Friday, April 27, 2012

Why Not? Because You Don't Have To: Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat

After my entry was blown out of the water in Our Hen House's Why It's Unethical to Eat Meat contest, I decided to honor it on my own blog. I think we should all post our own take on it, no matter how poor you think your writing or persuasive skills are. If nothing else, you'll gain a deeper understanding of your own philosophy... I did! By the way, I will be posting real blog entries as soon as I graduate successfully next week.

Why Not? Because You Don't Have To
Humans regularly do a lot of things they falsely believe are necessary. Those of us who know better just shake our heads most of the time, because these habits are not harmful. Who cares if people buy things they don’t need, or avoid discussions that they arbitrarily find embarrassing, or get vaccines for diseases they can almost doubtlessly avoid? They are not really hurting themselves or anyone else.

But every once in a while, a harmful behavior somehow becomes universal. A good deal of drivers put others at risk by multitasking on the road. Many people frequently use words that are hurtful to certain groups of people. And at every meal of every day, most people put onto their plate the flesh of an animal that lived an unbearable life and was killed long before it would have died naturally.

Of course, nearly everyone agrees that killing and torturing animals is wrong unless it is unavoidable. Most can even agree that letting a human die, or eating one, would not be wrong in very dire situations. And so most of the world eats meat because of one simple fact: they have inherited the belief that it is necessary for life as they know it.

But deep down, everyone knows that it is not necessary, at least not in the time and place where we live. Today, nearly everyone in Western cultures knows at least one healthy vegetarian, and probably a vegan too. If someone were to check the vital records of many vegetarians and meat-eaters, they would find similar lifespans across both types of diets—in fact, vegetarians even live slightly longer. Contrary to popular belief, meat does not naturally contain any vital nutrients that are not also found in plant foods.

“Okay, it may be healthy,” a meat-eater might say, “but a world of vegetarians would require a complete overhaul of our society and lifestyle.” I can concede that a fast (albeit unlikely) global transition to a vegetarian diet would require a lot more farm sanctuaries than we have now. And if we stop farming animals, it’s possible we will have to give up the idea of owning cats as pets because we will not be able to feed them adequately. But I can guarantee that we will never lose what everyone is really afraid of losing—our ability to create those food-related memories that everyone treasures: hearty feasts with our families around the holidays; quick, delicious snacks at a sports game; or breakfast-for-dinner at the diner on a lazy summer night. We can still enjoy our food in all of those situations, and any others we don’t want to give up. And the food on the table will still look and taste good; it will simply be different, in a way where we can feel good about it.

The simple reason meat is unethical is that it causes animals to suffer. This would be a necessary evil if we could not avoid it. But in most parts of the world we certainly can avoid it without becoming sick or unhappy or anything else we fear. To me, this is what makes vegetarianism a moral imperative. Everything else—a farm animal’s cognitive capacity, the health and environmental bonuses, and anything else the meat industry would try to skew in its favor—only detract from that basic truth.

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