The Ethical Carnivore: Why Eating Meat Is Ethical (Or Could Be)

Let’s face it, meat is resource intensive and we could feed more people if we all just ate veg, right? Well, not necessarily. Under an ecological model of agriculture, I will ague that eating a combination of meat and plants is the most balanced and ethical choice.

Okay, here me out; I’m probably not going to convert your vegetarian ways but I would like to make the case that the debate isn’t as clear cut as it seems. Heresy, I know. Before sending me to the proverbial butter’s block, hear me out.

According to the NaturalNews.com article Four Reasons People Become Vegetarian most people are vegetarians for one or more of the following reasons (Jones-Shoeman, 2011): health, environment, ethics (the killing of animals), and global food shortages. In defence of meat, I will attempt to address each of these, though, as I feel that issues of health, the killing of animals, and food shortages are extremely debatable, I will more heavily focus my attention on environmental impact (which I will address last).

Eating Meat is Unhealthy No; eating a pound of bacon for breakfast each day is unhealthy. Like anything else, meat should be consumed in moderation and offers a variety of health benefits and risks that vary according to each species, the conditions in which it was raised/grown, processed, stored, and the manner in which it was prepared. I would never advocate only eating meat and, as a general statement, am an advocate for eating less of it; North Americans, especially, consume more meat than is recommended, needed, or likely healthy. However, that doesn’t mean that meat is unhealthy or evil.

Ethical Reasons (The Killing Of Animals) I have personally killed an animal, for the purposes of consumption and, I’ll be honest, it is hard. For the last year and a half, students and I have been raising tilapia in an aquaponics system at Jasper Place High School. On more than one occasion, I have helped students remove a large fish from the tank and killed it; I have come to realize what it means to consume an animal. It is a very strange thing to look an animal in the eye, to understand that it knows that you are going to take its life, and to do it anyway. In truth, it hurts. Killing an animal is a sobering experience and when I look around at the ten or so culinary arts students who are standing there with me, I can see that each and every one of them is feeling the same thing but that’s the point. Most people have no idea where their food comes from, let alone the significance of slaughtering an animal; pre-packaged, pre-prepared food removes consumers from the processes that sustain life. Though, here’s the kicker, that fish-stick you had for lunch was also a living breathing being that someone killed on your behalf. That is important to understand. It may sound like I’m arguing in favour of vegetarianism but what I’m really advocating for is a closer connection to our food. In truth, to say that it is ok to eat vegetables but not animals is to anthropomorphize one kingdom and not another. A living thing is a living thing and to say that one species is more important than another is to forget that each organism contributes to the resiliency of life. Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense that we more easily identify with animals, as animals ourselves, it is probably much easier to empathize with closer relatives. Hence the “I won’t eat anything with a face” philosophy. Don’t get me started on mushrooms who are more closely related to the animal kingdom than the plants.

Global Food Shortages Isn’t meat production far more resource intensive? Absolutely, and we could produce far more vegetables (and food) if we moved away from producing animals for consumption (I will address this, in a moment). In truth, the world already produces enough food to feed ten billion people (Holt Gimenez, 2012); the problem isn’t one of production but of distribution and inequality. However, I do think that we could be growing our food better and on less land; using urban agriculture, as an example.

Environment Before beginning, just to prove that I don’t have my head in the sand, here are some frightening statistic about the current state of meat production:

  • Producing one kilogram of meat causes the emissions equivalent of 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide” (“Lifestyle changes can,” 2008).
  • On average, it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to produce 1 calorie of meat protein (Bluejay).
  • On average, to takes 5 214 Gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, 1 630 Gallons to produce a pound of pork, and 815 Gallons to produce a pound of chicken (Bluejay).
  • 2.5 acres of cattle could only support the annual caloric intake of 1 person while (apparently) the same area of land producing cabbages could support 23 (Bluejay).
  • A staggering 30% of global land is used directly or indirectly for livestock production (“Meat,” 2012)

Wow! That is some terrifying stuff of which I can not possibly justify; luckily, I don’t have to. Honestly, if I thought that this was the only way to produce meat, I’d stop; done, finished, quit cold turkey (literally). Clearly things need to change but I think that blaming it exclusively on meat production and not the system from which it was produced is shortsighted.

A Tale Of Two Systems

Industrial Agriculture Perhaps my biggest criticism of our current agricultural system is that, well, it is not a system; or a very good one, at least. Systems are the sum of their elements and the connections that bind them together; stable and resilient systems are diverse and complex interconnected networks. Conventional agriculture, as it stands, is neither stable or resilient. Its lack of connections have given agriculture the following characteristics:

  • Overly linear (little or none of its yields fulfill its own needs and, as a result, is resource and waste intensive.
  • Lacking in diversity (hence opportunities for connections).
  • Broken nutrient cycles (produces yields that don’t fulfill any needs).
  • Single functioning (does not stack functions to produce multiple yields).

An Ecosystem Who waters an ecosystem? Who weeds, tills, fertilizes, and kills the insects? Nobody, of course! Ecology is self-sustaining, self-regulating, and self-perpetuating; containing the diversity to support countless connections, it cycles nutrients and resources, establishes feedback loops, sequesters carbon, and increases in biodiversity, complexity, and resiliency over time. If a forest burns down, it will self-assemble. Unfortunately, we typically cut forests down to build farms. Ecology generally contains the following characteristics:

  • An interconnected complex system.
  • Rich in diversity; often increasing over time.
  • Intact nutrient cycles that largely stay on site.
  • Functioning at multiple levels; the end of each process becomes the beginning of another.

Now, let us turn our attention to meat production within each system; at first, this may appear strange, as we’re not accustomed to thinking about ecological systems in terms of food production. Animals, however, only represent a small fraction of an entire ecosystem; the vast majority of which are plants. Now imagine that you are given the following two choices; to harvest all of the plants or all of the animals from an ecosystem. Though, consuming all the animals would, in itself, be detrimental, the overall ecosystem would remain relatively intact and be able to continue. Consuming the plants, on the other hand, would completely strip the ecological pyramid and cause the entire system to collapse.

The Ethics Of Meat

This is, of course, an over simplification to prove a point. In reality animals also perform many crucial services for plant and I would never advocate the removal of such an integral part of the ecosystem nor am I advocating meat only diets. In fact, as Chef Dan Barber put it in his 2010 TED Talk, How I Fell In Love With A Fish, a sustainable farm should ”measures its success by the success of its predators” (top trophic levels).

Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, is the worst of both worlds; generally consuming all the producers and consumers at once, or worse, harvesting an entire vegetative trophic level in one system to sustain a separate system that lacks its own; one monoculture feeding another (conventional meat production).

The key is recognizing the amazing (and free) services that animals can contribute to plant production. Consider the role of a large herbivore living in a forest; they consume vegetation, redistribute seeds, prune back branches, rut up patches of earth, redistribute nutrients (manure), and act as a water reservoirs (72% water). What I’m advocating for is the restructuring of our current agricultural systems in such a way that they behave like ecosystems. While taking my permaculture design certificate (PDC) my instructor, Jesse Lemieux, recalled a story from when he had worked at an apple orchard. As I recall it, one of Jesse’s least favourite chores was picking up fallen apples. Obviously frustrated with this never-ending task, Jesse proposed introducing pigs to the orchards, as pigs would happily consume the fallen fruit on site, drastically reducing labour while simultaneously offering the additional yields of manure and pork. Unfortunately, I don’t believe that his advice was ever taken. As this example illustrates, the addition of pigs has a net positive effect on the farm while reducing inputs (labour) and turning “waste” products into a yields (manure and pork).*

Agricultural systems that mimic and adopt the patterns and principals of ecology could create mutually beneficial polycultures of plants and animal species. The goal then is to create agriculturally productive ecosystems; systems in which animals play integral roles in increasing productivity. In these systems, farmers would benefit from increasing the health of their farms trophic pyramids and by harvesting “slices” of plants and animals as abundance permits.

Trimming The Trophic Triangle

Harvesting is done in such a way that ensures that the system remains intact for future production.  In this system harvesting plants from the base of the system must be accompanied by a proportional harvest of the animals that depend on this base; if not, the system will be out of balance and correct itself.

So, is eating meat ethical? Well… I don’t think that it is unethical. The deciding factor probably depends on the system from which it was derived. Under the current agricultural system, let us face it, there are issues. Though, under an ecological model eating meat is justified (even ethical) if it helps maintain a balanced trophic level pyramid. I personally feel that vegetarianism is a perfectly normal reaction to a misguided agricultural system that is particularly bad at producing meat and that it is the system (not the meat) that we should be trying to avoid. By now, you have probably realized that this article has more to do with a need to move towards ecologically inspired agricultural systems than it has to do with meat… see what I did there?

Note

*It might be interesting to note that in the example that introduces pigs to an apple orchard that the addition of animals followed the successful establishment of an orchard (plants before animals). This is the order in which ecological succession would predict and it might be interesting to explore if this should always be the case.

References

(2012). Meat. http://www.globalagriculture.org, Retrieved from http://www.globalagriculture.org/report-topics/meat.html

(2008). Lifestyle changes can curb climate change. AFP, Retrieved from        http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iIVBkZpOUA9Hz3Xc2u-61mDlrw0Q

Bluejay, M. (n.d.). Lifestyle changes can curb climate change: Ipcc chief. AFP, Retrieved from http://michaelbluejay.com/veg/environment.html

Holt Gimenez, E. (2012, May 02). We already grow enough food for 10 billion people — and still can’t end hunger. http://www.huffingtonpost.com, Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/world-hunger_b_1463429.html

Jones-Shoeman, C. (2011). Four reasons why people become vegetarian. http://www.naturalnews.com, Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/030890_vegetarian_reasons.html

  • Amanda

    I agree with much of what you said, with the exception of the ethics of killing animals. While I absolutely agree that people should have a better understanding of where food comes from, I don’t think the killing of a carrot or mushroom can be equated to the killing of an animal. Anthropomorphication of is the application of uniquely human traits to non-human species or things that do not actually have those traits. It does not apply in this case as animals naturally have sentience and an ability to feel fear and pain. A vegetable does not have those traits. I Also, how ethical it is to kill and eat an animal depends largely on cultural differences. Here in typical Canadian culture it would be unethical to boil a cat or dog alive for food, but it is ethical to boil a lobster or crab alive. In other cultures it may be unethical to do either, or completely ethical, depending on the culture. Of course, as you say, all organisms are equally important for global biological processes, so these arguments are more closely related to the moral side of ethical decisions rather than the global side. Globally speaking, the planet would probably be a lot happier if humans packed up and left for Mars, lol!

    • http://permacultureschool.ca Dustin Bajer

      Thank you for your response, Amanda! I’m glad that you took the time to read the article and respond! I understand what you’re saying about the distinction between animals and plants; it’s hard to put them on an even playing field. I suppose my inclination (or food for thought) is to analyze some assumptions; does being sentient or having the ability to feel pain automatically make one organism better or more important than another? Maybe but if so why? How do we know that plants don’t feel pain or fear? Perhaps not as emotions but on a chemical level I’m confident that all living things want to continue doing so. Also, how do we decide what sentient is? I think that it’s easier to recognize this trait in animals because they’re similar to us but how do we know that there aren’t other forms of “thinking” that we haven’t identified yet? As for cultural differences, I think that this opens up a debate over whether or not ethics are universal or relative. I would argue that cultural practices and ethics are two separate things and that though my stomach turns at the thought of eating my cat (sorry Fahad) ultimately, cat is no more or no less ethical than eating cow.

      Ha… certainly, the plant could use a break from us, though, I’m hopeful that as a species we’re not inherently evil. I believe (probably because I have to) that humans are equally capable of increasing the ecological health of the planet as we are at dismantling it. I long for a time when cities will be among the most biologically diverse systems on the planet; it could happen right *fingers crosses*

    • http://www.grasslandcommunity.org Kerry Grisley

      Hi! Thankyou for that article.
      If making a distinction between sentient and non-sentient beings is something people are wont to do, then we might need to delve a little deeper on the issue of ‘harm’. I would argue that it isn’t an oversimplification to say say that killing plants IS killing animals. ‘Non-meat’ agriculture consumes wildlife habitat. Wildlife needs habitat to survive. Close to home, Alberta’s agricultural industry is centered in the Grassland Natural Region of the province. The grassland region makes up only 16% of the provinces land mass, yet contains approximately 75% of the provinces endangered species. The habitat loss this endangerment is linked to, is certainly not due to a focus on meat production. In fact, areas where cattle graze are the ONLY habitat areas left for these species. Please don’t think I am saying that conventional cattle production presents no environmental challenges… but, please also consider that NOT eating meat CAN also cause harm. Look deeply into the eyes of the burrowing owl when you eat your veggies! This endangered owl lives happily along side cattle… in fact, will not choose nest sites where grazers are absent (and there are many cool interdependent (ecological) relationships here that i won’t go into, but that simply reflect the regions evolutionary history). So: what is harm?

      • http://permacultureschool.ca Dustin Bajer

        Some very good examples of how the issue is a lot more complex, Kerry. If I remember my numbers, there used to be 64 million herbivores grazing Alberta and they were certainly an integral part of the ecology; a part that, as you’ve show here, many other species of plants and animals depend on. If done right, herbivores (even if they are cattle instead of bison) can recreate the patterns and principals that were once depended on and bring back biodiversity to agricultural systems.. if done right.

  • http://www.permaculture.com.au Robyn

    What is not so widely known is that Plants do have senses: touch, taste, hearing, sight; they just dont have the eyes, ears and noses to do so that we’re familiar with in the animal kingdom. Recent science has ‘discovered’ the sensory abilities of plants according to a feature article in New Scientist a few months ago, and have the same key chemicals triggering these responses as the parallel senses in animals. The university of Leeds did experiments earlier this year and filmed the reaction of alarm, fear and stress when a plant is damaged – they scream by sending out chemicals which other plants sense and emit the same chemical scream in sympathy to warning their neighbours that a herbivore is attacking. The living vegetables in your kitchen are still feeling the ‘pain’. Life is life — and the only way something stays alive is by eating other living things (or their dead remains). As Bill Mollison once said “All plants are carnivores – and they’ll eat you in the end.”

    • http://permacultureschool.ca Dustin Bajer

      I too have seen some interested research on plant senses; I believe that I saw a great TEDtalk a while back but a quick Google search left me wanting. Some pretty fascinating stuff! It’s amazing what we don’t know about life.

      I’m going to remember and use that Bill quote.

    • Laura Garnham

      Even if plants do have senses they do not have brains and therefore the ability to actually be aware of these senses. I find it very hard to believe that plants are have similar senses to animals as the point of a sense is to be able to respond to it and therefore to respond to the environment, what is the point of feeling pain if you cannot then escape it? What is the point of seing in you can’t do anything about what you see? Plants can detect sunlight and gravitational pull (I suppose they might also be able to detect water) all these things are usefull and can direct which way a plant should grow, but a sense of pain is utterly useless and I doubt plants have the ability to detect it.

      • http://permacultureschool.ca/ Dustin Bajer

        Thanks for the comment, Laura. It reminded me of this TEDtalk by Stefano Mancuso called “The roots of plant intelligence” that discusses plant senses and, yes, brains (~8:30).

        http://www.ted.com/talks/stefano_mancuso_the_roots_of_plant_intelligence.html

        Though, there’s no specific mention of the sensation of pain I still question whether pain (or a lack of) is an adequate argument for eating plants (or not eating animals). It seems to me that this distinction stems from our ability to empathize more easily with one group than the other (we know what it is like to feel pain) and not with any ecological principals or understanding of the natural world.

        My argument, in this article, is that removing all of the animals from an area of land to solely grow plants is unethical because it removes functional ecology. Instead, I’m arguing in favour of polyculture farming (like permaculture) that mimics, establishes, and increases ecology. However, this approach would require animals and harvesting from the top of the ecological pyramid (animals) in a higher percentage.

  • Jordan

    Great article Dustin! You hit the nail on the head with this article but I would add one more point to the ethical argument. That is that the practice of agriculture (at least MOST models of it) or raising plants to feed us is inherently responsible for killing or displacing (thus usually killing) millions of “animals”. You don’t clear a forest, or till a garden, or dam a river, or chemically fertilize a field without killing animals. Without death there is no life. To believe that a person can get all of their nutrients from vegetarian means without being directly connected to the death of animals is wishful thinking at best. I agree the important argument needs to be much more about the current food systems and not the meat/veg argument for we need to seek balance, connectivity, regenerative practices all while growing into an ever growing ethical framework.

    Keep up the amazing work up there… I continue to hear great things! You are planting much needed seeds for out future.

    Cheers

    • http://permacultureschool.ca Dustin Bajer

      Well said, Jordon!

    • Murray

      One thing I am certain of is that if we were all required to kill what we eat, there would be a lot more vegetarians.

      • Dan Bunbury

        I think, initially, you are right, Murray. The (source of the) meat we eat has become so abstract. But many people still do kill what they eat, and most of our ancestors did as well, yet most did not become vegetarian when faced with the killing. Cuddly animal cartoons and wildlife shows where the prey always escape are part of the problem, in that we have projected a system of ethics onto a system to which ethics do not apply – a lion killing a water buffalo or an alligator killing a child is neither moral nor immoral.

        Perhaps to say that humans killing animals is immoral is the same as saying humans are not animals. Ironic, since many who believe it is immoral believe in the ‘one-ness’ of nature; yet they see humans as being outside nature with a special role and distinct set of responsibilities.

        • http://permacultureschool.ca/ Dustin Bajer

          Exceptionally insightful comment Dan. Especially your thoughts on the correlation between the morality of killing animals and our perceived separation from them.

  • Sarah

    Nice summary Dustin. I really like the way you present the food pyramid visually, and cut the side off as “harvest”. This really hit home for me about the true meaning of permaculture. This is also the idea behind calculating hunting harvest quotas – there is going to be mortality anyway, why not take advantage of that and harvest it sustainably?

    One thing you didn’t take into account, however, is the assumption that all plants in the system are edible by humans. Many of the plant species in a community are not actually edible by humans, but animals can convert them into meat (eg: grasslands converted to bison meat, but humans can’t eat grass). What this means is that eating meat in certain cases may actually be ecologically more sustainable than eating plants, an hence better for the environment.

    Another interesting way to look at this is that humans digestive efficiency for plant matter is on average 10% (we can get 10% of the energy from plants), but 90% out of meat. Primary consumers can get effectively 90% energy from plants (the grass and bison theme again). So though we humans would get virtually no energy from grass and would have to eat an awful lot to survive, we would be getting effectively 81% energy from the grass if we ate the bison, and use less space at the same time, saving the native ecosystem to boot… Yes, very rough calculations but ecologically interesting. This was an interesting point I got from my Ecology class in 2nd year!

  • mijnheer

    Plants are sensitive to their environments in remarkable ways, but there is no scientific evidence that they are sentient (i.e., subjectively aware). In this regard, science corroborates the commonsense notion that an animal is some-one and a plant is merely some-thing. Ethically, this makes all the difference: nothing one can do to a plant can make any difference to it from its point of view, since, unlike an animal, it doesn’t have a point of view.
    http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/2010/07/16/plants-cannot-think-and-remember-but-theres-nothing-stupid-about-them-theyre-shockingly-sophisticated/
    http://www.cup.columbia.edu/static/marder-francione-debate

    For the sake of argument, however, let’s suppose that plants are sentient. Since each animal that humans consume, itself consumes vast quantities of plants, a meat-based diet involves the consumption of far more plants than a non-meat diet; so if plants really are sentient, the ethical argument against meat carries even more weight.

    Here’s an interesting piece on the “Number of Animals Killed to Produce One Million Calories in Eight Food Categories”:
    http://www.animalvisuals.org/projects/data/1mc/

    • http://permacultureschool.ca Dustin Bajer

      Sorry. I think that my original arguments is getting derailed; I’m trying to look at things through an ecological lens. When it comes down to it, I’m not talking about eating plants vs. animals but eating ecosystems and whether it can be done in such a way that benefits (or at the very least, doesn’t harm) the system. Perennial grasses, as an example, tend to die-out and disappear, in the absence of large herbivores.

      As ecosystems are made primarily of producers (usually plants) it would be unethical to eat all of the vegetation as they represent the basis of every food chain; animal represent far less but ecologically, it probably makes most sense to “trim the tropic triangle” consuming a portion of plants and animals in such a way that leaves behind a functioning system.

      The point of the articles is to highlight the fact that the situation is complex and that ultimately we need to exam it from the perspective of the whole system. Personally, I believe that the longevity of an ecosystem (or farm) is more important than the question of sentence in plants or animals; both play important ecological roles (sentient or not) and allow the system to expand and flourish.

      • Stefan Kruse

        Hi Dustin, thanks for the thought-provoking piece. I do think, however, that mijnheer has a point which you’ve missed. While thinking about carnivorism from an ecological point of view is all well and good, you do attempt to address the ethical motives of vegetarianism above, and here I find your analysis lacking.

        You say: ‘In truth, to say that it is ok to eat vegetables but not animals is to anthropomorphize one kingdom and not another. A living thing is a living thing and to say that one species is more important than another is to forget that each organism contributes to the resiliency of life.’

        Ethical vegetarians are concerned with the suffering of (non-human) animals and depriving them of ‘lives worth living’. This has absolutely nothing to do with anthropomorphism or which creatures are more closely related to humans. As mijnheer points out, it has to do with sentience and with the corresponding capacity for experiencing pleasure and pain. This doesn’t always parallel the (sometimes suspect) division between flora and fauna – a barnacle is scarcely more sentient than a bull kelp. The capacity for suffering is a feature of consciousness, which is itself a function of the complexity of the nervous system.

        Ethical vegetarians are not making claims about one type of organism being more ecologically important than others. They are saying that killing a dolphin is less ethical than killing a trout or a cabbage. Even if we leave aside the amount of suffering the animals experience at death, the dolphin is more capable of leading a life worth living than a trout, as its more developed nervous system confers greater awareness and capacity for experiencing pleasure and pain, as well as complex emotions such as guilt or pride.

        In your response above you admit that you’re “…not talking about eating plants vs. animals…” but rather the health of the ecosystems on the whole. But this is exactly the view that neglects the disparity in sentience between plants and animals which lies at the heart of the argument for ethical vegetarianism. If you feel that this discussion “derails your argument” then you should not have attempted to address it.

        For what its worth, I believe the health or longevity of an ecosystem is important ONLY because it tends to promote the wellbeing (and decrease the suffering) of the various sentient beings within it. If, as you seem to believe, sentience has nothing to do with it, then the solution to the global environmental problem is clear: kill all the humans.

        • James

          Opinions of right and wrong, fair and unfair just don’t come into it when talking about the balance of nature. And that’s the key point, maintaining that balance in ecosystems. Support ethical farming that gives animals a better life than if they were in the wild and that still allows them to express their needs fully. This type of farming or a better way to put it ‘land stewarding’, is proven to grow soil, sequester carbon, raise healthy animals and provide an income. Too many vegans and vegetarians are taking this argument and others like it personally, and assuming wrongly about the solutions selected and the people involved with them. Detach yourself from emotive driven belief systems and look at biology and how things actually work, as opposed to your conceptual ideas of how you would like to see them work.

          Paleo dieters and vegans have nearly everything in common when it comes to opinions on animal welfare and the health of the planet. The difference however is that one camp has over come their emotional bias’s and belief systems (to an extent) to obtain a more holistic and realistic view of how systems function best and the other is still very much upset, in shock and in denial of the fact that everything dies and animals in the wild are eaten alive.

          Suffering is a big part of this Earthly experience, and from a spiritual stand point I’d say one of the biggest and hardest lessons in life is to try and transcend suffering and just accept things for what they are. We have a choice on whether we suffer or not, and a lot of control over the conditions that contribute to our suffering as well. Design is the key issue, both internal and external. We can design systems based on keen observations of how life actually functions, and thus design suffering out of the equation as much as possible.

          Books I’d recommend:

          The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith

          Omnivores Dilemma by Michael Pollen

          Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

          • http://permacultureschool.ca/ Dustin Bajer

            Thank you for this excellent post, James! Also… “The Vegetarian Myth” is excellent!

          • James

            Thank you Dustin. More bridging between the vegan and paleo camps is needed i think. It’s a very hard task when both are so very passionate about their cause! Ultimately, both want our children to have self regulating environment to grow up in and not one that is kept on constant life support because we took all the animals off and planted soy and corn to feed the masses.

  • Janet Blayone

    Dustin Bajer, you speak for me. Well done! Eloquently written, excellent references. Your second last sentence particularly resonates, ” I personally feel that vegetarianism is a perfectly normal reaction to a misguided agricultural system that’s particularly bad at producing meat and that it’s the system (not the meat) that we could be trying to avoid.”

    This week a friend posted a comment her daughter’s eight year old friend made as she was being served leftover turkey carcass soup. This child asked, “Was this turkey respected?” My friend replied that yes, it was raised as a free range, organic bird well cared for on a local farm. Then the child asked, “What did you do with the bones? In this soup?” My friend said, yes, it was. The child nodded, commenting around her first spoon of soup, “Good soup. Thanks turkey.”

    We should all be so wise. Thanks again, Dustin. I’ll be watching and following your blog with interest.

    • http://permacultureschool.ca/ Dustin Bajer

      Thank you, Janet! I’m glad that you enjoyed my post and love the story of your friend’s daughter!

    • Dan Bunbury

      I agree with your first paragraph. On the other hand, the comment, “Thanks turkey,” has kept me occupied the last day or so. The turkey did not offer its life up for you, no more than the buffalo offers its life up to the crocodile. The meat on your friend’s child’s plate did not die so she could eat – indeed, given the opportunity, it might have turned the tables. Seeing life this way distorts reality, makes us feel good about things which are intrinsicly neither good nor bad. It reminds me of someone in Vancouver who said that homeless people are good for the environment, because they collect all the recycleable bottles. More graphically, should a cancer virus be thankful for humans?

      Coming to terms with our world, ecosystem and life-system is important, but it has to be on honest terms, facing reality, not making more or less of it than it is. Be thankful FOR abundance and sustenance, but don’t be thankful TO animals which died. I think a sense of mourning is a more appropriate, healthier attitude.

  • Fiona Lake

    Hallelujah for some commonsense! Long been advocating that the best way to live is to consume all 5 food groups in moderation; minimise waste, eat in season and choose produce created in as sustainable manner as possible (farmed produce better than wild harvested, as unregulated harvesting is unsustainable with world’s burgeoning population). Australia has the world’s largest cattle stations-in these arid areas cattle graze native plants in harmony with native birds & animals. No other form of agriculture is feasible. Will refer many to your excellent discussion.

  • Fiona Lake

    PS: here in Australia cropping monocultures – as they must be on a large scale – displace vast numbers of native animals & birds. Thus someone depending entirely on crops (veges, fruit, nuts, grains etc) is having a much larger impact on native species than someone also obtaining nutrients from farmed livestock, given that here in Australia, natural species usually exist in harmony with grazing livestock. Unfortunately the impact on native species is often overlooked on a quest to ‘protect’ domestic animals – many of which would actually be endangered if not completely extinct, if not raised to be eaten or kept as pets.

  • http://twitter.com/ausagventures Steph Coombes

    Good article but the grammar needs to be checked over :)

    • http://permacultureschool.ca/ Dustin Bajer

      Agreed! I get ahead of myself sometimes. :)

  • Dan Bunbury

    A good article, thoughtful and sensible, and food for thought (pardon the pun). I think your statement, “In truth, to say that it is ok to eat vegetables but not animals is to anthropomorphize one kingdom and not another” is particularly thought-provoking.

    I’m currently struggling with the aspect of killing sentient beings, in particular the more intelligent ones. Years ago, I have killed fish, and I think I could kill a chicken; but I could not kill a lamb and the fact that vast numbers of male calves are killed as a consequence of the dairy industry disturbs me. But I also realise I can’t project an ideology onto a system (life in general) which is neither ethical nor unethical, it simply is. The fact is, every form of life kills and consumes other life to survive – it’s a very hard thing to accept but it simply is. To project morality on the system of life, is akin to projecting morality on a diesel engine.

    I think, for me, the most disturbing aspect of eating meat is the industrialised way in which it is done. I once heard the director of one of the world’s largest abattoirs say that it was their job “to make sure an animal had a very good life followed by one very bad day.” I couldn’t help laugh, but it is also a very cynical comment.

    Perhaps the conclusion I’m coming to is that eating meat is not an ethical issue at all, but how we produce it is.

    Again, thanks for your article.

  • Jenny Pasanen

    Thank-you Dustin. A refreshing perspective, and I particularly enjoyed the link to the TED talk!

    I always felt there was more to the story than not eating meat for the sake of
    the environment but never spent the time to try to put my finger on it. As we
    dietitians like to say “everything in balance and moderation”. If people had a better understanding and stronger appreciation for where their food came from and experienced growing vegetables and butchering their meat, I think we wouldn’t have quite the same degree of an obesity epidemic on our hands…

  • Laura Garnham

    It’s certainly an interesting idea, though I doubt it will ever be implemented. I wonder how much space it will take and there is maybe a conflict between the crops we want to grow and the crops that an animal wants to eat (and how much of this crop they are allowed to eat) and how is the population of the animals controlled, and also working out how many animals can be taken before damage starts to happen to the ecosystem. I disagree that killing a plant is the same as killing an animal. A plant is not capable of feeling pain whereas an animal is (neither is a fungus), the animals we eat are concious and while they might not be able to comprehend what is happening they can feel fear and stress and pain, all things a plant is incapable of feeling.
    Also would we switch to more natural animals, ie deer and wild boar instead of cattle and pigs?