Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Eating with a Clear Conscience

Cruelty towards animals, whether in the form of neglect or with malicious intent, is considered contemptible and can result in jail time-- just ask Michael Vick. But whereas most are quick to condemn those who inflict pain and suffering onto innocent, defenseless animals, many also become indifferent towards the matter when it pertains to food and eating. Why is it that eating an animal or the product derived from it gets held to a different standard? In his lecture titled “The Ethics of Eating”, Matthew Evans, an adamant vegan and defender of animals’ rights, maintained that it is morally wrong to consume meat, dairy products, and any other organism that can experience pain in a way resembling ours. Because the idea of killing a living thing for human satisfaction seems both unwarranted and cruel to me, I wondered why I seldom feel remorse when these animals give up their lives to become my dinner... and if maybe I should.
 To be frank, nobody indulges in a quarter-pounder cheeseburger topped with crispy strips of bacon or a tender filet mignon because it's beneficial for your health.  While they do provide copious amounts of protein and vitamins, it’s the savory taste and texture of meat that accounts for the large number of carnivores. Sixteen billion animals each year in the United States, however, need to be sacrificed in order to cater to these meat-eating individuals (PETA). Acknowledging that these animals are killed in gruesome ways, without their “consent”, why would people continue to look to animals as a main source of food? 
 Put simply, there is a tremendous disconnect between us and our food. We’re cognizant of what animal our food comes from, yet we’re so accustomed to the end result that we often forget that our succulent meal was once a living, breathing being. After all the processing and packing, it’s difficult for me to conceive that I am eating the flesh of a once living thing when it bears no resemblance to the actual animal it came from.
          Vegans and vegetarians alike have proved that it is possible to sustain a healthy lifestyle without animal protein. Beans, tofu, and nuts are just a couple of other foods that contain the same nutrients, minerals, and proteins found in meat. Adopting a meat-free diet is said to prevent us from heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and several types of cancer, as well as strengthen our immune systems (PETA). Additionally, even if the animals and livestock do not contain diseases, they nevertheless can be contaminated by chemicals injected into animals. But the argument goes well beyond issues of our health: the United States’ meat addiction affects the environment, contributes to world hunger, and exhausts our natural resources.  As troubling as these outcomes are, they're still not compelling enough to convert carnivores and omnivores into complete herbivores. Not many are willing to surrender the foods they love for a larger, universal cause that realistically needs an exorbitant amount of participants for a change to occur. 
Similarly, people continue to purchase popular name-brand food products, even though a large number of companies who distribute them heedlessly destroy the environment and/or exploit their workers, especially those from developing countries. The exploitive practices of multinational companies, as a means to acquire cheap labor, has harmed some of the most vulnerable countries in the world, whose economic and social sustenance is compromised for the sake of profit. For example, Sidama, a region in Ethiopia that supplies Starbucks with Ethiopian coffee, is plagued with famine and poverty. The Ethiopian coffee farmer suffers while Starbucks, selling coffee for as high as $4.50, amasses an enormous amount of capital. While most can agree that these practices are morally wrong, not too many really feel that guilty, as evident by Starbuck’s continued success. A vegan who purchases coffee from Starbucks may be indirectly causing harm to a human being. So how is this any different from causing harm to an animal?
           It's important to remember that all members of an ecosystem are subject to certain predators and also assume the role of a predator as well. With respect to ecosystems and the idea of natural selection, should we even have moral obligations to nonhuman animals? Regardless, no human carnivore-- myself included-- requires animals to be raised and slaughtered inhumanely. The consumption of meat, dairy products, and other living things might seem "moral" if it helps sustain your livelihood or personal well-being. 

"Animals Used for Food." PETA.com. 12 Oct 2011. Web.

Faris, Stephan. “Starbucks vs. Ethiopia.” Cnnweekly.com. 26 Feb 2007. Web.

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