The Ethics of Eating Meat

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Vegan is trendy these days. Whether it's to improve health (some studies show that eliminating animal products from one's diet can substantially improve health), to save the earth (it's estimated that factory farming is a major contributor to climate change), or for the love of animals ("if we feel uncomfortable with the thought of eating a dog, why don't we feel the same discomfort in regards to a chicken or a cow?), more and more people are turning to plant-based diets for a variety of reasons.

Through most of my 20's I was a vegetarian who dabbled from time to time in Veganism. For me personally, a Vegetarian diet worked very well and I felt like I was at my healthiest then. I chose then to not consume animals to improve my health and for environmental and animal welfare issues. In my 30's I went back to eating meat to make mealtimes easier with a live-in boyfriend who was a strict carnivore.

Now in my early 40's, I'm contemplating what the perfect diet is for me. For the last 6 years or so, I've eaten the Standard American Diet. After some major life changes at the very beginning of the Pandemic, I'm now in a place in my life when I'm taking an interest, once again, in what goes into my body and how that effects me and the world around me.


Why Vegan?

There are so many reasons for one to go Vegan that it goes beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of the reasons one may chose to cut animal products out of their life entirely.

For some, the photo on the right is the baby picture of their bacon cheeseburger. For others, this adorable photo is proof that animals are just like us with feelings, and friends and if you can't imagine putting ketchup on your best friend Bob, then how could you justify ripping these two apart and grilling their remains for the 4th of July? Then there is a small (I hope) segment of the population who would look upon this picture and just think it's an adorable picture of a sleepy baby cow and pig, with no idea whatsoever that either of these animals are the main ingredients in what they consume almost daily. If you love animals and view them more as friends than "dumb beasts", it's only natural to have either converted, or at the very least, considered a vegetarian diet.

Health is another reason people may choose to eliminate animal products from their diet. Current factory farming practices often result in increased amounts of antibiotics and hormones in commercial meat. In addition, consumption of red meat has been linked to higher instances of heart disease and cancer. Check out documentaries such as Forks Over Knives or The Game Changers (both available on Netflix) to see how adopting a plant based diet has cured people of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and helped professional athletes perform at the top of their game.

I once worked with a guy who said, "you cannot call yourself an environmentalist and still eat meat". The dude had a point: Factory farming practices account for a huge chunk of air pollution (cow farts are no joke), waste management techniques can poison ground water, and have you heard how toxic the air can be at chicken farms, causing harm to workers? Not to mention the amount of resources that go into a single pound of beef......Massive meat consumption is just not healthy or sustainable for the planet.


The Case for Meat

Human beings are carnivores, 'nuff said. All joking aside, there are people that really do think this. They site a human's teeth, thinking skills and ability to use tools, among other

arguments to make their case.

The truth is, humans are omnivores and are very adaptable. We can survive off of a purely Vegan diet, or one that is completely carnivore, but the best diet is probably a balanced mix of the two.

I'm not a doctor or nutritionist, but anecdotal evidence has shown me that everyone is different and what might be the perfect diet for one person, wouldn't work at all for someone else. For example, I do very well on a vegetarian or vegan diet, but my younger brother (who is also a different blood type than me), eats almost only meat and animal products. We are both healthy, maintain an average weight and have no health concerns to speak of.

Can Eating Meat Be Ethical?

About two months ago, I took a Chicken Processing Class put on by a homestead not too far from where I live. I was upfront and told them that I was a former Vegan and wasn't sure I would be able to go through with the process of actually killing and processing a chicken.

I have 6 of my own chickens and I couldn't imagine killing and eating any one of my "girls". The Class was led by two wonderful homesteaders who showed me a different view of meat consumption.

During the class, the instructors talked about the philosophy of raising one's own meat; how one could be assured that the meat was hormone and antibiotic free if they didn't administer those things to their flock. If you raised your own meat birds, you could be sure that they had a good life, were pasture raised, loved and treated with kindness and respect. There were feel-good elements to an unpleasant truth.

The chickens that were used in the class were the very popular Cornish Cross Broilers. These chickens are bred to grow rapidly and to mature to butchering weight in just eight weeks!! These are the chickens that the big commercial chicken farms use. There have been several articles in the local newspaper just last week about "white line" disease in 90% of chicken sold in supermarkets. White Line disease in chickens is fat deposits in the muscle tissue of the bird due to their rapid growth. These birds are famous for dying of heart attacks or not being able to stand up if you miss the 8 week butcher date.

Though the chickens were of commercial stock, they were not raised in the same manner as factory farmed birds. The birds we butchered that day had lived their lives on pasture and were not fed the same super high protein diets that commercial birds consume. These birds were left to free range and mature a bit slower. As a result, the birds we handled were healthy, though not very lively. Knowing that the chickens would eventually outgrow their bodies made the butchering easier.

The entire process, from chicken coop to dinner table, is not long or complicated at all. Virtually anyone could process their own chicken and provide themselves with meat. One of the men who attended the class with his girlfriend, after slitting the throat of a chicken said, "I don't think I can ever eat chicken again." How many people, I wonder, eat meat for almost every meal, yet would not be able to butcher an animal? We are so disconnected from our food in modern American Society.

If you do consume meat, I think you should, at some point, take part in the slaughter and butchering part at least once. That was the main reason that I took the class. I didn't feel that it was right or fair that I eat meat, but be so far removed from the process that brought that to my table. After the class was over, I realized that the entire process wasn't nearly as traumatic as I thought it would be for me, or for the chickens either, it seemed. We were instructed on how to handle the chickens humanely and to help them feel secure as we set up for slaughter. I was amazed at how calm the birds were and how there was no sound or struggle as we began to process them.

While I don't suggest we all go backwards in time and adopt the pioneer lifestyle made famous in Little House on the Prairie, it is worthwhile taking a look at how the homestead functioned in regards to livestock. A homestead back then had to provide for all of the family's needs. They grew what vegetables and grains they needed to feed themselves as well as the livestock they kept. Homesteading would have been an exercise in patience as both plants and animals take some time to grow before harvest.

A pioneer homestead would have had just enough animals on it to feed the family. A cow or a few pigs and a flock of chickens might be all the meat that a family would need and those meat animals would have been well taken care of to ensure that they provided the family with healthy meat.

Adopting the goal of becoming more self-sufficient, I believe, may allow for ethical meat consumption. I don't want to eat meat from animals who are raised on cramped factory farms, pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to keep them alive, fed unnatural diets to speed up the process to get the animals to slaughter weight in as short a time possible. But I might not mind eating meat from animals who I could be sure lived a good, natural life until the end. I would feel like I was giving healthy food to my family in the form of hormone and antibiotic-free meat.

To the Vegans and others who may believe that animals are "friends, not food", I'd say that belief is your right to have, and you're not wrong. But you can also be friends with someone and take care of them to the best of your ability, and then let them carry out their destiny with dignity. What do I mean by that? Simple. I already have my egg layer chickens. My little ladies are both pets and livestock. I enjoy taking care of them and wouldn't ever dream of eating any one of them. If I chose to get some meat birds, some pigs, or a cow, the only purpose that I would get those animals for is to eventually eat them. That would be the sole reason for their existence on my farm. Their destiny, if you will. They would have a great life while they lived with me, but in the end, it would be their destiny to feed me and my family, and I would see that they met that destiny in the most humane way possible.


In Conclusion

I believe that for some people, a Vegetarian or Vegan diet is the right choice for health and for their conscience. If the only choice one has for meat is to purchase from a grocery store, then I believe it's probably healthier and makes more of an environmental and ethical statement to go Vegetarian or Vegan.

If one has the space and inclination to try to raise one's own meat, then I believe it can be done ethically. For those concerned with animal welfare: raising your own animals gives you the control to determine how they are raised and handled. For the health-minded: raising your own meat animals will ensure that you know and approve of everything that was consumed by or administered to that animal. In addition, raising your own meat could result in less overall meat consumption. On a traditional homestead, slaughter was usually done seasonally, so meat may not have always been available all year 'round. In it for Mother Earth? If more people raised their own meat, it would result in less animals raised overall. Small family farms practice animal husbandry techniques that enhance the natural environment, instead of de-pleating it like factory farming does.

Whether you chose to eat meat or not, take control of what goes into your body and grow it yourself. Large factory farms for animal products and huge, monoculture agricultural farms for veggies and grains are just not sustainable for the Earth. The only way we can change how farming is done is to do it ourselves. Be the Change.


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