I’ve been seeing an awfully lot on Veganism lately. In fact, the New York Times ran a little contest on why eating meat was ethical here. What they won’t tell you is I entered that little contest. I didn’t win it. However, since I have a blog, I don’t HAVE TO! UP YOURS, NEW YORK TIMES! (Unless you are an editor that would like to publish something else of mine, in which case, up yours far less)
In this contest, the challenge was to explore the ethics of eating meat. It was supposed to be in essay format, but the thing is, such philosophizing doesn’t really lend itself well to essay format. I went with the time-honored list instead. I shall reproduce it here in all of its glory:
Definition: Ethics–the branch which deals with moral statements and includes both proper and improper actions.
Eating meat is therefore ethical as a moral statement.
However, that’s probably not what you mean. Assuming what you actually mean is why is it moral to eat meat, then I’ll need some other definitions:
Ethics–the branch which deals with moral statements and includes both their proper and improper implications where right action is concerned, promotes no unnecessary harm, and generally promotes
balance and harmony.
Health–that which promotes the most well-being for a person–peak performance physically in this instance.
Meat–fish, eggs, poultry, things that have fur or faces.
Arguments: No one knows what a proper diet consists of for an individual person. A person may, subjectively, know the proper diet for themselves. If a person knows subjectively that their health is better when they eat meat, then eating meat is ethical. Substatements: It is ethical a) because their action is not so much due to choice, but by necessity. They do not “want” to eat meat, but rather, they “want” good health. b) Because the killing of something is not necessarily inhumane. If the animal feels no pain in death, then no harm has come to it. Its life has simply ended which is a given. In fact, its death may be MORE humane than its natural death would be. c) because if the person has bad health or non-peak health, they have caused themselves unnecessary harm, and additionally caused others potential unnecessary harm by taking up medical resources that could be otherwise employed. d) I’m assuming that the animal is not overcrowded or otherwise treated in a way that undermines its own well-being. Open-range comes to mind. e) that cannibalism is assumed to be inherently harmful because it destroys society–i.e. that having ethics presupposes having people and that cannibalism causes harm either mentally, physically, or both. f) That animals do not have the same type of mental internals that humans do such that their capacity for suffering is less when it comes to mental suffering. (i.e. Have you ever seen a cow in a meadow worry? Probably not, unless it was undergoing some form of harm that moment. People, on the other hand, worry in the absence of harm in the moment as they recollect past harm or perceived future harm) In terms of the suffering in the moment for human or animal, no difference is postulated.
Another perspective: People can know in broad objective terms what a proper diet consists of for an individual person. Many of the experts in these fields recommend eating some portion of meat. Many experts suggest that supplements do not work as a meat substitute. Many experts also suggest that meat may have a unique method of delivery that so far has not been replicated. Hence, to eat a proper diet requires eating some portion of meat and is therefore ethical. Substatements: a) Experts must be here deferred to in matters of objectivity wherein one is not an expert. b) other experts may disagree with these experts and suggest that eating vegan and taking supplements is better for you. c) When experts clash with equal evidence, the choice is subjective. See argument 1 for why a subjective choice to eat meat can be ethical.
Finally: Herbivores largely have flat teeth. Carnivores largely have pointy teeth. Humans have both, and are omnivores. Carnivores largely eat meat. Herbivores largely eat plants. Humans largely eat both by definition. Furthermore, a carnivore that tries to subsist on a diet of corn, such as a dog, usually becomes unhealthy. Likewise, feeding herbivores meat often makes them unhealthy. (if they eat it at all) Therefore, evolution has primed certain creatures to subsist on certain diets. That someone or something can eat something other than what nature has primed it for and remain in peak health is to be expected, but not necessarily considered the rule (should you feed a child nothing but chocolates on the off chance they can stay in peak health from it?). Hence, it is ethical to eat meat because it is necessary to eat meat to maintain one’s self by legacy of nature. Where one can not eat meat assuming non peak-health, then the choice becomes subjective. See argument 1 for why a subjective choice to eat meat can be ethical.
A Curious Counter-Example: Some people claim to not eat, but to exist on breathing. These people are called breatharians. If they can maintain peak-health by doing as they purport, then it would be unethical for them to even so much as eat a plant or animal.
Have you ever seen such a beautiful argument? HAVE YOU? The way I framed the argument is not about the ethics of how to treat animals per se, but what must be done ethically for the care and maintenance of our own bodies. In other words, it is POSSIBLE to eat a lot of things and experience various health consequences, but what we should focus on eating are those things which produce the most salubrious effects where we are concerned. Since we each live in our own bodies, we are the best judges of that. A study might say wheat is good for you, but if you eat wheat and throw up, well then, wheat isn’t so good after all.
If it turns out that meat is what is best for us where our health is concerned, then the question is less “Should we eat animals” and more “we are sorta stuck with eating animals”. How should we then care for them? If we provide them a better life and also a better death than they would get in nature, then it would seem the issues with eating meat would largely evaporate. So, the problem of whether or not we should eat animals is not a philosophical issue any more than the problem of whether we should breathe air is if it turns out that eating meat is what is best for us. It simply is.
Compare my argument to the winning entry:
So, his argument for eating meat is basically a) realize everything is solar energy. b) Be compassionate and c) Give thanks.
You’ll excuse me if I say the following very profane words: “What the FUCKING FUCKSTICKS FUCK KIND OF ARGUMENT IS THAT?”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad the dude won, but his rationale is high on form but doesn’t really make many substantive points on why eating meat is ethical. The poetry is nice. I especially like this line:
Which leads to my main argument: eating meat raised in specific circumstances is ethical; eating meat raised in other circumstances is unethical.
So, uh, it’s sorta like Mel Brook’s Theory of Yes and No from Dracula Dead and Loving It:
Are you saying that Count Dracula is our vampire?VAN HELSING
Yes!… and no…RENFIELD
Then what are you saying?VAN HELSING
I’m saying no. But I’m leeeeaning towards yes.JONATHAN HARKER
Then you’re saying yes.VAN HELSING
Then you’re saying no.VAN HELSING
You sound dubious.VAN HELSING
No -I’m positive!RENFIELD
Of what?VAN HELSING
Of my theory!RENFIELD
And that would be?VAN HELSING
The theory of Yes- or no.
I’m all for a good dose of paradox, but damn, dude.
I think, in essence, the Times was looking for an angle that made meat eating FEEL nice, and not so much an argument for it per se. In that regard, that guy beat me fair and square.
However, philosophically? I think I’d have won that one. Wussy bunny New York Times. I’m not bitter. My heart will go on.