Thursday, May 28, 2015

Re: How do people defend eating meat?

Over on his blog, Chris Blattman, a popular blogger and an economist who I deeply respect at the organization where I work, endorses the now commonplace view that we should eat animals, but we should treat them nicely before we do so. He argues that the marginal cost of a little meat is not that high. Given that people reason morally using taboos and the near nonexistence of humane meat (particularly chicken, which inflicts far more misery per serving than beef), I disagree. (This is yet more anecdotal evidence that now that the animal rights movement has gotten animal welfare on the table, the next step is to show that humane meat is a sham.)

I'm cross-posting the response I left on his post:

This vegetarian reader will bite. Not because I’m vegetarian, but because I’ve had dogs my whole life and would never want them to go through what chickens and other animals go through on essentially all farms. That’s the crux of the issue: there’s a scientific consensus rivaling that on climate change (see the Cambridge Consensus on Consciousness) that other animals have feelings, and rather complex ones at that. This is why Richard Dawkins and others like him say that we should be vegetarian. It’s simply untenable, as a Darwinian, to say that it’s wrong to kill or hurt humans but that there’s some bright red line where just because an animal is not of our species, it’s okay.
But let’s get to the notion of favoring reasonable treatment. As a scholar of violence and conflict, you must know how profoundly objectification and desensitization shapes our minds. When you accept that it is okay to kill animals for food, it shapes the way you see them. Do you really think you can view an animal as something to be eaten and as a sentient being with moral worth? Others have made this point far better than I can: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/07/how-conscientious-carnivores-ignore-meats-true-origins/241828/
Moreover, the evidence bears this out. What would you say qualifies as “reasonable treatment of animals”? I would wager that your definition of “reasonable” describes no more than a negligible portion of the market. It’s standard practice at all farms, humane or not, for hens to be debeaked without painkillers (hens use their beaks the way humans use our hands), for baby animals to be separated from their mothers, for animals to be killed as babies, and for slaughter to be frequently botched. This is what investigators at a Certified Humane, cage-free Whole Foods farm found (not very graphic, FWIW): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yU4PJCuslD0
But there’s a reason that virtually none of this “humane” farming is actually the humane, pasture-raised images we have in our heads. It’s because feeding over 300 million people with animals living decently is simply not feasible. See, for example, this piece on the sustainability of ethical meat:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/opinion/the-myth-of-sustainable-meat.html.
Your original post shows signs of the wavering and cognitive dissonance that smart, compassionate people so frequently show when it comes to this issue. It’s not easy to take a stand against such a socially entrenched practice, but it’s the right thing to do.

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