I am an omnivore with a guilty conscience. What I mean by that is that I think that vegetarians and vegans have convincing arguments based on moral, ethical, economic, and climate reasoning that that is the way to live. But I have simply not had the will power to take the leap and switch over to that diet. Instead, I have taken the minimal step of reducing my meat consumption.
I am aware that some arguments have been advanced to justify meat eating based largely on the fact that it is an easy way to get proteins and a few essential vitamins and on a more specious argument that since our evolutionary history reveals that we were meat eaters from a long time back, that means that eating meat must provide some evolutionary benefit.
But I have never come across an argument that says that we should eat meat until I read this one that we actually owe it to animals to eat them.
If you care about animals, you should eat them. It is not just that you may do so, but you should do so. In fact, you owe it to animals to eat them. It is your duty. Why? Because eating animals benefits them and has benefitted them for a long time. Breeding and eating animals is a very long-standing cultural institution that is a mutually beneficial relationship between human beings and animals. We bring animals into existence, care for them, rear them, and then kill and eat them. From this, we get food and other animal products, and they get life. Both sides benefit. I should say that by ‘animals’ here, I mean nonhuman animals. It is true that we are also animals, but we are also more than that, in a way that makes a difference.
It is true that the practice does not benefit an animal at the moment we eat it. The benefit to the animal on our dinner table lies in the past. Nevertheless, even at that point, it has benefitted by its destiny of being killed and eaten. The existence of that animal, and animals of its kind, depends on human beings killing and eating animals of that kind. Domesticated animals exist in the numbers they do only because there is a practice of eating them.
However, the big negative, for many people is climate, and the effects, mostly, of cattle burping and farting. Does not climate give us reason to be vegetarian or vegan? Well, since the problem mostly comes from cows, one option would be to move to eating other kinds of animals in greater numbers. Moreover, the climate damage is mostly due to very intensive factory farming, which I do not defend because the animals do not have good lives. Indeed, the evidence is that small-scale farming in which animals have good lives does not harm the environment much, and it may even benefit it.
I don’t buy it. The argument seems to rest on a kind of utilitarian logic that says that the pleasure that animals that are bred for slaughter get from living good lives before they die more than compensates for the fact that they are deliberately killed to be eaten by humans. It also seems to suggest that ‘not being born’ is worse than being born and then prematurely killed, provided one has a good life while alive.
That seems specious to me. I don’t think that one can assign a value to ‘not being born’ and compare that to ‘having a good life’ to arrive at some net score. Both are immeasurable entities. The author goes on to try and and argue in great detail why humans should be excluded from this calculus.
When I first come across articles like this that seem to advance what seems like a preposterous premise, my first impulse is to check if it is April 1 or, failing that, if it appeared on a parody site or was written by a humorist. None of them apply here, as far as I can tell. I can only conclude that the author has a strongly contrarian streak.