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?