Image credit: Martijn van Exel, used under Creative Commons license.
I seem to be thinking a lot about the ethics of meat eating recently. From wondering why I don't feel bad for eating meat yet still apologize for it, to posting about The Moneyless Man's comparison between meat eating, genocide, eugenics and cannibalism, it's a topic that raises some strong emotions on all sides. As a former vegetarian turned occasional, sustainable meat eater, I used to get very upset when the accusations of murder started flying from the herbivores among us. But the more I think about it, the more I think that they may be justified. If Killing Animals is Wrong, then Meat Really is Murder
I should be clear about this, I'm not renouncing my meat eating ways or reverting to an animal-free diet. But, even as someone who has previously argued for calmer rhetoric from the green movement, I am coming to understand why vegans might make comparisons with murder—and I am OK with them doing so.
After all, many vegans believe that humans killing animals for food is just plain wrong—or at least that farming animals simply for the purpose of killing them is barbaric. And if you believe that animals should have the same, or similar, "right" to life as our fellow humans then it's hard to avoid the comparison between homicide and slaughter.
Calmer Rhetoric Should Not Mean Compromising Your Beliefs
There are many similar parallels in public discourse. Many people believe that life begins at conception, and therefore make the logical (according to their worldview) connection that abortion is also murder. Likewise, others believe that the death penalty is state-sanctioned homicide, and may even view any who participate in the process as accomplices in unjustified killing. I'm not arguing that any of these positions are right, or wrong for that matter. I am just saying that we all have our own moral compass, and when matters of life or death are concerned it is hard not to get passionate—even to the point of some pretty extreme analogies and arguments.
Meat May Be Murder, But Who is the Judge?
However much it may make logical sense from the point of view of a vegan that meat really is murder, cultural dissonance kicks in when we recognize that society does not view it as such. The fact is that, in most societies, the vast majority of people consider eating meat a normal part of the human diet. So while others are welcome to disagree, and even to hold some strong views about the morality of such a situation, they have little choice but to try and change that paradigm through argument, persuasion and offering up alternatives.
Justified is Not the Same as Sensible
To that end, while I may understand—and even sympathize—with hardcore animal rights advocates who believe that all killing of animals is wrong, I would still argue that calling meat and meat eating murder is not the wisest move in their playbook. In my experience, accusing someone of a heinous lack of morality is an ineffective way of winning them over. Much better to try and find common ground and begin to open up their perspectives about the value of animal life, the impacts of meat eating, and the fact that very real, very tasty alternatives exist.
So while ideas like a weekday vegetarian diet may strike many non-meat eaters as hypocritical and strange (who says murder is OK on the weekend!?), I'd suggest they are a very real step forward—whether you believe we should eat less meat, or no meat at all. I recognize that is a hard step for those who believe in the murder-analogy to take, but it may be one that ends up saving a lot of animal lives.
More on Meat Eating and Sustainability
I Don't Feel Bad for Eating Meat So Why Do I apologize For It?
Even Anthony Bourdain Says Eat Less Meat
Why Eating Guts, Brains, Feet and Genitalia is Green (Video)
The Offal Truth: Would You Eat Guts, Brains and Genitalia?
Why Graham Hill is a Weekday Vegetarian, and You Should Be Too
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70 Percent