Let’s face it, meat is delicious. Meat has been eaten by humans for thousands of years, and for good reason. It is a source of protein and fat, which our ancestors needed to stay alive. In the modern day, most of us eat meat on a daily basis without thinking about this question: is it right to eat meat?
Obviously what is ‘right’ is very arguable (dismissing religions’ moral codes which usually impose rules via their ancient scriptures), as there is no objective morality. But as a society and an intelligent species we already seek to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, the laws we live by are ones which help keep us safe and happy. Almost all of us will agree that the best thing for the world is to reduce the amount of suffering – over time we are doing a good job improving living conditions, reducing child mortality and many more things that help make the world better to live in.
However, humans are very inconsistent with this ultimate goal to make a better world when it gets to dinnertime. We continue to kill millions of factory farmed, often poorly treated animals every year for our food, and that is increasing. I will not even get into specifics about why factory farms are cruel, you can look up videos yourself online. It is very strange from a psychological standpoint how we punish someone massively for killing a human yet we do not give a second thought to the hundreds of pigs, cows and chickens each person is indirectly responsible for killing over their lifetime. The common comeback here is that humans are much more intelligent than other animals so it is far worse to kill a human than other animals. Is intelligence really the best way to judge the morality of killing animals? If it is purely based on intelligence, would it be ok for us to breed humans genetically modified to have intelligence comparable to a chicken? Most people would think this is immoral, which tells us we have a bias towards our own species.
Surely the morality of killing should be based on the animal’s ability to suffer. I do agree that humans probably have the highest ability to suffer because we have much more complex emotions than say, a pig. But there is no reason why pigs have much less of an ability to feel physical pain compared to humans, yet we still subject animals to physical pain in farms and slaughterhouses. Pigs can also feel emotions, and also “there are no data on which to make the claim that dogs, for example, are emotionally more complex than pigs or other food animals.” (source). This suggests to me that our current ‘list’ of animals it is immoral to kill (humans, dogs, cats, horses(?)) is flawed, as it is not based on their ability to suffer.
So what can you do? Firstly, you do not have to turn vegan. For many people being vegan is too much of a drastic hurdle and might put people off. Eating meat and causing suffering is not binary, it is a continuum you can simply reduce the amount of meat and animal products you are eating to make a difference. I personally would not call myself vegetarian but do try to avoid meat where possible. There are too many reasons to continue eating lots of meat other than the moral aspect, e.g many meats are high in fat which is a growing problem for our health. A third reason to lower your meat consumption is that meat production is a very inefficient process and uses huge amounts of CO2 and water per kilogram of meat produced compared to other food sources. Here are some tips to help you reduce your meat intake so you can be morally consistent, healthier and eco-friendly:
- Try out Quorn foods – they have an excellent range of meat free alternatives to chicken, mince, pepperoni and more. Found in the freezer and fridge section of the supermarket. There are lots of other really nice meat free (and often healthier) foods if you look around.
- Learn to cook meals for yourself. This way you can makes vegetables and other meat free foods taste just how you like them, and control just how much meat (if any) goes into your meals.
- Be adventurous – when eating out at restaurants try out some meat free options. Again, they are often healthier and usually cheaper. My personal favourite is the vegetarian section of Handmade Burger Co’s menu (in Leeds Trinity centre).
- Don’t add meat where meat is unnecessary, pasta can taste just as nice without meatballs, there are lots of other options.
Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject below, no ‘mmm steak’ comments please, it’s been done before. I find this subject very interesting, If you wish to get more info this video is a great place to start.
(disclaimer: Consult your doctor before any drastic diet change!)