Mar 20, 12
Dear Ariel Kaminer,
I am writing in response to your contest, “Calling All Carnivores.”
Why must the NY Times encourage readers to eat meat? Why was the contest not called, ”Ethical Reasons to Stop Eating Meat?”
Those two are rhetorical questions. The answers are because the NY Times does not want to award people for insisting eating meat is unethical. On the contrary, this contest is strong evidence the NY Times wants to reward people for insisting eating meat is ethical.
In your article, you assert that “those who love meat have had surprisingly little to say.” How can you make this assertion and live in the United States, where every meal is pig, chicken, fish or cow, and where bookshelves are crammed with titles encouraging popular but illogical “compassionate carnivorism?”
My complaint is not that you believe meat fans are silent, or under-represented. As a meat eater, you are likely as unshaken by Turduckens and bacon as the rest of America, so your belief that meat-eaters have “had surprisingly little to say” is understandable.
My complaint is about the end goal. The result of this contest, intentional or not, is an article which causes readers to think, “Ah-hah. So that why eating meat is ethical. I knew I was right for doing it.”
The world does not need more reasons to eat meat, much less a contest recruiting the most convincing and popular logical fallacy. The world is not better for increased demand of dead or dying animals.
The world needs people who, as you said in another article, feel crummy when unnecessarily ending the life of another, and it needs articles from those people saying why they refuse to repeat the act.
Oct 07, 11
Inspired by the currently trending #Top10Lies Twitter hashtag, here are the ones I hear most about vegan diets, motives and vegans themselves.
- “Veganism is expensive.” I build muscle on $4 a day. Grains, legumes, beans, veggies, etc., are incredibly affordable and nearly all the recipes can be cooked quicker than you can drive to a restaurant.
- “Vegans are elitist.” There is nothing more elitist than subjugating innocent beings and killing their children because you prefer the way their milk tastes.
- “Vegan diets just aren’t healthy.” This nearly always follows someone assuming you went vegan ‘for health reasons,’ and then trying to find some criticism when you tell them you stopped eating animals for ethical reasons. Vegan diets are incredibly healthy.
- “Plants feel pain, too.” You have to be out of touch with reality to utter this as a reason to eat animals. To produce a plate of animal-based food, you have to spend 20 plates of plant-based food and a tremendous amount of water. Eating animals means eating, by proxy, 20 times as many plants as a vegan does. Plants do not have any nervous systems.
- “Vegans cram their beliefs down other people’s throats.” No, foie gras is cramming your beliefs down throats.
- “Vegans are weak little waifs.” I can’t speak for Mac Danzig, Brendan Brazier and Robert Cheek, but they are not waifs. Anecdotally, I have been vegan four years and I still squat twice my body weight. Vegans are just people. If they lift weights and eat right, they get big. If they argue on the internet all day, they get pasty and skinny (or fat), just like meat eaters.
- “All vegans love PeTA and are domestic terrorists.” No, vegans want you to live longer, healthier, and to stop exploiting animals. Shoving 1,100 pigs down a killing line per day is a terror factory. PeTA has as much to do with vegans as the National Rifle Association has to do with eating chicken.
- “It’s too hard to be vegan.” Too hard to shove food in your face? Too hard to say ‘vegetable fajitas’ instead of ‘chicken fajitas’ when you are eating at a Mexican place? The ‘too hard’ excuse reminds me of all the excuses I heard when I was a personal trainer.
- “You can only get protein from tofu.” Tofu has protein, but you don’t need tofu to get all the protein you need. The world has gone protein crazy. People have been convinced through protein suppliers that a human needs 50g of cow-based juice every 3 hours or they will shrivel up and die. Don’t believe the hype. Do some research. You’ll be fine.
- “Growing plants causes field mice to be killed, therefore eating animals is okay, and vegans are hypocrites.” People forget that it takes tremendous amounts of plant material to feed 56 billion land animals every year. More field mice are killed feeding meat eaters than feeding vegans. And the idea that accidental harm justifies intentional and unnecessary harm is just stupid.
This update is a little grumpier and less polished than most of mine, so if I’ve offended you, please go vegan.
Elephants mourning their dead. This must be some kind of robot-instinct acted out in a stupid, robotic, 'instincty' kind of way. Photo by Kelly Landen.
Some want to assert that because animals have “no interest in the future,” or “no concept of the future,” it is morally acceptable to enslave and kill them.
We can say killing someone steals their future. Stealing from an individual, whether or not they have a sense of the loss, is still stealing from them. Just like burning someone with congenital analgesia (insensitivity to pain) is still burning them.
It is the dream of the exploiter to find a blanket statement which permits them to continue the exploitation. The more philosophical and abstract the statement, the better, it seems.
Animals Actually Do Have an Interest in the Future
Why do we remember things? In the case of stoves, we remember they may be hot even when they look inactive because, otherwise, we might get burned. Strawberries are tart and sweet. A red light means stop.
Memory serves the purpose of decision making. The hot stove is not touched and the strawberry is eaten to extract its flavor. Our most basic interests are in avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure.
We remember things because we want to change the future.
Pleasure from anticipated strawberries and pain from anticipated shock collars exist in the future. If they exist in the present, we might salivate or twitch or jump out of reflex, and reflexes are one of the few things we do without decision-making. But reflex is done without cognition, as far as we know. It need not consult memory.
When we spy the hot stove or lay our eyes on the red of a shining, freshly washed strawberry, we are contemplating the future.
One with memories is one with an interest in the future. Even interests as simple as “eat until full” and “avoid hissing cats” concern themselves with the future. And this future always includes one thing: the entity thinking about it.
Do dogs have memories? Of course they do. Pavlov’s experiments prove dogs can be conditioned. And where are they be conditioned but in their minds? The dog who salivates at the ring of a bell because she hears it every time dinner is served is thinking about the past (or, at least, considering it) and preparing her body for the future. She expects to receive food.
The sound of the bell is as good as the smell of a fresh meal. Be the input through ears or nose, something is telling her food is near.
What chicken, as “dumb” as they are supposed to be, would forget the sweetest patch of land with the most worms in their pecking ground?
There is a long-held belief that birds are simply too stupid to remember coastlines and geographic landmarks, that they migrate by “pure instinct,” whatever that is. But even this is in question now, with evidence showing that some birds navigate by memory and reason.
If a creature, bird or bear or hare or fish, has a memory then that creature has self-interest and self-awareness. Why else remember anything? Why remember if not to alter the future?
Penguins mourning their dead children. This must be some kind of robot-instinct acted out in a stupid, robotic,'instincty' kind of way.
The Herd Has an Interest in Its Future
Is gassing a nursery full of infant morally acceptable? Of course not. How about gassing one of them? Again, no.
In the dreamworld where each animal “has no interest in his or her future,” it is easy to overlook the fact that animals do mourn. They need social structures, and dropping in Chimp 520 to replace Chimp 519 does not work. Animals are not machines; they are living beings. Even if the fanciful interest-in-future criteria was morally acceptable, which logic suggests it is not, removing the individuals has a profound impact upon their families and social circles.
It makes no difference that the individuals are black, white, Jewish, cows, chickens or salmon. The type of organism is irrelevant to the crime being committed against his or her group. Unlike the survival situations of lions chomping on gazelles, humans committing acts of violence and enslavement against animals is a crime because the act is completely unnecessary to our survival.
The one on the left will be ground up with about a thousand siblings so you can eat his mother's eggs.
Is it immoral to cut a dog’s throat because we like the sound of the blood gurgling onto the soil? To stomp on a box of kittens because the squishing under our feet is lovely and refined? To sever a lizard’s tail and legs, leaving her to bleed to death, because the trail of blood she leaves behind makes interesting patterns?
Most of us would say yes, these acts are immoral. Would they be any better if the aggressor was paid to do it? If a young man is paid ten dollars every time he crushes a kitten to death, is the act then acceptable? How about ten thousand dollars? Of course not.
We agree that receiving pleasure from the sound, sight or feel of bloodshed is immoral (if not downright creepy), as is profit.
What if the pleasure is taste?
If the pleasures on our ears, under our feet, or upon our eyes are unacceptable reasons to inflict harm, why do we make exceptions for the pleasures of the tongue? It is just another organ.
Eye, nose and skin pleasure may be seen as entertainment. If we agree that killing for mere entertainment is bad, then certainly crushing kittens to death is bad. Stabbing a cow to death for entertainment, then, is also bad because a cow is no different a moral specimen than a kitten is.
The difficult part of talking to meat and dairy consumers is helping them understand that eating flesh and non-human milk are unnecessary. Because these food items are not necessary, they are entertainment. Buying steak at a grocery store which also sells beans and fresh vegetables is no more defensible than stomping on a box of kittens.
We must reject killing not just kittens, but also cows, chickens and all living beings, in pursuit of the specific sensations given to our tongues and noses.
There is no magic morality purifier device built into our taste buds. Criminals are not released on the condition that they greatly enjoyed the crime. And, despite what the bacon advertisements tell us, pigs are not happy to die today because a plate will hold their body parts tonight.
Our enjoyment is as irrelevant as profit. The price paid per kitten squished has no effect on the immorality of the act. Be it ten dollars or ten thousand dollars, funding murder is funding murder. In the same way, a tickle or a taste does not change the exploitation.
Let us be consistent with our beliefs. Being so is much easier than trying to explain to our children why assaulting kittens is bad, but assaulting pigs is okay, provided we eventually eat them, too.
Summary: Do not blame being an asshole on this organ.
I had the opportunity to talk about veganism to a professor the other day. He responded without rebutting any one particular statement. Instead, he kept repeating that mankind is the most cunning, the most intelligent, and the most ruthless of all the creatures on earth. He toted these values incessantly (He also banged his fist on the table and raised his voice – but I can overlook that as a personality flaw). It is thanks to these traits, he said, that we evolved from apes to man. Specifically, he said it was our ability to suck marrow out of discarded bones in the desert that helped us survive famines.
"Go back to banging rocks together, human!"
He seemed to take a great deal of pleasure in repeating the words “ruthless, cunning,” and “intelligent.” I imagine if we knew him better, we’d find out that he cherishes these aspects of consciousness most about himself, as well. Isn’t that obvious? Why else, with such gusto and satisfaction, would he dwell on them?
He might be right. In a starved, desperate, depraved past, eating marrow may have brought us biologically up from early hominids into homo sapiens. But he is very wrong if he thinks that same kind of behavior will move us forward.
Cunning and ruthless savagery are for war and killing. War and killing is out of control and will cause the extinction of man. Or, indirectly, soak up so many resources that man cannot afford to fight natural pandemics.
Compassion, communication and cooperation are our only hope.
When was the last time you employed cunning and ruthlessness to fall in love or do anything really meaningful?
It won’t be marrow-sucking, lethal cunning and remorseless intellect that keeps our civilization alive. These traits do nothing but threaten our existence. We are apes no longer.
Here’s another way to look at it. Ultimately, even if eating flesh – practically lethal to us unless cooked – nudged us up a branch in the evolutionary tree, we are not obligated to continue doing so. Continued eating of meat won’t help us make the next jump any more than throwing our own feces or swinging from trees will.