Another approach to the ethics of eating

Had I seen that it was in the “Ethicist” column, I would have skipped over the announcement in The New York Times Magazine; the ethical issues raised in that column are typically less interesting than the ones raised in “Dear Abby,” or, for that matter, in “Savage Love.” But the headline had already caught my eye: “Defending your dinner.” The columnist claimed that while it was easy to find ethical arguments against eating meat, it was difficult to find ethical arguments in favor of eating meat. And so the columnist was soliciting such arguments from the readers.

From my perspective, there is an obvious argument stating why it is ethical to eat meat — or at least, why it is just as ethical to eat meat as it is to eat any organism. So I quickly wrote up a brief outline of that argument and sent it off, where it will no doubt be lost among the deluge of such arguments submitted by other overzealous readers of The New York Times Magazine. Rather than waste my efforts, I figured I’d share my argument with you here on this blog:


If we say we’re not going to kill animals to eat, we have to look at where we draw the line in our killing. If there’s an aphid on your broccoli and you eat it by mistake, is that OK? Most Americans would say that’s OK, but some Jains would say no. And if it’s not OK to raise animals to eat, is it OK to kill an animal that’s eating your garden? Henry Thoreau, a committed vegetarian, killed the woodchuck who ate his beans, then felt bad about it afterwards. Modern agriculture kills animals through habitat destruction, monoculture, release of pesticides and fertilizer into the ecosystem, etc., all of which kills animals — is it OK to kill those animals in order that we have vegetables to eat? In other words, should today’s vegetarians, like Henry Thoreau, feel bad that the agriculture they depend upon kills animals? Continue reading “Another approach to the ethics of eating”