“Is Eating Meat Ethical?” graces the projector screen as I walk into CAS 522 and prepare for the debate between CAS Senior, Alex Taubes, President of the BU Debate Society, and Bruce Friedrich, VP of policy for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), on answering the very question.
Friedrich, a vegan of 23 years, opens the debate arguing that eating animals is completely unethical. He bases his argument on three main claims: environmental protection, global poverty, and cruelty to animals. Before he begins to present his argument, he engages the audience and asks us all questions, ones in which the majority of answers go in favor of his argument. “Would you rather give mercy, or misery?” – A question he chose to stick with throughout his entire argument, that of course, a few carnivorous audience members answered “misery” to.
Many people view PETA as an organization that forces its animal rights views on others by presenting them with disturbing videos and pamphlets capturing the extreme pain and torture that animals in the market industry go through before they make it to our plates. Though I did receive one of those very pamphlets the second I walked into the lecture hall, I was surprised that Friedrich’s argument was not based purely on animal torture. He did speak of it to an extent, and presented a clip of a video that presented hundreds of sad chickens living in extremely close quarters; however, his argument focused more on the environmental and global impacts of being a vegetarian. I was shocked to learn that a meat-based diet uses twenty times as much fossil fuel, fourteen times as much water, and twenty five times as much land as a plant-based diet. Friedrich then moved the focus of his argument to global poverty, and mentioned that more than half of the world’s corn, soy, and wheat is produced and grown for the consumption of market animals. If we were to stop consuming these animals, they would no longer need to be fed these massive amounts of food, and we would be able to provide more food for those in poverty. In answering audience questions, Friedrich also mentions that humans are the only animals that need to cook their meat before consuming it – evidence that we are naturally herbivores.
Taubes, an award winning debater, argues the opposite side, stating that “animals do not have rights and do not deserve them.” Though he himself stated while answering audience questions that, “I have a pet dog. Jenny. I like Jenny,” I’m sure that if someone came to take “Jenny’s” rights away, Taubes would not be happy. However, Taubes presented convincing points, such as the fact that animals are inferior to human beings, and the argument that PETA and other animal rights activist commonly present generally follow the idea that there is no ethical difference between human beings and animals. He mentions that being vegetarian kills animals as well – the clearing of land for agriculture kills thousands of moles, mice, and other small rodents. Taubes argues that agriculture, like other industries, has surplus and waste that go to feeding the animals of the market industry. If no one ate meat, the population of these animals would plummet and the amount of surplus and waste from agriculture would cause yet another environmental problem.
In the end, I feel that the points and scientific evidence that Friedrich presented out-weighed those of Taubes. However, Friedrich’s points were 23 years in the making while I’m sure Taubes just had a couple of months. As a vegan myself, I guess I am a bit biased and agree with Friedrich in saying, “I’m proud to encourage you to say eating meat is not ethical.”