Hey – Meat-Head!

I was reading a blog at http://www.philosophynews.com/PNS/blogs/exile/archive/2007/09/28/5511.aspx today and came across this claim:

Eating meat is totally inefficient, and in a world of desperate starvation and malnutrition, it is also criminal and immoral.
Do you agree (the article above may help)? You might take the view that vegetarianism is ‘supra-moral’ – good if you DO do it, but not bad if you don’t – or you may feel it is morally fine to eat meat – and somehow wrong not to? Or you may agree with quote above…
Of course the implication above is that eating meat is wrong due to the consequences for humans… It seems to ignore the moral status of animals, if they have any..
Comments welcome


Jeff says:

Great question. I believe that it can be validly argued that morality itself is, most foundationally, “about” the sustainable survival of the human species, along with plentiful and healthy biological diversity, and the health of our home (Earth), achieved in a way that respects all humans (at least) as equals. This view doesn’t directly answer, by itself, the question posed in this thread, but it does provide a broader (and “grounded”) context within which one can ask, explore, frame, and begin to address the question in informed and helpful ways. I hope this is helpful. If questions, please feel free to visit my Web site and, if you like, contact me via that site. (The site name is listed in my profile, I think.)

David W... says:

Thanks Jeff. I am not sure the link in your profile works. If anyone wants to see his website it is at http://www.obligationsofreason.com dave

Lawrence says:

‘Eating meat is totally inefficient, and in a world of desperate starvation and malnutrition, it is also criminal and immoral.’ Hmm this is a tricky one. If I am honest, I think this is a good argument for vegetarianism.However, on the starvation and malnutrition case, surly eating a smaller bit of meat is more notorious than eating a small bit of non-meat? There is starvation and malnutrition in the world, but I don’t really see why that should stop people eating meat. If we could provide meat for 3rd world countries I think it would be good. Meat, vegetables, any food that we could give people is good. So I personally don’t think this is a meat issue at all (more of a general lack of food issue). What do others think?

Eric says:

I was drawn here from a comment on a mailing list. The discussion on the link you gave is interesting. I think that the efficiency argument of the poster in the original blog is flawed in various respects.1. Utilitarianism. The poster seems to argue from a utilitarian perspective mainly, but, as is often the case, only takes into account certain goods and ignores others. For example, many people like eating animals, it makes them happy, but apparently not the vegetarian poster, so he chose to ignore this good. At least some more weighting of goods should have been expected, and it is typical for these kind of arguments that only negative aspects (X harms Y) and no positive aspects (X pleases Y) are taken into account. Why is it, for example, more important that food is healthy than that it is tasty, as the poster seems to suggest? To me personally, it is not—not in general. I strife for an equilibrium between the two.2. Cruelty. It seems to me that not all ways in which animals are grown and killed are cruel or ‘inhuman’. Again, I think there is some bias in the original post and that the poster has probably never been acquainted with the way animals are kept (and eaten) on e.g. a small farm. If he had made other experiences, he might not find killing animals so cruel in general. Killing animals (including humans) is not bad or cruel in general, though perhaps in many cases.3. Efficiency. Now that is, in my opinion, the worst argument-a typical misapplication of utilitarianism. Suppose, for the sake of argument, it would be possible with modern genetic engineering to grow healthy food based on algae or bacteria in large, subterranean tanks. Suppose it could be ‘eaten’ by intravenous injection, making it much more efficient in terms of energy preservation and use, etc. It’s an experiment of thought. Would you say, then, that growing plants was immoral and criminal, because it was less efficient than the new ‘food’? This scenario is perhaps less futuristic than you might think.4. Where does all the cattle go? Typical for the bias of the original poster, he doesn’t ask himself what we should do with all the cattle. Many of those species cannot survive on their own, so they would die out in the long run. No more cows. I guess, that would be the smallest problem and cows could still be seen in zoos. But this issue should have been mentioned, shouldn’t it? 5. Overpopulation. Why would efficiency matter? Because of overpopulation, the poster suggests. When people in the world are starving, it is a crime to eat inefficient food. But what if other measures against global overpopulation are taken, such as information, spreading of the anti-baby pill, condoms, one-child politics, etc.? Producing more efficient food or producing food more efficiently seems to be the wrong solution to this problem anyway. In summary, I’d say that the argument in the blog post starts from the status quo and has many valid points about the perils of industrial food production, but generalizes too much.

Anonymous says:

I add a practical point to this discussion, which I think is an intersting one.While it is true that production of crops is by an large more efficient (in that is produces more food per hectare) than production of meat, a vast majority of land used for ‘farming’ is completely unusable to produce crops. For example, almost all of Wales is given over to agricultural production (by this I mean farming in general), but, as most of Wales is mountainous, it is mostly hillside sheep farming. No crops could be produced on the land taken up by meat production. The point, I suppose, is that there is a radical discrepancy between the factual calculation that crops yeild more food per hectare and the claim that we should therefore give over all agricultural land to crop production. This is a faulty inference. The case for an ethical vegetarianism cannot be made on these grounds (which, of course, is not to say it cant be made). But the author of the article’s rambling, argumentative style is pure invective and is not intended as engagement or persuasion, merely as rhetoric.

Anonymous says:

A bizarre argument, really. Inefficient food production is immoral and criminal because starvation exists? Whole nations turning vegetarian would not solve 3rd world corruption and poverty. Those problems don’t exist because of meat consumption.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.