Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
this was posted on care2 of all places:
Why It's Ethical To Eat Meat
Back in the spring, the New York Times’s Ethicist column ran an essay contest that challenged omnivores to defend the practice of eating meat. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” wrote Ariel Kaminer as she announced the contest. “In recent years, vegetarians — and to an even greater degree vegans, their hard-core inner circle — have dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating… In response, those who love meat have had surprisingly little to say.”
In 600 words or fewer, omnivores were asked to make the strongest possible case for why it is ethical to eat meat. Judges included Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan and Peter Singer. The contest was criticized by many readers, who variously called it sexist, racist, pro-meat propaganda, antimeat propaganda and elitist. In the end the Times received 3,000 entries.
Below you’ll find my entry for the contest. As a disclaimer, I’ll say I found out about the contest close to the deadline and could have used more time to work out my argument. In fact I would have built my essay on the same premise that the winner did — that “eating meat in specific circumstances is ethical; eating meat raised in other circumstances is unethical.” I continue to be convinced of this.At any rate, and without further ado, here is the essay I did write and enter on why it is ethical to eat meat.
Eating Meat to Survive
A lion topples a giraffe, a bear slays a fawn, a seal captures squid, and nobody objects. (Non-human) animals will be animals, and they do what they have to to subsist and, if possible, prosper. The circumstances for humans are otherwise. Ethical eaters argue that it’s wrong for humans to kill animals for food where survival is not at stake. As omnivores with a conscience, humans have a choice in what we eat and understand the ethical implications of our choices. This is why we are held to a higher standard. But how did humans, unlike every other animal in nature, evolve the cognitive capacity to consider the ethics of our choices in the first place?
Part of the answer is, by eating animals. “The first requirement for evolving a big brain,” Harvard anthropologist Richard Wrangham writes in”Catching Fire,” “is the ability to fuel it, and to do so reliably.” Dense in energy and easy to digest, meat (especially when cooked) provided an excellent source of food for the brain. In fact, most anthropologists believe that it was by beginning to eat meat that our ancestors saw a substantial gain in relative brain size millions of years ago. Bigger brains of course could accommodate more advanced cognitive functions, including abstract thought and language. So you could say that eating meat made it possible for us to deliberate the ethics of eating meat. For our ancestors, the choice to partake of other animals may not have been a question of survival, but their choice did contribute to the evolution of the species we are today — that is, to modern human existence. As such, can it be considered unethical?
Then again, that was then. Now that we are the ethical, rational species we are, we have a responsibility to act accordingly. And this makes it wrong for us to eat products derived from factory farm animals, who are subjected to terrible and unnecessary suffering in confinement. Moreover, as vegan and vegetarian eaters and societies have shown us, eating meat is not critical for our survival; it is possible to enjoy well-being on plant foods alone. So how can it be ethical to kill any animals, humanely raised or not, for food?
In today’s food environment, eating meat may in fact be the best bet for survival for many Americans. It is a more reliable way for them to get the energy and nourishment they need. In many areas of the country, fruits, vegetables and whole grains are hard to come by, and adhering to a plant-only diet would — calorie for calorie, gram for gram — costs more money (and time that can’t be spared) than one consisting of bacon-topped burgers and fried chicken, which are subsidized by our country’s industrial agricultural system. Composing a complete and balanced plant-only diet, moreover, requires a level of knowledge of foods, nutrients and supplements that most Americans are nowhere near having. Abolishing meat from the diets of Americans would not be unlike throwing them to the wolves.
Eating meat in America today is ethical because many of us have come to rely on it, to an extent, for our survival. And this is in no small measure a byproduct of the American food system, which promotes a meat-based diet while obstructing other ways of eating. But surely we’ll continue to evolve as a species and as a society, and it’s possible to imagine how someday meat-eating will be considered unequivocally unethical.
it is full of remarkably nutritionally ignorant, evolutionarily incorrect and morally immature statements.
on the other hand, it's not much worse than the contest winner's effort:
A few weeks ago, we invited readers to make an argument for the ethics of eating meat. Thousands of readers submitted essays, and thousands more voted on the finalists that we posted online. Our panel of judges — Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan and Peter Singer — chose the essay below as the winner. It will be published in the May 6 issue of the magazine.
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
As a vegetarian who returned to meat-eating, I find the question “Is meat-eating ethical?” one that is in my head and heart constantly. The reasons I became a vegetarian, then a vegan and then again a conscientious meat-eater were all ethical. The ethical reasons of why NOT to eat meat are obvious: animals are raised and killed in cruel conditions; grain that could feed hungry people is fed to animals; the need for pasture fuels deforestation; and by eating meat, one is implicated in the killing of a sentient being. Except for the last reason, however, none of these aspects of eating meat are implicit in eating meat, yet they are exactly what make eating some meat unethical. Which leads to my main argument: eating meat raised in specific circumstances is ethical; eating meat raised in other circumstances is unethical. Just as eating vegetables, tofu or grain raised in certain circumstances is ethical and those produced in other ways is unethical.
What are these “right” and “wrong” ways of producing both meat and plant foods? For me, they are most succinctly summed up in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” While studying agroecology at Prescott College in Arizona, I was convinced that if what you are trying to achieve with an “ethical” diet is the least destructive impact on life as a whole on this planet, then in some circumstances, like living among dry, scrubby grasslands in Arizona, eating meat, is, in fact, the most ethical thing you can do other than subsist on wild game, tepary beans and pinyon nuts. A well-managed, free-ranged cow is able to turn the sunlight captured by plants into condensed calories and protein with the aid of the microorganisms in its gut. Sun > diverse plants > cow > human. This in a larger ethical view looks much cleaner than the fossil-fuel-soaked scheme of tractor-tilled field > irrigated soy monoculture > tractor harvest > processing > tofu > shipping > human.
While most present-day meat production is an ecologically foolish and ethically wrong endeavor, happily this is changing, and there are abundant examples of ecologically beneficial, pasture-based systems. The fact is that most agroecologists agree that animals are integral parts of truly sustainable agricultural systems. They are able to cycle nutrients, aid in land management and convert sun to food in ways that are nearly impossible for us to do without fossil fuel. If “ethical” is defined as living in the most ecologically benign way, then in fairly specific circumstances, of which each eater must educate himself, eating meat is ethical; in fact NOT eating meat may be arguably unethical.
The issue of killing of a sentient being, however, lingers. To which each individual human being must react by asking: Am I willing to divide the world into that which I have deemed is worthy of being spared the inevitable and that which is not worthy? Or is such a division hopelessly artificial? A poem of Wislawa Szymborska’s, “In Praise of Self-Deprecation,” comes to mind. It ends:
There is nothing more animal-like
than a clear conscience
on the third planet of the Sun.
For me, eating meat is ethical when one does three things. First, you accept the biological reality that death begets life on this planet and that all life (including us!) is really just solar energy temporarily stored in an impermanent form. Second, you combine this realization with that cherished human trait of compassion and choose ethically raised food, vegetable, grain and/or meat. And third, you give thanks.
***reaches for the Excedrin...***
i'm opposed to drug usage, but i can understand the pain. :D
here's more of it:
science without conscience is certainly tragic,
but science without facts is hyperbolic magic.
thx for the explanations robert - very helpful as always!
Eating road kill raw has less environmental impact than drinking bottled water flown from Fiji, therefore eat meat.
There's no bananas in maine!! Be sustainable and eat possums and bears!
Yeah, you know what else doesn't belong in Maine? Humans!
The wide range of desperate diet logic that follows basic errors about who we are and where/how we're meant to live.
No bananas in Maine - you haven't seen my kitchen! But diet isn't everything....Maine also provides peace of mind, beauty, fertile soil, the highest organic standards available, clean air, clean water etc etc. And blueberries! And no possums :) (It's the raccoons, foxes and porcupines that are roadkill, but not for long, carrion-eating birds and then insects take care of that.)
As cold weather approaches thriving of course gets more challenging but I'm so firmly rooted here I don't think I would live anywhere else again.
That's awesome mary. Just to be clear, I am in no way knocking Maine. Just bringing up the reality of the compromises one must make when living in extreme climates. My rents live in the upper peninsula of michigan, which is a very similar climate. If I ate "locally" there during the winter, it'd be venison, squirrels, and lots of flavorless snow cones. :P peace
Maybe that's why there's so few vegans up here, meat eaters feel they have more justification? But it sure would be nice to be able to pick ripe fruit all year long.....but you're right, northerners definitely have to make compromises in diet on this lifestyle.
I'm still eating greens, cukes and carrots out of the garden but after that if I ate "locally" for the winter it would be turkeys, bear and dear. As hunting season approaches I'm rooting for the animals.
Interesting… almost comical, but totally false.
The title should have been: “Being vegan is too hard and people are just lazy, so screw it and let’s eat some meat…”
Plant foods are not “hard to come by”, I can go to the produce section of any grocery store in any state and be just fine.
He also said “calorie for calorie, gram for gram — costs more money (and time that can’t be spared)” Some people think this… but it’s False.
I can buy very large bags (over 10lbs) and beans and brown rice for very cheap, much cheaper then meat using the requirements above. Then add in some low cost greens and other veggies.. cheap easy vegan.
Saying people are too lazy to research and do the right thing… this is not an Ethical argument, just an excuse.
important points kenny!
people forget that it costs a lot of money to fatten up what corpse food comes from, not to mention water and landscape destruction.
Hi all, I have been trying to catchup a bit. I read the posts about evolution and survival of the fittest. I was wondering that if humans came from the tropics and eat fruit for primary fuel. We went out exploring and ended up in different parts of the world and thereby creating human classification (people in Europa, Asia, South America). We look different from the outside, are we any different from the inside? Are there any genetic changes that causes other digestive processes? Is there any evidence that a subspecies specific diet my exist and how far would it go? Just wondering :D
The only thing I can think of is the genetic development of adult lactose tolerance. Not that our entire systems are ideally set up for drinking milk, tho
There is no one natural human diet
therefore it's a good idea not to try to argue stuff like humans were natural frugivores or even natural vegetarians x million years ago ... because the scientific data shows otherwise. go that route and you can be shot so full of holes that you'll need more than the 30bad quota of water intake to stay hydrated!
the nutritional reason one should be veg is because the scientific evidence overwhelmingly shows that veg is good for you and that corpse crunching ain't - not because you want to believe that some early humans were veg in the past.
such an argument is used by the corpse eaters, btw: specifically, ancestral humans ate corpse parts, therefore we should as well. this effort is known as the genetic fallacy. let them fall into it - we shouldn't!