My plan was to talk about MOOCs for a while, and to get into some of the contentious aspects of them. But I promised I would create a blog devoted to the issue of vegetarianism, one that would provide the context for a deeper discussion of issues. So this is that blog. I will spout off for a bit, but the real goal is for all of us to chime in with various points and perspectives … to think together … and to see where that leaves us.
The title of this post comes from that “moral compass” I mentioned in a previous response. As a 40 some year old guy, my wife started to question what we were eating. Her questioning came from both a health perspective (“is this stuff good for us, or even safe to eat?”) and from a moral perspective (“do we have the right to eat animals at all?”). At first I would say I was just going along with things, but like everyone I had heard some stories about the process of “producing meat” and what I had heard was disturbing. But also like most people, I managed somehow to stay as ignorant as I possibly could of all that because I knew the learning more might mean I would want to quit eating meat. But my wife’s focus on what we were eating, mixed with some timely books (especially The Philosopher and the Wolf) meant my willful ignorance had to end, and I began reading and thinking with an open mind.
And so, back to the title. When you read this stuff you need to try to think about it somehow. A million questions start to surface. Do we need to eat meat? Do animals feel any pain and suffering? Even if they do, do we have the right to treat them like any other commodity? Do I think they should have all human rights, or just the right to a good life? How do I know what I think? What metric do I use to decide what I think is right. The title became my touchstone. While I think there are many good reasons not to eat meat (health, ethics, the environment to name three), if you ask me why I don’t eat meat I will tell you because (a) the meat industry causes pain and suffering to animals, (b) I do not need to eat meat … and therefore I will not intentionally contribute to unnecessary pain and suffering.
However that is my personal stance. As I try to argue this point I try to keep a few things in mind. First, meat eating in general is different (and isn’t different) from supporting factory farms. That is, there are the deep ethical and philosophical questions about whether it is “right” for a human to eat animal flesh, and then there is the specific process by which the vast majority of animal flesh is “produced”. It is possible, and perhaps even reasonable, for some people to feel it is OK to eat meat, while being firmly against factory farming practices. The two issues can … and for the sake of argument perhaps should … be separated. However, at least in the so-called “developed nations” the two issues really are not separate at all given that more than 98% of the meat we consume comes from factory farms.
When I try to discuss this issue I try very hard to NOT play the emotion card … I feel the argument is best kept at a rational level … that information is best communicated at that level. And yet I do feel it is necessary that anyone who argues this either agrees by fiat, or by taking the time to find out, that factory farms are absolutely horrible. It would be quite easy to give many examples of the horrors that happen in factory farms, and I think one can easily argue that for any animal in a factory farm, the best day of their life is the day of their death. If examples are needed, I can provide them … I have taken the time to expose myself to this information although I hated every minute of it. If you really do not believe that factory farms are that bad, then watch what you can of Meet Your Meat on YouTube.
OK, so let me open the floor with one analysis and one deep thought …
As I read through things (and I tried to be unbiased … heck, I liked my hamburgers and chicken as much as the next guy!) I tried to create a cost/benefit analysis. What are the reasons to eat factory farmed meat, and what are the reasons not to? Reasons for … (1) meat tastes good, (2) we can … we have the power to do so, and perhaps most importantly (3) we have strong habits, traditions and social forces making it easy for us to eat me … it’s uncomfortable to work against these forces. Why should we not eat factory farmed meat? Well (1) it causes unnecessary pain and suffering on a massive scale, (2) it is detrimental to our health … except maybe for some non-toxic fish, (3) factory farming causes more harmful emissions to our environment than all forms of transportation combined, (4) because factory farms must use massive amounts of antibiotics to keep their genetically mutated and generally insane animals alive for long enough they provide the perfect breeding ground for the next supervirus. Honestly, there are more reasons not to eat meat … but those are the four I found most compelling.
Now the philosophy. A Philosopher named John Rawls writes a lot about social justice. He proposed a concept he calls the “original position”. The idea is this … let’s say you are a human about to be born into the world, but you have no idea of what gender or race or social status you’ll be, or where in the world you will be born. However you have the power to shape the world … to distribute wealth and rights … from that original position, would you eliminate horrors like slavery, or child warriors … or any other form of living that you wouldn’t want to suddenly find yourself born into? Mark Rowlands extended this notion to include animals … you are again in the original position but this time you only know you will be dropped onto the planet as some life form … human or animal. Would you allow factory farms to exist knowing you might be born into one? Just an interesting perspective to think about.
OK, this has been a little rambly, but hopefully it will serve as a good basis for discussion. Please, come at me! 🙂 Let’s just try our best to keep our issues clear. It’s so easy to get things confused in this debate. But that aside, let’s enjoy thinking together.