Vegan Compromise

How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner? The answer cannot lie in the beasts themselves. Pigs, after all, are quite companionable, and dogs are said to be delicious. …

How would you judge an artist who mutilated animals in a gallery because it was visually arresting? How riveting would the sound of a tortured animal need to be to make you want to hear it that badly? Try to imagine any end other than taste for which it would be justifiable to do what we do to farmed animals.” …

“Almost always, when I told someone I was writing a book about ‘eating animals,’ they assumed, even without knowing anything about my views, that it was a case for vegetarianism,” he says. “It’s a telling assumption, one that implies not only that a thorough inquiry into animal agriculture would lead one away from eating meat, but that most people already know that to be the case.”

More here.  She’s right: we will not tolerate folks watching animals tortured for entertainment, as in movies or cock-fights, but we will tolerate animals being tortured for food, for meds, or perhaps lipstick.  We care far more about our pets than our food, even if they are very similar creatures.  And we know deep down that the usual sorts of principles most folks endorse do not support this behavior.  We are hypocrites.

Those with strong self-images as principled intellectuals have two outs:

  1. Become vegetarians, to make our acts match our words.
  2. Change our principles, to make our words match our acts.

Rather than warring to the death for one side or the other to win such a conflict, I prefer to seek compromises between our near and far selves.  Let us seek principles that can account for most of our acts, then try to change the other acts to conform with such easier principles.  My tentative resolutions:

  • We don’t care much about most animals, even smart ones.
  • It is a bad sign about someone that they would be enjoy watching animals being tortured.  We prohibit such watching to make our society look “civilized” to other societies.
  • We are kind to our pets to show others we are loyal to those loyal to us.  Fido has always been there for us, so we will be there for him – up to a point at least.
  • We are willing to spend only modest sums to make food animal lives a bit more enjoyable.  We should spend such sums, but not go overboard.

More interesting quotes from that article:

Foer’s villains include Smithfield, Tyson Foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and—rather more surprisingly—Michael Pollan. There is perhaps no more influential critic of the factory farm than Pollan, and Foer acknowledges that he “has written as thoughtfully about food as anyone.” But when Pollan looks at animals he doesn’t feel worried or guilty or embarrassed. He feels, well, hungry. …

Pollan says, it’s too late for people to start worrying about eating animals. The problem with factory-farmed meat isn’t the meat; it’s the factory. The solution is to return animals to the sorts of places where they can graze and root and fly—or at least flap around—before being dispatched. …

Pollan contends that “people who care about animals should be working to ensure that the ones they eat don’t suffer, and that their deaths are swift and painless.” Similarly, the author and livestock expert Temple Grandin, who designs what are often called “humane slaughterhouses,” argues, “We owe animals a decent life and a painless death.” We “forget that nature can be harsh,” she has written. “Death at the slaughter plant is quicker and less painful than death in the wild. Lions dining on the guts of a live animal is much worse in my opinion.”  …

But is even veganism really enough? The cost that consumer society imposes on the planet’s fifteen or so million non-human species goes way beyond either meat or eggs. Bananas, bluejeans, soy lattes, the paper used to print this magazine, the computer screen you may be reading it on—death and destruction are embedded in them all. It is hard to think at all rigorously about our impact on other organisms without being sickened.

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