This is an essay submitted to a recent New York Times writing contest. The question the newspaper asked was, “Why is it Ethical to Eat Meat?” This is how a writer from the United Kingdom responded.
by Guest Blogger, Robert Elliott
What am I to make of this request? Is it a trap set by some vegetarian Witchfinder to catch an unwary omnivore in a heads-I-win-tails-you-lose equivalent of the ducking stool? Or is it an attempt to enter into serious debate? If the latter, the invitation is still booby-trapped through its lack of contextual reference. Thus the response from a hungry Pirahã or a Kalahari bushman will not be that of an overfed Westerner spoilt for choice by supermarket abundance.
Then of course there is that troublesome word, ‘ethical.’ In common with so many words used in relation to the politics of food, it has undergone something of a transformation into a handy catch-all, bandied about by those who use it to justify personal food choices. It is not to be trusted. It has a touch of the weasel about it. Words are indeed weapons, and can be dangerous in the hands of an increasingly solipsistic species. The formal concept of ethics enjoys an elevated status, yet is essentially little more than an intellectual distraction, almost an esoteric irrelevance in a society that has become dysfunctional, divided and disconnected from the natural order of the universe. An obsolete them-and-us attitude ensures that Homo arrogans still struts his puerile stuff, believing he can live outside natural laws.
It is time we grew up. We must abandon our ivory towers, climb down from our moralizing and look at the world around us. An absence of hubris will enable us to contemplate the damage we have done, much of it through the massively destructive application of chemically supported industrial agriculture that has laid waste to millions of acres of fertile soils across our planet. Contrition might also be appropriate, allowing a clearer view of our relationship with our food, defining the word ‘ethical’ and giving it a valid frame of reference.
In this materialistic world in which love itself has been commoditised, the politics of food is about fear, peddled by those who have lost touch with the spirituality of eating. Love opens the door to an understanding of how we move from rapacious exploitation to nursing our soils – and our souls – back to health. Domesticated farm animals will play a major part in this future, as a return to true pasture farming is an essential component of land regeneration, underpinning a localised system of permanent polyculture. Industrialised grain and cereal production is insane, and all the arguments for ‘more of the same’ collapse into farce in the face of the evidence provided by those engaged in the planet-friendly alternative.
Thus we come at last to the question of whether it is ethical to eat meat, and the answer is surely a qualified ‘yes’ – qualified by the understanding that there is no place in our future for feedlot cattle, pig factories, grain-fed Holstein milk monsters or battery hens. Love rejects such unmitigated cruelty but accepts the highest principles of good husbandry. All living things, including us and our farm animals, are part of the food cycle. We have domesticated plant and animal alike, and we have responsibility to both, but it is well nurtured animals on managed grassland that hold the key to a healthy future. We must value their ability to convert vegetation into essential manure to help us grow plant food, but we must also accept the clear understanding that farming is management and necessitates the control of animal numbers. The meat from those animals is too precious and nutrient-dense to be wasted, but love and respectful husbandry are an essential input. Then, and only then, is it ethical to eat meat.
Robert Elliott is a British author, blogger. He and his partner, Sally, operate Aspen House, a real food Bed & Breakfast Inn in the Herefordshire Village of Hoarworthy. They are on a mission to share information with others to help them make the right health/food/life choices and plan to launch a Weston A. Price Foundation Chapter in their area.