Where's the beef?
I have heard many arguments for vegetarianism and veganism, especially since Conrad feels very strongly about treating animals with compassion. Many of the arguments, I simply dismiss because they are illogical. Many of the PETA crowd are guilty of various logical fallacies, probably most prevalently the appeal to emotion.
However, while watching this video, I can say without much hesitancy that this is a logical argument. These are reasonable people and they are rationally discussing the issue. There are objective ways that we can measure how well an organism understands its own existence and is capable of suffering.
It is a sad fact of our existence that we must kill other life forms in order to survive. This has been my main hesitation when hearing arguments against eating meat. Whether we eat plant or animal life, we must kill something in order to survive. We cannot live by ingesting only matter which has never been alive.
I believe that what Dawkins says about a sliding scale is very wise indeed. Black and white thinking always asks "where do we draw the line?" His response is "why should a line be drawn?" For example, it is less moral to kill a human for food than it is to kill a celery plant for food. But that does not mean that killing an oyster for food must fall exactly into one of the two previous categories. It may be more moral than killing a human and less moral than killing celery.
One of the organizations that Conrad was looking into had signs which said "Why love the one and eat the other?", referring in turn to a pet and livestock. I think that this is black and white thinking. It leads to the conclusion that we cannot do both. Personally, I feel that we would be much better off as a society if we loved the creatures whose lives were forfeit to become nourishment for us. That is, not only do I think it's possible to love a pig and then eat it, but I think that if we're going to eat it that to love it first is the only ethical way to go about it.
I do not believe that it is unethical to kill animals for food. But I cannot say why I believe that. I cannot give a rational argument to support this belief. Perhaps it is simply because I was raised that way and because the society I'm in believes that way. I cannot say. But I do not believe that it is immoral. I do believe that it is immoral to treat animals like components in a factory which are there to be turned into products which will be sold all over the world. I believe that keeping hens in coops which cause the feces of one hen to fall upon another hen in a lower compartment is unethical. I believe that keeping milk cows in their stall all day, treating them as nothing more than milk factories, is unethical. I believe that stabbing elephants when they do not perform their circus tricks properly is unethical.
The only justification I can give which seems even remotely rational to me for killing animals for food is that they are mortal and therefore destined to die anyway. However, this cannot be justification because we kill animals long before their life expectancy has arrived. We do not allow them to live a full life. And, from what I understand (which, admittedly, is very little), if we were to allow the animal to die of old age, its meat would not be fit for human consumption upon its death.
It cannot be denied that the livestock that we keep and kill for food are sentient. They have a central nervous system, allowing them to feel pain. They are self-aware. They can comprehend the concept of death and have innate survival instincts which make death aversive to them, just as it is to humans. They feel many of the same emotions that we feel. They can experience happiness and sadness. They can be scared. They can be angry. Many of them have social interactions, analogous to the ones we have. They can feel sorrow at the loss of a dear one. These are feelings which should be acknowledged and respected.
Conrad and I are very aware of Konan's feelings. We do not abuse him. We do not strike him or punish him violently or unreasonably. We play with him and acknowledge his need for attention. We know the things that he enjoys and the things which he does not enjoy. We love him. He loves us. He is happy when he sees us, and when we play with him. However, I do not personally feel any aversion to killing him for food. (Conrad definitely does not share this apathy.) I won't eat him. I've never tasted dog meat and I don't know anything about its nutritional value for humans. I know that there are places which do eat dogs, but since I am in a society where that doesn't happen, I probably won't ever eat dog meat. But, if he were a pig (for example) I would have no qualms with slaughtering him and cooking him for breakfast.
Suppose that I do have a pig. A pet pig. I would probably treat him similarly to how I treat Konan. (I wouldn't let him in the house, though.) I would most likely go into the sty with him and play with him. I would pet him. I would love him. I would enjoy being affectionate with him and I would be happy if the pig returned the affection. To me, this kind of behavior makes my decision to slaughter him for food more responsible. I'm not going to kill more pigs than I need for meat. I'm not going to eat several sausages for every meal. I'm going to reduce the amount of meat that I eat. I'm going to be more conservative in my meat consumption. I'll think twice about having a burger for lunch because I'll be the one killing one of my friends in order to turn him into a burger. I think that the distant removal meat consumers have from the animals being slaughtered is one of the biggest problems we have with our food industry.
I have talked to so many people who eat meat but who say that they would be unable to personally slaughter an animal for food. In fact, some people even say that when they eat meat they must avoid thinking that it was ever once a living thing else the meal would be ruined. I think that this is rather unfortunate. I think that people realizing that they're eating what was once a living sentient being would go a long way to prevent the kind of waste that we have in our culture. I think that it would help with the overconsumption of meat, and the medical issues related to that. I think it would help curtail obesity (if only slightly). I think that it would help reduce the amount of meat product which are simply thrown away on a regular basis. Personally, I feel that if someone feels queasy about killing an animal for food then that person should not consume meat at all.
But, again, I assert that while it may be difficult, I would be able to kill my own meat. If it is an animal that I have raised, cared for, and loved during its life, then I feel that it has had a fulfilling and happy life and therefore would not feel remorse in ending its life. I do feel bad for the animals on factory farms which do not have a good life, which are treated as though they had no feelings. These animals suffer for much (if not all) of their lives, and are then killed to be consumed by humans who are unaware of or apathetic toward their suffering. This is truly tragic.
I am glad to hear that research is being done to produce meat without the need to kill animals. Muscle tissue samples are taken from live animals and then those samples are cloned. The meat tissue is grown all on its own, not part of a sentient being. There are many benefits to this cloned meat. It takes far fewer resources to grow. It does not result in causing a sentient being to suffer. It is less wasteful since only the matter which will be eaten is grown (as opposed to live animals, which grow ears and noses and bones that we don't eat).
But I believe that this attitude of respect toward animals is the most logical approach to the subject because it can be applied equally well to plants. We can respect plants just the same as we respect animals. We can choose to eat only the food which is necessary to eat. We can buy no more than we will use, to cut down on waste. We can be grateful to the life forms which provide the nourishment to keep us alive. We can think of ourselves not as selfish children which take whatever they want, but as actually being part of the ecosystem in which we live.
Just as an aside, I will definitely be reducing the amount of beef that I consume. Thanks to Conrad, I have become more aware of the industry and have just learned that beef is number one in many things--in cost to produce, in land required for production, and in greenhouse gasses emitted. Poultry is much lower on each of these scales. This is good because I enjoy poultry much more than beef anyway.
I think that people need to be more aware. Learn about your food. Learn about where it comes from and how it is made. Have an emotional connection with your fellow Earthlings. Understand the sacrifices which are made on your behalf. As consumers are more aware, more pressure will be put on the manufacturers and producers to be more ethical in their practices. As more farmers decide to avoid unethical practices and horrific treatments of animals, more options will be available to people who wish to be ecologically responsible. And a brighter future will be prepared for those who come after us.