Consider this thought experiment:
Imagine a time in the future where an alien species comes to our earth. They are more intelligent than us in pretty much every way and soon gain control over most of earth. These aliens are perfectly able to survive on eating grass, but one day they realise that humans are actually rather tasty. They then round up a huge number of humans from the wild, put them in cramped cages, giving them the bare minimum they need to stay alive, and force them to breed all the time. Once males grow decently big, or when females are unable to bear more children, they get killed for the aliens’ consumption. Humans suffer by the millions, but the average alien doesn’t care. Why should it, when humans are such an inferior species compared to them?
Do you feel that this is perfectly reasonable? Is it okay/right for these hypothetical aliens to treat us in whatever way they want, just to satisfy their tastebuds?
If you don’t think it’s right for the aliens to treat humans however they want just because they can, then I’m sure you know where this is going. How is it then right for humans to make billions of animals live their whole lives in immense suffering in order to kill them for our pleasure?
This is an issue that I’ve been considering for a some time now, initially triggered by watching Food Inc, a documentary about factory farming, for one of my social sciences modules. It was pretty sickening :( and since then I’ve been trying to eat a vegetarian meal once a week. But recently I went to read up more about factory farming and the ethics of it, partly because Sapiens also touched on this. And I don’t see how we can avoid concluding that buying/eating meat produced from industrial agriculture is unethical. I’ll write about what led me to this conclusion below, but as someone who enjoys eating meat, I would really like to believe otherwise. If you have any good justifications for why eating meat is ethical, please tell me and we can have a discussion!
Basically the main argument is that:
1. Animals are intelligent and have feelings; in particular they can feel pleasure and pain. From what we can tell, they seem to have some level of consciousness. Knowingly and needlessly making an animal suffer is not really that different from causing human suffering. If we agree that causing human suffering is unethical, then so is causing suffering to animals.
2. In industrial agriculture (aka factory farming), animals are treated horrendously and made to suffer all their lives. Watch the video on this page!
3. By buying and eating meat from such companies, we are supporting this treatment of animals and playing a part in this suffering.
Hence, buying and eating meat that comes from factory farms is unethical. And if I add another point:
4. I want to be a good person which means doing things I think are ethical, and not doing things that I think are unethical
Then it’s pretty obvious that I should stop eating factory farmed meat, right?
It’s also pretty weird that we are kind of inconsistent in how we think about animals: If you see someone kicking a dog or mistreating a rabbit for fun, you would probably think that’s wrong. You may also be appalled when you hear about people eating dogs or rabbits (or say horses). But what makes a these species so different from cows, pigs and chickens? Nothing inherently. It’s just that culturally we are used to seeing certain animals as “food”, and not as “animal lives” I guess?
The rearing animals for food also is super bad for the environment. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gases than all the world’s transportation combined!! It also uses far more water and land to feed animals for meat, compared to if we just grow plants to eat directly. See this for more facts about meat and the environment. Apart from ethical reasons, environmentally our consumption of meat is totally unsustainable. This was actually what originally motivated me to try eating less meat, not the ethics of it – although now I think the ethics part is a much more important reason.
There’s another question of whether it’s just the suffering part that matters (so it’s ok to eat meat if the animal was legitly raised humanely on small farms and lived a good life), or is it unethical to kill any animal for food, no matter how well it was raised? Also what about non-meat animal products (eggs, milk)? I’m not quite sure of my stand on this yet. But I suppose pretty much all the meat and non-meat products we get in Singapore are from industrial farming.
Ignorance may be bliss, but now that I know more about this issue, I can’t “un-know” it or just do nothing. The thought of all those animals crammed in cages or sheds and getting slaughtered makes me sad and disgusted :( And now that you know a bit about this, I hope you give it some thought and hopefully are inspired to take action too! It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing (ie. eat meat or become vegetarian), maybe just try the once-a-week vegetarian thing too for a start (there is actually a campaign called “Meatless Monday” and it just happens that monday is my designated vegetarian lunch day too hahaha).
I used to think that I can’t live without eating meat, and a meal without meat is not a proper meal (like if I order caifan I would always get at least 1 meat). But even my once-a-week vegetarian meal has made me feel that I don’t actually need meat that much. And since it’s also better for the environment and my health, that’s even better! So yup, I’m going to make an effort to eat less meat-heavy meals and get vegetarian stuff when I can.
See these also for more perspective:
Pls let me know if you learnt something from this post or are interested to talk more about this issue! I promise I won’t try to pressure you to change what you eat if you don’t want to.