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Discussion: Ethical Vegetarianism

Gary Childress

Student for and of life
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...the fact is that meat available from butchers and supermarkets comes from animals who were not treated with any real consideration at all while being reared. So we must ask ourselves, not; is it ever right to eat meat? but: is it right to eat this meat?

Peter Singer, "Animal Liberation: Vegetarianism as Protest", in Food For Thought: The Debate Over Eating Meat, Steve Sapontzis, ed. p. 115 (featured at Amazon.com)

Is Singer right? Is it immoral to eat the meat which typically appears on the shelves in our stores (most notably beef, chicken, or pork)? After reading some of the essays in Sapontzis' book I have been considering going vegetarian myself (although the book is a pretty objective collection of essays both for and against eating meat). At the very least I've been cutting back on the amount of meat I've been eating and switching more to other things.

One objection: Yes animals are treated horribly by the meat industry, but aren't animals also treated horribly in other parts of the food industry as well? Are chickens raised for eggs not essentially abused as well? What about cows raised for milk? Many of them go through similar calamities that meat animals do the only difference being that they are not ultimately killed for food. Take away meat, milk and eggs and what is left? Carrots and apples? Is that all we should eat are fruits and vegetables? It doesn't sound like a very appealing diet, at least to someone accustomed to meat and dairy products as I am.

What do others think about ethical vegetarianism?

 
I think vegetarians are stupid, vegans even more so.

All domesticated farm animals are alive because we eat them (edit: or have a use for them. However the number of animals we have for slaughter heavily outweighs the number of animals we have for extraction of goods). Without human intervention, they would meet similar fates of all other extinct animals.

Animal abuse is bad but the mishandling of livestock is not a reason to completely cut meat out of your diet when it is both highly beneficial for your body and in a larger sense more harmful to the animals.

I can understand if you do it because you CAN'T eat meat, but if you can there is no reason not to besides buying into a false sense of morality that doesn't exist/is heavily flawed. Want to help animals? Purchase from trusted sources. A lot of small butcheries get their animals from local farms or free range plots, and also feed them with grain and other more natural feed instead of being injected with hormones and being forced into a rather claustrophobic cage.
 
IMO the environmental impact of factory meat production is a better reason for vegetarianism than the poor treatment of animals.

Take away meat, milk and eggs and what is left? Carrots and apples? Is that all we she eat are fruits and vegetables? It doesn't sound like a very appealing diet, at least to someone accustomed to meat and dairy products as I am.

I mostly stopped buying meat several months ago. It's a bit weird at first, when you're used to basing your meals around animal products, but I got used to cooking without pretty quickly. Unless you have a very limited culinary repertoire to begin with, the vast majority of ingredients are not animal products.

I think vegetarians are stupid, vegans even more so.

People who are vegetarian in order to save money are stupid? :hmm:
 
All domesticated farm animals are alive because we eat them (edit: or have a use for them. However the number of animals we have for slaughter heavily outweighs the number of animals we have for extraction of goods). Without human intervention, they would meet similar fates of all other extinct animals.

I had thought of this too in my paper, however, the argument which came to my mind was this: Suppose you lived in a world where some superior creature bred you on a farm and used you for food. Maybe some superior alien race or something. You are kept in a cage, given surgery without anesthesia, forced to have young, and then sent to a slaugherhouse at a young age where you know something bad is about to happen to you. One day you go to your master and say, "how can you do this to sentient beings who know and feel pain and suffering." Your master replies, "If we did not raise you for food, your pitiful little species would become extinct in our world. Therefore it is for your best that we do this and it is perfectly fine." I would think we would reject such an argument as unfounded, though there's nothing you could do about it anyway except hope that your master extends rights to you.


I can understand if you do it because you CAN'T eat meat, but if you can there is no reason not to besides buying into a false sense of morality that doesn't exist/is heavily flawed. Want to help animals? Purchase from trusted sources. A lot of small butcheries get their animals from local farms or free range plots, and also feed them with grain and other more natural feed instead of being injected with hormones and being forced into a rather claustrophobic cage.

From the same book mentioned above:
It is not practically possible to rear animals for food on a large scale without inflicting considerable suffering. Even if intensive methods are not used, traditional farming involves castration, separation of mother and young, breaking up social groups, branding, trnsportation to the slaughterhouse, and finally slaughter itself. It is difficult to imagine how animals could be reared for food wihtout these forms of suffering. (Singer, p. 115)
 
I was a vegetarian for many years, and originally for ethical reasons. Over time my position has become more nuanced and I don't think it's as clear-cut as I once did.

On the one hand, as a Buddhist I make an effort to follow the precept of avoiding harm to living beings. Even if I don't kill the animals myself, my willingness to eat meat is a contributing factor in their suffering because they wouldn't be killed if the demand weren't there. I'm also concerned about the raising of animals for food for ecological reasons. It's generally much more resource-intensive to produce a pound of meat than a pound of, say, legumes. (One reason why vegetarianism is cheaper.) The global demand for beef in particular has had a huge impact on the environment, especially in places like Brazil where it's a major factor in deforestation.

However, I'm not dogmatic about any of this. The reality is, all food production results in harm to living beings. Male calves born on dairy farms still usually end up in the slaughterhouse. Even something like harvesting vegetables results either directly or indirectly in the death of numerous insects and other small critters.

These days, I eat a little meat, if it's served to me. Mostly this is out of regard for my wife, who still does most of the cooking and has a hard enough time pleasing everybody without me adding the burden of being a vegetarian. But when I eat out or cook for myself, I still eat vegetarian except for the occasional oily fish for health reasons. I do think it's possible for most people to have a healthy diet with little or no meat consumption, and that we'd mostly be better served if we ate less of it. But I'm not going to claim that eating meat is unethical in and of itself.
 
All domesticated farm animals are alive because we eat them (edit: or have a use for them. However the number of animals we have for slaughter heavily outweighs the number of animals we have for extraction of goods). Without human intervention, they would meet similar fates of all other extinct animals.
That is true, but does our good deed to have them alive in the first place justify our bad deed to slaughter them, to raise them under terrible conditions, to physically abuse them?
Would you say that because I am responsible for giving life to a human being, I am justified in physically abusing it? In killing it? That someone else was "stupid" to complain about it, if I only would enable the children to be born once I can kill it as I like?

If not, what we do with say chicken can not be argued to be justified either. So morally speaking, a vegetarian is in principle right to complain about that. But I emphasize in principle, because you still are completely right in arguing that the chicken - unless really filled with misery - in the end still profits from us raising livestock to eat. As a consequence, I actually agree with you in so far as that while the vegetarian has in principle morality on his side, in the context of what can actually be expected to happen, trying to put an end to raising livestock to eat will mean a net harm for those animals we eat and hence defeats the purpose of being vegetarian to begin with.

On the other hand, to argue with the hypothetical existence or non-existence of living beings is a dangerous road. It has many unpleasant implications when thought until the end. Because it will reduce all morality to a question of quantity of living feeling beings, overshadowing any other legitimate concern. And frankly, I think we are all too selfish to have a go at that. So I am not convinced that one should argue that way to begin with other than to arbitrarily advantage different groups of living beings.
So from that point of view, I actually don't agree with you.
 
The reality is, all food production results in harm to living beings. Male calves born on dairy farms still usually end up in the slaughterhouse. Even something like harvesting vegetables results either directly or indirectly in the death of numerous insects and other small critters.

In a sense arent the deaths of the critters that would take away our vegetables, "necessary". Eating meat OTOH is not necessary (from what I understand) to have a healthy diet. Plus the critters that eat our vegetables live pretty much normal instinctive lives and are not put through the same ordeals as our domesticated food animals. Note, hunting animals for food by hunters may not be as bad as raising animals for food either.
 
Rather than being a vegetarian, I prefer to simply buy meat/eggs/etc. with the stickers showing they have adequate treatments of the animals it came from.
 
On the other hand, to argue with the hypothetical existence or non-existence of living beings is a dangerous road. It has many unpleasant implications when thought until the end. Because it will reduce all morality to a question of quantity of living feeling beings, overshadowing any other legitimate concern. And frankly, I think we are all too selfish to have a go at that. So I am not convinced that one should argue that way to begin with other than to arbitrarily advantage different groups of living beings.
So from that point of view, I actually don't agree with you at all.

Sometimes hypotheticals help us understand things better or put things in a more understandable perspective. It is said that Einstien stumbled onto relatively by imagining what it would be like to ride on a wave of light (something no one will nor ever can do). Does that make relativity any less accurate?
 
People who are vegetarian in order to save money are stupid? :hmm:

If you're in trouble financially I can understand the switch. I was more so referring to an ideal situation where you have free reign on what you can eat.

I had thought of this too in my paper, however, the argument which came to my mind was this: Suppose you lived in a world where some superior creature bred you on a farm and used you for food. Maybe some superior alien race or something. You are kept in a cage, given surgery without anesthesia, forced to have young, and then sent to a slaugherhouse at a young age where you know something bad is about to happen to you. One day you go to your master and say, "how can you do this to sentient beings who know and feel pain and suffering." Your master replies, "If we did not raise you for food, your pitiful little species would become extinct in our world. Therefore it is for your best that we do this and it is perfectly fine." I would think we would reject such an argument as unfounded, though there's nothing you could do about it anyway except hope that your master extends rights to you.

Two things:

i. Cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chicken, etc are all heavily domesticated creatures that have no form of sentience. The several thousand year domestication has heavily stunted their desire and genetic urge to evolve their genes. The cow today is incredibly similar to the cow from 3000 years ago.

At this point, the only evolving done in these species is through hormones injected by humans in order to get a 'better' meat product.

ii. I do not support mishandling of livestock in any shape or form. Abuse should be sought after and persecuted fully. Your scenario is entirely based on the concept that cows are sentient and that the abuse is comparative although it is not. I really do not know what else to say to that since the scenario falls apart with the simple fact that livestock isn't sentient.

From the same book mentioned above:

I live in rural Ontario and I have never seen any of this done besides the slaughter transport. There was one farm here that branded their cows but they ran out of business and sold all their cows at a discount price to neighbouring farms. You could say that farmers where I live are heavily in support of not being a douchebag to your livestock.

Farmers elsewhere might "traditionally" do that but they are wrong in it. The worst cows from around here live with is the plastic tag that is put into their ear for identification.

Also worth mentioning, since I know a likely response of yours to this will include something along the lines of "factory farming will be unfeasible that way", is that I support producing meat in a vat which is becoming more and more a future reality. It would halve the space required for livestock while keeping the population alive. I made a thread on this a while back.

That is true, but does our good deed to have them alive in the first place justify our bad deed to slaughter them, to raise them under terrible conditions, to physically abuse them?
Would you say that because I am responsible for giving life to a human being, I am justified in physically abusing it? In killing it? That someone else was "stupid" to complain about it, if I only would enable the children to be born once I can kill it as I like?

If not, what we do with say chicken can not be argued to be justified either. So morally speaking, a vegetarian is in principle right to complain about that. But I emphasize in principle, because you still are completely right in arguing that the chicken - unless really filled with misery - in the end still profits from us raising livestock to eat. As a consequence, I actually agree with you in so far as that while the vegetarian has in principle morality on his side, in the context of what can actually be expected to happen, trying to put an end to raising livestock to eat will mean a net harm for those animals we eat and hence defeats the purpose of being vegetarian to begin with.

On the other hand, to argue with the hypothetical existence or non-existence of living beings is a dangerous road. It has many unpleasant implications when thought until the end. Because it will reduce all morality to a question of quantity of living feeling beings, overshadowing any other legitimate concern. And frankly, I think we are all too selfish to have a go at that. So I am not convinced that one should argue that way to begin with other than to arbitrarily advantage different groups of living beings.
So from that point of view, I actually don't agree with you at all.

No, it doesn't justify it. If it were up to me all livestock would be treated well and given enough room to at least enjoy their short time on Earth. This is both unfeasible in a space sense and illogical in a human sense. This is why I would much rather have abuse lessened and vat meat improved upon so that everything involving the slaughter of livestock will no longer be a "bad deed".

Humans are omnivores and our bodies are made for it. Saying "sod off" to a half of our species because you feel bad for eating an animal is, well, stupid. There is nothing wrong in killing a weaker and less advanced creature as long as you aren't a douche about it (abuse, slow slaughter, etc). This is why hunters throughout the ages trained hard to be capable of killing a creature both quick and with the least amount of pain possible. A dirty kill meant you made a creature unnecessarily suffer, and that's a bad thing.
 
I'm not a vegetarian, but I try to eat mostly plants instead of meat. When I do buy meat, I try to get the grass fed beef or free range chicken. There's Buffalo on the market in some places too. The main problem I see with livestock going forward is that it takes a lot of grain to feed them if they aren't being grass fed. You could feed a lot of people on the grain it takes to grow one cow.
 
Why exactly is it now "stupid" to think that taking a life is wrong, even though if done in a painless way? That a being is weaker and less advanced (never mind what that actually means) seems very insufficient to explain so. As is the fact that we humans profit from eating meat.

If you needlessly take a life it is wrong. If you take a life because you need to eat and your body is made to eat what you just killed, I'm not sure where the problem comes from. You can easily have a "healthy" diet while not eating any meat but that is simply removing the omnivore from us and turning our species into a herbivore. Being an omnivore is an advantage that is something we shouldn't exactly be striving to remove.
 
Two things:

i. Cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chicken, etc are all heavily domesticated creatures that have no form of sentience. The several thousand year domestication has heavily stunted their desire and genetic urge to evolve their genes. The cow today is incredibly similar to the cow from 3000 years ago.

ii. I do not support mishandling of livestock in any shape or form. Abuse should be sought after and persecuted fully. Your scenario is entirely based on the concept that cows are sentient and that the abuse is comparative although it is not. I really do not know what else to say to that since the scenario falls apart with the simple fact that livestock isn't sentient.

I'm not saying they are on par with humans in sentience but my understanding from reading I have done is that they appear capable of feeling pain and suffering nonetheless. No one seems to have yet bred the ability to suffer and feel pain out of these creatures. In fact pigs are said to be quite sophisticated animals that appear to know that something bad is afoot when they are being forced into the line for slaughter.


I live in rural Ontario and I have never seen any of this done besides the slaughter transport. There was one farm here that branded their cows but they ran out of business and sold all their cows at a discount price to neighbouring farms. You could say that farmers where I live are heavily in support of not being a douchebag to your livestock.

Farmers elsewhere might "traditionally" do that but they are wrong in it. The worst cows from around here live with is the plastic tag that is put into their ear for identification.

If animals are truly treated well by the producers in your area and that is what you eat then I might have to emigrate to where you are if I want to continue to conscientiously eat meat. That doesn't sound bad to me. Like I say deer hunting is probably more humane than factory farming. Deer get to live out fairly normal lives in the wild and most hunters are very conscientious about how they kill them to minimize suffering. My dad is a hunter and his policy has always been "1 shot, 1 kill". I myself don't hunt but I can certainly see it as being less abusive.
 
i. Cows, pigs, goats, sheep, chicken, etc are all heavily domesticated creatures that have no form of sentience. The several thousand year domestication has heavily stunted their desire and genetic urge to evolve their genes. The cow today is incredibly similar to the cow from 3000 years ago.

i. There is no good way of proving that, so don't use it as a point.
 
IMO the environmental impact of factory meat production is a better reason for vegetarianism than the poor treatment of animals.

My thoughts exactly. And not only that, but the meat that we eat today does more harm to our bodies in the long run than if we didn't eat meat and instead went to a more vegetarian diet. That being said, I still eat meat.
 
That being said, I still eat meat.

I do as well. Getting off meat entirely can be a bit like quitting smoking perhaps. My hope is that by cutting back it will lessen the demand a little and do a little bit of justice. OTOH, I have also thought of trying to track down humanely bred meat products. That might be a step in the right direction. But yes it's difficult to cut meat out completely. And like I stated above, what about dairy products? Animals raised for dairy are sometimes kept in cages or mistreated in horrendous ways as well. We live in a world largely not of our own making nor are we able to easily shape it to our desires. But every little bit helps I'm sure.
 
I'm not saying they are on par with humans in sentience but my understanding from reading I have done is that they appear capable of feeling pain and suffering nonetheless. No one seems to have yet bred the ability to suffer and feel pain out of these creatures. In fact pigs are said to be quite sophisticated animals that appear to know that something bad is afoot when they are being forced into the line for slaughter.

I agree with you on this. Abusers of livestock should get their rights to handle animals removed and lifestyle of factory farm livestock should also be altered. No argument from me there.

If animals are truly treated well by the producers in your area and that is what you eat then I might have to emigrate to where you are if I want to continue to conscientiously eat meat. That doesn't sound bad to me. Like I say deer hunting is probably more humane than factory farming. Deer get to live out fairly normal lives in the wild and most hunters are very conscientious about how they kill them to minimize suffering. My dad is a hunter and his policy has always been "1 shot, 1 kill". I myself don't hunt but I can certainly see it as being less abusive.

I am sure there are plenty of good farms in America too (that is where you live, right?) but if I recall correctly more factory farms are located there than anywhere else in the world. In fact, I know someone that owns a chicken farm, and they handle 20, 000 chickens daily, all in a good environment. Not free range, but their pens are large enough for them to move around, not abused, and the only time they come under physical pain is if they attack each other.

I'm not arguing against changing the policy on abuse towards livestock and their living conditions.

i. There is no good way of proving that, so don't use it as a point.

:confused: Is this a serious point?
 
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