The Ethicist column of the The New York Times Magazine started out an article with the following paragraph …
Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory. In recent years, vegetarians — and to an even greater degree vegans, their hard-core inner circle — have dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating. From the philosopher Peter Singer, whose 1975 volume “Animal Liberation” galvanized an international movement, to the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote the 2009 best seller “Eating Animals,” those who forswear meat have made the case that what we eat is a crucial ethical decision. To be just, they say, we must put down our cheeseburgers and join their ranks.
The article continues on and invite their readers to make the strongest possible case for this most basic of daily practices. Put simply, why is it ethical to eat meat?
I believe that this is the wrong question.
Why is it ethical to take any life to eat?
If we are going to argue based on a value judgement, then that must be the question that is asked.
If one is to take a moral stance on the food they eat based on the taking of life, then one cannot create an arbitrary differentiation based on whether or not that life has a face.
Plants have life. Plants have forms of behaviour which includes items that can be described as play, strategy and reaction to outside influence. The fact that they do not react with ‘puppy eyes’ have the ability to run away or communicate in a way we recognise does not negate that fact.
So, if one was to take a “no life taking” moral stand for the food they consume, what is left for them to consume? The Fruits and nuts that fall to the ground? Eggs? Milk? Honey that dripped from a hanging beehive?
The choices that remain would be highly limited, let alone the possibility of remaining healthy.
Within nature, life eats life. It is the cycle. There is no guilt over it. The question should not about a moral stand. The real question is “how is it ethically ok to eat?”
The failure to use all of the food you have is a greater ethical “sin”. Waste, quite simply, is the greatest ethical no-no.
Every food we have available to us is one we are wasteful with. Of the 15000 identified edible plants, humans cultivate only 250 for food. Of these, we often waste a great majority of the plant. I’m not even talking about the industrialisation of certain foods. As one such example – people buy radishes with the leaves attached, then remove and throw them away. Radish leaves are a delightful salad leaf – why throw it away? At the very least, compost it! Nose to Tail eating was long a tradition of almost all our ancestors and yet we now snub the crunchiness of a crispy sow ear salad or the delights of an oven baked Roman tripe stew.
When it comes to food, the triangle of expectations is an effective measure of the ethical value. Good – Fast – Cheap : choose two. If you’re food is fast and cheap, chances are it’s not “good”. I don’t just mean McDonalds either. The more processed a food is – the closer to “Ready To Eat” it is, the less likely it is to be meeting the “good” criteria of foods when exploring it from the view of “ethical” food.
So, is it ethical to eat meat? Yes, with an if. If you are respectful of the food you eat, then you are more likely to be ethical. If you take a life (whether with your own hands or via that of a farmer) then you should respect that life by making use of every part of it to the fullest.
Everything else is just moralistic guilt and propaganda.