Ariel Kaminer, The New York Times’ “Ethicist” throws down the gauntlet at carnivores — challenging us to come up with an ethical argument for eating animals.
[Carnivores say] 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.
So today we announce a nationwide contest for the omnivorous readers of The New York Times. We invite you to make the strongest possible case for this most basic of daily practices. (Source)
The “challenge” is bullshit.
The fact is, there is only one rational answer to “why do you eat meat?” The answer is “because fuck you, that’s why.”
I don’t say this in jest or irreverence (ok, a little irreverence). I say this because I freely admit that there is no “ethical” justification for eating animals. In fact, it doesn’t even make sense to do so even if they were voluntarily offering themselves up for consumption — well, at least when it comes to land-based animals.
A recent study says that processed or not, red meat is more unhealthy than we previously thought. (source) Red meat is, indeed, awful for you. Pork is no better. Chicken seems to be a pretty “clean” source of protein, but if you know anything about where your chicken comes from, you might puke at the thought of it. Fish? Well, that’s at least a lovely clean source of protein, so I will support the eating of fish as a rational decision — as long as it is wild caught and not that farm raised garbage.
But, the challenge isn’t to come up with a healthy explanation, the challenge is to beat back the moral argument against meat. As The Smiths said, “meat is murder.” It is. You kill another fellow animal just because its dead flesh feels good on your tongue. That may not seem to be the right choice for you. If you agree, you’re in great company. There are some pretty compelling role models on the no-meat side of the equation. Ovid, Leonardo DaVinci, H.G. Wells, Kafka, Plato, Mark Twain, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison, Henry David Thoreau, all were vegetarians. Closer to home, three guys I think the world of are vegetarians: Eric Goldman, Venkat Balasubramani, and Jon Katz are all no-meat guys.
Jon Katz presented a very thought provoking piece on how the U.S. v. Stevens case should make us consider our position on eating animals.
I wish for Stevens to be an opportunity not only to celebrate and strengthen the First Amendment, but also for people to re-examine their relationship with and treatment of all animals, both of different species and their own species. Human rights violations continue running too rampant worldwide. Too many people accept violence and the threat of violence as normal for controlling others, for flexing muscle, and for carrying out their daily activities. The human-on-human violence and threats of violence include parents who hit their children lightly or more brutally, police and soldiers who lose a sense of self control over their power to arrest and shoot, governments that mass arms and soldiers, street criminals, and the list goes on.
Physical violence is not the only blight on society. To be sure, a lack of general compassion towards all causes much harm in society, and too often leads to physical violence. (source)
Here’s a hell of a short film showing the horrors of the meat industry.
So lets recap: Eating meat is bad for you. Lots of really smart people decided to be vegetarians. Eating meat is cruel. And, if you ask me to come up with an ethical argument as to why I still eat our furry friends, I got nothing for The Ethicist.
In light of all the authority screaming at me to eat nothing but sunflower seeds and tofu, I still exercise my right to choose to eat a nice rare ribeye with a heaping helping of foie gras on top. I can’t argue that meat is good for me. I can’t credibly argue that it is the “right thing to do.” I can’t credibly argue that choosing vegetarianism would be an impediment to my success or happiness.
Nevertheless, I just don’t feel like my genes went through billions of years of evolution, to get to the top of the food chain, without really enjoying the view. I eat anything I damn well please. And, unless it is super-duper bad for me (like Dolphins — full of mercury) then I’m eating it.
I just love the way animals taste.
And I get to make that choice.
So, to The Ethicist, here’s my argument: “Because fuck you, that’s why.” I know its bad for me. So is smoking cigarettes, snorting cocaine, and working so much that I am a screaming ball of stress all the time. I choose not to smoke cigarettes or snort cocaine. I choose to eat meat and to work all the time. I choose to drive a car that gets 10 miles to the gallon because I like having 771 horsepower and 900 ft. lb. of torque at my command. I don’t need an ethical justification to do, or not do, any of those things.
I just get to make that choice. Now, Mr. Ethicist, mind your own business about what I eat. You go eat your twigs and rocks, and I’ll eat my veal. Unless you can come up with some valid argument as to how my eating meat harms another human being, then the default is that it is ethical, so I win. Either that, or just “fuck you, that’s why.”