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The Awareness/Meat-Eating Disconnect

June 26, 2013

Here’s a reader writing to Andrew Sullivan’s Dish blog:

You’re completely correct about what will be viewed as the “barbarous and unimaginable” treatment of animals. Coming from the mind of perhaps one of the “new atheists” you’ve been profiling lately, I believe waste to be one of few true sins. It betrays a lack of appreciation, a failure to understand the interconnected nature of all things in the world, and a selfish hedonism that is driving our species (and others) towards some very unpleasant places. Furthermore, the careless waste of meat – of animals that (in the overwhelmingly vast majority of cases) we ourselves brought into being only to live horrendous lives of invisible suffering and leave a trail of environmental damage, simply for our unthinking momentary pleasure – is especially disgraceful.

Excellent start, right?

But then comes this:

I’m not vegan/vegetarian, nor do I believe it is unethical to eat meat or to raise animals specifically for consumption. But I choose to eat meat judiciously, from better sources whenever possible, and more consciously. The current system is so profoundly wrong that I’m not sure it’s possible to be an honest and compassionate human being without changing our dietary behavior or to continue living with blinders on to the issue. We can, and must, do better.

Hmm. If the treatment is “barbarous and unimaginable” then how can ANY meat consumption be viewed as an ethical choice. I see this all the time: people (like Mark Bittman, for example) who appreciate the fact that our meat industry is built on animal suffering that is monstrous in scale (not to mention the environmental destruction), but can’t quite bring themselves to let go of meat. I guess the meat culture is that powerful.

That means a turn away from meat and meat production will be a long and frustrating process. Which will impose additional costs on animals, and the planet, and human health. But I do take encouragement from the fact that the consensus view of the meat industry increasingly is that it is horrific in its treatment of animals. Once that is completely understood and accepted as the reality, it is only a matter of time before even the most committed meat eater realizes that the only truly ethical response is to stop eating meat. Less meat is better, of course. But no meat is the only way to live in a way that doesn’t impose terrible suffering on nonhuman animals, or contribute enormous inputs of carbon to the climate change disaster.

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