Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat

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Why it's ethical to eat meat

Not too long ago the New York Times asked its readers to write essays in no more than 600 words explaining why it’s ethical to eat meat.  They wanted to hear how meat-eaters defend themselves against the overwhelming perception that a plant-based diet is best for ourselves and the planet.

This was probably one of the hardest blogs I’ve ever had to write as brevity is not my strong suit.  There were a thousand other things I wanted to say.  For example, I didn’t even discuss the health benefits of eating meat!

But 600 words is 600 words, so I did the best I could within those guidelines.

Let me know what you think!

Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat

Very few in the modern world grow their own food anymore.  We’ve allowed the food industry to oversee food production for us.  For decades this seemed like a good bargain.  I don’t know about you, but I know few people who would trade their modern comforts for the manual labor of farm work.

But what we’re waking up to in recent decades is that this bargain has a cost.  There is a growing awareness of the horrors of the industrial model that prioritizes profit over health, that takes more from the earth than it gives back.  At the pinnacle of these horrors are the abuses of animals in factory farms.  Anyone with a pulse can see this model is destructive and unethical.

This kind of meat production lends weight to the argument that it is unethical to eat meat.

The other common argument is that the very nature of killing animals for food is wrong and that we can survive without animal products.

I’d like to address both arguments by asking a question.

If the world’s supply of fossil fuels were to run out tomorrow, what would you eat?

For starters, you wouldn’t eat anything in a supermarket.

Supermarkets are the realm of industrialized food and at the core of this system are the fossil fuels that power the machinery to allow us to farm on a large scale and transport food long distances.  We know fossil fuels are not sustainable.

Without fossil fuels, you would therefore eat what your local environment provided.   For the majority of people on this planet, that would include meat.  Plant-based diets are not natural to climates and landscapes that don’t support varied plant life.  Just ask the Eskimos.

Furthermore, many animals are efficient converters of scrubby vegetation to a usable form of protein for humans.  This has served countless cultures in areas of the globe without tillable soil.  Sometimes I think we forget this in soil-rich America.

And the other point is that when you look at the issue of growing food sustainably, animals are absolutely necessary.  For example, manure is nature’s fertilizer and promotes soil integrity.  Fossil-fuel based fertilizers promote soil erosion.  They have given us vast fields of corn, soybeans and wheat, much of which goes into the processed, nutrient-deficient, lifeless food that fills our supermarket shelves.

Joel Salatin says, “There’s no system in nature that does not have an animal component as a recycling agent.  Doesn’t exist.  Fruits and vegetables do best if there is some animal component with them – chickens or a side shed with rabbits. Manure is magic.”

Historically, this is why we don’t see any traditional cultures that ever voluntarily chose veganism.  Animals have evolved with humans.  Cows, chickens, sheep and pigs would not survive long in the wild.  We provide them life and they give life to us.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

“Meat is murder” is the battle cry of many vegetarians.   But I see more murder in the plastic wrapped, genetically-modified, chemical-sprayed tofu burger than I do in my local grass-fed burger. How many animals had to die for that soybean field to be planted?  I could say the same in just about every plant-based food in supermarkets which destroys the diversity in ecosystems to grow crops unsustainably.

Nature thrives on diversity and that includes animals.  We need to honor the cycles of life and death in our food.  That means choosing foods that promote sustainability.

Eating meat from farms that promote sustainability promotes life in all forms, including ours. This is not only ethical, it is necessary.


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Comments

  1. Mindy Rosengarten says:

    Thought provoking and well said. A compelling argument.

    • PATRICIA ANN MALOUF says:

      I disagree with this part: ” We provide them life and they give life to us. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.” The animals used for meat do not benefit from being born. Most suffer a short, torturous life. I eat meat. I would gladly pay more for it from animals who live well and die peacefully by just going to sleep.

      • Jessica Turner says:

        Yes the meat you run down to Wal-Mart to get lives a brutal, cruel, corn-fed life and that is not how you raise sustainable animals or healthy meat. He is saying that factory-farmed meat is part of this natural cycle. He is referring to grass-fed cows, cows that are allowed the appropriate time to grow and develop, who are given pastures to roam on. If you were to look at it from a small-scale approach animals are necessary for growing vegetables.

        • “he is referring to grass-fed cows, cows that are allowed the appropriate time to grow and develop, who are given pastures to roam on.”
          WTF does this have to do with it being ethical to eat them? It’s okay to eat that animal because it lived a happy little life? BUT I don’t want to eat that one, because people were mean to it before they killed it. Yeah, that doesn’t make sense.

      • You may disagree…but it’s absolutely true…even if you only consider this one tiny argument:

        Fruits and vegetables do best if there is some animal component with them – chickens or a side shed with rabbits. Manure is magic.

        Animals lend themselves to fertilizing the soil, which we need (if we want to have a well-rounded diet say, including that which comes from said soil and then meat!)

        Lawyered.

        • Thats right their MANURE is essential for composting and therefore fertilizing the plants. But we can say the same for fish look at aquaponics I encourage you to do some research.
          So Yes grass-fed, free-range or whatever the case may have some life improvement for the animal itself but in the end we CHOOSE to use it for its meat against its consent.
          I doubt the animals volunteer themselves to be eaten. I don’t find anything ethical about an animal being raised solely to be eaten, but using them for their MANURE and only for enriching soil and ecology ,leaving them to their own lives to reproduce and so on.. that sounds more ethical to me, IMO.

          • No, the animals don’t chose to be ate.. What animal does? Do you think the coyote cares if his prey wants him to eat, or not? It’s nature, animals evolved alongside humans who ate them.. Why don’t you start by looking up nature.. How about this, Stop acting like you are so much better than people who consume meat.. I go a great deal out of the way to only eat meat that has lived a life doing things in its nature. You wana sacrifice health, and environment to save a couple animals, fine.. It doesn’t make you any better though.. It makes you counter productive to nature, not society, but the natural ways of the world..

  2. Great, great essay, Craig! Cogent and intelligent overview of some of the big issues. Well done!

  3. Great job! It is a hard subject to cover in 600 words. Think you got the main points through. Defrosting my grass fed rib steak for dinner now!

  4. You make excellent points. I hope lots of people read this and spend time thinking about it. I know a lot of great farmers who have traded their modern comfort for the hard, manual labor of farm work. I buy at least 85-100% of my food from them.

  5. You touched on many good points. I agree that we could not live without the animals we eat. God did provide them for our source of food. Great essay.

    • You cannot live without the animals you eat, but you could live without eating them.

      • You could, but your quality of life would be almost as bad as the animals whose lives you are suffering to protect.. Plus, the stuff most vegans by is so counter productive to the environment.. Really gotta think that through, and stop ignoring it due to emotion..

        • What most people do not understand is that vegan-ism and vegetarianism are two different things. Vegetarians don’t mind milk products. There is nothing counterproductive about growing regular vegetables! As far as quality of life goes, are you saying that vegetarians and vegans have a very poor quality of life, like that of the animals you eat? Well, no. Firstly because eating good food has nothing to do with eating meat, and secondly because nobody is trying to eat us!

  6. Too good to read. I believe god has made all of us so that we can be mutually benefitted. I liked the style and the flow of your writing.

  7. Thanks everyone, for the nice comments. Sorry it took me awhile to get them posted. I was out of town for a bit so I’m just catching up on things!

  8. You make a number of good points, but the fact remains that most Americans (and an increasing number of people in other parts of the world) eat vastly more meat than they need, mostly produced on factory farms that feed their animals with corn (which is inefficient compared to just growing things that humans eat on the same land, besides the problems with conventional monoculture). What you’ve described is an ideal, but until the rest of the world learns to follow it, I’m going to be a vegetarian just to try to counterbalance the inefficiency of modern meat production.

    • Just a thought….wouldn’t it be more impacting if rather than giving up meat due to the “modern meat production” you mentioned, that you instead switch your meat/dairy purchases over to a local, organic farm who is doing things the right way? I think that re-directing our money to those types of farms would send a bigger statement to those factory farms than simply not eating meat would. Anyone else?

      • Well said Melissa. Many vegetarians/vegans that i have spoken to say that they have switched to vegetarianism/veganism because they are against the way animals are treated in our industrial food system. I so agree that it would be far more productive to support a local, humane farmer instead of eliminating meat altogether. Their hearts may be in the right place but their health will suffer.

        • Assuming you have a nutritious diet, rich in vegetables, your health will not suffer (at all) from completely eliminating meat from your diet.

          • Maybe not right now, but unless you’re reading the China Study, your health will eventually suffer, and your body will become inflamed from all the grains you consume to make up for it.. Plus, soy is one of the worst plants you could eat.. It used to be used only for fertilizing the ground, then they would throw it away.. I have seen plenty of vegans with no muscle, and big bellies.. Say what you want. You may be the exception to the rule, but not the rule itself..

          • That is absolutely not true. I was vegetarian for 4 years for ethical reasons like most other intelligent people have tried. After 6 months I was hospitalised for the toxins in soy-based products (I had attempted vegan and replaced EVERYTHING with soy substitutes) which had started breaking down my immune system. It manifested in chronic bronchitis, an asthma diagnosis, none of the steroids worked and eventually I was hospitalised for something that looked and sounded like pneumonia. Though on testing my lungs were clear. Since cutting soy I haven’t had a cough in 5 years.

            2 years after that I cut out gluten because of 10 years of IBS-related pains which were raging out of control. To the point of rectal bleeding. No celiac disease (tests for everything under the sun) just something was upsetting my guts. Gluten went. So did the symptoms.

            About 6 months ago I was almost hospitalised again, luckily testing could be done without that trauma this time. I had developed a heart murmur, I had debilitating fatigue and pain, god pain everywhere. I was weak, dizzy, I would fall asleep in meetings. Turns out I had anaemia, not severe, but it was the start. My periods had disappeared. I gained weight at an exponential pace which didn’t fit with my healthy vegetarian, grain free, diet and my love of exercise. My bone density had diminished. I was deficient in more vitamins and minerals than I can even remember.

            Basically, the result of multiple doctors, naturopaths, acupuncturists and just about any opinion I could get…. I needed meat. There was no way to healthfully supplement for what my diet was missing. And I even had eggs every day and dairy on occasion! (And everything was free range, gmo-free etc…like I said, “healthy vegetarian”)

            The result is that it is impossible. “Health vegetarian” is in itself an oxymoron. I agree with what someone said above that the average person eats far more meat than we need to, and I would add that the wastage for each person, let alone a supermarket, is beyond abysmal. But your health WILL suffer from a vegetarian diet. Maybe not today, maybe not a year from now, but eventually your body will leech all the stores it can from within you, and if you are not replenishing them your health will suffer.

          • Krissy: Most educated vegetarians know that you can’t just replace EVERYTHING with soy products. Most vegetarians don’t eat an abundance of soy at all. Variety is key in any lifestyle choice but I can promise that a well rounded vegetarian/vegan diet can in fact be a healthy choice. It’s the lazy vegetarians that eat too much soy and processed grains (btw you can eat a LOT of grains that are unprocessed and gluten free, giving grains up completely is dangerously unhealthy). People that dive into the shallow end of vegetarianism and then call it unhealthy give the lifestyle a bad name.

      • I totally agree Melissa. The more we buy from local and organic farmers the supply of the good stuff will grow and people will be rewarded for doing farming the best way!

  9. Mary Jo Kaye says:

    Excellent job! For this, you deserve a steak :)

  10. Jonathan says:

    Um, so… your essay seems to address why it’s ethical to eat meat in a system that is entirely unlike the meat industry in America right now. It’s fine as a hypothetical completely removed from most people’s everyday lives, but what do you think about the ethics of buying meat at the supermarket or a restaurant? Is that ethical, or are you just avoiding reality for the sake of a tidy argument?

    • Jonathan, the system to which I’m speaking is not a hypothetical. More and more people are tuning up to it and choosing to remove their money from industrialized food. The more people that awaken to this, the more change will come about.

      • It is not by any means hypothetical. I was raised by a mom who was raised on a working farm. We ate farm style meals growing up. Unfortunately, it took me until early adulthood to realize that we may be eating farm style meals, but they were not farm quality meals. From that point I became a vegetarian, then a meat eater again, then vegan, then vegetarian, now a conscious consumer. It took time to connect with local farmers, but we have. We only eat grass-fed meat from humanely raised or that which we hunt and process ourselves. Gone are the grocery store steaks for this family. If we cannot find it from a local source, we go without. We went years without chicken until we connected with a local farmer. My next step is growing and preserving/putting up our own produce. We buy everything as local as possible. That IS our reality.

    • Jessica Turner says:

      I’m a poor college student and I eat grass-fed meat. It is not a hypothetical situation. And if you do you research more and more restaurants are using local grass-fed meats. The problem I see is you must be an advocate for what you want and ask your restaurants where their food comes from, then if it isn’t something you believe STOP going there. So many of you people argue against these non-point things like “that’s not how most meat is supplied” or some other argument. You’re right, this isn’t the argument but if corn-fed factory raised meat isn’t something you believe in then stop eating it but don’t tell me that I have to stop eating my local, grass-fed meat.

  11. I’m one of those farmers that raises their own animals to provide meat for the family. I have found that it is far easier to raise and fill the freezer with meat than any vegetable. After a few weeks being brought up in a brooder the chickens run free and eat the grass all summer. When they get big we butcher a few at a time. The last ones are huge, 10 lbs or more. Cattle are bigger, take much longer to raise, more land too. However you end up with 6-8 hundred lbs of meat, enough for a very long time. I still raise as many vegetables as I can but the veggies are much more labor intense. So when I consider my labor and how many more calories per acre I get from meat It makes makes the most sense for me to prioritize raising meat and supplement with veggies and fruit. I think if anyone really had to grow all their own food they would quickly find this to be a universal truth.

    • Wonderful perspective. I’m going to post this on my Facebook page. Thanks for sharing, Marcy.

    • Interesting perspective. However, how do you feed your cow? I assume that you buy grain for your cattle… but if you really had to grow your own food then the cow would eat most of your grain that you say takes so much work to produce.
      You would have to grow a ton of wheat for that cow… far more than your family eats.

      I guess the last option is if the cow only ate wild grasses, but my understanding is that the cows need the grain to gain all that weight.

      • How absurd. Cows eat grass. That’s what they’re designed to do. Their digestive systems do poorly on grains. There are many cows both in the US and abroad (Swiss cows!!) that eat only grass.

      • It’s called 100% grass-fed beef. We’ve been eating it exclusively for over 5 years. Rotational grazing practices are much kinder to the soil, water supply, and local wildlife than tilling the land to grow all the grains necessary to keep a vegetarian well-fed. If you are against factory-farmed animals (as I am) becoming a vegetarian isn’t the answer as it is VERY disruptive to wildlife to grow massive amounts of grains, tubers, fruits, and vegetables. Just take a drive through states like Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, etc.

        • Also in places like Ireland and New Zealand practically all beef and dairy cattle are entirely grass-fed. Thus the butter from those countries has a rich yellow color and a very high vitamin content. Kerry Gold & Anchor butter are two brands widely available in the US. There are US brands that carry pasture butter as well.

      • Kat Posell says:

        BD, cows are fed grains in order to gain weight QUICKLY. It also makes them very sick, hence all the antibiotics and hormones in the mainstream supply. Traditionally, and currently on “grass-fed” ranches, cows eat grasses and some weeds, which are what they thrive on. They grow slower, but much healthier, without grains.

        • IT’s illegal to sell any meat with any amount of antibiotic in it.. So if you trust in the govt, same with organic, than this shouldn’t apply..

  12. Fabrizio says:

    Hi. First, try to understand my english and pardon my mistakes I am not mother tongue.
    What you write is partially true, animals are good in converting the raw biomass in meat that we can eat. However if you look at the past society the amount of meat that people ate was really few. More, the number of animals were a much smaller fraction of the animals that we have today. The people were not vegan, but almost, the meat in the diet was a rare event. But the main problem of your reasoning for me is the following, you take an extreme. You take a system were people does not have the chance to decide. Esquimo/farmer without fuel/ancient society are intrinsically justified, they had no choice, they have to survive. So the main question, in my opinion, remain. Is, today, with the current conditions, justified to eat meat?

    • Hi Fabrizio,

      Thanks for your input. Again, with only 600 words, there’s only so much I could expand upon! But yes, I still think, with today’s conditions, it’s even more vital that people eat meat that comes from pastured/wild/grass-fed sources. It is a part of our collective journey back to growing food in a way that can can sustain us. Animals are a necessary part of this. The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith is an excellent resource for delving into this further.

      As for your statement that the “amount of meat people ate was really few,” this is a frequently stated modern day myth. I would also encourage you to look into the research of Dr. Weston Price. He studied traditional cultures around the world in the 1930s and did not find this. In fact, he found the opposite.

      Craig

      • Fabrizio says:

        Dear Craig,

        Thank you for your reply. I want just to justify the statement that I did about the meat. I can only show you the date for my country (Italy), however I would assume that it could be applied also for other countries in Europe. For the US, I really don’t know.
        The data for such statement can be found here( http://bressanini-lescienze.blogautore.espresso.repubblica.it/2009/10/23/cosa-non-mangiavano-gli-italiani-una-volta/) , it contain two illuminating graphs. Unfortunately the source is in italian, but with a small effort and google translate I think that the main message can be understand from the graphs. If you look at the graphs in 1865 people were consuming 95 kilos of fruit and vegetables “pro capite” (first graph “Frutta e ortaggi”) when today they reach 375 kg (approx 4 times). For the meat (graph “Carni e pesce”) we have 10 kilos in 1865 “pro capite” and 140 kg today, an increase of 14 times! These data came from the ISTAT, the italian national institute of statistic. As I said, I would be a bit strange if in the other countries of Europe the conditions were really different from it.

        Best
        Fabrizio

        • Ricardão says:

          Well, Europe has always been very poor in natural resources and over-populated. A wicked bad combination…

  13. Jillian Anderson says:

    Well said Mr. Fear. I like that you started the essay by pointing out the dependency of supermarkets on fossil fuels, a factor easily taken for granted by many Americans, including myself at times. It’s refreshing for me to read another ‘opinion’ on why eating meat is not a bad thing, as many of my friends have become vegeatarians. It can be difficult to discuss the legitimacy of that claim in a time where eating meat has become less politically correct by many people who consider themselves to be health conscious. Thank you.

  14. YES!!! Loved this Craig!

  15. Love the article! We have a ranch where we raise Registered Black Angus, mostly for the seedstock. They are raised on the rocky, inhospitable mountains in SC Arizona. They are pastured at times, for lack of feed in the mountains, but eat very little in the way of added supplements. We think we have the best beef around. We are careful of our animals and they are treated humanely. This cycle of their life, which we were given by a loving Father in Heaven, was given for our use and benefit. It is typically known that vegetarians are not some of the healthiest people around….meat/protein is a necessary part of the functions of our body. Again….loved the article!

    • I have never heard of vegetarians as typically being unhealthy, and don’t believe there’s any truth in it. Protein is available in great abundance, in many vegetables and legumes. Also, I have seen many a people whose gluttonous consumption of meat has lead to health problems.

  16. Ethical or not, I am eating meat and I am going to enjoy every bite ;)

    • YES, exactly! Thank you!!! I wish that more meat-eaters could be brave and admit this, instead of desperately trying to justify their eating meat, in a pathetic attempt to make themselves feel better about their decisions.

  17. Answering the question “Is it ethical to eat meat?” involves considering ALL relevant ethical issues surrounding food production and consumption.

    Craig only talked about the way we raise animals, human food security in different parts of the world, and the environmental impacts of raising animals as ethical factors to weigh up in this debate. He mentioned that he would have liked to discuss the ethics relating to human health as well. Although these are all valid and important considerations, there are indeed other crucial considerations that have been left out.

    What about the sentience of animals and their right to avoid suffering?

    I, for one, cannot point to even one morally relevant characteristic that differentiates human and non-human animals, and therefore, I can not find a single moral reason as to why the interests of a human individual should outweigh the interests of a non-human individual. To allow this discrimination is immoral, it is unethical.

    Therefore, every moral arguement about human wellbeing in terms of food production must in give equal consideration to the wellbeing of the animals involved.

    Simplified, I read part of the argument presented as follows:
    Eating factory-farmed meat is unethical. However, eating meat from animals sustainably and humanely raised on local farms is an >ethical imperative< because the way that we currently produce non-meat food can be incredibly inefficient, environmentally destructive, unsustainable, etc.

    This is a total cop out.

    If meat food can be produced in such sustainable and ethical ways as you suggest, then non-meat food can be too.

    I do appreciate the validity of one of your points, in that herbivores have evolved with incredibly specialised digestive systems that allow them to make use of the food energy stored in the environment in ways that humans cannot. As you say, these animals can then be killed and eaten for food, thus allowing humans to tap in to the energy food chain. Indeed, this is how humans have come to be able to colonise other-wise inhospitable parts of the world.

    However, when engaging in discussion about ethics, one cannot use the reasoning that something is 'more ethical' than something else to justify that choice if indeed there is another (known and feasible) EVEN MORE ethical option.

    The even more ethical option here lies in the fact that the ways and systems in which we grow non-meat food have a great deal of room for improvement. Vegetable, fruit, seed, nut and grain growing needs undergo a process of decentralisation (ideally, everyone should follow the “I eat, therefore I grow” principle) and centered on sustainable practices which conserve biological diversity, water, soil nutrients and organics, etc. What could be more beneficial to the local food movement than producing food yourself, recycling your own wastes in the process?

    On this note, I seriously question the assumptions and claims you make regarding the contribution small-scale, organic and decentralised animal agriculture makes to sustainability as well. Soil is an important factor of sustainability and vital for food production, but it's formation and health does not rely on animal manure. Legumes fix nitrogen to the soil. Sustainable crop rotation practices replenish soil nutrients and organic matter. Plus, even an ideal society would produce a great deal of valuable organic matter that could be used as soil improver in place of animal manure, such as human manure (der!), dead/removed vegetation, food scraps, dead animals/people, etc, especially if combined with practices such as composting and worm farming. There is a great deal of good science describing the immense environmental destruction that goes hand in hand with raising herds of hard-hooved animals that so very inefficiently convert water, vegetation and nutrients into flesh.

    On this note, you seem to be highly concerned with geographical sensitivity when it comes to plant based agriculture, but you don’t seem to acknowledge the environmental impacts of animal agriculture in unsuitable ecosystems. Soil compaction, soil erosion, water pollution, species extinction… And we are just scratching the surface!

    But, I digress. Back to the main point I was trying to make. There are ethical ways of producing non-meat food, and there are ethical ways of raising animals. However, the difference comes with consumption. In itself, consuming non-sentient plant-based food is ethical. You require sustenance to survive and you are not causing the plant suffering. The same cannot be said for animals however, which are necessarily harmed in order to gain their meat, or who’s liberties must be breached to gain their products.

    I look forward to your response.

    • Jaid, sorry it took me so long to respond but to be honest your response kinda exhausts me. It seems as though you’re looking for an argument more than a discussion. Please keep in mind that my post was a 600 WORD ESSAY. It would require a small book to address all your points.

      I will simply say that throughout your lengthy response there seems to be a stigma that death is bad and that thus killing animals is therefore bad and “unethical.” This is the common argument among vegetarians but especially vegans. But what if death wasn’t such a bad thing? What if in fact it was necessary for Life? That is the essence of my point. Animals and plants (yes, plants too) can and should be raised sustainably. Doing so together insures the health of both. Death is necessary in order for both to survive and thrive. We have that model in example after example in different cultures and environments all over the world. Perhaps that is not quite the answer you’re looking for but I will just leave it at that.

      • Mae :o) says:

        Wonderful point Craig! “…what if death wasn’t such a bad thing? What if in fact it was necessary for Life? … Death is necessary in order for both to survive and thrive.”

        So glad to have stumbled on to this great read (via Food Renegade)- Already a fan of yours on FB! Keep up the inspirational work!

      • Death is necessary in order for both to survive and thrive? for both of what? Animals and plants? That doesn’t make any sense.
        And as for “Health of animals”? You must be joking. The only health and livelihood you actually care about, is that of you and yours. You want an animal to be healthy so it’s safe for you to eat… the end. Quit pretending to care about the life of an animal that you have no problem with ultimately being killed, UNNECESSARILY, as it is for no reason other than your consumption. You can survive without eating animals… you chose to eat them. You live in this day and age, not in the world of hypothetical scenario you bring up in your post, in an effort to justify your meat-eating.

    • Jaid – How is it more ethical to eat a plant? It is a living thing as well.
      Two points: 1. How do you know plants don’t “suffer” when they are cut or ripped out of the ground and eaten/cooked? There is evidence they do feel, thus suffer.
      2. All domesticated animals – bovine, swine, poultry, equine, dogs, cats, rabbits, gerbils, etc. – must serve a purpose in the circle of life or there is absolutely no reason for their existence. Obviously domesticated pets are here to stay. However, if your argument is we shouldn’t eat meat because it is unethical and the animals are harmed, there is absolutely no reason for any of those animals to exist. So, all domesticated animals who exist for food consumption become unnecessary and need to be gone from this earth. What is your plan for all the domesticated animals that now, because the entire world is vegan, have no purpose to exist? Extinction comes to mind.

      • Annbb… animals have blood going through their veins and are able to blatantly express and communicate their suffering… despite all being made of matter and energy, there is obviously a huge difference between animals and plants, that you’d have to be a complete idiot, not to acknowledge. If everything must serve a purpose to justify it’s existence, then what is ours? You just get to be here to eat all of the other animals? I don’t think so, sweetheart.

    • So are animals wrong for eating other animals? Is it okay for a coyote to eat a rabbit, but not for a person to? You want one morally-relevant characteristic? We worry about how the animals we eat are raised, among other things. No other living thing has such contemplation for its meal.

      • With contemplation, comes responsibility. You have a choice in what you eat. When you live in a world where you have to kill your food, or you won’t eat otherwise, come talk to me… otherwise, your comment’s irrelevant.

        • Everything we eat is something that we’ve killed, whether or not you deem it to be sentient. What makes consciousness the great equalizer between the chasm of sentient and non-sentient, anyway? All living things, be they plant or brain-possessing bodies, have the instinct to survive. There are no natural ethics. Do what thou whilst. The end remains the same. Worm food.

  18. Hi, Craig!
    I’ve been reading some posts, and I must say I really like your blog and your writing style. It has something magnetic.
    Even though I agree with what you state here, and with the ethical eating of meat and its benefits I strongly recommend you not to trust The Vegetarian Myth so much. It’s a flawed and biased book, written by someone with a lot of issues trying desperately to find a new sense for her life (I read it and I loved it, in case you wonder). It’s just not really scientific.
    Anyway, I’m really glad to see that you’re spreading the word of traditional foods in such a magnetic way.

    • Well thanks Georgina. I appreciate the compliment. But I’m just curious, I didn’t even mention the Vegetarian Myth in the post. Where did I give you this impression? I mentioned it briefly in the comments and yes, it is a great book (albeit with odd and uncomfortable tangents) but I never emphasized it quite the way you’re suggesting. Anyway, it is a good resource for those wanting a more well rounded perspective to why animals are necessary to sustainable agriculture.

  19. Craig, this article makes me very happy. Thank you for the thoughtful, well-written 600 words you were limited to. I will re-post this, though every time I post something non-vegetarian it begins an exhausting discussion (aka vegan ranting) that is beginning to drive me crazy. So perhaps I’ll wait until I can REALLY discuss it through a blog post.
    I look forward to reading more – now that I’ve found you. Cheers!!

  20. You seem to be using notions of what is natural and in line with evolution to explain this position (who can argue with nature and evolution?) but the arguments rest on some inaccuracies.

    “There’s no system in nature that does not have an animal component as a recycling agent” – except that agriculture, the system the author is talking about here, arose through human manipulation of existing natural resources. I is inaccurate to refer to agriculture in the same way as other ecosystems.

    “Animals have evolved with humans. Cows, chickens, sheep and pigs would not survive long in the wild. We provide them life and they give life to us. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.” – because humans bred them specifically from their original species so they would no longer survive in the wild and would rely on us, that’s domestication, not something that just evolved randomly. We’re providing them a mutually beneficial life in the same way a pimp might provide one for a desperate child prostitute…

    To the concern over ground animals killed for the soybean field? I would guess a lot less compared to the grass-fed cattle ranch of the same acreage when you include the cattle as well as the predators like wolves that these ranches attract, which ranchers are often permitted to kill as well.

    • “We’re providing them a mutually beneficial life in the same way a pimp might provide one for a desperate child prostitute…” HA!!! I love that… how incredibly insightful, and sadly true. I find it down right irritating, that half of this guy’s argument is based upon his completely non-researched assumption; that the aforementioned animals can not even survive on their own in the “wild”… what nonsense!

  21. Thanks for a great essay. I only want to correct one error in the essay. You say that farm animals would not survive long on their own. This isn’t true. In a variety of places, farms animals have gone feral. In Hawaii, feral goats and pigs are a big problem in wild areas, in some places such as Kauai eating the last remaining specimens of now-rare wild plants. Florida and Eastern Oregon have feral pigs. Hawaii and Florida have feral chickens. Hunting, anyone?

  22. As long as people think god gave them animals to dominate and kill then they will think it’s ok to eat meat no matter what.
    Sad truth.

  23. Jason McDonald says:

    I’d like to chime in on this “meat is ethical” blog post as well.

    Let me first start off by saying I commend you for finding the practices of factory farming abhorrent enough to abstain from supporting them with your money. A lot of people are disgusted by the practices of the industry, but then still support them with the mentality of “Well, what can I do? My few dollars that I spend on meat from a factory farm doesn’t account for anything. I’ll just keep buying from them.” It reminds me of the quote “Not a single raindrop thought itself responsible for the flood.” Anyhow, I’m straying off topic. I just wanted to say I appreciate that you are making lifestyle changes in an attempt to cause animals less suffering.

    On that note though, this blog post doesn’t make an ethical argument for eating meat. The only talking points I find in it are just those against factory farming, which I can agree with. However, factory farming being unethical doesn’t make eating grass-fed animals ethical by default. I’m going to break down the points in the article as best I can to keep is somewhat orderly.

    -Factory farms take more from the Earth than they give back, have higher incidents of animal abuse, and is “destructive and unethical”
    -Animals are necessary, as their manure fertilizes the soil.
    -Traditional cultures never voluntarily choose veganism
    -Cows, chickens, sheep, and pigs wouldn’t survive long in the wild
    -Animals died to make room for that soybean field to be planted

    We all seem to be in agreement on the first point. Factory farms are bad.

    The second point, I agree with as well. Animals play an important role in fertilization of the soil with their manure. I’m unsure how they’re attempting to use this as a moral argument to eat meat though. There is no morality to it, it’s a simple fact that manure enriches soil. However, this point only furthers the argument not to eat animals, as dead animals don’t create manure, only live animals can do this. Right?

    The third point, traditional cultures never voluntarily choose veganism. I’m unsure what the writer meant by “traditional”, but this assessment is very broad and unsubstantiated. Most societies of limited means eat more vegetables and grain than other foods. Meat is often considered a rare commodity in these places, where a single serving of meat may be split amongst a family across the span of a week or only served when guests are visiting. So far as cultures choosing veganism voluntarily, there are far too many variables at play for the writer to make such a broad generalization. Also, the Shaolin monks voluntarily choose a vegetarian/vegan diet. There are undoubtedly more, that one just leaps to my mind first.

    These animals wouldn’t survive long in the wild? This point has MANY holes in it. You can easily find wild pigs & cows, and to a lesser extent wild chickens. If the writer means the specific animals currently being held captive, yes, they might struggle more in the wild because they’ve never been exposed to it. However, how does this make eating them moral? The old saying “From the frying pan into the fire” is applicable here. We save them from wild predators only in order for us to kill them for our own consumption? That isn’t exactly saving their lives.

    Animals might’ve died to make room for a soybean field. It’s impossible to have zero impact on the Earth unless you simply don’t exist at all. The point is to tread as lightly as possible. Even if a soybean field makes an impact, that still isn’t a moral argument to eat meat. A low impact way of life would still be preferable to the higher impact of meat consumption. This would be akin to saying, “That Coke can on the side of the road has a negative impact on the environment. That justifies emptying this dumpster in the same spot.” It is simply illogical reasoning.

    While eating grass-fed meat might be considered as slightly more ethical by some, as the animals are less likely to suffer as much animal abuse, it’s still encumbered by being unethical. I’ll try to avoid anthropomorphizing animals, as I know many people don’t hold their lives as valuable. I will ask of you though, if you wouldn’t want you or your loved ones to experience something, why would you force another being to experience those things?

    In summary, while eating grass-fed meat might be considered as slightly more ethical by some, as the animals are less likely to suffer as much animal abuse, it’s still encumbered by being unethical. Rape is wrong, so is molestation without penetration right? Murder is wrong, so is non-fatal violence right? Slavery is wrong, so is indentured servitude right? Just because something wrong appears in a less potent form, does it make it right? Wrong is wrong, no?

    Please don’t take this as an attack. Just hoping to expand on the conversation and I would love to hear y’alls thoughts. Thanks!

    • very very well said.

    • It’s August 29th. Let’s please keep this conversation going. It’s very interesting indeed.

    • Thank you! Many of the same thoughts crossed my mind as I was reading his ridiculous post. I hope that everyone who read his, will bother to read yours, as well… and realize the truth.

    • Ewen Lewis says:

      Many well laid points, Jason.

      I would like to add one other. Sustainability. It is always interesting when I hear people talk about sustainability of farm raised meat. The reason being is that if the entire planet of meat eaters absolutely had to rely on this kind of meat, they would only get to eat it, at the most, once or twice a week, if that. Also, because of the high demand and limited supply that it would create, meat would become a food for the rich and the masses would be left to their own, primarily plant-based, devices. This lends validity to the point that traditional cultures have never voluntarily chosen a vegan/vegetarian diet. Meat was traditionally food for society’s elite, just as candy was. Maybe this is why the most common diseases nowadays (diabetes, heart disease, etc.) were always know as ones that only the small wealthy segment of the population suffered from in past generations.

      As the human population continues to grow and access to moderate wealth increases in densely populated areas of the globe, like China and India where grazing land is virtually non-existent or heavily polluted, the demand for meat is increasing exponentially. There is no way that local, “ethically” run farms could ever hope to sustainably meet that demand.

      So, as human civilization seems to be forever ruled by commerce and economics, we are left with either continuing down the factory farm paved road to feeding the planet, or to collectively choose to eat significantly less animal products/choose not to eat animal products. Otherwise, other dire consequences will be chosen for us by default.

      http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM

  24. Taylor Dono says:

    Coming from a 7 year vegetarian who is in the midst of finding farmers with grass-fed meats in my area, this was wonderfully written. Well done! It’s a tricky subject and you managed to cover a whole lot in 600 words. The movement out of the grocery store and into our backyards and local farms has really opened my eyes up to a different, more compassionate way to eat meat. I thought I’d be a life long vegetarian because of the torture and filth that comes from conventional farming and meat production, it was a blog post just like this that turned me towards this beautiful and sustainable way of eating. Again, well done! Cheers!

    • Killing an animal, unnecessarily, is never beautiful. People, in this day and age, chose to eat meat. There in nothing beautiful about it… it’s disgraceful. Being “nice” to an animal before it’s killed, does not redeem it’s murder.

      • On that basis we need to put every predator on trial and lock them up in jail (or a zoo?) because every single one of them is a murderer.

        Many animals on this earth require other animals to survive. Humans (like dogs, chickens etc) are omnivores. We are blessed to be able to survive on one or the other for a short period of time (ie during winter when there are no plants) and supplement when the food is available.

        Unnecessary killing is exactly that, unnecessary. But the farming advocated here is sustainable, encouraging the animal to exhibit as many of its natural tendencies as possible. Smaller, local farms simply don’t engage in mass slaughter ala factory farming. Purely to meet demand, not dissimilar so if we were each to be raising our own animals or hunting (both virtually impossible in urbanised countries). The killing is not “unnecessary”. It’s necessary in the circle of life. Haven’t you ever seen The Lion King? “We eat the antelope, but when we die our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass”….

  25. A/ Food production relies on fossil fuels just as much as agriculture.
    B/ Farmers use both manure and chemical fertilizers, so using one does not prevent them from using the other.
    C/ Yes absolutely animals are part of nature’s ecosystem. It’s not because we don’t want to eat them that we want to kill them all … ?
    D/ Domestication of those animals is not a natural process but an artificial one (by definition: made by man), so I don’t see how this guy jumps to the conclusion that this all part of nature’s plan. Besides, would you eat your pets ? They also rely on us to live …
    E/ Yes, true that, plastic would be murder too. So one murder justifies the other?

    You like meat, like I do? Just eat it but why trying to wear a mask of “ethics” ?

  26. I love the way you wrote this article.
    As someone who has done a lot of substantive editing, I enjoy your approach: bringing up the arguments against why it’s “unethical” to kill animals…and then attacking it with sound counter-arguments. Granted it wasn’t overly scientific in nature…but for light reading – very enjoyable :)

    Thanks!

  27. Richard Salinas says:

    Regardless of my position, the only aspect of it being ‘ethical’ to eat meat comes from the last lines: “Nature thrives on diversity and that includes animals. We need to honor the cycles of life and death in our food. That means choosing foods that promote sustainability. Eating meat from farms that promote sustainability promotes life in all forms, including ours. This is not only ethical, it is necessary.”

    I don’t see the need to not support sustainability. Learning to develop a world based on sustainability would allow for future generations to seek means of thriving rather than surviving. But, eating meat from sustainable farms only support sustainability within that perspective–rather, within that limited framework.

    Consider this: most farmland is used to grow food for the meat many people choose and want to eat. As a result, we have improper managed land for ourselves, for our animals, and for growing our food. Regardless of my perspective or diet, this is bad form.

    Now consider this: with advances in technology know to many hydroponic marijuana growers, we can grow more than enough food from plants alone anywhere in the world. This is possible by controlling the environments within buildings, or simply specializing the flow of nutrients to the plants for maximum growth with the no man-made chemicals or fossil fuels needed.

    That, in turn, would allow us to feed more people and more animals without having to farm them within limited spaces of factories and fenced lands. The animals, moreover, would be able to and allowed to eat their own natural diet.

    I’m not saying don’t eat meat. I’m simply saying your argument does not prove eating meat is ethical when we can feed everyone in the world without one person or animal ignored if we simply grow food with better methods, smarter technology…. without the hindrance of needing to seek endless profit.

  28. Karl Thorkildsen says:

    To me this looks like pure propoganda of the meat producing industry. I’ll just point out couple of reasons. The author states that the animals we eat (which means cows, pigs, and chickens) are capable of turning scrubby bushes into meat for us to eat. But guess what, that’s not what happens today. We feed them with crops that we could be eating and enjoying without these mega-farmed animals being in the chain. We feed them corn, soy, and grain. Not scrubby bushes, get real! Also the argument is made that vegetables are’t available to everyone. So are you saying that 90% of us are Eskimos? Next you say vegetarians are killing animals by eating GMO tofu? Clearly you have no idea what it means to eat healthy food. Vegetarians are way more likely to avoid GMO’s than the average burger sucking idiot. Lastly “nature thrives on diversity and that includes animals”. So you’re saying diversity is enhanced by growing 100 million cows, all the same, every year and eating them? Wake up, and get off the meat producer’s payroll.

    • of course, obviously he is payed by somebody in meat industry.

      it is only sad that all this poor souls are believing in this because of their wish to be innocent, moral and not a murder. it is a beautiful wish and i understand them. one day, maybe, they will see that they are murderers.

  29. What’s up i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this
    post i thought i could also make comment due to this sensible
    paragraph.

  30. I really think that comparison tool between this and that dichotomy is pretty annoying. Oh, you’re a vegetarian, then you must only eat GMO chemically grown soybean tofu burgers wrapped in plastic. I’m not saying don’t have these type of conversations. I often discuss with others, what if supermarkets were gone tomorrow and the importance of local sustainable agriculture, but to make such a simplistic assuming statement such as you did is really alienating and shuts down possibilities of nuanced conversation. It is more than a this or that.

  31. It’s also ethical to eat the food that’s best for you nutritionally.

    While no traditional (non-scripture-based) human culture has ever voluntarily gone vegan, several have gone near-carnivorous and thrived on it. Those who do go vegan successfully do so either by consuming plant matter that still has bugs on it (which is why Jains in India get away with this at all), which isn’t really vegan anyway, or they supplement their missing nutrients.

    Because we don’t just eat meat for the protein. There are vitamins in the fat and organs without which we cannot be healthy in the long run. There are precursors to those vitamins in plant foods, but we’re not good at converting them.

  32. this blog is full of ignorant comments, so i’ll answer just to the last one:

    “It’s also ethical to eat the food that’s best for you nutritionally.”
    do you know what ethical means? check in the dictionary and then think about this sentence. it makes no sense, as you will see.

    “Because we don’t just eat meat for the protein. There are vitamins in the fat and organs without which we cannot be healthy in the long run. There are precursors to those vitamins in plant foods, but we’re not good at converting them.”
    it’s amazing how you can invent things. you are very creative and should be a writer. unfortunately (for you), what you say has no sense, and many vegetarians live like that whole their life without any health problems.

    i just want to say that i understand why many people on this site are happy about this story. it’s because they feel like somebody who is “certified” in something is saying that they are not guilty of anything. he is saying that it’s ethical to eat meat (without any real argument), and you are believing because you want to be innocent. i understand your need for not to be murderers, but unfortunately that’s what you are.

    he’s mentioning soya and tofu. i never ate tofu, and i think i ate soya 10 years ago. once. i don’t know why he thinks all vegans eat that, but ok. most often, i eat rise and pasta with vegetables, and there are billions of combinations. all those meals are tastier than meat i ate before. i eat better now, i’m healthier and my conscience is clear. is yours too?

    you are not an animal, you have a choice in what you eat. you don’t live in a world where you have to kill your food, or you won’t eat otherwise. you can CHOOSE. there is evolution, it happened to use, and now we are RESPONSIBLE for what we do. can you live with your choices?

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