An Ethical Meating

By Patricia Bruce • September 20, 2010 at 12:30 pm


Bruce Friedrich, VP of policy for PETA, holds a folder clad with a bumper sticker in promotion of becoming a vegetarian, exhibiting his passion for animal rights while he presents his argument. | Photo by Patricia Bruce.

“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.

Alex Taubes , President of the BU Debate Society, presents his argument that eating meat is completely ethical. | Photo by Patricia Bruce.

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.”

Both Friedrich and Taubes answer eager audience member’s questions at the conclusion of the debate without hesitation.| Photo by Patricia Bruce.


Patricia Bruce is a junior in COM/CAS majoring in philosophy & photojournalism. She enjoys things with ph's, and is the photo as well as fashion editor for the Quad. The end.



Responses

  1. Marc

    Excellent article. I also witnessed the debate and, after doing my own research, am thoroughly convinced that eating meat in America today is unethical.

    I would recommend “Eating Animals” to anyone who thinks otherwise. It’s actually a really interesting book, and not condescending like some books on eating meat.

  2. anonymous

    The argument that humans need to cook meat to eat it and therefore should be herbivores is really, fundamentally flawed. It’s because we cook our food that our bodies were able to ‘streamline’ somewhat; cooking breaks down the food for us so we don’t have large jaws or larger intestines, like our hominid ancestors did before human use of fire was widespread.

    I don’t personally agree with factory farming, and I recognize that it causes a lot of problems, but just a personal preference toward eating meat does not in and of itself create all of these other problems.

    • “…personal preference toward eating meat does not in and of itself create all of these other problems.”

      Perhaps not if one or two people held those personal preferences, but when literally billions of people hold those preferences and exert their buying power on the food markets, those problems arise simply because they are inherent in meeting that incredible demand.

    • I agree that the argument is a bit flawed. It’s definitely possible that humans ate meat before they discovered fire (I’m not sure, maybe someone knows?), but after fire was discovered we found it more practical to cook our meat, and our bodies evolved over time to no longer have a tolerance for raw meat. That is of course, if you believe in evolution.

      And no, a personal preference for eating meat is not wrong. It is truly 100% your decision. What is wrong, and what causes all of the problems we see today are the factories that make it possible for us as humans to consume meat. If you have a farm and what not and go out and skin/pluck your own animals, there isn’t exactly environmental harm in that. At that point, it really just comes down to personal morals. But, if you disagree with factory farming, it would make sense that you would choose to be a vegetarian, I mean, at least at this point in your life.

  3. Dee

    Something I think people often overlook, and I think is a somewhat more controversial (rather, harder to come to terms with) theory in defense of animals is that they should be afforded the same moral status as humans. In fact, that we should protect them because we are logical, rational beings and they are not. I’d suggest anyone interested in vegetarianism or animal rights check out Peter Singer’s book “Practical Ethics” – very interesting read and makes a very convincing argument!

  4. Cynthia

    Personal preference is so easily claimed when the animals (or slaves, or women, or child labourers, or poor peasants, or…) have no voice. A “personal preference” to eat meat when one is made aware of the pain and suffering endured by those animals killed to satisfy the “personal preference” is 100% unethical. Non-human animals have their own lives, desires, and meaning independent of anything that humans want. Our worldview that this planet, and indeed the entire universe, is all about humans is extraordinarily myopic and petty and the way we treat animals shows that we are anything but intelligent. The Golden Rule should be the basis of the way we treat each other and other sentient life and sadly we seem to throw it out when relating to non-human animals. Here is a thoughtful essay that addresses this and more: http://www.viva.org.uk/guides/justiceforall.htm