A while back, my good friend Virak told me that a client once hit him with this comment: “What do you eat in your culture, dogs?”
Ethnically, Virak is Cambodian. Nationally, he’s one of the most American people I know. He was rightfully pissed about the snide, racist comment. But the comment made me wonder: what does someone eating a dog matter to a meat eater? What sets a dog apart from a pig or a cow?
No, this post will not be an ethical argument for eating dogs; the thought of eating a dog makes me retch. Here’s the thing: I love to eat meat, but I’ve cut my consumption heavily in the past few years. My reading of “Omnivores Dilemma” by Michael Pollan was a wakeup call as to how the animals are treated in factory farms.
Pollan’s book made me sign up for a local meat CSA – a community supported agriculture program – from Slagel Farms. I’ve been to the farm and have seen that they seemingly treat the animals as well as a farm possibly can. They’re true pros and give a shit about the animals (somewhere, a vegan is rolling their eyes – stick with me, pal). I try to limit my meat intake to the farm as best as I can. I slip up quite often when away from the house.
Lately, I’ve been considering the arguments of Peter Singer, an Australian philosopher who argues that all animals – both human and non-human – are equal.
Singer makes some potent points, including:
- Equal consideration: Just because a cow doesn’t have the same consciousness as a human doesn’t mean it deserves to be slaughtered. We don’t see fit to slaughter the mentally handicapped because they can’t read a book or speak, for example.
- Equality is a moral idea: If all humans deserve equal treatment, no matter their race, sex, or size, why wouldn’t that follow for animals? It seems to be an arbitrary line in the sand done out of habit that is drawn at species.
- Suffering: All animals – this includes humans – suffer when put in shoddy conditions or when they’re bludgeoned to death. To cause unnecessary suffering is to commit a terribly unethical act. The most obvious, yet most potent, argument.
“Their pain ought to count just as much as the pain of a human being where it’s a similar amount of pain,” Singer says in the below video.
Another interesting argument from Singer is that with the amount of land and grain we use to raise animals, we lose space to grow plants that could potentially feed more people across the world for less money.
My question: Are there any ethical arguments in favor of eating meat?
I seem to recall a couple of pro-small farm arguments within Pollan’s book. If we get rid of factory farming, we’d get rid of a lot of the awful treatment of animals. An argument that I can recall having sway with me was that even if we were to completely stop raising meat altogether, we’d still be killing many animals in farming the plants. Perhaps I’m getting the argument wrong – someone please chime in and correct me if so – but it now looks like a bit of a “perfect is the enemy of good” argument.
My struggle in reading Singer is that I have trouble detaching the immorality of eating meat from conviviality of dinners out with family and friends. Early in his argument, Singer asks readers to not think as a meat-eater, but I find this rather hard to do. I associate a lot of joy with eating meat. Like I said, we do it out of habit, but part of that habit is likely due to certain parts of our brain lighting up with joy whenever we see a hamburger.
I find myself in a bit of a conundrum: I strive to live an ethical life, a life where I do the best that I can in all aspects of life. But meat is difficult. It makes me feel selfish to hang onto something so simple, but here I am.
What do you think? Is there a good reason to keep eating meat or is it simply a bad habit to break?
If you have any arguments in favor or against eating meat, I’d love to hear them.