Joliet, Ill., to Kearney, Neb.

We started driving at nine in the morning, quickly leaving behind the crowded roads of Chicagoland.

Water towers are prominent features of the midwestern landscape, and traditionally the municipality that owns the water tower will paint its name on the side. Stuart, Iowa, has updated this tradition: a large white wind turbine had “STUART” painted in large letters down the tall tower.

We stopped at a rest area west of Des Moines, and as I looked out at a large field of corn I couldn’t help comparing the ecological characteristics of corn fields with lawns. Both crops cover large areas of North America (one source says that lawns cover more land area than any other single crop). Both crops are raised as monocultures that require huge amounts of chemical fertilizer and chemical controls for weeds and pests. Considered from the point of view of ecological science, both lawns and corn fields support a low density of species; and the “insurance hypothesis” predicts that lawns and corn fields will be relatively vulnerable to changes such as drought, invasive species, pest infestations, etc.


Above: Corn field near a rest stop west of Des Moines

As we drove by the Adair wind farm on Interstate 80, we could see a highway rest area with a tall white monument in front of it. As we passed it, we realized it wasn’t a monument at all: it was a wind turbine blade standing upright.

We decided to stop in Omaha for dinner. Carol found what sounded like a good restaurant, McFoster’s Natural Restaurant, using her smartphone. When we got there, we realized we had been at that restaurant some years earlier. At that time, the restroom walls had been covered with stickers, so Carol stuck one of her own stickers on the wall: a yellow spiral with the words “Urine Charge, Take Life Full Circle.” Alas, the restrooms had been renovated, and all the stickers were gone.

As we sat eating dinner, a couple in their early twenties walked in. The woman was saying to the man, “Yeah, I don’t know if you’ll like this place, but it’s my favorite restaurant. If you don’t like it, we can go somewhere else.” When they were out of earshot, Carol said aloud what I had been thinking: unless they were brother and sister, the man had better at least pretend that he liked that restaurant. As we were walking to our car, we saw them coming out of the restaurant; they both seemed to be in a good mood.

We had a long way to go, so we got in the car and kept driving west, into the setting sun….


Above: Wind turbine on Interstate 80 in Nebraska



Above: Sun setting over a Nebraska soybean field

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”