The Ethical Omnivore (or “The Omnivore’s Answer/Solution”).

This is a 600 word essay written and submitted to a contest put on by The NY Times concerning who could best answer the question, “Why is eating meat ethical?” Much thanks to all that contributed to it. I was helped in editing big time.

The Ethical Omnivore

To claim that the killing of animals and consumption of meat is unethical is to claim that the very nature of the biological and ecological world is regrettable.  Disregarding those who forgo the consumption of meat because they dislike the taste, or those who object to factory farming and Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, vegetarianism and veganism can be viewed as symptoms of a serious problem for the health of the natural world.  When people universally object to the consumption of flesh and the killing of animals, they are arguing against the very order of life on this planet.  After all, the entire animal kingdom is dependent on creatures killing each other for food.  This attack on, or aversion to, the natural and inherent order of life is contingent upon a worldview that sees humans as special, and assumes that the earth is an unethical and regrettable place.  To claim such a thing is to assert that humans are better than, or outside of, the natural world. Among other things, this special status means that humans should feel prohibited from involving themselves in the worldly, base act of meat-eating; it also establishes a concept of the human being as a kind of demi-god who can and ought to arrange the world in a more coherent and moral way. This same worldview justifies wiping out whole species to protect economic interests, and totally redesigning natural systems for civilization’s convenience. Why are we entitled to take such an executive role in how the natural world operates? For the same reason we are apparently obligated to avoid eating meat: we are special, and inherently superior to other creatures; in other words, because of our vanity as a species.

It should be mentioned that this essay is not an attempt to justify the horrid conditions experienced by the vast majority of animals headed for the dinner plate. The humane treatment of animals is an important concern, but is ultimately a separate issue from the matter of whether one is ethically justified in killing and eating animals. The fact is, humans are animals, and animals are immersed in a life and death relationship with their neighbors in the biological community. The claim that it is unethical for the human animal to eat meat presents a distorted understanding of humanity. It suggests there is something perverse about participating in the primal act of ending an animal’s life and enjoying an intimate, reverent relationship with the surrounding world. Why are we so horrified by death when it’s needed for life? Why are we so averse to even a hint of suffering, when this is inherent in the growth and expression of life on this planet? There is no need to apologize for the death of an animal, and there is no need to be ashamed when humanity is an agent of this inevitability.

The idea that humans ought to overcome the apparent immorality of nature is not only an avenue for justifying immense change of natural systems into commercial or industrial systems, but it also alienates us from what could be a profound niche within a vibrant community of life. Instead of being viewed as a sort of colonist placed on this world to resist its temptations, or a demi-god who outgrew its soiled shackles, the human being can be viewed as a particularly resourceful and artful creature who partakes in the natural flow of life from one being to the next. Life may imply death, but we shouldn’t forget that death also implies life. Why is eating meat ethical? Why on earth shouldn’t it be?