I recently read an amazing defense of meat-eating in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. It didn’t defend industrial factory-style meat, in which animals live miserable existences in tiny dirty pens (indeed, how much of our meat is acquired). Rather, it was a defense of the concept of meat-eating, from animals raised on humane, sustainable farms. Here’s a brief book report:

The argument was based on the premise that the idea of “rights” and “morals” is a distinctly human construction, developed to fit society’s focus on the individual. But nature is concerned with the group – the preservation of the species, the strength of the food chain. And in nature, animals eat other animals in a way that is beneficial to the species of both predator and prey.

When farm animals became domesticated millennia ago it was a symbiotic evolution. Domestication creates a human demand for a species, which ensures that the species will continue, whether for companionship or food. It gave the example that domesticated species are doing better than their wild counterparts – in North America there are 10 thousand wolves and 50 million dogs. By eating meat, we are ensuring that these animal groups survive.

Michael Pollan notes that in viewing the animal world through a prism of moralism, we are imposing a very Puritanical sentiment on wild nature, trying to paint predation and hunting in strokes of “evil” and human domination  — when in fact they are among the most natural of acts. He then took his critique a step further to the vegan philosophy, noting that even its ‘moral’  rules of eating necessitate animal death — the machinery and pesticides required to grow and harvest food kills field mice, moles, woodchucks and the like.

Veganism, and to an extent vegetarianism, is an urban construct, preached by people who have lost touch with the land and nature and cultivating your own food. There are vast expanses of the country where people wouldn’t be able to eat locally – i.e. New England, where the land is made for growing grass and raising livestock. This would cause the population to rely on an industrial, imported food model, dependent on fossil fuels and chemical preservatives. Is that more ethical than eating a steak??

In fact, if the whole country went vegetarian, we may even cause the death of MORE animals through the destruction of large swaths of land for growing food. “If our concern is for the health of nature, then eating animals may sometimes be the most ethical thing to do.” – MP

So there’s my incredibly abridged version of a very nuanced argument. Remarkable food for thought the next time you’re craving a hamburger.

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