Feast or Moral Famine?

The ideal "free-range" turkey.

The ideal "free-range" turkey.

For some of you, the topic of this blog—the ethical treatment of animals—will raise your hackles before I even speak a word, for the simple reason that the consumption of animals is such an ingrained part of your life. But, regardless of how much you enjoy that burger or steak or pork roast, I ask you to read on, for your sake and the sake of the animals that human beings consume.

Now, I assume that most of you agree with the laws that prohibit cruelty to pets and privately owned animals. You would not, for instance, condone beating, torturing, or neglecting dogs, cats, or horses. And part of the reason that you would be opposed to such actions is that the animals suffer and it is unethical to cause the suffering of any creature that can experience it (an argument made very compellingly by Peter Singer). If this is even close to the case, I ask you to research slaughterhouses on the Internet. But, don’t be surprised to find that you have to dig a bit to get past both the justifications and the vilifications. But, private videos have been shot in slaughterhouses, unbeknownst to the owners, and former employees have spoken up—and the stories are both horrifying and ubiquitous.

The reality is that -- even these turkeys will be labeled "free range."

The reality: even these turkeys will be labeled "free range." So knowing something about the producer matters.

Sure, we would like to believe that those neatly wrapped packages of meat that we buy at the grocery store come from well-treated and humanely slaughtered animals. And even that the eggs we buy come from equally well-treated hens. Sadly, however, this is simply not the case. I will not detail all the abuses that regularly take place on chicken farms and in slaughterhouses here, but I will attest to the fact that most animals raised for food or eggs live in horrendous conditions and are slaughtered in ways that cause them great suffering, tremendous fear, and slow, tortuous deaths. If you do not believe me, just do the research.

I am mainly talking here about the large slaughterhouses and chicken farms—the ones that produce the bulk of the meat and eggs that Americans eat. However, it is possible to find locally raised, free-range meat, as well as cage-free eggs. And while both of these kinds of products will be more expensive than those produced on large, commercial farms, the animals involved often live and die under much better circumstances. For those people who will not give up meat altogether, free-range meat and cage free-eggs are options that help in two ways: they support the more ethical treatment of animals and they fail to support large, commercial farms. While I eat no meat, for example, I do eat cage-free eggs.

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Adam names the animals, not the cuts of meat.

Now, I hear some of you saying, “But the Bible gives us the right to eat meat!” Yes, it does. But, if you pay close attention, the right to eat meat is only given by God to humans after the flood. The Garden of Eden, or Paradise on Earth, was entirely vegetarian. Meat is given to humans who have failed to live up to God’s hopes for them, and only after all crops have been wiped out by the flood. Something to think about.

Another point that I wish to bring out is simply that in order to feed a hungry world, the wealthier countries of this world, the ones who eat most of the commercially produced meat, must cut down on their consumption of meat.

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What we eat carries ethical, as well as caloric, value. We should pay as much attention to the former as to the latter.

Not only are rain forests being destroyed at an alarming rate with slash and burn techniques, simply to make room for farms that serve such companies as McDonalds, but it takes more protein from grain to produce animal protein than is sustainable. Each type of animal is different, but by the time farms are using 7 to 16 pounds of grain protein to produce 1 pound of animal protein, the numbers speak for themselves. How many more people could we feed with the original grain than we are feeding with the meat? And the rain forests? Well, most of us believe that oxygen and pharmaceuticals that cannot be synthesized are important (not to mention the other species of animals that are being lost). We are losing their sources daily as the rain forests burn.

In the end, the ethical treatment of animals depends upon human being who simply will not tolerate having them tortured and killed in the most inhumane fashions imaginable. So, I ask you once again: before you head to your nearest store or restaurant, please do the research. Read the articles and look carefully at the photos and videos. Only then can you decide whether or not you want to support an industry that causes fully feeling creatures such unbearable suffering.

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1 comment for “Feast or Moral Famine?

  1. December 12, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Very thought provoking to be sure. I’ll have to do some research on this. I don’t apologize for liking the meat I eat, I think we’re as much a part of this food change as any creature. How we manage our dominant position is another matter.

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