As a meat eater, I feel obligated to think about the ethics of the habit. Given that we can easily survive without meat, I think it’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s a luxury that we indulge in at the expense of the lives of other animals.
In this month’s Atlantic, James McWilliams argues that eating the meat of animals raised in a “free range” is not more ethical than eating factory farmed meat:
But this position—the idea that free-range is automatically a responsible choice simply because it’s more attentive to animal welfare—is morally blurred. Better does not mean acceptable. Consumers of free-range meat who oppose factory farming on welfare grounds (however partial) cannot escape an inconvenient question: Doesn’t killing an animal we don’t need constitute the very thing that factory farming perpetuates—which is to say, harm? This, as I see it, is the free-range albatross.
After reading it, you should read Heath Putnam’s response. He’s a pig farmer in Washington, and consistently writes interesting stuff on the practices of farmers and the ethics of them.
Two additional thoughts. The first is that from an animal welfare standpoint, eating dairy foods is no more ethical than eating meat, mainly because meat is an unavoidable by product of dairy farming. Only female animals produce milk and eggs, and half of the offspring of farm animals are male. Many male dairy calves become veal, male goats on a goat farm become meat, and male chicks on big egg farms become fertilizer.
The second is that without farming most of the animals on farms just wouldn’t exist. So when we talk about the lost potential for happiness and fulfillment among farm animals when they are slaughtered, we’re talking about animals that would not exist at all were it not for farming.
Heath Putnam says we should eat what tastes good. I continue to agree with him, at least for now.