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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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1156 comments

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5:03PM PDT on Jul 9, 2015

If I were a meat-eater I would take issue with this article that paints people that eat meat as not capable of being able to eat a nutritious plant based diet and that have grown reliant on meat.
I think the last paragraph of this article says it all:
"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."

4:26PM PDT on Jul 9, 2015

Hehe.

People don't dislike Vegans for their diets

People despise sanctimonious, lilly livered, loud mouthed, mean spirited, name calling:

Veganists here in C2C have called Omnis:

Animal Graveyards
Secretion Sucker
Carrion Eaters
Cannibals

and then they really get nasty

No, people don't hate Vegans, those who eat a Vegan Diet and let others alone

People despise self serving, holier than thou, self proclaimed "higher evolved", those who think they are better than the rest, sanctimonious idiots

Too many C2C Vegans fit that. They are despised

The article really is nothing more than them writing about what they see in the mirror

8:21AM PDT on Jul 8, 2015

http://veganchowhound.com/rants/people-hate-vegans-freud-could-explain-why/

4:25AM PDT on Jul 8, 2015

Here is some real information, not that crap the Veganists spread (there is a difference between a person with a Vegan diet and a Veganist, same way there is a difference between a religious person and a bible/koran/{insert holy book here} thumper who tells you it's their way or you're burning in hell/on a pyre/will be sacrificed/etc

http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/translating-uncle-sam/stories/is-organic-food-worth-the-cost-0

4:19AM PDT on Jul 8, 2015

@ Darlene: The audacity that you have in telling others they have no clue is breath taking

You, a person who gets their medical information from quacks, whose arguments that are promoting your ideology would make the NRA blush and refuse to use them in adds to sell guns, how you can decry the costs of grass fed beef as "exclusionary" while ignoring the true costs of "organically farmed foods", that you have the chutzpah to claim that people are ignorant is mind blowing

I am far more fully informed and have an understanding far deeper and exponentially far more complex and nuanced than you could even dream about and I know that all those foods require a modern transportation system bringing foods from all over the world at great expense, a high carbon footprint, more deforestation for your ideology

Bag it Darlene

The best you have is not even close to being worth a pot to piss in

1:51PM PDT on Jul 7, 2015

"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."
This premise of Americans having come to rely on meat and could not survive because of lack of knowledge of how to eat a nutritional plant based diet is an insult to American intelligence!

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

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