Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The consequences of eating meat, revisited

I sometimes get asked how we can be so sure that there are negative consequences to eating meat, and what these consequences are exactly.

I believe that there are negative consequences to abusing and killing animals, and, by extension, to eating the meat of these dead animals. I believe that killing any sentient being, whether it’s another human, a cow, pig, fish, etc. is unethical because I see all sentient life as important. The same person that asked the question above would likely not have asked the same question about the consequences of killing other humans. Why? Because most of us already know that the killing of other humans is wrong. Religious individuals would most likely see this action as a "sin" for which there would be negative consequences. Even (most) non-religious individuals would agree that the killing of other human beings is not ethical. Even if we don't specify the exact consequences of killing someone, we kind of inherently feel that this is the wrong thing to do. For most of us, being responsible for a lost life would weight very heavily on our conscience.

I believe that this same level of respect for life should be extended to include as many animals as possible. When one develops compassion and empathy for animals, one begins to see that their suffering is as unacceptable as ours. One begins to respect all life, not just human life. There are ways in which we differ from animals, especially in our intelligence and our ability to make decisions. There are also ways in which we are very much alike: Our desire to live, our ability to feel pain, our emotions, including but not limited to happiness, sadness, depression, and fear. We should use to the things that set us apart (our intelligence and ability to make good decisions) to remind ourselves and others around us that we should be the caretakers of animals, not their executioners or abusers.

Whether you're religious or not, you can hopefully agree that violence and murder contribute to the deterioration of society, and make the world a much worse place to live. I believe that our treatment of animals also contributes to this. When we try to become "better people", we should keep in mind that respecting the life of animals is an important part of that equation, an important stepping stone on the path to true progress.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Happy Birthday Morrissey!

Meat industry workers' transition to more ethical jobs

In defense of the meat industry, some people bring up the inevitable job losses if and when we were ever to move to a more plant-based way of life. They argue that many farmers and others working in various meat, fish, and dairy industries would become unemployed, and that the welfare and ability of these individuals to earn an income should take precedence over animal rights issues.

It is never good for people who work in a certain industry when that industry declines. The first thing to remember, however is that this phenomenon is nothing new, historically speaking. Industries lose their importance, and sometimes completely fall by the wayside for a variety of reasons: The development of more efficient ways to provide goods or services, environmental concerns, ethical concerns, etc. This has always happened, and will continue to happen. While not always representative of progress, in some cases it is. One only need to look at how an increasing number of businesses are embracing more environmentally friendly methods of energy production (wind, solar, etc.), causing traditional industries such as the coal industry to decline. The possible decline of the meat industry and the subsequent growth of non-meat alternative industries would be a very positive thing, as it would mean a decline in the death and suffering of millions of innocent beings. I would welcome this sort of thing, since I believe that the killing of these innocent animals is responsible for many of the problems we face in the world today. While we should indeed worry about the ability of farmers and other individuals working in the above-mentioned industries to make a living, we should take steps to ensure that they do so as ethically as possible.
People will always need to eat, so farmers will not become obsolete. When other industries decline, the jobs that are lost are sometimes replaced with completely different jobs requiring completely different skills, so those working in the original industry can’t easily switch over. In food production, this can be a bit easier to do. Simply put, it would be easier for a farmer to go from raising livestock to, say, soy production, than it would for a coal miner to start working in the solar energy industry. The same can be said for people working in meat-production plants, etc. They would simply find work in a non-meat food production plant/factory. In the long run, once people adapt to working in the new industries, there would be as many people involved in the food production process as before. The only difference will be that these people will no longer be contributing to the death and suffering of innocent beings.

On a side note, another important point to remember is that working in and around so much death can and does affect our minds and our moods. Some people can simply brush it off as "just a job", but the negative effects of working in such an environment should not be underestimated.

Once again, I don’t mean to oversimplify the process of altering the current food-production infrastructure or to underestimate the challenges of retraining the people employed in the meat industry, but because of all the moral and ethical problems associated with meat production, this has to be done. Remember the importance of actively trying to affect change, and encourage your member of parliament, congressman, local representative, or any other appropriate member of government, to develop and invest in meat and dairy alternative food industries.