So I recently watched Hank's video I AM A BAD PERSON (catching up on the videos) where he talked about meat eating and asked whether we thought is was bad to eat meat, as well as what we thought about factory-grown meat.
I feel that I have to express what I think about this subject, so much so that I decided to make my first post here on the ning. Feel free to debate/ask questions/disagree. I recently received a degree in Sustainable Development, where I wrote many a paper on this subject (I'm not trying to sound pretentious or say I'm an absolute expert, but I do think I have a little more knowledge than some in this area, or at least my loan debt would make me believe so).
Is Eating Meat Bad?
I don't believe that eating meat is inherently "bad." I do believe that the industrial way in which the majority of American/Western world meat is grown is most definitely bad. There are ways of producing meat/raising animals that is not harmful, and in fact beneficial, to the environment, the animals, and humans. Local, humanely-raised, entirely grass-fed beef is going to produce very little greenhouse gases because the cows are eating what they have evolved to eat. When they are allowed to graze rotationally (moving the herd from section to section of a pasture over time), they act as the native bison would on the prairie. Grass-fed and pastured meat is going to be higher in vitamins and omega-3s, and is typically lower in fat. Less erosion of the soil will result in grass-fed over grain-fed beef as the low-intensity grazing promotes biodiversity in the pasture (rather than the monoculture of corn grown in plowed fields, which does not absorb rain as well as native habitat). Most importantly, well-managed pastures can actually be carbon sinks by not plowing the land and instead letting the carbon from the atmosphere work it's way back into the soil through the plants.
So if we can raise animals in a way in which they are living the way that they were meant to live (many of these small farmers will note that their animals actually seem happy), and that it is a environmentally, socially, and economically beneficial way to do so, does that still make eating meat bad? If we take the destructive manner in which we currently produce meat out of the equation and replace it with a beneficial one, does that make eating a bad thing to do? I think that eating meat can be a very personal decision, though I don't think that one should entirely give up meat because of the guilt one feels for the industrial model of food production. I think that when one has the choice to eat meat, they should buy it from their local farmers (at that higher and more fair price tag) that have raised the animals humanely and allowed them to eat what they would naturally eat. Otherwise, as Michael Pollan would say, eat mostly plants (of course, I could now go into the the ethics of plant eating, the similar industrial model of plant agriculture, etc., but I'll stop myself :)
For myself, lab meat sounds absolutely disgusting. Is sounds like a solution that is just asking for trouble (Mutant Meat, coming to a theater near you this summer). It is taking the industrial model of producing meat just another step further, out of the sun and air and into the closed lab. It sounds like an attempt at sterilization of nature, trying to take all the unknown variables out of growing food (exactly what our current mode of agriculture tries to do through monoculture and standardization). With the idea of factory meat we are trying to find a solution for our guilt for raising animals brutally for our own consumption, but rather than adding a positive (raising animals with love & care) it is trying to subtract a negative (our guilt for treating animals the way we do in meat production).
In my mind, in order to live we must consume life. Be it plants, animals, or by-products of animals (milk, cheese, honey), we must digest and convert that life into energy for ourselves in order to live. We cannot consume plastic and expect to sustain ourselves. In that same vein of thought, the "more life" the things we are consuming have (I think of this as the happier or closer to its true nature it is allowed to be) the more life/energy we will gain. Lad-grown meat, in my opinion, does not have that spark of life that raising a real live animal would, and, I believe, where that gut reaction of "Gross!" comes from.
Anyways, I could go on but I'll stop myself. If you have read this far, congratulations. If you would like to read further here are some good articles/books:
A short Time article that goes into grass-fed beef and greenhouse gases.
A very good Mother Earth News article that goes more into depth into grass-fed beef.
The Omnivore's Dilemna by Michael Pollan, a staple-food for your brain if you want to learn about modern food production.
Anything by Joel Salatin. He is a very intelligent farmer that is a leader in the grass-fed farming movement.
Real Food by Nina Plank. Used to sell this book at a farmer's market I worked at, near where Nina Plank used to have a farm. It's a great book. She writes about eating traditional, whole foods, rather than processed industrial foods. It may or may not be for everyone but I love it and love the philosophy behind it.
The Ethics of What We Eat by Peter Singer. A very thought provoking book about, well, the ethics of what we eat.
What do you think? Do you think I'm totally off base, or do you agree? Do you think I'm trying to justify a degree I can't get a job in by ranting online about it?
I've a feeling I'll be in a minority with my view, and some people will find it extremist and radical, but I think eating meat (and other animal products, but let's concentrate on meat) is inherently wrong.
It's pretty simple why I believe this, and it's because I believe that if you have a choice between causing suffering, whether directly or indirectly, and not causing suffering, it's obvious which path to take. Eating meat causes suffering, so I don't do it.
And it's not just the violent, barbaric practices of factory farming I'm against. ALL meat, even the so-called "humanely slaughtered" meat. Why? Because sentient creatures shouldn't be killed against their will, no matter how nicely it's done.
I would eat lab-grown meat on principle, although meat really isn't appetizing to me any more.
Just curious, how do you feel about eating things that contain living things like yeast? Also, how do you define "sentient." How do we know that plants are sentient? (I'm not trying to start a fight. I really am curious as to what you think.)
Also, I think you would enjoy the book I have listed above, The Ethics of What We Eat. Peter Singer is a famous philosopher and promoter of vegetarianism. I didn't agree with everything in the book, but it did make me think.
I read Singer's book Animal Liberation, it was one of the things that were my initial introduction to the concepts of animal liberation.
As far as things that contain bacteria, it's the same reason I feel justified in eating plants, they aren't sentient, they feel no pain (as far as we're aware.)
The question of whether plants are sentient or not is one I get a lot,the simple answer is that they don't show us that they are, there's nothing to prove to us plants think, and I make decisions based on the evidence available, not based on speculation. They certainly don't suffer, because they have no nervous system or capacity to feel pain. It wouldn't make sense, from an evolutionary standpoint for plants to evolve to be capable of suffering, because they have no way of getting away from suffering if they did.
And that applies across the board does it? It's tasty, so I eat it? Unfortunately for you, there are a few problems there:
If children were tasty, would that rationalise eating them? what about your household pets?
Getting jumped up on heroin is fun, does that mean you should do it?
In all those situations a person would rationalise why they're wrong behaviours, but it apparently doesn't apply to animals.
The problem with the attitudes of most meat-eaters is they fail to see things from the perspective of the victim.
As an animal liberationist, I don't see human interests as being at the centre of the universe, and I can't see a reason why human interests should be arbitrarily put before the interests of other species, and the world at large, especially interests that are essentially selfish and can be done without, like meat-eating.
It seems to me, that governing behaviour using logic is only necessary to you if it agrees with the decision you already made.
I think your stance as an animal liberationist might be more of a minority view than vegetarianism. I'm honestly curious because I've not really gotten a chance to talk to many die-hard liberationists (most stop at vegetarianism) to the concept of household pets. You brought them up in this post, what is your stance on pets? It's a bit off topic, yes, but I've met a few who think that dogs should be eradicated or set free (which, unfortunately, the species Canis lupus familiaris, dog, cannot genetically revert back to a feral state, as cats or other pets may be able to. I've gotten into some...interesting debates about the behavior of dogs and their genetics about that one.)
Are you an extreme liberationist, who believes that humans shouldn't have pets?
Back to what you actually said in your post, I'm a novice animal behaviorist (who is of the rather unpopular belief that humans are animals and should be expected to BE animals...) I would argue that humans shouldn't be able to rationalize 'bad behavior" that you say is eating meat, the fact that we may or may not be able to is trivial. Take a primate who eats ants, the primate does not rationalize that he is killing ants, they see that they have used tools to gather another living thing which provides a solid form of nutrients. It is a small jump from a primate punching holes in an ant hive with a stick, and a neanderthal punching holes in a deer...with a stick.
Our basic evolution as a hunting species originates around this behavior, at this point, we have gotten away from the hunting to a more relaxed method of capturing food, but our roots remain the same. The human as an animal is an omnivore that with the use of tools, takes down large prey. Early neanderthal species did not believe that killing the deer was wrong, they rationalized that they needed what the deer provided, just as the wolf does.
Today, we still have that need, and the bovid/ungulate provides that need. We can argue if the need is as severe to us now as it was to Neanderthal (Which I would agree with most and say we don't have a severe need for it, but I can attest after 3 years of no meat, the human body breaks down meat and grabs nutrients from it such as iron, much easier than vegetables.) but what we cannot argue is whether or not our ancestral origins felt guilt and thought killing was a bad behavior. If there was a trivial aspect to hunting in the mind of early man, it would have destroyed our species.
The desire for meat is a human instinct, whether or not it is wrong is a human idea.
My stance on pets is probably not as extreme as others. It depends on the treatment and the mindset of the owner. Owning a pet is a massive responsibility (I don't have any myself, despite my views on animals, I wouldn't class myself as an "animal lover.") A responsibility on par with having a child. You have the responsibility of the life of another in your hands. I see no problem with pets, especially dogs, since as you say, they can't go feral, they're dependent on humans really, but at the same time, it's not something to be entered into lightly, animals need exercise, and food, and attention. Skipping a walk because the owner is tired isn't ok, skipping a day of meals because you're out all day isn't ok.
(I'm not aiming that at you, just in general)
I'm not sure about your stance on diet, I think that since we have the ability to consider morality, we also have the responsibility. Just because our early ancestors probably didn't give it a second thought, human thought has grown up since then, and we now have to consider such things.
I think humans have more control over our base urges than other creatures, so for that reason, we should be expected to exercise that control, and that includes what we eat.
I don't think the need for meat is anywhere near as severe as our ancestors, it's very easy to live quite healthily on a meat-free diet, and there are studies to back that up. Granted, it gets a little harder as a vegan, but it's not impossible.
Ash - I find your argument interesting and can definitely see where you're coming from. But I can't say that I totally agree.
Singer's argument is that we should take all suffering into consideration when making decisions. But the fact is that we live in a complex world and interact in an environment that involves many different interdependencies. Would a human's act of fencing off prairie for agriculture (something Singer might argue for the sake of vegetarianism) take precedence over the wild animals' lost habitat? Say there is a refuge where the deer population has grown to the point of overpopulation (the deer are close to eating all their supply of food and have no natural predators, and therefore will soon starve to death). Would it be wrong to thin the herd in order to save both the habitat and the deer population? Is it wrong to harvest grain if it means there is a possibility of killing the mice or rabbits that live in the fields?
The problem is that Singer's argument is individualistic (focuses on the rights of individual animals), rather than holistic (taking into consideration the well-being of communities or ecosystems). In reference to wildlife management, Singer recommends a policy of leaving wild animals alone as much as possible. This goes along with the thought that we as humans have a greater responsibility to reduce suffering rather than increase happiness. The idea that we can somehow separate ourselves from nature is also a flawed idea. There is no "untamed wilderness" where humans are exempt from interaction -- and why would we want that? We rely on nature and have evolved with our environment. Whether we realize it or not, we are a part of nature.
Singer's argument is also anthropocentric. Singer's argument begins with the question, what gives human's moral standing? His answer is the capacity to suffer. Directly from this, animals that also have the capacity to suffer (and are therefore most like us) also have moral standing. But why must we restrict inherent value and moral standing to those that can feel pleasure and pain? The philosopher Kenneth Goodpaster argues,
"Neither rationality nor the capacity to experience pleasure and pain seem to me necessary (even though they may be sufficient) conditions on moral considerability. And only our hedonistic and concentric forms of ethical reflection keep us from acknowledging this fact. Nothing short of the condition of being alive seems to me to be plausible and nonarbritrary criterion."
Just because a plant cannot suffer, does that single fact mean we should give it less consideration than an animal? Shouldn't the fact that it is alive give it value? As you said, Ash, it does make sense that plants would not have evolved the capacity to suffer. But does that fact give us right to not give it consideration, or to consider the animal before it? If an invertebrate or plant were the last of its kind, should we give it equal consideration to the animals living with that invertebrate/plant? Why should we give moral standing to only those beings most like us, while there are many other beings on this planet that play equal roles? "When we restrict the range of moral standing among all living things to those sentient or conscious beings, we are, in fact if not logically, restricting moral standing to those beings most like us."
Sorry if that sounded kind of rambling.
Environmental Ethics by DesJardin
Lauren, I want to start by thanking you for being the kind of person I don't mind discussing animal rights with, you're not trying to ridicule my beliefs, or justify your diet because you feel threatened by mine. And you've done your research. I respect everyone's right to choose, but I respect people who respect my right to choose my diet even more. I've not read the Ethics of What We Eat, I'll have to pick it up.
I don't always necessarily agree with Singer, he has some good ideas, but I'm not with him on everything. Have you ever heard of Gary Francione? He's the guy I agree with most when it comes to these issues (although even then I don't agree with everything, I don't tend to treat any one philosopher or book's word as gospel.)
The key aspect of Francione's arguments are that animal's are regarded as property by humans, which we have no right to do. This, and the concept of speciesism (no doubt you're familiar with the term, but for clarification: The treatment of humans as superior, for no reason other than a difference in species) are the foundation of my beliefs, everything else grows from that.
The argument of Holism vs. Individualism is an interesting one, I think a middle ground is necessary, the well-being of ecosystems, groups and the earth as a whole should be considered, but not without consideration of the rights of individual. Singer is a utilitarian, which is the belief that the correct and best course of action is the one that produces most happiness overall, the problem I have with this is practical ore than theoretical, in the sense that how do we measure happiness? Is a human capable of more happiness than say, a cow? If we kill a billion insects in the harvesting of a field, does feeding a few thousand people justify it morally? I'm not even sure it's possible to fit morality onto the sliding scale that utilitarianism implies, let alone practical.
Perhaps you could clarify why you think Singer's argument is anthropocentric? As I'm not seeing it. I don't think using suffering as a measuring stick is arbitrary. Why does merely being alive give something value? A cell is alive. Surely a more non-arbitrary designation would be existence? A plant not being able to suffer (in fact having no interests at all) makes it a null argument, just as the meat eater argument that if we don't eat meat, cows won't be brought into existence as much is a non-argument.
You brought up some interesting arguments, especially the one about why suffering is the yardstick for moral value. I'll have to give that one some thought.
and other animal products
Like what, out of curiosity?