Why it’s ethical to eat meat

I happened upon a New York Times article that kicked off a “contest” to make the strongest possible case for this most basic of daily practices…consuming meat.

Here is just some of the article.

Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory. In recent years, vegetarians — and to an even greater degree vegans, their hard-core inner circle — have dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating. From the philosopher Peter Singer, whose 1975 volume “Animal Liberation” galvanized an international movement, to the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote the 2009 best seller “Eating Animals,” those who forswear meat have made the case that what we eat is a crucial ethical decision. To be just, they say, we must put down our cheeseburgers and join their ranks.

In response, those who love meat have had surprisingly little to say. They say, of course, that, well, they love meat or that meat is deeply ingrained in our habit or culture or cuisine or that it’s nutritious or that it’s just part of the natural order. Some of the more conscientious carnivores have devoted themselves to enhancing the lives of livestock, by improving what those animals eat, how they live and how they are killed. But few have tried to answer the fundamental ethical issue: Whether it is right to eat animals in the first place, at least when human survival is not at stake.

While I have no intentions to enter this contest, I did want to see how some of the readers were responding to the challenge and how agriculture, or the “pro-meat” agenda was being represented. Although there are plenty of views and opinions from the vegetarian and vegan worlds about the article and contest, I was pleasantly surprised.

One reader wrote: “The earth produces tremendous amounts of animal food and fuel in terms of plant life, producing herbivores, and carnivores. Man, and man’s ancestors, were both predator and prey, which ate to survive, and displaced the carnivorous competitors.

The fatty and protein rich diet permitted man to spend more time developing their brain, such that we could we reach a state of mental development where we could even ponder the question of the importance of the food source most attributable to our success.

I can’t wait for the next ethical dilemma, i.e., “Is it OK to cut down living trees to build shelter?”

Another weighed in: “Humans evolved to eat meat. For most of human history, the decision to eat meat was not a choice but a means of survival. Do we fault the lion for eating a zebra? Humans are able to access sufficient resources to survive without meat only recently. While the evolution of a behavior does not mean that said behavior is ‘moral,’ I think this issue needs to be discussed in the proper historical and evolutionary context.

With regards to domesticated animals, the survival of these species is dependent on their consumption by humans. If people did not eat chickens, cows, and pigs, these animals would simply not exist (save for some zoo dedicated to their preservation). For animals to pass on their genes, they must reproduce, and this is the single biggest selective factor on animal behavior. I believe that if given the “choice” between being a factory farmed animal or not being alive at all, an animal would “choose” to exist and pass on it’s genes. If one looks at human meat consumption from the point of view of the domesticated animals: humans are helping these animals spread their genes and ‘succeed,’ in exchange, these animals are “giving” us their bodies to eat. I do feel that it is our responsibility to ensure that animals are treated well when alive.”

There are plenty more comments, as you might imagine. Read them and weigh in on behalf of agriculture by reading the article.

I would love for you to share your thoughts with us below as well.

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  1. Thanks Ty for this article. It reminds of past experiences.
    Being an animal science grad at OSU, I recall Prof. Bill Tyznick’s saying that meat only can supply the intricate animno protiens needed for proper nurishment and health.

    And a word about food reserves– During the severe drought of 1988, I was the FSA State Director in Cols. Vegetables and fruits became scarist and very expensive. Animal feed also became very exspensive as grass and hay dried up. We expected the food prices would go out of sight. However, farmers culled their milking and breeding herds and and the excess of meat kept the prices down.

    John Stevenson

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