Monday, June 08, 2009

Food ethics

I have been involved in, or read, a few discussions on food ethics recently. This is an unresolved issue for me. I am exceedingly unlikely to become vegetarian, but I also feel that I am not responsible enough in my food choices - from a nutritional, ethical or environmental perspective.

However, something struck me in the PETA campaign that is currently capitalising on the murder of Dr Tiller. (From such a lofty ethical position, how could I doubt them?) And in fact, it was because of their use of the abortion issue that I thought of it. They are arguing that they can justify their exceedingly dubious campaign because it may save animals' lives. Well, no, it won't. If they succeed, it will mean millions and millions of animals are never brought into existence. People won't suddenly start having pet cows. If we all ceased eating beef, beef cattle would cease to exist, except possibly as a curiosity.

So it actually comes down to one of the issues that comes up in the abortion debate - is it better to never have lived than to live a life that is judged by someone as unlivable? I think my position is the same for animals as it is for people, that there is some point at which it is better not to have lived. Of course, the problem with that position is where that point is. I don't think want to have to make that decision, and I will never condemn anyone else for making one that I don't entirely agree with - well unless you get to extreme examples I suppose. I'm not prepared to accept that life as one gender or the other is not worth living.

In the case of animals, I actually believe that a comfortable life that is ended for the purpose of feeding people (or other animals) is worth living. I think it makes much more sense to campaign for the ethical raising of animals rather than to campaign for not eating them.

Caged layer hens are a black and white case. They live an excruciating life, and there is no excuse for it. We don't even have regulations ensuring that "free range" layers are treated well, never mind banning cage eggs. This needs to change.

Which is not to say that I couldn't stand to eat less meat. But what to replace it with? Many protein options are highly processed, which I have a problem with. I can't eat mushrooms - not allergic, but they make me gag, so not really a food option. Nuts are not bad, but hard to convince the family they've eaten enough when they've had a reasonable serve.

I think I do need to think about it more, but it isn't straightforward. BTW, I am not trying to make some argument that being vegetarian is unethical by causing animals not to exist. There are plenty of reasons to choose not to eat meat, I just think that "to save animals' lives" is not nearly as simple as it sounds.

1 comment:

  1. I strongly agree with everything you say. I think it's MUCH better to advocate animals being treated ethically than advocating not eating them at all.

    I do think we eat too much meat and that's not good on the environment.

    I think it would be more productive to encourage people to eat LESS meat rather than no meat. I think also that some people NEED meat. I believe we have different bodies and some people can handle being vegetarian while some can't.

    For me, it was easy to give up meat. I've never been a huge fan. I know other people who just love it too much. There's no point in trying to get them to be vegetarian...but if we can encourage them to eat LESS meat and try to buy meat from ethical sources, that's probably a more productive way to go.