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Food Issues Book Club - The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 17

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

The Ethics of What We Eat, Chapter 17: The Ethics of Eating Meat

Ooooh, Peter.  Ooooh, Jim.  We are really getting to it now aren't we?  This seventeenth chapter of The Ethics of What We Eat, The Ethics of Eating Meat, jumps into one of the most contentious topics in the food movement.  I love it.

Early in the chapter you take a definitive stance on which I think we can all agree: there is no ethical justification for eating meat that comes from the industrial food system - at least, not for anyone who can obtain proper nutrition without doing so.  The truth is that most Staters could easily opt out of eating factory farmed animal products, but continue to consume them out of pleasure and habit.  This is decidedly unethical behavior born of an often willful ignorance.

You state that "[i]f a widespread cultural practice is wrong, we should try to change it."  This reminds me of Temple Grandin's refrain of what happens in the food industry itself, when bad becomes normal.  I agree; we should try to change it.  And we should also expect extreme pushback.  People don't like to be told that something they do every day, that their mothers taught them, that their doctors encouraged, that every facet of their lives tells them is the normal and good thing to do, is in fact wrong.  No wonder we vegans are so reviled.  Our mere existence points to the idea that there are concerns about what (who) other people are eating.

People frequently push back with the "concern" that there are many mouths to feed in the world.  How ever will we feed them all without industrial food?  Well, as you point out, "in developing countries the industry caters to the growing urban middle class, not the poor, who cannot afford to buy its products.  In developing countries, factory-farming products are chosen for their taste and status, not for the consumer's good health."  Again (and again and again and again), we must note that there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone already, with many calories to spare; the problem is access, not quantity.  Creating more food in no way guarantees that everyone who needs it will have it.

Accepting, then, that eating industrially produced meat is wrong, we're left with the question of whether eating animals is wrong.  Ethical vegans have, of course, reached the conclusion that it is wrong to eat animals under any circumstance (and reasonable ethical vegans will make a concession for people who will suffer malnutrition without doing so).  I believe that many of us agree that it is better - if not anywhere near good - when animals are allowed to live normal and healthy lives up until the time of their slaughter.  You raise the question of whether it is better to exist and have a short life than to not exist at all, and arrive at the conclusion that it is.  I disagree.  Not existing is not better or worse than anything, because those are comparisons and there is nothing to compare.

The following paragraph is probably the most reasonable approach to the subject:
The choice is not between business as usual and a vegan world.  Without factory farming, families with limited means would be able to afford fewer animal products, but the would not have to stop buying them entirely.  Nutritionists agree that most people in developed countries eat far more animal products than they need, and more than is good for their health.  Spending the same amount of money and buying fewer animal products would therefore be a good thing, especially if those animal products came from animals free to walk around outside, which would make the meat less fatty, and if the reduced consumption in animal products were offset by increased consumption of fruits and vegetables.
I have wondered if, were this how we as a culture approached eating animal products, whether I would feel the need to be a food activist.  Given the problems in crop production, probably.  But would I be vegan?

See you soon to discuss the final chapter!


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