We don’t “meat” ethical standards

Those that have the ability to should end their consumption of meat.

Claire Zhang

Those that have the ability to should end their consumption of meat.

I recently became a vegetarian.

Over the past week, my friends have repeatedly asked me, “Why?” But as I begin to explain why I made that choice, it’s immediately countered with a “but you’re wrong … ”

So what began as a discussion turns into a debate. Countless debates with countless people have made me feel exhausted in a way that I can’t begin to explain in words, but I do know that exhaustion isn’t an excuse to give up defending my opinions.

The stereotype of the “white vegan” or “preachy vegetarian” isn’t something I want to fall into. Rather, I want to explain my ways of thinking and hopefully provide you with a framework to test your own beliefs against others, considering that without testing, we can’t ever be assured of the validity of those beliefs.

I understand that choosing to abstain from eating meat often requires privilege, usually in terms of socioeconomic status. The ability to control one’s diet itself is a privilege, so it’s definitely acceptable for those who need meat in order to survive to consume it.

The same applies to those who do not have the resources necessary to change their diets, or would suffer from severe malnutrition.

But those who have that privilege should end their consumption of meat. Whereas others need meat to survive, those that have viable alternatives have no real justification other than pleasure.

The pleasure gained from eating meat doesn’t outweigh the suffering and death of the animal. Even if it can’t be quantitatively measured, it seems intuitive that, for example, if someone gained pleasure from eating another human, it wouldn’t outweigh that human’s suffering or death.

Jeremy Bentham, the first utilitarian philosopher, put it best, explaining, “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but, ‘Can they suffer?’”

The answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Numerous studies have shown the capacity of animals to suffer, such as a 2004 study titled, “Fish and welfare: do fish have the capacity for pain and suffering?”, which found that, contrary to popular belief, fish do in fact feel pain. Even in our everyday lives, we can find proof; dogs yelp when their tails are stepped on, for example.

It’s also a common misconception to think animals are senseless beasts.

Studies show that cows have best friends and pigs can form emotional attachments with others. Slaughtering such complex beings and mutilating their bodies for marginal pleasure is clearly repugnant.

But you might be thinking, “Well, maybe it’s true in the context of humans, but animals and humans are different.”

Why? Humans are a different species, but just being a different species doesn’t justify killing another being. Genetics is an arbitrary measurement of worth. This line of thought would justify eugenics.

Religion also falls short of being a warrant. Saying that your religion justifies eating animals isn’t a morally sound argument.

Most would reject homophobia that stems from an interpretation of Christian teachings because morality is not synonymous with religion. Refusing to test one’s beliefs because of a steadfast commitment to faith results in moral stagnation and often incorrect conclusions.

The most common justification, intelligence, may seem promising at first, but it quickly falls with scrutiny. We wouldn’t eat humans with lower intelligence than us or humans with lower intelligence than animals, so it doesn’t make sense to eat animals for that reason.

As for the idea that it’s only natural to eat meat, we hold many biological impulses and intuitions but choose to avoid them because they aren’t ethical.

Researchers at the University of Washington found that babies show racial bias and that discriminatory behavior is inherent. Most of us, however, would agree that racial prejudice is wrong, even if it is an implicit bias that we possess, and that we should strive to consciously address those biases.

And just because animals eat other animals doesn’t justify our consumption of meat; they often need it to survive, but it’s hard to attribute moral responsibility to animals because they aren’t aware of their actions. (This isn’t to say we shouldn’t act morally towards them, however. A toddler may punch us, but we wouldn’t punch the child in return.)

Ethics aside, some argue about the health detriment of switching to a plant-based diet. Being vegetarian, however, can provide the same amount of nutrition, if not better, than a meat-included diet.

An article published by Harvard Medical School concludes in its synthesis of different studies that being vegetarian is healthier, and essential nutrients like protein can be found in plant-based alternatives such as beans. Even Vitamin B-12, an essential vitamin commonly found in meat, can be found in foods like fortified cereals. In most scenarios, health doesn’t seem like a strong justification  to eat animals.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for eating meat revolves around the assumption that individual consumers can’t affect production by the meat industry. But Austrian moral philosopher Peter Singer explains why this logic has some flaws:

“Even though it’s true that the supply chain is not sensitive to the purchase of one chicken … if you’re avoiding [eating] chicken your entire life … the expectation is that … you … will have no effect but … one day when you don’t buy a chicken … there must be a cutoff point somewhere in which the supermarket … will say, ‘Oh we’re not selling enough chickens, let’s order 200 fewer chickens tomorrow.’”

This doesn’t make eating meat once a year acceptable either, because the value gained from eating the meat (if any) is outweighed by the pain and death of an animal.

By this point, it’s possible you’re thinking, “Well, it’s unethical, but I don’t care. I love meat!”

But if that’s what you truly believe, then what gives you the right to call out someone for being racist, sexist or homophobic? If they were to reply, “I know it’s wrong, but I don’t care,” you would find that response to be unacceptable.

If we really question the fundamental assumptions that each of these theories of oppression rely upon, it’s easy to see how they come tumbling down. Eating meat may be so deeply ingrained that disavowing it would be unthinkable, but perhaps that’s what it takes to move towards a more ethical society: a willingness to question that which we blindly accept as true.