Skip

Ethical Meat?
April 26, 2012 5:10 AM   Subscribe

Is it Ethical to eat meat? (SLNYT) The NYT Ethicist asked reader to submit essays making an ethical case for eating meat. Here are the top six along with the results of the reader poll.
posted by Michael_H (163 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

 
Next month: essays making the ethical case for cannibalism.
posted by XMLicious at 5:22 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


It is ethical to eat animals because given half a chance, animals would eat us.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:25 AM on April 26, 2012


It is ethical to eat animals because given half a chance, animals would eat us.


Yes! Beware of the cow!
posted by cincinnatus c at 5:27 AM on April 26, 2012 [20 favorites]


It is ethical to eat animals because given half a chance, animals would eat us

Very few of them, percentage-wise. But if anyone chooses to eat only wolves, sharks, and polar bears, I can respect that.

In fact, that would be pretty awesome.
posted by Trurl at 5:30 AM on April 26, 2012 [15 favorites]


Someone should set up a company farming and selling amputation meat. Wouldn't you enjoy your burger more to know the cow it came from was still freely ranging? Only slightly less so.
posted by iotic at 5:32 AM on April 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


As a meat eater, I wish I had the opportunity to meet the animal first.
To show it respect, give it thanks, and acknowledge it being part of the circle of life.

The worst part about the meat we eat is the cold packaging in which it is delivered.
posted by Flood at 5:38 AM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


I thought they were all rather poor arguments. And most did not even present an argument to continue eating meat.

That last one was terrible full of false premises.
posted by mary8nne at 5:40 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Snark aside: several made good points regarding the environmental aspects of farming. Pastoral farming is sometimes the better environmental choice for a given region than trying to force it into arable production - their example was of dry land Arizona, I've studied wetlands where grazing was done. Others pointed out that animal husbandry is an essential part of a balanced mixed-farming system.

I focus on the environmental aspects because these are what matter to me. Ethics is a personal choice, and I'm a speciesist: I don't believe that animals have the same rights as humans. I don't believe that it is moral to be unnecessarily cruel to animals, but I also don't think that it is immoral to use them for our purposes because they are not sentient. (Except for animals like great apes - and I would never eat an ape).
posted by jb at 5:41 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Most of us love animals. When we first discover that the meat on our plate is the body of an animal that has been killed for our consumption, this upsets us greatly."

I think this is a neat rhetorical trick. It is true that most of us love animals. But the "we" in the second sentence is implicitly identified with "most of us," and it's hard for me to believe that most people feel upset upon learning that meat comes from animals.

The top-rated article, about the lab-grown hamburger, also seems like a cheat; at best it's saying "there will be a version of eating meat in the future that's ethical, but what you mean right now by "eating meat" is unethical," so I don't think it really answers the question.
posted by escabeche at 5:42 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure what this is trying to accomplish. Some entries don't even support the premise, while the current leading entry's weak, sentimental argument is founded on a technology that isn't commercially viable yet and that would still rely on donor animals (admittedly few of them and I'm guessing the process won't kill them). Rather poorly executed imo.
posted by londonmark at 5:43 AM on April 26, 2012


I just wish the scale of animal treatment at the Whole Foods meat counter continued past 5.

6 - Got to eat anything it wanted

7 - Lived to see its grandchildren

8 - Died in its sleep of old age

9 - Other animals name their offspring after it

10 - Enjoying an immortal afterlife
posted by Trurl at 5:45 AM on April 26, 2012 [27 favorites]


Very few of them, percentage-wise. But if anyone chooses to eat only wolves, sharks, and polar bears, I can respect that.


Hey, you know all those people who die alone, aside from their pets?

When the kibble is all gone, Fido and Fluffy start snacking on their master. Ergo, we should be following in the lead of the Chinese and Koreans, and start eating us some yummy cat and dog.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:45 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


The first one is a bit freaky sounding to me. Growing meat in a lab has a certain ick factor and the underlying philosophy sounds wrong at first thought. There's nothing inherently wrong with killing animals for meat or cloths. It's been done for thousands of years, to keep humanity alive, so the new revulsion of what has served us so well previously is wrong headed. It as if people are trying to deny humanity.

I'm also leery of new science that promises to be a cure all, as the writer says lab grown meat will be.

The second is great, it speaks to doing the work yourself, getting your hands dirty and finding out what works and doesn't. It strives to live in harmony with the planet, with the land and animals.

The third one fits with the 2nd in the desire not to cruel or thoughtless with animals, which is the way to go.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have exhausted my free access to the New York Times for this period, however, I thought the Ethicist column was cancelled in 2011? Assuming this isn't Randy Cohen, has it been fully reanimated with a new writer or is this more of a one-off?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 5:46 AM on April 26, 2012


I find that the vegetarian argument is often approached from a very uneven starting point of view.

The meat-eater is asked to provide an excuse for the worst excesses of the Meat Industry. to Argue why its OK to eat meat if that even indirectly supports an industry that promotes the kind of insanity that exists in Industrialized meat farming.

Yet the Vegetarian is never held responsible for similar excesses of the vegetable farming. The Vegetarian never has to answer or excuse Monstanos pesticide resistant vegetables and crops.

I think many vegetarians eat a lot more industrially farmed vegetables than the Industrially farmed meat that I occasionally consume at restaurants.
posted by mary8nne at 5:47 AM on April 26, 2012 [19 favorites]


Uh, well, the problem with this is we gotta all sit down and define "ethics" and work on a universal consensus of "ethical" and all agree on it together like brothers and sisters. Once somebody lays the groundwork on that little pancake, we can set to figuring out what is and isn't ethical. Meat aside, the way we as a species treat our non-human animal cohabitants is profoundly and comprehensively terrible. Factory farming is a pretty massive chunk of the pie, and since that's how 90% of the world's meat gets onto plates for consumption, it ain't so much about the meat itself as it is about our attitude towards the providers of it.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:47 AM on April 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


londonmark, it was a reader's submission that was voted on by readers (well, after passing the panel), but yeah, i found that one to be a bit annoying.

the best, IMO was "balance requires meat," even though i want to nitpick about it. for many of the people i know, balance doesn't require meat, not in the food economy that we live in, but were the food production to become balanced, equitable, and sustainable, then yes, it would probably require meat. and i'd be okay with that, despite being a small-v vegetarian for the past, oh, what, eleven years now?

mary8nne, you have a point. though i don't agree that "the Vegetarian is never held responsible for excesses of vegetarian farming," I agree with your broader point that perhaps the distinction of meat-eating-versus-vegetarian misses some really crucial points when it comes to ecological propriety and sustainability.
posted by entropone at 5:49 AM on April 26, 2012


The meat-eater is asked to provide an excuse for the worst excesses of the Meat Industry...Yet the Vegetarian is never held responsible for similar excesses of the vegetable farming.

Ehhh...I think to have any kind of reasonable discussion about the ethics of vegetables vs. meat, we'd need to set up a "perfect world" scenario where all the vegetables spring up out of the earth fully-formed, and so do the cows and the sheep...but the cows and the sheep still need to get slaughtered, thus terminating their conscious existences, while as near as we can tell carrots and legumes etc. have no such consciousness.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:51 AM on April 26, 2012


...all the vegetables spring up out of the earth fully-formed, and so do the cows and the sheep...

I meant to add to that they they just literally come flying out, having had no human interference (see Monsanto et al). Like big cabbage volcanoes and pig geysers and the like.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:52 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Next month: essays making the ethical case for cannibalism.

Dude, cannibal is not the preferred nomenclature. Humanitarian, please.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:53 AM on April 26, 2012 [28 favorites]


Animals can run away or fight back, plants can't. Eating plants in unethical because they're completely helpless.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:55 AM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Ain't never heard of no captive bolt system for a god-damned aubergine.
posted by tumid dahlia at 5:57 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]





Yet the Vegetarian is never held responsible for similar excesses of the vegetable farming. The Vegetarian never has to answer or excuse Monstanos pesticide resistant vegetables and crops.


One of the biggest problems with animal farming, from the environmental perspective, is the enormous amounts of soybeans and corn that are farmed to feed livestock. Surely pesticide-resistant crops aren't solely something that vegetarians should be held responsible for.
posted by Jeanne at 5:58 AM on April 26, 2012 [16 favorites]


Ain't never heard of no captive bolt system for a god-damned aubergine.

There should be, those things are disgusting....
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:59 AM on April 26, 2012


As a meat eater, I wish I had the opportunity to meet the animal first. To show it respect, give it thanks, and acknowledge it being part of the circle of life.

I'm a hunter. I spend much of the year plotting out ways to improve the life of the animals on my land. I plant food crops that will serve their nutritional needs at different times throughout the year. I protect them from (other) predators to the best of my ability. I practice my shooting skills so that in the end, when it does come time for me to take their life, I do so in the quickest and most pain free way that I can (using lead free amunition, I might add so that I do not contribute to poinsoning their environment).

I do all this for pleasure. Were it my job, say, if I were a rancher, I couldn't imagine treating animals any differently. This factory farming business just doesn't make sense to me from that perspective. Not only does it show a profound disrespect to the animals and the customer as well, but also it seems contrary to any set of moral or ethical value system I've come across, save pure greed.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:59 AM on April 26, 2012 [18 favorites]


small-v vegetarian

What on earth does this mean? Is there an organized Vegetarian interest group or political party that you disagree with?
posted by stopgap at 6:00 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good on you for looking out for the critters, 10th Regiment, and doing a good job to make the kills quick and clean, but when it moves from "necessity" to "pleasure"...well, I dunno, that just leaves me cold.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:01 AM on April 26, 2012


I read the first and third, both were such poor arguments for ethical meat eating it actually made me think about my own attitude to meat and whether I should be giving up if I can't come up with some better justification.

Was that the point of the exercise?
posted by biffa at 6:02 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


10 - Enjoying an immortal afterlife

Where do you rate "trapped in an eternal reincarnation into the factory farm cycle?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:03 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am going to throw out Plutarch and his discourse on the Eating of Meat.
posted by jadepearl at 6:03 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


There's nothing inherently wrong with killing animals for meat or cloths. It's been done for thousands of years, to keep humanity alive, so the new revulsion of what has served us so well previously is wrong headed. It as if people are trying to deny humanity.

Unsupported claim followed by argument from history followed by ad hominem followed by strawman.
posted by DU at 6:04 AM on April 26, 2012 [26 favorites]


I think many vegetarians eat a lot more industrially farmed vegetables than the Industrially farmed meat that I occasionally consume at restaurants.

So, all the vegetables you eat at restaurants are ideologically pure? If not, all you have done is show that you are more indebted to the industrial farm than a vegetarian of similar appetite.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:05 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I find that the vegetarian argument is often approached from a very uneven starting point of view.

Overlooking the fact that this exercise was a one-sided search for the ethical arguments in support of meat eating, I think your starting point is rather uneven too. You're comparing what I assume to be welfare issues (the "worst excesses" of factory farming) with environmental ones (GM scares). There are plenty of environmental concerns in both animal and plant farming, but there are rather fewer vegetable welfare issues.
posted by londonmark at 6:06 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


There should be, those things are disgusting....

Even when we call them "aubergines" instead of "eggplants"?
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:09 AM on April 26, 2012


Unsupported Claim followed by Argument From History followed by Ad Hominem followed by Strawman.

Ugh. Worst math-rock lineup ever.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:10 AM on April 26, 2012 [44 favorites]


I also don't think that it is immoral to use them for our purposes because they are not sentient

What?
posted by Wolof at 6:11 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


when it moves from "necessity" to "pleasure"...well, I dunno, that just leaves me cold.

I get to spend my free time in the woods playing a sort of live action version of sim life and when I do have to get to the unpleasant business of dispatching one of the residents there, I get to supply my family with guilt-free, clean, ethically raised and killed, tasty meat. I don't see where a person wouldn't get pleasure out of that. I don't enjoy the killing part, it's just a necessary part of the cycle with a pleasant by-product.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:12 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Mark Zuckerberg only eats what he kills. Is he the kind of person that an ethical person should try to emulate?

Anyway, the problem with this is the idea that there is some fixed set of rules that can be applied to determine if something is ethical.

You can use various moral frameworks, which are essentially sets of logical premises and then make a determination about whether or not a particular action is ethical.

But without agreeing on a framework first, there is no way to make a universal claim about what is and is not ethical.

So the whole thing seems like a bit of a waste of time. Some people, clearly are going to eat meat and feel fine about it. Other people are not. How can you say one is right and other wrong if they are starting from different sets of premises?

The more interesting question, IMO is whether or not people who think eating meat is wrong think they should try to stop people who do eat meat from doing so, with laws or whatever.

I mean, clearly when it comes to humans - we make laws that prevent people from behaving in a way we feel is unethical or immoral. We don't allow people to kill and eat other humans, and if they do we lock them up for the rest of their lives, or even kill them. We also throw people in jail for dog-fighting or whatever.

If you think meat eating is unethical, is it as unethical as killing and eating other humans? Should prohibitions on meat eating be imposed by law?

Because yeah... I just don't understand how you can come to a 'universal' conclusion on this issue that would apply to all people.
posted by delmoi at 6:12 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Many animals, however, while they can be well off or poorly off in certain ways at particular times (e.g., by experiencing pleasure and pain), seem unlikely to be capable of becoming better off in their lives considered as a whole — or at least not once they have had certain basic needs met. While they may be capable of relationships of a kind, it is doubtful that these can grow and develop in the ways ours can. Indeed, it is uncertain whether most animals even have identities that span weeks, let alone years.

What the fuck is this asshole talking about. Have they never actually encountered an animal before?
posted by Greg Nog at 6:13 AM on April 26, 2012 [17 favorites]


Gee, is it ethical to have sex?

You can live without it, but nature is nature. Humans have eaten meat for as long as we've existed and are adapted for doing so. Not factory farmed pink slime every night but certainly as a part of most human diets.
posted by spitbull at 6:13 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meh. I'm pretty much just a few bad night's sleep away from eating humans anyway.
posted by elizardbits at 6:14 AM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Eating meat is fine, after all, it's just dead flesh. It's how you keep and kill the animal it comes from that matters. So long as the trend in farming is toward better quality of life for livestock (which it is in the EU), then I've no worries on that score. I'm more concerned with the environmental effects of livestock farming than the ethical implications.
posted by Jehan at 6:14 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


What on earth does this mean? Is there an organized Vegetarian interest group or political party that you disagree with?

I mean it's more of a habit than an identity.

Couldn't you have found a more pleasant way to inquire?
posted by entropone at 6:16 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


But if anyone chooses to eat only wolves, sharks, and polar bears, I can respect that.

If you manage to survive on a polar bear-heavy diet, you're doing very well for yourself.
posted by griphus at 6:16 AM on April 26, 2012


So, I'm a vegetarian who believes that it's ethical to eat meat. Animal cruelty, however, is not something I hold to be okay. If I could afford and arrange to eat competently hunted or compassionately farmed meat, I would (and occasionally do, but so rarely that it leaves me functionally vegetarian).

That said, the only ones among these arguments I found remotely convincing were the ones that are basically arguing for just that: only eating compassionately farmed meat.

If the people with these views are in fact doing that, then I have great respect for them. If however, they are using the argument that eating compassionately farmed meat is ethically sound as a wedge to let them feel alright continuing to eat factory farmed beef... that is less okay.
posted by 256 at 6:17 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was thinking of submitting an essay that I had just talked about elsewhere on MeFi. I argued that all life is based on death, we either kill plants or animals for food, the difference is merely in degree. But my central argument was a perhaps idiosyncratic interpretation of my buddhist sect's doctrine, that plants and animals cannot consciously make decisions that would help them attain enlightenment, the only way they can gain karma is by giving their bodies to sustain a human buddha. So we have a duty to eat animals, in order to help them reincarnate as a higher form.

As I considered how to write this idea in the requested 600 word format, I decided the world wasn't prepared to hear it, at least, not via the New York Times.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:17 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whatever you feel about eating meat, it can surely only be a benefit if everyone thinks more about the ethics behind whatever we eat. I'm a vegetarian, but I can see the arguments behind eating meet, especially from less harmfully farmed animals or hunting (as long as it's not harming the core population or an endangered species). Arguments from 'we've always done this, thus it's fine' points of view I find unconvincing. We've always done lots of things that most of agree are bad. With this amount of people on the planet we've got to come up with less wasteful and harmful ways of feeding people, whatever those ways are.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 6:18 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


I don't enjoy the killing part, it's just a necessary part of the cycle with a pleasant by-product.

Gotcha. I was just picturing "hunting for pleasure" which my crazy brain automatically took to mean "sometimes we eat them, mainly we just mount the heads".
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:19 AM on April 26, 2012


Picture (if you will) a traditional family Christmas dinner. Pater Familias stands at the head of the table. His wife is assisted by their adult children in bringing overflowing dishes of fine provender to the table. Wine is poured and The Turkey is paraded in.

The grandchildren are called to the table to witness The Carving of the Turkey. "Happy Christmas," we cry as the knife slices into the bird. Smallest grandchild (age: 7) pipes up :
"Did the turkey have a happy Christmas?"
His face crumples and floods with tears as he gets down from his seat and runs out of the room.

We responded appropriately. Grandmother ran after distressed child, Grandfather nuttered something unpronounceable. Mother of Small Child burst into uncontrollable giggles in front of her flame-grilled stuffed aubergine (bloody vegan). I piped up to mention "Actually, yes, this is a free range turkey that I personally selected several months ago at the farm owned by people I drink heavily with at the pub."

So, veganism, ethical farming, locavore-ism (is that a word) and permanent psychological damage to a child, all in one happy family gathering!
posted by Combat Wombat at 6:20 AM on April 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


I have tried polar bear meat. Not something you'd want to live on, trust me. Even Eskimos find it best as an occasional delicacy. I have also lived for weeks on end on a diet consisting of mostly raw, freshly killed meat (in some cases I have played a role in the killing and butchering) and despite what you might think, eating that way leaves me feeling energetic and has never made me sick. (I work with a subsistence hunting community.)

Hominids were hunting or scavenging meat long before we had language. The question is not whether eating meat is ethical. The question is whether the *way* we eat meat is ethical, or smart. Saying it is somehow morally wrong to kill or eat animals is saying it's morally wrong to be a predator in the food chain.
posted by spitbull at 6:21 AM on April 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


As a meat eater, I wish I had the opportunity to meet the animal first.
To show it respect, give it thanks, and acknowledge it being part of the circle of life.


Unless you take a pretty far-reaching view of animal intelligence, most of that is just a way to assuage one's own guilt rather than anything that the animal cares about. The only element that really matters is showing the animal respect. If the animals are raised in a humane, healthy way and slaughtered humanely, then I don't think it matters whether the consumer ever sees it or not.

Which is not to say that people shouldn't be aware of the conditions in which animals are raised. Obviously education can play a significant role in changing eating habits (see, e.g., The Jungle). But that's only an indirect benefit to the animals.
posted by jedicus at 6:22 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


delmoi: That is a very good point. I don't think anyone sensible is really pushing for laws banning hamburgers but, personally, I would love to see legislation taking a harder line on what is and isn't allowed during the farming process (which would in turn drive up the price of meat).

I did think that it was pretty ridiculous however to see Michael Vick crucified in the media, with Carl's Jr. ads running between segments.
posted by 256 at 6:23 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


So the whole thing seems like a bit of a waste of time. Some people, clearly are going to eat meat and feel fine about it. Other people are not. How can you say one is right and other wrong if they are starting from different sets of premises?

This is a pretty good point. As I get older, I eat increasingly less meat for a bunch of reasons (some ethical and some practical). I eat meat on weekends, and I will eat meat when social situations require it -- if I am invited to someone's house, I will eat what they serve me. That puts me in a "neither fish nor fowl" area (heh); I generally support vegetarianism, and I think there are very few Americans that could not benefit themselves and the environment by eating less meat, but I am not going to take the moral high ground on the topic. I can't really expect the rest of the world to adopt my ethical starting points (despite the fact that I am obviously right in all things).

I occasionally tease vegetarians, but I save my annoyance for squeamish carnivores -- you know the sort: people who won't eat tripe "because it's gross" (grosser than eating an animal's leg or back? really?) and like to imagine that meat "comes from the grocery" (and, yes, they exist).

To bring this back to the topic, I think most of the arguments in the article fail for the reasons I put forward in my first paragraph -- they are based on personal ethics that don't scale to universal, they don't show much sign of deep thought, and they aren't constructed very well. If there is a good argument for meat eating beyond "I want to," we haven't seen it here.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:23 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]




Industrial food production shouldn't be used as an argument against anything except industrial food production.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 6:27 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, the texture of tripe is pretty gross.
posted by elizardbits at 6:27 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Meh. I'm pretty much just a few bad night's sleep away from eating humans anyway.

elizardbits -- don't give in! Have you seen the appalling conditions in which most of these animals are raised, the rampant use of dubious medications, and their poor use of grammar? Eating them will only make you sick....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:27 AM on April 26, 2012 [12 favorites]


You can live without it, but nature is nature. Humans have eaten meat for as long as we've existed and are adapted for doing so.

I've said it before I think, but the whole "we've adapted to do it" is a facile argument. So we're bipedal, with our eyes set in the front of our heads, with tearing/cutting/grinding teeth and powerful digestive systems, but...so what? I could pick up a newborn human baby and crush it's little eggshell head with my hands, but that doesn't mean I'm going to do it and an argument from adaptation doesn't override moral considerations.

Further, we've also evolved to make conscious, informed, compassionate decisions, and if we want to talk about humans being all unique and amazing and the superior species (I don't believe this, by the way, but many [most, near as I can tell] do), I would suggest that it is our capacity to make those conscious, informed, compassionate decisions that positions us as the "superspecies". Not our rending teeth and long strides, which many other animals have.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


Well, the texture of tripe is pretty gross.

Look, I don't eat tripe because, if I wanted to chew on a bicycle tire, well, I could do that. But it's not inherently gross, just unpalatable as it is usually served (I imagine there are some recipes and/or cooks that could change my mind, but, so far, I haven't met them).
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Saying it is somehow morally wrong to kill or eat animals is saying it's morally wrong to be a predator in the food chain.

Mate, we humans haven't been part of any kind of recognisable biological "food chain" for a good few thousand years now.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:31 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


My first encounter with tripe was watching a dude in a supermarket put ALL the tripe in the meat section in his grocery cart. It was, like, six or seven pre-wrapped packages.
posted by griphus at 6:31 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mate, we humans haven't been part of any kind of recognisable biological "food chain" for a good few thousand years now.

It's ok, you don't have to respond to every point you think is bad.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:33 AM on April 26, 2012


My first encounter with tripe was watching a dude in a supermarket put ALL the tripe in the meat section in his grocery cart.

That's because he didn't...want to make two tripes!
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:33 AM on April 26, 2012 [35 favorites]


Ethical is different to everyone. The Catholic school I went to taught me that something is good if there is good in it for someone somehow. For example, a person steals a loaf of bread. It is unethical to steal, but that person was hungry and stole for the good of his need to satisfy his hunger. So, though the act is unethical, it was done in good. So to those who choose to be a carnivore, it is good or ethical. As a Buddhist, every living being has the right to live so specifically to me, it is unethical to take a life of another and eat its flesh. Eat what you want. I won't impose my vegetarian lifestyle upon you and please don't impose your carnivore lifestyle upon me. Thank you.
posted by Yellow at 6:34 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I read the first and third, both were such poor arguments for ethical meat eating it actually made me think about my own attitude to meat and whether I should be giving up if I can't come up with some better justification.

What is the point of this exercise?


I guess in some kind of sad and pathetic way... it worked?
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 6:35 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mate, we humans haven't been part of any kind of recognisable biological "food chain" for a good few thousand years now.
posted by tumid dahlia


Say what? You may not believe in nature, but nature believes in you. Just because we can manipulate nature doesn't mean we aren't part of it. We are about to find out what damage breaking the food chain can accomplish.

We are not exempt from natural law by virtue of having consciousness or prehensile thumbs. Have a perspective of 50-100K years instead of the last century, it helps.
posted by spitbull at 6:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Me, I'm holding out for lab meat, and I really don't get why people find that so much more disgusting as a premise than literally eating stuff you just find crawling around outside.

Ethically, it's a tough call: we're animals. Eating meat is normal for us. But then, arguably fighting and killing our rivals to make claim to their property or to challenge their social standing is normal for us, too, and yet, we have some newer social customs and practices meant to discourage those kinds of behaviors. And in fact, our digestive systems can manage quite nicely--in many cases, even better--without meat, and it's not like there aren't plenty of fruit and vegetable options to choose from.

It's funny, a lot of contemporary Christians don't seem to remember this, but for years, it was church doctrine that meat-eating only began with the fall from grace, and meat-eating and the craving for meat were viewed as one of the many examples of humanity's degraded state in the aftermath of original sin. Nowadays it seems the Christian types are the most gung-ho, unreflective meat-eaters around!

Me personally, I don't eat red meat, and it's partly an ethical choice, partly an aesthetic choice (once you avoid the stuff for a while, it becomes much harder to ignore how gross it really is), and partly because I made a deal with the powers that be to give it up when I was visiting in Germany during the days of Cowmagadden, when the Mad Cow scare was sweeping through Europe and my sister kept insisting I was going to catch brain rot every night at the dinner table.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:37 AM on April 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


The problem I have with the historical argument is that there are plenty of things humans have done for thousands of years which, today, are no longer entirely viable. Take burning wood for fuel, for example. We can no longer use wood as a primary source for warmth, light and energy in the industrialized West. When wood became problematic as a fuel source for a growing, urban, industrialized population, we moved on to find other energy sources. By the same token, fullscale factory farming is getting closer and closer to being unsustainable. We need to change the way we acquire and manage food. Appealing to history doesn't help us.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:38 AM on April 26, 2012 [8 favorites]


But then, arguably fighting and killing our rivals to make claim to their property or to challenge their social standing is normal for us, too, and yet, we have some newer social customs and practices meant to discourage those kinds of behaviors.

Not really working out so well, is it?

Denying our status as animals who are part of nature is a weird trick of human consciousness.
posted by spitbull at 6:39 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I've said it before I think, but the whole "we've adapted to do it" is a facile argument.

This is also very rich. Rich like Polar Bear meat. You cannot be serious if you accord any credibility to evolutionary theory at all.
posted by spitbull at 6:40 AM on April 26, 2012


Along the lines of what 256 said, I think it is possible to eat meat in a way that I would consider ethical. On the other hand, it can be difficult to do so, or at least, I have always been too lazy or selfish to toe that line. Even when I was near a farmer's market and had the disposable income to buy meat that met my ethical standards, it was still only a portion of the meat I consumed.

I think it is a positive thing to attempt to delineate what constitutes ethical meat consumption and to try to increase the percentage of meat produced this way. I think it's great if people have the willpower to abide by their own ethical standards whether it involves eating meat or not. There is even value in pragmatically eating less meat and a greater percentage of ethical meat. For me, though, I have to admit that I use the idea that there is ethical meat and that I do/did/can buy it as an excuse for failing to live by my own standards.

Although I'm normally a pragmatist, I think that adopting an absolute set of rules, like becoming vegan, would actually be the most effective way for me to abide by what I know is right, kinda like I personally can't just smoke a couple cigarettes a day.
posted by snofoam at 6:44 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's Thursday night in Brisbane, you're drunk, and you're a bore.

Just settle this. Fight to the death, then winner eats the loser.
posted by Trurl at 6:52 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ok ok I take that back Brandon Blatcher, I apologise and that wasn't very gracious of me. All I'm saying is: while we don't necessarily have to eat every single one of the individually-wrapped Mentos that they put in the little bowls in front of us in the conference room, I'll wager a crisp ten buck note that more than a few of us have done it once or twice. Sometimes it just feels like it needs doing, and they're all different flavours too.

Wolof...just give me a minute...hang on...*slides off pants*. Ahh, that's better. Now, please do go on with your opinions of me.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:53 AM on April 26, 2012


"Mark Zuckerberg only eats what he kills. "

He gorges on the souls killed by facebook.
posted by sutt at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Denying our status as animals who are part of nature is a weird trick of human consciousness.

I don't think we have to deny our animal nature to transcend it--in fact, I think denying it makes it impossible to transcend it. But remember, categories and ideas like "animal," "animal nature," etc., are just as much a product of human imagination as whatever more elevated ideals of humanity we've embraced for ourselves over time. In reality, there are only individual animals, all of them connected and interrelated, but distinct--no underlying "animalness" that represents some opposite to "humanness." There's no proper "animal" way of doing things anymore than there's a proper "human" way of doing things. We made up both categories, not just the one that anarcho-primitivist-types reject.

But I still think, given the extraordinary scale of our powers of technological creation, adaptation and destruction, we need to be able to transcend being merely "animal" in the sense that term is normally used--or at least, be capable of transcending it, when we have bigger needs that conflict with our more immediate animal impulses/natures.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


There is too much anecdotally here to comment on the entire piece, but a common strain seems to be the idea that, because the standard American farming practices require use of animals, this is the only possible farming practice, and that using livestock in any way in the production of vegetables is equivalent to producing meat.

It also completely ignores large segments of the world's population that do not eat meat for religious reasons, and have lived accordingly for centuries. If a farmer uses goats to clear a hilltop for planting, for example, he doesn't have to eat the goat. Goats provide milk and cheese, and supplement the farmer's income. There are many Hindus who don't eat meat and strictly oppose violence toward animals. I can't imagine all of those people are buying vegetables from farmers who fertilize their fields with blood and bone meal.

So when I read this:
To not consume meat means to turn off a whole part of the natural world and to force production of food to move away from regenerative systems and to turn toward a system that creates larger problems for our world.
I had to wonder what this person is talking about. Clearly there are other system that the "regenerative system" practiced at this farm, which does not include the slaughter of animals. Saying that killing animals is ethical because it's a convenient or cheap way to farm is like saying it's legal to drive 20 miles per hour over the speed limit because you're late for work.
posted by deathpanels at 6:54 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


six-or-six-thirty
I said: Was that the point of the exercise?

You cited: What is the point of this exercise?

Which somewhat changes the meaning. I am thus not quite sure what you are suggesting is sad and pathetic.
posted by biffa at 6:57 AM on April 26, 2012


I apologise and that wasn't very gracious of me.

*Puts carving knife and BBQ sauce away*

We're cool, we're cool. For NOW.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:58 AM on April 26, 2012


I am impatient with this whole thing. I'm vegetarian and I don't care if eating meat is or is not ethical for the world at large. I don't eat meat because I don't want to, for various reasons that really don't matter to anyone but me. I would bet that is true for most vegetarians, outside of the activist community, which I do not really understand. I don't think most meat eaters really care whether or not eating meat is ethical, either. We make choices about our diet for personal reasons. I don't know why we have to have all these debates about the overarching morality of various things in the newspaper. This is not news. I have the same reaction to people lecturing us about why we should or should not be atheist, too. Everybody just needs to mind their own business and do what they want.
posted by something something at 7:01 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


if grass could scream, i'd mow the lawn every day.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:01 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, biffa. I copy/pasted, accidentally deleted that part, and then mis-remembered it.

I was only saying that it's kind of funny that terrible arguments saying that eating meat is ethical could possibly be effective in convincing people otherwise.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 7:02 AM on April 26, 2012


Is it possible the thread is this long without some sort of terrible soylent green pun? Impressive. It's also possible to be mainly vegetarian or mainly carnivorous and see gray in the debate: sometimes meat is ethical, sometimes it's not. I don't eat a lot of soy products, and I understand that small animals are frequently killed as part of the mechanized harvesting process. I'm not totally okay with that, but I'm way less okay with veal crates and gestation crates. There's venison sausage in my boyfriend's freezer that was shot and killed in his folks' backyard. I'm okay with that, even if I don't eat it.

ps: in Napoli there are shops that sell mainly organ meat, and they have these light, airy displays, which are lovely until you realize they are tripe waterfalls with trickling streams to keep them perky and yeah it is the least, least appetizing of all Christmas decorations, if you're there during the holidays.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:07 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not convinced by the "evolution made me do it" argument. Most people don't say that they have to fast periodically because we evolved to handle periods without food or that we have to eat rotting meat because we scavenged in prehistoric times. We have choices now that we didn't have then and we take advantage of that in a million different ways.

That said, I am not going to argue with someone who says they tried being vegan and had health problems because that's really a different issue and has nothing to do with the evolutionary purpose argument.
posted by snofoam at 7:08 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I would bet that is true for most vegetarians, outside of the activist community, which I do not really understand. I don't think most meat eaters really care whether or not eating meat is ethical, either. We make choices about our diet for personal reasons. I don't know why we have to have all these debates about the overarching morality of various things in the newspaper. This is not news. I have the same reaction to people lecturing us about why we should or should not be atheist, too. Everybody just needs to mind their own business and do what they want.

I could be totally wrong about this, and I don't know if it's a result of the activist community or what, but oftentimes I find that whenever I describe myself as a vegetarian, non-vegetarians react as though I've just said something harshly judgmental and critical of their own life choices. Which is maybe understandable as vegetarianism in the US tends to be a political choice to some degree.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:08 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Everybody just needs to mind their own business and do what they want.

In an ethical debate, that must surely rank up there with "you're ugly" as an argument killer.
posted by londonmark at 7:10 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess? I don't understand the reasons for having an ethical debate. I have never seen anyone's mind changed in any way by an ethical debate and usually they just lead to assholery all around.

shakespeherian, I have also experienced that same reaction and as a result I now try to never tell anyone I'm a vegetarian unless it comes up in some obvious way.
posted by something something at 7:20 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've noticed the really weird thing about being vegetarian is the tension between (1) social mores and etiquette that in some sense should be of rather low importance compared to (2) the ethics of killing other beings for reasons that mostly involve convenience and sensual pleasure.

My most immediately felt moral compass, I've noticed, really wants me to renounce (2) in favor of appeasing my meat-eating colleagues, for example. Even harder is turning down the gratitude of (say) grandma's cooking.

Which makes me think of how simplified most ethical discussions are. And how the issue of diet ties into a very complex web of ethical stuff related to community, culture, human nature, and the very nature of ethics itself.

And I start to wonder how the hell we manage to make any decisions at all in this age.

Vegetarianism and conscious meat-eating in the day-to-day ethical confusion of modern times are both pretty heroic!

Maybe in some sense it's more important to have an ethics than to have the right one.

My intuition is that there is a whole Pandora's box of complexes and thorny social-psychological stuff beneath the whole "issue" of meat-eating. Like, hoo boy, let's not get into that "right and wrong" stuff, that's always a bummer, because nobody seems to ever really figure it out --- but it's uncomfortable that we can't figure it out, and we really wish it could be clearer.

I have a strong wish to be moral, but I don't know what that means, or if it's possible. So I channel my morality into a few important issues, stake out my position clearly there, and cling to it. At least I try.

Vegetarianism for me is to be honest not all that much about the suffering of animals. I never see the animals, I don't feel that much about them, though when I see images from factory farms and such I do feel compassion and sorrow.

But it's more about having food as an area of my life where I can exercise integrity and conscious ethical decision. Hopefully this can transfer to other areas. Because I also care a great deal about the ethics of day-to-day communication and coexistence with humans in society.

I don't know what I'm trying to say, but I'd like for "us as a society" to come out and admit the extreme difficulty of living any kind of ethical life at all, and to acknowledge and respect all reasonable attempts.
posted by mbrock at 7:22 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I could be totally wrong about this, and I don't know if it's a result of the activist community or what, but oftentimes I find that whenever I describe myself as a vegetarian, non-vegetarians react as though I've just said something harshly judgmental and critical of their own life choices. Which is maybe understandable as vegetarianism in the US tends to be a political choice to some degree.

I attribute it to the "OMG, I am offended that your life choices are different from mine and that suggests that my life choices are not the obvious and only ones possible that deserve to be supported at all times" quality that so much conservative reactions to any political disagreement takes in the US. Which is not helpful, but what are you going to do? Heck, saying this just results in meta-offense....
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:26 AM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


All the "you can't change human nature" justifications1 given in here are reminding me of this classic satire.

1You've heard of vegetarians, right? Are they not human?
posted by DU at 7:28 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The NYT Ethicist column is where thoughtful, reasonable discourse about moral subjects goes to die a sad, tortured death.
posted by koeselitz at 7:40 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't eat meat. I don't feel a responsibility to change other people's diets, so I don't try to. Nevertheless, I get a lot of questions about my diet, and the occasional eye roll. No one has ever offered me a good reason why I should start eating meat. The only compelling reason to chow down on a hamburger every now and then is because hamburgers are everywhere. It's less work to be a meat-eater in the United States. No one understands better than a vegetarian how hard it is to find food without meat in it. Having a non-standard diet means eating out less, cooking at home more, shopping more frequently, and obsessively checking ingredients lists. For some people, this is a huge pain. But ethics isn't about doing whatever is easiest or most convenient.
posted by deathpanels at 7:42 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Mark Zuckerberg only eats what he kills. "

He gorges on the souls killed by facebook.


Man, that puts Farmville in a whole different perspective doesn't it?!?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:47 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The problem I have with the historical argument is that there are plenty of things humans have done for thousands of years which, today, are no longer entirely viable. Take burning wood for fuel, for example. We can no longer use wood as a primary source for warmth, light and energy in the industrialized West. When wood became problematic as a fuel source for a growing, urban, industrialized population, we moved on to find other energy sources. By the same token, fullscale factory farming is getting closer and closer to being unsustainable. We need to change the way we acquire and manage food. Appealing to history doesn't help us.
That's really an argument for eating less meat, not no meat. Dropping meat consumption to 10% of it's current level would give you 90% of the benefit. There are a lot of other problems causing ecological. Meat production causes some of the problem, but nowhere near a majority. There's no reason to think you couldn't grow meat in a sustainable way.

Anyway, I don't really think animals really have any understanding of their own mortality. Obviously they don't like pain and suffering, but can it actually be said that they are consciously opposed to dying if they don't even understand that they are going to die? It seems unlikely to me.

There are some animals that seem to understand the deaths of other animals, like chimps and other Apes, and elephants. But at the same time, since they don't communicate they may not understand that they are like the other apes/elephants they see die and thus they themselves will die at some point. And in any event, it's only a few animals that this applies to anyway, most don't even seem to have self perception - How can you be opposed to your death if you don't even know that you exist?

A human, on the other hand is told by other humans that they are human themselves, similar to all the other humans they see. So they know that anything, including mortality that applies to other humans will apply to them as well.

So the way I see it, a human, unlike most animals fears their own death and is opposed to it. Animals, on the other hand mostly just fear pain, hunger, starvation, etc.
posted by delmoi at 7:49 AM on April 26, 2012


If meat is murder, then murder is DELICIOUS
posted by Renoroc at 7:53 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I enjoy eating meat, but I insist upon quality. I never eat the crappy meat sold by kebab shops, chippies, fast food chains, etc. And I'd applaud if vegetarian interests got these establishments outlawed or seriously restricted.

I commonly limit myself to culturally interesting meat dishes, especially tasty meat dishes, or "meat as a condiment" dishes, like shrimp on a salad, and rarely cook meat myself. I'm not doing so for the animals however. I apply the same rules to other high calorie dishes like desserts and starches, i.e. grain, rice, and potato. Ain't worth eating if it ain't awesome or interesting.

Fungi, beans, vegetables, and fruits, are quite simply delicious. Why consume a disgusting kebab or a 1000-calorie-suggar-impregnated Big Mac when a neighboring restaurant sells falafel?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:53 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


So the way I see it, a human, unlike most animals fears their own death and is opposed to it.

And that's what makes man... *swivels in office chair while stroking cat for dramatic effect* ... the most dangerous game!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:53 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's slightly irritating, and a little amusing, that the chosen essay "for" the ethics of meat-eating is actually implying that killing animals for food is wrong. I'm not sure who is going to disagree that test tube steak is "unethical". That essay should be disqualified; it sidesteps the necessary philosophical disagreements, it doesn't engage them.

It's not difficult to find some common moral ground with most people when it comes to weighing animal interests against our own. Can we kill mosquitoes or harmful bacteria? Displace some birds to build our house? Kill a coyote that threatens our sheep? Simply coexisting with the panoply of natural life involves a trade off of our interests, and so the argument can at least be boiled down to degrees instead of 'yes'es and 'no's. Similarly, almost all people will recognize important differences between the animals; that killing bacteria does not share all the same moral considerations as killing bonobos.

I'm not going to write my own essay here, but breaking down why our moral intuitions differ so radically between killing plants, bacteria, and apes provides a reasonable springboard for defending a humane, environmentally friendly manner of using animals for food.
posted by dgaicun at 7:56 AM on April 26, 2012


If meat is murder, then murder is DELICIOUS

Thanks for the insight, 80s teeshirt!
posted by shakespeherian at 7:56 AM on April 26, 2012 [21 favorites]


Fight to the death, then winner eats the loser

What are the chances that the winner here will gain a useful immunity, nethack style?
posted by Chekhovian at 8:01 AM on April 26, 2012


oftentimes I find that whenever I describe myself as a vegetarian, non-vegetarians react as though I've just said something harshly judgmental and critical of their own life choices

Quite a few meat eaters have chosen to pick a fight with me over the years, as if announcing my dietary choices counts as provocation. Maybe it's this sense of judgement that spurs them to it. They prod and poke at my values and life choices like they're testing for weaknesses. Any sign of inconsistency or imperfection is gleefully seized upon and sneered at.

Never mind that these imperfections are issues I wrestle with every day; never mind that failing to live up to a standard is not comparable to not having a standard to begin with. I don't need a bully to tell me I am falling short of my own standards but it is a good reminder if ever I need one of why I have standards at all.
posted by londonmark at 8:07 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's really an argument for eating less meat, not no meat.

You'll notice I didn't make an argument for no meat; I only said we need to change how we manage and consume food. Eating less meat is almost certainly part of that.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:08 AM on April 26, 2012


mary8nne: What is "the vegetarian argument"? My immediate family has 3 out of 4 vegetarians. Each of the three has a different reason for not eating meat. And not one of us gives a good goddamn what anyone else chooses to eat.

I have not eaten meat for years and have never argued one way or another about it, I am just squicked out by it personally. I miss a good crabfeast and have gained some weight filling up with carbs instead of a lowfat, easy-to-cook, filling hunk of protein. When people ask I simply say "I don't eat meat" the way someone else might say "I don't eat mushrooms." Yet almost without exception, people either want to know why, or give me their opinion on the vegetarian diet. I'm not making an argument. Other people are.

My kid2 has been a vegetarian since age 6 because he's an animal lover, and he's grown up with meat eaters (kids and adults) trying to trick him into eating meat, making comments about his physical strength (he's incredibly healthy) and about his sexuality (!), and defensively assuming that he considers himself morally superior to them. Which he does not.

As far as I can tell, there is no such thing as "the vegetarian argument." There may be holier-than-though veg-evangelists, but there are holier-than-though idiots of every "ist" persuasion.
posted by headnsouth at 8:16 AM on April 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


oftentimes I find that whenever I describe myself as a vegetarian, non-vegetarians react as though I've just said something harshly judgmental and critical of their own life choices


Yeah I hate this reaction with the burning viscera of a thousand ravaging suns. Frequently it's accompanied with waving forks about with meat in my general direction, or gnawing and gnashing of teeth and meat loudly, etc. I doubt these essays will be received any better, since they're working from the point that meat must be justified and not simply chewed happily. And I eat meat sometimes (thanks, defective blood) but it is insanely annoying. Sometimes a falafel's just a falafel and not an argument.
posted by jetlagaddict at 8:18 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


In which the NYT creates a new generation of vegetarians by demonstrating that the arguments in favor of eating meat are too lame to ascribe to.
posted by kaibutsu at 8:19 AM on April 26, 2012


but the cows and the sheep still need to get slaughtered, thus terminating their conscious existences, while as near as we can tell carrots and legumes etc. have no such consciousness.

No, but the millions of insects and other small animals that are incidentally killed in farming vegetables, particularly on a large-scale, may.

I have come to think the meaningful ethical argument is against large-scale or corporate farming of anything, animals or vegetables, not carnivore versus vegetarian/vegan.
posted by aught at 8:22 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


If no one ate meat, there would be a lot less domestic animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, etc, around. Millions of these animals would never come into existence.

Is it better to not exist than to live a short(ish) life and be humanly put to death and butchered?
posted by Bort at 8:39 AM on April 26, 2012


It's funny, a lot of contemporary Christians don't seem to remember this, but for years, it was church doctrine that meat-eating only began with the fall from grace, and meat-eating and the craving for meat were viewed as one of the many examples of humanity's degraded state in the aftermath of original sin. Nowadays it seems the Christian types are the most gung-ho, unreflective meat-eaters around!

It is very interesting to me, having studied Oriental and Eastern Orthodoxy, which follow ancient Christian fasting rules that effectively render the clergy vegan and a devotee a vegan for about half the year. Except for crustaceans. They are the original oysterovegans I suppose. The Western vegan paradigm that forgoes even the consumption of honey or non-sentient bivalves is a new one, but you can go to quite a few countries that would seem pretty vegan unfriendly and order "Lent" food and get a meat/dairy/egg-free meal.

What really strikes me about this whole NYtimes exercise is how shitty it is. It effectively ignores decades and decades of academic debate on the subject. It has only two real philosophers on the judging panel. I suppose they think philosophers are boring and everyone things Jonathan Safran Foer is cute and interesting. But reading the essays...I was bored. This is stuff that's been refuted on any good internet forum (like Metafilter) years ago. Newspapers truly do look dead in this light. If you want to read more interesting debates and explorations, I highly recommend letthemeatmeat.com.

The fact that they included an essay on lab-grown meat, which doesn't even address the philosophy or ethics of it at all, and is scientifically dishonest, really reveals that the Nytimes doesn't know how to curate quality anymore. I mean...that essay claims that meat killed the authors dad, lab grown meat is the same is regular meat, but the author is really excited to eat it? Didn't it kill your dad? Also, there is no evidence that lab-grown meat is close to being a viable alternative anytime soon. There are still several scientific obstacles to surmount here.
posted by melissam at 8:40 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I also don't think that it is immoral to use them for our purposes because they are not sentient

What?
posted by Wolof at 9:11 AM on April 26 [+] [!]


I was using "sentient" in the scifi/Star Trek definition: as smart as human beings.

But, like I said, I'm a speciesist -- I really don't think that the rights of other species come before the well-being of homo sapiens. For example, I don't support game preserves for endangered species when those game preserves (and the large animals like elephants) hurt the livelihoods of the local farmers and other people living nearby. I support bio-diversity, but mainly because it's better for human beings to have bio-diversity.

But I also include great apes in my speiciesism -- so I happily eat meat, but I wouldn't eat any great apes, and I won't buy products with palm oil because of the impacts of palm oil production on orangutans.
posted by jb at 8:41 AM on April 26, 2012


Pigs are expensive, pink and annoying. But they are also delicious, which is why we breed so many of them. There might even be a few more polar bears left if someone wanted them for breakfast.

Traditionally raised pigs are also a very efficient means of turning waste (food waste) and the products of poor agricultural land (pigs can be raised in forests, wetlands, etc) into useful human food.
posted by jb at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2012


If no one ate meat, there would be a lot less domestic animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, etc, around. Millions of these animals would never come into existence.

Is it better to not exist than to live a short(ish) life and be humanly put to death and butchered?
Non-existence is probably preferable for the average farm animal, in terms of pain-to-pleasure ratio. Most farm animals aren't treated in a way most people would consider "humane". This is a nonsensical argument, because a) farm animals can't tell us what they'd prefer, and b) farm animals do exist, and their non-existence is entirely hypothetical. We can spend all day arguing about unreal scenarios where humans evolved without meat production, but this topic is better handled in science-fiction stories.
posted by deathpanels at 8:50 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Death panels: I agree with you, but how does the Hindu farmer get milk and cheese from these fertilizing goats without hurting their kids? What are the kids drinking? Can you ween them early and then take the milk?
posted by whatgorilla at 9:05 AM on April 26, 2012


Non-existence is probably preferable for the average farm animal, in terms of pain-to-pleasure ratio. Most farm animals aren't treated in a way most people would consider "humane". This is a nonsensical argument, because a) farm animals can't tell us what they'd prefer, and b) farm animals do exist, and their non-existence is entirely hypothetical. We can spend all day arguing about unreal scenarios where humans evolved without meat production, but this topic is better handled in science-fiction stories.

A great book on the subject is Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence by David Benatar, which I learned about on Let Them Eat Meat. Nytimes missed a huge opportunity by inviting random people to submit essays on ethics to be judged by a panel of white dudes that is mostly unqualified (except for Singer and Andrew Light). Instead they could have curated a series of essays by people who have been thinking about this for years.
posted by melissam at 9:26 AM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


One issue I have, as Rhys Southan of melissam's link has, is that ethical vegetarianism is not logically coherent. It's based on a whole lot of assumptions about the real-world consequences of one's food consumption. Southan's written quite a lot (good and bad) on these subjects, but here's where it breaks down for me:

Ethical vegetarianism presumes that there is a mode of eating by which your responsibility for animal death is reduced.

But what if that is false? Or so trivially true that it renders the question morally toothless? The lines that have to be drawn are arbitrary all the way down, but vegetarians and vegans act as though the lines aren't arbitrary.

For instance, it's necessary to kill many, many animals to grow vegetarian food. When humans grow food, we stake out a piece of land as "ours" and any other animals who want to eat that food are kindly asked to die. Most of these animals are insects, but many are small mammals as well. You might say, "Well, at least vegetarians are only killing the bare minimum of animals, and not adding more by eating animals too." But that doesn't exactly absolve the moral responsibility of killing the animals who just wanted to live by eating a plant that they didn't even know they weren't "allowed" to eat.

In the end it seems to me that it all resolves to metaphysical mental trickery and identity formation, of how tainted or pure we can stand to feel relative to the unchanging reality of the current human presence on this planet -- a presence which means the constant threat of death to every animal who gets in our way, whether we eat them or not.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 9:26 AM on April 26, 2012 [6 favorites]


Death panels: I agree with you, but how does the Hindu farmer get milk and cheese from these fertilizing goats without hurting their kids? What are the kids drinking? Can you ween them early and then take the milk?

There is a lot of work being done that will enable farmers in the future to more easily either select the sex of the offspring (too many males is undesirable and these kids are sold to be raised for meat most often) and/or perennial dairying, which would require that the female goat only give birth once and then have perennial production. In milk breeds, milk production is high enough that there is enough for human and kid consumption, though most farmers do wean early.

Hindu farming is interesting, but if you've ever been to India you'll notice a lot of stray animals. The fact that this is tolerated allows an outlet for unwanted male offspring. I know the rich Hindu owners of Otarian have been attempting to do Hindu-compatible dairy in the US and the UK, but I don't know how successful they've been.
We have a team working on delivering a milk option where none of the calves or cattle, male or female, are slaughtered at the end of their productive lives. This will be the first farming system of its kind in the western world, and means we are a lot more for our milk. But it’s our pleasure because we’d rather pay with our money than allow the cows to pay with their lives.
Eggs are easier because a hen doesn't need to have been fertilized to produce them. The sticky situations for people who want no-kill eggs is what happens when you accidentally end up with a rooster and also rotating your flock so you have a balance of productive and non-productive post-menopausal hens. You have to be willing to feed the latter, but it's not *that* expensive to feed chickens, particularly if you are efficient in your kitchen about saving scraps for them.
posted by melissam at 9:33 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The part of human intelligence that would stop us from raising humans for food (in a completely humane way, of course, with plenty of books, movies, university courses and all health needs met) would be the instinctive fear of a certainty of premature death. Why would we fear that? Probably something built in by the fact that dying any earlier than can be helped precludes the chance to reproduce some more.

So can we do a fairly good job of ensuring that animals raised for food (in a completely humane way, of course) avoid having to be cognizant of their impending doom? I'm thinking of Fiver here, and also of those cows who hear from their friend who managed to escape from the slaughter house in that short story.
posted by TreeRooster at 9:42 AM on April 26, 2012


When the kibble is all gone, Fido and Fluffy start snacking on their master. Ergo, we should be following in the lead of the Chinese and Koreans, and start eating us some yummy cat and dog.

Is your kibble gone?
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:43 AM on April 26, 2012


I guess? I don't understand the reasons for having an ethical debate. I have never seen anyone's mind changed in any way by an ethical debate and usually they just lead to assholery all around.

I don't see any assholery -- let alone uniform assholery -- in that NYT discussion. I see rational arguments cogently presented. Even if no one's mind is changed, ethical arguments can help us understand the terrain on which we make decisions; they tend to get the facts out in the open and promote critical analysis. And they can be fun intellectual exercises.

In this instance, I'm uncomfortable with the absolute framing of the question (which may be somewhat unsurprising given Peter Singer's strict philosophical bent). I think the "Sometimes It’s More Ethical to Eat Meat Than Vegetables" response gets at this discomfort best for me. The interesting issue in my mind, is not whether it's ever ethical to consume meat -- I think anyone could come up with a trivial, if contrived, example where eating meat was the only ethical choice even leaving aside the question of human survival, as the question requires -- but whether there are commonly-encountered situations in which the greater good is served by popular consumption of meat. I think it's possible to make the argument that, in some circumstances, this is the case. For example, this comment points out that some animals may be better than humans at extracting energy from non-arable land. In a world where arable land is at a premium, there may be a strong ethical argument for at least some meat production to maximize the conversion of sunlight to human energy. I'm not sure how this more conditional response would fit the rather bimodal question.
posted by multics at 9:46 AM on April 26, 2012


There is a surprising level of canibalism commentary on this thread. I tell you one thing, I am not showing up to the next meet-up (meat-up?)!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:53 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was perfectly content to be a vegetarian for my own personal, private reasons until I had to defend it against my Mom, my Grandma, my high school friend, friends-of-friends, Southern Step-Family, strangers at the lunch counter and random people on the Internet. And then, fuck it, if I'm going to have my decisions questioned all the time, I might as well find a like-minded community, dig in and fight back.

You see this in almost every alternative community from music, to bicycle culture, to atheism. Some people are really insecure about implicit deviations from the status quo.
posted by Skwirl at 10:00 AM on April 26, 2012 [7 favorites]


There is a surprising level of canibalism commentary on this thread. I tell you one thing, I am not showing up to the next meet-up (meat-up?)!

We'll get take-out.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:17 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes! Beware of the cow!

cincinnatus c, as someone who's been chased by cattle - DINNER IS SERVED! (Worse - they wouldn't have had the decency to eat me if they'd managed to trample me. Cows are the Juan Carlos of the animal world!)


Animals can run away or fight back, plants can't. Eating plants in unethical because they're completely helpless.


"Confess, Fletch", how would you feel about eating nopales (prickly pear cactus) and nettle salad?
posted by IAmBroom at 10:20 AM on April 26, 2012


I tell you one thing, I am not showing up to the next meet-up (meat-up?)!

Dude, you're the one talking about your mad gun shooting and prey stalking skills. The other people (prey?) should be more afraid of you.
posted by Chekhovian at 10:22 AM on April 26, 2012


amateurs
posted by polymodus at 10:45 AM on April 26, 2012


I once had two dudes in white shirts knock on the front door and then proceed to harangue me for 15 minutes about how the bible tells us to eat meat, so vegetarianism is sinful, and how I had to EAT MEAT to save my immortal soul. Now I'm wondering what religion they were possibly from?

it was good advice and I wanted to thank them
posted by mr vino at 11:01 AM on April 26, 2012


Once upon a time on a small farm in upstate New York, there was a family who lived with a small, working farm. On this farm there were many animals, several small buildings, and a pond. The pond was the favorite feature for all the community children---fishing in the summer, ice skating in the winter. Tommy, the youngest of Farmer Joe's children, was in the 4-H and had spent some time raising hogs for competition. His favorite hog, Fanny, was his pride and joy.

One early spring day a nor'easter blew in, freezing over the pond with a surprise, late season storm. Tommy was up early to feed Fanny and the rest of his hogs before school, and decided to play on the ice. He was running and playing, sliding around laughing. Suddenly, the ice cracked and Tommy fell through, right in the center of the pond. With everyone asleep, Tommy knew this was the end! Suddenly, he heard a crashing noise, and Fanny the sow came busting through the fence of her pen, running straight for Tommy. She lay on the side, spreading out her weight, gripping a large Ash branch in her mouth. She made her way out to Timmy, shoved the branch at him, and proceeded to pull him out of the ice and back to the edge of the pond. Timmy was weak and freezing at this point, so Fanny dragged him by his overalls back to the barn, covered him with hay, and snuggled up with him and several piglets.

His father found him an hour later, warm and asleep with Fanny. He'd seen the drag marks in the snow and figured out for himself what had happened. Tommy wasn't punished, and word of the courageous and intelligent Fanny spread through the county. Soon it was the talk of the state. Within a month, Fanny was being discussed on the hottest blogs and news channels.

That fall, a filmmaker came to the Brown's farm to discuss with them his idea for turning it into a family movie. After speaking for a while, he asked to meet Fanny. Farmer Brown dutifully took him out to meet Fanny, and the filmmaker was amazed to see that Fanny only had 3 legs. He stepped back, amazed, and a huuuuuge smile spread across his face as he realized that this was an even BETTER story than he had suspected.

"Three legs!" he said, "Farmer Brown, you must tell me the story of how she came to have three legs!"

Farmer Brown looked at him as though the reporter was an idiot, "Do What?" he said.

"Fanny only has 3 legs! This is amazing! She saved the boy and she only has 3 legs!"

"Well she haaaaaad four when she saved 'im." said the farmer.

"I...I don't understand?" said the reporter.

"Pretty simple", said Farmer Joe, "Pig that good, ya cain't eat 'er all at once'd!"
posted by TomMelee at 11:07 AM on April 26, 2012


The website/blog/podcast Our Hen House (for whom I am, full disclosure, a contributor) responded to the NYT contest with a challenge of their own: Calling All Herbivores: Tell Us Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat. Each day this week they've posted the runners-up entries to their blog and will post the winning essays next week. Some of them are very good and worth checking out.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 11:11 AM on April 26, 2012


I wonder how much it correlates with having pets (particularly pet mammals) growing up. Having a dog or cat around as a small child might make people feel a lot more empathy towards all mammals.

On the other hand, kids who grow up on farms and end up slaughtering the animals they "get to know" don't really have a problem with it. It's probably different between feeling the pet is "A member of the family" vs. livestock being an animal but also a source of food.
What really strikes me about this whole NYtimes exercise is how shitty it is. It effectively ignores decades and decades of academic debate on the subject. It has only two real philosophers on the judging panel. I suppose they think philosophers are boring and everyone things Jonathan Safran Foer is cute and interesting. But reading the essays...
Yeah I agree. Just asking people who have only thought about it in order to justify their own behavior isn't going to reveal a lot, IMO. The goal is to be provocative, rather then solve the problem. But I don't really think the problem can be 'solved' so I guess it doesn't really matter :)
posted by delmoi at 11:18 AM on April 26, 2012


Ethical vegetarianism presumes that there is a mode of eating by which your responsibility for animal death is reduced.

But what if that is false? Or so trivially true that it renders the question morally toothless? The lines that have to be drawn are arbitrary all the way down, but vegetarians and vegans act as though the lines aren't arbitrary.


First, I would say that one could be vegetarian for ethical reasons that have nothing to do with the death of animals. For example, because of the environmental impact of meat production.

But, assuming that he has defined ethical vegetarianism the way it is in the quote (the quote wasn't on the linked page and I didn't go through the whole site to find it), then it's still easy to answer your questions about animal death. It is basically impossible to cause more animal death by eating lower on the food chain (i.e., eating plants directly). This is true no matter how you figure it out, whether it is land that would be otherwise used by wild animals, insects killed in plant agriculture, etc. This seems pretty obvious to me.
posted by snofoam at 11:25 AM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am comforted but not surprised by the winner.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:39 AM on April 26, 2012


It's been done for thousands of years, to keep humanity alive, so the new revulsion of what has served us so well previously is wrong headed. It as if people are trying to deny humanity.

Consider human slavery. That also served people pretty well for thousands of years.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:41 AM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


oftentimes I find that whenever I describe myself as a vegetarian, non-vegetarians react as though I've just said something harshly judgmental and critical of their own life choices

You'd enjoy Berkeley, then, where the attacks tend to come from the other side.

I am fine with vegetarianism, but the apparently required conversation that people have to have about "and then I discovered I was eating ANIMALS!" (what the hell did you THINK you were eating?!) does tend to get old.

I admit to a strong prejudice against veganism, though, which in my circles seems to act more as a way to be exclusive and/or indulge an eating disorder. Also, many of their arguments, which they are delighted to share at the drop of a hat, don't make sense to me. If you don't want to eat a thing, fine, but if you're going to try to come up with a whole logical framework for it (and be judgemental at the same time, usually), at least make sure its logic is sound.

On a related note, why won't people who are vegetarians or vegans for ethical reasons (rather than dietary ones) eat roadkill and things like that? I have only met a couple who do eat meat in those circumstances but most seem to view meat the way Muslims view pork- that it is unclean in and of itself.

That said, food in the SF Bay Area is part of the Progressive Religion (which I'm an imperfect follower of- I do the farm raised, very little fish, organic, bring your own bag, etc etc MOST of the time). Viewing it as a religion has helped me get past some of the preachier parts of it.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:04 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like eating meat can be ethically sound, but that it usually isn't, at least not in our society. Here are the questions I try to ask myself:
  • Assuming I did not raise or catch the animal myself, did the animal that contributed this meat suffer more over the course of its life, considered from birth to slaughter, than it would have done if I had raised or caught it myself according to practices that I personally consider humane and ethical?
  • If the animal was raised domestically, was it done so in a manner that is not inherently environmentally unsustainable? What are the external costs/benefits, both environmental and social, of raising this animal in the way it was raised? On balance, are they positive, neutral, or negative?
  • If the animal was caught in the wild, is the species one that is harvested at sustainable levels? Are there other environmental costs, for instance bycatch of threatened species or ocean floor destruction, that make the manner in which this animal was harvested substantially damaging to the biosphere?
  • Were any humans exploited in the production of this meat, for example by poor wages or working conditions?
  • Regardless of whether this meat was produced in an ethical manner, am I, by purchasing it, supporting or incentivising the unethical production of meat, for instance by supporting a corporation that is involved in unethical meat production?
  • Was the animal that provided this meat healthy at the time of slaughter, and was the slaughtering, butchering, packing, shipping and storing of this meat performed in a sanitary manner?
If my answers to any of these questions are personally unsatisfactory, or if I don't know all the answers, then I avoid eating/buying meat on that occasion, with two exceptions. If I am a guest in someone's home and perceive that they would be offended/disappointed/hurt if I turned down meat that they are offering me, then I will eat it. Alternatively, if the meat would otherwise go to waste unless I eat it, and my eating doesn't incentivise the production of more meat (i.e. there's one last slice of pepperoni pizza at work and nobody wants it) then I'll eat it if I happen to want it. Otherwise, I skip it. It works out to me being nearly a vegetarian.

I know that meat is not the only food that is normally produced by means of processes with dubious ethical standards. However, many of the worst excesses of the food industry do center around meat production, so I feel what I am doing is at least a good start. I try to use similar standards for all my food (selection and affordability permitting, as one must eat something and my food budget is stretched pretty thin) and my food choices remain under constant evaluation and revision.

I am making both short- and long-term choices to enable me to consume more ethical food -- expanding my cooking repertoire, learning more about the food industry, making access to ethical food a criteria for choosing where I live, starting an organic garden, etc. It's a process and it's full of compromise and incremental improvement, but it's worth it to me if I desire to live up to my internal standards of critical inquiry, engagement with society, and ethical living. It's OK to me if others make different decisions as long as they are true to themselves. It's less OK to me when people just don't think about it, but it's not my job to make sure everyone knows all about where their food comes from. I'll educate a little here and there where it's appropriate, but usually it isn't so I don't.

I'm just doing my thing, trying to be a good person and get by in the world. I shouldn't have to think so hard about food, but for better or for worse it's an important issue. It's something that everyone probably ought to think about and make sure that their choices square with their own inner moral code as much as possible. Also, I feel that people should inform themselves about production practices, how food is made and all that, so that they can make informed decisions rather than choosing out of ignorance to do things they would otherwise avoid.

So anyway, yeah. Eating meat can be ethical, to me anyway, but to me it usually isn't in practice. It's always interesting to hear other people's considered takes on this rather fraught issue. Thanks for the thread.posted by Scientist at 12:10 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


Now I'm wondering what religion they were possibly from?

The National Cattlemen's Beef Association is almost but not quite a religion.
posted by elizardbits at 12:11 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Consider human slavery. That also served people pretty well for thousands of years.

Except for the people who were slaves.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:14 PM on April 26, 2012


It's funny, a lot of contemporary Christians don't seem to remember this, but for years, it was church doctrine that meat-eating only began with the fall from grace, and meat-eating and the craving for meat were viewed as one of the many examples of humanity's degraded state in the aftermath of original sin.

That's interesting - I've never heard that before. The bible's actually really clear on this one - Genesis 9:3 is when G-d says that people are allowed to eat meat, and it happens after the Flood (so presumably up until that time, they weren't). The Talmud (I think - could just be midrash) teaches that that's because up till then, animals were friendly and lived together peaceably, but in Noah's lifetime, not only people but also animals started acting like shits to each other, and getting eaten from that point on was the animals' punishment.

Then again, I'm already on record here as being anti-vegetable, so I'll stay out of this.
posted by Mchelly at 12:29 PM on April 26, 2012


"Ethics are a set of moral principles, parameters that determine what is right and what is wrong. Something that is ethical supports that which is decent, honorable, and virtuous — that which is right. When considering that eating meat contributes to the unnecessary suffering of sentient beings, to a decline in the quality of human health, and to the degradation of the environment, it can only be concluded that to do so is unethical. That a person enjoys bacon or wants to eat a steak is inconsequential. The prevailing truth is that it is wrong."

On a related note, why won't people who are vegetarians or vegans for ethical reasons (rather than dietary ones) eat roadkill and things like that?

Taste? Health? I don't eat meat for ethical reasons. I have little problem finishing meat if someone is going to throw it out, though. (I am a "finisher" by nature; I don't like to waste any food.) I won't do hot dogs or any other pseudo/highly processed crap. Just throw it out. Fine.

Also, I expect "eating roadkill" would be something vegetarians would try to convince meat-eaters to do and then get laughed at. It makes no sense for veggies to eat it themselves, as it does nothing to decrease the production of slaughtered meat.

You'd enjoy Berkeley, then, where the attacks tend to come from the other side.

Quick, what's the most famous vegetarian restaurant in Berkeley? What is the best high-priced vegetarian luxury restaurant? ... I live there and I have no clue. And I am vegetarian! I don't think vegetarianism is as widespread as you think.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:39 PM on April 26, 2012


More from the ever resourceful (and more importantly, convenient) Wikipedia on Vegetarianism in Christianity.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:51 PM on April 26, 2012


Quick, what's the most famous vegetarian restaurant in Berkeley?

Then how come I'm always stuck going to Herbivore, or Green Papaya?
posted by small_ruminant at 1:04 PM on April 26, 2012


It is basically impossible to cause more animal death by eating lower on the food chain (i.e., eating plants directly). This is true no matter how you figure it out, whether it is land that would be otherwise used by wild animals, insects killed in plant agriculture, etc. This seems pretty obvious to me.

It's not obvious to me. You have to account for the full nutritional needs of a human being, and not just calculate calories. You also have the issue that some livestock farms like the one my family owns are truly mixed use. We have some of our own animals running around, but there are probably more wild than domestic animals on our pastures and fenced woodlands. Also the outputs of the production of that do not pollute the local environment and destroy far away habitats, which happens with large-scale industrial grain monocultures. I feel more comfortable eating my own chicken (which the local raccoons also sometimes enjoy) than I do eating spinach from the fenced off anti-wildlife fields in California where they actively kill wildlife to keep it away.

If I could think of the least impact diet I could eat that would meet all nutritional needs, it would be a small amount of free-range meat + a larger percentage polycultured legumes/roots fertilized with waste from the animals + an assortment of local wild fruits nuts and greens.
posted by melissam at 1:18 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


small_ruminant, I think that's also very interesting: how easily vegetarianism seems to hook up with the cleanliness / OCD / ritual purity thing. Of course morality and purity are always intertwined. But it rubs me the wrong way when people seem to kind of get off on being disgusted by meat. "Ew, you used my cutting board to cut your pork?" "I haven't eaten any meat at all for 40 years!"

In Zen Buddhism, vegetarianism is very common — I don't think it's a rule, but most Mahayana Buddhists tend to be eat vegetarian (Chinese monks invented tofu!) — but it's also always within the context of releasing self-centeredness and clinging to ideas. So there's stories like this:
Under the bridge that crosses the small creek is where the first stone work was done at Tassajara. Doing that work Suzuki Roshi crushed his finger. Bob Watkins had a truck and he drove Suzuki Roshi into Monterey to the doctor. After the doctor had seen Suzuki Roshi's finger they drove down the main street in Seaside. (Bob was not macrobiotic, but he had not had any animal products to eat for two years.) As they were driving along Suzuki Roshi said "I'm hungry." All Bob could see were a lot of junk food restaurants. Suzuki Roshi said, "Pull over here." It was a cheap drive-in. The best that Bob could do with a menu choice was to order a grilled cheese sandwich. It was his first animal food in two years and Suzuki Roshi asked Bob about that. Suzuki Roshi ordered a hamburger with double meat. When the food arrived Bob looked at his grilled cheese sandwich like it was a foreign body. Suzuki Roshi took a bite of his double hamburger and said "I don't like this. Let's switch." He picked up Bob's and his sandwiches and exchanged them. From that day on Bob said he couldn't take his food trip seriously anymore. He told me this story over a lamb dinner in Hollywood some years later.
It's the hardest thing for me: I'd like to just eat vegetables and stuff, but it's so easy for vegetarianism to become an identity thing, to become about me, especially when you talk about it.
posted by mbrock at 1:28 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


melissam, your farm sounds awesome. I was specifically responding to the comment upthread where someone posed the question "What if being vegan actually kills more animals than eathing meat?" as part of an argument that being vegan in order to avoid killing animals is inherently flawed. I was just pointing out that in any reasonable scenario this is highly unlikely because of the overhead inherent in getting calories and other nutrition from animals instead of getting it directly from plants.

Even in your best case chicken versus worst case vegetable scenario, I would wager that there are still more animals killed per food amount by the chicken. Also, it's not like vegans have to eat ten acres of vegetation every day. Plants can be very nutritious.
posted by snofoam at 2:08 PM on April 26, 2012


What is the best high-priced vegetarian luxury restaurant? ...

To answer this question, I'd say Greens in SF, but Gather here in Berkeley is generally where the hetero-food-groups end up. They have a STRONG veggie following, but do serve meat, too, and very good cocktails, which is where militant foods seem to find the tastiest common ground on which to meet.

There are quite a few vegetarian Asian restaurants around, but they aren't haute cuisine. In order for haute cuisine to survive in Berkeley, which has so much restaurant competition per capita, I think it needs to accommodate a wide range of foodies.

And yes, mbrock, that is exactly what happens with a lot of folks in my circle, though more with vegans than vegetarians. There are so many people here who grew up vegetarian and lived amongst vegetarians, that their religious fervor has worn off and it's just one more way of life among other ways of lives. Veganism is new enough around here that it is still in the evangelizing stage, is what it seems like to me.

Some of us meat eaters are omnivorous enough to be STOKED on a nice cut of roadkill, even if it is illegal.
posted by small_ruminant at 2:29 PM on April 26, 2012


Even in your best case chicken versus worst case vegetable scenario, I would wager that there are still more animals killed per food amount by the chicken. Also, it's not like vegans have to eat ten acres of vegetation every day. Plants can be very nutritious.

The basic idea would be to have a few chickens that have essentially zero impact because they live in the forest (and perhaps a positive impact because of fertilizer). Just an extremely small amount of nutrition from their eggs and eventually their meat,fat and bones, would provide all the nutrients that are less bioavailable or non-available from plants. Meat still has a huge advantage mathematically in that department. It's not just about calories per death. The calculation would probably have to account for the opportunity cost of the chickens, which would be hard to calculate since it's hard to know if they are crowding another species out of a niche and then you have some positive impact because their waste is fertilizer and free-range production also inadvertently helps predators unless you have an anti-predator strategy (which many farms do, but I don't, which is probably why I'm not getting much chicken this year). If they are laying hens, the calculation is even better.

No supplements or fortification needed. The big hole here for me would be the production of high-calorie plants, which you need in this model since overall animal yields are low. I actually would have a harder time not killing animals or destroying their habitat when doing something like legumes. But most of the animals lost are not animals people care about, being invertebrates. If you count them, even calories per death for plant foods are very high and sometimes higher than animal production models that involve grazing livestock in forests.

A good book on this subject is Simon Fairlie's Meat.

What is the best high-priced vegetarian luxury restaurant? ...
I really like Pure Food & Wine, but some people hate it. I guess the style of raw vegan is not to everyone's liking, but it is indeed quite luxurious. However, I really prefer Saravana Bhavan, it's not that luxurious, but the South Indian culture has been doing vegetarian cuisine so long that they have perfected it.
posted by melissam at 2:39 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


The basic idea would be to have a few chickens that have essentially zero impact because they live in the forest (and perhaps a positive impact because of fertilizer).

This is getting pretty far afield from the original point I was addressing. I'm not anti-meat, I was just debunking a silly comment. Anyhow, what I'm saying is that to convert plant matter to animal matter takes a lot of energy, especially for warm blooded animals, more that twice as much going in as coming out, sometimes a factor of ten or more. This is a very big disadvantage so it's very hard to compensate for. A chicken will have impact, even if it's living in a forest. It can't have a positive impact through fertilizing because it's poo is less nutritious than what it ate from the forest to begin with. Your approach to farming sounds good, but my point was based on the fundamental science of how animal bodies turn food into tissue, which has no work-around.
posted by snofoam at 3:16 PM on April 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Quick, what's the most famous vegetarian restaurant in Berkeley?

Then how come I'm always stuck going to Herbivore, or Green Papaya?


Exactly. Herbivore is an SF transplant, and Green Papaya is no longer vegetarian (most people say it never was.)

In order for haute cuisine to survive in Berkeley, which has so much restaurant competition per capita, I think it needs to accommodate a wide range of foodies.

And San Francisco doesn't have that competition?

What is the best high-priced vegetarian luxury restaurant? ...

To answer this question, I'd say Greens in SF, but Gather here in Berkeley is generally where the hetero-food-groups end up.


Again, exactly. In San Francisco, there is Millennium (the best, imo), Golden Era (my second choice), Gracias Madre (3rd), and Greens (not my fave but still good). There are also *lots* of other totally cheaper, mostly "ethnic" veggie options that are good.

Berkeley has ... not so much, and I'm not even buying the cheap dive argument. Udupi Palace, sure, Long Life Vegi House, sure, but what else?!

It's the hardest thing for me: I'd like to just eat vegetables and stuff, but it's so easy for vegetarianism to become an identity thing, to become about me, especially when you talk about it.

One easy and fun way of pissing off juiceboxes is to tell them that you don't eat any meat or use animal products but you're not a "vegetarian" because "you don't want to label yourself."

That one has gotten a rise out of way more people than I expected.

/IRLtroll
posted by mrgrimm at 3:33 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is a juicebox?

And San Francisco doesn't have that competition?

No, Berkeley doesn't have half the money that SF has to spend on restaurants. People here love food, but it isn't the food destination that SF is in ANY category, Chez Panisse notwithstanding.

Not that Berkeley is poor, but the money in SF is astonishing, and the population is twice the size plus it's an entertainment destination spot. People come to SF from the Pennisula, the far east bay, and Marin and Sonoma Counties to eat and go to shows. That's just not the case for Berkeley.
posted by small_ruminant at 3:54 PM on April 26, 2012


Your approach to farming sounds good, but my point was based on the fundamental science of how animal bodies turn food into tissue, which has no work-around

Yes, but biomass utilized is not the same as net deaths, which is what you were originally talking about. It reminds me of an article I read about Buddhist monks in Japan that said they viewed eating shrimp as more unethical than eating whale because you end up eating more lives per meal when you eat shrimp.
posted by melissam at 3:57 PM on April 26, 2012


tumid dahlia -- ... as near as we can tell carrots and legumes etc. have no such consciousness.

Well, according to this book in fact they are intelligent, and they apparently do chatter among themselves in some circumstances. That we grind them all up between our molars without bonking them on the head first is a travesty, really.
posted by dmayhood at 5:13 PM on April 26, 2012


Faze said it best, if only for the reason that it introduced me to the word 'borborygmus'.
posted by unliteral at 5:15 PM on April 26, 2012


I don't think that what foods one eats is a moral choice of any importance or significance.
posted by knoyers at 5:44 PM on April 26, 2012


Ethics has always been the area of philosophy that has interested me the most, since I was a kid back in the early Cretaceous.

I'm not entirely sure, at least given the way I understand ethics, if the question of whether or not to eat meat is an ethical issue at all.

Certainly there are lots of ethical issues and questions that surround the central choice. But it does take an awful lot of unpacking to get there.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:45 PM on April 26, 2012


You know how to cook chitlins?

Cook the shit out of 'em, man.
posted by spitbull at 5:57 PM on April 26, 2012


An issue raised in one of the essays was that the ethical considerations are contained only in the life of the animal, ie how it is treated while it is alive. In other words, the actual killing of the animal is not ethically problematic. I'm not sure whether I think this is true or not. Certainly the animal no longer feels pain or suffers once it is dead. Therefore, one could argue that an animal that has lived a good life and is killed painlessly with no warning has not suffered at all. Is this true, however? The animal has been deprived of its remaining life, even though it will never know it. If the same argument could be applied to a human, would it be considered unethical to kill a human without warning if his death would cause no suffering to anyone else? My instant reaction is that it would be unethical to do so to a human, and the only reason I can think of for why that is so is that it would deprive him of his remaining life, something he has a right to as a sentient being. I apply this same reasoning to the killing of non-human animals and therefore can't support killing animals no matter how well they are treated in life.
posted by starfishprime at 6:29 PM on April 26, 2012


Mark Zuckerberg kills his own meat.

Therefore, it is ethical to eat Mark Zuckerberg.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:03 PM on April 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


As a wise man once told me... "What comes out of your mouth has more importance than what you put in to it. Eat consciously, consider your food, its source and preparation, give thanks. If you are to prepare a meal for some one, do it with love, be mindful of your purpose."

I can't see eating as an ethical problem. We should strive to be humane in our treatment of animals. I am not a fan of industrialized farming but it is about the only way to sustain our population. If we were to turn back the clock to the days of family farms I would think at least half of our population would be living on said farms. Food would cost considerably more of our income I wouldn't be surprised if our food would cost 50% of our GDP. We can regulate corporate farming and it really is in the best interest of the farmers to practice humane farming.
posted by pdxpogo at 7:09 PM on April 26, 2012


I can't see eating as an ethical problem.

I don't know. It definitely seems like it can be. Eating this, for example, poses what seem like a couple of ethical problems. The sweet tooth some particularly perverse gourmands have for endangered animal meats isn't without ethical problems. Eating definitely has ethical dimensions, like it or not.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:21 AM on April 27, 2012


Meat-eating is simply wrong if animals experience the world and suffer in similar ways to the human experience. But I just don't think that's true due to the staggering scale and evolution of human culture.

The idea of knowing things, and teaching it to our children who then progressively build on that knowledge and further develop the expression of those ideas is special, and it's a difference that people sadly take for granted and continuously discount. To me it's evidence that there's a distinct self-awareness and an expansive awareness of time, which is why ours must be substantially different from the animal experience which has remained unchanged for thousands if not millions of years (there's no evidence of culture).

It's that awareness of the past/future and of possibility which is why we ascribe meaning to life/death. I just don't believe cows contemplate thoughts of their past or the consequences of death on their children or their missed opportunities in life. I just don't think they're capable of those types of thoughts that would allow them to ascribe deeper meaning to life.

It's why I don't see meat-eating as an ethical issue. I see it as a moral issue. It's something to be decided individually, not by society as a whole.
posted by savvysearch at 9:59 AM on April 27, 2012


I think many vegetarians eat a lot more industrially farmed vegetables than the Industrially farmed meat that I occasionally consume at restaurants.

This position conveniently ignores the amount of industrial farmed vegetables that go into raising that industrial farmed meat.

I didn't like any of the articles. Hand-wringing aside, anyone that searches out ethical justification behind eating meat should just admit that they're doing it for convenience and taste.
posted by purephase at 10:25 AM on April 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Mark Zuckerberg kills his own meat.

Therefore, it is ethical to eat Mark Zuckerberg.


There was a thread on MeFi a while back (which I cannot find) that linked to a fake TED lecture by a comedian. He explained his research that the one source of meat protein that was raised under the most cruelty-free conditions was millionaires. So we should eat the rich. As an interim measure (and in response to the obviously limited supply) he proposed that Zuckerberg should have his muscle tissue cloned and artificial meat patties, "Zuckerburgers" should be produced.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:34 AM on April 27, 2012


I don't think that what foods one eats is a moral choice of any importance or significance.

What if it's human?

I didn't like any of the articles. Hand-wringing aside, anyone that searches out ethical justification behind eating meat should just admit that they're doing it for convenience and taste.

Exactly. It's extremely telling that the most popular essay defending meat doesn't defend meat at all but proposes eating fake meat that isn't fake meat. LOLZ.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:24 AM on April 27, 2012


Meat-eating is simply wrong if animals experience the world and suffer in similar ways to the human experience. But I just don't think that's true due to the staggering scale and evolution of human culture.

.. but then most of your consideration concerns whether or not animals can comprehend advanced temporal concepts and vague, completely outdated notions of "culture" ...

Again, the contortions that defending meat requires are pretty telling.

What does consciously understanding the past and the future with "suffering in similar way to the human experience." No, they may not suffer the "oh now I'm going to grow old and die" stress that humans do, but it's clear they still experience stress and EXTREME suffering related to the production of meat. How can anyone challenge that?
posted by mrgrimm at 11:33 AM on April 27, 2012


.. but then most of your consideration concerns whether or not animals can comprehend advanced temporal concepts and vague, completely outdated notions of "culture" ...


I'm not convinced. The differences aren't irrelevant no matter how hard animal behaviorist bend over backwards to claim that it is through conjecture. Cultural evolution is cumulative. You'd see it in the animal world over generations, which isn't the case.
posted by savvysearch at 3:34 PM on April 28, 2012


« Older "how much has changed -- and how little"   |   Aerial Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post