It’s one of the great moral arguments of our time; is eating meat ethical? There are proponents for and against meat-eating. Philosophers, politicians, celebrities, activists, carnivores, omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans all weigh in heavily on the debate, as climate change and population growth force the human race to moralize and scrutinize its own consumption habits like no other time in our history.
On a personal level, you might be wondering if now is the time to adopt vegetarianism or if there are ethical reasons to eat meat. Should we eat animals, or should humans switch to a plant-based diet for the sake of the planet? Are there really moral reasons humans should not eat meat, if it can be sourced sustainability, or are animal rights irrefutable as human rights?
This article examines the ultimate dietary question and proposes ethical arguments for eating animals and ethical arguments against killing animals for food. Join the discussion as we ask, is eating meat ethical?
Is eating meat ethical debate
We’ll be focusing on ethical and moral arguments as we discuss the ethics of eating animals. While other areas such as personal taste preference or the availability of veggie options at your local diner are all important things to consider in your day-to-day life, they aren’t necessarily moral or ethical arguments against veganism or for carnivores.
First of all, let’s take a look at the case for eating meat.
Ethical arguments for eating meat
Humans have always eaten meat: why stop now?
When did man start eating meat? The answer to that question is found a long time ago. Humans have included meat in their diet for thousands of years, and many proponents of meat-eating argue that we’ve explicitly evolved to process and live off a meat-based diet (or, more specifically, an omnivore diet).
But does the fact we’ve always eaten meat justify meat consumption at all points in history? Is eating meat ethical, purely because it’s a human tradition?
I’ve always eaten meat; it’s a tradition
One reason that meat-eaters find it so difficult to switch to a plant-based diet is that we’re often brought up from a young age eating meat. This is similar to the traditional argument, as it’s based on the continuation of a familiar practice.
Because our bodies are so used to the taste and texture of meat, and so many of our other traditions (think Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners) are based around meat, this in itself is a justification for eating meat.
Animals aren’t sentient beings, not like humans
When looking at the ethics of eating meat, it’s essential to discuss animal rights and animal suffering. One of the major arguments used to justify meat-eating is the hypothesis that animals don’t have sentience (at least, not on the same level as humans do).
This argues that animals don’t suffer, at least not like humans, because they aren’t as aware of their surroundings. This moral argument is often taken further and posits that humans are, in fact, entitled to eat meat, purely because they (as the bible puts it) have dominion over animals.
It’s true that humans are top of the food chain, whether through evolution, chance, or human intelligence, but does this morally justify the way we treat those below us?
Eating meat is essential for human survival
Meat is an essential source of nutrients and calories for a large part of the human population, and this in itself is one major argument for meat-eating.
Meat is a ready source of protein, Vitamin B-12, fat, iron, zinc, and many more essential nutrients that the human body needs to survive. But the opposition asks, do humans need meat to survive if we can source these nutrients elsewhere?
Ethical meat-eating is possible
Environmental factors play a huge role in pro-vegan arguments, as the planet is crowded and running out of resources. However, there has been a move from mass farming practices to more sustainable farming practices in recent years.
There’s a wide availability of free-range eggs or grass-fed beef in stores, which can help to alleviate many of these concerns. If you choose sustainable, eco-friendly meat products, then is eating meat wrong?
Ethical arguments against eating meat
Animals are sentient, intelligent creatures
One of the major arguments that killing animals for food is wrong is that animals are actually incredibly sentient and remarkably intelligent. Animal welfare, therefore, should be a major concern of humans.
While animals might not have achieved the same level of community or civilization that humanity has (and while yes, they are below humans in the food chain), this should not diminish their intelligence and their ability to feel.
Animals not only feel pain but have memories, family connections, and connections to humans too. We see some animals (such as dogs or cats) as worthy of our protection, whereas other animals of equal intelligence, such as pigs, are killed for food. The reality is that humans have distanced themselves from their own food chain, and therefore from the suffering caused to animals through meat-eating.
Meat-eating is no longer sustainable
We see eating meat as a human tradition; however, we are no longer hunter-gatherers living off the odd animal that happens to cross our paths. The meat industry has been industrialized, and it uses masses of land, grain, and water to produce meat for our supermarket shelves.
The problem is that with more meat-eaters, the land where beef can be reared or where chickens or pigs are kept is fast diminishing. The argument is that raising meat for slaughter is simply not sustainable because it’s inefficient. Beef is the worst culprit, and the amount of food and water that goes into its production could be used to produce a higher quantity of plant-food, which gives humans the same number of calories or nutrients.
As the human population increases, this problem will only become more noticeable, as there is more competition for ever scarcer resources.
Livestock contribute massively to CO2 emissions
Another environmental argument against meat-eating is the huge contribution livestock has towards CO2 emission. Methane gas is a byproduct of raising animals (particularly cattle), and eating red meat has a large carbon footprint that’s not always obvious to consumers.
Cutting down on red meat lowers the demand for meat and can contribute towards a lower carbon footprint and fewer CO2 emissions.
Plants can provide us with essential nutrients
Are humans designed to eat meat? In part, we have evolved to eat cooked meat; however, we have also evolved to eat plants. Despite how conditioned we are to consuming meat, our bodies don’t need us to keep eating meat to survive.
In fact, we can find all of the essential nutrients (including proteins and B12) that we traditionally source from meat in many different plants and plant-based products. For instance, Soy is a huge source of plant-based protein (so why not switch that beef BBQ for BBQ tofu?)
Humans should take the moral high ground
If humans do have dominance over the animals and are top of the food chain, shouldn’t we make a moral decision to help our planet and help our animals? Rather than using our intelligence as a right to kill other creatures, the argument is that we can use our intelligence as a force for positive change and a move towards sustainability and improved animal welfare.
Should humans take the moral high ground rather than justifying questionable existing moralities?
The future of meat-eating
The future of meat-eating is certainly going to be different from how it is now. Many people choose to cut down on their meat intake with sustainability arguments, often proving to be more effective than arguments for animal welfare.
Interestingly, however, the recent appearance of lab-grown meat set to raise yet another new and intriguing set of moral dilemmas for vegetarians and meat-eaters. Meat products can now be grown in artificial conditions, which entirely removes any arguments against meat-eating that focus on animal welfare (no animals ever lived or were killed to produce the meat). But is this morally allowed? Is eating lab-grown meat ethical? These are questions that will need to be examined by future generations!
Is eating meat ethical: what’s the conclusion?
The reality of eating animals is that many of the ethical and moral arguments that defend it are, in fact, rather weak in the face of the pro vegetarianism argument. While sustainable farming practices can eliminate the environmental arguments against meat-eating, you still have the cost factors to consider and the morality of killing animals.
The tradition argument has no real logical basis either; after all, just because humans have been doing something for millennia doesn’t make it the right thing to do (you can justify slavery with this very same argument).
Ultimately though, the question of should I eat meat is currently a personal one. We each have our own belief systems, our own reason to not eat meat or to eat meat. However, with an ever-crowded world and shrinking resources, environmental factors may prove to be an overpowering argument for plant-based diets in the future.
Are you debating ethical eating? Then why not bookmark our guide as a resource for your future contemplation!