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Since Other Animals Are Predators, Why Shouldn’t We Eat Animals?

  • by
  • September 12, 2012
  • 7:00 pm
Since Other Animals Are Predators, Why Shouldn’t We Eat Animals?

Last month, I wrote an article about the ethics of fishing. It received almost 100 comments. A few people pointed out that fishes eat other fishes; since they eat other animals, as do plenty of other predators, why shouldn’t we?

A few weeks ago, I was swimming in the pond at the Institute for Humane Education. One of my favorite things to do in the pond is take photographs of the many frogs and dragonflies (and then share them on Facebook). This particular day, I debated whether or not to bring my camera into the water. After all, I’ve taken dozens of photos of the frogs and the dragonflies. What would be new to photograph? But I brought the camera anyway, and indeed there was something new. I took this photo of a green frog swallowing another frog (probably another green frog since those are the only frogs we see in the pond right now), and I found myself thinking about those comments about fishing. Here was a perfect example of the predatory reality all around us. Why shouldn’t we be full participants in such predation, given that we’re omnivores?

This is why: basing our behaviors on those of other animals is a slippery slope, and can be dangerous, silly, and potentially just self-serving. If I am right that the green frog in this photo is eating another green frog, does that mean we should be cannibals? My dog Elsie loves to eat poop. Should I therefore eat poop? Elephant seals have harems and control their multitude of much smaller female mates aggressively, seemingly raping them repeatedly, and attacking other elephant seals who try to mate with any of their females. Does this mean that men ought to have harems, rape women, and attack other men who threaten their dominion?

Humans have the capacity to make decisions based on our ethics, not simply our desires, and throughout human history, we have codified our morality. Every religion and every society, theistic or not, has its list of ethical principles designed to help us humans avoid succumbing to brutality, cruelty, jealousy, greed and hatred, and live harmoniously with compassion, love and kindness.

So to me, the fact that falcons prey on rodents, that some frogs eat other frogs, that cats are carnivores, and that most fishes eat other fishes does not mean that I should cause harm and death to other animals by eating them if I don’t have to. Unlike falcons, frogs, cats, and fishes, I can choose.

I try to live by the MOGO (most good) principle and do the most good and least harm, not only to myself, but also to other people, other species, and the environment. It’s for this reason that I have chosen a vegan diet that is primarily organic and often locally produced (very locally in the summer and fall because I grow much of our food in my garden).

I feel very fortunate that I have the ability to choose what I eat and to do so based on this principle. Many others around the globe don’t have such choices, and if I had to eat other animals to survive I would do so, just like an Inuit or a Pacific Islander. But I don’t have to. And so my answer to those who ask why shouldn’t we eat animals since other animals are predators is simply this: because (most of us) don’t have to. Why should we cause suffering and death to other sentient animals simply because we like the taste of them?

Given the reality that our rapacious appetite for animal flesh is also rapidly destroying habitats, causing the extinction of myriad fish species, polluting the environment, and wasting food that could otherwise feed the one billion people around the world who don’t have enough to eat, justifying our animal consumption based on observations of what other species do seems foolhardy.

Related Stories:

Considering the Ethics of Fishing

Does Helping One Lead to Helping Many?

7 Reasons Why We Have Not ‘Evolved’ To Eat Meat

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Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and dynamic resources. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil.


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Image courtesy Zoe Weil.

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2:52AM PDT on May 2, 2013

thank you for sharing

6:25AM PDT on Mar 20, 2013

An interesting question

6:11AM PST on Feb 14, 2013

Well argued and reasonable. Yup, there are choices and there are choices and there are choices. People are free to make regrettable choices that they will regret later. Thank you Zoe for giving another perspective to help us make informed humane choices.

10:01AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

noted

10:00AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Interesting article,thanks. My issue is not so much with meat eaters or whether we should eat animals but rather the cruelty these animals endure daily,the constant confinement,slaughterhouse methods and the very long transports of these animals to the kill house. If you wanna eat meat,fine but no animal should be put through the hell that they go through. It's an appalling industry that is out of control. Massive factory farms with pigs in gestation stalls that cannot move,chickens in Battery cages veal calves and i can literally go on and on....How about the cat and dog meat industry??? Have any of you seen the atrocities these poor souls endure??? And all for us callous greedy humans. I could go on with this rant but i'll be here forever...you get the gist of things. Treat all animals with respect and kindness,especially if you're eating them. Thank you.

5:35AM PST on Feb 12, 2013

Thank you Zoe, for Sharing this!

11:25PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Dale, all I want to know is IF I am paid by the "meat industry", just which company is supposed to sign the checks, and what is the standard............do I get paid by the comment, paid by the word, or am I supposed to endorse a specific meat or company? I'd sure like to know, and why anyone's at it to supply me with that information, what would the best approach be to get the most money out of such a venture? Should I post MORE often, or LONGER comments? Should I endorse Hormel, or Dinty Moore or maybe Smithfield? I know, I'll say I eat mostly corn and endorse Monsanto, then maybe the accuser will back off since corn isn't meat. Wait, corn isn't a veggie, either, is it?

4:35PM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

That was interesting, Dale: thanks! We get the “you’re paid by the meat industry” and “you are not real” all the time: it’s a standard covert aggressive technique to destroy the credibility of an opponent, particularly a difficult, well-informed one who is not only resisting the propaganda but preventing others from succumbing to it. The “not real” accusation from someone who created his own sockpuppet to bully us by proxy is particularly amusing, don’t you think?

Animal abolitionists do not want people to keep cats or dogs because they are carnivores. They are not comfortable that carnivores even exist: many advocate a sterilization program of predators to bring about their compassionate extinction. Those who will “permit” carnivores to predate in the wild will not permit humans to eat animals or animal products. We “permit” animals to rape their young, assault/kill each other, steal, dominate and exploit, and humans do all those things because they are animals as well. Our ‘big brains’ give some of us empathy and the capacity to override our instincts in the interests of a reciprocal, supportive social network. But we cannot override our physiology: only a few of us do very well on plants alone, many can survive well enough (physically), but many cannot. Humans are animals, and the Vegan New World Order demands our extinction too. How compassionate is that?!

9:00AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Well enough of my travels down Memory Lane and examples from other articles elsewhere on Care2, but just wanted to illustrate the point about omnivores being taken to task and just a curiosity about how some animal rightists are so against carnivores that they believe Mother Nature had the wrong idea. This is, after all, the planet Earth where there are prey animals in the wild and even domesticated animals now called pets. Luckily some don't life in Africa where prey animals like the Hyena who kill most of their prey. They make the domestic cat look like rank amateurs.

The 16 year old blind cat that owns me just demanded lunch. Wonder what she would do if I offered her a carrot? Or if I trekked to the Serengeti and offered it to a lion? Now it is noon...time for bed. My hours are just so reversed but I do Nature photography on the rural roads at three in the morning.

8:33AM PDT on Oct 27, 2012

Comment continued from below:

Or he (David O in other article, see below) states: "Why is it that everyone sees this as a ecological («wildlife conservation») issue, and not an issue of individual animals' rights and welfare? What does it feel like to be torn apart by a cat, or terrorized to death? True, cats like to go out. However, quite obviously, the interests mice, birds and other sentient beings have in not being subjected to terrible suffering and death certainly trump the pleasure cats derive from hunting. It is appalling that so many in the animal movement don't see that." Well David O, guess Mother Nature was flawed in not providing a planet where only vegans, vegetarians and herbivores exist. All those nasty omnivores, carnivores and obligate carnivores!

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