The Morality of Meat

The following is a brief essay that I wrote 14 months ago. I’m posting this because I’ve been extremely busy this week (yes, too busy to come up with anything original) and I really think it fits the theme of this blog. In the future I won’t rehash old material unless of course I’m really busy (like now). P.S, I’m still a vegetarian…

After reading various animal ethics expositions in a college ethics class last semester it became apparent, at least to me, that eating meat was morally condemnable. Still, for the love of meat (and pure laziness) I kept up with my past eating habits. Finally, my ego got the best of me and I began to feel guilty for continuing to practice something that I now felt was wrong. Three months ago I quit cold turkey. I’m still alive and well.

Let’s get one thing straight. I’m not one of those whiney and domineering vegetarians (by this, I mean that I won’t scorn you for eating meat). However, I do tend to get pissed when people criticize my lifestyle. These are people that have not once questioned the decency of their actions.

“It’s the food chain, man.”

They tell me.

I try to explain that as rationally thinking omnivores, we are at liberty to pick and choose what we feast upon, be it blueberries or cow hide. We’re no longer fighting for survival as man’s “intelligence” has made the so-called food chain obsolete. I then begin to talk about the capacity for animals to suffer and so forth. Still the argument always shifts to:

“But they aren’t human, who cares.”

To me, that statement is pure bigotry. Remember the civil rights movement? Before this racial paradigm shift, the average white layman had no problem treating a black man like shit. It was after all, a common practice. Philosopher and animal ethicist Peter Singer uses the term “Speciesism” to describe neglecting to consider other species as morally considerable.

I don’t believe the area of animal ethics is black and white. However, if you’re going to criticize my lifestyle at least present me with a thoughtful argument. The sad thing is most folks who argue with me only do so because not eating meat it so foreign to them that they’ve never actually thought about questioning the ethical integrity of it. It hurts to think and ignorance is bliss…right?

Po is a contributing writer and the founder of Get instant updates for this blog via Twitter: PGTblog.



Filed under philosophy

16 responses to “The Morality of Meat

  1. davidrsheehan

    Would that I weren’t already sponsoring several other vegetarians, Po.

  2. As much as we are confronted with ignorance and stupidity, and as much as we use the traditional comparisons between treatment of blacks and treatment of other species, lining up masses to be shuttled into a slaughter house or gas chamber whether human or bovine is still mass genocide, etc., for those who do not want to see their socially accepted immorality or those who see it, yet don’t want to admit it and tell themselves that we’re the crazy ones to make themselves feel better, it’s going to be a hard nut to crack. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying… Great article!

  3. davidrsheehan

    Since Sara can’t speak directly, I’ll keep my response open to all…

    What should one call chopping down plants?

    For all the ethical arguments in favor of vegetarianism (and I’ve read up, though this might surprise some), the vegetarian cause fails to refute one fact: to survive is to consume. To consume, one must kill. This doesn’t mean it has to be cruelly done, nor am I dictating what one must kill. But whether it’s a cow or a carrot, or the plant-that-could-be in the shape of a fallen nut – regardless, death perpetuates life.

  4. davidrsheehan

    It should also be noted that I do not criticize your path or choices, Po. We can view the same idea from two views and that doesn’t make either of us wrong.

  5. Tom

    Ryan, you are loser for eating meat. Were humans we can eat what we want!

    I figured I would throw one of those in there for you. I hope it made you smile.

    Random question.

    Is it alright for some to kill for food (meat) if they are strict about only killing to consume? This person does not partake in buying processed food (cow, chicken, pig). They only kill what they will eat and use.

    like you said there’s no black or whowhite (the southern way of saying white) answer

  6. KevinKMJr

    To me a meal isn’t a meal if something on my plate didn’t used to walk. I have absolutely no problems with others choices to eat what they want. In fact, I used to regularly prepare vegetarian dishes alongside my meat dishes for my guests. As I have stated before, free choice is my main thing, so eat what you want.

    I like my steak and I like it rare and bloody.

  7. Po

    Sara – Thanks for your kind words, and I totally agree with you. The amount of verbal jest that I have to deal with from my fellow coworkers is ridiculous. I really can’t believe that by ordering a veggie burger at a department meeting I can get five people to actively hate on me for the next thirty minutes. Perhaps my contemporaries think I’m silently judging their meal choices so they go on the defensive. Either way, it seems obvious that people feel extremely uncomfortable around those that have different views than them… even if it’s as simple as eating.

    Dave – Plants do not feel pain, nor do they have any form of conscious awareness – truthfully I think that’s an extremely poor argument. Peter Singer’s ethical rationale for becoming a vegetarian has much to do with the utilitarian principles of pleasure and pain. I recommend you read Animal Liberation if you haven’t already. When it comes down to it, I really don’t think you’ll ever be able to convince me that the systematic killing of farm animals for our own eating pleasure is okay. I live just as happy of a life without consuming meat (and I’m probably healthier, too). Please answer me why it’s okay to eat a chicken, or a cow, but not the family dog. Are these not just socially constructed values? Old Sparky is cute and loveable, but the cow in the field is fat and ugly… so hey, let’s club it in the head and make fatty burgers out of it! The truth is, both are living creatures that can suffer in a multitude of ways.

    Tom – I definitely would prefer if people killed their own livestock instead of just buying their meat from the local super market. Maybe then they’d become associated with what really goes into the ‘meat making’ process instead of blindly buying some packaged fatty burgers. I also think the living conditions for the animals may be much better than the crowded factory farms – though ultimately this does not justify the killing of the animals.

    I can however justify the killing of animals if the individual were to revert back to the old days of the hunter-gatherer. The idea of killing an animal for survival in this age however is antiquated. Everything we need to live on is available within a five mile drive to the super market. However, I see nothing wrong with an individual moving into the mountains and catching his or her own prey for self-preservation. This is much for natural than the wasteful animal Holocaust that is taking place right now.

    Kevin – Touché, and I won’t criticize you for eating that big bloody steak (though I’ll probably think to myself that it’s disgusting) : ) .

  8. davidrsheehan

    With the right hand: “The amount of verbal jest that I have to deal with from my fellow coworkers is ridiculous.” And with the left: “Old Sparky is cute and loveable, but the cow in the field is fat and ugly… so hey, let’s club it in the head and make fatty burgers out of it!”

    Part of me wonders if jest can’t work both ways.

    I’ll reiterate that I allow anyone to eat or not eat anything – their choice, prerogative, and body (I’m with Kevin on this one). I appreciate the direct response, Po.

    Another question – and this is open to anyone – how many of you vegetarians/vegan/etc write to your legislators to have them change the legislation that doesn’t just allow, but actually gives major financial benefits to the ranchers who breed the burgers of tomorrow and the companies of the “animal Holocaust”-creating industries? How about attending protests, demonstrations, or rallys to stop the slaughterhouses? Do you set up outside of supermarkets to explain the moral ills of buying meat from the supermarket to the local residents?

    It’s easy to get defensive if I mock a cause (though my cynicism tends to leave nothing sacred), but simply not eating meat strikes me as a pretty passive approach to trying to change something so important you’re willing to alter your life habits for it.

    I will say this – I’ve put more time and thought and revisions to my replies here than any other… largely so that in making my points I am not hurting feelings unreasonably. Not sure if I succeeded or not.

  9. David – Most of the vegans/vegetarians I know are not the “vegan bible-thumping” type. Maybe because of the illogical questions posed to us from the majority (i.e. ‘if you were stranded on a deserted island..yada yada’ or ‘if there were no plants left on the planet…yada’) we’re not inclined to preach to those not interested, but if someone genuinely is interested in understanding a vegan viewpoint we’re more than happy to oblige. And you’re right, it is ones choice what to consume so in a day and age where we can survive without slaughter, why choose unnecessary slaughter?

    I write my congressman/senator/etc to attempt change in legislation, but like you said…the meat and dairy industry has larger money bags than your average animal rights activist, and the sad fact is that money rules American society. So we do what we can. We have AR groups to lead organized protests/demonstrations/rallies. Without organization, we’re just a bunch of radical extremists creating havoc…and as most intelligent people know and understand, havoc only reaps chaos and resistance, not change. I don’t hide my veganism (as some might do so they don’t ruffle feathers), and to me that’s a way to get conversations started, people thinking (as the comments exemplify just based on this one post), in a constructive fashion. Simply not eating meat is not a passive attempt for change, it’s trying to lead by peaceful example. One of the major principles veganism is against is the cruelty towards another living being, and thus we don’t try to create change with angry force.

  10. davidrsheehan

    I understand what you’re saying, Sara, and appreciate your taking the time to respond further.

    I still don’t see the difference between slaughtering a bunch of plants or a bunch of animals. In Po’s point, at least, he puts the argument in terms of pain/pleasure – which may merit further thought from me.

    But justifying not eating animals as you have so far – because it’s more peaceful – I think (doesn’t mean it’s Truth or that I’m right) ignores the fact that, in the end, whether it’s a cow or a plant, you’re still ending its life to perpetuate your own. Feelings or no, that’s the reality of continued life – continued death.

    I don’t think you should hide your veganism. Nor am I trying to portray vegans as extremists. Nor, I think, am I trying to ask anything extreme of any vegetarian or vegan – none of my questions have been the “island scenario” types.

    I suspect that this is why, despite my initially cynical mockery, you continue to engage in conversation with me.

    But life, in my view, still vies with life for existence. And survival is marked only be death in the end. Maybe as conscious critters we should morally hold ourselves to some higher standard, but chopping down a plant is no less a destruction of life than slaughtering a cow.

    Much more bothersome to me is when various specialty foods are harvested and many perfectly edible parts are left for nothing. Like when fishing boats catch sharks, cut their fins off, and toss the rest of the shark back into the water. If you’re doing to end its life (for the sharks surely die) to perpetuate your own (or others’ own lives), at least use as much as possible.

    Of course, the cynic in me laughs because when I eat meat, I definitely have no idea if the rest of whatever animals it comes from were used. Maybe I should just be eating shark fins so I know I’m a bastard.

  11. Yes, my initial response is always with the pleasure/pain aspect at Po put forth, David. But I figured since he discussed that point, there’s no sense in reiterating it. And the difference between slaughtering plants and slaughtering animals is the fact that animals feel pain. They are sentient beings, with a central nervous system, that responds to someone slitting the throat while they are still conscious, or being beaten with a metal rod to direct them into the line for slaughter, or being raped and inseminated in order to keep milk in your fridge, cheese on your pizza, and bacon and eggs at breakfast.

    The reason I say it’s more peaceful is the proven fact that by doing good and positive acts, one becomes ‘happier’ due to the hormones released, and thus less likely to aggressively attack another – whether its helping an elderly woman across the street, opening the door for another, or refusing to contribute to the mass slaughter of another living being. Not that simply being vegan itself is more peaceful.

    I continue to engage in this discussion with you because you seem to be intelligent (and yes, I realized your questions weren’t of the scenario type..that’s simply what vegans typically get and it makes us jaded to when intelligent questions are actually asked), and even though you continue to eat seem like you could at least understand the why’s of veganism, or at the very least try to understand the difference between a sentient being and a plant. The destruction inflicted by cutting down plants is far less than that creating by raising factory farm animals. Plant crops are sustainable, and benefit the Earth in regards to soil erosion, air quality, water preservation. Whereas to raise factory farm cattle, land has to be cleared for not only the animals, but for the grains used to feed them (which are not edible by humans, taking that space from which we could be growing food for humans), the land clearing upsets the natural soil erosion cycle since there are no plants to obstruct the winds, as well as the carbon dioxide-oxygen exchange rate. The water necessary to water the grains we can’t eat, and for the cows to drink is exponential compared with the water necessary for human consumption. And again, I state that animals are sentient, plants are not.

  12. kevinkmjr

    Only one more thing for me to add here in response to Sara. You stated that it is a sad fact that money rules here in America. In many cases I feel this to be true. In this case I feel that it merely defines the visible balance in voting power and public opinion between meat eaters and vegetarians. The meat industry does not have so much more money than the animal rights groups because more people want their meat the way it is than don’t. We cry corruption so often when things aren’t done our way, but sometimes the ‘large money bags’ are a direct result of the populations agreement in said companies practices.

  13. I agree, Kevin, that we do often cry corruption when things don’t go our way… but in this case it has nothing to do with the way I feel about animal cruelty or not. I’ve always felt the meat and dairy industry to be a political Daddy Warbucks, just as Big Pharm is, even when I ate meat. One reason I know that the meat and dairy industry is concerned with being backed by the government (and the government is concerned with the money more than its constituents) is because of the scientifically proven fact that non-human milk actually creates and worsens cases of osteoporosis by leaching calcium from the bones and shutting off the intracellular machinery which produces endogenous calcium. I’ve sat in lectures by professors and researchers of this fact (I’m a neurophysiologist, so I’m in the loop on things physiology). Yet the public never hears of this because the meat and dairy industry pay off the politicians to support and promote them and not the research that proves how destructive animal products are to the human body – well, now they are stating to eat ‘less red meat’ and ‘increase vegetable intake’ which keeps the Animal industry happy while still alerting the public partially to the detriments, yet not reporting the full data and stating the actual way to avoid cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, etc.

  14. soahki

    I too am a vegetarian. Some of the “best” retorts I’ve suffered over the years include:

    “God gave us animals to be eaten. It’s in the Bible, and is God’s will.” To this, I find that very little can be said.

    “Early humans definitely ate meat. It’s the basis of our natural diet.” Are we sure we want to emulate the lifestyle of cavemen?

    “Plants are alive too. Why don’t their “feelings’ matter?” I never heard a plant scream, but I know that cows and chickens do. However, there has been some research indicating that plants do feel considerably more than we would have assumed. I bear the vegetable kingdom no ill will, but a person’s got to eat something.

  15. Tom


    I just had a big fat steak. Mmmm. I’m just joshing you again, but I did just partake in eating one of the best steaks I have ever eaten before.

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