of the above may make any sense. That's the problem with liquid lunches.
posted by nixerman at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2006


You're worried in part by unnecessary suffering -- Temple Grandin has done a great deal to change the slaughtering industry, particularly cattle. She has figured out a lot about what makes cows happy or scared, and makes sure that they are happy as much as possible (including not being scared when they are killed). I think that's a good approach in terms of limiting suffering. (Disclaimer: I don't actually eat beef.)

In terms of morals, I have personally felt bad about things like thinning carrots, and when I'm very attached to my plants (anything in my garden that needs help) it can be very difficult to harvest it, if harvesting requires pulling up the whole plant. And yet, we do have to eat. So I do it, but I think if you think this way, the guilt may not go away unless you get extreme (like fruitarianism).

Perhaps you could eat only animals that eat meat themselves? (Thus being no worse morally than them?)
posted by Margalo Epps at 11:27 AM on August 7, 2006


I wouldnt be so quick to call out 'bullshit' either. A traditional vegetarian diet has been shown to cause blindness and other problems because of a lack of vitamin A, which traditionally is had through animal products. This is why golden rice was made.
Vitamin A deficiency is certainly something you want to avoid, but that has pretty much nothing to with maintaining a vegetarian diet or not, as there are many good vegetarian sources (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retinol#Good_sources).
posted by thedward at 11:29 AM on August 7, 2006


At the risk of derail, all of those actions you listed do have fairly simple justifications. That those justifications are readily apparent is why people don't bother justifying them.
True, but then again, the justification for eating meat was considered to be readily apparent for millions of years before vegetarians came along.
The primary justification for a meat diet, that the ease of transporting live meat made it able to reach areas where fresh vegetables could not, has fallen away.
I don't think that was really the "primary" justification for eating meat, since humans have been eating meat since long before transportation was an issue. In fact, humans have been eating meat for as long as there have been humans. Eating meat is largely what made us human.
That is opposed to the fact that every meal made of meat stems from the death of a creature that can feel pain and understand pain.
With all due respect, how do you know that a plant can't feel pain?

Also, the fact that animals are capable of suffering is not a valid argument against eating meat, as making animals suffer is not a requirement for producing meat. Animals can be killed with little to no suffering. So linking the eating of meat to the treatment of animals by factory farms is simply an association fallacy.

On the moral value of animals - Dasein actually has a point, although it may not be entirely intuitive. Morality is a manmade invention. Ethical systems were created by humans and for humans. As Carl Cohen puts it, "the holders of rights must have the capacity to comprehend rules of duty governing all, including themselves. In applying such rules, the holders of rights must recognize possible conflicts between what is in their own interest and what is just. Only in a community of beings capable of self-restricting moral judgments can the concept of a right be correctly invoked."

On the argument that land used for grazing can be used to grow vegetables - This is simply untrue. Much of the farmland used for raising animals is completely unsuitable for growing food crops.
posted by magodesky at 11:33 AM on August 7, 2006


Just to sort of clarify my earlier post: while I think there are arguments (ethicial, social, economical, nutritional) to be made in favour of a vegetarian (or predominantly vegetarian) diet over an omnivorous one, I don't think there's an ethical obligation to avoid taking the lives of animals for your own survival. (That also might be debatable.)

Point being: I believe that you do have an ethical obligation to reduce your (and your community's) greenhouse-gas emissions to sustainable levels. Failing to do so - whether by general over-consumption or by subsisting on exotic grains at the end of 10,000-km supply lines - is contemptuous of the future of humanity. If this is best accomplished by favouring locally produced, petrochemical-free foods of any sort over vegan-approved stuff trucked in from the other side of the country (or the world), that to my mind is the only ethical choice. Thus, for example, the ethical choice between Hutterite eggs from 100 km south of the market stall and tofu made in Taiwan is the eggs.
posted by gompa at 11:34 AM on August 7, 2006


Clay201: I might just send your low blood sugar/meat = solution to a couple nutritionists/MDs and let you know what they say, if you don't mind. I'm sure you've tried EVERYTHING, it's just that I can't get my head around the idea that there's not a solution, maybe with true WHOLE whole grains (not processed, "enriched" grains that digest as quickly as refined sugar and that were stripped of 15+ nutrients and had 5 put back in), or maybe beans and legumes. Beans are one of the few foods that beat 1-to-10 ratio fiber-to-carbs and digest very slowly. Anyway, your situation sounds challenging and it boggles what I've learned of nutrition.
posted by Shane at 11:35 AM on August 7, 2006


I think that the transportation issue, and perhaps also energy used in storage, is the best arguement in favor of eating meat, especially in winter -- local produce is going to be scarce when it's not growing/harvest season, yet it's possible that local livestock can be "harvested" year round.

Of course there are holes in this idea, and ways around it, but that's my thought.

I'm vegetarian, though, and I can't bring myself to eat meat any time.
posted by amtho at 11:35 AM on August 7, 2006


The same ignorant statement about B12 being a bacteria is the number 1 link on google for B12 synthesis. The second link, however, is the link to published, peer-reviewed articles. Considering that B12 is made by human intestinal bacteria, are you sure that the cow's gut symbiotes aren't the ones making it? Or were you just giving me the short version again?

My girlfriend says the main reason she's not vegetarian is because she's never met a happy vegan.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:37 AM on August 7, 2006


...the transportation issue, and perhaps also energy used in storage...

That's a very valid point, although I don't see eating meat as a good solution. It's great that you're thinking about eating foods grown local and in-season, though.
posted by Shane at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2006


I love the vegetarian debate. It is unique among discussions of moral philosophy in that it places a man's future consumption of cheeseburgers in the balance. The essential questions which can be debated ad infinitum, are, as I see it, these:

- Are animals sentient creatures?
- Is it wrong to kill a sentient creature for food?
- Is it wrong to kill a sentient creature for food when you don't strictly have to?

I give animals the benefit of the doubt.
posted by greytape at 11:38 AM on August 7, 2006


My, but we're good at having converations about controversial topic with a high light-to-heat ratio. I'm very proud of us. ;-)

Some people are Ethics vegetarians, and some are Health vegetarians, and, of course, some are omnivores.

The "man is naturally not an omnivore" arguments seem to have been reliably debunked, to me, but I *am* an omnivore.

That said, there are good arguments to be made that there are *entirely* too many gallons of water in a hamburger, and that the traditional production methods of meat and poultry leave much to be desired.
posted by baylink at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2006


P1: Humans are animals.
P2: Some animals eat other animals, as per the natural order of things.
C: Eating other animals is natural, and therefore ethical.

You can't consider anything that's in our nature to be "wrong", even murder and stealing. Sure, we can lock them up so they won't do it again, but it doesn't mean what they did was wrong.

You first have to define exactly what ethics are first, and how we can arrive at an ethical standpoint, and finally you can make a judgement about this. Also remember, many other cultures are going to have completely conflicting views on these ideas (subjective ethics; Singer tried to shut the idea down and failed, IMO).
posted by triolus at 11:43 AM on August 7, 2006


dasein is to the "god people" as intelligent design is to creationism. And even more easily refuted. I'll quote Jeremy Bentham: "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"

I'm a meat-eater (mostly fish these days), and I don't apologize for it, but I am aware that at some level it does impose suffering.

There is land that would be impossible or uneconomical to turn into farmland, but that can be and is used as grazing land (for that matter, there's a lot of land that has been uneconomically converted to farmland. See: California). In fact, I'm surrounded by it. Obviously a minority of cattle is raised on such land, so this does not defeat the environmental argument against meat, it just mitigates it.
posted by adamrice at 11:44 AM on August 7, 2006


Piraro/Bizarro has some humor mixed in with his own reasons he went vegan.
posted by Shane at 11:54 AM on August 7, 2006


Why do you allow the preachy and the self-righteous to have this kind of power over you, to dictate how you eat and how you live?

I'm not sure where you get the idea that this is about what other people think of me. It's about being comfortable with my own choices.
posted by ludwig_van at 11:55 AM on August 7, 2006


Like Peter Singer's attitudes: He concludes that the use of animals for food is unjustifiable because it creates unnecessary suffering, and considers veganism the most fully justifiable diet.

And yet he advocates for involuntary euthanasia ... curious. Anyway, one point that I think it's important to make is that a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is a privileged choice. Some parts of the world (Tibet being a relatively well-known one) don't have the environment to support a diet without meat. And some of us have restrictions on what we eat (wheat, corn, etc) that would make it nearly impossible to afford eating without having meat in our diets.

Then too: while vegetarian diets are cheaper on a grand scale, here in the US, an omnivorous diet can be cheaper (I'm talking poverty-level, here). So a lot of people even here in the US don't have that privilege.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 11:58 AM on August 7, 2006


I'll quote Jeremy Bentham: "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?"
But consider this. Suppose we have someone out there who has suffered nerve damage that leaves him incapable of experiencing pain. Would it then be morally acceptable to carve this guy up and eat him? After all, the question is, "Can they suffer?" And this poor fellow can't.

Also, on the issue of what takes up the least amount of land. Let's grant, for the sake of argument, the point that just growing vegetables will use fewer resources than raising animals. But it's also true that hunting for food would take up even fewer resources than growing vegetables. So your real issue is not with eating meat, but rather with wasting resources. Again, it's an association fallacy.

Now does this mean that we should put an end to farming and all start hunting and gathering our meals? That's our moral obligation according to the same logic that vegetarians use to suggest that we should stop eating meat. Yet there's no way the planet could support 6 billion hunter-gatherers. The result of any such attempt would almost certainly be catastrophic.

Just some food for though, if you'll pardon the pun.
posted by magodesky at 11:59 AM on August 7, 2006


But consider this. Suppose we have someone out there who has suffered nerve damage that leaves him incapable of experiencing pain. Would it then be morally acceptable to carve this guy up and eat him? After all, the question is, "Can they suffer?" And this poor fellow can't.
What an absurd strawman argument. This poor fellow is perfectly capable of letting us know "Yes, I like being alive, please don't kill me." Saying that it is immoral to impose unnecessary suffering hardly implies that it is moral to kill when it doesn't create pain.

Your argument about hunter-gatherers also doesn't work, since hunters require considerably more range. Farming uses limited resources intensively; hunter-gatherer societies use extensive resources lightly.
posted by adamrice at 12:07 PM on August 7, 2006


triolus, there's also the thought that our ability to reason and our significantly higher cognitive abilities effectively separate us from animals. That's something I've grappled with a bit, personally.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:16 PM on August 7, 2006


You may find this Michael Pollan article thought-provoking. Also check out his new book The Omnivore's Dilemma for an expanded version of this article. I'm vegetarian, but these days thinking more about the ethics of how fossil fuel dependent my diet is. If I ever go back to meat it'll have to be from a local farm whose animal husbandry and slaughtering practices are as transparent as the one Pollan visited.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 12:19 PM on August 7, 2006


This poor fellow is perfectly capable of letting us know "Yes, I like being alive, please don't kill me."
And animals are perfectly capable of letting us know that they don't want to be killed. Maybe not linguistically, but it's still perfectly clear from their behavior. Besides, according to Bentham, that's not even relevant. The question isn't about desire. It's about suffering.

Also, what if our hypothetical person was not capable of communicating a will to live? What if it were a Terri Schiavo sort of situation? Would it be okay to eat the person then?

If the argument is that the experience of pain is what makes eating something right or wrong, then you can't say that there's an ethical problem with eating a human who is incapable of feeling pain.
Your argument about hunter-gatherers also doesn't work, since hunters require considerably more range. Farming uses limited resources intensively; hunter-gatherer societies use extensive resources lightly.
That's simply not true. Hunter-gatherers usually cover a wider ranger, yes. But they don't come anywhere close to consuming the amount of resources it takes to feed the same number of people through farming. Agricultural societies are the most resource intensive societies on the planet. The suggestion that they use the same amount of resources, just distributed differently, is so far from reality that just calling it "wrong" doesn't seem to do it justice.
posted by magodesky at 12:21 PM on August 7, 2006


Not every place in the world is good for or even capable of farming. For some types of terrain raising livestock is pretty much the only option.
posted by stoneegg21 at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2006


Naw! 'Cuz animals are creatures of instinct. Humans are creatures of choice.
That exact reason it's okay to eat animals.
posted by spaltavian at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2006


While I respect those who choose to be vegitarian for whatever reason (ethical, religious, health or other), I also feel that in many cases those who argue against meat-eating from an ethical basis fail to effectively interrogate their own diets. If one is to take a position that the suffering caused by eating animals is a sufficient argument against doing so, then one should also recognize the suffering (both human and animal) that can result from the production of vegitable foods. To elaborate on previous posts, whether it is exploitative labor practices or the use of draft animals in the developing world, or the impact of industrial farming on the environment in the developed world (or even the secondary social and economic impact of agricultural conglomerates throughout the world), vegitarianism is not an implicitly suffering-free lifestyle. From an position of harm reduction, one should really advocate for more ethical production of animal and vegitable foods in a way that takes into account things like differential power relationships on a global level.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2006


*err, "The"
posted by spaltavian at 12:29 PM on August 7, 2006


I'm not sure where you get the idea that this is about what other people think of me.

I was not saying that your concerns about the morality of eating meat were rooted in a literal desire to win the approval of a specific person or persons. If my off-the-cuff phrasing implied as much, I apologize.

I do think that you may have internalized a certain finger-wagging, self-punishing voice in your head, which originally appeared in the form of various anti-meat arguments. That was what I meant by "the preachy and the self-righteous" and the power they had over you. When people start kicking around the "thou shalts" and "thou shalt nots," I see a power dynamic at work, particularly when said sermon induces a sense of guilt, self-doubt and confusion.

Think about it. If you have to offer a justification for your actions, what kind of position are you in?
posted by jason's_planet at 12:35 PM on August 7, 2006


Because they want us to eat them? If you look at it evolutionarily, cows have accepted a trade off. Humans protect them from other predators and provide them with food and water, which has allowed the number of cows to grow dramatically -- especially compared with how other large wild mammals have fared in the face of human activites (deer excepted). While we eat cows, as a species cows have done far better being domesticated and eaten then they would have done being left in the wild.

If humans altogether stopped eating meat tomorrow, the number of cows alive would plummet because there would be no reason for us to feed and protect them.
posted by GregW at 12:42 PM on August 7, 2006


Because they want us to eat them? If you look at it evolutionarily, cows have accepted a trade off.

Wha wha?!?

That's the strangest thing I've seen in this argument yet. We went and took them, cows didn't decide to be a part of a human consumption.
posted by agregoli at 12:50 PM on August 7, 2006


Personally, when I find myself criticizing someone else for being "preachy and self-righteous," it's often because they're telling me something I don't want to hear. Instead of being defensive, I try to be grateful for the opportunity to rethink my own assumptions.

I don't think there's any ethical justification for eating animals that are raised under factory-farm conditions. That said, I occasionally do it anyway. I've been trying really hard to be a conscious omnivore, but I find it difficult to balance the ethical concerns, the health concerns, and my general love of cooking and eating. I used to be vegetarian (and briefly vegan), and at the time I couldn't have lived with myself if I was eating meat. Now my view is more that if i'm doing the best I can, that's good enough.

Anyway, whatever you decide, I think the ethical implications of what you eat are definitely worth reflecting on.
posted by 912 Greens at 12:52 PM on August 7, 2006


Because they want us to eat them? If you look at it evolutionarily, cows have accepted a trade off.

Yeah, what agregoli said. I don't think the average cow is going to trade a life of torture in a factory farm and a painful slaughter just to be free of predators. They'd be better off eaten, whcih is unlikely as well, because predators like wolves and coyotes and foxes prefer easier game, usually small mammals and carrion and trash (and coyotes eat tons of berries.)
posted by Shane at 12:57 PM on August 7, 2006


Biologically, cows are a vastly more sucessful species now than pre-domestication.
posted by spaltavian at 12:58 PM on August 7, 2006


I don't think the average cow is going to trade a life of torture in a factory farm and a painful slaughter just to be free of predators.

Well, the average individual cow might not, but as a species cows are far better off in this kind of symbiotic relationship with humans than if PETA were to set them all free on the savannah tomorrow.
posted by GregW at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2006




912 Greens:

I try to be grateful

I've been trying really hard

and at the time I couldn't have lived with myself

if i'm doing the best I can, that's good enough.

I'm hearing the same tone of voice and seeing the same dynamic at work here.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:06 PM on August 7, 2006


Biologically, cows are a vastly more sucessful species now than pre-domestication.


Could you explain that in a different way cause I'm not understanding this point?

but as a species cows are far better off in this kind of symbiotic relationship with humans than if PETA were to set them all free on the savannah tomorrow.

Just because the vast number of cows alive today couldn't survive in the wild...well, that doesn't follow for me that they are better off living with us and getting slaughtered than if we'd never eaten them at all.
posted by agregoli at 1:09 PM on August 7, 2006


Cause you're making it sound like we're doing them a favor by breeding them in vast numbers, imprisoning them in non-natural environments, and slaughtering them at the end of their miserable lives.

I eat meat, but you're making it seem like the cows are *lucky* we've got this arrangement with them, and I can't possibly imagine how this could be so for cows as a species.
posted by agregoli at 1:10 PM on August 7, 2006


Biologically, cows are a vastly more sucessful species now than pre-domestication.
That all depends on how you define "success." If it's just absolute numbers, then you might have a point. But if we're talking about sustainability, then there's no way that argument works. Cows need humans to feed and protect them now because we've bred them to be that way. But they didn't need us before being domesticated. So the whole "evolutionary trade off" scenario that GregW propose is kind of... insane. The pre-domesticated ancestor of the cow was much fiercer than its modern-day counterpart and more than capable of getting along perfectly fine without humans.
posted by magodesky at 1:17 PM on August 7, 2006


Cause you're making it sound like we're doing them a favor by breeding them in vast numbers, imprisoning them in non-natural environments, and slaughtering them at the end of their miserable lives.

The question wasn't whether factory farming (which is what you're describing) is ethical, the original post was whether eating meat can be justified ethically. Of course all animals deserve to be treated humanely while they are alive, and I personally do not eat factory farmed meat.

To respond to your specific points, we are doing cows a favor by breeding them in vast numbers, and raising them, and feeding them, etc. The "natural environment" of a modern cow is on a farm where it is either milked or ultimately slaughtered and eaten. A cow could not survive if you left it to fend for itself in the wild. And your last point about their "miserable lives" is a question of how the cow is treated while its alive, not whether it is ethical to eat the cow -- and besides, cows may be very happy being fed and cared for on a farm, as opposed to being starved and hunted in the wild.

Cows are not people -- what makes you happy may not make them happy.
posted by GregW at 1:19 PM on August 7, 2006


The pre-domesticated ancestor of the cow was much fiercer than its modern-day counterpart and more than capable of getting along perfectly fine without humans.

The question isn't whether we should have eaten the pre-domesticated ancestor of the cow, but whether an ethical justification exists to support the eating of cows as they exist today.

The paradox is that modern cows could not exist unless they were slaughtered and eaten by humans.
posted by GregW at 1:22 PM on August 7, 2006


To respond to your specific points, we are doing cows a favor by breeding them in vast numbers, and raising them, and feeding them, etc.

How are we doing them a favor by keeping them in a life full of suffering? I honestly don't understand how this statement could be backed up by anything.

The "natural environment" of a modern cow is on a farm where it is either milked or ultimately slaughtered and eaten. A cow could not survive if you left it to fend for itself in the wild.

Why is "fending for itself in the wild" your criteria for whether we're helping cows as a species or not? So if we took all wild animals out of their environments and kept them in one of our choosing, all wildlife would be better off? Or is it they would only be better off if they served humans in some way?

And your last point about their "miserable lives" is a question of how the cow is treated while its alive, not whether it is ethical to eat the cow -- and besides, cows may be very happy being fed and cared for on a farm, as opposed to being starved and hunted in the wild.

You really think that cows are happier in factory farm conditions (very few are in the "down on the farm" scenario) than their ancestors who lived free in herds?

Cows are not people -- what makes you happy may not make them happy.

Have you ever seen how the majority of cows sold for food live? I'm seriously doubting that you have any idea how miserable their lives really are.
posted by agregoli at 1:27 PM on August 7, 2006


I would argue that there is no inherant moral argument against meat eating - and hence the decision become more a practical one for most people rather than a moral one - but then again I am unashamedly speciesist - and don't particularly believe that animals have rights divisble from human obligations...

However, you can take a moral position within meat eating. By buying and eating free range, locally farmed meat (ideally from butchers you know and trust) you can promote good welfare standards, help to reduce the cost of free range meat, support local businesses and protect the environment by reducing the food miles your steak travels to reach you - and consequently CO2 etc. Plus free range food, imho, tastes better and is better for you (no dodgy hormones or animals fed on offal...)

Even if you accept the animal rights position one could argue that by buying 'happy meat' an individual consumer could actually have a more positive impact on the welfare of animals than giving up meat altogether - if only because of the eventual knock on reduction in price it will provide to other less ethical consumers.

I just wish I could afford to do so myself other than on special ocassions.
posted by prentiz at 1:27 PM on August 7, 2006


Honestly, I have nothing more to say. I'm stunned by these assertions and there's really no point in refuting them - they are way too out there for me to even comprehend.

I'm flabbergasted and I'll be on the sidelines for the rest of this one. Adios.
posted by agregoli at 1:29 PM on August 7, 2006


You really think that cows are happier in factory farm conditions (very few are in the "down on the farm" scenario) than their ancestors who lived free in herds?

As I said before, the question of whether factory farming is ethical is a different question from whether eating meat is ethical.
posted by GregW at 1:32 PM on August 7, 2006


From Shane, "I'm not going to take the bait and get emotional about anildash's inflammatory remarks, especially since I obviously provoked some kind of extreme (possibly guilt?) reaction from him..."

Also from Shane, "That sounds remarkably close to the rhetoric of American slave owners before emancipation."

Thus, we see why I'm comfortable eating meat: I own slaves. Pointing out this moral shortcoming is clearly not inflammatory. My comfort has nothing to do with the fact it's a considered choice.

Shane, I still think trying to make people feel bad about their choices, and then harranguing them with poorly-sourced or just plain factually incorrect assertions is a profoundly poor form of advocacy. The fact that you're relying on it makes me question your entire cause. I offered constructive steps for ludwig_van to try, and so far you've offered up slavery comparisons (America's own Godwin!), conflated a vitamin and a bacteria (hint: bacteria are living organisms!) and attested to your own ass-kicking physical shape.
posted by anildash at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2006


No, I'm looking for a way that eating meat can be ethically justifiable when the option to not eat meat is available.

If you're approaching the topic from that direction than the answer for you will almost certainly be no, it's not ethical.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2006


I'm not attempting to equate them in terms of self awareness, but eating an animal kills the animal no matter what the mechanism or business model involved (unless you're a Massai, and just sort of drink the blood, which I'm guessing you're not), and eating a vegetable, too, kills the plant (in general terms, I'm sure there are exceptions). Fruit, though, is meant to be eaten. But, since we care what the plants and animals would want in this scenario, we're ethnically bound to eat the whole fruit, including the seeds, and to shit in the woods so the seeds have a chance to sprout.
posted by evil holiday magic at 1:40 PM on August 7, 2006



Have you ever seen how the majority of cows sold for food live? I'm seriously doubting that you have any idea how miserable their lives really are.


I seriously doubt cows are capable of misery.
posted by spaltavian at 1:42 PM on August 7, 2006


"Even if you accept that animals are not just dumb robots it remains the case that any sort of animal "consciousness" must be so fundamentally alien that it cannot be called consciousness (as we know it) in any meaningful way."

And that's why I end every day by torturing a puppy to death.

(Sorry for the rhetorical bomb-tossing, but that's such a bullshit position. And I'm not even going to wade back into the tremendous loads of absolute bullshit above).
posted by klangklangston at 1:48 PM on August 7, 2006


My suffering from not eating meat would be greater than the suffering of the animals I eat. That is, my suffering is more egregious, as I am sapient and sentient, and the animals I eat are neither. One must not value animals to the same degree as humans.

(No argument, IMHO, can be made that any food animals are sentient.)

So, yes, it is ethically defensible.
posted by solid-one-love at 1:54 PM on August 7, 2006


For additional (enjoyable) ambivalence and confusion about meat, google David Foster Wallace's "consider the lobster"
posted by mecran01 at 2:00 PM on August 7, 2006


Guys, the question is about the ethics of eating meat. The question of suffering is irrelevant. Even assuming you can "farm" meat perfectly, with zero suffering, it's still a pretty tricky question.

Anyways, ludwig, I'll pipe in again to further clarify my original answer. I've had to give this question some thought because, for some odd reason, I often end up dating vegetarians...

Personally, I distinguish between "weak vegetarians" and "strong vegetarians." Weak vegetarians are people who believe that there is a meaningful "continuity" between humans and other animals. This continuity can take the form of intelligence, feelings, suffering, or consciousness. For weak vegetarians, eating animals is like eating a quasi-human.

Strong vegetarians are people who believe animals are "separate but equal." There are two separate classes, humans and animals, and there is no meaningful continuity between them. To humans we prescribe human rights and to animals we offer prescribe animal rights. Strong vegetarians are against eating animals because animals are just so great. That is animals, in themselves, deserve not to be eaten as animals. They're great and they have just as much right to hang out as possible.

To me this is the only meaningful distinction to be made in the question of vegetarianism. (Pragmatic vegetarians who insist eating meat harms the environment and consumes too many resources are just wrong. And even if they were right the argument still doesn't follow.) Personally, I think weak vegetarians (like klanklangston) are doo-doo heads who don't realize just how dangerous their position really is. Strong vegetarians, like Platonists and anthropologists, are cute.

The last question is if, even if you accept that eating meat is "wrong," in what way is it wrong? Is it wrong the way murder or stealing is wrong? Or is it wrong the way literring and taking baths is wrong? Or perhaps it's wrong the way eating too much candy is wrong?

If you think it through, it's reasonable to say that eating meat is just fine. Neither strong nor weak vegetarians make compelling arguments for an individual. If eating meat is to be considered "wrong" it can only be considered wrong as a bad choice. And, of course, it's perfectly ok for humans to make bad choices. The real problem with vegetarianism-as-an-ism is that it attempts to politicize what is very much a non-political choice. Like environmentalism and other idealisms it has a natural tendency to "tyrannize" the individual and infect all the crooks and crannies of her life. If you stop eating meat, what's next? No animal products? Are you willing to give up sheepskin condoms? And what about medical testing on animals? Anyways it's up to you. Whatever you decide just rest assured that you gave it some thought which is what's really important for these sorts of questions.


And that's why I end every day by torturing a puppy to death.


There's your mistake, kk. Puppies are too dumb to appreciate torture. What you want are more mature dogs.
posted by nixerman at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Re: #672945

Sentient means to feel and be aware. A lot of things qualify for that, but not every animal can design and build a Subaru. If my feelings are more intense and my thoughts more articulate than another human's, can I consider him/her fair game?

Humans have philosophy and hand tools, but we're still animals; obedient to inarticulate feelings and instincts. I think a similarity to animals is a more reasonable justification than superiority to them. Eating meat is something we share with the "lesser" beings on earth. It's harder to find a justification for our damage to the environment for the sake of conveniences.
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:15 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I'm an omnivore myself. I just didn't agree with the superiority argument.
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:18 PM on August 7, 2006


As stated above, you don't have to assert that eating meat is ethically "right" but that it is ethically neutral.

(1) You can claim that it is natural to eat meat and there is therefore no ethical issue.

(2) You can claim that animals are not sentient and therefore do not experience pleasure from life and pain in death, and therefore there is no ethical issue.

(3) If you think that they are sentient, however, you could still claim that you are lessening the harm done to animals by only purchasing freerange/whatever. This is a problematic position since you are still ultimately killing the animal, and ending its pleasure in experiencing life.

(4) You could claim that it is necessary for your health to consume meat, and therefore there is no ethical issue since you must consume meat to survive. This comes up for vegans with cats; cats cannot survive on a vegan diet, so vegans must purchase meat-based cat food. There is not an ethical issue in the cat consuming meat. For humans, though, this is a weak argument since a well-planned vegan diet is capable of providing your full nutritional requirements.

I'm not personally convinced by any of these. I am therefore vegan.
posted by beerbajay at 2:27 PM on August 7, 2006


When I have considered going back to eating meat and dairy the argument (and I believe it is an argument about ethics) that has continued to be compelling, questions the validity of the social friction I create by my personal dietary choices. Though I am rather far from militant about it, my veganism causes the persons most near and dear to me to suffer in some way. They spend time, energy, money and concern; they make personal sacrifices trying to appease a personal decision I have made.

Now, it is appropriate to compare the death of an animal to inconveniencing family and friends? At first blush it seems obviously not, but then there is this -- for better or worse the well-being of those dearest to me is of greater concern than that of, say, anonymous strangers. A cow on a farm in Nebraska is a very different kind of being and our major food manufacturers go to great lengths to keep that being anonymous. So in the abstract the question becomes: is the non-trivial suffering (or death) of a trivial (to me) being (a cow), more potent than the trivial suffering (buying special ingredients, cooking two meals, etc) of a non-trivial (to me) being (a family member)?

I continue, after many years of vegetarianism and a handful of years of veganism to resolve this by introducing agency. My family and friends (bless their kindness) choose to make special accomedations for my diet. Domesticated animals are not afforded this kind of agency.

But that is simply where I fall. You may decide that the social friction you create with your diet is more harmful than simply continuing to eat meat.

Or ya could quit the meat and we can swap recipes!
posted by verysleeping at 2:30 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


"You will be unable to convince me that a cow possesses a sense of self."

Don't be too hasty. We know a lot about the brain structures that allow humans to have a sense of self, and testing for analogs in various animals seems intriguingly doable.
It has been concluded that the posterior, superior parietal lobe is involved in both the creation of a three-dimensional sense of self and an individual's ability to navigate through physical space (Journal 216). The region of the lobe in the left hemisphere of the brain allows for a person to conceive of the physical boundaries of his body (Newberg 28). It responds to proprioceptive stimuli, most importantly the movement of limbs. The region of the lobe in the right hemisphere creates the perception of the matrix through which we move.
Emphasis added by me to a passage from This is Your Brain on God.
posted by NortonDC at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2006


Also little evidence of this "damage"

In general, not as a result of the meat industry. I should have clarified that.

but I would maintain that anyone who is using Metafilter is necessarily damaging the environment by the mere fact that they have a computer and are on the Net.

I think that's entirely true.

But back on the topic of meat ethics, and my supposed strawman aside, your argument remains one of mental superiority. That mental inferiority is adequate justification for an animal to be food for another.

*Considers problem of fitting solid-one-love into smoker*
posted by evil holiday magic at 2:44 PM on August 7, 2006


Since this has all gone to shit— Ludwig, I hope you can realize how shit-poor the vast, vast, vast majority of arguments are in this thread, and on meat eating in general (both pro and con). The amount of bad faith, straw men, ad hominems and emotional appeals here is amazing (though MeFi never ever does vegetarian debate well, and you'd do well to remember the description of MeFi from the feminism MeTa as "a Nerd Frat").

The real answer is that if you see meat eating as something that needs to be justified, then there is no compelling justification for it. And most of the vocal opponents to vegetarianism here seem to be reacting to the fact that they realize this and need to justify their habits to themselves by denigrating the choices of others.
I'm not a proslytizer on this, and I do recognize real world situations where eating meat is the best choice for the moment, but I think this is a decision you have to make yourself and you already know which way you're heading. (And I'd emphasize that there's no need to be dogmatic, as there is a long gradient between total carnivore and 5th Level Vegan).
posted by klangklangston at 3:02 PM on August 7, 2006



Guys, the question is about the ethics of eating meat. The question of suffering is irrelevant. Even assuming you can "farm" meat perfectly, with zero suffering, it's still a pretty tricky question.


From the Michael Pollan article linked to earlier:
So I decided I would track down Peter Singer and ask him what he thought. In an e-mail message, I described Polyface and asked him about the implications for his position of the Good Farm—one where animals got to live according to their nature and to all appearances did not suffer.

"I agree with you that it is better for these animals to have lived and died than not to have lived at all," Singer wrote back. Since the utilitarian is concerned exclusively with the sum of happiness and suffering and the slaughter of an animal that doesn't comprehend that death need not involve suffering, the Good Farm adds to the total of animal happiness, provided you replace the slaughtered animal with a new one. However, he added, this line of thinking doesn't obviate the wrongness of killing an animal that "has a sense of its own existence over time and can have preferences for its own future." In other words, it's O.K. to eat the chicken, but he's not so sure about the pig. Yet, he wrote, "I would not be sufficiently confident of my arguments to condemn someone who purchased meat from one of these farms."

Singer went on to express serious doubts that such farms could be practical on a large scale, since the pressures of the marketplace will lead their owners to cut costs and corners at the expense of the animals. He suggested, too, that killing animals is not conducive to treating them with respect. Also, since humanely raised food will be more expensive, only the well-to-do can afford morally defensible animal protein. These are important considerations, but they don't alter my essential point: what's wrong with animal agriculture—with eating animals—is the practice, not the principle.
(Emphasis mine.)
posted by hades at 3:29 PM on August 7, 2006


Eat meat because you like it and the Cows can't stop you.

Do it because no vegetarian/vegan soy mush can ever taste as good as slow smoked pulled pork barbeque with the regional sauce of your choice.

Eat meat because we are no better than any other mammal and they all get to do whatever they want to.


Do it because none of it matters and we will all die eventually (including the piggies and the little babie chickies)

eat meat because we are all just battlebots for out DNA in the greater battle for reproduction and world domination. (and everybody else, except the common cold and herpes is losing)
posted by Megafly at 3:33 PM on August 7, 2006


Moving back to the OP's specific concerns, I have to ask, why meat in particular? The first world causes a lot of suffering and pollution otherwise, as well. Is there something especially troubling about this issue?
posted by evil holiday magic at 3:36 PM on August 7, 2006


Are you pro life? The arguments against abortion and eating meat are the same in a lot of ways. Both are wrong because they cause suffering and death to beings that appear to experience pain and have some level of consciousness, (as far as we can tell from our own intuitions and comparisons to human biology).

I'm pro choice and pro meat and I usually use this argument with pro lifers who are rarely vegetarians in my experience. It tends to thought them for a loop when they can't explain why a fetus has more moral rights than a cow.

On the other hand, I have been struggling with my views, as they seem to imply that any non linguistic life form is inherently less valuable than one that is able to speak, and this includes both babies and adults with mental handicaps. So I don't really know if I'm right.
posted by afu at 4:01 PM on August 7, 2006


I'm pro choice and pro meat and I usually use this argument with pro lifers who are rarely vegetarians in my experience. It tends to thought them for a loop when they can't explain why a fetus has more moral rights than a cow.

I'm surprised that argument would have an effect on a pro-lifer. A cow will always be a cow, but a fetus could grow up to be John F. Kennedy. Ten thousand years ago God put the animals and man on the earth, and God said, "Have at it."
posted by evil holiday magic at 4:09 PM on August 7, 2006


This is purely anecdotal, and I'm replying to a comment from way early in the thread, but...

"Why? Because our survival in no way depends upon [eating meat], and living without it has a positive, not negative, effect on human health."

A friend of mine went vegan a little over a year ago. Since then, she has been sick almost constantly, and is generally weak and lethargic.

The vegans here will likely say that she's just not doing it properly, and in doing so, they prove my point: it takes considerably more effort to maintain the same quality of life once meat is removed from one's diet.

In fact, that level of effort wouldn't even have been possible as little as 100 years ago. They didn't have vitamin supplements, nobody grew crops out of season (being, you know, out of season and all), and I guarantee you that not many people at that point had even seen tofu. (Speaking of which, I believe that "vegetarian meat" is tantamount to cheating.)

Yes, we live in a world where modern technology makes it possible to live on a meat-free diet. But I don't personally think that nature (meaning: the human body) supports it being a good idea. Not having seen just how difficult it can be to do so.
posted by CrayDrygu at 6:03 PM on August 7, 2006


Interesting responses.

ludwig_van, I get the sense from your posts that you feel that eating meat is an ethically questionable proposal, but you also have been doing it without much compunction for a while, like most people raised in this country.

It seems to me that the real issue, for you, is finding a way to justify eating meat to yourself, which is basically just a search for a rationalization (no offense, and who indeed has gone a week without one), since you're already at the point of sympathizing with the arguments against meat-eating. Why don't you try cutting meat and animal-derived foods out of your diet, once you've done a little research on nutrition (if that's necessary)? Maybe you'll find that you don't really miss it, that you feel better in general, and so on.

Personally, I find vegan and vegetarian arguments to be meritorious and laudable, by and large, and I respect people who make such choices about their own lives without turning their ideological position, divorced from the very real question of the industrial meat industry, into rubrics of judgment against others. There are many good reasons to be vegetarian or vegan, but that doesn't make it a moral issue per se; guilt is an emotion, and any action taken to mitigate guilt (and let's be honest, people do things because they feel, not because they think) is suspect in my book.
posted by clockzero at 6:30 PM on August 7, 2006


Seems to me the only good arguments for eating meat come down to arguments about convenience - which is to say, they ultimately feel unsatisfactory in some way.
But why are you automatically assuming right off the bat that it needs to be justified at all? You wouldn't automatically assume any other behavior to be morally wrong, would you? As I said before, it's up to those who are opposed to meat to explain why it's unethical. All anyone else needs to do to "argue for eating meat," is to refute the vegetarian arguments for why it's wrong. And I haven't seen a compelling argument yet for why I should consider eating meat to be unethical.

And I'm still waiting for an answer to my question about our hypothetical nerve damage patient.
posted by magodesky at 7:19 PM on August 7, 2006


magodesky - as someone else argued above, there's no particular reason why the burden should be on the dissenters alone. One could easily argue the opposite, that those making the positive decision to eat meat need to justify it.
But the dissenters are the ones making a claim. Those defending the eating of meat are not. They're not arguing that eating meat is morally right. They're arguing that eating meat is not morally wrong.

What I'm saying is simply that for any given behavior, the assumption should not be that it's unethical. It should be that the behavior is morally neutral. The need to justify it doesn't come until we are presented with a reason for why it is wrong.

So when you complain about the arguments for eating meat, it's somewhat misleading. There's not an argument for eating meat. There is only the counter-argument to the reasons presented for not eating meat. As far as I'm concerned, I don't have to justify anything. It's the vegetarian's job to convince me that eating meat is wrong. And so far, I haven't seen any convincing arguments to suggest that that is the case.
posted by magodesky at 9:34 PM on August 7, 2006


[a lot of derailing comments removed - any further pissing matches need to be taken to metatalk or email]
posted by jessamyn at 9:36 PM on August 7, 2006 [1 favorite]


I eat meat, and should I wish to justify it to myself, I would probably do so in terms of net environmental harm - while less meat superficially equates to a smaller environmental footprint, the footprint of casual use of the automobile is larger than that of the meat that I use to commute thousands of miles a year via bicycle.

The environment is a weird choice of barometer for ethics, but assuming humane farming methods, and ignoring the environmental cost, I do not see raising cattle for food as in any way unethical. So that pretty much just leaves the environmental footprint.
Of course, I'm often lax in ensuring the meat has been farmed properly, but then, knowing what is Right is not the same as actually doing it :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 1:29 AM on August 8, 2006


Interesting responses, everyone.

why meat in particular? Is there something especially troubling about this issue?

It's no more troubling than some other troubling things, but one question at a time, right?
posted by ludwig_van at 11:00 AM on August 8, 2006


(Pragmatic vegetarians who insist eating meat harms the environment and consumes too many resources are just wrong.)

just wrong? what a great argument. as has been said before, eating meat is generally a order of magnitude less energetically efficient, in an abstracted, physical-ecological sense. In other words, it takes 10X the amount of energy to grow the corn to feed the cow to feed the human as it does to grow the corn to feed the human. Much energy is lost as heat in the exchange.

In addition, in the present context of petroleum-based, marketed agriculture (the green revolution in fertilizer and pesticides), the petroleum and electricity costs of global shipping (of the feed, fertilizer, pesticide, animal, animal drugs, etc), CAPO practices that fill ponds (and then rivers and drinking water) with liquid feces (whose contents vaporize as carbon and methane emissions), grazing practices that pack too many head on too little space--destroying grass biota and soil, the mass production and abuse of antibiotics that are made useless because of mass inoculation for faster growth of the animal--there are many gross inefficiencies and pollution vectors that the meat industry generates.

There is a large amount of ecological gain to be had of changing from many "industrial" practices. Cows and pigs are not factories but biological entities.

I would say that preserving the environment is not a weird choice for the basis of ethics, because it is merely self-preservation with another name. We, as a species, can overconsume the resources of the planet to the point that the conditions that make our species viable are no longer.

If mother earth aborts the human species, would operation rescue demonstrate?
posted by eustatic at 11:01 AM on August 8, 2006


For what it's worth, if morality is not an absolute (and I believe it is not), then any ethical code can be sensibly justified. Therefore, the answer is "yes", regardless of how any individual might feel about an issue, including this one.

Your own personal issues of guilt are your own. If you can formulate an ethical code that leaves you feeling non-guilty (as many people here, including myself, have done), then good on ya. If not, either live with the guilt or stop eating meat.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:19 PM on August 8, 2006


I have first hand experience with the dairy and sheep industries in New Zealand, I'd say that the ethical considerations of dairy are very limited. The cows are treated extremely well - they live free range and graze on natural lush pasture - they don't live in factories, they walk to a milking shed twice a day, an experience which is by necessity designed to be as trauma free as possible, in fact they know the routine and start lining up and walking to the sheds of their own accord.

If you want to eat meat, and you're concerned about the ethics, I urge you to choose free range - in New Zealand all beef, lamb & mutton, and venison is free range grass fed, raised on pasture. But you need to choose carefully to get free range eggs and chicken and pork/bacon/ham.

I think it is unethical to eat battery eggs & barn/cage chicken, and crate/factory raised pork/bacon/ham. Those animals have absolutely miserable lives.

If it's the taking of a life to satisfy your diet that causes you issue, you'll simply have to stop. I try to buy meat that was treated as well as possible when it was raised, it does make me feel a little better that the animals that lost their lives to feed me had happy ones.
posted by The Monkey at 3:40 PM on August 8, 2006


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