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Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat

  • by
  • September 20, 2012
  • 5:00 am
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.

 

Related Stories:

Former Vegans Explain Why They Eat Meat: Are You Convinced?

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

The Ethical Dilemma Inherent in the Weekday Vegetarian Plan

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1150 comments

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5:47AM PDT on Jun 25, 2015

FYI...

http://m.truthdig.com/report/item/saving_the_planet_one_meal_at_a_time_20141109

http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/06/4-ways-people-rationalize-eating-meat.html

https://legacyofpythagoras.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/do-doctors-think/

5:26AM PDT on Jun 25, 2015

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3122303/Move-Lassie-IQ-tests-reveal-pigs-outsmart-dogs-chimpanzees.html

5:22AM PDT on Jun 25, 2015

http://m.truthdig.com/report/item/all_forms_of_life_are_sacred_20150104

5:51PM PDT on Jun 23, 2015

Ah yes, the "Veganist Borg Collective" is out and spreading their cult amongst others

Wait till they start the name calling

After all, to them, we're a "lesser species" that eats meat

OBTW, Cats are Obligate Carnivores. Humans are Omnivores. Cat's can't eat plant based material and survive (unless you like supporting GMO and Big Pharma)

Humans need both plant and animal sources of food. No? Please go to a northern clime and try no technology nor importation of food. Let's see how long you last

6:20AM PDT on Jun 23, 2015

Message from a Martian observer of life on earth: Reading the comments it seems evident to me that eating meat gives people a more relaxed and less hostile attitude in dealing with other people.

5:35AM PDT on Jun 23, 2015

Studies done by Andrew Clark at Cornell have DEMONSTRATED genes which evolved with us for hundreds of thousands of years. Those genes help us digest proteins...as in MEAT.

Our bodies are designed to be omnivorous! We have a differentiated tooth row...teeth for plants and meat. Even our nearest relatives (chimps and bonobos) eat meat on occasion.

And, to Suzana....kindly remember that billions of us don't believe in any ''god of genesis."

8:05AM PDT on Jun 22, 2015

Well, it's ethical if you are a CAT, just as the picture shows.

7:07AM PDT on Jun 7, 2015

http://freefromharm.org/eating-animals-addressing-our-most-common-justifications/

"If one eats meat, it is easy to avoid getting meat from factory farms if one takes the time and the effort."

Dale,

What about all those restaurants? Will the majority of people stop eating cheap meat? I don't think so. The only way to shut down factory farms is to stop eating meat.

Indeed, we must strike at the roots. In reality, there's no such thing as humane slaughter. No matter how you slice it, animal commodification is violent and destructive (mentally, physically, spiritually, environmentally, etc.).

http://www.positivelypositive.com/2012/09/06/scientists-declare-animals-are-as-conscious-as-humans-and-the-pictures-to-prove-it/

The habit of devaluing living beings will one day be a thing of the past. Why? Because it's one big lie.

For the record, where do you draw the line on animal experimentation?

10:14AM PDT on May 12, 2015

Of course there are incidences when it is ethical to eat meat - but those instances don't apply to the people who use them to justify killing farm animals to satisfy their meat lust. And that Australian who said that a plant based diet is not as good for the environment as raising cattle is another joker who shouldn't even have been published. Of course I go to the God of Genesis for being vegan as he wanted our first parents to be vegetarian. And just plain common sense tells me that there is much needless suffering by incarcerating animals in cages, crates, and airless factories. I think all meat eaters should visit these places. I don't think they will be quite as vocal about their meat lust if they did.

10:13AM PDT on May 12, 2015

Of course there are incidences when it is ethical to eat meat - but those instances don't apply to the people who use them to justify killing farm animals to satisfy their meat lust. And that Australian who said that a plant based diet is not as good for the environment as raising cattle is another joker who shouldn't even have been published. Of course I go to the God of Genesis for being vegan as he wanted our first parents to be vegetarian. And just plain common sense tells me that there is much needless suffering by incarcerating animals in cages, crates, and airless factories. I think all meat eaters should visit these places. I don't think they will be quite as vocal about their meat lust if they did.

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