My Entry To The Ethicist - Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club Blog at - 274624

Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club

my entry to the ethicist 
May 6, 2012 5:32 pm 
Updated: May 7, 2012 5:27 pm
I entered a contest a few weeks ago. [Spoiler Alert: I did not win.] I had read about the contest in the Ethicist column of the NYT. The point of the contest was simple: it was a call out to meat eaters; if you eat meat, defend it from an ethical perspective. As an omnivore, I thought it was a worthy topic for consideration and at the very least might be a good mental exercise. So I tapped out a few hundred words and entered. Turns out, I was one of more than 3,000 people with more or less the same idea. You can read the winner's essay, and a fascinating article about the crazy brouhaha the contest stirred, in the Sunday, May 6, 2012 edition of The New York Times Magazine. My entry is right here:

Is Eating Meat Ethical? It can be. It could be. Sometimes. Well, yes. A qualified yes.

I will have to begin at the begining, I'm afraid. Way way back to the time when we swung down from the trees and began hunting and eating meat in earnest. These were the two activities, you see, that kickstarted our brains. We were hunting animals for meat as we were first becoming human, as we differentiating ourselves from the mass of animals around us, as we were being fired and shaped in the kiln of evolution. We might not have made it to becoming fully human, except that somebody, somebody you're probably related to, had the bright idea to put meat over fire. Slapping meat over fire gave us an additional boost in brain size: Cooking meat made it easier to digest, freeing up calories that would ultimately be used to power larger, energy-sucking brains. 

Ok, from the savanna to the Safeway, let's cut to now.

One of the side effects of our bigger brains is that we modern humans, in addition to dreaming up the Internet and the gin martini, are capable of thinking about what we're eating. We can consider our relationship with the animals that become our food and conceive of being compassionate towards them. We can do this, then, because we initially conceived to eat them.

Our very omnivorousness provided us with decision-making tools, including a capacity for intellectual and ethical considerations that sometimes lead us to reject our carnivorous side. After all, as omnivores, we have a wide-open palate. Yet as rational animals, we have the ability to choose. We’re free to expand or narrow the scope of what we consider food. Unlike the lion, we can decide we'd rather just have a salad. And we owe it all to our meat-eating past. 
For as long as we have been human, we have shared a link with the animals we eat. With domestication, the link not only continued, it strengthened. Humans and animals grew into domestication together some 15,000 years ago or so. 

However, domestication developed from a condition of mutual benefit, with animals drifting toward human settlements, having recognized that here they would find a reliable source of food and at least a measure of safety--protection against all predators except, inevitably, one. For humans, domestication turned the calculus of the hunt right on its head: better now to preserve the biggest and best animals so they might produce other excellent animals. This new arrangement was based on the self interest of both animals and humans. It was a contract, mutually beneficial, based on respect for the animals' nature and needs.

Today, however, modern industrial animal husbandry makes a complete mockery of this contract. Far from nurturing, protecting, and acting as caretaker, the system brutalizes its charges, reducing sentient creatures to mere widgets on a gory assembly line. A pig is not a pig in this system; it has been stripped of its animal nature. It is not ethical to eat an animal raised in current factory farm conditions. Conditions matter. What is unethical is the modern machine that denies the animal its natural dignity.
However, recreate a nurturing environment of mutual benefit, similar to the initial contract, where the animals' needs and concerns and basic nature are respected, then you have a situation where it can be ethical for a human being (also an animal, after all) to eat that animal, whose existence was  valued and secured and protected until the day its life was quickly and humanely extinguished.

So yes--a qualified yes--eating meat is, or rather can be, ethical.
May 7, 2012 12:00 am
Very well written Lorem, but then one would expect no less from a Master of Gastronomy! The to meat or not to meat debate has long been raging, however I totally agree with your position above. I grew up in a small rural community in California's boutique wine region where most of our neighbors lived on 20-40 acre parcels in the rolling hills with orchards and garden plots and chicken coops etc. I was in 4-H and it was very common for 2 or more families to split the cost of buying and raising a pig or a calf or lambs etc. So that when the time came we would also share the meat of animals we had fed and raised ourselves. Animals that grazed on wild greens under the open sky in the sunshine, who were bathed and walked like pets. It was sad when their time came but like Mufasa said, that is the circle of life.
May 7, 2012 11:50 am
Thank you for the great comments, Vicky.Sounds like an idealic situation to grow up in!
May 7, 2012 11:52 am
Ah, reasoned like a Jesuit! A lifetime ago, in the 70s, the cost of beef became prohibitive to many so in addition to boycotting it, many did as Vicky commented and bought steers to raise and slaughter. Ours lived on my sister and BIL's farm and my kids named it and took great delight in feeding and brushing it (it was a horse farm - everything got brushed!) Come time to slaughter and I just could not even think of eating an animal I had known face to face. Old CutiePie may still be grazing in a field in PA for all I know.
May 7, 2012 5:27 pm
That's a great story, thank you, BSM. It reminds me of when I went hunting as a kid. I could not bring myself to eat the venison.
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About Me
My wife and I and our two devilish kittens live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. A few years ago, I got a masters in gastronomy. I'm a food/wine writer. I’m also blogging about cocktails.
My favorite things to cook
We cook fairly simple dishes using fresh local ingredients that we pick up at the Seattle farmers market. My favorite thing is making a nice slow-braised or long-roasted something on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like cooking with wine (in the dish and in the glass...and in the cook).
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom never liked to cook, but she did well despite herself. Her mother, my omi, was from Munich and made delicious rouladen, sauerbraten and other traditional German and American dishes. Always bins and bins of home-baked cookies at Christmas. Wonderful rye bread. And beer. Opa would say, "Brotzeit ist die beste zeit."
My cooking triumphs
We’ve made the signature timpano dish from The Big Night a couple times. And for Thanksgiving 2007, we made Turducken. My wife and I are always volunteering to cook the big holiday meals with the family. We mix a signature cocktail, and get down to it.
My cooking tragedies
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for myself once when I was snowed-in in Denver. I nearly burned down the neighborhood.
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