The delicious flesh of animals
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.