As animal rights groups celebrate a victory this week with the beginning of California's foie gras ban, a couple of voices are questioning the tactics, arguments and ethical high ground of vegetarianism.
In the Wall Street Journal, New York chef Dan Barber presents an ethical argument for meat eating. He writes:
Butchering and eating animals may not be called kindness, but eating soy burgers that rely on pesticides and fertilizers precipitates destruction, too. You don't have to eat meat, but you should have the good judgment to relinquish the high horse. There is no such thing as guilt-free eating.
Barber goes on to detail the reasons why farming both livestock and produce makes more sense ecologically. He discusses whether it makes sense to talk about gastronomy in ecological terms, and tries to dispel the notion that this country ever had a tradition of sustainable agriculture.
Over on the Huffington Post, Tamar Haspel asks “What's Eating Vegans?” The post was brought on by the “vitriol” left by vegans in the comments section of a post Haspel wrote about raising pigs for meat. Haspel goes on to argue for the ecology of raising both plants and animals on the same farm, for the sake of the soil. She also makes the incredibly dubious claim, “Animals don't understand that life is finite and death ends it, but they certainly know the pleasure of a dust bath or a wallow or a really good snack.” I'm not sure how she got inside the heads of her pigs to figure out that they don't know what death is. But the main point seems to be, why can't carnivores, vegetarians and vegans have a smart, vitriol-free conversation about these issues?
Vegans and conscientious carnivores shouldn't be enemies. We have a lot of the same concerns, and we can make common cause in opposing factory farming and putting alternatives — quite literally — on the table.
So can't we all just get along?
If she thinks that reasonable conversation is going to happen in the comments section of the Huffington Post, or almost any online forum, I fear she's destined for disappointment. But she does raise interesting questions about why there isn't more of a dialogue, and even alliance, between people who aim to raise meat ethically and those who choose not to eat it at all.
The type of farming Haspel and Barber both tout as a reason for eating meat is rare. Most of us who eat meat are not eating cows who lovingly pooped on a patch of organic veggies — in fact, most meat production is terrible for the environment. But as Barber points out, most anything production is terrible for the environment under our current agriculture system.
It might be wishful thinking to hope that these things could lead to a meaningful dialogue. But as I reported on the foie gras ban in California, it occurred to me over and over that in many ways animal rights activists and chefs are natural allies. No one is pushing harder than chefs for better, more ethically raised meats. On the other hand, if you truly believed that killing animals is murder, it would be awfully hard to align yourself with a bunch of folks who take great pleasure in having their photo taken toting gruesome animal carcasses as props.
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