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killing them with kindness
July 5, 2014 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Farm Confessional: I Raise Livestock and I Think It May Be Wrong - "[Bob] Comis talked to Modern Farmer about the self-doubt he feels while raising animals for slaughter and his desire to see humanity evolve into a species that does not kill to eat."

pieces for The Dodo (previously) by Bob Comis*:

The Importance of Understanding Pig Welfare Issues (responding to the NYT article “Demand Grows for Hogs That Are Humanely Raised Outdoors”) - "Without this understanding, minimal changes in the factory-style model that do little to improve the welfare of pigs might seem like major changes, and an overestimation of the prevalence of truly high welfare pig farming can, even if unintentionally, serve to placate those of us who wish for or demand higher pig welfare by having us believe that our work is already done."

Happy Pigs Make Happy Meat? - "In the current discourse, happy pigs are the ideal alternative to the miserable and abused pigs raised in factory farms. Happy pigs become happy meat, and happy meat is good."

My Heart-Wrenching Transition From Pig Slaughter To Growing Vegetables - "It wasn’t a matter of being uncomfortable with the contradiction vegetarian-pig farmer. Rather, it was a simple psychological reality. As matter-of-factly as I can put it, in that moment, I experienced an intense desire to have nothing more to do with death."

What Humane Slaughterhouses Don't Solve: The Last Pig Problem
While at this point in my life I would like us to stop killing animals so that we can eat their meat altogether, I acknowledge that this is not going to happen, not in my lifetime anyway, so I admit and support a workable alternative to the unending horrors of industrial slaughter, the small-scale, slow-paced, quality slaughterhouses that many, if not most, of us local farmers use...

The only failure I have seen in them is the one I have just described, and it is a failure that can be remedied. I am not sure exactly what that remedy would be, but one thing that comes to mind is to set up the slaughterhouses so that there is no last pig. That is, the last two pigs in a pen should be killed simultaneously. Whatever the remedy, for the sake of the last pig, and for us, there needs to be one.
*(more pieces by Bob Comis at the Huffington Post and Grist)

Salon: Don’t buy the Chipotle hype: There’s no such thing as “humane” slaughter (Chipotle "Farmed and Dangerous" previously)
...Comis has also demystified many of the terms tossed around by companies hawking their wares as more humane; explaining, for example, that pigs raised in “deeply bedded pens,” like an unknown number of Chipotle’s, are most often raised “intensively” in what are “essentially humane CAFOs”—that is, factory farms.
The American Scholar: Loving Animals to Death
The Food Movement should be game for a serious discussion of this issue. Its own rhetoric urges us to “know where our food comes from” and to trace our ingredients “from farm to fork.” Leading figures in the movement would thus seem poised to embrace this line of ethical inquiry as a critical step in the larger effort to reform our “broken food system.” Animal agriculture is at the heart of almost every major ill that plagues industrial agriculture. Identify an agrarian problem—greenhouse gas emissions, overuse of antibiotics and dangerous pesticides, genetically modified crops, salmonella, E. coli, waste disposal, excessive use of water—and trace it to its ultimate origin and you will likely find an animal.

Given that centrality, it’s reasonable to expect the Food Movement to leap at the opportunity to grapple with the implications of Comis’s conundrum. Research shows that veganism, which obviates the inherent waste involved in growing the grains used to fatten animals for food in conventional systems, is seven times more energy efficient than eating meat and, if embraced globally, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from conventional agriculture by 94 percent. Any pretext to explore meat eating’s moral underpinnings—and possibly land upon an excuse for pursuing a plant-based diet as a viable goal—would be consistent with the movement’s anticorporate, ecologically driven mission.

But with rare exception, those in the big, lumpy tent have thrown down a red carpet for “ethical butchers” while generally dismissing animal rights advocates as smug ascetics (which they can be) and crazed activists (ditto) who are driven more by sappy sentiment than rock-ribbed reason. It’s an easy move to make. But the problem with this dismissal—and the overall refusal to address the ethics of killing animals for food—is that it potentially anchors the Food Movement’s admirable goals in the shifting sands of an unresolved hypocrisy. Let’s call it the “omnivore’s contradiction.”
posted by flex (100 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
There's nothing wrong with eating animals and it's more efficient and healthier than eating just plants if you do it right. Put non-genetically-specialized pigs on a plot of land and rotate them around the farm to improve the soil for other crops. Supplement their grazing with things that would otherwise go to waste. Eat them when the time is right. That's a sensible way to live.
posted by michaelh at 9:44 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


In a well-managed, small-scale slaughterhouse, a pig is more or less casually standing there one second, and the next second it’s unconscious on the ground, and a few seconds after that it’s dead. As far as I can tell — and I’ve seen dozens of pigs killed properly — the pig has no experience of its own death. But I experience the full brunt of that death.

I suspect this the meat of the issue, humans seeing animals killed, no matter how humanely, become distressed. Animals are like us in so many ways, it's hard to see them killed and not feel something. Until vat grown meat becomes safe an economical, we're just going to be in this odd space, chewing on our thoughts and emotions
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:48 AM on July 5 [13 favorites]


I am so glad to read that confessional in the first link.

And this reminds me I should read more Wendell Berry.
posted by General Tonic at 9:50 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Put non-genetically-specialized pigs on a plot of land

Any domesticated animal is, almost by definition, genetically "specialized."
posted by compartment at 9:57 AM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Any domesticated animal is, almost by definition, genetically "specialized."

Since we can't reach thousands of years into the past to grab pre-domesticated breeds, that's an overly obtuse definition. I'm talking about keeping animals that are more generally useful and healthy as opposed to being great at generating certain cuts of meat or quantities of milk at the expense of other parts of their body or their overall health - these developments, in many cases, are less than a hundred years old.
posted by michaelh at 10:00 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with eating animals

Thanks for resolving that for us, can someone call a mod to close this one up
posted by threeants at 10:01 AM on July 5 [66 favorites]


flex, I'm working my way through these links, and so this comment is necessarily incomplete, but I haven't seen anything yet about the idea of humanely farming heritage pigs as a way to preserve their genetics. One example: Right now, the Ossabaw Island hog could easily disappear if not for interest in its meat. (My sows are half Ossabaw, so I have an opinion here.)
posted by MonkeyToes at 10:02 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I ran a poll past some of my students recently. When asked if they often eat meat, they mostly said yes. When asked if they often kill animals they all said no, laughing nervously.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:09 AM on July 5 [7 favorites]


There's a frustrating disconnect going on here. I agree for the most part eating animals can be done in relatively ethical ways, and that as a part of a food production system they can be an efficient source of high quality nutrition.

But I think discussions of animal welfare should not be focused on that part of the conversation because there is barely any disagreement that we can definitely do better. Some of what I mean is highlighted by this quote from above: high welfare pig farming can, even if unintentionally, serve to placate those of us who wish for or demand higher pig welfare by having us believe that our work is already done.

We should focus on our current reality. The current reality of meat eating in industrialized countries is a cruel, inefficient, environmental disaster. But every time we talk about the ethics of meat eating we get caught up in that mostly hypothetical happy meat and if that passes the purity test for vegans. It doesn't, it never will, that's okay. But you don't need their approval to move forward. Why is the factory meat still 99% of the market? Why is McDonalds still using factory meat without shame? If you care big time about animal welfare, even if you eat meat, I'd like to see less preening about personal consumer choices and more of a political movement. At least the vegans do that, even if they can be nutty and have their own personal identity caught up in their buying choices.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:19 AM on July 5 [15 favorites]


> "... even if they can be nutty and have their own personal identity caught up in their buying choices."

Hi, we're here reading this too, you know.
posted by kyrademon at 10:27 AM on July 5 [13 favorites]


I eat mostly vegan, I'm in touch with the vegan community online at least. It can be nutty at times, I'm sorry. It is also the superior moral position in my view and I admire people who observe it.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:28 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with eating animals

There will always be cruelty. I choose not to participate in that as much as I can avoid it. Others may choose otherwise. But a statement like that reduces a complex, much disputed subject down to a simple answer. There may be nothing for you in your perspective regarding eating meat, but the article was actually about the perspective of someone who raises and slaughters cattle, and them wrestling with the topic, and so, perhaps, instead of busting out with absolutes and a comment that seems to barely reference the linked articles, we could start with the linked articles instead.
posted by maxsparber at 10:29 AM on July 5 [9 favorites]


MonkeyToes: "I haven't seen anything yet about the idea of humanely farming heritage pigs as a way to preserve their genetics. "

First of all, living animals don't care a whit about their genetics; they care about their own lives and livelihoods.

Second, I noticed the mission of the farm you linked to is about more than just genetic preservation. Their first claim of what they help to achieve is: "protect our food systems by keeping alternative livestock and poultry genetic resources secure". I would say genetic preservation in the service of farming animals for meat, is morally equivalent to farming animals for meat.
posted by tybeet at 10:29 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I think Bob Comis serves as a great warning to idealistic people who want to stop their city career and start farming livestock. Then they realize livestock are actually really similar to dogs and cats. Oh and like their family dog, they spend a lot of time with these livestock and form attachments. They realize they have individual lives and personalities. But their livelihood is now tied with killing them.

And that last part is the part they don't often teach in beginning farmer's classes. The progression from caring for an animal to killing it. Comis is not the only farmer I've known who has struggled with this. Some get around it by choosing livestock that is less gregarious around humans (sheep) or livestock that requires less personal care (cattle). Or they choose not to do livestock at all.

Comis chose the worst animal for this. Goat are pretty similar in how easily they attach to humans and are similar to family pets, but with goats you can at least transition them into "weed control" or dairying, though it will cost you. I know about this because my family bought some goats with the idea they'd be eaten and instead we have our own lawnmover crew that we've neutered/spayed. But what can you do with pigs except make them expensive pets, which is infeasible for small farmers who barely make ends meet.
posted by melissam at 10:44 AM on July 5 [14 favorites]


perhaps, instead of busting out with absolutes and a comment that seems to barely reference the linked articles, we could start with the linked articles instead.

The articles were fine, thanks. There is a viable path from an ag economy of specialized farmers to more generalized, humane farmers that doesn't (shouldn't, in my opinion) end with no animal farming at all. If a farmer mistakenly thought their entire category of work was bad for the planet even with reforms, and because of that, gave up on reforms, that would be a loss.
posted by michaelh at 10:45 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I think it's likely animals like making babies and many animals actually like having social groups that involve multiple age groups. I think because animals can't tell us what they like we assume they don't have preferences or care about things, but I'm not sure this is really true.

We have artificially stopped many animals from mating and having their own young and maintaining relationships with their young over the natural course they would interact together and I'm not sure that animals "don't care" that we do this to them so much as, what can they really do about it?

But as someone who love humanity to move beyond meat eating, I too wonder what we should do with the animals who are now largely dependent on us. I was thinking more animal sanctuaries and places where animals could interact with humans, however I have sort of wondered how this transition would go about as it seems that human involved population control might be needed at least at the start but I don't know how you do that without being pretty invasive and having a very controlled environment rather than a large open natural habitat that is basically like living in the wild. However it's possible that animals learn to regulate their own populations pretty quickly through the regular natural means of animals who have too many babies dying off.

I would love to know there were more spaces where wild horses and cows and such could roam around and have access to natural streams and stuff, seems really cool. I even think, for example, in the cases of sheep and cows and other species, I think it could actually be possible for minimal amounts of milking and sheering to be of mutual benefit and we could have more a symbiotic rather than prey/predator relationship we have now. I also want us to do this with trees and plants, only harvesting wood when the tree would benefit for pruning or when it's nearing death from old age and might benefit from a swift exit, and use that wood. And eating the fruits and seeds from plants or harvesting the older edible leaves off plants and leaving them alive to refresh themselves. I'm really into the idea of forming symbiotic relationships with plants and animals and I think there are ways we might be able to move this direction.

This is a truly awesome collection of links and I haven't made it through all of them yet (not sure if I can handle much more at the moment), thanks for making the post!
posted by xarnop at 10:47 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Proposed Solutions:

1. Meat License -- In order to buy any particular meat, the customer must display their card which verifies that they have personally killed that particular animal by hand.

2. Livestock-Livefeeds -- All fast food restaurants must have a large screen plainly visible next to the menu which features a live-feed to the place where their meat is sourced.

3. DreaMeat -- Restaurants only serve powerful oneirogenic drugs, which place you in a dream consciousness able to consume whichever flesh you desire. Meanwhile your physical body is being stuffed to the brim with lentils and kale.

4. Mass Suicide -- We agree that being an ethical human at this point in time is just too damn difficult and all swim out to sea.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 10:51 AM on July 5 [21 favorites]


I would love to know there were more spaces where wild horses and cows and such could roam around and have access to natural streams and stuff, seems really cool.

Well there are considerable populations of feral horses, goats, pigs, etc. around the world. Most of them are unfortunately known to be harmful to the environment, though this is controversial.

I think it could actually be possible for minimal amounts of milking and sheering to be of mutual benefit and we could have more a symbiotic rather than prey/predator relationship we have now

Some ancient models of dairying were like this, particularly in India, and some people are trying to modernize them for the modern economy- Ahimsa in the UK and there is now a similar project in the US. It's expensive, but to me it's not *that* expensive particularly if you don't consume a lot of dairy and you don't need any anyway, so that's not a big deal to me. I also wonder if it would be a lot cheaper with goats since goats can consume cheaper feeds.
posted by melissam at 10:52 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


When asked if they often kill animals they all said no, laughing nervously.

Yeah, I loves me a good steak, but if you put me in a room with a cow and a shotgun, I couldn't do it. Which is more than a little hypocritical; if I couldn't do it myself, why is it ok if it happens in some slaughterhouse where I only have to see the end result? Which hasn't stopped me from eating meat, but... (laughs nervously)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 10:59 AM on July 5 [4 favorites]


Which is more than a little hypocritical; if I couldn't do it myself, why is it ok if it happens in some slaughterhouse where I only have to see the end result?

See, I tend to believe I would do it in that situation, as it seems only fair to as a consumer of meat. Yet, I don't go looking for the opportunity to hunt, kill, clean and package the meat either, much as I don't try to make my own clothes or build my own computer, all of which involve some aspect of human cruelty.

Modern life is about specialization, where we don't have to do everything for ourselves, so having my meat killed by someone else just seems like one of many other tradeoffs in this age.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:02 AM on July 5 [5 favorites]


The day we can commercialize brainless meat (grown or printed) will be a good one.

Previously.
posted by linux at 11:04 AM on July 5


This thread has got me again considering vegetarianism, and again thinking about what a huge pain in the ass it would be and how much I love steak.

I used to be firmly of the opinion that animals didn't have any kind of internal mental state, but I've come around to the idea that consciousness is a continuum, and that there's nothing special that separates human beings from other creatures with brains, other than a matter of degree.

I think given our common evolutionary history, the only real justification for believing that animals lack any kind of consciousness is that they lack language, and while even that may not be strictly true, even if it were true, some of the most profound and moving experiences of my life were almost purely in the realm of the ineffable. I can't imagine that a pig feels very differently about sex, or a good meal or even a beautiful sunset than I do. My earliest memory is of doing nothing but lying in a crib, looking at the sunrays pouring through window blinds and opening and closing my eyes, becoming aware of the feeling of my eyelids coming together and separating. There's no language involved there-- i'm sure I had no access to language at all, yet I experienced it and remember it all the same. It's not any sort of experience that seems in any way impossible for an animal to have.

So I guess really, the question for me now is -- given that I believe that animals have at least some level consciousness, that they can suffer in a way roughly analogous to our own, whether that in itself is enough to believe that making animals suffer for our benefit is wrong.

In some sense, human rights only exist because humans have the power to resist and force their suffering to be visible or even painful in a way that animals can't. I think that the exploitation and abuse of animals is in that way similar to the exploitation and abuse of any more or less invisible underclass of people, for example the people that work in sweatshop factories in the developing world building my electronic gadgets and cheap clothes.

I don't really know what I'm getting at here, exactly. I'm just sitting here looking at my steak burrito and feeling sick to my stomach.
posted by empath at 11:07 AM on July 5 [17 favorites]


But as someone who love humanity to move beyond meat eating, I too wonder what we should do with the animals who are now largely dependent on us

I think the easy answer is you just stop breeding them and let them all live long happy lives and die of natural causes. Regardless of whether or not individuals can feel pain, a species surely doesn't. I can't imagine that most domesticated breeds would die out completely, and even if they did, it's not any particular great loss to the ecosystem.
posted by empath at 11:12 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I actually believe that plants have consciousness as well, which is why I actually have concerns about vats of meat as well, because I believe those cells will experience their existence-- and you know how humans living lives without a sense of purpose feels terrible? Those cells will not be able to do or experience what they were built for in an organism. It could work out ok, but they couldn't communicate if they were in suffering or not. I would hate to be responsible for that. It's also part of why I'm concerned about GMO's even if they don't harm human health. The plants could experience actual suffering and have no way of communicating we can forced them into a painful state of being.
posted by xarnop at 11:12 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I don't really know what I'm getting at here, exactly. I'm just sitting here looking at my steak burrito and feeling sick to my stomach.

I understand that feeling about calamari. Ii've really grown to admire octopi and think they're incredibly smart and wonderful creatures, so I've definitely taken to eating a lot less of it.

But animals eat other other animals all the time. Not exclusively and there are some that that only each vegetables. But humans evolved to get our nutrition anyway our grubby little paws could and meat is highly efficient source of protein and fat. And fuck ya, a medium steak hot of the grill is fucking fantastic.

So in my own mind, it's still ok to eat meat, because it's a natural way of life. But I've definitely developed a great love and appreciation of vegetarian cuisine and that eases my conscience greatly.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:15 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Modern life is about specialization, where we don't have to do everything for ourselves, so having my meat killed by someone else just seems like one of many other tradeoffs in this age.

This is not limited to our age, though. Mankind has been specializing for centuries, including the slaughtering of animals to provide meat for the village. The unique part of our age is just how far removed we are from being able to witness the raising and slaughtering if we wanted to do so.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:21 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


This thread has got me again considering vegetarianism, and again thinking about what a huge pain in the ass it would be...

It's not!
posted by Zerowensboring at 11:22 AM on July 5 [7 favorites]


It is difficult to do, because one has to totally rethink how they eat, dealing with habits engrained since childhood. That doesn't mean it's not doable, but it's exactly easy.

It can however be quite delicious.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:25 AM on July 5 [2 favorites]


I just want to know if any actual professional farmers read Modern Farmer. It seems like a magazine for yuppies with vegetable gardens in Brooklyn or summer farm houses upstate. Plus, the founder looks like a GMO.
posted by MeanwhileBackAtTheRanch at 11:38 AM on July 5 [1 favorite]


There's nothing wrong with eating animals

This is the sort of thing that could maybe be prefaced with "in my view" or "I'd argue" or "I think" because when you state it like this it makes it seem like the issue's decided rather than just, like, your opinion, man.
posted by MoonOrb at 11:46 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


but if you put me in a room with a cow and a shotgun

I can't help but think of the great Troy McClure filmstrip (brought to you by your friends at the Meat Council) from Lisa, the Vegetarian:

"If a cow ever got the chance, he'd eat you and everyone you care about."
posted by MoonOrb at 11:52 AM on July 5 [6 favorites]


I ran a poll past some of my students recently. When asked if they often eat meat, they mostly said yes. When asked if they often kill animals they all said no, laughing nervously.
In this day of easy refrigeration and food storage technology one does not have to kill often in order to eat meat often.
Thankfully.
I don't eat meat "often" compared to most Americans, but when I do, it's usually meat that I or someone I know has killed. Killing is never easy, or at least, it should not be. The deaths should be as easy as possible, but the killing shouldn't.
(in my small, personal opinion, at least)
I respect anyone's move away from meat and death in order to live more humanely. I do not respect people who do not realize the true nature of their own behaviors.
posted by Seamus at 12:12 PM on July 5


This thread has got me again considering vegetarianism, and again thinking about what a huge pain in the ass it would be.

I don't think vegetarianism should be viewed as some hardcore all-or-nothing thing. You can be vegetarian when it's convenient or you're able, and when you're out with a group that decides to eat somewhere that turns out to lack any appealing vegetarian options, or you're invited to dinner and steak is served, well, thems the breaks, and you should enjoy your meaty meal.

Being hardcore vegetarian doesn't stop society's demand for slaughter, it reduces it.
Being fair-weather vegetarian also reduces demand for slaughter.
Don't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
posted by anonymisc at 12:13 PM on July 5 [37 favorites]


Meat License -- In order to buy any particular meat, the customer must display their card which verifies that they have personally killed that particular animal by hand.

Visit Mel's Char Palace. Do it tonight!
posted by Pudhoho at 12:15 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I'm vegetarian, but REALLY looking forward to cloned meat. Man I miss ribs.
I have a TON of slow-food fad people, but I just don't think it's sustainable...slow, cruelty free (if you don't count the "murder" at the end) is RESOURCE INTENSIVE, taking way more TIME, more FOOD, WATER and LAND.
In the US, and the first world, I think it's for the people who want to feel better about their meat eating--I don't think it's any kind of REAL solution. I've also heard the line about preserving the genetic diversity of cows, etc...but no domesticated animal has genetic diversity that needs to be preserved in the sense that they've ALL been grown and had their genes modified to SUIT OUR NEEDS, not theirs.
posted by whatgorilla at 12:27 PM on July 5


I don't think vegetarianism should be viewed as some hardcore all-or-nothing thing.

Yep, that's usually why I use the phrase 'vegetarian cuisine.' You don't have to be X, you can just eat X whenever the mood or circumstances strike you.
EX:
"What'd you want to eat tonight?"
"Eh, we did Chinese last night and I had Italian for lunch. Maybe something vegetarian?"

Plus a lot of the veggie stuff can be quickly done if you don't feel like cooking, going out or putting much thought into eating.. My personal favorite these days is cutting up cheese and tomatoes and seasoning however. Takes all of 5-10 minutes, is tasty and filling without being heavy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:32 PM on July 5


Obviously mammals feel pain. Almost certainly birds, too. They are capable of extreme suffering, though not of the self-reflective sort we're capable of.

It's not clear to me there is anything wrong with eating a happy animal which was killed humanely (e.g. first rendered unconscious with co2, without experiencing severe distress leading up to this process). Unfortunately, few animals in the US are raised or slaughtered in this way. I wish market pressure would allow one to buy meat that is raised and killed in this way.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:35 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't nitrogen gas (N2?) be better than Co2...in that they might be "happy" (giddy even) instead of panicky (I think high Co2 concentration causes anxiety and other stuff prior to death--in humans at least...high Co2 levels induced anxiety attacks in me during a study...but thankfully the levels weren't high enough to kill me quickly, so I'm not sure about all this).

I know people are not going to stop eating animals, and I don't think the slow-food "ethical meat" stuff is sustainable, BUT I know we can do a lot better with our farming methods that don't destroy the soil, depend on petroleum, torture the animals, etc. I think that consciousness about these issues is only going up--from Michael Pollan's books to Food, Inc type documentaries, people seem to be learning and caring more. So I am hopeful. But then, maybe it's just the people around me.
posted by whatgorilla at 12:43 PM on July 5


I work on a cattle farm. It's sad when you ship them off. I don't mind the death of it all -- we're all bound there, but I sure wish we were better at handling them.

On the other hand, I was just out putting up a fence, and our first calvers are out there with their babies just a-layin' in the shade in green fields. I like that part.

I love 'em. It's like they have the soul of a small timorous beastie in this huge body.
posted by Trochanter at 12:45 PM on July 5 [7 favorites]


but if you put me in a room with a cow and a shotgun
...And you'd have one pissed-off cow! I'd rather take my chances with a big, sharp knife. You'd want a good high-powered rifle or a bolt gun to put a cow don quick.

Meat License -- In order to buy any particular meat, the customer must display their card which verifies that they have personally killed that particular animal by hand.
Give it a month or two, and I bet they'd catch on pretty quick. The crowd here's way left and look how defensive some preadators get about their carnivory; imagine if the general population was deprived of their hamburgers.

There will always be cruelty.
I just don't see how slaughtering a cow is any more cruel than you chopping up a carrot or a lion chewing on the entrails of a still-struggling zebra. People have attempted to convince me of this, I'm just not buying it. We all rely on the death of other living things to survive. I'm a carnivore. I gotta have meat. In short...

There's nothing wrong with eating animals
Damn straight. :)
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 12:46 PM on July 5


I just don't see how slaughtering a cow is any more cruel than you chopping up a carrot or a lion chewing on the entrails of a still-struggling zebra.

It's not just about the slaughter. Many animals in the food production process suffer a lot of abuse and cruelty during their life, not just at the point of death. It's why I don't eat meat - I don't know if I'm eating something that had a miserable life and I can't reconcile that with being an animal lover. Also, if you're not sure of the difference between killing a cow and chopping a carrot I don't really know what to tell you. And the lion can't go to the supermarket and buy some veggies and beans.
posted by billiebee at 12:52 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]


I just don't see how slaughtering a cow is any more cruel than you chopping up a carrot

I can think of a few ways in which a cow is different from a carrot.
posted by scody at 12:52 PM on July 5 [27 favorites]


I'm a carnivore.

You are an omnivore. You can live on either plants or animals or a combination of both. You are not a lion, and a carrot isn't a zebra. There are real world biological differences here that matter.

There are some good arguments for including meat in your diet, but yours are not them.
posted by Drinky Die at 12:58 PM on July 5 [18 favorites]


I am a vegetarian. I think meat can be eaten ethically in the right set of circumstances (moderate game hunting, small free range farming, etc). I also think that fact is entirely besides the point when talking about the ethics of eating meat in modern society. It's simply not possible to ethically provide enough meat for 7 billion people to eat meat with more than half of their meals. So even if you happen to be wealthy enough to buy organic shadegrown rhino steak, you're still part of the problem.
posted by 256 at 1:01 PM on July 5 [8 favorites]


In-vitro meat unlikely to become reliable food source

Personally I have more hope for just better-engineered plant-based substitutes. They have come a very long way in terms of flavor and quality since I was vegan, as the industry has been heavily recruiting professional chefs, like Hampton Creek which has been poaching some of the best young talent from Chicago's molecular gastronomy fancy pants restaurants.

Back when I was vegan they were pretty much made for people who cared only that they were not eating meat and would be happy to eat styrofoam blocks as long as they contained no animal products. Now they are trying to market more to people who prioritize flavor and texture.

I used to be more of an advocate of people eating less animal products and having them produced by small farms that care about animals. But working in the industry I saw that we just don't have the infrastructure for it and unfortunately there is a lot of corner cutting, fraud, and corruption that goes on at every single level from hatcheries to slaughterhouse to distribution. If it's not robust or transparent enough to even provide well-raised meat to elite expensive restaurants and grocery stores, it's just not a solution.
posted by melissam at 1:02 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]


I can think of a few ways in which a cow is different from a carrot.

And I can think of a few other areas of morality where I will not be taking my cues from a lion.
posted by St. Sorryass at 1:04 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]


Until I'm convinced carrots have the capacity to suffer, I can see a difference.
posted by whatgorilla at 1:05 PM on July 5


I'm a vegetarian. I found it difficult at first (my two favourite foods used to be steak and bacon) but in time I grew to miss meat less and less and now I don't miss it at all. Steak, bacon, etc. register as non-food in my brain when I see them. My tastes have massively changed and adapted and now I love fruit and some veg as if they're the food of the gods. I just thought I'd throw that out there for anyone who's thinking of giving up meat to consider. And I've discussed this with other veggie friends who have found ghee same thing - it's really damn hard in the beginning but it gets so much easier until it's second nature.
posted by hazyjane at 1:08 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't nitrogen gas (N2?) be better than Co2...in that they might be "happy" (giddy even) instead of panicky (I think high Co2 concentration causes anxiety and other stuff prior to death--in humans at least...high Co2 levels induced anxiety attacks in me during a study...but thankfully the levels weren't high enough to kill me quickly, so I'm not sure about all this).

Pure nitrogen gas (N2) is, on the individual level, the most humane way to kill an animal. It doesn't make you giddy, that's Nitrous Oxide, NO2. Pure nitrogen is a colorless, flavorless, odorless inert gas. The majority of the air you are breathing now is nitrogen (just under 80%, on average).

Because it is inert and such a large part of what we breathe already, we have no way of noticing it, nor do other animals. In an experimental setup where food was made available in an area flooded with different gases, chickens will avoid the carbon dioxide areas. In a nitrogen flooded area, the chickens will go for the food, and stay there until they die, without realizing there's something wrong.

Nitrogen is also recommended for human euthanasia by several organizations, for these reasons. You are unaware of anything amiss until you lose consciousness, and then die. If you are interrupted and revived, there is minimal risk of brain damage.

That said, there are two reasons why slaughterhouses generally do not use nitrogen gas. Death by nitrogen gas is usually followed by sometimes violent spasms. In the slaughterhouse context, this causes broken bones and torn meat, leading to an undesirable product. Second, if performed in environments where the other animals can see, these spasms can provoke a fear response, which can have the same effects, and is a problem for humane killing. Carbon Dioxide gassing does not cause spasms, and avoids this problem despite being a much more unpleasant way to die.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:12 PM on July 5 [4 favorites]


Trinity-Gehenna probably has a point in that a carrot is rather defenseless and a cow at least has the capacity to fight back and kill its attacker.

This is one of the best reasons to be on MetaFilter--every now and then you're really forced to confront your own beliefs. This is one of those moments for me; I really just had not considered how unfair I was being to carrots (and, since I'm being honest with myself, most vegetables--and, hell, even fruits). So, yeah, I'm pretty much reconsidering vegetarianism now that I consider the plight of the carrot. Thanks Trinity-Gehenna!
posted by MoonOrb at 1:14 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Yeah, thanks Vibratory--I remember seeing a documentary posted on that recently (posted here, on using the death penalty). They neglected to mention that spasms--I wonder why N02 causes spasms but CO2 doesn't. Interesting.
posted by whatgorilla at 1:18 PM on July 5


Eating. It's full of problems. Either you don't have enough, or you have to spend all your damned time making ethical choices about it, I guess. I'm biased- I don't like vegetables, much. Animals do- those animals can eat some vegetables, and then I can eat them, so we're all happy, or so I'd like to think.

I mean, are they happy to die? I don't know- Temple Grandin suggests that they don't think about it, as long as we manage the slaughter in a way that they don't have to think about it, and that seems like an OK deal. On the other hand, I am a human and I do think about it- dying- but if the deal were that I could eat animals, and when the time came, a cougar or something could eat me, I'd take that deal.

re: McDonalds should show live feeds of the slaughterhouse… perhaps. Or they could show the cows frolicking in their… uh… feedlot… and sharing happy bovine moments of… um… eating? Or not getting slaughtered at that moment?

Or maybe they could show some footage of illegal immigrants breaking their backs in the field to pick some fucking lettuce, because at least they get paid?

I personally as I said have no great love for vegetables, and I am terrible at- and have no interest in- growing them, and if I had to farm vegetables or starve I would certainly starve. So that's probably an ethical problem too, I guess, it's not the same one, though. And the question of whether the lettuce is suffering is yet another of course.

Would I glock a cow behind Whole Foods? Probably, although- like Ray- I might have to psych myself up, maybe by imagining that that cow had taken my parking place or something. How often would I have to do this, though? Would economies of scale come into it somehow? Maybe instead of killing my own cow a couple of times a year I could hire some dude from in front of Home Depot to do it for $10/hr? But, maybe that's kind of where we're at now…

But where does that end? Can it be OK to eat meat? I have no idea. How much more do we owe our livestock? Do I need to pay a dollar per egg because those chickens all have to have Netflix subscriptions? Should a hamburger cost $20 because that cow had to send her children to college? Probably so, I guess.

And I'm not even trying to be all 'oh look at my teeth I am a noble predator who must gorge on flesh.' No, I'm a fat (by volume if not by weight) American, so honestly in terms of how the food chain is working out for me, I'm closer to a carnivorous cow than I am to a Grizzly or something. Maybe the only ethical way to eat meat is to be a whale and eat tons of krill, because who gives a fuck what krill thinks. Obviously, I just don't know.
posted by hap_hazard at 1:19 PM on July 5 [5 favorites]


I suspect this the meat of the issue...
posted by Brandon Blatcher


Indeed!
posted by futz at 1:24 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Also, if you're not sure of the difference between killing a cow and chopping a carrot I don't really know what to tell you.
Okay, I will concede that I've never actually killed a cow, but given my experience with deer, squirrels, birds, fish, rabbits, and chickens. The differences probably start with a bit more thrashing about. And why on earth would a lion want to go to a supermarket? They're fantastic at what they do! Regardless of this, what sparked my comment is that I have actually talked to people who deem my love of flesh to be somehow immoral, and that I find their arguments to be nonsensical.
If you're concerned about the happiness of animals bred for the table before they're killed, that's a whole other argument. Livestock raised under good conditions is going to have a lot better quality, but when it comes to cost, I say bring on the feedlots and holding pens! I see how much rich people pay for "ethically raised" meat and screw that.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 1:24 PM on July 5


They neglected to mention that spasms--I wonder why N02 causes spasms but CO2 doesn't. Interesting.

I don't know that part. It's also possible that I'm misremembering something, since it was a couple years ago I was reading about this, and a quick search now isn't turning up anything. Also, it's N2, not NO2 (which is laughing gas/nitrous oxide).
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:28 PM on July 5


I think there is a duty to respect beings that can clearly communicate an aversion to pain and death in a way that we understand (or can reasonably assume to understand) over the welfare or organisms who may well have mechanisms of self awareness and who likely do have some (or even a lot) of consciousness but have no mechanism to communicate how much if any they sense their experiences.

Even if plants are aware, (and there is a lot of research being done on plant intelligence and plant communication) the plant realm is also competitive and sometimes merciless. I think in terms of empathy for all sensing beings, humans have demonstrated the greatest capacity to both sense and act on the welfare of others (though plenty of humans fail or are disinterested in this). In terms of capacity to do good of course, humans also may carry a huge capacity for harm to sensing beings, and whether we are ultimately good for living beings as a whole is really going to depend on whether we decide to act on our capacity to be servants of the sensing beings beings of the world or to be tyrants who see all sensing beings as existing to serve us at whatever cost to them.

I think at present we do not have the technology or capacity to sustain health without eating plants, and possibly even without eating some animal products. If there is a species who I think is worth keeping alive on grounds that we really could cultivate harmony between the species and bring about a peaceful realm, I would suspect humanity to have the highest potential for this, however, I can also see humanity as having the most capacity to torture cells and plants and animals mercilessly without concern for such beings experiences. I am hopeful as a whole we will choose the path of empathy and peace and take a path of guiding ourselves and even other species into sustaining life without harming other beings, while cultivating wonderful experiences for living beings while we are here. I am a fan of harm reduction, I think we haveto start where we are, and many will be eating meat a while-- even if we evolve beyond it. Asking those who eat it to make the most humane choices in buying and reducing their consumption will get us closer there, and as we begin to understand the realm of plants we may be called to change how we treat, experiment on, and consume plants and even single celled organisms.

I don't think we will reach that point for a long time, but our technology might actually get us to point of facing these ethical dilemmas sooner than I even suspect.

In some ways, since (from what I remember) plants seem to exhibit chemicals that can kill predators, and attract predator species to eat bugs that eat them, or attract diseases that will kill animals, it's possible plants are conscious and animals are the jerks who consume, and we are providing retributive justice eating the animals. (I'm sort of kidding here, but I do think it's really complicated who is worthy of life unto an end themselves and who exists to be fed to whom).
posted by xarnop at 1:28 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Livestock raised under good conditions is going to have a lot better quality, but when it comes to cost, I say bring on the feedlots and holding pens!

Thus is the engine of capitalism laid bare. (i.e., substitute "consumer goods made" for "livestock raised" and "child labor and sweatshops" for "feedlots and holding pens," and you're good to go.)
posted by scody at 1:33 PM on July 5 [16 favorites]


Scody, to the extent that the food people eat is somehow equivalent to the labor of children, you might have a point . (???) This brings up an interesting question - how is meat raised in large countries without a capitalist economy. Anybody here know?
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 1:58 PM on July 5


> "We all rely on the death of other living things to survive. I'm a carnivore. I gotta have meat."

Oddly, people who make this argument nonetheless tend to protest when I kill and eat them.
posted by kyrademon at 2:05 PM on July 5 [14 favorites]


I didn't.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:19 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


to the extent that the food people eat is somehow equivalent to the labor of children, you might have a point

That's not quite my point. My point is that capitalism is driven by the need to maximize profits by minimizing costs, and one of the primary ways to minimize cost is through cheap labor and cheap production, no matter how much it brutalizes the actual people (and, in the analogy I'm making, animals) who produce the commodity being sold.
posted by scody at 2:26 PM on July 5 [6 favorites]


Given the opening paragraph, I was hoping that the author's reasons would turn on some postmodernist/poststructuralist hogwash (heh) so that I could ignore them...but, despite his claim that they do...they don't... They're just the ordinary old non-PoMo reasons...

Which, sadly, are non-trivially strong...

Though, contrary to what the Salon link asserts above, there are humane methods of slaughter (a single bullet to the brain was the way we did it when I was a kid), but it's still killing, and it sucks and I hate it. I never got used to it, and I've always said that if I had to kill my own meat all the time, I'd eat a damn lot less of it. And many people would probably eat none at all.

I really like meat. And I also really like alcohol, and basically can't drink alcohol if a meal with meat is not in the offing. I don't know why. But otherwise it makes me sick. That seems like a lot to give up to me, but it's hard to argue that it stacks up against the life of, say a cow. OTOH...I really don't see the argument against the humane slaughter of chickens. They're just "fast plants" as a friend of mine used to say. Ditto: fish. Cows aren't too bright, but their wee mental lives are probably worth more than me having a burger and beer, painful as that is to admit...

On the other hand, and just to put things into perspective: many people I know who are pretty self-righteous about not eating meat don't seem to care much that they are living morally sub-optimal lives in all sorts of other ways. They could live in much, much smaller houses, buy many fewer things, eat much less expensive food, and save many human lives by sending the money they save to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, educate the uneducated... They could contribute to solving the overpopulation problem by not having kids. Most of them could devote their lives to much more worthy pursuits... The point there is just that it's a little weird to pick out meat as an issue given all the other morally sub-optimal ways in which almost all of us live... Many of the vegetarians I know didn't like meat that much in the first place; they did what most of us do, they picked some moral low-hanging fruit from their perspective and they made a kind of a sacrifice that was easy to make, but they don't try to make every sacrifice. Others of us often make others.
Again: that doesn't solve the meat problem, it's just supposed to put it in some kind of perspective.

But drop the vegetarians out of the conversation. Even just among us omnivores...well...few of us are completely comfortable with our omnivorousness...

I'm in no way convinced that it's wrong to raise animals well and kill them painlessly... But I reckon that, to be on the safe side, we shouldn't do it unless we're pretty sure that it is ok...but we aren't.

However...we aren't even in a position for that to be the most pressing issue:

Whereas I'm not sure that it's wrong to kill animals, I'm damn sure that it's wrong to torture them--and that's what we're doing to most or our meat.

It's silly to hope that we're going to give up meat completely any time soon. But we could do a lot of good by convincing people to eat less of it, and to demand humanely raised and killed animals, and to eat stupider things, like fish and chickens. My guess is that, if everybody would just take the time to see how factory slaughter works, meat consumption would drop off noticeably.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 2:42 PM on July 5 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile your physical body is being stuffed to the brim with lentils and kale.

Sucks for the lentils and kale I guess
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 2:46 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


I think there is a duty to respect beings that can clearly communicate an aversion to pain and death in a way that we understand (or can reasonably assume to understand) over the welfare or organisms who may well have mechanisms of self awareness and who likely do have some (or even a lot) of consciousness but have no mechanism to communicate how much if any they sense their experiences.

I don't have a better way of thinking about things, but this reasoning feels like it's aimed at making us feel better rather than forcing us to confront our nature as animals.

It's not that long ago that people were comfortable saying that arguing that dogs, octopodes, fish, tarantulas and other animals were automatons with nothing inside but guts. It seems like everyday now we we discover that these creatures are far more complex than we'd ever imagined. And, as mentioned, the further we look into plants, the more obvious it's becoming that they have inner workings as well. I won't go so far as to call it consciousness, but they are able to react to changes in their environments and have mechanisms that are triggered when they're under attack. In a functional sense, isn't that a fair description of pain?

It also needs to be taken into account that, unless you're producing your own vegetables in a small, sustainable manner you're still harming animals when farms encroach on their habitat, kill "pests," and do other farm stuff.
posted by Maugrim at 3:01 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


I really don't see the argument against the humane slaughter of chickens

I'm not sure eating "stupider" things is the answer. They may not be as stupid as you think. And being stupid doesn't mean you can't experience fear or pain.
posted by billiebee at 3:12 PM on July 5 [7 favorites]


> "We all rely on the death of other living things to survive. I'm a carnivore. I gotta have meat."

Oddly, people who make this argument nonetheless tend to protest when I kill and eat them.


The only problem with this kind of argument is that it seems nonsensical to someone who does not equate carnivory with cannibalism. There's some things folks are never gonna agree on, but the conversation is always interesting.
posted by Trinity-Gehenna at 3:17 PM on July 5


I think there's also a bit of a class issue here. The absolute cheapest ground beef you can get at my grocery store runs about three dollars a pound. Veggie burgers? They are more expensive. Fresh produce runs more than that. And free-range anything is significantly more expensive. And frankly, something like butternut squash is going to require more elaborate preparations than slapping some meat in a skillet, and if you're working two jobs, you're going to go with what's more efficient time-wise. (I freely admit I could be disastrously wrong here, and feel free to correct me.)

It's a big, complicated problem, and for certain our food animals are subjected to conditions that are degrading and inhumane, and eating meat is probably ethically dubious in the best of circumstances. But it's a large problem, and I truly don't see an easy solution anywhere.
posted by dogheart at 3:19 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


They may not be as stupid as you think.

They almost couldn't be...

And they can be a lot smarter than I think they are without being as smart as, say, pigs.

And being stupid doesn't mean you can't experience fear or pain.

Didn't say it did. Which is why I don't think it's ok to terrorize or torture even chickens. Kill them--yeah, probably. If they're anywhere near as relatively mindless as they seem to be. But that has nothing to do with terrorizing nor torturing. Factory farming involves terrorizing and torturing, of course...but I'm against factory farming. Killing a chicken by having a ninja stealthily sneak up and lop off its head... I currently conclude that this is not wrong.

Still: thanks for the link--interesting!
posted by Fists O'Fury at 3:20 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


> "The only problem with this kind of argument is that it seems nonsensical to someone who does not equate carnivory with cannibalism."

Well, if you don't equate them, that would seem to imply that you believe there can be some kind of distinction made among the various things we might eat, doesn't it? At least it does seem to indicate that there could be more differences than "a bit more thrashing about" when something is killed.

If you've already drawn a line regarding what you will or won't eat based on ethical concerns, it's hard to see why it's "nonsensical" to liken that to someone else drawing a line regarding what they will or won't eat based on ethical concerns.

> "I didn't."

And you were delicious.
posted by kyrademon at 3:39 PM on July 5 [6 favorites]


dogheart I hear what you're saying about cost. However I'm a vegetarian who's a lazy cook, with two jobs but little disposable income, and I manage it. Cheese and bread, rice and beans, and supermarket-brand frozen margarita pizzas are my friends :)
posted by billiebee at 3:41 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


to the extent that the food people eat is somehow equivalent to the labor of children, you might have a point

To the extent child labor is involved placing the food we eat on our tables.
posted by Pudhoho at 3:44 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


Great post. I really don't understand the apparently serious arguments here in favour of plant sentience. Fruit, for example, is created by the plant specifically to be eaten, the idea being that when animals eat tasty wild raspberries, the seeds get scattered all around, furthering the reproduction of that plant species. Withdrawing from a harmful environmental stimulus does not imply pain. Specific equipment, namely a neural network, is required in order to feel pain. If you touch a hot stove, you'll automatically yank your hand back even before you feel pain. A reflexive action does not always imply the experience of pain, particularly in plants. Ecosystems "communicate" in all sorts of ways, but there is no reason to assume intelligence or the capacity to suffer.

Animals are different. I agree that consciousness is a continuum. Personally, I like the idea of knowing where my meat comes from, and I especially like the idea of turning that type of awareness into a political movement instead of an individual choice, as someone mentioned above. That said, I think I'd be capable of hunting deer if I know that a well-placed shot would down the animal in seconds. The idea of inducing any kind of suffering horrifies me. (That said, I personally consider trophy hunting at least slightly sociopathic, especially the hunting of animals that are not typically edible prey for humans.)

What disturbs me the most about the way we consume meat as a society is how cheap the factory farmed meat is. I'm poor, and it's much easier to grab a burger than to research local farms and place an order for meat that is more expensive, but more ethical. Fast food places and the like are so prevalent that I have no idea how we as a society could reasonably get away from our dependence on cheap, factory farmed meat, and that is depressing.
posted by quiet earth at 4:12 PM on July 5 [7 favorites]


melissam: "In-vitro meat unlikely to become reliable food source"

I'm not sure we need to think about the future of in-vitro meat as being global replacement for our current protein supply, which is what the article argues against. Even if in-vitro meat is only feasible to the extent that it's a "luxury" good, that will be enough for many people, and many recipes where veggie meats don't cut it.
posted by tybeet at 4:18 PM on July 5


Great post. I really don't understand the apparently serious arguments here in favour of plant sentience. Fruit, for example, is created by the plant specifically to be eaten, the idea being that when animals eat tasty wild raspberries, the seeds get scattered all around, furthering the reproduction of that plant species. Withdrawing from a harmful environmental stimulus does not imply pain. Specific equipment, namely a neural network, is required in order to feel pain. If you touch a hot stove, you'll automatically yank your hand back even before you feel pain. A reflexive action does not always imply the experience of pain, particularly in plants. Ecosystems "communicate" in all sorts of ways, but there is no reason to assume intelligence or the capacity to suffer.
We don't really know what sentience is and have no way to show that it isn't just an illusion. We place consciousness in the head by convention, and the brain is in the head, so we assume that the neuron-packed brain is the seat of consciousness. But we haven't found any stuff that clearly makes consciousness happen. Maybe consciousness is an emergent phenomenon of complex neural networks, or maybe it comes from some woo-infused mystical aether from the 23rd dimension. We tend to dismiss the woo-based ideas because there isn't any way to substantiate them. That doesn't mean they can't be true, just that we can probably never know if they are.

That leaves the neural network as a possible seat of consciousness. But is there some special consciousness-juice flowing around in neurons, or is it the network connectivity that is important? If it is the network component, then plants may also be capable of hosting the underlying structure that consciousness can ultimately be built from.

Speaking as a human, I think the key aspect of vegetarian and vegan philosophies is to move the question of cruelty to the front of everyone's mind. It seems easier to convince people that all cute and fuzzy animals should be treated with kindness than to make the same arguments for humans. But once the idea of cruelty to animals is abhorrent, we might be able to make some progress on reducing cruelty to humans.

On the other hand, some people would prefer an electric shock to sitting quietly alone. So maybe we are too focused on the objective-external side of cruelty and not spending enough time considering the subjective-internal side of cruelty.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:33 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


My chair might be sentient, but I'm not gonna worry that supporting my fat ass is hurting it without a decent explanation for how it's feeling pain without a central nervous system first.

But really, we know for pretty damn sure animals are suffering right now. I prefer to focus the debate on that and leave the potential possible suffering for later.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:47 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I only eat what I know I would be capable of personally killing. A salmon? No problem. A mammal or bird? No. I cross my fingers and hope that the free-range organic eggs I buy are in fact ethically produced, and I really don't want to give up dairy products as well, but I'm kind of teetering on the edge. I don't want my appetites to add to the world's suffering, so it's been an easy move for me.
posted by jokeefe at 4:51 PM on July 5


b1tr0t: "But once the idea of cruelty to animals is abhorrent, we might be able to make some progress on reducing cruelty to humans."

There is some research I came across recently which suggests that perceived animal-human similarity is associated with less dehumanization of immigrants, and vice-versa. Pretty fascinating stuff.
posted by tybeet at 4:51 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


This Pacific Standard article on "Building a Better Pig" is a really fascinating look into an intensive pig farm (pejoratively a factory farm) that voluntarily subjects itself to public scrutiny by being a tourist destination called "The Pig Adventure." One of the workers espouses a Biblical view to justify their treatment of pigs.

For me, when I see these practices it makes me not want to buy pork unless it's raised on a hobby or small farm level, but apparently thousands and thousands of tourists go to "The Pig Adventure" and see the farrowing crates and then buy a bacon sandwich at the cafe. It bolsters my view that while thing kind of thing seems rather horrible to many posters here, that increasing general public awareness of it may have very limited impact and activism should focus on cheap tasty alternatives to meat or diluting meat consumption. As a colleague in IT who has five kids once told me "I don't know where it comes from, I don't want to know, I just want to feed my kids."
posted by melissam at 4:57 PM on July 5 [5 favorites]


That was actually a great article, thanks for posting it.

I'm a white Australian who grew up on a farm, but then moved to the big city, and later lived in N/NE Thailand for many years. I find (anecdotally only, of course!) that Thais had a much less hypocritical attitude towards meat and animals. It could be because of the Buddhist culture, and because even urban people's links to the rural village are much more immediate, and I guess because refridgeration is only relatively new (less than 20 years) in regional Thailand, so if you wanted meat/fish, you really did just keep it alive till it was time to eat it...

Thais seemed then and seem today better able to process the "Yes, if I want meat I must kill an animal" thought sequence that upsets a lot of westerners.

I don't know - it's merely observation on my part. But I have several times since coming back to Australia encountered people who can happily eat meat but admit that they would never be able to kill an animal.

It strikes me as an infantilisation in urban middle-class culture, where it's permissible to hold this sort of idea - where you can outsource 'brutality/cruelty', and as long as you don't think about it, you can keep eating meat. But you'd never carry out the deed.




(Only tangentially related, but when I go see cousins in outback Queensland, I'm often struck by how they intentionally try to kill kangaroos when driving. Just chop them with the bull bar... So don't get the idea that all Aussies are some sort of anti-cruelty types.)
posted by Sedition at 6:03 PM on July 5 [2 favorites]


I was driving past a farm one day and noticed a pig with one wooden leg. I didn't think much of it until a week later, driving by the same farm, I noticed the pig had two wooden legs. The third week, the pig had three wooden legs, and finally, after seeing the pig the fourth week with four wooden legs, I had to stop and ask about it.

I tracked down the farmer and asked him about the strange sight. The farmer told me, "Well, that's the greatest pig alive. About a month ago, he saved my wife and kids and me from our burning house by waking us up in the middle of the night just in time to escape without any harm!"

So, then I asked about the pig's wooden legs. "Well," the farmer replied, "this pig is just like one of the family. He's a really great pig. A couple of weeks ago, our youngest boy fell in the creek, and this truly wonderful pig fished him out just in time to save him from drowning! He's one really great pig!"

I asked again about the wooden legs, to which the farmer replied, "Last week, I fell off my horse and my foot got caught up in the stirrup. This great pig ran along side of the horse and me and untangled me and truly saved my life. What a great pig - the greatest pig in the world!!"

I finally lost my patience and shouted, "All right already, That's enough! He's a really great pig - a REALLY great pig! But what about his wooden legs?!"

To which the farmer replied, "Well now, a great pig like that - you don't eat him all at once!"
posted by valkane at 7:34 PM on July 5 [6 favorites]


There's nothing wrong with eating animals

Show your work.

If you seriously believe that a matter of huge concern to millions of people, which affects billions of animals, should actually not be of any concern at all ... OK, explain how you concluded this. Otherwise, I can't help but notice that your blithe dismissal of everyone who takes this seriously is awfully self-serving.
posted by John Cohen at 10:26 PM on July 5 [3 favorites]


It is difficult to do, because one has to totally rethink how they eat, dealing with habits engrained since childhood. That doesn't mean it's not doable, but it's exactly easy.

It's really not that hard. Thanks to my girlfriend, I am vegetarian 99% of the time, and I don't put that much thought into it, either, even though I am quite physically active. I think your protestations are probably just a way of preserving your desires, rather than addressing your needs.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 11:28 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]


Last year I chose to stop eating food from animals for health reasons. No animal rights nutter, me. Still I've found that one of the many unanticipated benefits has been my ability to look at the issue of animal welfare with greater honesty now that I don't need to rationalize my behavior. Consider this.
posted by JConUK at 4:56 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


We place consciousness in the head by convention, and the brain is in the head, so we assume that the neuron-packed brain is the seat of consciousness

Say what? We place consciousness in the brain because of thousands of reasons, the most obvious being that brain damage alters consciousness.
posted by empath at 5:21 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


I suspect this the meat of the issue, humans seeing animals killed, no matter how humanely, become distressed. Animals are like us in so many ways, it's hard to see them killed and not feel something.

This stuff is what's currently making me rethink my stance that it's OK to kill animals, just not to inflict pain on them. I still think that morally, there is a sense in which animal suffering has significance but animal deaths don't, because they don't really have a 'life story' which is cut short by death; I think a short, pleasant life is better for an animal than a longer, less pleasant one. However, I think there's more than enough reason to think that slaughtering animals is traumatising, and that it causes either distress or dissociation/numbing in many humans. I'm not sure it's fair for me to expect other people to go through that so that I can have a hamburger. I'm still struggling with this and I suspect I'll never be able to eat a 100% ostrovegan/bivalvegan diet, but I am currently experimenting with trying to keep animal produce, particularly meat, to a minimum.
posted by Acheman at 5:32 AM on July 6 [1 favorite]


"Vegans to the left of me--
Keto to the right,
Here I am,
Stuck in the middle with..."

...the 21st Century Diet Blues.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:43 AM on July 6


because they don't really have a 'life story'

What about your life creates a story for you, but not for them?
posted by empath at 9:11 AM on July 6


Brandon Blatcher: "humans seeing animals killed, no matter how humanely, become distressed. Animals are like us in so many ways, it's hard to see them killed and not feel something."

That's been my reasoning for a very long time, decades now. I found that the killing distressed me, determined I didn't need meat to thrive, decided I would never kill animals barring literal necessity, and further decided that shifting that distress onto others was a problem in light of the "do unto others..." golden rule. So I skip meat.

If my life or health required it, that would outweigh the above, because I value people (including myself) above other animals. But it doesn't.

In person I don't bring it up, and lots of people spend years around me before noticing. If they do ask, I explain, and it seems to catch most of them off guard that my reasons are about people, not animals.
posted by NortonDC at 10:12 AM on July 6 [3 favorites]


The class and monetary issues are real, too. My family was well on its way to consuming far, far less meat overall and having the meat we did eat be sustainable pastured happy meat, and then my daughter was diagnosed with a dietary intolerance that takes virtually everything plant-based out of her diet -- most fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The only plant foods she can eat without restriction are white rice, peeled potatoes, and tapioca and cassava starches; all produce is restricted to half a cup TOTAL per day from a very restricted list, and even that requires a hefty amount of animal protein to avoid terrible GI consequences. Our grocery bill doubled overnight, and if we'd stuck to happy sustainable pastured etc. it would have tripled or more.

We still do our best. I buy my beef by the side from a happy meat producer, I buy my pork from costco where they at least inspect the slaughterhouses, we try to do a lot of seafood (thank god for the Ocean Beauty dock sales) because, as the man says, "it's OK to eat fish cuz they don't have any feelings." But most of my daughter's calories and nutrition come from animal sources now, they have to, and I simply can't afford the budget hit that would require to get it all from sources I'm comfortable with. We eat a lot of Foster Farms chicken thighs. I kind of hate it but I already spend more on groceries than I do on our mortgage and health insurance combined.
posted by KathrynT at 10:47 AM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Brandon Blatcher: "humans seeing animals killed, no matter how humanely, become distressed. Animals are like us in so many ways, it's hard to see them killed and not feel something."

I'm not sure this is a universal human experience. I think there is a great deal of variation (as well as desensitization) with humans. As well as the animal kingdom being rather huge. I've been upset about killing bees before (though I don't feel that way about all insects) and yet I've seen other people kill chickens and pigs without a second thought. Then of course as Acheman point out there are oysters and bivalves which probably a great majority of people feel almost nothing about.
posted by melissam at 10:53 AM on July 6


Plants and animals dissapear to make room for your fat ass.
posted by pepcorn at 2:03 PM on July 6


We may not like it, but we are sustained entirely by the deaths of living things. Until I can live exclusively on a diet of gypsum, things are going to die so that we can live. We can argue about which things should have to die for us and which things shouldn't, and what kinds of lives they should lead up until that point, but our requirement for the deaths of living things isn't going to change any time soon. We are animals that kill and consume other living things. If only we were sustained by starlight and love songs!

We are increasingly learning about how plants communicate with each other, fight back against predators, remember things, and respond to pain. They don't have brains like we do, so we've determined that they can't think or feel. But apparently mushrooms appear to be intelligent, and there was something about slime mold doing better at intelligence tests than rats. We don't entirely understand how our own brains work, let alone the brains of cephalopods, some of which are clearly both intelligent and have consciousness. There are still people who believe that dogs don't have feelings. (I don't know how anyone can look at any dog, ever, and think that way.) Maybe we're not at a place where we can judge what is and isn't a conscious, living creature.

I heard a radio documentary recently about how insects are the only truly sustainable source of animal protein available to us. Would it be better to farm and eat insects than pigs, because we consider pigs to be intelligent and have feelings?

I have a nearly-entirely lacto-ovo vegetarian diet because I don't especially like meat, and I don't feel very confident cooking it. But I'm also incredibly aware that my health depends on ingesting animal protein, and if civilization collapses, I will need to find a way to eat pig thyroid every day or I will be dead in 3 months. I can't get around the fact that I'm physiologically dependent on the deaths of other living creatures. For me these conversations always circle back to what seems to me to be the only thing we can do anything about: ensuring that the lives and deaths of the things we plan to eat are as pleasant as we can make them. Because there's no getting around our requirement to eat them.
posted by Hildegarde at 2:43 PM on July 6 [1 favorite]


"We can argue about which things should have to die for us and which things shouldn't, and what kinds of lives they should lead up until that point, but our requirement for the deaths of living things isn't going to change any time soon."

Actually jainist requirments about eating plants only in ways that do not kill the plant, and eating animal products without killing the animal and reducing the harm of eating plant and animal products as much as possible. It would be interesting to know how strictly these guidelines were followed by the historic ancient jainists and today but it does appear one can in fact survive without killing plants.
posted by xarnop at 3:48 PM on July 6 [2 favorites]


Hildegarde: "I can't get around the fact that I'm physiologically dependent on the deaths of other living creatures."
-- I'm not sure you are in the dietary sense (unless you really are an obligate carnivore who has learned to reason and type); I would agree in the evolutionary sense that this is somewhat true (see Kimball's book on infanticidality).
But I've known 40-50 year vegans, even raw-foodists, who seem to be doing pretty well physiologically. Scott Jurek seems to be doing really well (if running hundreds of miles is any measure of the body not physiologically needing meat to do insanely athletic stuff). I bet if civilization collapses, you'll find plant food much more abundant than pig thyroids. I mean, just over the last month, I've seen tons of veggies, but not one pig thyroid (though maybe I just wasn't looking hard enough).
posted by whatgorilla at 10:35 PM on July 6


There are proper times and places to eat specific kinds of meat. For example, where the buffalo are plenty and eroding the landscape - this is the time to eat them. When the introduced wild pigs are being a nuisance and a threat to native species, that is the time to eat them. When the lionfish ravage through the sea and destroy the native underwater foliage, then eat those too.

I am a vegetarian. There is no need, in the context above, to eat any bird or fish, pig or cattle because they are no threat to indigenous life where I live, Tyson and Foster Farms may disagree.

Now is not the time and Earth is not the place to be eating the types of meat that we eat, so I choose not to participate.
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:19 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


It also needs to be taken into account that, unless you're producing your own vegetables in a small, sustainable manner you're still harming animals when farms encroach on their habitat, kill "pests," and do other farm stuff.
On the moral issues, vegetarians claim their habits are kinder to animals, though it is difficult to see how wiping out 99 percent of wildlife's habitat, as farming has done in Iowa, is a kindness. In rural Michigan, for example, the potato farmers have a peculiar tactic for dealing with the predations of whitetail deer. They gut-shoot them with small-bore rifles, in hopes the deer will limp off to the woods and die where they won't stink up the potato fields.

--The Oil We Eat, by Richard Manning [previously]

Intensive farming of grains and vegetables is the factory-farmed elephant in the room here. Eating these products makes you complicit in the wholesale slaughter of rabbits, deer, rats, mice, birds and insects killed as pests; it makes you complicit in the decline of songbirds whose diet of seeds and insects is now poisoned by weedkiller and pesticide; in the deaths of fawns who hide in the safe-seeming "long grass" of grain fields and are run down by combine harvesters; in the deaths of entire ecosystems where waterways succumb to nitrogen fertilizer runoff. The majority of these deaths are wasted; even with commonly-eaten animals like deer and rabbits, the meat and hides of those killed for "pest control" are only made use of in a minority of cases.

There are also the sociopolitical implications of monocrop agriculture taking over a nation's or a region's economy, and of course the spectre of habitat destruction. Not to mention the demand for cheap food that enables companies like Monsanto to exist and thrive, to the disadvantage of both farmers and consumers.

Obviously a lot of these intensively-farmed crops go towards animal feed; but the human consumer needs to be rid of the delusion that that being vegetarian somehow washes their hands clean of cruelty.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:38 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


the human consumer needs to be rid of the delusion that that being vegetarian somehow washes their hands clean of cruelty

Goddammit! As a White Western car driver/drinker/smoker/gadget user who doesn't do enough recycling its the only thing I got! My dream is to own a small cottage in the country with solar panels and a vegetable patch and my own well. Until then I guess there's no way to feel justifiably smug. *sigh*
posted by billiebee at 3:30 AM on July 10


Pallas Athena, if we lived in a world where there was no factory farming and all animals were killed by hunters slinking around the woods with small caliber rifles, I'd still choose to be a vegetarian. There is no choice like this, though; there is only the choice between more suffering (eating animals) and less suffering (not). As those are the only meaningful choices, it shouldn't matter that vegetarianism does not allow people to divest themselves of responsibility for all suffering; the point is (if you are a person to whom this matters) that the choice you make is the better of the two. To put it in another context, recycling consumer goods I purchase is a better choice than putting them in a landfill, even if purchasing consumer goods in general contributes to society's ills.
posted by MoonOrb at 6:17 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


the human consumer needs to be rid of the delusion that that being vegetarian somehow washes their hands clean of cruelty

I've found the idea that vegetarians/vegans are not aware of this to be largely a delusion itself. People have to eat. We have billions of people on this planet. Intensive farming has to happen. Harm reduction to the animals and environment as best we can is the goal, not total moral purity.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:19 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]


I'm a little late to the thread but I'll chime in. My husband and I grow about 70% of what we eat and raise chickens for eggs, have a pig we're fattening for slaughter* this fall and meat rabbits for eating as well. I'd say our livestock is happier than anything you could get from the local store even though it's not free range. We live in the city on 3/4 of an acre and move everything around in mobile pens so they can have fresh things to eat and explore a bit. It's a lot of work and it's not for everyone but it makes us feel better about our food choices and does a little bit to alleviate factory farming. Not everyone can grow as much as we do but I think the US would be a bit better off if everyone tried to grow something if not simply for the fact that they'd realize it's damn hard and maybe that would motivate them to waste less food.

*We do our own butchering so we know it's done as humanely as possible.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 9:08 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


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