The delicious flesh of animals

| Senior Forum Editor

Natalie Villalon’s excellent article outlined the general arguments for refraining from eating meat. As far as theoretical ethics are concerned, I think that the arguments presented are sound. But I don’t think the article will change anyone else’s minds. Why? Because meat is delicious.

Ultimately, the choice to eat meat could be regarded as an ethical issue, but it is undoubtedly, among other things, an aesthetic issue. People don’t eat meat because they enjoy the thought of animals dying en masse in slaughterhouses across the globe, but because they enjoy the taste of roasted animal flesh. Are they justified in that belief? Should they be forced to care? Perhaps. But ultimately, most people put their bellies before their morals—and rightfully so.

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Perhaps animals ought to be treated in kinder terms, and I want to be very clear about where I stand: I do think that factory farming, or any other inhumane method of slaughtering and breeding animals, should be replaced by more humane methods of raising and killing animals. But I don’t think there is an extra obligation to refrain from killing animals altogether­—after all, there is no real “meaning” to a cow’s life, other than to be killed for the cow’s meat. Animals need to end life to propagate their own, and this is an undeniable fact of nature.

Sure, animals might lead a hard life on the range, what with the neutering and branding and penned-in spaces. But is it really that much worse than the average human’s life? Sure, factory farming is cruel, but surely raising animals in a free-range environment would be far kinder to the animals than in nature: Remember that it takes a wolf roughly half an hour to kill a cow, and the poor cow stays alive through most of this time as it gets eaten alive.

Of course, we also draw incredibly arbitrary lines between what we think is worthy of living or not. What about insects? Viruses? Sure, perhaps they cannot feel pain, but what about the tons of mice and small rodents that are the collateral damage of large-scale agricultural farming? The best way to avoid that would be to grow a garden in your backyard, with no pesticides or other ways to protect your plants from predators, and to eat nothing else. Inconvenient? Sure, but so is veganism—if morality was truly a matter of convenience, we’re all just as guilty as the next.

Ultimately, I’m not trying to argue that eating meat is moral, or that vegans are immoral. In fact, at the heart of my argument is that the world is an inherently immoral place, with injustices and suffering across the world. Sure, we can do our part to limit suffering, but at the point where some people condemn others for causing some select organisms to suffer while killing (directly or indirectly) other organisms themselves, there’s something to be said about consistency. Every ounce of effort made and every dollar spent toward a vegan diet could be used elsewhere to help actual human beings, who always come before animals. Starving children in Africa or crying pigs in the slaughterhouse? The world’s a tough place.

AJ is a sophomore in Arts & Sciences. He can be reached via e-mail at asundar@wustl.edu.

  • http://www.ecovore.org Evz

    I think there are some sound health and environmental reasons to eat a mostly plant-based diet. Ethical considerations are only part of it, and — like all ethical decisions — are personal. For me, the line is about not killing *in the absence of need.* There’s plenty for me to eat that’s NOT dependent on killing a creature at all, especially (like mammals & birds) with a nervous system so closely analogous to my own… So, I don’t. But I also don’t judge anyone who sees it differently. That just seems to me like the right thing to do.’Like any moral decision, people have to decide for themselves what the right thing IS; then follow through or not, as they see fit.

    That being said, if western societies shifted to a diet emphasizing whole foods/ plant foods primarily, with animal foods (for those who choose to eat them) a smaller percentage of food consumed, it would have a positive effect on our health and on environmental problems… that’s separate from philosophical issues, in my opinion.

    There’s more info at http://www.ecovore.org/blog/?page_id=71 about some of the reasons people go veg… it’s not all about ethical concerns.

  • john649

    I have never read a more arrogant, shallow and worn out argument! I am actually very concerned about your school and exactly what it is you are actually learning.
    Clearly you have a GREAT deal more maturity and expanded vision to embrace before you are let out into the wild!

    May god help you if you never move beyond your narrow, naive and ignorant view point, you will need it.

  • http://my-face-is-on-fire.blogspot.com/ Myléne

    Joel, it’s about sentience. If you can’t see the difference between using antibiotics and drowning a kitten, or the difference between cutting down a tree and killing a child, then I seriously worry about how far you’d let playing devil’s advocate trump what passes for a moral compass. I mean, seriously? C’mon?

  • Joel

    Ah, but Chastity, the enslaving, killing, abusing of what? Every action we take will end the life of some organism in some way, how do we define what life is worth protecting? Is it ok to swat a fly? Use antibiotics? Kill children? Strangle puppies? Drown kittens? Cut down a tree? Genetically recombine bacteria to make insulin? Eat grain? Use pesticides? Eat fish? Keep aquariums? Enslave prisoners of war? Farm bacteria in our colon? And the mother of them all, terminate a fetus?

    I’m not trying to answer any of these, that’s not the point I’m making. The point is that it is not as black and white as you make it out to be.

  • Chastity

    Joel, I felt I needed to answer your question.

    The basics of what’s morally wrong: enslaving, killing, abusing. Moral relativism is often used as an excuse. There isn’t any need to philosophize it in hopes of justifying something that you may be partaking in.

  • Chastity

    It’s funny that we can all argue about animal rights and such but oftentimes, people have a tendency to forget (or is it willful ignorance?) that animals are a HUGE part of the equation. Everyone speaks of them as if they are inanimate objects and that we all have the “freedom” to consume their innards and bodily fluids or not.

    I really don’t care what you do but if it involves violating someone else’s rights–human or nonhuman–then you’re going to be called out for the “…but I like it” argument.

  • Joel

    Pierre, I see your point. But how do we define “morally wrong”? That’s something we could debate endlessly and reach no conclusion. It’s also why I don’t think this is a very good editorial at all.

  • Pierre

    “Natalie Villalon’s excellent article outlined the general arguments for refraining from beating women. As far as theoretical ethics are concerned, I think that the arguments presented are sound. But I don’t think the article will change anyone else’s minds. Why? Because beating women is delicious.”

    You can also replace with: raping women. Or molesting little childs.

    Do you see what’s wrong with your opinion? If something’s morally wrong, it remains wrong, no matter how much pleasure you get from it…..