One study from Australia, for example, found that producing wheat and other grains kills up to 25 times more sentient animals (e.g. small mammals, snakes and lizards) per kilogram of useable protein compared to rangelands beef. In the United States, many of the most popular fruits and vegetables could never be harvested without “migratory beekeeping” methods that unnecessary exploit and kill millions of bees.
This isn’t to denigrate anyone’s dietary choices. But it does suggest that the ethics of food is not so black and white. As Monbiot concludes: “Between these poles – kill nothing and kill almost everything – lies the pragmatic aim of maximising the diversity and abundance of non-human life on Earth, while securing our own survival.” We should seek to minimise unnecessary suffering as much as pragmatically possible.
To exist is to eat, and to eat is to inflict suffering (directly or indirectly) on other sentient beings. This is an inconvenient truth — even for vegans.
I was vegetarian/pescatarian for almost a decade for ethical reasons. However, I started to eat meat again from a growing recognition that the act of eating involves more than just reflexively labelling entire groups of foods as “good” or “bad,” or reductively calculating a food’s associated carbon emissions. It’s much more complicated than that.
Eating is a social and joyful act that carries with it cultural and aesthetic values that cannot be as easily dismissed as many plant-based advocates would have you believe. It’s undeniable that the treatment of animals in the industrial agriculture system is inhumane and efforts should be made to improve their welfare. But I think a plant-based diet is anti-human: it is a denial of the fact that we are creatures embedded within a complex (and messy) social and environmental ecosystem.
Like most issues worthy of deeper reflection and consideration, deciding what to eat isn’t so black and white.
Note: This appeared as a letter to the editor in the National Post
Humans are naturally novelty-seeking animals. Most people, most of the time, are rarely satisfied with the way things are. We want new, and we want it now. The mantra of “new is better” is assumed to be a foregone conclusion and often goes unchallenged.
This is particularly true for technology. Many people become reflexively obsessed with any and all new technologies, regardless of their utility or the benefits they actually provide. The latest iPhone can be launched with giddy enthusiasm, and not even a day will pass before people become dissatisfied, asking, “When can I get one that’s even better?” It’s a constant grasping for more, an anticipation of what’s next, a hope for something more fulfilling. It’s a symptom of all human minds.
It’s disputable whether zoos are intrinsically barbaric (I could be convinced either way, although I am leaning towards “Yes”), but I do think they promote barbaric behaviour implicitly. Their very existence only serves to exacerbate barbaric practices against wildlife and habitat elsewhere. Continue reading →
A recent op-ed in The Globe & Mail discussed the current ethical implications and debate over the possibility of extending the status of personhood to non-human primates. In response, a letter writer expressed doubt that it should be extended because “they don’t possess rule-structured language” and “without that, we can’t know that they exercise rationality, understanding and self-awareness like we do.”
The public outcry seems to be less about the fact that the giraffe was euthanized and more about the way it was carried out: killed, skinned, dissected and fed to lions in front of a crowd that included children.
Fair enough. But I can’t help but wish that the same level of public concern were extended to equally wonderful creatures such as cows and pigs, billions of whom suffer their entire lives, only to be killed, skinned, dissected and then fed to us. Just because their plight is out of sight doesn’t mean it should be out of mind.
It was refreshing to read about Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian wildlife conservationists working together to protect threatened migratory birds by bringing people together from both sides of their borders to teach them about common environmental issues.
It’s a perfect example of how the pursuit of common understanding inherent within the natural sciences is universal, blind to nationality, ethnicity and other superficialities. Now, if only the politicians were able to behave more like scientists.