Discussing the ethics of eating animals, I’ve found, can get uncomfortable quickly.
People are often very defensive of their position on the matter and emotions tend to escalate. The meat-eaters have typically been eating meat their whole lives; it is a thoroughly ensconced part of their cultural identity, their palate, and has emotional gravity. Wherever good times were had, likely meat was present. Tough habit to break.
And those who are convinced it is unethical to eat animals usually also have a very strong attitude about it. Most of them were once meat-eaters, and overcame the above hurdles due to moral conviction. It is no wonder that the belief on the other side of such moral and behavioral upheaval is well fortified.
For those unfamiliar with what the big deal is, let me try to put it as simply as possible and get to the heart of the matter.
Let’s make it less abstract; not should people eat animals - but should YOU eat animals?
Here’s the basic argument:
Most, if not all, of the meat that you consume was harvested in ways that cause tremendous suffering to conscious animal life.
You don’t need to eat meat to survive.
There are alternative eating plans (non-animals) that do not involve as much suffering.
It is wrong to cause tremendous suffering to conscious animal lives when there are reasonable alternative eating plans that do not involve as much suffering.
Therefore, you should not eat meat.
It may be helpful to note that we only really get a moral, philosophical claim once we get to 4; the claims in 1-3 are matters of science, observation, and are relatively easy to measure.
A quick word on each:
Most grocery store chains that we buy meat from, particularly the cheaper ones, source their meat from companies that utilize factory farming. The demand for meat has led to the hyper-industrialization of animal production and harvesting. To streamline some costs and offer a cheaper, more competitive product in the marketplace, extra costs that might go toward making the lives of the animals a bit better are removed. Efforts such as sterilization, anesthetics, and mimicking “normal” animal life (open pastures) often take a back seat. So, the meat at the store where you shop likely involved quite a bit of suffering.
I’m no nutritionist, but most nutritionists would agree that you do not need to eat meat to survive, at least not at the enormous rate that we eat it. You could survive, and even thrive, by eating a bevy of different vegetables, fruits, grains, and supplemental vitamins that you might normally get from eating meat.
A plant-based diet, while involving the killing of some animals in the preservation and harvesting of crops from fields, involves far less suffering than the factory farm model.
If a similar outcome, like survival and health, can be achieved through other eating plans that involve less suffering, then we should enact them. It’s not that crazy of a moral principle. The joy of the taste of meat is not a good enough reason to participate in the suffering of the animals by supporting the factory farming industry.
Take a deep breath.
It’s a lot to consider.
For me, if I could get real for a moment, this topic is a great example of a space where one could possess the intellectual virtues and lack the regular old virtues. I find myself routinely convinced by the arguments against eating animals. I sense I’ve gone through the process of curiosity, openness, poise, thoroughness, humility, honesty, and courage about my intellectual beliefs on this topic.
And yet, I still eat meat - quite a bit of it actually.
I find this arena of life to be extremely challenging morally. Perhaps that sounds pathetic to some - and I may agree. Finding the courage and unselfishness to entirely give up eating animals has evaded me. I’ve used various rationalizations to rid myself of feelings of guilt:
Maybe those documentaries only highlighted the absolute worst one-off scenarios and factory farming isn’t really that bad.
Or, I have a lot of life stuff on my plate right now, trying to exercise regularly, parenting well, being a good husband, employee, student, and the rest of it - I just don’t have the discipline right now to tackle this one, maybe one day.
Or, I know it’s bad, but soon there’ll be a good alternative, like cultured, lab-grown meat, and I’ll definitely switch over then.
Or, grocery stores just throw away old meat all the time - at least if I buy it and feed my family with it, the suffering will not have been in vain.
I don’t think any of these justify my continued eating of meat. Just trying to be honest. Tony and I made a commitment for the month of October to limit our meat eating by going abstinent for one day a week. “Whoopty-doo” our veteran vegan and vegetarian friends might think, but for me, that’d be a significant change, so I’m going to start there.
We dig into a bunch of details in the podcast and discuss our own personal journey with eating animals and trying other dietary plans. You can watch “Should You Eat Animals?” on Youtube, or listen on your favorite podcatcher.