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Is Meat Immoral?

September 4, 2011

Welcome to the second installment of The Question at Carleton College. Our Question for this term is "Is Meat Immoral"? and we've asked our EthIC's associates to kick-off the discussion with their reflections on this question, which invites reflection on animal suffering, the nature of predation, food policy and health-related issues.

We encourage you to join the discussion with comments or questions of your own. There are various events happening this term, and early next term, related to The Question, and food ethics more generally. Be sure to check out the EthIC calendar and consider "liking" us on Facebook.

Max Bearak '12

About a year ago I was watching a documentary on primates narrated by Sir David Attenborough. He described how most primates were naturally vegetarian, but some scavenged meat if the opportunity arose, or if other food was particularly scarce. The film then switched to a clip of a gang of chimpanzees who he described as not needing to eat meat, but engaging in a hunt as a bonding ritual and as a show of power. In the context of evolution, I see this type of behaviour as a key juncture, if not the key juncture in the development of what we vaguely refer to as "human nature."

What I mean by that is that we take because we can. The question "Is meat immoral?" stretches beyond your choice of food – it touches on consumerism, materialism and excess in general. Do we need meat to survive? Clearly not, as millions of vegetarians and vegans can attest to. Do most Americans need half of the things in their houses to survive? No, again, and the slippery slope I'm sliding down here ends with each one of us living the utmost minimalistic life in which we only consume what we need. Barring minor examples, isn't that what the rest of the animal kingdom does, though? To me, meat isn't immoral to the Inuit family that, without meat, has little or nothing to subsist on. But I know that I eat copious amounts of bacon for instance, even though I know that the pigs I'm eating were processed in a manner that deeply offends my moral conscience. That's immoral — so in other words I do immoral things and continue living my life without hesitation. 

Perhaps meat is just one of many — thousands probably — immoral indulgences that I partake in almost every day. But we're embedded inextricably in a society that is moving toward a moral consensus that assures us that consumerism and materialism and excess are human rights and the trademark of development. In my heart of hearts, all of that is immoral in some way. We're all hoarding, and sometimes it makes us happy, and many of us believe that happiness is what this life is all about. Three cheers to our utilitarian methods at reaching satisfaction! If it’s a bit unethical, or immoral, well who cares, we're manufacturing happiness, right? But when someone goes off and lives that minimalistic life and is just as happy if not happier — others will probably see that person as either poor, depressed, or even crazy. Prove me wrong, or keep strolling with me down the path of willful immorality.  

Hannah Kyle '12

I do not believe that meat is generally immoral. To ask this question is a luxury; by that I mean that it is a luxury to be able to choose what food we eat.

Where I grew up, there are many people who cannot afford to eat what I would consider “moral meat,” meat that has been killed or prepared humanely. We have enough food that we are able to choose what we eat, and not only what we eat, but to consider other factors like food production in the food we choose.

Because it is a privilege to be able to ask a question like this, I do not think it is immoral to eat meat; we live in a reality where many people are only able to survive by eating meat. 

Henry Neuwirth '13

Almost all of the meat that I eat is immoral. Whether I'm at the supermarket, on a Sayles sofa, or at my kitchen table, I almost never conceptualize the animals I'm eating. Unquestionably, my inability to face reality enables a terrible process.  The animals I eat are usually factory farmed and raised under terrible conditions. The farms that raise them probably pay their workers almost nothing and create enormous pollution. Much of the meat I consume probably also travels long distances to get to me — I'm sure the meat I eat in a given week is responsible for many tons of greenhouse gas emissions. I haven't taken any considerable steps towards understanding America's meat industry, but I do know that with every bite of chicken I have people and animals suffer.

So the meat I eat is immoral. Therefore, meat can be immoral. But the EthIC prompt really asks if all meat is immoral. Most of us think that if you are going to kill an animal it is good to eat it. The deer hunter that kills, and then uses, a deer is better than the deer hunter who kills for a thrill and then leaves the deer to die. And so, in a way, we are really asking if it is ever okay to kill an animal. Pretty much everyone has killed an animal at one point or another. Most of us eat meat. Even if we don't most of us will occasionally kill a mosquito. And even if we don't do that, we probably use a non-recyclable straw that ends up choking a fish somewhere. And even if we don't do that we've definitely been in a car or a plane that has indirectly contributed to the death of a polar bear, or another animal that has died from climate change.

It is impossible to be a member of contemporary American society without killing animals. For those people that do care about animal's lives, some animal murders are more okay than others. It is usually considered better to kill an animal accidentally than purposefully. A person on an airplane kills more ethically than the boy with the magnifying glass on the anthill. It is also usually considered better to take a small life than a big one. Killing an mosquito is not as bad as killing a lion. Our dependence on killing animals does not prove that eating meat is okay; just because everyone is doing it doesn't mean it's right. However, it does suggest that vilifying meat eating is beside the point.

The true problem is not that we kill animals, but that we don't respect them. Instead of being scared to conceptualize the animals I eat, I should know where they came from (perhaps kill them myself) and think of them with love.

Links of Interest

Statistics on the number of animals slaughtered in the United States in 2000

Interview with philosopher Jeff McMahan on eating animals

Rethinking the Meat Guzzler


  • September 12 2011 at 8:15 am
    Daniel Groll

    Thanks Hannah, Max and Henry for kicking off an interesting discussion. What struck me most was that both Max and Henry said something like, "I *know* that eating the meat I do is immoral because of how it is raised, but I'm still eating it. Shame on me!" I am sympathetic to this, because I find myself saying it a lot too! Why is this? Is it that we don't really believe that the meat we're eating is immoral? Or are we all just suffering from weakness of will?

    A separate question for those of us that think that much of the meat we eat is immoral: do we think this mostly (or entirely) because of the *way* the animals we consume have lived? Or do we also think it's true in part because of the fact that we're depriving the animals of life?

  • September 12 2011 at 6:32 pm
    Jaye Lawrence

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as I embark on a month-long experiment to eat a vegan diet at home...a decision I made not so much for philosophical reasons, but simply to make a decisive and dramatic break from some bad eating habits.

    I don't think the simple act of eating meat is immoral, no. I'm an animal. Part of the food chain. Animals eat animals every day. If it's not inherently immoral for a lion to eat a gazelle, or an owl to eat a mouse, then it's not immoral for me to eat a bacon cheeseburger. (Although I suppose one could argue that I have a lot more options than a lion or gazelle.)

    But I have trouble with the extent to which meat has become the centerpiece of the American diet, and the gluttonous and excessive quantities of it we consume. So far past "need," so far into "greed," with a truly unhealthy imbalance in the amount of meat vs. plant products that we consume. It's not good for our bodies or our planet. The sheer cost of those decisions--in land, in water, in energy, in fuel, in the medical consequences of a high-fat meat-centered diet--is just staggering.

    It is that vast demand that spawns the factory farms where animals live in confinement, eat unnatural diets, get loaded with growth hormones and antibiotics, etc. In the quantities we eat meat, it's impossible for our insatiable demand to be met any other way. The small, local, free-range organic farm is a wonderful thing, but it isn't a model that scales well enough to satisfy the American appetite for meat.

    When I'm being flippant about it, I say, "I would feel better about eating meat if I knew it lived happy and died gently." 

    When I really want to make myself crazy, I ask questions like, "Is it worse to eat chicken than beef, since they are so much smaller that more lives are lost to feed my meat habit? If I'm going to eat meat at all, should I eat meat that comes from the biggest animal possible, so that I minimize the number of sentient lives lost per pounds of meat consumed?"

    But if I'm going to go that far down the rabbithole, I should probably just stick with this vegan diet and be done with it!

  • September 12 2011 at 8:23 pm
    Eli Robiner
    All of you make good arguments and insightful observations and I don't necessarily disagree with your propositions; I just think about the question differently. Henry started touching on one of the complexities of this question when he wrote about the many negative consequences, which result from current meat processes. That complexity is that this question is really the sum of many sub-questions. To ask "is meat immoral?" necessitates that we raise moral queries surrounding all of the elements involved in all meat production, transportation, and consumption methods. While certain methods (such as slaughtering naturally-fed animals, while paying workers decent wages and using environmentally-friendly means to package and ship the meat) are less ethically objectionable than others (such as slaughtering hormone-fed animals, while exploiting workers and choosing to transport the meat without giving thought to consequent environmental implications), they all share one component: humans choosing to end the life of an organism. In other words, while most meat that makes it to the plate intersects at some point with an immoral practice (which therefore automatically makes that meat immoral because the consumer is, consciously or unconsciously, contributing to an immoral practice), all meat used to be an animal. So, we can successfully answer the question, "is meat immoral?" (with a resounding “YES!”) if we can prove that it is never ethical to consciously end the life of a fellow mortal. The problem is that we cannot even do that because it raises a host of circumstantial questions. "But what if a human needs to kill an animal to survive? Ten humans? What if the animal’s species is overpopulated?” Ultimately, this question raises even more questions and does not lend itself to an objective answer. Nevertheless, it is good food for thought. Even after 299 words of exploration, I’m still famished.
  • September 12 2011 at 8:53 pm
    Matt Zekowski
    Is meat immoral? No. What meat is-- the flesh of an animal used as food for another animal-- does not suggest any immoral actions, it is survival of the fittest. Lions are built that way. We to an extent are built that way. Hunter-gatherers need meat to survive. But meat eating in most of today's society is incredibly immoral solely because we eat meat unnecessarily. We can survive as vegetarians (and be much healthier), so why aren't we all? If you don't object to the moral implications of killing a pig for food, then you surely will object to the way that millions of animals are factory farmed and live a life of suffering before they are killed. Humans are aware of the intelligence of animals and the joy they can give us. PIgs are just as smart as our dogs, cows have social circles and have complex relationships with other cows. We are all, in the end, a member of the kingdom Animalia. We know better, and if people considered the moral consequences of eating that ham sandwich, there would be less suffering.
  • September 12 2011 at 9:04 pm
    Woody Kaine

    So here's the thing that pops out to me when considering this argument: living means killing, no matter how you look at it.  As humans we aren't equipped for photosynthesis; we have to eat to survive, and that means taking something else's life.  Eli raised the question of ending the life of a fellow mortal, meaning fellow animals, but plants are living things too.  Ultimately this question seems to be a debate about evolutionary issues. 

    The principle of altruism says we favor organisms that are like us more than those that are not, with our preference descending as the organisms grow more dissimilar from ourselves.  So we think first of ourselves obviously, then our family, then members of our tribe or race, then species, than genus or whatever comes next.  I'm no biologist but the point is that eating/killing vegetables seems better than eating/killing animals because we are ourselves animals.  This principle affects meat-eaters as well as vegetarians.  Eating monkeys is pretty frowned upon, they look like little humans after all!  Even when we are already committed to eating an animal, we still seem to adhere to this principle.  We cook lobsters by boiling them alive, but can you imagine doing this to a cow?  Even if you ignore the logistical or culinary problems the answer is still no. 

    So here’s the main moral question I arrive at: do we have an obligation to be good Darwinists, to strictly adhere to the principle of altruism?  I’m not sure we do.  I believe very strongly in altruism towards those of my own species, but once you cross that line things get very hazy, and the idea of a ladder of life importance, i.e. humans, primates, mammals, amphibians, fish, etc. seems ridiculous to me.  Should birds be more or less important than amphibians?  Where in the ladder can we begin eating?  I’m not convinced I have a moral responsibility to favor the life of a fish over the life of some grass.  After all, both are equally alive. At the same time, I’m not planning on eating any monkeys.

    The argument that meat is decadent when considering the hunger of many humans is a compelling one, but seems to be a secondary issue.  Meat as the world stands now may very well be immoral, but I don’t think it is inherently immoral.

  • September 12 2011 at 9:26 pm
    Eric Handler
    During my time at Carleton I was often perceived as a contrarian in some of my more liberal artsy classes, because as I have been told quite a few times, CS folk think differently about the world. However I think I can bring an interesting perspective to this discussion as over the last 6 months I have lived an almost vegetarian lifestyle in a very successful weight loss project (50 lbs so far). I've learned a lot about health, dieting and food consumption in America during this time period. I think my weight problem was spawned by meat and what I have been calling the high "calorie density" of meat. A healthy serving of meat in terms of calories will leave me feeling famished, while the same number of calories in vegetables is a daunting food challenge. This touches on the over consumption of meat of in American society, which I'd like to think is an educational issue, rather than a moral one. However, my contrarian "training" makes we want to ask about the impact of my going vegetarian in a moral sense to the health of our world. I know that the supermarkets are shipping vegetables and fruit from around the globe to make sure I don't notice the reality that different kinds of produce are available at different times of the year. This creates hundreds if not thousands of pounds of pollution that I believe will have a tremondous impact on the generations to come. I could buy local and organic, but that seems as opulent as local and humanely raised animals. Should the impact of my choices on the lives of future generations of humans be considered equal in a moral sense to the lives of sentient and often cute animals? Can a clear answer to the morality of eating meat exist when comparing the treatment of animals to the treatment of the globe? I guess, my thoughts on this issue boil down to a question: How does food morality come into our modern lives as we clearly no longer live as hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers?
  • September 13 2011 at 1:22 am
    Davis Kingsley

    I would say that there are certainly some moral concerns involved with eating meat. However none of these are related to meat itself, but rather to the methods involved in the production of meat and the negative externalities that go along with that (animal cruelty, pollution, inefficient food resource expenditure, etc.). Thankfully, this is one moral problem that will eventually be solved by technology. Synthetic meat has now been produced in a laboratory setting, and-- if we can get beyond our initial disgust and unease at the concept-- this technology may resolve the moral issues currently involved with meat production and make meat more cheaply available to boot.

  • September 13 2011 at 12:45 pm
    Simone Childs-Walker

    I care deeply about the environmental, social, health, and ethical issues that others have raised surrounding industrial meat production and the excessive consumption of meat in the United States and elsewhere. However, I do not believe that eating meat is immoral. Over millennia, the agricultural relationship between humans and animals has developed in such a way that raising animals for meat can be a beneficial, natural process when the right practices are used. Grass-fed livestock provides manure and maintains balance within pasture ecosystems. Poultry and pigs – when not fed industrially produced corn - consume what would otherwise be waste, adding to the efficiency of energy (calorie) production. Such holistic meat production is a key feature of biodynamic farming and is practiced today by many sustainable farmers (look up Joel Salatin if you’re interested).  Yes, even animals raised under these conditions must be killed to be eaten; but as Woody wrote, “living means killing” and I see nothing wrong with killing done in the slaughterhouse, if it is done with respect.

    Henry pointed out that the real problem is that we don’t respect the animals we eat. I agree, and would go on to say that most people don’t respect the food they eat, in general. As Eric mentioned, the environmental and social problems (climate change, workers’ rights) extend beyond meat production to most aspects of the industrial food system. I personally feel an ethical obligation to be conscientious about all of my food choices, especially since I am fortunate enough to have the resources to make choices about what I eat.

    I do eat meat, though not often, and when I do I make sure that it is local, grass fed/free range, etc…  I have slaughtered and eaten the chickens I raised in my own backyard, and this experience reinforced my belief that eating meat is not only ethically permissible but also sacred, as a root of our (human) connection with the natural world. People are uniquely capable of living conscientiously, and I believe that we should realize our capacity for thoughtfulness and consideration in our interactions with the natural world – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat – just as we should in our interactions with fellow human beings.

  • September 13 2011 at 3:33 pm
    Jabari Jones

    I agree with a multitude of things that have been said in the discussion. The first being that this question spawns many others when you attempt to answer it. But my interest in this topic began a while ago when I was making a joke about Muslims not being able to eat pork. It sounds horribly offensive and insensitive out of context, but was an accepted tradition around the Muslim friends that I had. Anyway, it led me down the train of thought questioning whether or not people value the lives of the things we eat and whether or not life is intrinsically valuable. Several people have noted the conflict of whether eating smaller animals was somehow more ethical and just this week I heard people discussing their reluctance to eat more intelligent animals. But the question that I think those thoughts really begs is whether or not life in general has any value. Even people that are vegetarians have to eat living things in order to survive. So how do people make the distinctions about what types of living things are okay to eat and what are not? Who are humans to decide what life is valuable and what is not? 

  • September 13 2011 at 8:29 pm
    Christopher Bickel

    I tend to agree with Max Bearak in the sense that "immorality" is embedded into our society and is pretty much inescapable. But where I differ is in my view of what is immoral or not. Morality itself is subjective, so from person to person meat-eating can exist as a perfectly acceptable practice whereas with others it could be taboo. I could care less whether someone eats meat or not, and I respect their decision either way. I think it's nice that some people want to change the world and save animals, but I personally do not care. I have watched the PETA videos and whatnot but I still do not think eating meat is immoral. If I had to be responsible for every atrocity in the world, whether it be eating meat, stopping genocide, or feeding the hungry, I wouldn't be able to function normally. If that makes me part of the problem, then so be it. The inconvenience of becoming vegetarian/vegan doesn't seem to justify what little affect it has on the myriad of injustices suffered by animals. If everyone shared the same "save the animals" mentality then I would certainly change my mind, but as it stands it simply is not compelling enough.

  • September 14 2011 at 8:28 am
    Daniel Groll

    A number of really interesting points have been raised so far. I want to summarize some of them and ask some questions for the benefit of people just coming to the conversation.

    Something like the following argument is floating around the comments:

    1) There's no good reason to think that killing an animal is worse than killing a vegetable.

    2) There's nothing wrong with killing a vegetable.

    3) So, there's nothing wrong with killing an animal.

    But  surely 1) is false! Many (though not all) animals can be said to *enjoy* their lives (or to have the capacity to enjoy their lives) in a way that vegetables cannot. Put another way, many animals experience life in a way that plants cannot. Isn't that enough to mark a morally important distinction between killing animals and killing plants?

    A number of people have said that if the animals are treated well, then there's nothing morally objectionable in actually killing them.

    My question, simply, is why not? We don't accept that reasoning when it comes to people, so why should we when it comes to animals? Isn't it morally bad to deprive something of positive future experiences?




  • September 14 2011 at 12:57 pm
    Angela Curran

    Hi Everyone,

    Great comments here, and thanks to Daniel and EthIC for getting the ball rolling with this great question! I hesitate to jump in here, although I have been a vegetarian for 30 years and a vegan for the last 15.The post asks about eating meat, but we could well expand it to wearing leather shoes, coats, and other practices in which an animal dies in order to provide human food or clothing. It feels uncomfortable weighing in, but since others are willing to share their thoughts, I feel I should try to do the same.

    I think Daniel is right that a basic question needs to be addressed: is it morally permissible to deprive non human animals of positive future experiences? The comments about human practices and it being ok to eat meat provided the animals are farmed to support the food chain do not really get at this issue.

    By analogy, no one would think it would be okay to kill a human being for food provided the farming practices used contributed to ecological health and balance--we would think that would not be nearly enough to off set the tremendous wrong done when we take a human life.

    Yes, we are part of the food chain. But unlike my cat, who does not and is not able to pause and reflect about its food choices, and just goes after the baby bunnies that are born each spring, humans DO have such an ability to pause and reflect on what they are eating and whether there are some other food options that do not involve taking sentient life.So personally I cannot accept that it is okay for humans to eat other animals because we are part of the food chain and this happens there all the time. In many ways, e.g. by the great stress we place on our ability to reason, we separate ourselves from other animals. So what is acceptable for other animals, e.g. my cat or the lion that eats the gazelle, should not be morally acceptable for us.

    Granted it may seem to be a luxury to even ask this question. But I have low income friends who HAVE made the choice to become vegetarian or vegan, even though it goes against the culture they were raised in. On their farms and gardens, they grown vegetables as sources of protein, just as millions of poor people do world wide. And as Frances Lappe Moore argued years ago in _Diet for a Small Planet_ feeding cows for meat is land intensive. The vegetables that could be harvested off an acre of land would feed many more people than if that land was used for raising cattle.

    So, to answer Dan's question (and invite any responses), there IS something wrong with depriving non human animals of future experiences. Cows, pigs, chickens all have central nervous systems, as we do, and they are sentient and feel pain, just as we do. Even when you poke a fish, you can see the fish squirming in pain, though it is not a mammal. IF we are not living our lives in a mere state of survival, and we have options for what we eat, then why should we not extend some kindness to these animals, and let them live, as we ourselves wish to as well?

  • September 14 2011 at 1:30 pm
    Angela Curran

    Hi again,

    Just to clarify, the moral principle that I may be relying on in my post above is something like this:

    (P) If one has options A,B, and C, and one can reduce the suffering of another sentient being by picking option A over options B or C, then one morally ought to pick A.

    This assumes that one has genuine options ("IF one has options A...) so it does not apply in a case where one truly has no option but to act in a way that brings about the suffering of some sentient being(s). It also applies to reducing the suffering of sentient beings, not things like plants. But I would not want to say that the only thing humans have in common with non-human animals is that we are all sentient. Recent studies show that primates and other mammals are capable of emotion, some kind of reasoning, and may even display moral virtues such as compassion. If it turns out, for example, that a cow or a sheep cannot reason or be compassionate, but it still is sentient, then this would be sufficient reason to not to eat it (provided one can avoid doing this). In the case of primates, which display a number of features that humans have, they have even more reason to be included in the community of beings to which we extend moral regard.

  • September 14 2011 at 3:34 pm
    Jonathan Reese
    Meat was moral, I doubt it is moral anymore. Humans may be animals, but we are animals that demand our environment conform to our will, and we continue to succeed in this. So why would we ever fall back to assumptions about "the natural order" (an order that we struggle to fully understand) to excuse anything? Even our own instinctive desires have been suppressed, remolded, and, more recently, understood only to be redirected for the benefit of our society -- and that includes the constant development of the concept of morality. I have long ago faced the reality that we cannot live without destroying through consumption, but we have created the opportunity (and we may have even created the reasons) to reduce the suffering our consumption causes. Increasingly, we can manipulate our environment to not include the exploitation of animals. As our technology advances us further and further away from "the natural order" the more immoral meat consumption becomes. When we make no effort to decrease the suffering our consumption causes as our ability to do so increases -- when we continue to excuse meat consumption even though the tools to reduce it exist -- I find that act (or lack of action) to be immoral. ------------ Anecdotal... I have been a vegan for nearly ten years now. Because of where I live and the tools at my disposal, I have found that being vegan was not so much an act of will over nature, or even an act of will over myself, but more of a simple act of using knowledge to change my usual habits. The environment I live in is what makes this possible, and that is an environment that humanity has created.
  • September 14 2011 at 8:50 pm
    Dan Hernandez
    I am a meat-eater, almost always eating animals I have killed myself or animals that are raised in a "sustainable" way (for lack of a better term). It appears to me that a central theme so far is that some feel eating certain animals (those produced humanely) may be morally defensible, while most feel there are animals (those that are produced inhumanely or that exploit workers in their production) that are more clearly immoral to kill and eat. My question is, is it possible that the act of NOT killing animals could be considered immoral in some cases? There are certain animals, deer are a good example, that cause direct and indirect harm to human well-being. The irruptions of deer populations across the US in the last century have caused significant ecological harm - causing local plant extinctions, increasing susceptibility to invasion, and decreasing biodiversity. In addition, areas with high deer populations also have increased risk of collisions with cars and thus, greater loss of human life. It is true that humans bear much of the blame for these irruptions due to the eradication of predators. However, we are also capable of mitigating these effects by killing and eating deer. Do we have a moral obligation to the ecosystems that support us? Do we have a moral obligation to take reasonable measures to decrease automobile fatalities, even if it means killing a deer (contraceptives are an alternative (seriously!), but much more costly and less feasible long term)? If the well being of humans and the ecological systems on which we depend are our greatest obligation, then we cannot object to killing and eating some animals (deer, Canada geese, Asian carp, etc).
  • September 14 2011 at 11:20 pm
    Laurel Goldner
    In response to Angela’s and Dan’s comments on the value of non-human lives, I would like to touch on the fact that this discussion takes these animals’ lives for granted. Without the meat industry, there would be no need for the current livestock population. If we weren’t eating domesticated turkeys and pigs, few of these animals would exist. I completely agree that animals should be treated with gentleness and that animal welfare should be taken into account in every step of the meat production process, but in the end, doesn’t a happy but slightly shorter life beat no life at all? This is my rational for continuing to eat meat, after much thought on animal welfare and the justification of killing sentient creatures. I try to only eat meat from smaller, local, free range farms, where I know the farmers are held accountable to provide animals with living conditions that are healthy for the environment, for human consumers, and for the animals themselves. In these institutions, measures can be taken to maximize an animal’s welfare before slaughter, as evidenced by Temple Grandin’s remarkable success in slaughterhouse reform. She brought about changes in the practice of stunning animals, which, if conducted correctly, can render an animal unconscious with no signs of inflicted pain. What I mean by all of this, is that livestock animals can live happy lives if provided the right conditions and care. As sentient beings, they deserve as comfortable and painless a life possible, but as livestock, their only claim to any life at all is as a means to an end. The practice of eating meat is not immoral if steps are taken to protect animal welfare and to create a comfortable and natural setting for the animals.
  • September 15 2011 at 4:27 pm
    Crystal Lai

    First off, let me start by saying I do eat meat, although I try to eat a little of it for a variety of reasons. And no, I really can't justify it to myself. So why do I do it? If I were to be perfectly blunt, and without lying to you guys or anyone else, "cuz I want to, and it happens that I can't help myself". I'm not going to write a "will to power" treatise and in any case I don't believe might makes right, and I'm not sure I agree with my real reason for eating meat, but here it is, the ugly truth. Why shouldn't we eat humans? Let's not restrict this to eating. Why shouldn't we kill humans when we can kill Great Apes, which are just 98%, well, us? Certain minute difference in the composition of nucleotides changes everything? What about dolphins? Anyone watched The Cove? Sure, most of us think it's terrible, but it would be ten times worse if all the dolphins were humans.

    The reason humans are valued about all else is simply because we as humans mostly interact with humans. It's the easiest to empathize with other humans. They look like us, they can read our expressions, and most of the time, understand our own languages. By this, we can strike up deals, namely, you won't hurt me, I won't hurt you. It's not strictly a social contract because I believe empathy could have been a product of evolution (so we do genuinely empathize easily with other humans). If we all start killing and eating humans, civilization as we know it would not survive because no one individual is safe from being eaten. Thus killing humans is one of the most heinous crimes one can commit. It not only deprives someone who should be equal (in humanity) to you his life, it also threatens to disrupt social order.

    We, however, have learned to empathize with dogs, cats, dolphins, chimpanzees, etc. I knew a friend who would go around the cafeteria looking for flies to swat because it somehow gives him pleasure. I can't imagine anyone would take killing dolphins so flippantly. People are often horrified when they learned that certain cultures eat dogs- it's almost unthinkable: I have a dog, and he's my best friend. But we eat pigs, do we not? Extremely intelligent, sentient and empathetic creatures like pigs! And we don't bat an eye. But pigs aren't normally pets, so they aren't usually a part of our society. In some ways, domestic animals have almost honorary humans.

    Angela wrote: "Cows, pigs, chickens all have central nervous systems, as we do, and they are sentient and feel pain, just as we do." And since we're talking about being human, we're all animals in the end -- there isn't much that is very unique about us. Other primates use tools, other intelligent beings use language, dolphins can set traps and do math and might even have some notion of morality- why shouldn't we let the animals in us manifest? Why do THEY get this privilege to only care about their own species and the select few that they can empathize with? I'm just trying to get to the core of this issue and as for where I stand, it might seem strange but I actually want to be a vegetarian because I despise the idea of killing but I just can't grapple with the seeming inequality in privileges we have compared to other animals. When an orca eats us it's because "it can" and we're in "its territory" so we tend to forgive it, but what about us?

     And is there any justification to eat plants? Why should the ability to feel pain be the deciding factor of who (or what) gets to live? Isn't concern about pain another function of human empathy, which just makes it, again, about us?

  • September 17 2011 at 2:53 pm
    Kim Smith

    I’ve always tried to avoid the topic of food ethics in my environmental ethics course.  What troubles me about the subject is the prevalence of disordered eating on college campuses.

    It’s hard to find reliable statistics, but a well-designed 1990 study of first-year college students, carried out at two Midwestern universities, found that nearly 5% of respondents met the DSM-III criteria for eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or bulimia).  That number seems high to me, but what’s even more worrisome is how many female students ­­­­­­showed some of the symptoms of disordered eating.  The authors noted that 10% of nonbulimic women engaged in self-induced vomiting, 20% used diet pills, 15% used diuretics and 32% had engaged in a 24-hour fast.  Pyle et al, “An Ongoing Cross-Sectional Study of the Prevalence of Eating Disorders in Freshman College Students,” International Journal of Eating Disorders 10(6): 667-677 (1991).

    I don’t pretend to expertise in this area.  But the literature suggests that disordered eating can be a way to gain a feeling of control in the midst of emotional chaos—a feeling that comes at the expense of one’s health.  Disordered eating also seems to be linked to feelings of shame tied to eating and body image.  I don’t want my classes to contribute to those feelings of shame, or to the illusion that one can find absolution by strict attention to a bunch of food rules (no matter how well-justified those rules are).

    I know it ought to be possible to talk about food ethics in a healthy and productive way. But until I know how to do that, I won’t be discussing whether “meat is moral” in my classes.

  • September 18 2011 at 9:47 am
    Samantha Sharpe
    Woody is right, on a very basic level, living is killing. This is true for every living creature, and it extends beyond the choices of the foods that we choose to consume. Nearly all foods are currently derived from sources that were once alive, but the destruction of other lives for survival goes beyond this. Before eating, we often wash our hands. Why? To kill germs. And what are germs if not a collection of bacteria, viruses, prions, etc. that unabashedly intend to use our bodies as a habitat for increasing their own populations, never mind the cost to us. Taking medicine (antibiotic literally means "against life") is similarly intended to destroy the lives of these invaders. Although it is debatable as to whether or not viruses can be considered alive (they can replicate only inside a living host) but bacteria certainly are, and many are "more evolved" in terms of generations than humans. In order for us to survive, our own immune system must constantly destroy the lives of attackers. So we have already begun killing other organisms even before we come to the debate as to whether or not meat is moral. When I gave the above argument to my sister, who has abstained from eating meat for about 5 years, she responded that she feels that we should look to kill as few other creatures as possible, and to avoid unnecessary killing. This is a sufficient answer for her. But I remain unsure of where on the spectrum of murder I feel comfortable placing myself. I don't believe that killing members of other species is unconditionally wrong, and I believe that, if necessary, I could personally kill an animal to eat. But I became a vegetarian because it seemed like the best answer for me right now. It is unquestionable that Americans today eat more meat than is healthy or sustainable, but meat production can and often has been part of sustainable, beneficial agricultural systems. It should be the goal of our country to transition to such a system, in which the value of meat is increased, the consumption is decreased, and the manner of raising and processing animals is re-evaluated. But until that cultural and economic shift occurs, I feel more comfortable removing myself from this sector of our food chain.
  • September 20 2011 at 12:07 am
    Woody Kaine

    The question of ‘enjoyment’ seems to me to be an inessential one.  Firstly, ‘enjoyment’ is a human value, ascribing it to animals is not a leap I am willing to take.  Nonetheless, I can see the point people are making.  I believe the argument would be better served if the term ‘pleasure’ were substituted for ‘enjoyment’.   My dog certainly appears to receive pleasure from having its stomach rubbed, in a way similar to the pleasure that I receive in getting a back massage.  Ultimately however, pleasure (and its converse pain) serves a primarily evolutionary function.  Beings that have (well adapted) senses of pleasure and pain will, coupled with features such as the CNS that help us to avoid the sources of pleasure and pain, will be more successful in life than those without these senses. 

    As humans we often tamper with this setup to further our own enjoyment, using techniques that enable us to experience pleasure even when we are not doing something that increases the prospects of our genes, and conversely to wipe out pain even when we are in danger.  Contraceptives and hard drugs do nothing to help further our genes, they are just used for our own pleasure (I was going to include alcohol but then realized that sometimes alcohol sometimes does help people in the evolutionary struggle, awkward people especially), while painkillers allow us to ignore vital signals about damage to our bodies, although typically we have to register these signals in order to seek out painkillers.  All of these things distort the human perspective into one focusing inordinately on pleasure rather than survival and multiplication.  Pleasure is a mechanism to aid us as animals in thriving, but doesn’t seem to me to have moral urgency in its own right for those outside of our own species.

    I realize I may come off as cold in this argument, so don’t mistake me as claiming that morals should only be based on evolution.  I just want to make the point that the pleasure an animal may experience in the future doesn’t inherently make it more important than an ear of corn or a mushroom.  In my mind all life, and indeed all existence, is sacred.  Making moral distinctions between different types of life seems untenable in situations not closely related to my existence and the existence of those of my species, which really ties right back to my existence because of altruism.

  • September 20 2011 at 3:01 pm
    Michael Hemesath

    Avoid No Question
    I have enjoyed the various comments in response to The Question.  While most have naturally focused on Is Meat Immoral?, Professor Smith's comment on 17 September raises a broader issue for me.  Professor Smith noted that she avoided discussing food ethics because of a possible link between such discussions and eating disorders. 

    While this link seems uncertain based on the evidence cited, (and Professor Smith does not make overly strong claims about the the possible link), let's assume for the sake of argument that such a link exists.  It seems to me very dangerous for an academic institution to make any topic of discussion off limits for fear of unintended negative consequences.  First, this philosophy potentially treats the participants in such discussions as something less than mature, responsible adults, capable of acting in their own best interests.  Second, and more importantly, at some level this well-intended impulse undermines the heart of the academic enterprise, which is seeking a truthful understanding of the world.  Every question should be open for thoughtful and civil exploration at Carleton or any academic institution worthy of the name.

    Surely we would not limit conversations about sexuality for fear of STDs or unwanted pregnancies.  And while discussions of drug legalization might potentially encourage drug usage, this topic should hardly be off-limits.  Surely discussion of the morality of meat merits equal consideration.

  • September 20 2011 at 6:56 pm
    Daniel Groll

    Clearly, we should all be Kangatarians.

  • September 21 2011 at 12:48 pm
    Kim Smith

    I'm grateful for Mike's thoughtful response to my post.  I'd really like to hear what others think about my concern.  A couple somewhat rambling thoughts in response:

    1) Mike is being extremely generous is saying my claims are "overly strong."  "Entirely speculative" might be more accurate.  But I think I'm on pretty solid ground in saying that the food culture in this country can be quite challenging and emotionally fraught, especially for young women.  That's where my question is coming from.

    2) The assumption that participants in the discussion are mature, responsible, and I would add well-adjusted adults--well, that is our assumption.  But isn't it possible that in some situations, making that assumption could be harmful to some people?  I worry less about a voluntary forum like this than the more coercive context of the classroom,where students can't leave if they're uncomfortable. 

    I don't want to conclude that it's impossible to talk about food ethics in the classroom. Rather, I'm interested in whether this is a topic, like for example the ethics of abortion, that one would want to approach quite carefully, with sensitivity to the fact that it can be dangerous emotional territory.

    For example, some of my colleagues in WGST have suggested that I preface such discussions by talking about media representations of body images and how that affects our feelings about food.  The idea would be to surface these issues and consider their possible connection to vegetarianism, rather than treating the two subjects entirely separately.

  • September 21 2011 at 9:38 pm
    Courtney Halbach

    In my opinion, eating meat is not immoral. I would like to reiterate a point that was made earlier by Hannah Kyle: meat is a luxury. For example, China is consuming more meat all the time because now that the general population is richer than they were before, they can pay for the price of meat. As Americans, we have a multitude of options to chose from at the grocery store, including what kind of meat we want to purchase such as grass-fed beef. Only a small amount of Americans can pay the extra cost of grass-fed beef.

    Living in the Carleton bubble, we forget about the general public. We are fortunate enough to pay a lot of money for Bon Appetit, to work with local farmers, and purchase organic food. However, most people only spend 10% of their total income on food (from a USDA statistic back in 2006 I think), and with their limited resources, they expect cheap food prices. I am in full agreement that a sustainable, humane way of producing meat is where the future needs to progress to. Yes, some large operations make animals live in horrific conditions, but the whole meat industry is not that way.

    When people only read books, such as "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan, and base their entire opinion of the meat industry off of that book or others like it, they are making an ignorant decision. Pamphlets given out accusing all modern farms of inhumane practices of animals usually do not have their references listed. (If anyone can find me where the MFA facts came from for their pamphlet "Why love one but eat the other?," I would greatly appreciate it). There is always another side to the story.

    When I was younger, my family owned a dairy farm. My parents raised a herd of 500 registered Holstein cows outside of Tucson, AZ where their only source of income was from the milk they produced. Our milk was distributed through Shamrock Dairy Farms. The cows had the best living environment possible because cows produce the most milk under the least amount of stress. Our cows were given antibiotics (like any human being would get when they were sick) and we were always looking out for mastitis. When our cows were between the ages of 7-9, they were sent to the slaughter house. Our cows lived very healthy lives - not in overcrowded, unsanitary, or inhumane pens that they were later sent off for slaughter like the images most people think of when they think of meat production.

    Farms, like my family's, and farmers are demonized by false accusations in pamphlets put out by certain interest groups. Unspecific, vague statements such as this, "animals on modern farms spend their entire lives in cages or stalls too small for them to turn around, comfortably lie down or extend their limbs or wings," and, "pigs and cattle are castrated and tail-docked without anesthesia," gives a false presentation and implies that ALL farms are like this. This is not the case. Go drive around the Midwest and you will see a multitude of family farms practicing sustainable methods of agriculture.

    I'm not saying that they're aren't factory farms out there and that they aren't bad, because they are, but the point I am trying to get across is that you cannot generalize factory farm practices to all the farming going on in America. When people do this, they are making an uninformed decision that degrades the work of hard working individuals that don't get the credit they deserve for providing the human population with food. I respect people that turn vegetarian or vegan, but only changing your diet isn't going to solve the problem of inhumane practices used on factory farms unless people speak up and advocate for animal rights on a government level. Here is just one example of a sustainable mega-dairy in Wisconsin:

  • September 22 2011 at 12:42 am
    Victoria Dan

    So. Meat. Is it immoral? I'll start by admitting--like many others have done already--that I enjoy eating meat. That's not to say that I don't recognize the surrounding issues. At one point I was deeply concerned about the animals destined to have their bodies diced up and scattered among grocery stores across the nation. A part of me still cares, but not enough to keep me apart from the occasional spare rib. I am aware that every time I choose to eat meat, I am making a conscious decision to condone the slaughter of animals for my own gluttonous appetite. We pick and choose our vices.

    That being said, there are reasons why eating animals shouldn’t be considered an inherent evil. Or if it should be, there are circumstances that deserve pardon. I will reiterate others’ point that it is impractical for many to obtain a meatless diet. Eating other animals is nutritionally sound as it provides all the essential amino acids in optimal proportions needed to form complete proteins (if I remember my biology correctly), so omitting meat from one’s diet means having to put the right foods together to obtain all the right amino acids in the right amounts. While vegetarians and vegans do manage to do it, this simply isn’t an option for everyone, like those who can’t afford a varied grocery list and the countless others who simply don’t have the resources to learn about healthy ways to go meatless.

    Perhaps meat is in fact immoral, no matter how kindly we treat livestock, and we should strive for alternatives. But that doesn’t mean that everyone can or that everyone needs to. What is more important is knowing your values, your resources, and if you can live with being a little less than virtuous.

  • September 24 2011 at 9:16 pm
    Lauren Chow

    I'd like to continue the topic of discussions about food and their relation to eating disorders started by Professor Smith, although not directly about the question of whether meat is immoral (apologies for the digression).

    While I agree with the philosophy that no question should be avoided for fear of controversy in the liberal arts, provided it is dealt with in an appropriate manner, I would say this final part - dealing with issues in an appropriate manner - is key here.

    In my reading and experience on the subject (which is limited, of course), eating disorders are based on negative feelings about food, and often "rules" about food, as Professor Smith said. Discussions about the morality of eating certain things, such as meat, necessarily involve opinions on what is "right" and "wrong" to eat: something that can be very triggering to someone with an eating disorder based on food rules. We cannot pretend that discussing food, even through a philosophical lens, can be separated from other issues that are triggered by discussions of food.

    I would respectfully disagree with Professor Hemesath's analogy that "Surely we would not limit conversations about sexuality for fear of STDs or unwanted pregnancies.  And while discussions of drug legalization might potentially encourage drug usage, this topic should hardly be off-limits." Unlike an eating disorder, I do not believe things like STDs or pregnancy are based directly on feelings of shame. Perhaps if the conversation was about the "right" or "wrong" way to have sex, I could see it resulting in negative feelings about sex that may lead to other negative consequences. And drug addiction - not usage - might be a more apt analogy to draw to an eating disorder, as it seems more linked to negative emotions. In which case, it does seem like a sensitive topic that should also be approached with care.

    In short, I don't think morality of food needs to be a taboo subject in the classroom; offering a trigger warning, or prefacing it with a discussion of body image as Professor Smith brought up, is definitely a step in the right direction. I think it can be a valuable subject of inquiry, as long as it does not shame or alienate people in the process.

  • September 25 2011 at 9:28 pm
    Gordon Loery
    Dan Hernandez brought up an interesting point earlier about eating animals that overpopulate an area. In my hometown in Connecticut, for example, there was a ton of excess in the deer population. Now, granted, this problem existed largely because human settlement had driven out many of the deer’s natural predators. However, the problem still remains. In addition to reducing biological diversity and reducing human health (through the deer ticks they carried), many were also dying of starvation because there were just too many deer. Thus, in situations like that, I believe the humane thing to do would be to kill a portion of the deer and eat them. There is a lot less pain involved in a quick death by a bullet, versus a long, drawn-out death by starvation. Another thing. In certain settings (a cafeteria or a restaurant, for example), the animal in question has already been slaughtered, and the two options are: 1. Eat the meat. 2. Do not eat the meat. The meat will instead be thrown out. Choosing not to eat the meat will not give pleasure or reduce the pain of the dead animal. Nor will it significantly impact the lives of other livestock raised for the purpose of being food. Thus, I believe the immorality, if it does exist, lies in killing the animal, rather than eating the meat. And that is a process that we, as individuals, have very little control over. Then again, I could just be trying to morally justify my own choice to eat meat so I don’t have to look at myself as more immoral than before.
  • September 26 2011 at 7:35 pm
    Angela Curran

    Hello Again,

    I have been reading these posts with real interest, and thanks again to everyone for sharing their thoughts!

    I am sure Kim is right that it is likely that the incident of eating disorders on campus is higher than we might think. It is also true that students come into a class discussion without different backgrounds and life experiences, and this might make some of them more sensitive to certain topics. But I don't like the idea of shielding students from difficult topics or issues, even students who are struggling with eating disorders. As Lauren says, there should be some way of introducing the topic that acknowledges there are larger issues involved, and also preparing students to engage in a difficult discussion.

    I also don't think people will think their moral work is done for the day if they reflect on the topic of eating meat and decide then to not eat or to continue to eat meat. Most people recognize the world is a morally complex place, and that reflecting on ethical issues takes a sustained engagement.

    Crystal asks some very good questions about why experiencing pain and the ability to be sentient should be the basis for including non human animals in our moral community. Wow, this is a great comment. I also think her question about whether the ability to empathize with someone else should be the basis of making a moral decision is another great question. I will try to come back and give a better response. But for now let me say that IF one thinks that humans should have moral consideration and moral regard because they are capable of feeling pain, then this is a reason to give non human animals moral consideration as well.

    Dan's comment about whether more good can be done for the overall ecology if deers are hunted is a tough issue. I have read some in environmental ethics--Kim and Dan know a lot more and can fill us in--and there is a big debate about people who are focused on animal rights--the "bambi lovers"--and those who think the relevant unit of moral regard is an eco-system. Because of my own moral commitments--the deer needs to be included in our moral community for the reasons mentioned--I would not want to see the deer hunted down and killed. But I recognize that in some cases that can create a larger problem with the environment, as Dan noted.

    This is a bit off topic, but on the New York Times there is an interesting discussion about whether it is coherent to ban fur, as West Hollywood, CA has done, but not leather:


  • September 28 2011 at 12:02 pm
    Angela Curran

    Hello Everyone,

    Great discussion and thanks again to everyone for sharing their viewpoints! I wanted to pick up and respond to a a few different threads:

    1) I respect Victoria's points about the challenge that not eating meat poses. It may or may not be easier to get a complete diet by eating meat--but the evidence from cultures around the world, such as in India and African, suggests to me that maintaining a vegetarian diet is not as impractical or as difficult as some Americans might think.

    While practical considerations are relevant--as Kant said, ought implies can-- the central issues to me are moral ones, not practical matters. To adapt an example from the philosopher. Peter Singer: if you walk by a pond and see a small child drowning and you rush to save her, then there is some inconvenience involved--in your time, wet clothes, and so on. But this does not matter to you, because you have decided that saving the child is the best thing to do. In this circumstance we don't think the inconvenience is enough to offset the  obligation to help in whatever way you can. I think matters of practicality come into discussions of eating meat because most people just are not convinced there is any moral wrong being committed when one consumes meat.

    2) Gordon's comment about whether to eat meat in the cafeteria because it is already killed is a very interesting one. Not eating meat for one day might not help the animals that have already been killed to make food that one day in the dining commons. But if you apply that reasoning each and every time you go in to the DC you will never stop eating meat. Looked at from the point of view of the welfare of the animals that have already been killed, you cannot help them, but if you (and others) refuse to support the practice of eating meat in the DC, meat consumption would drastically drop and it stands to reason the DC/Bon Appetite would buy a lot less meat. If this happens, that would reduce animal suffering overall than if you just go into the DC every day and continue to eat meat.

    3) I think Crystal raises some very good questions about why we should treat sentient beings differently than non sentient beings. I am not sure I have a very good argument for the objective value of sentient over non sentient life forms. But I don't think one needs such an argument in order to decide that it is not morally right to eat meat. In many contexts people raise concerns about human suffering--torture, abuse, inhumane treatment in the context of war, and so on. IF some or all non human animals experience pain and pleasure and can suffer, then it seems that the concerns that people raise about human suffering can and should be extended to non human animals as well. Not to extend them just seem arbitrary or selective in how one thinks about who and what is capable of suffering. 

    4) Note that it is interesting that many meat eaters are against animal abuse, and want the animals that will end up being served as meat to be treated humanely while they are waiting for slaughter. Here we seem to think that non human animal suffering does matter--but depriving the animals of future experiences does not. I am not sure that I can see what the relevant moral distinction is here, but maybe someone else can help me see it.

  • September 30 2011 at 8:39 am
    Chas Karch
    The connection between eating meat and farm fields, is something I've been thinking about lately. I'm not sure if anyone has mentioned this yet, I haven't read all the posts, so my apologies if I'm repeating. The US devotes so much land to farming. In the area around Northfield there are countless acres of corn and soy bean fields, while relatively little natural space such as the Arb or Big Woods state park. I don't know anything about agriculture, but the impression I get is that most of these fields are grown for feeding animals. I tried to find roughly what percentage of corn and soy grown here goes to animals, but had no luck. Instead I got some numbers that I'll use to say we grow way too much corn and soy, and because of that devote way too much land to farming. I found on an Oklahoma State website that in 2009 the US grew 333 million metric tons of corn. That's a big number and seems even bigger once you know that the world total was 817 million metric tons. The US, with 5% of the world's population grew over 30% of the world's corn. I'm going to assume that because we grew such a disprportionate amount, a large chunk isn't going to human consumption. So what impact does all this corn grown for animals have on our lives? Imagine the Northfield area, instead of being two islands of natural land surrounded by a sea of fields, being the opposite, tiny plots of human managed agriculture on an ocean of open oak savannah. TI won't make any claims about whether that imaginary scenario is better, but it's something to think about. here's the website I found
  • October 1 2011 at 12:18 pm
    Casey Silver
    As Americans, I think it's hard to proclaim that "eating meat is immoral", as meat has become a huge part of our culture. It almost seems un-American to proclaim that many of our cultural staples are produced by causing a large amount of suffering. That being said, I'm having a hard time finding many examples of "moral meat" that could be accessed by a large percentage of our population. Farms like the one run by Courtney's family may be an example of what we should strive for. And to answer the question about leather and other animal products, I personally have a much smaller problem with killing animals if all parts of their bodies are going to be used (and ideally, cherished). To me, there are a lot of reasons to avoid meat, and most of them have been mentioned in this discussion. The amount of land, water, and feed used to raise animals is staggering, and could be seen as wasteful. Many (but certainly not all) animals are subjected to stressful conditions for their entire life. A vegetarian diet can be much healthier than a meat-intensive one, and if planned right, can be much cheaper too. It may be relevant to think about how artificially cheap meat is in America due to crop subsidies, and realize that we are paying for our meat consumption with our taxes in addition to whatever we pay in the grocery store. Also, the issues regarding deer population may be similar to the kangaroo situation in Australia. Kangaroo meat is easily found and helps solve problems of overpopulation.
  • October 3 2011 at 12:23 pm
    Lara Brenner

    I don't think one can make the generalization that eating meat is immoral. Context is so important in this discussion. I don't eat meat because I think that for me to do so would be immoral, but I would not make a moral judgement upon someone who relies on the consumption of animals to live. I value all life, but human life above all. That said, I think there is almost no excuse for someone living in Western society where food is abundant to consume meat. If the option exists to preserve life without harming people, that option should always be taken. I agree with Jeff McMahan when he says that the joy/pleasure I gain from eating meat is not equivalent to the pleasurable experiences an animal can gain from living.  Although I appreciate that Courtney's family farm treated their cows well throughout their  lives, they are still cutting short a variety of pleasurable experiences that the cows could have gained had they not been sent to the slaughterhouse.

    One point that has been made is that other animals kill each other for food, so how can it be immoral to replicate something that happens naturally, and is in fact necessary for the preservation of valuable species? Humans posses powers of rationality and empathy beyond those of any other animal on earth, and I think that we are cheating ourselves of our humanity if we do not exercise those powers to their full extent. Max says that he knows that meat is immoral, yet continues to eat it, and I think that is the case with many other conscientious Carleton students. He says that that small measure of cognitive dissonance doesn't affect his ability to live his life, but I don't know if that can be true. Immorality may be impossible to eradicate from a life bursting with materialism and consumerism, but it does not follow that you shouldn't even try.

  • October 6 2011 at 1:58 pm
    Jeffrey Davidson

    It's been agreed upon that factory farming is immoral, and that most of us, given the chance, eat from a smaller farm. It is a given that improving the quality of life and death of animals has become a moral obligation in most of Western society, and is reaching into other modern societies as well. But I question that the death of an animal is an absolute immorality, at least in terms of well-to-do societies/people. To jump straight to the point, I ask, where do we draw the line of where a death is immoral? To illustrate, should we think of the death of an insect in the way we think of the death of a fish? Do we think of the death of that fish in terms of the death of a cow? Do we draw a similar comparison between a cow and a dog?

    Upon inspection of my own upbringing, I've found that a hierarchy emerges that places mammalian life above all else, and even then I would place a dog above a sheep, and so on, an so forth. What does it mean to place life in such a hierarchy? Is it immoral, natural, etc? Is all sentient life equal, or does such a hierarchy actually exist, in that animals with higher reasoning are more sacred (a very Western thought, in that we find the eating of animals such as dogs, cats, horses, dolphins, whales, animals that are shown or thought to be wise, to be a very bad thing) ?

    I personally find it hard to think of all forms of life in such a way that it becomes philosophically bad to eat meat. I cannot think I'm depriving a fish of something incredible on fishing trips, much in the same way that I can't think I'm depriving a sheep of a meaningful and philosophical life when so much of it is dedicated to food, water and sex, though I bear qualms about killing animals that exhibit feelings and actions beyond the basic Darwinian.

    A bit of divergence and personal opinion: I find that the American view of meat is wrong in some ways. We seem to fetishize meat, and lots of it, which eventually becomes humorously disturbing. (Quizno's toaster commercials, anyone?)If meat has become a symbol of the gourmet, then one must work to convince others that other foods can become gourmet as well. That a salad with your burger is just as good, if not better than that Bacon Quadruple Meatburger with Chicken Strips on the side. Another aside, I've tried going vegetarian before, but I've found that tofu and lentil replacers don't sit well with me. Vegetarianism isn't for everyone, and that lifestyle cannot be forced, no matter how gently, on others.

  • October 6 2011 at 6:28 pm
    Matt Harrison
    First of all, I've really enjoyed reading all of these different points. I think that I would have to say that meat is not immoral following the line that Woody initially brought up: living is killing. Obviously carnivorousness is an important part of nature, even if what we are doing with the modern meat industry may not seem "natural" in whatever sense of the word. All the same, this is the point at which we have emerged into the present and it's hard to foresee the system changing dramatically any time soon, even for all the good it would do the environment and human morality. Coming from a family of hunters (while I seldom have the stomach for hunting myself), I tend to follow Dan Hernandez's line of thought regarding deer populations and whether in fact the immorality arises in not thinning their numbers. Ultimately, what I think it comes down to (and many people have already noted this) is the importance of having respect for what you are eating, particularly if that is meat. Reading Simone's post about killing her own chickens made me realize how little I think about the meat I am consuming. From there I reflected on my one hunting experience and led me to realize that bucking up and personally dealing with the dead animal that lay in front of me would have been the respectful and ultimately most valuable decision I could have made. While it was much easier to simply leave the dressing to the experienced hunters, I now regret not having gone through the whole gritty process. I have now come to realize the completely obvious fact that whatever discomfort I may have experienced was nothing compared to the cost inflicted on the animal. That's life for you I suppose.
  • October 6 2011 at 10:28 pm
    Kaitlin Bagley
    Although I agree that meat is not immoral, I do agree with the point that our society has come to be "greedy" about meat consumption. We don't have to eat meat all the time, but for a lot of families, it is normal to have meat for 3 meals per day, which is excessive. I also agree with the point about living is killing, and if we say it is immoral to eat animals because that involves killing them, we get into the question of which animals are acceptable to kill and which are not, as mentioned in an earlier post. Going off Lara's point about preserving an animal's life, what would happen if suddenly people stopped consuming meat? Thousands of jobs would be lost, and there would surely be an overabundance of animals that were raised to be killed and consumed. I think that this would make the existence of some species useless. So what do we do then? Do we set them free and hope for the best? They would most likely end up dying anyway, as they wouldn't be able to fend for themselves in the world. Because our society no longer relies on cows and other animals for manual labor, those species would no longer have a purpose. The same goes for pigs, chickens, turkeys, etc. So although I think that it is important to know where your meat comes from and eat meat that has been raised humanely, locally grown, etc (for obvious reasons mentioned in other posts), if you have the means to do so, it has become the purpose of these animals to be farmed and eaten.
  • October 6 2011 at 11:06 pm
    Ben Hubbert

    I think my response to the "living is killing" argument would be that meat-eating isn't necessary -- that we can live just fine off plants, which, while still "alive" lack the awareness of their surroundings and ability to feel pain that animals possess. 

    Another good point is that a piece of meat containing the same energy as an equivalent amount of vegetables requires about ten times as much land to cultivate.  One problem with it though -- some of that land can't be used to breed crops fit for human consumption.  The animals there are essentially converting the energy that land produces into a form we can consume.

  • October 6 2011 at 11:08 pm
    Ellen McKinstry

    I don't believe that meat is explicitly immoral, though there are immoral aspects of the animal killing processes that bring us meat. As has been stated in many posts, the immorality of meat becomes directly connected to the excessive desires of society today, which is an unnecessary drive. Again going off Lara's point about preservation of the animals life, ultimately, without the consumption of meat, the hike in the population of cows, sheep, pigs, etc., would end up harming the livelihood of humans, animals and even vegetation around the world. So I think that this point cycles back to the idea that it is in fact the excess of human nature rather than the meat itself which has become the immoral issue.

    I liked the point that Jeff made about the animal hierarchy. Is the immoral part of meat consumption the very fact that we create this hierarchy in order to justify the consumption of meat of certain animals while maintaining judgments about the consumption of other species, such as dogs or cats? 

    As someone who doesn't eat meat, not on a moral basis but just having grown up without it, I can agree that meat is not necessary to life. But I don't believe that this makes it a questionable morally. I think the method of killing cows, pigs and sheep is immoral. We should at least respect the animals that we kill for consumption whether in the old school manner of the fish head on the table or simple revolutionizing the slaughtering method even further from that designed by Temple Grandin.

  • October 6 2011 at 11:09 pm
    Evan Johnson

    Meat, in general, is not immoral. The act of eating it is perfectly acceptable in my opinion. Nearly every food we eat requires killing, from the obvious slaughtering of animals to the less publicized destruction of natural habitats for agriculture. Only very basic lifeforms such as bacteria and flies eat without killing. It is perfectly natural to kill and eat other organisms to survive. The question of morality for me concerns the killing of animals and then not eating them, and the treatment of animals being raised for food. Taking trophies from impressive kills while hunting is not in itself wrong, but to do so and leave the meat is to kill without a reason. Animals living in the wild don't have it easy--well-treated livestock are "better off" by the standards of American society because they are guaranteed food and shelter from predators and the elements. Most livestock, however, are kept in cramped living conditions which are clearly not good for them. It is their treatment in life that is immoral, not their killing or the eating of their meat. To those who will show me examples of animals dying slowly because their throats were not cut properly, I will say that predators in nature do not always kill cleanly and quickly. The prey often tries to flee or fight back, preventing a quick killing blow. This may seem cruel, but such is life. Additionally, while it is certainly possible to live a healthy life without eating meat, this requires careful attention to diet. Red meat is by far our best source of iron, and nearly all of the best protein sources are animal products. Is it really worth the trouble just so we can limit the types of living things we kill? We evolved as omnivores--why shouldn't we follow our nature and eat both plants and animals?

  • October 6 2011 at 11:47 pm
    Kris Asp

    I would have to agree with most of the posters that meat eating itself is not immoral. Humans, human ancestors, and other animals have been killing and consuming each other since we evolved from simple life-forms hundreds of millions of years ago. In today's society, however, I feel that some aspects of the meat producing industry can definitely be called into question. Is it moral for some farmers to handle their livestock in the way that everyone has already described (small spaces, hormones, force feeding, etc)? The obvious answer is no, it isn't moral. In fact, it's quite obvious that the conditions that some animals live in are atrocious and inhumane in almost every way. It's too bad that such situations exist, but on the other hand, I'd bet that it would be almost impossible for every farmer in the world to produce meat on a large scale without cutting corners in some way or getting a bunch of money from the government. It just wouldn't be possible for most farmers to have free-range, organic, happy animals and still make enough money to support themselves in this expensive country. Perhaps this is a statement against our current society more than anything, but I still think it would be the same in a communist country or wherever else you went. Unless we get rid of meat completely, which I really hope doesn't happen anytime soon because it is often quite tasty, we just have to accept that some animals aren't going to be happy during their short lives.

  • October 6 2011 at 11:55 pm
    Katelyn Hoffman

      While I am personally a vegetarian, I come from a family of hunters and have to echo some of the sentiments that have already been offered about deer hunting.   Many of the natural predators of deer have become scarce.  Without the yearly hunting season, the land would unable to support the deer population.

      Hunting is an important part of the culture and is considered both a family activity and as a valued source of food.  The local food pantry collects venison that hunters don't want to keep or eat themselves.  I have always had a certain amount of distaste for the deer that my father and brother bring home every fall, but there is also no doubt in my mind that my family and other hunters felt a great deal of respect for the deer. 

     So I guess the main issue that I want to highlight is the importance of cultural significance tied to meat and meat consumption.  

  • October 7 2011 at 12:00 am
    Freddy Stein

    As stated by many others, I don't believe that meat is generally immoral. Certainly certain aspects of the meat industry are immoral. Factory farming for instance, is disgusting, and generally does not return a satisfactory product anyways. The current push towards free range farming and cruelty free practices emphasize the fact that many people felt that the current method of obtaining meat was inhumane. The people opposed, however, did not renounce meat all together, simply the method of raising animals. Meat, in general, is still acceptable.

    Therefore, the question to consider is this, "Why is meat still social acceptable?" Philosophers as early as Porphyry (born AD 234) have argued for vegetarianism, and many afterwords have made similar claims. The answer is found in the previous thousands of years of meat eating. In pre-ranching society meat was the sign of a successful hunt, and implied victory. This pervades today's society. One contributor mentioned how meat seems almost "fetishized" in today's society. In my opinion, this is due to a cultural history of meat being for victors.

    This doesn't, however, excuse the immorality of meat. Just because the majority follows a trend doesn't mean it can't be wrong. In this case though, I would say that it does. Morality comes from the consensus of society, and it is generally agreed upon that raising animals for the explicit purpose of harvest is socially fine; it's no different from growing crops. In fact, the fundamental work of Western civilization, the Christian Bible, gave man dominion over all the creatures. In the end, I consider humane methods of obtaining meat moral.

  • October 7 2011 at 12:14 am
    Raphael Coburn

    As far as whether I think that my own consumption of meat is immoral, I would have to say that it is. Like Henry stated at the beginning of this discussion, the meat we eat is immoral because when we eat it, many of us do not think of it as the result of the death of another. However, I continue to eat meat, meaning that I have accepted the immorality of my own action, yet that is itself not enough to deter me from continuing my habitual meat consumption.

    Ultimately, while the morality of meat consumption bothers me when I think about it, the current production of meat, at least as far as my own exposure is concerned, has become so distant from mainstream society that we can consume it without thinking. When I eat a chicken sandwich, I enjoy the taste of chicken, but the chicken I see in that sandwich bears little resemblance to a live chicken. Furthermore, when I buy that sandwich, I do not kill or carve the chicken myself, detaching me even further from the animal. When we consider the ease with which we can eat meat without pause, it must speak to the overwhelming power of habit and lifestyle. People have been eating meat for thousands of years, and while its production has changed with technology, that base instinct still remains for many of us. We are stuck in a society in which no one has been able to make an argument strong enough to break people from habitual meat consumption. Until this argument has been made, people will consider eating meat, regardless of their moral qualms, because eating meat is easy and we’ve been doing it virtually forever.

    The situation is much like dieting: we know that we shouldn’t eat the whole pepperoni pizza, but until we find a strong enough reason not to eat it, we will, because eating that pizza will bring us immediate physical pleasure, and for the moment that still outweighs our moral misgivings. I’m the first to admit it: I am lazy, and becoming a vegetarian would require work. I’m not willing to put in the work unless I can’t live with my current meat-eating lifestyle, and right now, I can still live with myself.

  • October 7 2011 at 12:22 am
    Nicole Hamilton

    Freddy, you threw out an interesting word--inhumane (not sure if others have used it). Is inhumane the same immoral? If we treat an animal inhumanely, are we treating it immorally? If so, what does that say for our definition of immoral? And doesn't just that term support Porphyry's idea that animals' souls are equivalent to humans'? If we say that treating an animal inhumanely is immoral, then aren't we also saying that to be moral we have to treat an animal humanely? Would killing an animal (regardless of purpose) ever be humane?

  • October 7 2011 at 12:43 am
    Jon B.

    Kris, I have to question your statement that some methods of raising animals are obviously immoral simply because not everyone would agree. While some farmers who mistreat their animals may consider themselves immoral and live lives of constant mental distress, I suspect that many don’t have a problem with their own methods. The prompt should read, “Do You Think Meat Is Immoral?” But I’m just being difficult – clearly most people have answered this question by referencing their own feelings and opinions.

    Still, what should we make of these differing opinions? How can someone claim that her personal set of morals are superior to another’s when each bases hers on a unique set of experiences, lessons and introspective thoughts? Perhaps in discussions like these we can try to point out logical inconsistencies in other’s arguments, but that would be presumptuous and vain. It would be presumptuous to assume that others care about their own contradictions or inconsistencies. A person whose moral compass is directed by the bible, for example, might respond by quoting Proverbs 3:5 (Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding) or the writings of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:19-20 NIV (For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: 'He catches the wise in their craftiness). She might only eat kosher mammals that chew their cud and ruminate. Eating others, e.g., pigs or camels, would be immoral in her opinion. Furthermore, it would be vain to assume that your moral system is superior to another’s. But you could say that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being presumptuous or vain, and your saying so would be fine with me.

  • October 7 2011 at 12:48 am
    Andrew Schneider-Adams

    I love eating meat. I eat meat and milk with every meal (sometimes breakfast is just milk when I don't have time for eggs and bacon). I have never felt bad for eating meat. Humans are omnivores and meat is a really easy way to get all the proteins we need. In learning about many of the things about the production of meat in industrial farms, I was disgusted, but it did not discourage me from eating meat in any way. I don't see how the terrible treatment of animals on their way to or during slaughter is much different from the slave labor used to make certain brands of clothing or other goods. If we use these things without much question, why do we so often question the morality of meat? Cheap products of any kind often come at a moral cost.

    I also agree with Woody Kaine's points. I've read a lot on this thread about inhumane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses, but what about fish? One does not often hear about the poor fish, with its cute, unblinking eyes, that was killed by slow suffocation in air.

    My last point is almost entirely personal, and I know some people will hate me for it. I hate cows (this is not why people won't like this, keep reading). I worked on a dairy farm for two years and I hated a lot of it. Certainly the conditions were great for the cows, but cows are easily one of the stupidest species on the planet. They want to be milked, but they kick off their milkers. They have to stand one way in the stall, but they stand the other. They kick. They have to be cleaned up after because they can't get all of their feces into the two foot wide trench directly behind them. They poop in their beds then lay in it and have to be cleaned off. They try to escape just to graze on the grass on the other side of the fence, and they refuse to be corralled back into their enclosure. They are clumsy and when they fall over, they have to be picked up by forklift, which can take up to an hour. There are many more, smaller things that I could list that I hate about cows, but I think these are the ones that happened most frequently. Now, on to my controversial statement: when I eat a cheeseburger, I am glad that I am eating what used to be a cow.

  • October 7 2011 at 2:48 am
    Quinn Radich

    I believe I more or less echo a statement made several times earlier in this discussion when I say that the act of eating meat taken by itself if not immoral. Part of what bothers me about the argument that raising animals to be killed and/or killing animals in general is immoral is that it arguably condemns our entire history and societal development as a species. Humans are made to eat meat, and we've got to the point where we are today by using the intelligence that we happened to evolve.

    That being said, using human nature as a universal justification is flimsy at best and somewhat of a slippery slope in general. Thus, I'll clarify my opinions thusly - Eating meat is not immoral. Farming is not immoral. But like anything, when done to excess they can reach a point where they are no longer justifiable. But personally, I can't condemn the practice just because it's dangerous in excess. in my mind, it's a poor precedent to set.

  • October 7 2011 at 5:00 am
    Lindsey Myrick

    I agree with my fellow classmates who argue that eating meat in modern society is immoral. I believe that it is wrong to deprive a creature of future experiences. I believe that the transitory pleasure of eating a steak is not worth consciously committing an immoral act. I know that I am hurting the environment, my credibility, and helpless creatures by selfishly consuming meat. I still make a turkey Panini in the LDC everyday. The majority of Carleton students, including many participants in this discussion, are in the line with me.

    The question of “morality” can be taken so far that too often I try to forget it all together when it does not instantly affect someone who can verbalize his or her complaint. Is that horrible? Yes. If I only acted morally in regard to animals then I would not act at all, because I can’t find the ending point. If I acknowledge that depriving a chicken of further experiences is wrong, then I also imply that the same principle applies to the beetles in my room.I am just not willing to go that far, so unfortunately I sometimes fail with the first idea.

    Frankly this question in its entirety is too layered for any human to fully explore. There are just too many unforeseen ramifications from our actions. Also it is not realistic to think that similarly selfish Americans will stop driving cars or killing spiders because a philosophical argument can be made against it. I think that one of the only realistic strategies is to encourage others to slightly improve their habits. Some might argue that humans should be held to a higher standard, but I disagree. Maybe I won’t stop eating meat, but there are a lot of things I will do. I am willing to buy locally, only eat meat on certain days, and begin the process of understanding what I am eating. I think that counts for more than many people allow.

  • October 7 2011 at 5:28 am
    Mellisa U.

    I’d like to preface my comment by saying that while I do eat meat, I have experimented in the past with semi-vegetarianism and full on vegetarianism (during which time, I also tried to reduce my dairy intake – dumb idea guys, I developed a severe vitamin D deficiency). Why did I do it? I’d like to quote a friend, who I once asked the same question. He replied something along the lines of, “I could’ve said that I did it for moral reasons, health reasons, environment reasons – but a friend asked me to try it, and I did.”

    I agree with Crystal’s earlier comment that though I enjoy eating meat, I suspect that (given my own set of experiences and ideas) overall the consumption of animals may not be the right course of action. However, I hesitate to say whether I think meat is immoral because, as Jon mentioned in his earlier post, morality is something relative to context. Defining what is immoral seems to imply that there is a universal correct way to conduct life. I'm not quite sure if this is so.

    But as to an explanation of my own actions, perhaps it has to do with a struggle of my own will-power. While I suspect that there are numerous benefits to adopting a vegetarian diet, I don’t. But why not? Why am I not doing something that I think could potentially benefit myself and the world around me? Could do all those great things that the comments before me have mentioned? Why didn’t I stick to a vegetarian lifestyle? This is a question that I struggle with as I write this comment. I can think of numerous reasons, a mix of some good and mostly bad (all of which create a word limit way over 300). I can’t seem to answer my own question. [On a side note...interestingly enough, most of my own questions keep coming back to trying to determine - what is it that makes us human? What is it that separates (or doesn't separate) us from animals? Perhaps this is something I need to contemplate before I can figure out my own answer to this prompt.]

  • October 7 2011 at 9:05 am
    Peter Hall

    While I agree with Woody’s point that we cannot project the sensation of enjoyment onto animals’ experiences of their lives, I do believe that every sentient animal has an inherent right to determine the course of its life.  To kill a sentient animal for food, unless it is necessary, deprives the animal of this right and is thus wrong.  Many modern humans can live healthily and within their means without eating meat, meaning that consumption of meat by these humans, including all members of the Carleton community without dietary restrictions, is wrong. 

    Furthermore, only methods of farming that can effectively simulate for a domestic animal the life-experience of a wild animal will not violate this right the right to self-determination.  So then it must only be right to use only animal products such as manure, wool and fleece, unfertilized eggs, the milk of mammals that are weaning their young and the skins and furs of deceased animals, that can be harvested without harmfully interfering with the animals’ lives, unless, once again, the harvesters of the products need them for survival.  

    I realize that the widespread elimination of meat that I’ve described is unrealistic, not only because of humans’ attachment to eating meat, but also because of the vast reach of America’s meat industry, which, as Kas described, has provided American farmers with an enormous client-base.  The corollary about farming and the use of non-meat animal products further projects things into the "wishful and speculative" realm, making me feel like Crystal and many others do: while this discussion and my assertions above may lead me to give up meat, I probably won't truly commit to long-term vegetarianism and I certainly won't give up milk and eggs, despite my conviction that killing animals is wrong. 

  • October 7 2011 at 9:10 am
    Bill North

    I, along with others in this thread, have been reading Porphyry of Tyre's On Abstinence from Killing Animals, a third century discussion of the rationales for and against eating animals. It is a very interesting and wide ranging text, and touches on many of the points raised by many posters.

    One of Porphyry's big arguments has to do with where one draws the line between human and non-human, and it seems to me that this is relevant here. Had the question been: "Is cannibalism moral?" my sense is that there would have been a very strong "No" response. But why? If eating meat is not immoral, why would eating a particular kind of meat be immoral (and here I exclude normative prohibitions like kosher laws and halal)? Wouldn't one find it incoherent to say that a hamburger was moral meat but a t-bone steak was not? What is it about human meat that makes it immoral, but the meat from sheep or cattle not?

    One might argue that its quality was inferior (too fatty, not fatty enough, stringy, etc.) but that simply would mean that it is a poor menu option, not that it's immoral. What if one found, like Charleton Heston did in Soylent Green or people periodically do with tofu-based faux meat, that what you thought you were eating was in fact something different? If the delicious grilled cajun-spiced chicken at LDC yesterday had its origins in a human meat processing plant (a very clean, spacious, well-lighted processsing plant where all of the animals were fed well, aloud to move about (free range), and slaughtered humanely), would we say: "Yum! Seconds please!" or would we feel quite different, not only physically but mentally/morally? Why is Jonathan Swift's tract, A Modest Proposal, in which he proposes to eliminate the problem of Irish overpopulation by converting Irish babies into a kind of meat delicacy, a satire and not a sound policy initiative?

    It seems to me that the key distinction lying behind the very different responses to a succulent yearling lamb roast and a succulent yearling human roast lies in the distinction we make between human beings and animals. Porphyry's text explores this distinction (also prevalent in his world) in depth and ultimately argues against the existence of such a distinction. Given the way in which the biological sciences seem to be suggesting that, like all animals, human beings and their behaviors, emotional states, etc. may be largely the result of natural processes (chemical levels, genetically determined/contoured structures and susceptibilities) and the interactions of this creature with a set of environmental conditions, how would we draw the line between human and animal in a way based on factors other than personal preference or family feeling (like us=not available for consumption, not like us=available for consumption)? I am sorry that this is more than 300 words.

  • October 7 2011 at 9:37 am
    Anna Steedman

    I am following Bill's comment with another based on our Porphyry reading, but I am posing a more indifferent view. I see the validation from both sides of the argument, but I question whether or not it is worth arguing. Personally, I do not eat red meat, but not because I find it immoral- I simply don't like it. I have many friends who do not eat meat based on religion, morals, and some of them are like me- they just don't like it.

    On the flip side, I also have many friends who are complete carnivores and I question how that makes them any different than a lion who eats antelope? While I also understand the argument that we have morals and lions do not, we still have to consider the natural food chain. I cannot say whether or not mankind was designed to be carnivorous, but that doesn't change the fact that as a species we have been conditioned to eat meat. If people choose to consider meat immoral, more power to them! I guess I am not much of a help in this debate because I am playing Switzerland and remaining neutral. I would just encourage everyone to consider where each side is coming from.

  • October 7 2011 at 10:48 am
    Sarah Besse

    If one argues that meat-eating is immoral because it causes unnecessary suffering to animals, then killing animals (whether for eating or for other reasons) should be the real moral dilemma.  In the U.S. animals are killed for a variety of non-eating purposes: medical research, sport-hunting, and because humans have stigmatized some species as "pests" or "invasive species".  On the topic of medical testing with animals, Daniel Dombrowski comments that the vegetarian philosopher Plotinus "might find it incredible to learn that in a nation still enjoying its fetish with cigarettes, millions of animals are killed each year on the 'modern altars of Asclepius' so as to find a cure for cancer."

    Thus, killing animals out of necessity would be justified; killing animals when there are other options that achieve the same goal is not.  In the example above, (1) the goal is a reduction in society-wide cancer levels, and (2) we know that smokers are more likely to get cancer; thus, it makes more sense to fund anti-smoking campaigns than to kills thousands of animals in the name of cancer research.  There are other flaws in the system: The most lethal diseases in the U.S. (diabetes, heart disease, etc) only receive a fraction of the money that goes toward diseases that affect smaller numbers of Americans, and factory-farms sometimes slaughter animals inhumanely when it might cost the same to slaughter them with less pain.  Thus, if the argument for vegetarianism is societal-level human health and the welfare of animals, there are many systemic inefficiencies/injustices we could solve before outlawing meat. 

  • October 7 2011 at 10:57 am
    Peter Franco

    That's a good point, Anna. It's important to point out that humans are not alone in this meat eating business. However I think it is also important to point out that the manner in which we consume meat is vastly different than the manner in which any other animal does. Lions do not have factories design to kill gazelle's by the thousands (millions?). Like the eskimos brought up in Max's post, they eat simply out of necessity. There is certainly a lot we could do to tone down our level of carnivourism.

    But if we're talking about differences between humans and animals, it is important to note the great difference in intellect between us and them.  Humans, especially in the context of vegetarian discussions, tend to anthropromorphize animals far too much.  We must understand that animals are very different from us.  Humans have incredibly unique and advanced cognitive capacity that makes us capable of things such as self-reflexive thought (the ability to conceptualize ourselves and our position in the world), language, and morals.  It is not as if the cows in the slaughterhouse are thinking "O man, how did I end up here. I wish I could get out. This is gonna be bad!" Animals simply experience life with little or no actual awareness of what is happening. They are ruled by instinct and not by thought.  

    That being said, it is not okay to hurt animals or subject them to the grotesque conditions that many meat producers do.  But this difference is why there is a such a difference between our attitudes towards cannibalism and carnivourism, and why I beleive that meat is not immoral, but the way that we do it is excessive and that we should be curb these practices greatly to lessen our damage to individual animals, species of animals, and (most importantly I think) the environment. 

  • October 7 2011 at 11:57 am
    Becky Riss

    Like many others who have posted, I think that consuming meat is not immoral, unless it is done in excess. I wonder though about a point Raphael brought up. He suggested that eating meat is immoral when people consume meat without recognizing that the meat is a result of a living thing being killed. Would this imply that it is more moral to acknowledge that the meat on your plate is a killed animal, and yet continue to eat it anyway? If anything, I think this recognition would make eating meat more immoral.

    While I don't see any problem with eating meat, I do think that wasting meat is immoral. If people choose to eat meat, they should be conscious of what they throw away at the end of the meal and try to limit the amount of meat that is wasted.

  • October 7 2011 at 12:57 pm
    Clare Costello

    I was a vegetarian for three years towards the beginning of my Carleton career and my reasons were mostly environmentally based. I continue to be uncomfortable with the drain of resources to the meat industry, but I have since decided that are both moral and immoral ways to eat meat. I agree particularly with what Ellen said about the immorality in the way we kills animals, and furthermore with the many thoughts on the frequency with which we eat meat. Though I'm no expert on economics, I'd also worry about the effect on the American workforce if this industry were scaled back. Even when I was mostly a vegetarian, I continued to support workforces like lobstermen in Maine, as I especially see nothing wrong with meat that is controlled and local.

    One more point -- Simone mentioned that she has slaughtered her own chickens, and I definitely think that this practice is work thinking about. The problem with our meat consumption is that it is done without thought. We don't think about the source of our food or about the ramifications of consuming it. If we became more aware of the actual process of killing animals, perhaps we would think twice before eating it in such great quantities.

  • October 9 2011 at 11:41 am
    Rachel Levit Ades

    Here’s basically my problem with eating meat: I’m not sure I could kill most animals, and I think it is deeply problematic to pass off an activity that you yourself would not do (for reasons beyond ability, skill, or disposition [I realize that’s a tricky phrase]).

    If the situation arose, I think I would have a much easier time planting and harvesting my own vegetables, milking cows, and, let’s say, cultivating tofu, than I would raising a pig for slaughter.  And when I think about raising and slaughtering that pig, I could imagine doing it to feed my family or my community in some kind of apocalyptic situation. These stipulations (or whatever you find yourself thinking—maybe if the pig has been treated well or it’s for a special occasion, you’re OK with it) then should hold to when endorsing an industry that performs these actions.

    Meat today, for the most part, comes highly packaged and as removed from the animal as possible; to truly confront this issue, we need to come to terms with what meat is, which is an animal. I agree that in a broader sense with Henry: accidental killings are better. However, in this situation, we cannot keep thinking that it is an accident that chicken comes from chickens.

    People can certainly have instincts that are unethical. However, I believe exploring intuitions about direct action is a good place to start—if you’re left at the gate just at the prospect of killing a cow, it’s kind of a no-go.  

  • October 9 2011 at 11:41 pm
    Simon Lansberg

    I am of the opinion that the killing an animal for reasons other than self-defense or self-preservation is immoral. Angela, you addressed the role of options and opportunity in determining the morality of eating animals, and I agree with your logic. I also do not see any reason to differentiate one creature from another. While harvesting farm animals may be an ancient practice that is (for the most part) accepted in global society, there is no difference between that kind of animal usage and, say, farming puppies in a similar fashion. While the prospect of treating dogs as we treat cows or chickens may disgust us, we have a much more emotional connection to dogs. This particular human-animal relationship raises the idea of people "ranking" certain animals above others. This may be a logical practice for endangered or threatened animals, but for animals as common as dogs and chickens it makes sense to hold the same principles.

    That being said, while I believe that stifling the life of an animal (for nonessential reasons) may be immoral, I also eat fiendishly high amounts of meat. I think the option to consume meat, while of questionable morality in many situations, is a extraordinarily important right that I choose to exercise with frequency. I think that that this immorality is relatively unimportant outside the realm of personal beliefs, however. Humans have (and always will) exploit other creatures, as history has shown it is natural for the dominant species to do, and it won't be until people stop the organized killing of each other that the slaughter of animals will emerge as a predominant moral dilemma.

  • October 10 2011 at 4:29 am
    Megan Teplitsky
    I believe eating meat is immoral. That having been said, I am willing to forgive a lot if it means saving a human life. In the US, we are fortunate to have the freedom to eat nutritious, fairly inexpensive, vegetarian food without compromising our health. As a vegetarian slowly transitioning to veganism, I know this is true. I have also have personal experience with industrial poultry farms and I could never bring myself to eat chicken again, especially after experiencing so called "kosher" and "cage free" farms. It is not as though we need meat because our society has clearly evolved past the point of legitimately needing it for survival. This brings me to my next point: meat is for survival. It is a calorie rich, dense food that is meant to be eaten very sparingly. If ones options are between meat and starvation, by all means, chow down. But for most of us, especially those of us commenting on this forum, that is not the issue. In addition to the ethical arguments about animal treatment, eating beef is arguably the worst environmental choice that Americans make on a daily basis, regardless of how well the cattle was raised. One can trace back a variety of environmental issues, from climate change to deforestation to water shortages to erosion, back to the beef industry. For those that consider themselves environmentalists, these are not issues that can be discounted.
  • October 12 2011 at 3:51 pm
    Lina Feuerstein

    Concerning the moral proposition that Professor Curran puts forth  at the beginning of this thread:

    If one has options A,B, and C, and one can reduce the suffering of another sentient being by picking option A over options B or C, then one morally ought to pick A.

     I think it is interesting that Porphyry's On Abstinence (the text my class is reading) recognizes this argument with respect to the "pro-meat-consumption" side of the argument. As he considers this anti-vegetarianism side, he notes that eating meat might be electing "option A" because the animal's soul is suffering in this life, and when we kill the animal we set the animal's soul free. The animal, he says, lives a better life not in this world but in the spiritual world, and the spiritual world can only be accessed by means of death. I am wondering how this idea might relate to the way meat is produced today. If a salmon is raised on a salmon farm, where there are something like 50,000 fish in a 2-area (the average fish occupies less then a bathtub of water, says wikipedia), and the fish are diseased and stressed, then "option A" seems to coincide with killing them. We have created a situation in which we are morally obliged to kill them. Obviously, if fish farms didn't exist in the first place, then I would say "option A" lies in not killing them, but I think our society has created a means of production that makes the act of not killing animals like the farm-raised fish an immoral one as well.

    Personally, I do not think eating meat is immoral. I believe this primarily because I think vegetarianism, while a good experiment for people who are generally in good health, is dangerous for people who are very ill. This leads me to believe that meat, in moderation, has essential nutrients that you cannot get in a vegetarian diet, despite how carefully you may monitor such diet. So, if we accept that something is morally good when it facilitates general health and, thereby, general happiness, then I would argue meat is moral.

  • October 24 2011 at 8:48 pm
    Ta'Sierra Johnson
    I agree with mostly everything that has been said so far. I do not believe that eating meat is immoral.I believe that the common way meat is killed is defiantly immoral. I think that the way they treat the animals and feed them is immoral, to both the animal and to us. It is very immoral to feed people things that have chemicals that can kill them. However, I do not think that the consumption of meat in and of itself is immoral. It was said earlier that some people do not get the luxury of getting to pick if their meat is organic or not, and I agree with this statement. I come from a family that does not have this choice. If we had the option to eat all organic meat, then we would. Because of this, I feel that it is unfair to say that eating meat is immoral. I just want to know do people consider fish meat?
  • November 1 2011 at 3:23 pm
    Isaac Hodes
    People seem most opposed to eating animals because of the suffering they feel when killed, or that future opportunities for happiness are denied when we kill an animal for food. Also brought up, on both sides, is the lack of a bright line demarcating the morality of eating humans and animals, or animals and plants. I'm not convinced that a cow can hope or aspire to improve. Nor am I that a sheep can empathize or plan more than a minute or two in the future. We assume so much ability of animals, likely a product of the media's anthropomorphizing of dogs, cats, pigs, cows, etc. It's presumptuous to think that a cow can feel happiness in a way similar to humans. We both have a central nervous system, sure, but if a fetus had a brain that looked even marginally different from the standard human's, most of us wouldn't pause at the doctor's suggestion of aborting. We wouldn't think that that fetus would ever be able to feel pleasure like we can. Thomas Nagel (and his friends) has been curiously overlooked in the discussion so far. He posed the question "what is it like to be a bat?" (it's worth reading this paper). I'm going to elide his argument here in favor of my above paragraph, but it doesn't take a lot of convincing to believe that you will never know what it's like to be a bat. The experiences a bat has are functionally completely different than a humans, but more importantly, qualitatively completely different. We don't kill humans because we can empathize with them; through experience and empirical evidence, we can be reasonable sure that other humans feel similar to the way we feel. Then we apply the golden rule: we don't kill them, they don't kill us. But empathizing with animals is naïve. There is no indication that a cow is anything like you. One person pointed out that when you poke a fish it squirms, so it clearly is in pain. Well, a fish squirms in the same manner when it's swimming. We have a tendency to project our emotions onto other people, and apparently onto fish. Certainly the fish has a response to being poked or being unable to breathe, but it seems exceedingly unlikely that its experience is anything like outs. For all intents and purposes, a cow is a faultily programmed automaton that reacts poorly to external stimulus. And it's a delicious automaton at that.
  • November 9 2011 at 11:36 am
    Alex Trautman

    Max Bearak spoke about the decisions we face concerning meat. He says, "we take because we can." I agree that, yes, our society encourages the consumption of immoral meat. However, just because society is peer-pressuring us into eating immoral meat does not mean that we have to do so. I can think of many reasons to resist this peer-pressure, for I believe that every person at Carleton (except those who may be required to eat meat for medical reasons) could live a very happy, successful, fulfilling life without eating meat.

    I will refute the argument: "humans developed with the teeth and digestive systems necessary to eat meat; therefore, eating meat is part of being human."

    1) Unnecessarily ending an animal's life early is immoral.

    2) The majority of individuals in the US could thrive without eating meat.

    3) Since the majority of individuals in the US eat meat unnecessarily, the majority of individuals in the US are immoral.

    However there are many cases in which we are disinclined to call the meat-eater immoral. Consider the athlete who needs concentrated protein and iron and finds that she gets it most easily from beef. Consider a man who loves steak and makes sure that every steak he eats is carbon neutral, raised without suffering, and that the cow was butchered after it lived a happy life and succumbed to a natural death. Or, consider the individual whose religion is celebrated in part by consuming meat with your family and friends. To refuse the meat would result in social awkwardness, but certainly your friends and family would still love you.

     I think that robbing any creature of the rest of its life unnecessarily is immoral, but there are infinitely many cases where eating meat could not be considered immoral. My question is, what defines necessity? Is it necessary for the athlete to eat beef rather than take a large number of supplements? Is it necessary for the eco-conscious steak lover to eat steak just because he likes to? Is it necessary for the religious person to eat meat to remain a member of their culture?


  • November 9 2011 at 5:57 pm
    Emily Hillmer
    I do not believe that eating meat is immoral. Believing that eating meat is somehow "immoral" often stems from misunderstandings about where our food comes from and how it is produced. I come from a family of hunters and fishers, and all my life I have been raised in close proximity to the origins of my food; this deer was shot last fall, this fish was caught and gutted this afternoon, et cetera. I accept that the majority of Americans do not have these experiences, and this, I propose, is a major source of confusion. By understanding exactly where your food comes from, you maintain a certain respect for it. When all we understand about our meat is that it appears magically on our burger at lunchtime, we don't really connect it with a once-living creature, and we certainly don't pause to respect and thank the source of our meal. What is immoral is how meat is mass produced. There is a huge difference between a chicken that is raised in a cage with fifty other birds, none of which has ever seen the light of day, and a chicken that is raised with space to roam. There are certainly objectively moral and objectively immoral ways to raise animals for slaughter. Sadly, our country has embraced the latter. In and of itself, the act of eating meat is not immoral. However, the unethical practices of the meat industry and the obliviousness of the majority of the people who consume their products are serious problems that must be rectified.
  • November 12 2011 at 7:18 pm
    Jessica Link
    Eating meat in and of itself is not immoral. It is how it is being consumed that makes it immoral. If you think about the food chain, humans are just another level on it. The fact that we eat other living being is not immoral. However, too many people eat as much meat as they want, with no regards whatsoever as to appreciating where it comes from. The fact that animals are mass produced in poor living conditions only for the sake of slaughter is what is not right. Perhaps if the price of meat was raised, people would not consume quite so much of it, and there would be less of a demand for it. Additionally, I can relate with Emily Hillmer's viewpoint on hunting and fishing. I enjoy fishing and eating what I catch. I also feel significantly closer to what I am eating when I see where it comes from and how it gets to being on my plate. Also, to answer Ta'Sierra Johnson's question: I do consider fish to be meat. Fish are living, breathing creatures just like all of the other animals, and we still have to kill them in order to consume them. Therefore, I would consider fish to be included on this discussion.
  • November 18 2011 at 4:40 pm
    Skylar Tsutsui
    I agree with both Emily and Jessica on the fact that eating meat isn't immoral. However, in some circumstances the way the animals are treated and mass produced are immoral. I'm going to refute the argument that it is immoral to kill animals since we're depriving them of future experiences. I do agree with Isaac on how we tend to empathize with animals more than we should. Of course animals have the potential to create instant goals such as catching their prey or getting from one place to another. It would be naive, however, to say that animals have the potential to create distant goals. I find it hard to believe that a pig or a chicken would even consider what they were going to do the next day or even within the next hour. And because of this, I don't believe we're depriving them of "future experiences" since they can't even think that far ahead. Like Jessica said, we're all apart of the food chain with us humans above most animals. It's the circle of life. Plain and simple. If eating meat is a means to survival, I don't find anything wrong with it. Furthermore, I agree with Laurel in that we should definitely take into consideration animal welfare during the meat production process. If you've ever seen the PETA videos I think you'd agree. The way animals the are treated is simply cruel and downright immoral. Although I have no concern over the animal's future, I do however care about the way they are treated. All in all I don't think that eating meat is immoral, it's the process of meat production that I find to be immoral.
  • November 19 2011 at 4:23 pm
    Gustav Hans Danielsson

    Meat is moral.

    I'm afraid I do not share the same degree of irrational/emotional infatuation with animals as it seems most others do. It would appear that most opinions here are that meat itself isn't really immoral but the processing of animals for food is. Intuitively, yes I feel that cramming hundreds of turkeys into an enclosed area deprived of decent lives is wrong somehow. The problem is that I do not know why I believe this. My inability to answer why I believe this to be wrong makes me think that my thoughts are unjustified. Perhaps someone can enlighten me on this. But I do not think that my inclinations that the processing of animals for food is wrong are enough to call meat immoral.

    We can all watch a documentary on the food industry in America and be horrified by the way animals are treated. We can all argue that there are many alternatives to eating meat that may even be better for your health and your conscience. But so what? Meat is food, and I like food--it tastes good. Am I oversimplifying it? I don't think so. I'm not absolutely attached to the idea that meat and its processing is moral, but thus far, I have not been convinced otherwise. If my life is made better through eating meat and if I don't consider the way meat is processed to be wrong, then I really don't see a problem. Sorry if this sounds brutish.

    Someone may argue my ideas by saying that animals processed for food suffer and that the suffering of animals is bad. But even if we assume that all animals suffer just as humans do, I think it's too big a leap to go out and equate humans and animals at this level. In the end, I value human luxury and pleasure over the lives of animals. I have respect for people who manage to avoid the temptations of meat, but for me, it simply is too good.

    Just remember one of my favorite sayings, "everything's better with bacon!"

  • November 20 2011 at 1:27 pm
    Tanner McNamara

    I agree with the popular comment that eating meat itself is not immoral. And to answer Ta'sierra's question, I agree with Jessica. Any animal from which we get food should be considered in this discussion - this includes the common chickens and cows, but also fish, and even crabs and lobsters. There is, however, a great difference between food caught in the ocean and food raised "inhumanely" as much of it is, and this is why some people only have a problem eating "true" meat and not seafood. It would be interesting to know whether pescetarians would eat such a delicacy as shark fin soup (for the practice of cutting off the fins of sharks and throwing the sharks back into the water to die seems immoral to me), or if the true issue at hand is the health concern of eating other meat.

    But to comment also on what Isaac said, it is true that we don't know what is to be a bat. But that we don't know what it truly is like for these animals to "suffer" as they do should not be sufficient to claim it is okay for them to "suffer." I agree that we have to stop and think - maybe it isn't as bad for them as we think it is. But that alone doesn't make it okay.

    Like many people have said, the consumption of meat itself may is not immoral, but some of the practices surrounding the production of meat may be immoral.

  • November 20 2011 at 4:47 pm
    Camila Flowerman

    Some arguments have already been made on this thread as to why causing suffering to other living things is immoral. Many previous posters have also pointed out that eating meat produced in a certain type of way (one that causes pain and suffering to the animals) would therefore be immoral. I agree with this point, as well as another that’s been mentioned. The consumption of meat also supports a system of production in the current livestock industry that causes a huge amount of environmental degradation through resource depletion, air and water pollution, etc. This creates a “tragedy of the commons” situation, where one’s choice to eat meat has negative consequence on resources shared by all, even those who choose not to eat meat. While eating meat may not itself be immoral, the exploitation of a shared resource certainly is.

  • November 21 2011 at 2:38 am
    Isaac Schrantz

    I'm with Camila on this one. She's a genius. Humans have the mental capacity to find ways to gather meat in moral ways. Raising animals just to slaughter them is immoral. They never had a chance to survive. Wild animals have a chance to escape and survive. We should hunt wild animals still instead of raising animals just to kill them.

  • November 23 2011 at 10:12 pm
    Ellen Kwan
    Reading other posts, and remembering themes from books like Upton Sinclaire's The Jungle and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, there are definitely strong arguments that meat is immoral. The industry revolving around the mass production of meat to sell to the public for a cheaper price is corrupt. From the way the animals are treated, to the employees who work in the slaughter houses, there have are many injustices, and by consuming meat we are only fueling the cruel behavior and immorality. But if we were to take away the meat industry, and solely focus on whether the consumption of meat is immoral, then I may have to answer differently. It is part of nature and it is natural for animals to eat other animals, we could call it the circle of life or explain it as natural selection and survival of the fittest. Some animals only survive on meat, and are born carnivores, so is it immoral for them to live and survive? Is all consumption of meat immoral in general because it is the killing of another life? Or is it just immoral for us as humans to eat meat because we could survive without doing so? Or is it just immoral because we, as humans, have the ability to differentiate between moral and immoral? I don't have an answer for all of these questions. While I do believe killing is wrong, and taking away an innocent life is immoral, I struggle to say that eating meat is immoral. Perhaps it is because it is not the killing of an innocent human life that makes the difference, but one could argue that all killing is immoral despite the life form it takes. And just because eating meat has been so ingrained in society, it doesn't mean that eating meat is moral. There have been many things in the past that society accepted, but were completely immoral, for example: public executions, slavery, etc. So perhaps eating meat is immoral, but it's hard to admit because its an accepted behavior in society.
  • March 10 2012 at 11:33 pm
    Michael Hanna
    We talked about this in my philosophy course. I could not come to terms with my intuitive self that says the killing of animals for the sake of consumption is moral. I ended up writing against my intuitions and arguing for vegetarianism in order to get the better grade. Although perhaps indefensible, it seems to me in asking question, it’s a matter of looking at the situation in the context of the old saying: Everything in Moderation. Confident Saying: - The consumption of meat from factory farms is immoral, for it supports causing unnecessary suffering. - In instances for survival where it is a human’s life versus an animal’s life it’s morally permissible to kill and consume meat. My Paper: It is morally impermissible to cause any living thing unnecessary damage. We harm humans the most in killing them (debatable) because we have future desires, the capacity to suffer, and to be harmed (life-force damaged), then animals have the capacity to suffer and be damaged, and plants the capacity to be damaged. Since plants are damaged the least we should consume plants. In other words, if we could survive by consuming rocks, we should, because rocks aren’t living and in being damaged they only change form (Big rock is damaged into pebbles) My Intuition: We can eat meat because it’s part of the natural experience, as long as we respect the animal from where it came from, and in respecting the source, do not deplete the reservoir. For every tree we plant we plant another. It’s like in the Oregon Trail (I’m sure some of you know it from our youth!) If you had too much fun shooting all the bison/game you would not have food in the future (and the bison would cease to exist).