Every species is able to survive because they use the nutrients available to them. And such survival implies that animal species eat other animals and plants. As part of the animal kingdom, humans are no exception to this rule. In fact, over the course of human history, humans have been the only animal species capable of greatly increasing their chance of survival by growing vegetables and breeding animals. Depending on where early peoples originated from, different nutritional habits evolved and became deeply embedded in our various cultural identities regarding how food should be obtained, prepared, consumed and celebrated. The connection to our food, both animals and plants, was precious. As human beings, we have inherited the ability to hunt, gather and prepare our food in the way our ancestors did. This is natural, instinctive, moral and ethical.
Eating meat ethically means appreciating what we have on our plate. Traditionally, meals have been preceded by a prayer of thanks and oftentimes an elaborate spiritual ritual. Humans were cognizant that a living, breathing animal died for our nutritional needs. Our ancestors thus made the most of the whole animal – from the brains, necks, shoulders to the kidneys. And meat had always been rare or expensive so portions were small and every bite was cherished. Eating meat ethically means making the full realization and connection that the meat on our plate is an animal that has been killed for our benefit, our luxury, not just something to be breaded, marinated or braised. It means fully recognizing that it is our duty to ensure that the animal was raised with respect and was offered a dignified death. Eating meat ethically means respecting the land from which our food comes from. It means eating meat minimally, balanced with plants to ensure our bodies remain healthy. Until the last 50 years, meat was considered something very special.
The fact that you are asking if it is ethical to eat meat speaks wonders to where we have arrived as a society: a place in time where our food system is so troubled, so hidden from the public eye and so degraded that we are questioning the very behavior humans have maintained throughout their entire evolutionary journey. But with all due respect, we think you are asking the wrong question. The most important question to be asking is one that should get your readers (aka “consumers”) DOING something about the way they eat meat. It is very challenging to eat meat ethically today, in an era when most of the population does not know from where their meat truly originates. Where did this simple bond between meat and consumer go?
It has been lost in the assembly line at the slaughterhouse, the endless rows of gestation crates, the towers of battery cages, the piles of waste polluting the very land where the animals we eat should be roaming free. It is lost in the rampant abuse and habitual disrespect of our animals. It is lost in the powerful web of big government, Big Ag and animal factories (ie what we used to call “farms’). It is lost in the genetic manipulation of our animals to please the fast-food masses. It is lost in the obscene amounts of hormones and antibiotics pumped into our overcrowded and sick animals just to keep them alive.
It is imperative that humans return to our traditional culture of ethical meat consumption because how we eat meat today is no longer moral or ethical. Not by a long shot.