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Post No.: 0696meat


Furrywisepuppy says:


‘Speciesism’ is like racism, sexism or genderism but about the discrimination in treatment between different individuals belonging to different organism species (e.g. treating a sheep differently to a ferret). Does this accusation go too far since speciesism is justifiable? Or is it appropriate since the main question is whether something feels and is able to suffer, and has similar interests?


Different animals possess different genetic makeups. But so do different people. Genetic mutations continue to occur within the human genome from generation to generation thus ‘human’ is a constantly shifting category too. Different people don’t even all share the same chromosomal makeup (e.g. men (XY), women (XX) and others (XXY, XYY and more)).


Different animals may possess different cognitive capabilities. But so do different people whether they have a learning disability or are considered ‘normal’. And chimpanzees, fur instance, can perform far better than humans in some cognitive tasks too (e.g. they have a superior short-term memory capacity).


The ‘animal rights movement’ (like the civil rights and women’s rights movements) takes the position that – unless we can demonstrate a morally permissible reason or exception – if we wouldn’t morally do something to a human then we shouldn’t do it to another sentient creature either. Yet, ironically, because other great apes are genetically reasonably similar to humans, they’ve been purposely selected for use in scientific experiments and animal testing where using human subjects is considered impermissible! (We distinguish primates into monkeys and apes, and distinguish apes into great apes and lesser apes. The genera of great apes are orangutans, gorillas, humans and pan (bonobos and common chimpanzees).)


But would the life of a pig therefore be equal to the life of a person? Even most apparent animal lovers are speciesist too for we afford some animals more care, attention, respect and rights than for other animals (e.g. we care more about sloths than Pacific salmon).


When it comes to the animals that humans mainly choose to consume the meat of – different cultures around the world can vary regarding which animals they believe are ethical or non-disgusting to eat over others. But is it right to eat any species of animal at all if we treat certain other species as companions? Alternatively, does it make sense to selectively regard some animals as ethical to eat yet not others? To avoid speciesism, we’ve got to be consistent one way or the other, haven’t we?!


I said I would discuss the issue of utilising animals as livestock in a future post back in Post No.: 0662, where I explored the ethics of companion and service animals, zoos and animal testing. So here we are.


Are the ‘Five Freedoms’ for livestock animals – that is the freedom from thirst and malnutrition, physical discomfort or pain, injury or disease, fear and distress, and the freedom to express their natural behaviour – enough? And if it’s okay to consume meat as long as farmed animals are treated ‘as humanely as possible’ then won’t that principle be sufficient for animals used for cosmetics testing too? And even where animals are farmed to the highest welfare standards – they’re still going to be guaranteed a death for the sake of human interests.


Reasons to become demi-vegetarian, vegetarian or vegan include religious, ethical, health and safety (e.g. saturated animal fats, antibiotic overuse in farming), and environmental (e.g. land use and greenhouse gas emissions, zoonotic disease pandemic risks) reasons.


Isn’t it ethically worse to deliberately slaughter a cow for food than to consume an unfortunate accidentally-road-killed feral dog? Wouldn’t it actually even be an environmental waste to not take it home for consumption if it had just been freshly mowed down? (I’m personally okay with donating all of my organs when I die, so why not every other useful bit too? Please recycle me I guess. Woof.) Yet some find devouring road-kill more disgusting than devouring intentionally farmed beasts. Human vehicles create the problem of road-kill though – like human activities create problems that endanger wild animals to in turn create the need for zoos where animals are held captive for the sake of their conservation – which questions whether humans should ever drive across animal habitats in the first place? Most people won’t even peacefully allow a woodlouse to pass through their home, never mind a puma.


What about meat products that are fed to pets like domestic cats? Doesn’t the meat they (must) eat require high welfare standards too? And would it be cruel, or simply inappropriate, if their owners forced them to be vegetarian or vegan?


Humans biologically have canine teeth and guts that can digest meat (and even more easily and safely if it’s cooked) – but ‘can’ isn’t the same as ‘should’, ‘ought to’ or ‘must’ from an ethical perspective. It’s reasonably consistent in the animal kingdom that mammals with (more than rudimentary) canine teeth are either carnivores or omnivores (there are however noteworthy exceptions where they’re used for defence rather than chewing), yet this doesn’t mean that humans must therefore eat meat.


Human teeth and guts evolved along with consuming meat as part of the specie’s diet, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only purpose for them – that’ll be like saying that humans evolved five fingers per hand so that they can perform a five-finger discount and therefore it’s permissible for humans to, and humans ought to, steal(!) Just like skin evolved to keep stuff in as well as to keep stuff out – behaviours can also evolve for multiple purposes too. Basically, ‘seemingly designed or evolved for something’ doesn’t mean ‘ought to do that something’.


People can adapt. People’s testosterone levels are partly biological yet can be altered if they spend time with babies or furry pets, or if they enter more physical and competitive situations, for example. From the reverse perspective however – just because something can adapt as situations change, such as a cultural shift in meat consumption over time, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is no biological or natural component to it. We could argue that humans can adapt to living completely 100% underground, but this won’t mean that such people will be living their best life as humans that prefer some natural sunlight regularly.


Yet even if one agues that meat isn’t a luxury but is a way to achieve a balanced diet – most people who eat meat eat it in such lavishly inordinate, but normalised, quantities, for people only need a bit of meat to secure enough vitamin B12 each day.


Okay then, is being thankful or giving grace enough to make consuming anything fine? Probably not, especially if it’s just said on autopilot or to not sound socially rude instead of deeply thinking about what this thanks means and really feeling the gratitude. Tradition is therefore not a good argument or defence, and halal or kosher processes won’t bypass the dilemma. Likewise, if you consider a particular act immoral then seeking forgiveness afterwards won’t suddenly make that immoral act permissible either. ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ in terms of the animal slaughtering process (or concerning this entire debate about eating meat!) is also certainly no moral defence.


Lots of people argue that ‘the natural way is best’, for which they mean how (selected) wild creatures in the wild do, or how Palaeolithic humans did, something. Yet for most people, consuming a living beast by first slaughtering it for oneself – like how wild animals mostly naturally do – is somehow considered far more aversive compared to eating a living animal that has been pre-killed by someone else and packaged or served in such a way that most won’t even come to think about the original animal it ultimately came from.


The vast majority of modern cultures consider cannibalism aberrant and morally wrong. But this isn’t the case in all of wild nature – nor was it the case in all of human history!


Being able to see an animal’s eyes or face or not should make no difference whatsoever to one’s reactions to consuming that animal or not – just like it’d be ludicrous to believe that covering a person’s head with a bag would make them less of a human and thus more morally acceptable to torture(!) Ignorance is an incredibly poor moral defence – yet it’s a defence that’s commonly employed in practice. (So much that people are ignorant to the fact they’re being ignorant on a daily basis.) So if you would eat an animal without its head served, you should be able to eat that animal with its head served too – because it’s both logically and morally the same animal.


Relatedly, not wasting anything already dead that’s edible should also really be a no-brainer… or possibly a yes-brainer in this case if a particular animal’s brain is safe to eat(!) Mechanically-recovered meat (MRM) isn’t toxic – if you eat fried chicken and strip the meat, fat and skin off the bones and joints without going ‘eurgh’ then it’s the same, except a machine strips the meat, fat and skin off the bones instead of your own mouth. The inconsistencies are what make our moral stances and preferences irrational. If you do eat meat then wasting edible parts should be what’s considered disgusting. Waste is a sign of privilege. Making real gravy also in part essentially involves ‘washing the dishes’ or not wasting the bits that are stuck on the pan or tray (deglazing). In terms of health, the problem is more about consuming too much processed meat rather than chomping meat off a bone.


Why is seeing a live fish worse than seeing a dead, frozen fish at a fish market? A live fish is going to be fresher if the fish is being kept healthy. Children should be raised to know, understand and care about exactly what they’re consuming, rather than have the truth hidden from them because of the way something is presented on their plates. This way, they can become well-informed and conscientious consumers when they’re old enough to make their own consumption choices. Ignorance won’t be bliss because their bodies won’t be able to ignore what ultimately goes into them. Ignorance won’t be bliss if they get ripped off because they don’t know exactly what they’re paying for. And ignorance shouldn’t be bliss when it comes to one’s ethical considerations.


Come to think about it – is the consumption of plants also immoral?! If you cut a plant, it’ll weep with sap to try to heal and protect itself. If one is deprived of water, it’ll wilt. When the sun is out, a flower will grow towards it in order to thrive. Anaesthetics also produce the same effects on plants as they do on animals! Without a doubt, plants are alive and want to stay alive. So, although they live in slow motion relative to animals and don’t have a central nervous system – don’t they express what is equivalent to suffering?


Or if the life of a plant can be terminated without moral issues because they cannot feel pain, emotions or any feelings (sentience) then can coma patients or foetuses be terminated without moral issues too? Are we left with only being morally safe to eat fruit that has, ideally, naturally dropped to the ground? Plants kind of want us to eat their fruits in order to distribute their seeds. (The only other living organisms that want or ‘want’ any part of themselves to be eaten by other species are parasites that wish to get inside of us!)


(Tummy rumble…)


Woof. I’m hungry but I don’t know what to eat now. I’ve got some peaches but that’s not going to be enough. Ignorance is indeed an incredibly poor moral defence but I sure wish I was ignorant again.


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