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A moral case for eating meat?

A moral case for eating meat?

Comparing meat-eating to Christian virtue ethics, Grist’s food writer, Nathanael Johnson, tries to find arguments in favor of meat-eating as a moral choice.

Johnson notes that, as yet, there is no book which makes an opposing case to Peter Singer’s “Animal Liberation”, but starting with a 2012 essay contest moderated by Ariel Kaminer in the New York Times, explores a number of arguments which he finds unsatisfying. He notes that rational argument fails to hold much sway when the vast majority of people simply enjoy eating meat, and that most vegetarians lapse.

From the article:

I tend to think of rational argument as a powerful force, certainly more powerful than the trivial pleasure of eating meat. But it turns out that’s backwards: Rational morality tugs at us with the slenderest of threads, while meat pulls with the thick-twined chords of culture, tradition, pleasure, the flow of the crowd, and physical yearning — and it pulls at us three times a day. Thousands, convinced by Singer and the like, become vegetarians for moral reasons. And then most of those thousands start eating meat again. Vaclav Smil notes: “Prevalence of all forms of ‘vegetarianism’ is no higher than 2–4 percent in any Western society and that long-term (at least a decade) or life-long adherence to solely plant-based diets is less than 1 percent.”

With this in mind, he spoke to ethicist Paul Thompson, who compares vegetarianism to a religious virtue; difficult to achieve, but worthy to pursue. Thompson states that Christians seek to love their neighbors, but don’t declare people who fail to reach Jesus-like levels of self-sacrifice as immoral. Thompson thinks that religious virtue thinking could be applied even to our non-religious lives in attempting to be ethical.

What do you think? Do you find any of the arguments Johnson summarizes compelling? Are you a vegetarian, current or lapsed?



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Professor Christopher Seitz

Cows as pets? No one could afford that. Is the idea that they would become a protected but tiny species? If they are not being raised for food, they would be far too expensive.

Ann Fontaine On the risks and benefits of red meat. Then of course the processing of your vegetables thru an animal uses more environmental resources and contributes to climate change. We all make choices. Don’t have to justify them unless you feel guilty.

Carolyn Peet

I am thoroughly convinced that the climate will change no matter what we eat, as it has since the beginning of creation.

Mark E. Mason

“Don’t have to justify them unless you feel guilty.”

That or it is the subject of the thread. I wonder if it is ethical to eat a salad in an air conditioned building with electrical lighting? Should we use warm water to wash our dishes and hands? Hot shower more than once a week? Divest of fossil fuels while we eat veggies imported from around the world using those same fossil fuels? Insist the the freight drivers turn their AC off so as not to leave an unnecessary climate footprint while bringing us our Eco-friendly veggies that we will preach of in well lit and air conditioned churches? The subject just blows wide open!


I regularly take up vegetarianism for health reasons among others but always lapse-I found it is a worthy pursuit however.

Philip Snyder

I am a second order vegetarian. I eat things that eat vegetables. Or you could say that I eat processed vegetables – vegetables processed through the stomachs of cows, pigs, fish, chicken, etc.

What is the difference between me eating grains or corn and between the cow/pig/chicken eating that same grain/corn and me eating the animal?

As Mark said above, we have all the evolutionary marks of a carnivore – stereoscopic vision, teeth that rip and tear, and a significant portion of the brain devoted to throwing (things like rocks, sharpened sticks, and spears). Herbivores have different eyes (set much farther apart with a much greater field of vision and different teeth.


Paul Woodrum

It’s Biblical. The animal sacrifices of the shrines and the Temple were cooked and eaten with much of the latter used to feed the poor of Jerusalem. It preserves a number of species and it saves us from the self-righteousness of vegetarians.

Mark Mason

The Inuit say that the Great Creator looked down and saw that the caribou herd was sick, so he created the wolf and gave it to the caribou.

We have two eyes and ears set forward, canine teeth and one stomach among other things that we share with the wolf. What kind of steward of God’s fauna would take the wolf out of the ecosystem and not replace it or fill its role?

Richard Hendricks

Preach it!

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