The Ethics of Eating Meat

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Wrapping up her tenure writing as "The Ethicist" for The New York Times Magazine, Ariel Kaminer talks about the results of the essay contest on the ethics of eating meat.


Ariel Kaminer

Comments [33]


David from West Hempstead - meat was eaten - in smaller quantities - by people the world over for milennia without antibiotics, toxic runoff or cruelty.

May. 03 2012 12:53 PM
Irene Jarosewich from Clifton NJ

The current system of delivering meat to our table is built to provide profit, not essential nutrition. Two ethical issues have been merged: is meat eating ever ethical, and the second, whether the current system of producing meat is ethical. Those of us who believe that eating meat is ethical - the way that our grandparents did - hunting, raising livestock for family and community use without cruelty or hormones, and therefore choose our providers with care - still oppose the methods of the modern meat industry. The principle that killing animals for vanity and profit is OK is the unethical principle, not simply whether or not to eat meat. Killing animals was done with respect, often accompanied by rituals of thanks, and motivated by need, and not greed. A final thought: if we removed government subsidies to agribusiness, locally produced food products would be more competitive in price and the health of the nation would improve.

May. 03 2012 11:36 AM
kenneth from new jersey

I think it comes down to this ,too much of any food whether its vegetation or meat would not be good for the body I think people have to try to think in terms of not abusing the body with any one type of a food source. It not realistic to say people can go out purchase ethical food of any kind in a time where economy is shaky and the cost of food is very high it would be really hard for people to keep up with an ethical way of eating. The best thing I can say is to eat as smart as possible by taking food in and making sure waste comes out daily along with some type of exorcise and then hope for the best . In the long run something going to take you out of this world you can only do your best to not abuse your body by over eating or under eating and having to much of one thing. Eat smart and exorcise! I feel are the keys to good health and your food sources can come from both plant base and meat base diet.

May. 03 2012 11:19 AM

...written as a conflicted carnivore.

May. 03 2012 11:16 AM

When it comes to domesticated animals raised for meat, if we don't 'em they go extinct.

Today's industrial food production has reduced the diversity of stock to only a couple of breeds. The consequence is that the breeds not "chosen" by the industrial complex, disappear. In the last 15 years alone. 190 breeds of farm animals have gone extinct worldwide. In the past five years alone, 60 breeds of cattle, goats, pigs, horses and poultry have become extinct.

In the US, a few main breeds dominate the livestock industry: ii

83 percent of dairy cows are Holsteins, and five main breeds comprise almost all of the dairy herds in the US.
60 percent of beef cattle are of the Angus, Hereford or Simmental breeds.
75 percent of pigs in the US come from only 3 main breeds.
Over 60 percent of sheep come from only four breeds, and 40 percent are Suffolk-breed sheep.

If there is no market demand we lose these animals forever.

Gotta eat 'em to save 'em!!

May. 03 2012 11:05 AM
John A.

My cats, tiny and unnamed as they are, are still responsible for the consumption of more meat than I am. They've also effected my "zero can" waste stream. Is having a Cat ethical I sometimes wonder.

May. 03 2012 11:05 AM

The caller who said vegetarian diets destroy more habitats doesn’t seem to have considered that far more land is needed to grow food for the animals to eat, rather than going that produce going directly to people. Cattle consume 16 times as much food in grain than they produce as meat, so there is a tremendous waste of energy involved in livestock production. The “ethicist” clearly had an agenda with this project and hadn’t even done the minimal amount of research to correct the caller on this fact.

May. 03 2012 11:03 AM
Pam Goldman from 08873

Hypocracy, thy name is PETA. It is a well known fact that most of the animals that PETA "rescues" are not rehomed or sheltered. PETA has no shelters. They kill most of their "rescues"! I would never give Ingrid Newkirk the time of day, never mind mention on the radio.

May. 03 2012 11:03 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I wonder how cloned meat (that was never in a live animal) would work on a large scale. Wouldn't it still be likely to be grown in big factories? How many people would need to be employed there, & how would they be treated?

May. 03 2012 11:01 AM
hmi from Park Slope

@ RavenAndCrow
" humans feel they have the sovereignty over other beings and that it's morally excusable to kill because, essentially, animals taste good or can be made into nice shoes."

Exactly. A reasonable case can be made that humans ought to act humanely (i.e., unlike animals, not bestially) out of moral standards that arise out of our nature. But there are no reciprocal rights and responsibilities with respect to animals, and there is no coherent moral argument against our taking the life of animals to preserve or better our own.

May. 03 2012 10:59 AM

A Slight sidetrack : Something I strongly object to is people who claim they do not eat meat, yet eat fish. Fish have blood, fich are living creatures, many are quite intelligent and have a much more fragile ballance than some land animals. Fish is meat !

May. 03 2012 10:58 AM
Eli Friedmann from astoria NY

it's pretty straight forward....99% of people in western society (not to mention india) do not need to eat meat to be healthy and in fact most would benefit health-wise from NOT eating meat. no synthetic meat is required since there is plenty of tasty healthy food currently available. killing another living conscious animal just for a taste treat is not really ethically justifiable. is it ethical to buy a cut little dog from a breeder and eat it just as a tasty snack? really no different than doing the same thing to a cow or pig.

plants are not sentient beings. they have no brains. mammals like sheep, pigs, cows, rabbits, cats, and dogs all do have complex brains.

eating another animal when you literally need it to survive is another discussion....but in most cases this is NOT how it is.

May. 03 2012 10:58 AM
Michael from Woodland Park

It *is* an issue that revolves around class distinction, at least in the developed US.

It often requires extensive formal education to be exposed to the ethics of vegetarianism.

Isn't there a sense in which someone is able to *afford* one's sense of ethics?

May. 03 2012 10:58 AM
maggie from Morristown nj

The only way anyone can defend the ethics of eating meat as the industry operates today is by ignoring the facts: not only the horrific abuse of the animals from birth onward, but the environmental impact and effects on the world food supply.
The New York Times reported that meat is "a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests."

The same article points out that "assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains.

One steer is fed 4,500 lbs of grain. How many people might that feed?

btw, your caller who mentions that his fruit trees are feed for the deer he hunts is admitting to a practice no ethical hunter would defend--luring the animals to a feeding ground where they can become easy targets for the hunter when the deer arw in season.

May. 03 2012 10:57 AM
Amy from Manhattan

What if organic meat were raised & marketed on the CSA model, which makes organic produce less expensive than in the health food stores?

May. 03 2012 10:56 AM
Will Miles from Morris Plains

The "eating" of meat may or may not be shark-like--but as such is certainly not even an question of ethics, it's survival.

Growing animals to eat them, on the other hand, is not ethical--and not because of the insult to the animal. The wasted energy and time involved in the cultivation of animals to slaughter and consume is an insult to humans and our natural survival.

Full disclosure, I am an extremely active, extremely healthy, and extremely happy life-long (61 years) vegetarian. Definition of my diet (which took me nearly 30 years to come up with): I eat nothing that once had its own form of locomotion

May. 03 2012 10:56 AM
David from Brooklyn

My spiritual teacher, a rare vegetarian among Tibetan lamas, says that if you are someone's guest, you eat whatever is put in front of you as graciously as possible, unless of course you have some physical problem or allergy that prohibits it and not just some idea that will make your host feel bad and leave you somehow feeling morally superior.

May. 03 2012 10:55 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

A "decontextualized piece of meat"?

May. 03 2012 10:55 AM

Is no one familiar with the movement Joel Salatin has provided leadership - written up by Michael Pollan in the Omnivore's Dilemma - their soil was refurbished - remineralized etc by animal poop which is harnessed in ingenius ways by the likes of the Salatins

People always spent more of their money for food!!! Join a buying club! that saves a lot and you get teh real thing and you are part of the natural cycle

May. 03 2012 10:55 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Unfortunately, I think Limbaugh must be correct on this point. Your guest appears to be anti-meat, "ethically" acquired or otherwise. She's a herbivore. But I do hope that "growing" meat can be done in a healthy and environmentally benign way someday. If we can avoid killing other creatures to feed ourselves, I'm okay with that. But I think she's just anti-meat for whatever real or imagined justifications.

May. 03 2012 10:54 AM

flesh eating is defined by culture: bugs,dogs,human cannibalism. we are omnivores and predators; that being said, we can opt out for all the reasons being discussed; cruelty, pollution, health, waste. when an animal is individuated and has a name; george the chicken, fido the lab, sparky the cat, biff the buffalo; it becomes more difficult to take a hatchet to them.

May. 03 2012 10:54 AM
carlo pellegrini from nyack, ny

Is eating meat ethical? Is it ethical to have a healthy, nutritionally balanced body? I spoke with a nutritional anthropologist whose expertise was studying the stomach remains of dinosaurs. In the case of every herbivivore, he found traces of vitamin B found only from meat sources. His summary: even a dumb animal like a dinosaur knew he/she needed meat to survive.

May. 03 2012 10:53 AM
Peter from Manhattan

Sustainable farming necessarily includes animals; a fully functional farm (not a factory farm) will produce meat as well as grains and vegetables. So, some meat consumption is a part of a sustainable system, albeit at a much lower rate than our current consumption, which would be impossible without factory farming.

May. 03 2012 10:52 AM
Lee from Jersey City

Bring back Soylent Green!

May. 03 2012 10:52 AM

I think if meat was grown sustainably in the Polyface farm method, and Americans tried to modify their intake to manner of Asian diets, it would ethical. Any other method seams to be both unhealthy and non-feasible for a growing human population worldwide.

May. 03 2012 10:52 AM
brooklynmom78 from Park Slope, Brooklyn

Certain metabolic types were meant to eat meat because they cannot break down vegetable proteins and absorb them as easily, and diabetics have a hard time being vegetarian because they need to eat low glycemic meals. MOst body builders eat meat because it's the best source of protein (not to mention iron, selenium, and B12.) People who don't eat meat have to go to extreme lengths to make sure that they don't become anemic or suffer nerve damage due to B12 deficiency. I understand the environmental concerns (more than some of the other ethical concerns) and do my best to buy free range/organic as much as possible. I still probably eat less meat than most people.

May. 03 2012 10:49 AM
CK from Yorktown

Here we go with the anti-meat eater discussion. It's positioned that those of us who are omnivores have to defend our position, pitting the vegans (the regligous group that they are) against those who choose to have a protein variety. Don't get me wrong, I think we should eat less of it, but we're defending why it's ethical?

May. 03 2012 10:49 AM
David from West Hempstead


The argument for factory farming can be a wholly teleological one. The nutrition made available, quite cheaply, to millions of people who might not have accessed its benefits otherwise is in itself justification for the operation of factory farms. Clearly there are unnecessarily abusive practices that can be curtailed, but it is simply not feasible to expect that meat and its benefits can be made broadly available without industrial scale meat farming.

May. 03 2012 10:48 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I have the ethics of a carnivore. Meat is a treat to eat! Especially if carefully prepared and kosher :)

May. 03 2012 10:47 AM

For us, it comes down to the fact that humans feel they have the sovereignty over other beings and that it's morally excusable to kill because, essentially, animals taste good or can be made into nice shoes. The world's a much better, more moral, and more environmentally sound place if we stop killing and exploiting animals. So we don't. We think it's that simple. Everything beyond that is an excuse to make ourselves feel better or willful ignorance.

May. 03 2012 10:46 AM
CK from Yorktown

Here we go; meat eaters, defend yourself. It's prove that what you're eating is ethical. This is the usual pitting of vegans against the rest of us deal. Isn't this a tired discussion?

May. 03 2012 10:46 AM
Paul from New York

Please ask your guest to define "ethical" and then reflect on how meat eating fits into that definition.

Webster's: conforming to accepted professional standards of conduct

By far most people in the US are meat eaters. How is eating meat not ethical?

May. 03 2012 10:46 AM
John A.

Its been said that it takes an amount, something like 10X the water to raise a pound of meat vs a pound of grain. This also factors in to the ethics with decreasing supplies of water.

May. 03 2012 10:44 AM

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