I feel pain.
This is one of the most basic positive statements (the philosophical term) I can make as a human being and it’s one in which every other human being of assumed cognitive abilities can understand and relate to, i.e., they also feel pain.
Thus, that brings me to a normative statement: Humans ought to do everything they can to lessen the potential for pain in fellow human beings.
But, I would argue, there is room to take it a step further: We, as humans, ought to do everything we can, inasmuch as it is feasible, to reduce pain felt by any living, sentient being.
This isn’t hard to argue, if, for example, I reference my dog, Dallas. Most dog-lovers and even people that don’t own dogs, would say it’s cruel, wrong and immoral for me to bash my dog in the head with a bat and slit her throat.
Now imagine, if you will, I did bash her in the head, slit her throat and then processed and ate her meat.
It sounds barbaric, right? Detractors to this line of thinking already know where I’m going with this. Dogs, cats and typical human pets are different from cows, pigs and chickens because we need to eat and those aforementioned three are a source of meat, they would say.
Or that they simply don’t view those animals the same as a dog. They couldn’t care less about the plight of the rolls-in-the-mud, eats-his-own-poop pig. I could spend 10,000 more words making the philosophical case here to get over the empathy hurdle, but let’s keep going.
Well, this topic — eating meat — is quite expansive and it could cover a lot of territory with respect to philosophy, the environment, human civilization (think antibiotic resistance) and pragmatism.
Approaching this topic for that reason makes it hard, but let me just briefly cover my own personal overview: A little over a year ago in May of 2015, I began grappling with the issue surrounding the ethics of eating meat. I said:
“I have no philosophical formulation for why eating meat is morally permissible. The only foundation I can think of is, “Meat is yum.” And meat is yum is not justification for factory farming and the process by which that yummy meat gets to my plate.”
I still don’t. But now I’ve taken it further by actually largely eliminating meat from my plate. I can’t recall the last time I had red meat. I can’t recall the last time I had chicken. I have had tuna once or twice in the last few months, however. And I can’t make the claim of being a pure vegan, either, as I do indulge in dairy products such as milk, sour cream, cheese, yogurt and so forth.
However, even my claim about deliciousness is interesting, as ceasing to eat meat has opened my tongue’s palate to the world of fruits and vegetables and my goodness is it plentiful. There are still fruits and vegetables I’m discovering, trying and enjoying. And there’s at least three billion combinations of salads to choose from — that’s an approximation.
And if aesthetics is your thing, then fruit and vegetable-based meals just look better.
I also had long thought about “going vegetarian/vegan” for health reasons. It just seemed to me that eating red meat wasn’t agreeable with my digestive system.
But it was always going to be the ethical considerations that would be most persuasive to me.
I don’t want to say conversion and make it seem like a religious deal, but my “conversion” started from this seed planted in my head a little over a year ago by fellow anarchists who derided factory farming and the process by which meat arrived at our plate.
Then I met my girlfriend, Rachel, who watered and grew that seed until it blossomed into a beautiful, more compassionate, more ethical, more understanding flower. Without her passion, without her brain, without her musings and without her guidance (because I can’t distinguish between a tomato and a cabbage — only being slightly hyperbolic about my ignorance), I’m not sure if that seed would have ever blossomed, but I’m sure glad it did.
She’s introduced me to foods I’d never even heard of (quinoa, for example) and foods I’ve never tried (avocado), which have quickly became favorites of mine. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but now that she’s helped me to introduce mindful, ethical cooking into the equation, I find it even more interesting because there’s an adventurous, creative element to it, as in, what can we come up with next?
Her passion is infectious and her food delicious. I’m grateful to her for filling in a gap I’ve long had in my philosophical worldview.
Now, I always have and still do consider myself a skeptic. I think I was a skeptical before I had any political leanings and from that skepticism blossomed those leanings. But with that skepticism, I often thought those who talked about factory farming were just exaggerating. In short, it’s a cop-out to remaining oblivious about food production and maintaining that cognitive dissonance. We are separated from that process and well, why not keep it that way?
Well, wrong. Just like with a maturation into knowing more about politics can have the downside of…knowing more about the world and how ugly it can be, obliviousness, especially when it comes to one of the most central things we do — eat — seems absurd. I would much rather know and incur the negatives about how ugly it can be instead of remaining oblivious.
There is just no way to watch and read about factory farming and resume eating meat like nothing has changed. If you can watch and read about factory farming and consume a burger the same way again, without at least a second of hesitation or thought, then, well. I don’t know what to say.
I’m not perfect, but at least giving some weight to the aforementioned issue of pain and wanting to reduce it, at least making the process better would be a start.
And sure, I’m still skeptical about certain subjects vegans and vegetarians get into, but when it comes to the issue of factory farming, I’m right on board.
I certainly think and have long said, that in 100 years, we’ll look back on the age of factory farming and wonder what was wrong with those generations who put up with it. Not just for the ethical reasons and sustainability reasons, but for environmental reasons, too.
The thing is, I’m optimistic about human nature. I do think most humans would prefer animals not to feel pain or at least that they deserve better care while in a slaughterhouse.
That’s at least a step in the right direction. That much we can do.