There are nearly 7 chickens alive right now in cages if you are a meat-guzzler, but 0 if you are a Vegan. Whether it is right to fund this industry matters. (2009, The Economist reported 6.84 chickens alive per person in the US). And yes, it’s more than ‘meat tastes so good’. (Which it does). I’m going to have a look at some philosophical flaws of Veganism (and Vegetarianism) regarding animal ethics.
Giving up Rump Steak is a Pain in the Arse
So, we know that animals can be treated badly in captivity, which isn’t nice. If you doubt this, remember that the farmer’s incentive is normally to keep costs low – I mean, do you even know how cheap chicken is!? Like any mammals with advanced nervous systems, animals have needs and requirements. You can keep an animal alive by providing the bare minimum to grow the meat needed. For example, provide a really cheap diet fortified with antibiotics and near no space. The chicken will survive and you can make it large, despite that its evolutionary desire not to be sitting in faeces with its beak cut off is ignored.
The Easy Response
So, the easy answer against Veganism and Vegetarianism is that we should just eat better sourced meat (and probably less of it). Unnecessary torture is wrong. This might be a bit inconvenient, but in reality amounts to little more than checking the source of your meat (free range? Organic?). When consumers switch the meat they eat, companies change their sourcing. Take a look here: http://www.organicauthority.com/why-americas-animal-welfare-legislation-lagging-behind-europe
If you are not convinced that animals are often treated badly, the nice folk at PETA have collected a whole bunch of graphic exposes to sear on your memory. Or you can take my word for it. https://www.peta.org/
Vegans and Vegetarians go further. They say that animal meat or products, even if the animals are not treated badly, are wrong, or that those with the intention to eat ethically sourced meat won’t manage it.
A Missed Opportunity
This ignores the flip side. If (a branch of) Veganism says that animals’ lives are sacred in some way, and therefore killing them is wrong, we can turn this on its head. Would you rather those animals never lived at all? What if, in the right farming conditions, they even enjoyed their lives? Preventing meat eating would only ensure they never lived at all – people are hardly going to raise chickens in industrial quantities for a laugh. In fact, as animal numbers are so large, while there mistreatment results in a grievous atrocity, to pass out on an opportunity for them to be raised well and enjoy their lives likewise misses a huge opportunity for fulfilled lives. The choice here isn’t between a pig dying early or it living into retirement with grand kids, it’s about whether it lives at all.
It is convincing that living in faeces and with removed beaks for a chicken would not be ‘fun’ for them (for evolutionary reasons), this does not mean we can extent human thinking onto these animals. Chickens may be perfectly happy living without much freedom provided they have a degree of space, get food and are warm and safe, even if a human isn’t. When I drove past Stonehenge on holiday, there are pigs which live outside in a fairly muddy field. It’s hardly a concrete pen with no movement. Living safely in a fairly natural environment before an anaesthetised late death (later than never having lived!) does not scream out EVIL to me.
FYI, Stonehenge is a pile of rocks built in the UK which us England venerate. Embarrassingly it was built at the same time as some of the much more impressive pyramids.
What about the climate?
Animals contribute to climate change. This does not necessarily imply cutting them from your diet, more that you should reduce your carbon footprint, potentially by cutting down meat or something else. Is the correct response to global warming to live in a shack, eating berries? Probably not. Vegans and Vegetarians implicitly take this approach normally, they might use a car or go on holiday abroad. You might eat meat but then choose not to fly abroad for your holiday, and switch from beef, with a higher carbon footprint, or chicken.
Where veganism has a point
Yet. What many meat-eaters now want to ask is,
‘Am I justified in still eating my deliciously cheap meat?’
This question hits upon a real moral quandary.
More ethically farmed meat will be more expensive and have higher greenhouse gas emissions. This will likely mean people it less of it because of the cost (realistically) and to avoid higher emissions (optimistically). Therefore, is it better to have a fewer number of lives lived well or many lived worse?
I’d argue for the former. To say life has intrinsic value in this way is misleading. It has intrinsic value only as far as it is possible, when alive, to experience certain genuinely worthwhile things. A life with sparking moments of love, friendship even with pain is worthwhile.
To say life is intrinsic then apply this meaning to battery-farmed chickens is to take a work out of its context, and thus dupe us. Our lives, if they inevitably consisted merely of agony and torment would not be ‘intrinsically valuable’, as they would never have the chance to include the things which can make life valuable and bearable.
Likewise, to take the word ‘life’, which is filled with our connotations of the full breadth of experience we have and apply it to a chicken living in filth, beak (which is very sensitive for a chicken) removed and jammed with its limbs up against a cage is absurd. That’s not life, that’s survival, and breathing but not living.
A word in favour of vegans and veganism
This is never going to be an exact science – the mysteries of consciousness still elude us! Yet, that is no excuse to use the uncertainty present as a get out of jail free. Your actions have very real consequences to living creatures. Vegans have typically sacrificed something very tasty out of this concern. You can honestly disagree with them, but that includes a moral imperative to eat meat responsibly.