Meat is Dinner?

By Richard Hollis (aka Ritchie)

Just over two years ago, DaylightAtheism featured an essay discussing vegetarianism – though coming at it largely as an environmental issue. Seeing as so many faces on here seem new, I thought I’d tackle it again and hit the moral question head-on: can we justify eating meat?

Many religions include restrictions on consuming meat, from total abstention to restrictions on eating certain animals, considered either sacred or unclean. Even the Christian Bible contains a passage prohibiting eating shellfish (Leviticus 11:10-12), though I think the number of Christians who observe this is small.

Nevertheless, in the west, religion has often been used to justify eating meat. Did God not put animals on Earth for our convenience? Are we humans not specially created by God in his image? Do we not to hold dominion over animals?

Hopefully we atheists can see this for the arrogant nonsense it is. We humans were not specifically created at all. We are animals ourselves; descended from the same ancestors as every animal alive today. Animals are, albeit distantly, our cousins. That is not to say that there is nothing that sets we humans apart. Every species is unique, and it seems humans have achieved heights of awareness, intelligence and civilisation unmatched on Earth. But does this difference justify killing animals to eat?

Certainly it is important to get all the nutrients to keep ourselves healthy, but in an age and society where our supermarkets are kept stocked with food from all round the world, sustaining a meat-free diet which includes everything we need to stay optimally healthy is easy. The myth that a vegetarian diet is often lacking in protein – or any other dietary necessity - is just that, as millions of perfectly healthy vegetarians across the world can attest to.

In fact, insisting that humans are, by nature, meat-eaters very quickly sounds remarkably like something a Creationist might come out with. ‘Humans were designed to eat meat’ might be changed to ‘Humans have evolved to eat meat’, but the argument is essentially the same. We cannot derive an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. The fact that humans can eat meat says nothing at all about whether they should. Yes, we can eat meat, but we can also survive perfectly well without it. Our ability to eat meat carries no moral obligation to do so.

Nor can meat-eating be sufficiently defended by insisting that we would be overrun with animals in a world of vegetarians. Battery farms have hugely inflated the numbers of animals kept as livestock over the past century to meet the demand for meat, and if that demand was reduced, the numbers of animals kept for meat would inevitably follow.

Meat is, of course, tasty. That I won’t deny. When I ate meat, I loved it. But how much weight does that carry morally? I’m sure it’s nice to be pampered and have your every whim attended to by your own personal slave, but I don’t think that justifies the institution. Exploiting others may bring material rewards, but surely a moral person will be troubled by the fact that others have paid a dear price for their convenience.

Note that I am not arguing that animals should enjoy the same rights as a human being. I am not saying the life of an animal is more, or equally, valuable than the life of a human being. Faced with an angry bear, I would indeed shoot it. But this is simply not the situation we face with the meat industry. We are not locked into a them-or-us conflict. The question is whether the life of an animal is worth more than whatever preferential pleasure we might get from eating them as opposed to a vegetarian meal.

Atheists are, by definition, not united by any common belief, merely by a common lack of belief in something specific. However, most atheists I know claim to follow a broadly humanitarian code of ethics – seek to maximise happiness and minimise suffering. But why should only human happiness or suffering be taken into consideration? Anyone who has ever owned a pet will, I am sure, agree that their animal could suffer and feel a range of emotions. Is the pain a pig feels less important than the pain a human feels?

Not that I think meat-eaters are indifferent to animal suffering. I’m sure I don’t know a single person who would happily watch anything suffer for fun, and many of my meat-eating friends purposefully seek out products of ‘free range’ animals, wanting their meat to have had as pleasant a life as possible. But surely this is a good argument for eating our pets - something many meat-eaters would, I suspect, find repulsive? And even then, is a painless killer blow justified? Is murder acceptable if it is done painlessly? And if not, why is the killing of an animal different?

In our mainstream society, vegetarians tend to get a rather bad reputation. All too often they are portrayed as irrational and outraged militants, and their opinions mocked rather than honestly addressed. In that, they share something in common with atheists. But atheists, I hope, know what it is like to swim against the tide of popular opinion and think for themselves. We know what it is like to take a stand and hold to our convictions against a herd mentality.

And so I ask, can we justify eating meat?

  • http://cascadedcadence.deviantart.com/ unintentionalhypocrite

    I share a similar view. Thanks for putting it so eloquently.

  • http://forums.penny-arcade.com/ Jeep-Eep

    In before massive shitstorm.

  • Alex SL

    Now I agree completely that it would be preferable if the suffering of animals could be kept to a minimum. Free-roaming chicken instead of batteries; no horrible transports with animals stuffed much too closely and many of them dying; butchering as painless as possible, etc. I would also say that we should eat less meat as a whole. It is not very healthy to eat as much of it as many Westerners do, and it consumes too much energy and thus too much land mass that could feed more humans if it were covered with grain, for example.

    But I completely fail to see what is so terribly immoral about killing and eating animals in principle. They are animals, not humans. They constantly kill each other for food. You may consider that argument a joke or dirty pool, but the oft-heard rejoinder that you should try to teach a lion or a shark your moral logic and see how far it gets you is heard so often because it does constitute a reductio ad absurdum. We are usually called omnivores, but our intestines are comparatively short for our body size, and we have a gall bladder. That is the digestive tract of a carnivore, really.

    In addition, it should be realized that several of the animals we eat have already evolved to be very dependent on us. They have become our symbionts to a similar degree as the fungi that leafcutter ants cultivate have become theirs. They would not exist any more if we did not protect them, and we clear huge swaths of land to allow them to use it which they couldn’t without our help. So what do you expect to happen if all of humanity suddenly turns vegetarian? Not only would untold numbers of individual animals have to be killed or released (which means they would die horribly of starvation, infections or predation), but it would mean the extinction of entire lineages of those animals. It should also be kept in mind that the difference between animals we eat and plants we eat is only one of degree, not of principle, and we have to kill something to live anyway.

  • Kogo

    *When I ate meat, I loved it. But how much weight does that carry morally?*

    How can I put this most succintly? “I don’t care.” I don’t really bother faceplanting into my own navel about this sort of thing. I used to care about morality. Then I stopped caring about morality. Now I’m moving toward active, positive hostility toward those who insist on talking about morality. I believe in freedom, pleasure, knowledge, and beauty (no, I am NOT interested in talking about those from a moral perspective). Talking about morality is like trying to move a half-full waterbed: Exhaustingly useless.

    *I’m sure it’s nice to be pampered and have your every whim attended to by your own personal slave, but I don’t think that justifies the institution.*

    Way to paint meat-eating with a hugely too-big brush.

  • Kogo

    *And so I ask, can we justify eating meat?*

    By it’s deliciousness.

    *But surely this is a good argument for eating our pets – something many meat-eaters would, I suspect, find repulsive? And even then, is a painless killer blow justified? Is murder acceptable if it is done painlessly? And if not, why is the killing of an animal different?*

    I call Gish Gallop.

  • Michus

    While well written and making a fair and solid point on the emotional morality of eating meat you didn’t really cover any of the socio-economic benefits of widespread vegetarianism such as being able to produce more food per square km of arable farmland and also a reduction in both methane emissions from animals and the spread of antibiotic resistant diseases that could make the jump from pigs and cows to humans.

    It seems that as a species we are willing to make a lot of sacrifices just to get that extra ‘tasty’ that meat offers.

  • Kogo

    *It seems that as a species we are willing to make a lot of sacrifices just to get that extra ‘tasty’ that meat offers.*

    Pretty much, yeah.

  • Samuel

    The same applies to all luxeries people consume, not just meat. If we weren’t posting on this blog, we wouldn’t need the electricity. Think of how much coal we could save!

  • BJ Marshall

    As a result of my fairly recent atheism, I began investigating moral issues I hadn’t really ever thought of before. I decided only two months ago to take seriously the vegetarian issue, and I have since become a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.

    I think there are two points I’d like to raise to expound upon points you made: “Free range” as a vacuous term, and focusing on end-of-life animal issues at the expense of not thinking about all the during-of-life issues.

    First, terms like “free range” are vacuous. I recall reading in Jonathan Safran Foer’s book “Eating Animals” that terms like “free range” and “cage-free” really don’t mean anything. Give a giant overly-cramped group of cattle a small opening into a 5×5 fenced-in open area, and you can use that label. I could shove a couple dozen hens under my chicken sink and dub them cage-free and organic.

    Secondly, while the end-of-life issues (like a knocker failing to render a cow unconscious, leaving it to suffer needlessly further down the line) are important, a stronger incentive to my vegetarian conversion was learning the atrocious conditions that animals exist in day-to-day. Animals are treated cruelly by their handlers, and they live in incredibly cramped spaces. I got the sense from my reading that their entire lives are torturous. After I read more about how factory farms treat their animals, I decided that I could no longer support the industry.

  • Kogo

    Right-on Samuel. Pick ANY given industrial commodity or activity: Eliminating it would probably have some good environmental result. I vaguely get why meat is considered “different” since it involves animals. But I strongly suspect that FAR more animals died indirectly as a result of, say, the manufacture of a Macbook than did the delicious Italian sausage I ate for lunch today.

  • jankin

    I believe that you have convolved two different arguments – one about meat eating and one about modern factory farming. If meat were available via cell culture, I don’t think that anyone could argue against it, since humans have canine and carnassid (premolar) teeth and the associated enzyme systems needed for a meat based diet, exactly as we share with our other primate cousins. The nutritional benefits of meat are unequaled, which is why overindulgence gets humans obese. So, there is an argument for eating road kills, right? This involves no /moral/ quandary as far as I can see. Nor would eating animals who die of old age. So meat eating misses the point, I believe. Animal cruelty is more to the point. And here we can make an analogy to human “mercy killing” – in that after a full life, death should be easy. Consent is the problem here, as the animal by instinct likely would not give consent, as it has no known ability to imagine future pain. So I would recast the argument, and also remain part of the animal world. This planet lives from death, as each species overproduces in order to feed that death. Such death gives life. Should we be insulated from that? Or is there a middle road?

  • Nathaniel

    First off, not everyone can get a full healthy diet without meat. Here is one such case: http://voraciouseats.com/2010/11/19/a-vegan-no-more/

    Even if such people are rare, what would your response to them in a purely vegetarian world? Sucks to be them?

    Another thing. Broadly speaking, we have different amounts of value for different animals. I’m going to go on a limb and assume that no one here cries over the mosquito we squash to prevent getting bitten.

    Alright, so everyone agrees that mosquitoes can be killed freely. What about rats? They are fellow mammals, and show signs of awareness and intelligence. On the other hand, they are pests, eat and spoil produce, and spread disease. Many here would be okay with exterminating them where we find them based on those facts.

    Alright then, how about a cow. Given that we have established that we are okay with killing other animals, why not a cow? What makes it different from a rat that marks the cow off limits while the rat is fair game?

  • Ritchie

    Nathaniel –

    “Even if such people are rare, what would your response to them in a purely vegetarian world? Sucks to be them?”

    No. As I said, it’s not that I prioritise the life of an animal over the life over a human. Just over whatever pleasure humans may get from eating meat. I think she did a sensible thing returning to a diet that makes her healthy (love the term ‘vegangelical’, btw). And if human beings in general were not healthy on a vegan diet, that would absolutely affect my view of it.

    And as for killing pests, for me, I suspect morally the cut-off points comes when we raise animals with the purpose of being killed. We don’t WANT to kill pests, but their presence is a health risk and getting rid of them is sensible if we want to stay healthy. A cow, meanwhile, is bred to be killed merely for our pleasure. And that’s not something that sits comfortably with me.

  • Kaelik

    You forgot to give us any reason to give a ****.

    You can`t assume that everyone has the same morality as you, and then appeal to people`s “don`t you love your pets” instinct. Most people would lend their brother $5, and wouldn`t give a cent to a stranger. Likewise, people will put down their pets, but generally not kill them just because they are hungry.

    To make an argument for morality of X, you have to give someone a reason to care about your moral system. You have failed to pass the outsider test for morality, and you will probably find that fewer people adhere to the “cows are people too, but not ants that I kill by the hundreds in my yard every year” camp than you think.

  • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

    @Ritchie, Firstly, well writtten, and politely addressed, kudos.
    I will gladly admit that you make a solid case, and this is an issue that does trouble me a great deal (although the pig who unwillingly donated his shoulder to sit in my fridge over night covered in salt and spices, then smoked low and slow over the course of the day tomorrow may beg to differ.)

    I understand the economic arguments (although I think that there are agricultural realities to consider, ie: I have seen it argued that local sustainable farming is much more environmentally friendly when the farm is mixed animal/vegetable.)

    I think the moral argument is hazier than you suggest. i don’t think you can “murder” and animal, you can only “murder” people. If you want to talk about crossover with theistic POV’s, well that kind of anthropomorphism is right up the alley of the right to life camp, so lets be careful with the language, ;).

    I guess I think that there can be a middle path between scoffing and destructive meat eating and militant veganism. I also think that vegan/vegetarian arguments are poorly served by treating this as a moral issue. People get really defensive when you explicitly compare them to murderers. If your goal is to reduce the waste and suffering of a meat centric diet (a worthy goal) then making alliances with your friends who you describe above who seek to find more humane ways of producing meat is probably a more sensible plan of attack than winning an abstract moral argument.

    PS. What about shellfish? Shrimp are pretty much just big sea bugs, can I eat them?

  • Ritchie

    Lou –

    When I said ‘murder’ in my OP, I was indeed referring to the killing of humans.

  • Nathaniel

    Okay. So you object to raising animals whose purpose is to be devoured.

    How about hunting then? The deer that is shot was born and raised in the wild, free from human intent to send it to a slaughter house. Is this okay, or do you still maintain objections?

  • Julien

    Ritchie,
    Your post had a lot of interesting opinions about vegetarianism that I (a meat eater) hadn’t previously considered. I’m going to lay out some objections to your argument below, but I want to stress that these aren’t factual objections – I don’t feel that the argument was laid out fairly and clearly, and it’s hard to respond until it is.

    In a nutshell, I felt that your argument was a bit disingenuous, for two reasons:
    First of all, you assume throughout your argument that meat eating is a terrible sort of thing that we have to justify – but I can’t seem to find anywhere where you actually lay out your arguments for why it’s so terrible. You ask near the top “But does this difference justify killing animals to eat?” – can you please lay out your argument for why killing animals to eat is something that needs justification? I’m going to take a quick stab at it here by trying to read between the lines of your argument – please let me know if I’m mistaken or missing anything.
    - Eating meat exploits animals
    - Battery farms are cruel to animals
    - The life of an animal has intrinsic worth, more than the life of, say, a plant
    - Eating meat causes pain to animals
    - Humans don’t have the right to decide whether animals should live or die

    Second, a large part of your argument seems to fall into several logical fallacies:
    -Argument ad hominem: rather than arguing about the act of eating meat and its consequences, you argue that, for instance, the people that are pro-meat eating are hypocritical for not eating their pets. While certainly a fascinating topic to discuss, whether or not people are hypocrites for eating some forms of meat and not others seems to distract from the fundamental argument of whether or not it’s ok to eat meat. Also, comparing anyone that disagrees with you to a group that is generally reviled in the atheist community (Creationists) is a cheap shot that only serves to shut down conversation.
    -Complex Question (tying): you tie a number of discrete arguments together as if they were one. In addition to the example above, you tie animal cruelty at farms into your arguments against meat eating. Everyone is against animal cruelty – making this sort of emotional argument is akin to asking “Do you support freedom and the unconditional right to bear arms?”
    -Argument By Repetition (Argument Ad Nauseam): More a stylistic choice here than a true fallacy, you seem to make the same arguments over again with different words. Repeating something does not make it more right, and the more succinct your argument is, the easier it is to have a real conversation about it
    -Argument From Personal Astonishment: succinctly, this fallacy is summed up as “I don’t see how this is possible, so it isn’t.” Just because you don’t see how something can be morally right doesn’t automatically make it wrong – you need to argue specifically why it is wrong.
    -Argument By Fast Talking: You hit at least a dozen different talking points here, from vegetarians’ reputations to religious restrictions on meat, and there is simply no way for a reasonable person to be able to respond to all of them. Additionally, you feign innocence the whole way, refusing to make any explanations or arguments of your own and instead simply throwing out things you feel the other side needs to respond to. I’m certain this wasn’t intentional, but it’s very frustrating for those that happen to disagree with you.

    Because of these fallacies, and the lack of a clear argument, I don’t feel that I can properly respond to your argument. However, again I stress that I’m not arguing in this post that meat eating is morally right or that vegetarianism isn’t the better option – I’d love to have that conversation with you, the readers and posters here, once there is a fairly and clearly laid out argument to respond to. And who knows, you might just convince me to change my mind.

  • RitchieAdmin

    Nathaniel –

    I do still hold objections. A hunter is merely taking the life of an animal for fun, valuing their own enjoyment over the life of a living creature. Which I do not see as right.

    And on this I want to distinguish hunting from culling, which I know can serve an important role in ecology.

  • RitchieAdmin

    A couple of you have said you do not think I make a solid moral argument. I’m not terribly well-versed in philosophy so you’ll have to excuse me if I’m lacking in form. Allow me to put a condensed case forward:

    What is the difference between killing a human being because you want to eat them and killing an animal because you want to eat it?
    The first, of course, is murder, but that is merely a label.
    As a vegetarian I do not hold that either are acceptable. I may sometimes agree with killing specific people or animals (capital punishment, rampaging dangerous animals, etc) but as a general rule I don’t think ‘because I want to’ is sufficient justification for ending a life.
    Most meat-eaters, I am sure, would condemn murder as immoral. But surely this position is morally inconsistant? What is the relevant difference between killing an animal and killing a human which justifies one and not the other?

  • Billy Kwan

    I am not sure if this has been mention before but I have a very different opinion for eating meat (I am an atheist but it has no bearing in it I think)

    The fact is, if we agree with the evolutionary facts, vegetable IS also our cousin as mush as the other animal. Why is the deer more valuable to, say, the grass?

    Some would say, but the animal feels pain while the grass does not. But we do not allow people to murder each other just because they are murder painlessly. Will we be any more justify in taking an animal’s life if we can slaughter it painlessly?
    —————-

    The key here, I believe, is to consume less as a total because we are bounded to consume some other living being. When in Mongolia, we consume meat because the weather is better suited for “meat gathering”. To grow wheat in mongol would probably meant destruction of the habitat.

    The seond key here is to observe that “bio diversity” is innate to health of an eco system. When we farm, say, carrots, we have destroy the bio diversity of the field. There is as much damage to the field as ranging animals.

  • http://GodlessPoetry.blogspot.com Zietlos

    Ritchie: Reductio Ad Absurdium, again: “You kill a deer for meat, why not a human?”

    Because, Ritchie, it is fairly well-established that human encephalitus (sp?) comes from eating humans, much like cows get mad cow disease when they eat other cows. Humans eating humans causes the eater to die. Evolution. We don’t eat humans because humans who did all pretty much died from it. It also hurts our sense of community, which is intrinsic in our evolution, to cull local humans for feeding. Age also is a factor, as raising some meats, such as cows, provides much more meat than a human in the same timeframe, even way back when.

    As for not eating pets, same thing: Animals serve purposes. Cows give milk and meat. Pets give emotional solidarity or security support. You might not agree with this reasoning, but you asked how one can eat some and not others, simple: Assign purposes to everything. Nothing is in “God’s Plan (c)”, but everything has a role to fulfill, an evolutionary as well as social niche. There’s your mindset, your rationale. Just because you don’t agree with it doesn’t make it an incorrect view. I explained your desire for mindsets, so here’s mine:

    With regards to my answer, which you may not use in terms of “the role of plants is our food”… If you eat an animal cell, it dies to feed you. If you eat a plant cell, it dies to feed you. Either way, things are dying. Homework: Justify the eating of plants.

  • Alex Siyer

    We use different labels for a reason:

    *What is the difference between killing a human being because you want to eat them and killing an animal because you want to eat it?*

    The difference is that WE are humans. Who would want to live in a society where you can be slaughtered and eaten?

  • Kaelik

    “What is the difference between killing a human being because you want to eat them and killing an animal because you want to eat it?”

    The human is more likely to fight back.
    The human is more likely to have family that will hunt me down.
    Society usually tries to arrest people who kill and eat humans.

    Like I said, before making an argument from morality, make an argument for your moral system. The Outsider Test for morality is as important as the outsider test for faith.

  • Emburii

    You forget that many companies are cynically putting an upcharge on ‘healthy’ options. A small package of tofu costs as much as twice the amount of sale meat in the cheapest supermarket near where I live, and requires more work to be tasty. Whole grain is more expensive than bleached white bread. This isn’t even addressing the matter of time; eggs are way faster and easier to prepare than, say, trying to soak and boil beans dry from the bag (and yes, there are canned beans…which are crazy on sodium). It’s great that you can put ethics first and worry about time and finances later, but not all of us can so easily put practicality aside.

  • Jormungundr

    Ritchie didn’t bother actually explaining why eating meat was bad in his post. Nowhere in it does he explain why meat eaters need to defend their eating of meat. He only argues against hypothetical rationales for eating meat.
    I don’t need a rational for eating meat. I want to do so. There is no moral problem with doing so (if someone doesn’t like this statement, then please offer an explanation of how it is amoral, as Ritchie choose not do in his post). And so I will do so. The fact that my love of lean turkey meat happens to be good for my health, cheap and an easy way to get a complete protein are all besides the point.

    Ritchie does offer a moral question though:

    What is the difference between killing a human being because you want to eat them and killing an animal because you want to eat it?

    Unfortunately, that question equates killing a chicken with killing a human. And it isn’t an argument. I have as yet to see a single moral argument as to why eating meat is amoral. I genuinely don’t see why I need to offer any rationales as to why I eat meat in the same sense that I don’t see why I need to justify the way I hang toilet paper ‘overhand’ style. I eat meat on a daily basis. Some people choose not to. I don’t see this as a moral issue and have been given no reason to do so in the post or comments.
    Ritchie: a chicken, a soy plant (funny how you forgot to include plants when equating the killing of non-humans to murder, and let’s not forget all the animals that are killed when plants are being grown and harvested, you think that zero animals died to make your vegan meal?) and a cow is not a human. That is why killing one is different than killing a person. Trying to equate killing a non-human (algae, mouse, shrimp, chicken, etc) to murder, which has a narrow definition that hinges on the thing being killed being a human specifically, simply isn’t valid.
    I would like a moral argument presented as to why I need to justify eating meat. I’m going to say that Julien is right to claim that we aren’t having a meaningful discussion on this topic yet. There is nothing meaningful for us to respond to yet.

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    I’m curious — if you vegetarians consider eating livestock equivalent to eating your pets, do you not feed your pets meat produced from livestock?

  • http://peternothnagle.com Peter N

    Some commenters have carelessly alluded to “humans and animals”. Let’s all agree that there is no difference between humans and animals — humans are animals. Some animals have large brains, can communicate in various ways, and seem to be capable of abstract thought, and each has some unique abilities. But everyone here who is not a vegetable or a mineral is an animal.

    Also, in arguing whether killing another animal for food is morally wrong, we might consider that nonhuman animals kill and eat each other all the time, and given the opportunity, many of them would do the same to us. This does not appear to trouble them. Although I concede that nonhuman animals can experience pain and fear, I don’t believe that most of them can experience moral quandaries. We are free to choose to treat nonhumans the way we treat each other, but personally, I don’t believe there is some external moral law which we are commanded to obey.

    Richard wrote “What is the difference between killing a human being because you want to eat them and killing an animal because you want to eat it?” — an inflammatory, contemptuous remark, beneath serious rebuttal. And you know what, if the killing were quick and painless, I really don’t care if you do murder me (and as far as the eating, I’ve already deeded my body to the local medical school — it’s my hope that someone get some good use out if it). I would much prefer a painless death to, say, pancreatic cancer. True, my untimely death would deny me the pleasure of life, but since I would be dead, I wouldn’t care.

    What would make my murder wrong is that I have a place in society — a lot of people are depending on me to do certain things in the future, and a few people would even miss me if I were suddenly gone. It is those people that you would be harming.

    A hog in a feedlot, not so much.

  • LKL

    As time goes on and more and more studies come on human physiology, climate change, and animal cognition, I am more and more convinced of two theories:
    1)Humans evolved to eat meat, and we are healthier if we consume at least some of it on a semi-regular basis, especially fish.
    2)Eating meat is immoral because of the environmental destructiveness of producing/harvesting it and because of the inherrant suffering of the animals involved.

    My personal solution to this has been to eat eggs from local pastured and/or pet chickens, eat fish-oil capsules from small species of fish, and to eat meat only rarely. I don’t think that there’s evidence that humans need to eat meat every day, and maybe not even every week.

    as for what other animals do, it’s neither here nor there; other animal species routinely eat their young or reproduce primarily by rape, but that doesn’t mean that it’s ok for humans to do so.

  • http://whatloveteaches.blogspot.com/ Slow Learner

    I think that there is an argument to be had about meat eating.

    The current meat industry is clearly unsustainable, on environmental grounds if no other. Factory farming, while it provides cheap meat, also provides us with such joys as swine flu and resistant bacteria.

    Personally, I am unconvinced by moral arguments against killing an animal to eat – what is more, I believe the easiest way to achieve a healthy diet as a human being is to eat meat in moderation (~ twice a week) in an otherwise vegetarian diet. As a meat-eater cohabiting with a vegetarian and eating out occasionally, this is quite easy for me to achieve. I would probably find it somewhat more difficult if I were living alone, or with another carnivore.

    Veganism, to me, is like some weird sporting activity which other adults are welcome to engage in but I would not advise for children. They needs the calcium.

  • RitchieAdmin

    Zietlos –

    Because, Ritchie, it is fairly well-established that human encephalitus (sp?) comes from eating humans, much like cows get mad cow disease when they eat other cows. Humans eating humans causes the eater to die.

    Encephalitis, I believe, is only a disease which MAY be transmitted by eating human brain matter. Stick to the flesh of a human, as most people do with cows and pigs, and human meat is as safe as any other. And eating any meat has its health hazzards too, including Mad Cow Disease, E.Coli, Listeriosis and Pre-eclampsia. So the distinction between eating livestock and eating humans cannot be that ‘eating humans may poison us while eating livestock will not’.

    Alex Siyer –

    The difference is that WE are humans. Who would want to live in a society where you can be slaughtered and eaten?

    I certainly would not. But you have not answered my question. we are also apes. Why not say ‘It is immoral to eat any apes because WE are apes, but fine to eat non-apes’? Or ‘It is immoral to eat mammals because WE are mammals, but fine to eat non-mammals?’ Why is this line dividing ‘acceptable to eat’ and ‘unacceptable to eat’ drawn at the species level?

    Kaelik –

    The human is more likely to fight back.
    The human is more likely to have family that will hunt me down.
    Society usually tries to arrest people who kill and eat humans.

    I see. So morality is based on fear of reprisal, then? Whatever you can get away with is morally acceptable? Might makes right?

    Jormungundr –

    Unfortunately, that question equates killing a chicken with killing a human. And it isn’t an argument.

    It compares the two cases. And a person who considers killing a human wrong but killing a chicken right is the person who sees a moral difference. I am asking what that difference is.

    funny how you forgot to include plants when equating the killing of non-humans to murder, and let’s not forget all the animals that are killed when plants are being grown and harvested, you think that zero animals died to make your vegan meal?

    I agree that plants are alive, obviously. But it seems to me they cannot suffer or enjoy a quality of life. Killing a plant is therefore of less consequence than killing an animal. And while it may be true that farming and harvesting crops produces unavoidable animal casualties, that does not mean we shouldn’t try to minimise the loss of life our diets produce, surely?

    Peter N –

    I’m curious — if you vegetarians consider eating livestock equivalent to eating your pets, do you not feed your pets meat produced from livestock?

    Yes (carnivorous ones, of course).

    Let’s all agree that there is no difference between humans and animals — humans are animals.

    Absolutely. Which is why I find the distiction that ‘non-humans may be eaten and humans may not’ hard to understand.

    Also, in arguing whether killing another animal for food is morally wrong, we might consider that non-human animals kill and eat each other all the time, and given the opportunity, many of them would do the same to us.

    While true, it’s not much of a justification, is it? Why does morality apply only to those who are capable of reciprocating? Besides, most of the animals we eat are passive herbivores who pose humans no harm at all.

  • AshtaraSilunar

    This is a tricky question. For myself, I’ve stopped eating as much meat as I used to, but I still love meat. I’ve been trying to switch over to venison that I kill hunting. I know then that the animal has a clean death and had a decent life.

    On the other hand… I would love to see lab-grown steak commercially available: no ethical issues at all.

  • estraveb

    My husband and I were vegetarians for a decade or so. Now we eat meat–grass-fed beef and free-range chickens and, occasionally, pork raised locally and humanely. I don’t feel I have to apologize for that, nor feel immoral about it. Before we were vegetarians, we ate meat-free meals several times a week anyway. I think humans evolved to eat meat and that, if care is taken about the source, a diet including meat is quite healthy. I know of families who are vegan where the kids are unhealthy and show signs of malnutrition, and that really bothers me. Something is wrong when one’s diet requires one to supplement the B vitamins and so on. There’s nothing natural about that.

  • konrad_arflane

    We are animals ourselves; descended from the same ancestors as every animal alive today. Animals are, albeit distantly, our cousins. That is not to say that there is nothing that sets we humans apart. Every species is unique, and it seems humans have achieved heights of awareness, intelligence and civilisation unmatched on Earth. But does this difference justify killing animals to eat?

    This has been touched on a bit by other commenters, but I would like to point out that I think the last sentence gets the question exactly backwards. Since humans, as noted, are a species of animal, and plenty of other species of animals kill and eat animals, the question should be: Does this difference [in awareness, intelligence and civilisation] impose a moral duty on us to not kill animals to eat?

    It may well be that the answer to that question is “yes”. I don’t personally think so, but I’d be willing to see the argument made. However, you can’t make that argument if you start from the assumption that killing to eat needs justifying, because you’d be assuming your conclusion.

  • Keith

    Thanks for this post.
    I became vegetarian for the same reason I’m atheist: I thought about it.
    I’m not vegan because some alternatives to animal products are environmentally worse.
    As with your investment post, you do the best you can. For me, I can “do” lacto-ovo vegetarianism and believe that is is better for me, and that my actions are helpful for the planet and for others.

  • Kaelik

    “I see. So morality is based on fear of reprisal, then? Whatever you can get away with is morally acceptable? Might makes right?”

    No morality doesn’t exist. Since right doesn’t exist, and might results in consequences, I pay attention to the one that does exist.

    I have tried to explain this to you several times, and you keep avoiding it:

    1) There are many moral systems.
    2) Many people have different moral systems.
    3) By consistently refusing to make any argument whatsoever for why eating meat is immoral, you come off as a disingenuous liar to everyone who doesn’t already agree with your conclusion.

    You’ll notice that your success rate in convincing non vegetarians has been 0%, that’s because you haven’t made an argument, you keep asking the same stupid questions as if everyone agreed with you about all the premises that you refuse to state.

    “Why is it okay to eat cows but no people?” is a question that has as many answers as their are moral systems. The only way the question could possibly make sense is if you start from the assumption that cows have the same intrinsic worth as people.

    Most people do not start from that assumption.

    You might as well ask “But why is it okay to not believe in God?” the question is skipping over the assumption that we actually disagree with, and so comes off as meaningless.

    Every moral system that condemns murder makes an argument for why murder is bad.

    Kantianism: Treat people (defined as humans) as ends not means.
    Pleasure Utilitarianism: Their pleasure has intrinsic worth.
    Divine Command Theory: God said so.

    ect.

    No ethical theory starts from the assumption that murder is wrong, they start by assuming some other premises, and then making an argument for murder being wrong.

    Likewise, you need to make an argument for cow eating to be wrong. To do that, you need to start with some explicit premises, that logically lead to the conclusion that cow eating is wrong.

    If one of your premises is “1) Cows have the same intrinsic worth as humans, but ants and plants have less.” then state it. And one you state all your premises, we can point out which ones we disagree with, and therefore which ones you have to convince us of in order to get us to become Vegetarian.

    But just repeatedly asking “But aren’t cows and humans exactly the same in all ways?” is going to keep getting your questions answered with no.

  • Kogo

    *Alright, so everyone agrees that mosquitoes can be killed freely. What about rats? They are fellow mammals, and show signs of awareness and intelligence. On the other hand, they are pests, eat and spoil produce, and spread disease. Many here would be okay with exterminating them where we find them based on those facts.*

    Agreed. And where I live, feral, wild pigs (wild pigs =/= boars, btw–wild pigs are to boars as feral dogs are to wolves) are considered a pest, such that there is no specific season and no license required to hunt or trap them. (In fact if the county had any money, they’d be offering a head-bounty for them.) They also have the advantage of being eatable. There are a certain number of poor families for whom wild pig-hunting is mana from heaven (if you believe in heaven): Free food (well, minus the cost of bullets).

    (It’s also worth pointing out that hunting of any kind means ZERO involvement with factory-farming and/or the entire food megaindustry and also yields meat that is almost pure protein and very little fat.)

    So are you okay with wild pig pest-hunting, or does the fact that humans can eat wild pigs (and they are DEE-licious, let me tell you) somehow not jive with your theory? Why do I somehow suspect that your philosophy is subconsciously, “It’s fine until someone starts enjoying themselves?”

    *The nutritional benefits of meat are unequaled, which is why overindulgence gets humans obese.*

    No: Humans get much more obese much more quickly on corn syrup, cheese, and refined sugar and flour than they do on meat. That’s sort of why after 10 years as a vegetarian I gave it up and instead became a dairy-free carnivore: So often when presented with a menu, the vegetarian “option” was some cheese-sodden and/or doughy monstrosity. I just couldn’t stomach (literally) another goopy quesadilla when I could have gotten a chorizo taco.

  • Paul

    The problem is that this question can be defined along continua such as this one: is it OK to kill or eat a human, ape, pet, rat, shrimp, bee, plant, bacteria, etc. Such continua seem to have no objective dividing line that our moral concerns seem to require so that we can make absolute statements such as, “It is / is not moral to eat meat.”

    This is a tough merry-go-round, so good luck finding a consensus, you’re gonna need it.

  • http://anexerciseinfutility.blogspot.com Tommykey

    “Why is it okay to eat cows but no people?”

    Humans. The other white meat.

  • RitchieAdmin

    estraveb –

    I agree meat can be part of a healthy diet. But it does not follow that a meat-free one necessarily unhealthy. Meat-eaters, vegetarians and vegans can all have healthy and unhealthy diets within their own parameters.

    konrad –

    Since humans, as noted, are a species of animal, and plenty of other species of animals kill and eat animals, the question should be: Does this difference [in awareness, intelligence and civilisation] impose a moral duty on us to not kill animals to eat?

    I think I would say yes. I would say animals have a capacity to suffer and also to enjoy life. Therefore causing suffering or ending such a life needlessly is wrong.

    Kaelik –

    you need to make an argument for cow eating to be wrong. To do that, you need to start with some explicit premises, that logically lead to the conclusion that cow eating is wrong.

    Well, I think I am holding to a simple moral principle – strive to cause as little suffering as possible. A meat-based diet causes more death and suffering than a vegetarian one. Therefore it is the less moral option. What is the problem there?

    Kogo –

    So are you okay with wild pig pest-hunting, or does the fact that humans can eat wild pigs (and they are DEE-licious, let me tell you) somehow not jive with your theory?

    That’s a very interesting question, and actually in such circumstances, yes I think I am okay with pig hunting. If animals need to be culled, then I do not really see eating the bodies as a means of waste-disposal as morally problematic. But that is not the case for most of the meat on our supermarket shelves, is it? They were raised so their deaths would bring us pleasure. To say ‘it is acceptable to eat the meat of culled animals, therefore it is acceptable to eat the meat of any animal I like’ it rather like saying ‘it is acceptable to kill convicted criminals, therefore it is acceptable to kill anyone’.

    Why do I somehow suspect that your philosophy is subconsciously, “It’s fine until someone starts enjoying themselves?”

    Because we vegetarians just don’t like to see people having fun. We are simply committed to making everyone as miserable as possible. Our objections to meat are all based on an absolute desire to suck the joy out of life, and can therefore be dismissed without doing anything as indulgent as actually listening to them. You’ve caught me out, you sly fox, you.

  • Kaelik

    “Well, I think I am holding to a simple moral principle – strive to cause as little suffering as possible. A meat-based diet causes more death and suffering than a vegetarian one. Therefore it is the less moral option. What is the problem there?”

    So many different ones.

    Because you haven’t defined suffering, and when you do define it, in any way that your definition diverts from other’s definition is a way in which you have no argument for why they should follow your course.

    Because you just said that you want to reduce suffering and then said that part of the reason eating meat is bad is because there is more death, which implies that death is the same thing as suffering, which almost no one will agree with you on.

    Because a Vegetarian diet causes more death, and probably suffering, because plants are also alive and also suffer, depending on the definition.

    Because you have given us no reason to care about the “suffering” of creatures we have very little reason to believe actually “suffer” under our most common usage of the term.

    Because you have no objective measure of what suffering is worse, a cow living an awesome life, then being killed painlessly, or a person being shoved into abject poverty and have to reinvent their life.

    Because you don’t actually strive to cause as little suffering as possible, you strive to get other people to cause less suffering in ways you oppose, while going out of your way to cause suffering to people and animals that you don’t feel emotionally attached to, like all the bugs you kill, and even to the animals you nominally care about, if you actually knew anything about their lives sans carnivores.

    Because you are actually just making your decisions about what you think is bad based on your emotional feelings about an action, instead of any rational analysis of consequences.

  • Ritchie

    Kaelik –

    Because you haven’t defined suffering, and when you do define it, in any way that your definition diverts from other’s definition is a way in which you have no argument for why they should follow your course.

    Under whose definition would killing not consitute suffering?

    Because you just said that you want to reduce suffering and then said that part of the reason eating meat is bad is because there is more death, which implies that death is the same thing as suffering, which almost no one will agree with you on.

    Well, it’s not the same but it is related. Animals have the capacity to enjoy life as well as suffer. Killing is wrong because it denies the victim the chance to enjoy future life. And this holds for animals as well as humans, though not plants who, as far as we can tell, have no capacity to enjoy life.

    Because a Vegetarian diet causes more death, and probably suffering, because plants are also alive and also suffer, depending on the definition.

    Nonsense! Almost half the amount of crops we grow are used to feed livestock. If the whole world went vegetarian we would grow half the number of crops and slaughter no animals for meat. How can you say a vegetarian diet produces more death and suffering?

    Because you have given us no reason to care about the “suffering” of creatures we have very little reason to believe actually “suffer” under our most common usage of the term.

    Kick a dog and tell me it does not suffer. And if you need a reason to care about whether others around you suffer then perhaps I have my answer after all.

    Because you have no objective measure of what suffering is worse, a cow living an awesome life, then being killed painlessly, or a person being shoved into abject poverty and have to reinvent their life.

    What? Why should we compare these two cases? I presume you are talking about livestock farmers going out of work if we all went veggie? I’m sure the abolition of slavery put many slave-holders out of work, but was that a good reason for keeping the institution of slavery going?

    Because you don’t actually strive to cause as little suffering as possible, you strive to get other people to cause less suffering in ways you oppose, while going out of your way to cause suffering to people and animals that you don’t feel emotionally attached to, like all the bugs you kill, and even to the animals you nominally care about, if you actually knew anything about their lives sans carnivores.

    Not sure what this clumsy garble of insults is supposed to achieve. I do try cause as little suffering as possible, and I like to encourage others to do the same. I absolutely object to the accusation that I go out of my way to cause suffering. Really scraping the barrel here, aren’t you? If you could avoid the personal attacks and try to keep this as an adult, civilised discussion, that’d be much appreciated, thanks.

    Because you are actually just making your decisions about what you think is bad based on your emotional feelings about an action, instead of any rational analysis of consequences.

    Well I’m not denying that the killing of animals does provoke an emotion reaction in me, but it does not follow that it is irrational.

    Again, the meat-eater who hold that murder is wrong is the person making a moral distinction between killing an animals and killing a human. I am just trying to ascertain what that distinction IS.

  • Jormungundr

    And eating any meat has its health hazzards too, including Mad Cow Disease, E.Coli, Listeriosis and Pre-eclampsia. So the distinction between eating livestock and eating humans cannot be that ‘eating humans may poison us while eating livestock will not’.

    Actually most food borne illness is caused by eating produce. Pointing out the comparatively rare instances of meat borne illnesses doesn’t make me want to give up meat forever for health reasons. This is also not a moral argument. Motorcycles are objectively less safe than cars. I ride a motorcycle. I have taken an assumption of risk in that matter. I’m comfortable with that. In the same sense I understand that I could possibly get sick while eating (probably from produce if anything). That’s just a risk I’m going to take.

    Why is this line dividing ‘acceptable to eat’ and ‘unacceptable to eat’ drawn at the species level?

    Because of the social harm that would result by harvesting other humans for meat (are you going to respond by equating murder to killing a cow yet again?) and because of kuru. You very wrongly claimed that human meat is as safe as any other. It really isn’t. Our instinctual revulsion to eating other people is there for a reason. That reason being prion diseases. Don’t think that abstaining from brain meats will save you from kuru if you become a cannibal.

    Finally, at long last, Ritchie makes a moral argument rather than asking inane questions and demanding a justification without explaining why one is even needed:

    A meat-based diet causes more death and suffering than a vegetarian one. Therefore it is the less moral option. What is the problem there?

    I believe this to be a false statement. If I go out and shoot a turkey and eat it, fewer animals have died and suffered for that protein than if you go out and purchase an equivalent amount of soy product. Think of the large numbers of insects and mice that die on farms in in granaries. Your vegan diet is based on death and suffering too. I would say that a hunter or meat eater that gets meat from local humane farms holds the moral high ground as you defined it in this matter.
    So are you now going to go to humane local farms or get your hunting license? A single dead deer or turkey saves the lives of a large number of mice and rats that would have died to get you an equivalent amount of vegan protein. By your ‘minimize death and suffering’ rationale you should go and eat some kinds of meat rather than soy products.
    Just for fun: http://www.smbc-comics.com/index.php?db=comics&id=1722#comic

  • Ritchie

    Jormungundr –

    You very wrongly claimed that human meat is as safe as any other. It really isn’t. Our instinctual revulsion to eating other people is there for a reason. That reason being prion diseases. Don’t think that abstaining from brain meats will save you from kuru if you become a cannibal.

    Okay I can accept that cannibalism is more dangerous than eating non-human meat. But meat is not without dangers too. Aren’t we back to your above example of riding a motorbike? If someone is comfortable with the dangers of kuru and is willing to take that risk, does that make cannibalism wrong?

    Think of the large numbers of insects and mice that die on farms in in granaries. Your vegan diet is based on death and suffering too. I would say that a hunter or meat eater that gets meat from local humane farms holds the moral high ground as you defined it in this matter.

    Firstly, nice cartoon.
    Secondly, if we are merely playing the numbers game, almost half the crops we produce goes to feeding livestock. Counter-intuitive as it sounds, if we all went vegetarian we would use half the amount of farmland. That’s half the number of insects and other creatures being killed by the agriculture industry.
    Thirdly, morally, I do differentiate between unavoidable, accidental killing of animals, and the deliberate killing of animals for what essentially amounts to our own pleasure.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    As an atheist of course I prefer to eat human babies, but since there are consequences (irrational and unwarranted in my opinion) in getting caught doing this I mostly eat baby sheep, cows and pigs instead, which apparently doesn’t land you in court so much.
    Seriously though, although I see a moral imperative in ethically raising livestock and killing it humanely I don’t see a problem with meat in principle. Not that it is black and white, I see bush meat as problematic, because I think apes are sentient enough to have emotional ties to significant others. If someone could give me reason to believe this was true of larry the lamb or pinky and perky I would avoid eating them too. Despite Sebastian in the “little Mermaid” not much could persuade me that lobster or crab wasn’t legitimate vittals, same goes for Nemo.

  • Jormungundr

    If someone is comfortable with the dangers of kuru and is willing to take that risk, does that make cannibalism wrong?

    As I said, discussing relative levels of risk is not a moral argument.
    Is raising other humans to be killed for their meat wrong? Yes. Not because of the risk of disease, but because of the fact that humans are being slaughtered.
    If someone specified in their will that their body was to be used to make barbecue and some people ate them after they died, is that morally wrong? No. It is a real bad idea from a risk point of view, but it is not morally wrong.

    Secondly, if we are merely playing the numbers game, almost half the crops we produce goes to feeding livestock.

    I don’t recall advocated feeding produce to animals. I do recall mentioning hunting and local ethical farms. Grass fed beef from a humane local farm or a wild turkey that was shot have nothing to do with feeding corn and soy to animals. For that matter, corn fed animals produce meat that is less healthy than grass fed ones. I don’t advocate that anyone here eat corn fed factory farmed beef or chicken.
    As has been mentioned previously here, you are equating the moral considerations of eating meat with the unrelated practical problems of factory farming. I don’t think anyone here is arguing in support of factory farming.

    I do differentiate between unavoidable, accidental killing of animals, and the deliberate killing of animals for what essentially amounts to our own pleasure.

    And I do not. Which is why I don’t see why I need to justify anything.

    Under whose definition would killing not consitute suffering?

    Mine, for one.

    Killing is wrong because it denies the victim the chance to enjoy future life.

    Meat eaters don’t value the future life experiences of animals. Killing them is not wrong because their potential future enjoyment is worthless.

    I absolutely object to the accusation that I go out of my way to cause suffering.

    I would say that you do. You know that there would be less suffering involved to get protein from a deer or turkey you shot or from grass fed humanely raised beef than to get it from an equivalent amount of soy product. You know that far, far more animals are dying to get you faux-turkey textured soy product than if you got a hunting license and shot a turkey.
    So I don’t think that you are actually minimizing animal suffering as much as possible. You don’t seem to care about the large number of mice and rats killed to make your produce. You don’t seem to care that all those deaths could be replaced with one dead grass fed cow or one shot wild animal. From a minimizing animal suffering point of view, you are not acting in an optimal matter. It is not a personal attack or scraping at the bottom of the barrel to state this fact.

    Again, the meat-eater who hold that murder is wrong is the person making a moral distinction between killing an animals and killing a human. I am just trying to ascertain what that distinction IS.

    I can’t speak for others here, but I follow a moral system that places human comfort and pleasure over that of non-humans. Because of that I see a massive moral difference in taking a shotgun and shooting people with it and taking that gun and shooting turkey with it. That is the moral distinction: humans and their experiences are worth far, far more than non-humans.
    Please explain what kind of moral system you follow in which killing a human and killing a mouse is morally equivalent. You have repeatedly equated murdering a human with killing an non-human such as a cow. I’m interested in seeing what kind of moral system allows that to make sense.

  • Ritchie

    Jormungundr –

    As I said, discussing relative levels of risk is not a moral argument.

    Yes, precisely. So risk cannot be the factor which determines eating humans as morally wrong, and eating non-human meat as morally acceptable.

    As has been mentioned previously here, you are equating the moral considerations of eating meat with the unrelated practical problems of factory farming. I don’t think anyone here is arguing in support of factory farming.

    Perhaps I am equating them, but they are hardly unrelated, are they? Let’s be honest, the vast amount of meat consumed does indeed come from factory farms. As hideous as these places may be, economically they have the advantage of being able to produce vast quantities of meat – quantities we would never achieve through hunting and local ethical farming.
    If you want to draw a moral distinction between meat bred on a factory farm and meat obtained by hunting, then please do.

    I would say that you do. You know that there would be less suffering involved to get protein from a deer or turkey you shot or from grass fed humanely raised beef than to get it from an equivalent amount of soy product. You know that far, far more animals are dying to get you faux-turkey textured soy product than if you got a hunting license and shot a turkey.
    So I don’t think that you are actually minimizing animal suffering as much as possible. You don’t seem to care about the large number of mice and rats killed to make your produce. You don’t seem to care that all those deaths could be replaced with one dead grass fed cow or one shot wild animal. From a minimizing animal suffering point of view, you are not acting in an optimal matter. It is not a personal attack or scraping at the bottom of the barrel to state this fact.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, meat-eaters do not eat ONLY meat. We all eat fruit and vegetables and nuts and grains. People who are omnivorous eat meat on top of, not instead of, the foods which make up a vegetarian’s diet. The cost, in suffering or death, of a meat-eater’s meal is that of a vegetarian’s meal PLUS the cost of the meat. So I do not see how you think a vegetarian meal comes to less.
    Moreover, hunting isn’t too much of a viable option for me in the middle of a city. As I go about my city life as many people do, my dietry choices are restricted largely to what I buy when I go shopping. And the total cost in suffering and death of animals of a vegetarian’s shopping basket is less than that of a meat-eater.

    I can’t speak for others here, but I follow a moral system that places human comfort and pleasure over that of non-humans.

    You are actually placing the LIVES of non-humans over the comfort and pleasure of humans. I wonder then, would you support bear baiting, cock fighting or merely shooting a dog through the face for kicks, as morally defensible? After all, if people enjoy them, why not?

    Please explain what kind of moral system you follow in which killing a human and killing a mouse is morally equivalent. You have repeatedly equated murdering a human with killing an non-human such as a cow.

    I specifically stated in the OP that I do not judge the life of a human and of an animal to be equal. I am not saying killing a cow is as bad as murder. I would judge them both to be wrong, but to different degrees.
    But there is no them-or-us conflict with our livestock. Their lives might be worth less than ours, but are they worth less than the enjoyment we get from eating them?

  • Emburii

    Ritchie, you didn’t actually address the issue behind that link; she wasn’t the only one who couldn’t handle a vegan diet. In her follow-up she even cites the figures that one-third of the people who try a vegan diet fail to thrive, one-third have no real change, and only the remaining third are improved by it. And if you’re pleased that she is healthy and happy, even though she’s gone back to ‘causing suffering’ by eating meat, then it’s inconsistent to be unhappy with everyone else who eats meat for health reasons (and that’s a pretty large chunk of people).
    You also haven’t responded to my point about the cost of vegetarianism. Like ‘organic’, it’s become a status symbol and has acquired the price tag of such. Not all of us can absorb the cost so easily. To turn your question around; is my partner and his protein needs, for instance, worth less than a cow?
    Lastly, do you drive? Do you only buy fair-trade goods? Have you verified that none of your clothes, shoes, or furniture were sweatshop-made? Do you carefully check every potential item or service to make sure that the proceeds can’t go to a country with any human rights abuses? How about the companies that make the things you own, checked their charity records and business practices? I’d guess you answered no to at least a few of these questions because, in order to survive in the mainstream modern world, you might have had to draw the line about moral considerations somewhere. That’s why I consider it justifiable to have meat in my diet, because the alternative is one of the more arbitrary and disruptive lines in a whole world full of tough choices. I envy your leisure to draw personal lines in the sand, but I have to keep moving forward. Are my long-term needs, too, less important than a cow?

  • RitchieAdmin

    Emburii – Forgive me for being dense but I couldn’t find the follow-up you mentioned. How conclusive are these figures? Is this ‘one third of the people she has spoken’ or is this ‘one third, as established by a government health agency’?
    Either way, I stand by health being the most important factor as far as dietry concerns go. If someone actively requires meat or dairy to remain optimally healthy then I hold no objection to this. However, it would be a shame if everyone took such cases as hers and concluded that everyone needs meat – particularly for the third of people whose health is improved by a vegan diet.
    I’m also a little at a loss by your claim that vegetarianism is more expensive. It certainly isn’t for me. The most expensive items in my flatmate’s shopping basket are invariably cuts of meat. And whenever I eat out, the vegetarian options are almost always cheaper than the meat meals. I usually have my meals cooked before he does as well. I like my veggies with a crunch to I tend to undercook them slightly. Meanwhile he has to make sure his meat is thoroughly cooked through. I’m not saying there’s a tremendous difference, but I certainly don’t agree that being veggie makes meals more expensive or time-consuming to prepare.
    On your final point, I agree we do not all live perfect, zero-impact lives. I do usually recycle, take public transport and buy non-leather shoes, but I realise the part I am playing is small, and sometimes morals take a backseat to day-to-day practicalities. I’m not a saint sitting in judgement on anyone who doesn’t measure up to my moral standards. I’m simply trying to define my own moral boundaries on this, and other topics, and asking other people to explain theirs as a reference point. We all make decisions about what is important to us and what is not, which causes are worth adhering to and which are not. Are you saying that eating meat is something you vaguely conclude is probably bad, but not something you’re going to lose sleep over, like littering or buying sweatshop clothes?

  • Jormungundr

    People who are omnivorous eat meat on top of, not instead of, the foods which make up a vegetarian’s diet.

    Absolutely false. I can’t imagine what you make you claim that a meat eater’s diet is the same as a vegan’s diet but with some meat added.
    You can’t possibly be claiming that if we took the average meat eater’s diet and removed the animal products, we would have the average vegan’s diet left over.

    The cost, in suffering or death, of a meat-eater’s meal is that of a vegetarian’s meal PLUS the cost of the meat. So I do not see how you think a vegetarian meal comes to less.

    You can’t be serious. I don’t know what to say. I’ll try to make this simple:
    You eat sources of protein in your vegan diet. Various beans, textured soy products, etc. The farms that grew those crops killed lots and lots of mice and rats.
    If, as an example here, rather than eat faux tofu turkey you ate a real turkey that you hunted, there would be much, much less suffering and death involved in order to get you that protein source. One dead turkey vs a large number of dead mice and rats. Either way you get some amount of a complete protein source to eat.
    I already explained this in comment #43.
    Am I being unclear here? Is the concept of substituting one protein source (say, textured soy protein that a vegan might eat) for another (say, grass fed local beef) confusing?

    I wonder then, would you support bear baiting, cock fighting or merely shooting a dog through the face for kicks, as morally defensible? After all, if people enjoy them, why not?

    I don’t condone animal torture. If a person finds it pleasurable to eat steak from humanely raised and killed cows I don’t see how that is morally equivalent to torture.
    Do you have any arguments that don’t hinge on false equating the moral implications two unrelated actions?

    I am not saying killing a cow is as bad as murder. I would judge them both to be wrong, but to different degrees.

    Fair enough. I don’t value the lives of cows. I don’t care when they are killed. I don’t want them tortured, but I won’t get too worried about them being slaughtered.

    Their lives might be worth less than ours, but are they worth less than the enjoyment we get from eating them?

    Yes. The worth of a cow’s life is vanishingly small. If the cow’s existence is so much as an inconvenience to its owner in any way, it should be killed. The fact that ending its existence actually produces food and enjoyment is all the better for us.
    It is intrinsically worth almost nothing. It is filled with a lot of tasty food. Let us kill it and enjoy all the meat. There is no moral problem here just as there is no moral problem in swatting at a mosquito or shooting a feral pig.

  • Yahzi

    I can. I am diabetic, and meat is a way for me to eat without poisoning myself with carbohydrates. Also, of course, there is the fairness issue: animals would gladly eat us, if they could (not that that actually matters, since animals aren’t moral agents to begin with).

    However, I fully agree with the argument from suffering. I would happily pay double or triple for my meat if I knew it had been produced without pain. I’m not a monster; I don’t eat veal.

  • kennypo65

    What a gigantic crock of self-righteous horseshit. My ancestors didn’t fight and claw their way to the top of the food chain so that I can eat tofu. As far as why we don’t eat our pets I can only say this, my dog is a much finer being than most humans I have had the misfortune to know. If you feel it’s immoral(whatever that means) to eat other animals, then don’t, but don’t pass judgement on others who disagree with you. It makes you look like some kind of moralizing hypocrite.

  • Emburii

    They are her figures and not mine; somebody pointed out the link so that you would read it. I’m not doing your homework for you. Nor did I claim that everyone should eat meat, please don’t prop up your straw man in place of my arguments. You asked how I could morally justify eating meat, and I answered. I never said anyone had to or should eat meat, as you seem to imply.
    As for cost of meals, I can freeze ground beef and take it out a month later to make spaghetti in fifteen minutes that will feed two for three days. I can freeze chicken and stretch it with rice (and, yes, vegetables). Even steak can be sectioned and frozen and stretched for fajitas later. Tofu is more expensive because it’s a ‘specialty item’, and doesn’t freeze well that I’ve seen. Mushrooms slime and rot quickly, so I’d have to make frequent trips to the grocery store for small amounts to make them a staple. In the long run, neither work as well as planning out and saving meat purchases.
    As for eating meat to be ‘bad’, I consider it no worse in impact than, say, eating a pineapple or some other foreign product. The fertilizer needed to grow your soy, the exploitation of the pickers or the energy and materials and impact of the machine harvesters, and the carbon footprint needed for the transport of it and every other non-local vegetable are kinds of harm just as much as the death of a feedlot cow.

  • RitchieAdmin

    Jormungundr –

    You can’t possibly be claiming that if we took the average meat eater’s diet and removed the animal products, we would have the average vegan’s diet left over.

    What exactly do you imagine a vegetarian eats that a meat-eater doesn’t? It sounds rather like you imagine vegetarians need to replace meat in their diet with an equivalent amount of something else (soy or tofu, perhaps?). And if so, the reasoning behind your argument becomes rather more clear. But I’m afraid you are simply labouring under a misapprehension.
    The purpose behind most of these ‘faux-meats’ is to make the transition to vegetarianism as easy as possible. You can carry on cooking to the same recipes you’ve always used, but merely use a faux-meat instead of a meat you might previously have used. Yes, soy and tofu are good sources of the nutrients meat is also rich in, but so are a lot of other things. I think I can count one one hand the number of times I’ve eaten tofu in the past year. I mostly cook pasta dishes, curries, pizzas, salads or risottos with no direct meat ‘stand-in’ at all. As long as you are eating a reasonable varied diet – something everyone should be doing to stay healthy, then it is rather difficult to construct a diet which is protein deficient.

    I don’t condone animal torture. If a person finds it pleasurable to eat steak from humanely raised and killed cows I don’t see how that is morally equivalent to torture.
    Do you have any arguments that don’t hinge on false equating the moral implications two unrelated actions?

    I realise my questions veer into the absurd sometimes, but I mean no offense. I’m just trying to establish where your boundaries are. Here’s my thinking:
    Eating meat is acceptable because a cow’s worth is vanishingly small and nothing compared to the pleasure or convenience of a human.
    So WHY would torturing animals be wrong? If someone get’s off on it, surely their enjoyment is worth more than the cow’s life? After all, they’re human!
    Surely to sondemn the torturing of animals you would have to see an animal’s life as having some worth? Yet you have just said an animal’s worth is vanishingly small, and nothing compared to the enjoyment or convenience of a human (paraphrasing).
    Isn’t this a contradiction?

  • RitchieAdmin

    Emburii –

    Nor did I claim that everyone should eat meat, please don’t prop up your straw man in place of my arguments.

    ??? Pardon? When did I say that?

    In the long run, neither work as well as planning out and saving meat purchases.

    I disagree. I cook for myself, and I usually make a big dish of something and eat it for several dinners. A vegetable lasagne can do me a working week, no problem. And if tofu or faux-meats are expensive, then don’t eat them. My meals are mainly made up of vegetables, pasta, rice, fruit and grains and a little dairy. Nothing particularly expensive in there at all.

    The fertilizer needed to grow your soy, the exploitation of the pickers or the energy and materials and impact of the machine harvesters, and the carbon footprint needed for the transport of it and every other non-local vegetable are kinds of harm just as much as the death of a feedlot cow.

    Hmmm, I’m sensing this as a recurring misconception. Vegetarians do not need a direct meat substitute or equivalent in their meals. I imagine I eat about the same amount of soy products as you do, and I only very rarely touch tofu (I’m not a great fan of it).

  • L.Long

    Why is it worded as ‘is it moral to kill and eat meat (cow)?’

    I would put the argument right back to the vegetarians …
    If we are all a part of life, then why is it moral to eat veggies?

    Just because they do not have faces or scream, why is an apple more right to eat then a cow?

    Its all nothing more then line drawing.

    On eating pets? I would not eat mine but I would not have a problem with yours.

    On eating people? With the price of meat these days and the nastiness of your neighbors, you have to wonder why cannibalism is illegal.

  • Jormungundr

    Surely to sondemn the torturing of animals you would have to see an animal’s life as having some worth? Yet you have just said an animal’s worth is vanishingly small, and nothing compared to the enjoyment or convenience of a human (paraphrasing).
    Isn’t this a contradiction?

    Not at all. That is only a contradiction of you conflate pain and death, which you falsely did earlier in this comments section.
    Kill animals if you must. Don’t torture them.
    Torture and killing are unrelated.

    It sounds rather like you imagine vegetarians need to replace meat in their diet with an equivalent amount of something else (soy or tofu, perhaps?)

    I have lived with vegetarians who do so, but if the specific example of faux turkey and other replacement meats doesn’t hold any relevance for you then that’s fine.
    You don’t eat more beans or soy products than the average meat eater?
    Your diet looks like mine minus turkeys and beef? I find that very hard to believe. Or you are malnourished. Those nutrients I get from meat, you are getting them from somewhere in your diet. One would assume from increased portions of beans, grain and nuts. And a hell of a lot fewer animals die to get me grass fed beef than die to get you beans or grain.
    What I’m trying to say here, and unbelievably you haven’t gotten this yet, is that there is a portion of my diet that is occupied by meat. In your diet something else occupies it or you are not eating enough.
    Are you still going to claim that a meat eater’s diet is yours plus a bunch of needless meat tacked onto it?
    Are you playing dumb here or are you in good faith just not getting it?

  • Ryan

    “Killing a plant is therefore of less consequence than killing an animal”

    Ritchie, it seems to me as if this statement you made can also be applied to justify eating meat, by the same argument.
    Killing an animal is of less consequence than killing a human
    Vegetarians who think they are better than the rest of us for not eating meat still have to kill something in order to eat. Its how nature and life works, whether you’re killing plants or animals, you are still ending some kind of life form to sustain yourself, so claiming to be more moral by being vegetarian is really an illusion.

  • Ritchie

    Jormungundr –

    That is only a contradiction of you conflate pain and death, which you falsely did earlier in this comments section.

    Again, I am not equating eating meat with torturing animals. But to condemn the torutre of animals, you must see the life of an animal as having SOME worth, even when weighed against a human’s pleasure, right?

    You don’t eat more beans or soy products than the average meat eater?

    Beans, marginally, perhaps. Soy, I honestly doubt it.

    Your diet looks like mine minus turkeys and beef? I find that very hard to believe. Or you are malnourished.

    No, my diet is perfectly healthy, thankyou.

    there is a portion of my diet that is occupied by meat. In your diet something else occupies it or you are not eating enough.

    Only slightly increased amounts of the other stuff that meat-eaters also eat.

    Are you still going to claim that a meat eater’s diet is yours plus a bunch of needless meat tacked onto it?

    Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    I’m sad to hear so many “rational” people making excuses for their existing beliefs instead of looking in the mirror and questioning them honestly.

    I’ll stick to the topics most people seem to be agree on, and make easy, falsifiable claims about it.

    General Assumptions:

    1. Pain is bad.
    2. Animals can feel pain

    Ethically, Humans should not be caused to endure pain and suffering. Animals also feel pain. They might not have conciousness or memory like we do, but they react to pain stimuli in the same way (they flinch, they scream). Ethically, animals should not be caused to endure pain and suffering.

    Assumptions on the sources of meat available:

    1. Farming and slaughtering animals yourself
    2. Buying/obtaining meat directly from a farmer (after inspecting his farm)
    3. Hunting animals
    4. markets/supermarkets but only buying certified ethical farming produce
    5. Uncertified produce from markets/supermarkets
    6. Restaurants and eateries

    Hypothesis 1: Sources 5-6 encourage the unethical treatment of animals

    Ok, so I need to provide real evidence for (or against) this, but I’m lazy. Check out this video from PETA. Yeah sure it is propaganda, not evidence. I might post some real studies later. For now, if you use sources 4 or 5 to procure your meat, I’ll say you can’t be entirely sure that they treat their animals ethically. The labels lie, check out what “free range” really means. Ethical markets like the one in that video are great, but what do they represent of the total proportion of the meat supply? Which leads me to…

    Hypothesis 2: The overwhelming majority of meat eaters source their meat from supplies 5-6

    Again I need evidence (for or against), but I’m lazy. C’mon, you know this one is true. Anything you buy from the supermarket comes from sources 5-6. Anything you buy at a restaurant comes from 5-6.

    Summary
    Who does the burden of proof apply to here? The people saying these hypothesis are true, or the ones who state that they are false? Honestly I don’t care. My goal here is of course to indoctrinate more people into my vegetarian cult. But that is only my secondary goal. My primary goal is to get you to at least look into things and ask questions.

    “Where does the meat I consume come from?”
    “Do the animals suffer?”
    “Is it ethical to continue eating meat if I don’t know the answers to these questions?”

  • larry

    Here is a good video on meat: http://carnism.com/

  • Kaelik

    “General Assumptions:
    Pain is bad.”

    That’s rather silly. Why is pain bad? It’s just a nervous system response designed to inform animals of about what actions to take, exactly like the plant systems that cause them to grow towards sunlight.

    If pain is bad why isn’t depriving plants of sunlight bad? Oh right, because you can feel one and not the other.

  • roscomac

    There are several posters here who are not willing to do what they mock theists for being unwilling to do.

    I guess no one likes to be too uncomfortable.

  • Nathaniel

    We don’t automatically agree with you, therefore we are obviously unwilling to even consider your argument.

    Convenient how that works.

    Being such a perceptive and knowledgeable person, I’m sure that you can point out the numerous fallacies that we are engaging in that are identical to the ones theists use in their arguments against us.

  • Emburii

    You said in a response to me: “However, it would be a shame if everyone took such cases as hers and concluded that everyone needs meat – particularly for the third of people whose health is improved by a vegan diet.” I did not say everyone requires meat or that everyone should eat it, and yet your response attributes such a blanket statement to me. I brought her case up to answer the last question of your original post, ‘How can we justify eating meat’? You’ve already accepted her and other cases of need or health, so why are you still arguing with me?
    And hey, I’m glad that you don’t need extra protein in your diet, but my partner does. Salads and pasta are carbohydrates that will burn out too fast to give him the energy for lifting hundreds of pounds over the course of hours. The only thing that will help in that vegetable lasagna would be the cheese that is, by the way, probably made from the milk of cows in wretched living conditions as well, and higher in saturated fats and oils that a cut of lean meat.
    And your salad may contain the pain and exploitation of migrant workers. They suffer health problems from agricultural byproduct exposure, they are intimidated into taking an incredibly low wage and not being able to pursue good medical treatment for them and their families, and they are generally exploited by the big produce companies and subsidiaries to keep the cost of produce low. So unless you shop only at the local farmers’ market, or only from companies that buy from farms that you’ve personally investigated, your vegetables are not necessarily suffering-free and are not in fact ethically superior to meat. If you can understand that, then once again you have no further room to argue.
    You asked how we could justify eating meat at the end of a smug, accusatory article without once addressing your own habits and their cost. Well, I’ve answered you. I hope it’s been useful.

  • Kelly

    Ritchie, I think you ought to give this another think. Vegetarian is fine and wonderful for some people. But humans are meat-eaters. We can thank evolution for that. Many of us simply cannot live healthy lives without including meat in our diet. I used to be a vegetarian. Because of a genetic collagen deficiency, I lived my vegetarian years in constant pain. Now that I eat (some, occasional) meat again, my health is vastly improved. Am I morally bankrupt because I chose my own health over my vegetarian ideals? You tell me.

    The moral issue here isn’t whether we should eat meat. Rather, it’s how to reduce/eliminate animal suffering and reduce our own consumption of animal products — for our own health, for the sake of the animals, and for the environment. I DO think it is our moral imperative to concern ourselves with treating animals humanely and avoiding pain and suffering. I’ll happily pay extra for humanely raised meat (eggs, milk, etc.). I offset that extra cost by eating meat less often. (In general, Americans eat much more meat than they really need.) Let’s dedicate ourselves to wiping out factory farms and embracing free-range options instead.

  • Dan L.

    Whoah, always surprising how defensive omnivores get when someone tries to make a case for vegetarianism (f.d: I’m an omnivore who isn’t offended by the suggestion that there might be something immoral about eating meat).

    Couple notes:

    1. The ethics of vegetarianism are, as far as I know, largely based on the apparent capacity of animals to suffer. Plants do not have an apparent capacity to suffer. The “you didn’t say anything about plants!” canard is pure horseshit.

    2. Vegetarianism QUITE CLEARLY has a smaller environmental impact than meat eating, at least in the current regime. The nay-sayers argue that grass-fed beef and free range chickens and hunted wildlife are lower-impact still (on a per gram of protein basis, I’m assuming). Sure, but that’s not the real world. In the real world, to feed 300 million beef-fed Americans that 10 oz. of meat per serving, two meals a day they’re expecting, you need feedlots and factory farms. If all meat were raised ethically or hunted it would probably be comparable to gold in terms of price per oz.

    So we need the feedlots for you guys to get your cheap 20 oz. of meat a day; and the sheer volume of meat that needs to be produced to keep supply up means you need a lot of calories. Currently, cheapest way of making calories is to turn petroleum into fertilizer and fertilizer into feed corn, so that’s how it’s done. The cows do not turn corn calories into beef calories very efficiently, so objectively, producing the amount of meat we need to produce to keep most Americans eating 20 oz. a day requires a great deal more environmental destruction than being vegetarian.

    This isn’t to say that agriculture and in particular industrial monoculture doesn’t cause environmental problems of its own. But all those problems extend also to any meat-producing system that’s high volume enough to deal with current demand. If everyone agreed to chicken no more than two meals a week and red meat no more than one, then yes, we might be able to make grass-fed beef and wild fowl-based diets more environmentally friendly than vegetarianism. But at that point, we’re all basically vegetarians anyway.

    3. Eating uncooked human flesh is slightly more dangerous than eating uncooked flesh from another animal because fewer microbes can cause cross-species infections. Eating properly cooked human flesh is no more dangerous than eating properly cooked animal flesh. Some ethnicities have (or had) long and enduring traditions of cannibalism. The taboo on cannibalism is as mutable as the middle-eastern taboo against eating pigs.

    4. A vegan diet objectively lacks in at least one nutrient required for human well-being, vitamin B12 IIRC. This can be obtained by vegans in the form of nutritional yeast flakes (delicious!), but the traditional form is through red meat or dairy products (since it’s produced mainly by gut bacteria in cows). Everything else can be obtained from vegetarian sources, though some things are more difficult than others.

    Of course, everyone’s body chemistry is unique, and as others have already pointed out, some peoples’ bodies really do respond poorly to vegetarian and vegan diets (while others respond really well).

    5. In the nineteenth century, dog-fighting was apparently REALLY popular in the U.S. This is relevant only inasmuch as it reflects how moral attitudes towards animals have changed in just the last 100 years. But it does suggest an interesting question. For those who really vehemently tried to shout down the notion that there might be something immoral about meat eating above, do you see any moral problems with dog fighting (as a spectacle for the amusement of human beings)? Why or why not? If you don’t see a moral problem with it, why do you suppose so many other people do?

    6. For those saying there’s no moral problems with eating animals whatsoever, how would you feel about eating a macaw with a large vocabulary, capacity for facial recognition and object recognition, etc.? How about a chimp that can use sign language or one of those communication boards? (Whoah, wouldn’t it be creepy to see a cooked ape served up? I imagine it would look a whole lot like a cooked human.)

    7. We all trust our moral intuitions much more than we trust any rigorously logical moral system. When Ritchie says he sees a moral problem with eating meat it doesn’t necessarily mean he got there by starting with a moral theory and logically deducing that eating meat is wrong. In fact, that never works because very few people actually get their morality from moral theories (Peter Singer being one possible exception). What if instead of getting defensive and insisting that he PROVE he’s right some of you guys who are objecting so vehemently tried using your moral imaginations a little bit to see if maybe he has a point. As it is, I’m getting a very strong whiff of “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

    I mean, some of you guys are really assuming the worst about what Ritchie’s trying to say and coming off as borderline abusive. Think for a second about what you’re trying to prove and to whom.

  • Dan L.

    BTW, veganism is apparently about consent rather than about suffering or the animalness of the product (which is why breast milk is vegan). When I heard this, I asked a vegan friend, “So if I told you that you could eat me after I die, it would be totally vegan to do so?” He said “Yup.”

    So we just have to genetically engineer the main course from Restaurant at the End of the Universe and we can all be vegan.

  • Jormungund
    Are you still going to claim that a meat eater’s diet is yours plus a bunch of needless meat tacked onto it?

    Yes, that is exactly what I’m saying.

    I don’t see how a vegan who eats a good diet could claim such a thing.
    A healthy vegan diet is not a standard meat eater’s diet minus the meat.
    You either have a bad diet, or are lying about how it is just like a meat eater’s but with the meat removed.
    I hate to announce that you must be lying, but it is either that or delusion at this point. But you keep reaffirming that a healthy vegan diet is merely a regular diet minus all the meat, and that is certainly not correct, so it is one or the other at this point.

    Whoah, always surprising how defensive omnivores get when someone tries to make a case for vegetarianism…
    I mean, some of you guys are really assuming the worst about what Ritchie’s trying to say and coming off as borderline abusive. Think for a second about what you’re trying to prove and to whom.

    We are being told that a perfect moral activity that we enjoy is immoral. That puts people in an argumentative spirit.
    If someone claimed that my hanging toilet paper ‘overhand’ style was immoral I would demand reasons for that claim also.

    Eating uncooked human flesh is slightly more dangerous than eating uncooked flesh from another animal because fewer microbes can cause cross-species infections. Eating properly cooked human flesh is no more dangerous than eating properly cooked animal flesh. Some ethnicities have (or had) long and enduring traditions of cannibalism. The taboo on cannibalism is as mutable as the middle-eastern taboo against eating pigs.

    Microbes aren’t the problem here, prions are. And there have been societies that engage in cannibalism. Some of them had some rather severe trouble with prion diseases. For instance, some Papua New Guinea tribes were nearly wiped out in the 20th century thanks to prion diseases spread by their ritual cannibalism.

    For those saying there’s no moral problems with eating animals whatsoever, how would you feel about eating a macaw with a large vocabulary, capacity for facial recognition and object recognition, etc.? How about a chimp that can use sign language or one of those communication boards? (Whoah, wouldn’t it be creepy to see a cooked ape served up? I imagine it would look a whole lot like a cooked human.)

    I have no problem with this. For that matter, pigs are extremely intelligent as far as non-human animals go. I still eat pork.

    Why don’t I approve of dog fighting? This is another torture vs death argument. I don’t advocate torturing dogs. I have no problem with killing them.

    What if instead of getting defensive and insisting that he PROVE he’s right some of you guys who are objecting so vehemently tried using your moral imaginations a little bit to see if maybe he has a point.

    I’m not going to write his arguments for him. His post failed to make any arguments as to why eating meat is wrong and simply assumed that was the case. Seeing as some of us don’t have his set of starting assumptions, Ritchie will need to present moral arguments to get us to see things his way.
    Ritchie’s post starts out assuming that meat eating is in need of moral defense. I don’t see things that way. I’m not going to write some arguments for Ritchie that he could possibly use to get some meat eaters to see things that way. I’m certain that he can do that on his own, as he has in this comments section.

  • Dan L.

    @69:

    I don’t think Ritchie ever said he was vegan.

    We are being told that a perfect moral activity that we enjoy is immoral.

    If Ritchie’s begging the question in the OP, then you are doing so as well right here.

    Microbes aren’t the problem here, prions are. And there have been societies that engage in cannibalism. Some of them had some rather severe trouble with prion diseases. For instance, some Papua New Guinea tribes were nearly wiped out in the 20th century thanks to prion diseases spread by their ritual cannibalism.

    Yes, because they ate raw brain. You can get a prion disease from eating raw cow brain as well. If it’s cooked properly this isn’t an issue. I was implicitly including “prions” in “microbes” even though it’s technically incorrect to do so.

    I have no problem with this. For that matter, pigs are extremely intelligent as far as non-human animals go. I still eat pork.

    How about a developmentally disabled human being with a less than 40 IQ?

    I’m not going to write his arguments for him. His post failed to make any arguments as to why eating meat is wrong and simply assumed that was the case. Seeing as some of us don’t have his set of starting assumptions, Ritchie will need to present moral arguments to get us to see things his way.

    I’m not saying you should “write his arguments for him.” I’m saying that if you’re going to engage at all, you may as well do so in good faith and try to understand where he’s coming from.

    And as far as I can tell, no one engages in moral reasoning by using “starting assumptions” and the other accoutrements of philosophical reasoning. We rely first and foremost on our moral intuitions. Ritchie’s moral intuition tells him there’s something wrong with eating meat, as do those of a lot of other human beings. Demanding that people justify their moral outlook from the ground up to even begin the discussion just seems like a tactic to suppress opinions that you don’t want to expose yourself to me.

    Ritchie’s post starts out assuming that meat eating is in need of moral defense. I don’t see things that way. I’m not going to write some arguments for Ritchie that he could possibly use to get some meat eaters to see things that way. I’m certain that he can do that on his own, as he has in this comments section.

    Right…so…

    Yes. The worth of a cow’s life is vanishingly small. If the cow’s existence is so much as an inconvenience to its owner in any way, it should be killed. The fact that ending its existence actually produces food and enjoyment is all the better for us.
    It is intrinsically worth almost nothing. It is filled with a lot of tasty food. Let us kill it and enjoy all the meat. There is no moral problem here just as there is no moral problem in swatting at a mosquito or shooting a feral pig.

    And what’s your moral reasoning here? Or are you just asserting these things without having an argument to back it up? This, to me, is a sure sign that you’re arguing in bad faith. You criticize Ritchie for failing to make a logical case why the killing of animals is a moral issue while completely failing to argue why it SHOULDN’T be a moral issue. As if yours should be the default.

    That was the point of the dog-fighting question. If you were trying to explain to a nineteenth century American why dog-fighting is wrong, he’d probably respond along the lines of the anti-veggies in this thread. “Dog-fighting is OBVIOUSLY not a moral issue. You’re just trying to keep people from having fun!” To this person, dog-fighting being morally OK is the default and you’re the one in the position of having to prove why it’s immoral. How do you convince someone that torturing an animal is immoral if they don’t already think so? People have different defaults, and you’re relying on your moral intuition to tell you it’s OK to eat animals every bit as much as Ritchie is relying on his to tell him it’s not.

    What I’m really curious about now — if aliens came to earth and decided to use us as livestock, what would you say? “OK, well fair is fair. They’re hungry, and it’s completely moral to slaughter animals for sustenance as long as it’s done humanely.” We can make whatever assumptions to make the analogy as strong as it needs to be — the aliens are as advanced beyond our intellect as we are beyond pigs, for example. Would you resign yourself to being lunch or would you try to convince the alien there’s something immoral about slaughtering and eating you?

  • Kelly

    What I’m really curious about now — if aliens came to earth and decided to use us as livestock, what would you say? “OK, well fair is fair. They’re hungry, and it’s completely moral to slaughter animals for sustenance as long as it’s done humanely.”

    I do think it’s fair to assume that no alien race has evolved to eat humans.

  • Dan L.

    Correction: prions aren’t necessarily killed by cooking. Eating brains is always a bad idea.

  • Dan L.

    I do think it’s fair to assume that no alien race has evolved to eat humans.

    Human beings didn’t evolve to smoke tobacco, but they do anyway.

    I think it’s fair to assume that you don’t have a real response to the thought experiment.

  • Kelly

    I think it’s fair to assume that you don’t have a real response to the thought experiment.

    Just because you disagree with my response doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Humans have evolved to eat the other animals on this planet. That’s how our bodies work. No alien can make that claim to defend their choice to eat humans.

  • Dan L.

    Just because you disagree with my response doesn’t mean I don’t have one. Humans have evolved to eat the other animals on this planet. That’s how our bodies work. No alien can make that claim to defend their choice to eat humans.

    First of all, that’s the naturalistic fallacy. Second of all, I don’t think you realize just how vacuous this claim is: “Humans have evolved to eat the other animals on this planet.” Presumably we didn’t evolve to eat deep open fish since our hunter gatherer ancestors didn’t have access to fishing boats and big honking nets. Does that stop you from eating tuna? Of course not.

    The aliens could respond to your argument simply by saying, “we evolved to eat anything consisting of roughly the right proportions of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, and phosphorous. The planet it comes from is irrelevant.”

    Or you could engage with the thought experiment instead of trying to find some stupid excuse not to consider it. Up to you.

  • Kelly

    Two quotes from Dan L.:

    I mean, some of you guys are really assuming the worst about what Ritchie’s trying to say and coming off as borderline abusive.

    and

    Or you could engage with the thought experiment instead of trying to find some stupid excuse not to consider it. Up to you.

    Who’s borderline abusive, Dan? Who’s defensive? This is why I should have known better than to jump into this discussion. Silly me.

  • Dan L.

    Is it that I called your argument a “stupid excuse”? Sorry, but I asked people to consider a completely legitimate moral thought experiment, and you tried to deep six it with what seemed to me like a snarky one-liner. It didn’t seem like a serious argument to me.

    If it was supposed to be a serious argument, I’m sorry for being snarky in responding to it. Nonetheless, it’s an instance of the naturalistic fallacy and it does come off as an attempt to avoid the moral reasoning that the thought experiment is meant to evoke. Typically when one agrees to engage in a thought experiment they’re willing to play along with a few strange assumptions in order to tease out principles that are usually presented more subtly in real-world examples. For example, even if your argument were legitimate, we could say, “The aliens evolved on earth eating the same stuff we do, but invented space travel 300,000 years ago and have been away for a while.” Or “Panspermia is correct and life where the aliens from is largely the same as where we’re from,” or “The aliens coincidentally have body chemistry remarkably like ours to the point that we’re really nutritious to them.”

    But to engage in this sort of thing is completely missing the point, which is to say if we’re morally justified in killing cows because we have richer inner lives than they do, then certainly we have to concede that some entity with an even richer inner life would be morally justified in killing us.

  • RitchieAdmin

    Just thought I’d add a couple of points…

    #69

    I don’t see how a vegan who eats a good diet could claim such a thing.
    A healthy vegan diet is not a standard meat eater’s diet minus the meat.
    You either have a bad diet, or are lying about how it is just like a meat eater’s but with the meat removed.

    For one thing, I am indeed a vegetarian, not a vegan. For another, how much meat are you eating, exactly? If it is so much a part of your diet that the removal of it would lead you to malnutrition then allow me to suggest you might simply be eating too much. Today I ate a mushroom and leek risotto for dinner. Yesterday I had roast vegetables in gravy. Saturday, I had spaghetti with pesto and green beans. I have cereal for breakfast, often a soup and salad (sometimes with couscous or pasta) for lunch and the occassional cup of coffee and biscuit. I am not eating anything I do not see meat-eaters eat every day, and I am perfectly healthy.

    On a more general note aimed at no-one specifically, I honestly did write this blog to open up an interesting debate. I enjoy discussing and mulling over moral issues as I think most people do. And I would assume atheists generally would, seeing as it takes a little puzzling things out for yourself to go against the cultural norm, which many atheists have already done on the issue of religion. I am a little taken aback that so many seem to have assumed I am preaching or sitting in moral judgement here. I tried to keep my OP as respectful and non-judgemental as I could and yet some seem to have taken it as a “smug, accusatory article” (Embruii, #65). I am certainly no saint. The one thing that really does trouble me about my vegetarianism is that by logical extension of my own arguments, I should probably in fact be a vegan. But I am not. So I don’t imagine myself sitting high and mighty, morally superior to others. Though I may not have acknowledged it, some posts here have given me food for thought and seem reasonable to me even if I disagree with it – plucking, as an example, Kelly’s second paragraph at #66. Just because someone disagrees with you on a moral issue, that doesn’t mean they’re looking down on you.

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    Well-written post, Ritchie. There are two more points that should be included.

    A) There are substantial HUMAN costs to producing animal-derived foods.
    With human harms as diverse as world hunger, worker abuse, oil dependency, pollution, antibiotic resistance, heart disease and many others, it is not morally tenable even for a speciesist to eat meat.

    B) Human, environmental, and animal costs are dire in the egg and dairy industries, just as they are in the meat industries.

    For example, dairy is more environmentally costly than most kinds of meat, and commercial egg layers are by far the worst treated of all ‘food’ animals. Furthermore, dairy and eggs are just as unnecessary for human health as meat is, and a healthy vegan diet is easy to sustain thanks to modern supermarkets. If we cannot justify eating meat, we cannot justify eating eggs or dairy either.

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    The claim that “eating plants causes just as much suffering as eating animals” is invalid. Here’s why: Farmed animals are fed plants. The majority (about 90%, across most ecological systems) of the protein, calories, and nutrients in those plants is burned up in the animals’ metabolism or turned into inedible parts. It is wasted. If we’re eating animal-derived foods, far more plants must be harmed to make up for this waste.

    meeting a human’s daily needs via plant foods:
    let’s say 100 units of plant suffering

    meeting a human’s daily needs via animal foods:
    about 10 X those 100 units of plant suffering

    If someone cares about plants, eating them directly is the way to go; this causes them the least harm.

  • Jormungund

    For one thing, I am indeed a vegetarian, not a vegan.

    I see. That explains how you don’t eat meat and simultaneously don’t eat a diet that is significantly different than a meat eater’s minus the meat.
    I really was befuddled there wondering how a vegan could possibly be healthy by eating a diet that is like a meat eater’s with all the animal products removed.

    some seem to have taken it as a “smug, accusatory article”

    It comes off that way to me. Stating that meat eating needs a justification is at least implicitly calling it out as immoral and in need of defense. At the very least that article is accusatory towards meat eaters. I don’t have a problem with being accusatory like that. If you really think that meat eating is immoral then you should be accusatory. But you should also expect the people you are accusing of immorality to interpret that as open hostility. It doesn’t matter how pleasantly you phrase your implicit moral condemnations, people will get fired up reading them.
    I wouldn’t take it personally. Moral condemnations spark people’s desire to argue.

    if aliens came to earth and decided to use us as livestock, what would you say? “OK, well fair is fair. They’re hungry, and it’s completely moral to slaughter animals for sustenance as long as it’s done humanely.”

    I value humans and their well being above other animals and hypothetical carnivorous aliens. I gladly accept that I am a speciesist. I’m pro-human interests now and I would be pro-human interests if hostile aliens show up.

    You criticize Ritchie for failing to make a logical case why the killing of animals is a moral issue while completely failing to argue why it SHOULDN’T be a moral issue. As if yours should be the default.

    This is no more a moral issue than whether you hang your toilet paper over hand or under hand is. If someone came here and demanded that all over hand toilet paper hangers defend their unethical practice, should I have to explain why this is not a moral issue, or would I be justified in demanding to know what makes them opposed to my practice?
    I think that Ritchie and my problem here is that he places value in the life of a cow and I do not. That starting premise of “a cow’s life holds worth so it is immoral to slaughter it for you convenience” versus “a cow’s life holds a worth so small that it is far below the value I place on being able to eat steak” is the problem here. Just as Ritchie does not value the lives of all those mice and rats killed to make his spaghetti dinner, I do not care about the life of the pig that died so that I can cut up sausage into my spaghetti sauce.
    As I stated earlier, unless Ritchie can explain why meat eaters should switch over to his set of starting assumptions, his arguments premised upon them will fall on deaf ears. And I understand that my stating that I don’t care about the life of cow won’t convert Ritchie into a meat eater.

    How do you convince someone that torturing an animal is immoral if they don’t already think so?

    You don’t, or at least I lack the imagination to think up a viable way of changing their mind right this moment. But I am certain that demanding them to justify an act that they consider to be morally neutral won’t get them to change their opinion in the slightest.

  • Kaelik

    “1. The ethics of vegetarianism are, as far as I know, largely based on the apparent capacity of animals to suffer. Plants do not have an apparent capacity to suffer. The “you didn’t say anything about plants!” canard is pure horseshit.”

    Unless of course, you point out that “suffering” is actually not something animals have any more claim to than plants, possibly some higher intelligence animals, but certainly cows and dogs and cats lack the memory capacity to suffer to any true extent.

    And pain of course, is not realistically any different from the various plant systems that allow them to grow towards light, or conserve water when dehydrating, so pain is useless as a differentiator between plants and animals.

    Also note the constant equation of death with suffering by some vegetarians in this thread, indicating quite strongly that death, IE plant death, should be given similar consideration.

    “5. In the nineteenth century, dog-fighting was apparently REALLY popular in the U.S. This is relevant only inasmuch as it reflects how moral attitudes towards animals have changed in just the last 100 years. But it does suggest an interesting question. For those who really vehemently tried to shout down the notion that there might be something immoral about meat eating above, do you see any moral problems with dog fighting (as a spectacle for the amusement of human beings)? Why or why not? If you don’t see a moral problem with it, why do you suppose so many other people do?”

    Ignoring for a moment your attempt to use color language like vehemently as an emotional tool in place of argument, no, of course I don’t see any moral problem with dog fighting. Because I do not see moral problems, since moral problems do not exist.

    As for why other people do, my first response would be to caution you not to assume that a number of people having a similar feeling is grounds for it being somehow the right or correct feeling. Especially not if you want to propose an unpopular idea.

    Secondly, if forced to hypothesize on such a completely irrelevant topic, I would suppose they see it that way because they see cute dogs all the time, and possibly own or have owned some, and have come to think of their dogs as being smarter and worth more than they actually are, and project their unwillingness to pit their dog in a death match onto all other dogs.

    “6. For those saying there’s no moral problems with eating animals whatsoever, how would you feel about eating a macaw with a large vocabulary, capacity for facial recognition and object recognition, etc.? How about a chimp that can use sign language or one of those communication boards? (Whoah, wouldn’t it be creepy to see a cooked ape served up? I imagine it would look a whole lot like a cooked human.)”

    If it tastes good, sure, but I’ve always been a little curious about what human tastes like, so you can bet eating dolphin isn’t going to phase me.

    “We all trust our moral intuitions much more than we trust any rigorously logical moral system.”

    If you do, you are wrong to do so. I don’t let people get away with trusting their intuitions about whether God exists, why would I let you get away with it in a moral discussion?

    “When Ritchie says he sees a moral problem with eating meat it doesn’t necessarily mean he got there by starting with a moral theory and logically deducing that eating meat is wrong.”

    Yes, I’m sure he didn’t, which is why I explicitly stated he did that. And that’s how we know that his opinion is worthless, because no one cares how you feel about something, that’s not useful or important. Arguments from logical premises can result in something useful.

  • Billy Kwan

    This is strange.

    1) “Farmland” are not all the same. Some are better suited for crop for meat, others are better suited for fruits and wheats. If we all eat vegetable, we will be using the farmland “suitable for meat” to grow plants.

    2) Meat comes from a diversity of source. Go to a China village for a day. Notice how the chickens and ducks feed on the remains of farm. Notice how pig can also feed on kitchen remains. It is a kind waste management.

    3) How are we to decide that plants do not have a quality of life? You mean they do not suffer even after we beheaded them, eat their child, and burn their corpse? How do you count life? By number of cells? What about life that depends on the diversity of life?

    4) Animal lives and dies with or without our intervention. Many would die even faster and even more painfully in the wild. I thought it is clear from evolution that most creature die a painful death “naturally”.

    The key difference is between a voluntary death (suffer more and die in the wild), and an involuntary one (suffer less and be slaughtered). If the pig is conscious, would it really choose to live in the wild? Or in captive? I think it will be a hard choice!

    5) The practical situation is, if an animal loses its value, will it be preserved by anyone? Notice how the number of pigs increase as it has value to human, but other creepy creature dies (editable or not). When people figure that croc skin can produce expensive handbag, they pay to keep the habitat for croc. If we all turn veggie, we will just slaughter all animals (and plants plants everywhere). The underlining problem is a limitless demand. Greed of human is factor to be considered. Some of us can be saints but certainly not everyone.

    My belief?
    How much food is “required” and how much is actually eaten? Eat simple, eat less, eat economically.

    At the current state of the world, veggie are right because the balance of scale is too muched weighted to the meat section. We are eating way too much meat than we should (economically)!

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    That starting premise of “a cow’s life holds worth so it is immoral to slaughter it for you convenience” versus “a cow’s life holds a worth so small that it is far below the value I place on being able to eat steak” is the problem here.

    Jormungund, I tend to agree, so I’d like to ask you exactly how much value you place on the wellbeing of a cow. Not it’s continued existence versus it’s death, but in how well it is treated during its life.

    If cows were horribly tortured every day of their lives, would you have a problem with that? I’m going to assume you would.

    If cows were treated like royalty, massaged every day, and spent their life in open fields, would you have a problem with that? I’m going to assume you wouldn’t.

    At what point along this spectrum does your opinion shift? At what point along this spectrum does the meat industry actually exist in?

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    Billy Kwan, I will address your questions.

    1) Define “better suited”. I would argue that “better suited” in this context means simply means “more profitable”.

    2) I’m willing to bet that the meat you eat does not come from a Chinese villiage and that it is not farmed sustainably from the waste products of other farming.

    3) Plants do not have a central nervous system. Plants do not have brains. They simply have neither the capacity for sensing pain, or the capacity to feel it.

    4) Yes, animals live and die without our intervention. But farmed animals live, suffer and die wholly through our actions. We are not responsible for wild animals, but we are responsible for those animals whose birth, life and death we control entirely. To make the ethical difference clear through an absurd example, you are talking about the difference between someone dying of old age unawares to you, and being an active participant in their murder.

    5) Obviously not everyone is going to turn vegetarian overnight. If demand decreases (as I hope), so will production.

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    Jormungund writes: “Just as Ritchie does not value the lives of all those mice and rats killed to make his spaghetti dinner, I do not care about the life of the pig that died so that I can cut up sausage into my spaghetti sauce.”

    The grains farmed to feed a typically-farmed pig for your meal required harming approximately 10 times as many mice and rats as the grains farmed to produce Richie’s spaghetti. If he cares about mice and rats, eating spaghetti _without_ pork is clearly the behavior that kills fewer mice and rats. It would be a behavior consistent with valuing the lives of mice and rats.

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    Jormungund writes: “This [(what a person eats)] is no more a moral issue than whether you hang your toilet paper over hand or under hand is.”

    Only if you consider human beings as morally irrelevant.

    The environmental and human harms of modern industrial meat are substantially greater than the environmental and human harms of modern industrial legumes and grains. Presumably you’d agree that _less_ human harm is preferable to _more_ human harm?

    According to your posts, you find it immoral to harm human beings. I expect most people in this thread would agree.

    This makes the consumption of any appreciable quantity of modern industrial meat a _human_ moral issue. Ask any human being who has slaved away in a slaughterhouse, lost a child to antibiotic-resistant infection, been confined to their house by the stench of a CAFO, or suffered from avian flu whether their experience is morally equivalent to hanging a toilet paper roll. Or imagine asking future generations whether accelerating global climate change is morally equivalent to hanging a toilet paper roll.

  • Billy Kwan

    1) “better suited”, for example, the quality of the soil, the climate. It is obvious that different plant with different use grows on different climate and soil. When working on a better suited land, it is likely that you will have better profit. (Likely but not always, because higher profit will also involve other factors)

    Take it this way, for a piece of land, how many people can be fed by
    a) farming for plants?
    b) ranching animal?
    c) a mix of both?
    Do you believe the answer is ALWAYS b) but never c)?

    2) You just lose your bet. I just return from Hubei, Tianmen, from a Chinese village. I am telling you this fine detail because my wife is born and raised in the village. (And marry me this city deweller for most part of my life)

    3) Is pain the only factor to determine the quality of life? Physical pain? Are we ready to kill another human who does not feel pain? Suppose the slaughter house painlessly kill the pig, does it become a charity for feeding the pig and giving the creature a clean death?

    4) Well, if you raise them since their birth. If they will live a short painful life and die a horrible death whenever you left them. It is not so uncommon for suicidal parents to die with their kids for exactly the same reason. I am not saying they are right or wrong, but people should understand the reason behind it. Now suppose they are never born. But the child will never enjoy the sunlight.

    Notice that we also “breed” plants in order to eat them, too.

    If we have to speak of moral, we are not suppose to left the hungry and the frozen to die, are we? Saying we are not responsible for their current situation and just left other human or creature to suffer is not exactly kind, or is it?

    5) If demand decrease, so will supply. But OTHER demands will fill up this demand. OTHER supply will use up resources freed. Look at the current location I am in, HK. No one is farming here. What happen to the oxen? Left to suffer and die in the mountains, and push to extinction. The opposite happens in Tianmen when there is still some use for the oxen. For example like my wife’s grandmother’s oxen, it is actually fed and treated with a little more respect.

    We we stop having demand chicken, chances is that chicken population will deminish. Same for cattle, or croc, or frog, or trees, or most other lives we so love.

    ————-
    Why do we have to have an isolationist attitude to nature instead of an interdependent one?

  • Billy Kwan

    Suppose you farm for wheat to make bread, you should at least consider

    1) Pesticide used to kill the pest. Including the pest killed and the “overkill” for other animals and insect. The runoff that killed creatures in river and ocean. Most people will agree we should kill the pest, but I have doubt that the pest will agree with our attitude. To them, maybe we are the pest!

    2) Hormones and antibiotics used to help the growth of plants and protect them from fungus, bateria and virus and disease. Plants get sick too. The reason we do not hear much news is because plant’s disease tends not to get to human because we are very different. Surely if it does not bother us it is not a problem, right?

    3) The human resources that is used to keep the field. If the farm feed 100, and use 10 human to operate, the output is truly 90 person per field. For you will have to have more farm to fed the city dwellers. Seriously, is it eco-friendly to water the desert to farm rice pudding?

    4) The mill the processing, the transportation, the accounting. All the support services is a bit different for different food. Do you know that a lot of bread made just went expire and end up in landfill (according to the bakery owners in HK)? For spegatti some are talking about, they will probably need to add preservative from chemical plant. For Italian ones, plane to fly them into HK. All these is complicated, so we left them aside of the calculation?

    —-

    Simliar questions can be raise for farming for meat. It is not a quick answer of like 10 to 1. It depends on what plant and meat you are comparing, where you are, etc. The only thing that should be quite clear is if we waste less, the damage will be less.

    ——–
    PS, I am of the opinion that we are eating way too much meat. I am just opposing the idea that we should totally stop eating meat as a species, or that there is anything morally superior in eating plant in and of itself.

    The only way we can be morally superior is perhaps eating rocks, rocks from other planets. :P

  • Dark Jaguar

    This discussion has been interesting. I must admit that a lot of reactions rankle me because they seem to be textbook sociopathic. Even saying that is bound to be seen as antagonistic, but I’ll explain why I see it that way.

    First I’ll state my opinion so you can properly dismiss it. I actually admire vegetarians. It’s a tough choice they’ve made, and one made for moral reasons.

    Food is probably something that has the biggest number of odd prohibitions and demands of any human activity, and yes I’m including sex there. Don’t eat wild mushrooms. It’s weird to eat cereal at this time of the day but normal and expected at this time of day. Shrimp are fine to eat but beetles are not. Steak should be eaten with a fork, but it is weird to eat equally messy BBQ chicken with anything but your hands. French fries should be covered in ketchup, toast covered in butter, but the reverse is gross. Let’s face it, the way we consider eating is about the most complicated part of our lives with about a million rules. Also, no one can agree on pizza toppings. That doesn’t really apply but I thought I’d toss it out there.

    So it’s interesting to see someone ditching all that to look at our choice of what to eat morally. I don’t however support the extent that Vegens take things. I’ll get to why in a bit. In the end, I haven’t gone the route of vegetarianism. Partly, its an issue of cost and options. I just don’t have much of a choice in most cases. I would be lying to myself if I said that was all of it though. I just don’t have enough moral fortitude to stop eating something SO delicious. To make the famous crude joke, if we aren’t supposed to eat animals, why are they made out of meat? However, should the option be available, and certainly if Star Trek replicators came along, then killing animals to eat them would become, to me, morally unsustainable. So that’s my position.

    A lot of people here seem to be looking at this and, to be frank, not really thinking through what’s being morally claimed. The biggest example are the countless people asking the question “what’s the difference between eating an animal and eating a plant?”. I can’t believe this question is being honestly asked. I would think even the most limited attempt to understand the vegetarian position would reveal the reasoning behind it, even if you don’t agree with it. It comes off to me as dishonest and a waste of everyone’s time to pretend you don’t understand the argument. In the event this question is genuine, I’ll explain my understanding of it. Simply put, it comes down to brains. Plants “can’t feel pain” is the simplest way of putting it, but more to the point, plants aren’t even aware of their surroundings and aren’t conscious of anything. Caring about the welfare of plants is as empty as caring about the welfare of a rock, or even caring about the welfare of a self-charted section of empty vacuum, or a box including 1/3 of the moon and some background stars. Now, to be fair, a number of “simple” animals lack brains, or even have brains during some of their life and later eat them for a stationary plant-like period of their life cycle. Further, different animals have different amounts of awareness. From what I’ve read, the level of awareness in a spider, for example, is roughly the level you might expect from a more complicated computer program, which is to say, no ability to learn, entirely reactionary to stimulus, even moving around in a stuttering fashion. However, a crow is not only able to learn but is aware of itself in a mirror and capable of solving complex puzzles involving 3 stages of tool use. My position on “rights” is that they apply only to creatures capable of wanting a “right”, so if an animal is reacting to treatment in a way that suggests it’s aware enough to want some limited concept of a right, such as right to not experience physical pain or constant fear, it should get it. Since they don’t “want” jobs or equal pay, then rights like that don’t apply to them. That’s my thinking. Under that understanding, it’s obvious why caring about eating plants is silly. They can’t like or dislike anything you could ever do to them. I think we can safely move on here. This plant/animal comparison is tiring.

    That comment, if honest, can be interpreted as simply not thinking about it, but others really do suggest sociopathy. Why would you ask “why should I have to defend eating an animal?”. I should think that the fact the animal both is a thinking thing and has to be killed to be eaten should be clear. To go further, when pressed on the point, people defend the prohibition on killing people NOT because “they are intelligent people with hopes and dreams that they don’t want to be extinguished, and that is reason enough”. Instead, they say it’s wrong because of the consequences to the individual doing the murdering, or other such selfish concerns. One person even said they wouldn’t consider it wrong to kill them if it was done painlessly, except that other people “depend on” that person. That suggests to me that if you find a mountain man no one would miss, it is morally permissible, if it strikes you, to kill that person in his sleep. I don’t subscribe to any moral system that ONLY considers direct consequences to the person doing some morally questionable action, or ONLY considers the harm to the survivors of a murder. Those ARE concerns, and points to be brought up, but only to sociopaths for whom the direct appeal of “this person wants to live” don’t work.

    Let me put it this way. I consider “causing pain” just one part of morality. Another is “enhancing happiness”. Killing someone randomly, even if in their sleep, is wrong not because the person that was killed will, in death, somehow not like it. Rather it is simply because that person will never have the opportunities to do anything else. “Never laugh, cry, or be angry.” Potential for future happiness being struck down seems more than enough reason to prohibit murder, even painless murder of a hobo no one will miss.

    That is the position I understand the author of this post to be coming from. He’s asking, simply, if animals, those with brains complicated enough to enjoy living, even if only in the near-present moment with no complicated long term goals, deserve the right to not be killed by us. Only we can think enough to grant them that reprieve, this is true, and worth considering, but the question is still there.

    Now, I’m in a position where I can’t really afford that luxury, but I would like to get to that point, and more than that, get everyone to such a point. I mentioned veganism as a bit too far. I’ll explain that now, if my talk of plants didn’t make it clear. Eggs and milk aren’t aware. They don’t care about anything, so worrying about that seems like a waste. Likewise, chickens will naturally lay eggs and cows naturally give milk, and these CAN be done in a way that doesn’t bother either much if at all, because neither animal really seems capable of awareness of “privacy” or other bigger freedoms like we humans consider. I said “can” for a reason. I’m aware that both animals can be raised in horrid conditions their entire lives, and to that extent I understand the vegan, just not the prohibition on the entire enterprise of eggs and milk, in those idealized friendly environments where they basically can do whatever most of the day.

    So yeah, there’s my overly long position. I’m honestly surprised so many people are so hesitant to even talk about rights, even of people as ends in themselves and seem intent on post-hoc justifying their own hatred of murdering people as merely “self interest”.

  • Roy

    I remember reading a sci-fi short story about the near future when animals and plants were not eaten because they all felt pain. Everybody ate yeast cultures and the punchline was that scientists had now discovered that the yeasts also felt pain.

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    Also, no one can agree on pizza toppings. That doesn’t really apply but I thought I’d toss it out there.

    I only got this far and choked. Sorry :)

  • ildi

    Meat is, of course, tasty. That I won’t deny. When I ate meat, I loved it. But how much weight does that carry morally? I’m sure it’s nice to be pampered and have your every whim attended to by your own personal slave, but I don’t think that justifies the institution. Exploiting others may bring material rewards, but surely a moral person will be troubled by the fact that others have paid a dear price for their convenience.

    I hate to break it to you, but this doesn’t come across as respectful and non-judgmental. Anyway, back to the point: to my taste buds, bread is even tastier. Animals die either directly or by habitat destruction for us to be able to grow and store wheat and make delicious bakery products. Unless you don’t participate in any form of agriculture, something is going to pay a price for your survival. Is it only ok to do so when you’re not enjoying it? Is habitat competition ok? Deaths indirectly due to your consumption habits ok?

    It sounds like you’ve drawn your own personal moral boundary at raising animals for food because a) you equate death with suffering and b) animals have a right to self-determination? Death is a dear price for humans because we understand that our time here is finite and we are aware that we will die. Can you say that about all animals? If not, why are you assuming there is a loss?

    The one thing that really does trouble me about my vegetarianism is that by logical extension of my own arguments, I should probably in fact be a vegan. But I am not.

    I’m curious, why not? How does that jibe with your sentiments regarding exploiting others for your personal whims? It comes across that you have taken a moral stance based on your gut reactions rather than reasoned decisions. That’s fine if it works for you, but it doesn’t carry much weight.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    What is it with you people? First, all atheists “should” be feminists. And now atheists should also be vegetarians?

    But to answer your final question, yes we can justify eating meat.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    As a follow-up, what, exactly, is the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    Interesting post, Dark Jaguar.

    If you have access to a supermarket, you have access to vegetarian and vegan meals. If you have access to a restaurant, you have access to vegetarian and vegan meals. So even if you like the taste of animal products so much that you won’t stop eating them completely, it would still be very easy cut back on animal products and include more vegan meals in your rotation. This would be beneficial for the animals, the environment, and your health too.

    I’ve known probably a hundred vegans and can’t think of a single one that would find it immoral to eat the eggs of a pampered pet hen that was adopted from a shelter. However, they might find it unappetizing to eat something that squirted out their pet’s rear!

  • http://stevebowen58.blogspot.com Steve Bowen

    .. But having read the rest this is one of the best arguments on the subject I have heard.
    For me the salient question and point is this:

    He’s asking, simply, if animals, those with brains complicated enough to enjoy living, even if only in the near-present moment with no complicated long term goals, deserve the right to not be killed by us. Only we can think enough to grant them that reprieve, this is true, and worth considering, but the question is still there.

    Can an organism with only short term goals “enjoy” anything? Granted, they may “enjoy” the moment; the taste of grass, the feel of warmth, the satisfaction of mating and the absence of pain. But, if they have no conception of future existence, or non-existence, no ambition, no plan for the next ten minutes, let alone tomorrow or next year: What is lost in a humane death?
    We are a privileged species: We have the ability to comprehend (N) order intentionality and we have a tendency to ascribe that ability to less sapient species (hence my earlier facetious post about Disney characters) but with the exception of a very few that is an anthropomorphic delusion. Bambi never mourned his mother despite our tears.

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    Ildi, you are right to be concerned about the harms in producing grains to feed humans. But please remember that these harms are all _multiplied_ when grains are produced to feed animals to in turn feed humans.

    Let me explain: Most meat/dairy/eggs in the U.S. and similar western countries is grown by feeding farmed grains to farmed animals. By doing so, most of the protein, nutrients, and calories in the farmed grain is wasted. The animal burns it up in metabolism, excretes it as waste, and builds it into inedible parts. So, by the end of the day, several times as much grain are required to feed a person via animals than via just eating the plants. This means that all the harms of farming grains (like the habitat destruction you mentioned) get compounded. Several times as much habitat destruction is required, several times as much water, several times as much fossil fuel, several times as many animal deaths due to plowing or insecticides …

    Scientists have conducted painstaking research to find out what these numbers are for different food production systems. The calculations include everything and the kitchen sink: tilling, transportation, fertilizer, breeding stock, deforestation, greenhouse gasses, storage, processing, waste disposal, etc. And the answer is that plant production wins the overwhelming majority of the time and almost always by a staggering margin. It simply uses less resources and causes less devastation. Even if you stack the deck against the plants (like by flying them in while keeping the meat local), the plants still almost always win. Even organic grass-fed livestock uses substantially more fossil fuel and water than conventionally-grown grains and legumes.

  • AnnaTheEcologist

    Steve Bowen asserts that animals only “live in the moment.” Where is this assertion coming from? Scientists have studied memory, foresight, planning, problem solving, and complex communication in a wide range of animals and found these sorts of things pretty consistently, at least in birds and mammals. Animal cognition is a whole big field of study, and the researchers aren’t just sitting around chasing negative results!

    And of course Bambi, if he was real, was stressed by the loss of his mother. Science has shown quite clearly the behavioral, hormonal, and physiological responses social animals have to separation from their companions. This is one of the most thoroughly studied topics, especially with farm animal species as research subjects. Animal producers freely acknowledge that their animals suffer when they take babies from their mothers, separate long-time pen mates, or sell some of their animals away. To assert otherwise is to ignore the copious scientific literature on this topic.

  • Ritchie

    ildi –

    Animals die either directly or by habitat destruction for us to be able to grow and store wheat and make delicious bakery products. Unless you don’t participate in any form of agriculture, something is going to pay a price for your survival. Is it only ok to do so when you’re not enjoying it? Is habitat competition ok? Deaths indirectly due to your consumption habits ok?

    You are of course correct that, however we feed ourselves, something is going to die or suffer. I am under no illusions that a vegetarian/vegan diet produces no death or suffering. My vegetarianism is simply an attempt to minimise the death and suffering diet causes.

    I’m curious, why not? How does that jibe with your sentiments regarding exploiting others for your personal whims? It comes across that you have taken a moral stance based on your gut reactions rather than reasoned decisions. That’s fine if it works for you, but it doesn’t carry much weight.

    Well I do try to steer towards veganism where possible. My meals are usually vegan, except when I eat out, where vegan meals are hard to come by. I use vegan butter, milks and yogurts. However I do use dairy in coffee, and I won’t turn down biscuits or cakes on offer. I’m kindof a vegan who fails on a fairly regular basis…
    But as to why, well it’s not because I have any particular stance against veganism. If I’m honest it’s probably more to do with convenience. Meat is relatively easy to cut out of your diet – dairy is quite a bit harder. Does this make me a hypocrit? Perhaps. But I’ve always been keenly aware that being a hypocrit does not automatically invalidate a person’s argument. If I was fat, and rebuked another person for being fat, I would be a hypocrit. But that wouldn’t mean I was wrong.

    TheOtherWeirdo –

    As a follow-up, what, exactly, is the difference between a vegetarian and a vegan?

    A vegetarian does not eat meat, or any part of an animal (such as some gelatines which are made with the collagen from bones or, more commonly, hooves).
    A vegan, as well as not eating meat, also does not eat any animal products, such as eggs, milk and arguably honey (bit of a debate on that one in vegan circles actually). The rationale behind it is that even though the animals themselves does not die to produce eggs or milk, the animals are often kept in appalling conditions and suffer a great deal within these industries. Moreover, since the production of both eggs and milk rely almost exclusively on females, male cows and chickens the industries produce are usually killed at birth, so there is a lot of indirect death caused. Vegans also abstain from non-food animal products, such as leather, fur, wool and silk.
    Many vegans class their ideal lifestyle as ‘cruelty-free’. So some, more liberal vegans will eat/use these products if they can be sure nothing suffered along the way. Some, for example, keep chickens and will eat the unfertilised eggs that hens lay naturally anyway. This is also the basis of the honey debate – is it actually cruel? Can/do bees suffer? Human breast milk (though not widely featured in a vegan diet) may also be considered vegan-friendly, since it can be willingly given and without anyone/anything suffering.

  • Sarah Braasch

    Very interesting discussion.

    I’ve been doing some research on gluten allergies and sensitivities and celiac disease, and, it would seem, since wheat, and gluten in general, were introduced into the human diet at such a late stage in our evolution, that our bodies fail to process these materials well. (Also why, supposedly, many people are lactose intolerant — we’re not supposed to be drinking the milk of cows — meant only for calves — especially not into adulthood.)

    I had a roommate with a gluten allergy, and if she hadn’t been able to eat meat on top of that, I don’t know what she would have done. (She was also under medical orders to avoid nightshades and dairy.) She basically ate meat and vegetables and snacked on some nuts. Legumes were a problem as well.

    I think there are serious issues that we must continue to address regarding our meat industry, not the least of which is the negative environmental effects, but I don’t think that eating meat in and of itself is immoral.

    I just came from Madison, WI, and I can tell you that local is huge there, especially local meats.

    Everyone buys local and organic and free range and cruelty free.

    The biggest grocery store is a co-op.

    Of course, it’s much more expensive than the national chains.

  • Jormungund

    @#87 by: AnnaTheEcologist: I don’t recall praising or defending factory farming anywhere here. Could you show me where I did so? Without that your complaints against factory farming, while valid in their own right, are not a relevant response against anything I wrote.

    #101 by: Sarah Braasch

    Also why, supposedly, many people are lactose intolerant — we’re not supposed to be drinking the milk of cows — meant only for calves — especially not into adulthood

    “supposed to”, “meant”. I’m not comfortable with those words being applied to food.
    We are not ‘supposed to’ in any natural sense supposed to be drinking tea or coffee or eating flourless cake or egg rolls or deep sea fish or a wide variety of foods.
    I think that ‘can’ is what really matters here. Within whatever moral and health limitations you want to live by.
    As someone descended from Europeans I can readily digest lactose. And cows have been bred to produce excessive quantities of milk far outside of the needs of calves.
    Whether that milk is ‘meant’ to be turned into extra sharp cheddar and sliced onto my food is entirely besides the point.
    I do feel for people who can’t eat common foods. I can’t imagine what life would be like without cheese and baked goods. I would give up meat before I gave up either of those.

    I go away for a day and this comments section has exploded in size.

  • Sarah Braasch

    What evolution has equipped human physiology to digest carries no moral implications. Your comfort level is beside the point.

    I was simply trying to point out, as many nutritionists and scientists have suggested, that many persons are probably lactose and gluten intolerant, because our bodies may not be well equipped by evolution to process such materials.

    I was trying to suggest that it would be pretty hard on these persons to further limit their food choices by denying them meat choices, which their bodies are able to process.

  • http://danielkinsman.wordpress.com The 327th Male

    Though I agree with most of your comments Dark Jaguar, but this one is off:

    . I mentioned veganism as a bit too far. I’ll explain that now, if my talk of plants didn’t make it clear. Eggs and milk aren’t aware. They don’t care about anything, so worrying about that seems like a waste. Likewise, chickens will naturally lay eggs and cows naturally give milk, and these CAN be done in a way that doesn’t bother either much if at all

    Free range” is just a marketing term. Dairy cows are constantly impregnated to keep the milk flowing, their offspring taken from them and killed.

  • Jormungundr

    Dairy cows are constantly impregnated to keep the milk flowing

    This is not my understanding.
    If they have one calf then they will produce milk for most of the rest of their lives. Also a few hormone injections can trigger milk production in cows that have never had a calf. Some dairy farms rely on that rather than bothering with calves at all.
    But generally the meat industry buys off the excess calves (the males ones) that are produced by the dairy industry.

  • Ritchie

    If they have one calf then they will produce milk for most of the rest of their lives.

    Not a constant amount. The amount of milk produced peaks at around a month after birth, and after a year the amount has dropped off significantly. So while your above statement is technically true, the first year after birth produces by far the most milk, and thus dairy cows are kept pregnant to keep the milk yield high.

    Also a few hormone injections can trigger milk production in cows that have never had a calf. Some dairy farms rely on that rather than bothering with calves at all.

    Some, but it is far from standard practice. For one thing, the hormones are simply an added (some might say ‘unnecessary’) expense. For another, dairy farms need female calves to keep the milking herd’s numbers up. Males may also bring in a small profit by selling them where possible.

    But generally the meat industry buys off the excess calves (the males ones) that are produced by the dairy industry.

    Mainly veal or pet food. Dairy herds and beef herds are generally kept seperate so they can be selectively bred for different qualities. It’s uncommon for farmers to mix the two.
    Veal, in Britain at least, is considered very politically incorrect and has a very low demand – much lower than supply. So many males calves are simply killed as an unwanted by product of the dairy industry.

  • Sarah Braasch

    One of my aunt’s had a dairy farm (in WI) when I was growing up, which I visited many times, and I know that they took exquisite care of their animals. I remember them talking about certain cows being dry at certain times or permanently, and they still took exquisite care of those cows. The kids basically kept the cows as pets and would play with them and ride them. They had a bull, and the calves (male and female) stayed with their mothers, but, at some point, the steers would be sold for meat.

    I’m not saying that that is the norm (I know it isn’t), but it is possible to maintain a cruelty free dairy farm.

    My experience in France is also that the veal industry there is quite different than in the US. No pens, no hormones. The calves are just hanging out in the field with momma. At least that is what I’ve been told. I’m sure that this is not always the case either.

    Now, I know that foie gras is another matter entirely.

  • Ritchie

    I’m not saying that that is the norm (I know it isn’t), but it is possible to maintain a cruelty free dairy farm.

    While I’m sure that’s true, it seems to me that if all farms treated their animals so well, we would simply produce far less meat and animal-produce than we currently do (though perhaps not quite so true of milk). Battery farms may be cruel, but they are, at least, productive.

    I’m sure most people don’t enjoy being cruel to animals. Battery farmers keep their livestock in the conditions they do to maximise output – which is taken as more important than the animals’ welfare – to meet demand. It seems to me the sensible solution is therefore to minimise demand.

  • ildi

    Anna:

    Scientists have conducted painstaking research to find out what these numbers are for different food production systems. The calculations include everything and the kitchen sink: tilling, transportation, fertilizer, breeding stock, deforestation, greenhouse gasses, storage, processing, waste disposal, etc. And the answer is that plant production wins the overwhelming majority of the time and almost always by a staggering margin. It simply uses less resources and causes less devastation.

    Do you have any references to this data? I don’t think the relationships are all that easy to tease out. For example, according to the IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands:

    When it comes to soy, 85% of the total EU import comes from large-scale plantations in South America, where an area the size of the Netherlands is deforested almost annually to make room for soy plantations. … The Netherlands is the largest soy importer in the European Union (30% of EU imports of soy beans, 20% of soy flour) and the second-largest in the world. … The oil is used in approximately 70% of our daily groceries, such as cookies, soap, detergents, bread and deodorant. The cake remaining after the crushing process, is processed into cattle feed for its high protein content and in this way it ends up in animals products – the steak on the consumer’s plate, for instance. The production of 1 kilo of meat requires about 7 kilos of soy.

    The byproduct of soy oil is used as cattle feed. Soy oil itself is used to make those delicious bakery products.

    However, though this is an important discussion, it doesn’t address the primary question raised by Ritchie: is it unethical to kill and eat animals?

    Ritchie:

    Well, I think I am holding to a simple moral principle – strive to cause as little suffering as possible.

    I can stand behind that, once we have established what it means for various species of animals to suffer.

    A meat-based diet causes more death and suffering than a vegetarian one. Therefore it is the less moral option. What is the problem there?

    A couple of problems. You haven’t demonstrated that killing an animal in the prime of its life is causing more suffering than letting that animal die naturally of old age or disease. You haven’t demonstrated that a meat-based diet causes more suffering than a vegetarian one – remember, we’re talking all animals, not just Bambi or Wilbur. You haven’t demonstrated that the act itself of killing an animal for food is immoral.

  • ildi

    I realized I didn’t finish my thought: our high status on the evolutionary ladder (in terms of our ability to adapt to and control our environment, our self-awareness, and our ability to feel empathy) behooves us to be humane predators in harmony with our environment, not to draw an arbitrary line in the sand.

  • Dark Jaguar

    AnnaTheEcologist, while it is true that I have access in that I am close to stores that could sell a full vegetarian diet, it is still not really an option for me. When I said that, it was a polite way of saying I don’t really have enough money to afford it. At the moment, I buy the standard “good enough” diet, (ramen, soup, hotdogs, macaroni, milk, bread, though those last two are getting rather expensive lately), interspersed with some fast food. I’m doing fine, but if I bought the surprisingly expensive vegetarian options, which is to say whole hog (sorry about the pun) completely dietary sufficient vegetarian, it’d break the bank. I just can’t afford it. The sad reality is food producers treat vegetarian diets like a luxury item right now. I’m also still morally mixed about it in a few ways.

    Finding out about that cultured meat a few years back was interesting, but right now it’s just barely fit for human consumption. When they get the details worked out (which is probably going to take a LONG time considering how complex protein interactions during development actually are), I will almost certainly switch so long as it’s reasonably affordable.

  • RitchieAdmin

    ildi –

    Hello again. :) I wondered if I’d see you again on this topic.

    The byproduct of soy oil is used as cattle feed. Soy oil itself is used to make those delicious bakery products.

    Are you sure it is the feed which is the byproduct and not the oil?

    You haven’t demonstrated that killing an animal in the prime of its life is causing more suffering than letting that animal die naturally of old age or disease.

    Well, in my opinion, killing – even painlessly one – is wrong because it denies the victim the opportunity to enjoy life tomorrow. So as long as a creature can enjoy life, killing them is wrong.

    You haven’t demonstrated that a meat-based diet causes more suffering than a vegetarian one – remember, we’re talking all animals, not just Bambi or Wilbur.

    I can’t see that it wouldn’t. For a start, the meat itself is animal flesh. Also, there are all the extra animals killed in the agricultural process to grow feed for the livestock, and the wild land destroyed for the extra farmland…

    …our high status on the evolutionary ladder (in terms of our ability to adapt to and control our environment, our self-awareness, and our ability to feel empathy) behooves us to be humane predators in harmony with our environment, not to draw an arbitrary line in the sand.

    Now this is actually a very interesting point. Everything in an ecosystem works in a balance, and whether or not it is intuitive, when you remove the top predator, the whole ecosystem itself does suffer. Now, there are ecosystems where we have all but eradicated these top predators, as threats to ourselves or competition. Whatever the case, what are we to do if the top predator is gone? Can we justify doing that predator’s job and hunting animals further down the food chain for their own good?
    To be honest, I think the answer is yes. But that is because there is a greater good which is served – the other animals prosper by the death of a few. So it’s not that killing isn’t bad, it’s that there is a great good which overrides the bad.
    So perhaps the act of eating isn’t ALWAYS wrong, per say. But this is not an accurate representation of how we usually obtain meat. In reality, the vast majority of it comes from the squalid battery farms we don’t like to think of animals being in. We cannot justify eating meat in general on the basis of uncommon cases.

  • Clytia

    I found the posts and some of the comments interesting to read. It is certainly an interesting topic. I am a regular reader of this blog, though I only rarely comment. But I have to say, I am thoroughly disappointed in what a mud-slinging shitstorm the comments have mostly turned in to. I respect Ritchie for putting his views out there and asking questions about other peoples moral views. I am appalled at how much people have picked to pieces the way he has said things or various straw men thereof, rather than pausing to actually think about the questions he has posed. And the bitching about how the questions he has asked shouldn’t have to be answered in the first place, is disgusting.

    Ritchie – thank you. I am not a vegetarian, though I have thought a fair bit about food issues, including vegetarianism, factory farming and religious ritual slaughtering. My food habits have changed somewhat because of that thinking. I absolutely agree that we should avoid unecessary suffering to all creatures, if possible. The practicalities of that, I am still not clear about myself, but I appreciate the encouragement to think further about these issues.

  • Wiktor

    Thank you for this post. It’s always nice to know that more people share you view. I’m veggie for similar reasons.

  • Ritchie

    Thanks guys. :)

  • Mike

    There is a lot to this whole argument. The bottom line is, eating meat has sort of become a staple of our culture and it’s so common that people often ignorant when it comes to even discussing alternatives. Do we need to at meat? Absolutely not! There are many people that eat no meat and live perfectly fine lives. We must have water to survive. We don’t need meat to survive. People like the taste of meat and I understand that but that is not a rational argument for saying that eating meat is a MUST! This is the fact… like all animals we are designed to get our protein and complete nutrition through plants. Every animal on this planet lives off of vegetables (grass, etc) but when they can’t access plant material – because of their environment or other factors – they eat other animals that eat vegetables and get their “protein” though them instead. When man had access to plants, he ate plants. When he navigated to colder climates and could not harvest plants, he ate animal which ate plants, allowing him to get his protein through the animal. Getting protein through an animal is a backup source. It is a luxury, not a necessity. And yes, we live in a society that loves to WASTE resources, whether it’s driving a car that gets 8 miles to the gallon or throwing away half a plate of food, so I understand a lot of people don’t understand the point of necessities vs. luxuries. And if you still aren’t convinced that eating meat is a luxury.. consider this: It takes a 100 pounds of grain, a day, to feed a cow before it goes into slaughter. The whole point is, the factory wants to get the cow fat as quick as possible. They do the same with chickens, but on a smaller scale. So let’s just ponder that for a minute… a 100 pounds of grain multiplied by even a week is 700 pounds. Think of how much architecture has to be sustained to product that much grain? Think of how any people you could feed with that much grain? Then think of how many people that single cow feeds? Not many. In fact, the return on your investment is minimal. Fact is, why would we be designed as a species to require a form of nutrition that isn’t practical? The whole point of evolution is survival. You survive to get by. You don’t evolve for luxuries. If you can get by without meat, and people do, it isn’t a necessity. Fact is, there is enough nutrition to survive on a vegan diet as long as you are healthy about it. As much as importance as people put on protein, must folks get too much of it! Thing is, there are even a lot of bodybuilders who get way too much protein and eat up with kidney problems later in life! Your kidneys have to process all that protein!!! Vegetables have the right among of protein to live, meat is excessive and can be dangerous! I think most people have no clue how much protein they actually need and eat it three times a day more out of fear that they lack it and that fear often comes from a poor understanding! Plus, there is another interesting fact… mammals (including humans) grow the most during infancy. In that period, they rely solely on their mother’s milk. Mother’s milk protein is less than 8% protein! How much do you think that does a body good? haha Vegans who are not healthy and look pale and sick, often lack B-12 or iron. While meat provides iron, there is enough iron in dark green vegetables like spinach and beans like black beans. A know a lot of vegans who eat a lot of processed foods and stay away from whole vegetables, and yes, they are sick. If you hate fresh product, going vegan would not work. No doubt. Thing is, you have to educate yourself. The meat industry is filled with lobbyist and their industry is privatized so its an endless battle. Vegetables aren’t. It’s single farmers against massive corporate campaigns.


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