Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Food for Thought: The Ethics of Eating Meat

Grazing CowsThe New York Times Magazine recently held an essay contest, asking its readers to tell them why it was ethical to eat meat. Entries were received, they were narrowed down to the six finalists, and a winner was chosen by a panel of judges, including authors Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Michael Pollan.

The winning piece, entitled "Give Thanks for Meat" and written by Jay Bost, argues that when animals are raised and slaughtered humanely, our eating habits become more compatible with the natural order. It's a part of the "circle of life", to put it simply. Treat animals with as much kindness and respect as possible and you're doing OK.

I agree with that standpoint, as do many people who follow a Paleo/Primal lifestyle. I don't like how animals are treated in factory farms. Not a month goes by without reports of mad cow disease breaking out somewhere, or exposes of chickens and pigs being tortured and neglected. I get very pset when I hear these stories, and there have been times I've thought of becoming a vegetarian because of them. But I really do believe that humans are meant to be omnivores, and aside from that, I like meat A LOT.

Humane, sustainable raising of livestock works for me. If the animals are treated well throughout their life, right up until the end, it's the best practice for feeding large groups of people. It also makes sense that it would be the least damaging to our ecosystem as a whole, which we all need to be mindful of.

I read the other entries, including the cuckoo crazy-pants submission by one of the founders of PETA. She stated that she could happily eat meat again now that they can grow it in test tubes. I can't even begin to imagine what could be wrong with lab-created meat. Could it cause cancer? Would food scientists manipulate the DNA and do freaky stuff to it? That crap seems like Frankenfood at its finest, and I'm trying to avoid that like the plague.

I also read the comments. My husband says the #1 rule of the Internet is, "Don't read the comments." But to me, they're like a derailed train or a bus crash. It's terrible, I can't believe what I'm looking at and it sometimes makes me sick, but I can't look away.

Here are some of the more interesting points that struck me:

"Eating meat started from boredom and experimentation that became habit. If we eat dead flesh then we become dead flesh. It is said that humankind was immortal until it began eating the dead. Keeping the brain busy is how you feed the body. Keep it busy and only take fromt his earth what you need." (WTF. Ooookay.)

"II find it strange that in a county (not so much different to mine) where the meat industry spends millions of dollars promoting the eating of meat, and where is it hard to find restaurants that offer good non-meat options, that people still feel the need to defend meat eating, or rather, to oppose those who choose not to." (Good point. Meat eating is the norm."Defending" eating meat is like "defending" being white, in my mind. You're already the majority, let it go.)

"I'm not convinced that using animals in any kind of mass production be done ethically on a mass production scale.  And given that the current population of planet Earth just hit the 7 billion mark, mass production is a de facto requirement to avoid mass starvation." (True! How can we meet our demands for meat on a global scale? Is it possible for us all to eat humanely-raised animals? You sure as heck can't unless you've got plenty of money as it is. A family on food stamps is not going to be able to buy grass-fed beef and free-range chicken.)

"Humans are omnivores= meat and vegi eaters (look at your teeth). There is no morality linked to what one eats!!" (An old argument, but pretty valid.)

"If it is unethical to harm a sentient being then do you own and drive a car? If you do that road you travel on is a waste land and many species cannot cross it. There go an untold number of future generations of sentient beings. But just owning a car defines you as a person with little regard for other life forms anyway considering the damage to the earth that comes from manufacturing a car. Draw the line where? At cute? At furry? At green?" (Hmmmm.)

Many, many more comments, mostly from people arguing against the piece, but mostly pretty thought-provoking. I was expecting more stupidity, but it is the New York Times Magazine, so I guess that weeds out some of the more deranged commenters.

What do you think?

Image via lamcopphis/Flickr

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