Thursday, October 23, 2008

COUNT HER FEET: The moral high ground is meatless

The McGill Tribune - Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I'm not a zealot, an animal liberationist, or dedicated to the pursuit of global misery. But I've been a vegetarian for nine years-for moral reasons. I don't claim to live among intolerant, meat-eating hooligans who throw cooked flesh into my mouth when I'm not looking in order to relieve me of the disease that is vegetarianism. However, I don't understand why meat eaters don't concede the moral high ground to us.

I agree wholeheartedly with Eric Weiss when, in his last column, he described People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as a truly, deeply evil organization (see FOOT IN MOUTH: Stay out of my kitchen, PETA) . I agree with PETA that humans should treat animals better in a broad sense, but PETA's extremist and often criminal actions make them as alien to moderate vegetarians as they are to meat-eaters. Any group that opposes animal testing for life-saving medical purposes is deplorable.

My anti-PETA stance often gets me the instant, albeit fleeting, approval of meat-eaters. To them, I am one of the rare "reasonable ones," who are vegetarian perhaps by accident. This good impression lasts until I explain that, for most people, a vegetarian lifestyle is a morally superior choice. And while vegetarianism alone doesn't guarantee my moral fibre, it should count in my favour rather than against it.

We've all heard of vegetarianism's many moral perks. I won't explain all of them in detail, but consider two important ones: the meat industry is often incredibly cruel, and vegetarianism is much more environmentally sustainable. If you don't believe me, do some research. However, the main argument for vegetarianism's moral superiority is this: animals aren't necessarily equal to humans, but as sentient beings, we ought to care about them at least a little bit.

In his article, Eric wrote that "Eating meat is not wrong. Our ancestors ate meat in order to survive and we've inherited their place at the top of the food chain." Ah, the good old naturalistic fallacy. Being natural or traditional doesn't make something morally legitimate. This is especially true about eating meat, because the context of dietary decisions has changed dramatically in recent years. Our ancestors didn't have access to modern soy protein, vitamin supplements, and the like. Meat was often their only option. But just because meat was the right choice then doesn't mean it's the right choice now, when being vegetarian is easier than ever.

Don't get me wrong-like Eric, I think that humans are superior to animals. But our superiority isn't based on our place "at the top of the food chain." (Besides, any lion you meet alone in the jungle will beg to differ.) Humans are uniquely important because we're capable of making moral judgements. We have the capacity for compassion, for reason-in short, for humanity. Only humans can weigh the minor pleasure of eating beef against the pain and suffering that produced it.

Human superiority is precisely why we shouldn't be needlessly cruel to animals. We're not special because we happen to have a perch atop the food chain. We're special because only we are in a position to use our power ethically. For every cow we kill when we could easily eat tofu, for every chicken we needlessly coop up, we lose a little bit of our humanity.

Aside from cases of anaemia and poverty, I have yet to hear a compelling moral argument for eating meat. And until I do, I will continue to take the moral, and distinctly human, high ground at every animal-free meal I enjoy.

Ultimately, every individual makes their own choices. I have no intention of joining radical, anti-meat protest groups, or proclaiming that animals are equal to humans. It's precisely because humans are not like other animals that we shouldn't be acting like them when we make dietary choices.

To view this story and some pretty interesting comments, go to: COUNT HER FEET: The moral high ground is meatless

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