Cara is a student at Florida Atlantic University working towards a BS in management information systems. She writes in her free time.
The majority of people against vegetarianism or veganism oppose these lifestyles because they believe that the participants proselytize too much, but what many of them do not realize is that there are legitimate reasons to be against it, as well.
The Dalai Lama, the current spiritual leader of the members of Tibetan Buddhism, wrote his article “Ethics and the New Genetics” to inspire people to create their own ethical standards to guide them through life and moral crises. David Foster Wallace deliberates over whether or not the primary method of cooking lobster is acceptable, which leads to the discussion of critical questions relating to whether or not it is ethical to eat meat, in his article "Consider the Lobster," written after his visit to the Maine Lobster Festival.
There are many die-hard animal activists that are against eating meat entirely, but there are holes in their arguments since humans have always eaten meat, and we lack understanding of what could happen if we stopped eating it entirely. The system for producing the meat, though, does need to be reformed and transformed altogether. Though it has been demonized over the years, eating meat is not unethical (depending on the situation), but our system of producing the meat is since it employs disreputable methods such as keeping the livestock in small spaces and not allowing the animals to be free at all.
Humans Are Meant to Eat Meat
While eating meat might sound repulsive when looking at pictures of baby animals, due to unknown repercussions and natural instincts, the best decision for humans at this point in time is to continue eating meat. We have to be careful when making decisions that could have serious unpredictable side effects because “[a]s far as current scientific knowledge is concerned, this may be the only planet that can support life” (The Dalai Lama 70).
Not eating meat would affect nature in ways that we cannot predict or expect. Messing with nature by unsettling the food chain would cause an imbalance in the populations of animals. This could actually lead to the eradication of the species entirely if they deplete the food supply, and all of them are left to starve.
Many argue that humans are not meant to eat meat, but the early people survived off of both gathering and hunting. Breaking old traditions can be accepted, but going against natural human instinct that has been in place since the existence of humans is a little bit harder.
In his article, the Dalai Lama provides a list of key factors that should be included in making an ethical or moral decision. The argument against eating meat follows only half of these guidelines since it does not consider any possible short-term or long-term side effects from making this important decision, nor does it express “our vulnerability to being misguided in the context of such a rapidly changing reality” (The Dalai Lama 70). Based on the Dalai Lama’s guidelines for making personal, informed, and ethical decisions, eating meat is not only okay but also possibly necessary to keep the balance of the ecosystems in check.
The Meat Industry Is Problematic
The system for raising livestock in the U.S. is flawed to the point where multiple well-known organizations have been created to protest and denounce it, such as PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the ALF, the Animal Liberation Front. Currently, the U.S.’s ethical decisions relating to production are based on maximum possibilities because “[a]ny new scientific breakthrough that offers commercial prospects attracts tremendous interest and investment from the public sector and private enterprise” (The Dalai Lama 63).
American food ideals focus on producing as much as possible as fast as possible, which is great when it comes to economic success and ending starvation, but not great relating to ethics and human emotions due to the moral implication of forcing animals to suffer more than before. Today, livestock is raised in small individual pens where there is almost no room to move or even sit. Cows are drained until they either die from exhaustion or are killed for meat. There must be a way to improve these living conditions, even if it starts with simply providing them with bigger pens.
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If somehow there is no way to reduce the violence inside these factory-like farms, people should at least attempt to use every part of the animal and reduce waste. The Native Americans apply this concept, and it actually helped them connect with the animals and make peace with the fact that they were killing living creatures. If the animal is dying for a good reason, and no part of it is wasted, then maybe killing for food does not disobey a moral compass.
Wallace discusses the preparation of lobsters to bring up the important issue of finding the best way possible to kill the animal before eating it. He highlights multiple methods of killing lobsters, one of which involves driving a "knife point-first into a spot just above the midpoint between the lobster's eyestalks," which allegedly kills it or causes a loss of all sensation (Wallace 468).
Unfortunately, this is not true, and if anything, it is even crueler than just boiling the lobsters alive. He discusses and disproves a few other methods in this manner, showing that these questions have no clear answer. He later asks if, when eating animals, people “think about the [possible] moral status and [probable] suffering of the animals involved” and decides that they should if they do not already (Wallace 471).
If these issues are discussed, we as a society can reach more beneficial conclusions and maybe actually help the animals. Maybe no method of killing lobsters causes the least pain because they are all equal. Maybe eating animals at all is completely wrong and inhumane, and we should not do it. We do not know what the future will bring, so we have to base our moral decisions on what we know now. If the best current method for raising cows is to raise them in those small pens, then we should do it. People might look back in a hundred years or so and see us as barbaric, but so be it. We have to do the best we can with the information we currently have.
Eating meat, a survival practice done by most types of animals, has received a fair amount of hatred due to the popular belief that it does not follow basic human morals and principles, but on its own, it is not immoral and does not need to change. The process of producing said meat, on the other hand, does need major reform.
It needs to change because unethical methods are used, such as confining the animals to small areas and barely keeping them alive. If these changes can be made, the hardcore vegans and vegetarians might even change their minds. A good percentage of them go off of meat because of the way it is produced. That percentage beginning to consume meat again could change the food market and economy in unpredictable ways.
The Dalai Lama. “Ethics and the New Genetics” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers, 3rd edition, edited by Barclay Barrios, Bedford/St. Martins, 2016, pp. 62-72.
Wallace, David Foster. “Consider the Lobster” Emerging: Contemporary Readings for Writers, 3rd edition, edited by Barclay Barrios, Bedford/St. Martins, 2016, pp. 458-472.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
© 2018 Cara Savoy