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Faith Based Carnivorism


One of my favorite blogs, Environmental Economics, has posted a follow-up to a really great conversation they are having (littered with some less-thoughtful babble) about the economics and ethics of eating meat.

The economic facts cited regarding eating meat are all sound. - Namely that the only reason meat is so dang cheap now, allowing us to eat so much, is that corn subsidies skew the market. If we were really paying full price for the beef, including all the externalities, it would not be as cheap or widely consumed as it is today.

The thing that really gets me, though, about the arguments against him is people equating religion with the ethics of not wanting to harm living, scientifically proven sentient beings.

I mean, as far as I can tell, religion, or faith, as we know it in our day and age, is basically believing in something despite the fact that there is no scientifically validate-able evidence for it - or in some cases, believing in something despite the overwhelming scientific evidence against it.

In this case, some commenters claim that the authors bias toward not causing pain to other living sentient creatures is a "religion". How? Where is the faith aspect? Are the commenters trying to say that believing that animals can feel pain is a "faith-based" belief? I'm sorry, but lets take a look inside one of these poor creatures and see all the nerves. Yes it is scientifically proven evident that animals feel pain. Is the commenter saying that animals don't have thoughts, and that believing they do is "religion"? Sorry again, animals have brains and many animals have IQs higher than that of infants. Although I don't condone it, anyone taking the stance that killing animals is OK because they are not as smart as humans would also have to condone abortion, and in fact, post-natal abortions (and cannibalism?) on the same grounds.

There is no "religion" involved in believing that animals can suffer, and not wanting to be the cause of that suffering. On the other hand, the belief that animals are somehow fundamentally different than humans because they "don't have souls" *is* a faith-based religious belief - were it not, one would think that there would be abundant empirical evidence that 1) humans have "souls", and 2) Animals do not. So isn't the argument *for* eating meat more of a religious argument?

How long will it take before people begin to see that we are not the only living creatures with a right to live on this earth? How long will it be before people are enlightened enough to see that most of us don't need animal products, and even for those that may, that they don't need so much that justifies our unbelievably inhumane treatment? How long will it be before people feel the same way about enslaving cattle and birds as they once did about enslaving people?

I wonder if it is only with the advent of our modern religions that people have come to believe that disrespect for other living beings is the norm, and that having respect for other living beings constitutes "religion".

*Confession. I ate chicken this week. And I am feeling the guilt. I am relatively sure the chicken was grown in a tiny pen where it spent it's entire short life... a life I would rather die at birth than experience... Yet I do it, for some reason, because I am too week to stand up to the social norms, or to wait until I get home from the restaurant to eat my less-destructive, less-pain-inflicting vegan meal... What makes it feel worse was that I was with a fellow "eco-minded" individual and strategic eater... it's not like we pressured each other into getting the chicken, but for some reason I didn't feel like "making a stand" or what not, and just because it was easy, I ordered the chicken. I can only hope that it's instances like this where, upon reflection, I clearly had no reason to contribute to the torture of chickens, and my reflections on those instances, that perhaps will one day free me from the mindset I have inherited from such an illogical society.

*Confession update. I went out again with the same eco-minded individual and his partner Friday. This time we made it a point to choose a vegetarian friendly place (vegan is still *way* to far out there for Tokyo to comprehend). Anyway, this time we had veggie curry with nan-bread, so I feel all cozy and warm now...


Kevin, to me, the keyword (as a consumer) is moderation” and I think that’s where “faith” kicks in. It is clearly stated in my religion that being aware and practicing that one only consumes what’s necessary, never in excess, and whatever beings one consumes must have been treated humanly (http://pages.britishlibrary.net/smb/halal.htm). (But then again, consumption, even in moderation, will definitely increase with the increase in population—but that’s another story). I’m not a vegetarian/vegan because I don’t think eating (halal) meat is disrespecting the animal. Meaning, in the absence of an assurance that an animal had been properly treated (non-halal meat), I will choose not to consume the meat.
I have one question though-- what happens when everyone’s a vegan (in today’s current economy of scale and trade mechanisms)? Wouldn’t it translate to more forest areas (in poor developing countries, naturally) being cleared (by rich multinational companies) for agriculture-- soy and whatnot to feed the sudden escalation of demand for the alternative source of protein (there go all the millions of species of plants and animals). Unless the demand is for organic protein crops, then most likely more chemicals will be used on a land that was once a rich forest. Still the moral question remains – not eating meat as it disrespects the animal, or disrespecting fellow human beings by eating inorganic plant protein produced in countries where many people don’t even have a choice in choosing their food, if there is any. And I totally agree with you, the issue lies in how an animal is treated-- but not in the perception that consuming it is disrespecting.


It's not clear from my post, but I am not advocating *no* eating of meat - like you I think moderation is best, and also like you, I think that even eating a moderate amount of animal products where the animals have suffered immeasurable pain and suffering just for my chicken wing is going beyond the line.

I would eat eggs happily if I knew that I had a happy chicken in my backyard providing me with eggs each day. And when that chicken's time was up, I would gladly eat it. (heck I wouldn't see a problem with eating people either so long as they die naturally and are not grown in small pens solely for my own benefit.)

The problem, and why I am on the road to vegan (save some weak moments like last week) is that I don't have a chicken to provide me with eggs. I don't have a happy old cow to give me milk.

One might say "buy free range eggs". But unless I know the farmer and can see how the chicken really lives, I have to assume that free range simply means that the cage door was opened for a few hours of the chickens short short life... leaving the chicken the "option" to go out from the cramped pen. Of course, the chicken has spent it's entire life inside the cramped pen and so is afraid of what is outside the door... most "free range chickens" never even see the free range. But all that is required by law is that they have the "option" to go out for a few hours before they are slaughtered.

About Free Range Chickens

More About Free Range

Same with "organic" beef and what not. I am not worried about if the food fed the cattle is organic or not so much as how the animal was raised and treated. And frankly, I would not even trust the Halal label unless I saw with my own eyes that cows and chickens are not living a life I would not accept for myself.

And then there is an extremist part of me that even thinks it is wrong to farm cows or chickens for our own benefit no matter *how* well they are treated.

Be sure that I am not talking about hunting wild animals for survival. If that is the situation, I am all for killing the animal just as a bear would kill me. But we don't *need* a hamburger to survive, and a bear does not force me to reproduce keeping my children locked up in a cage in anticipation of a future meal.

When I am talking about religion here, although I am not against having religious beliefs (I have some myself), I think it is important to clarify what is the "faith" part i.e. having faith that animals are fundamentally different beings than humans despite overwhelming evidence to the contraty.

As for "what if the world went vegan", the vast majority of food used to grow the cattle and chickens is also edible by people. The energy input and land usage to grow food to feed cows that are then used to feed humans is increadibly innefficient. It would save much more energy and space (and pesticides) to feed the people directly with the food grown to feed the cows.

There was an interesting link in the comment section of the article I linked to about grass fed beef as well, (since people can't eat grass, using a cow as a go between to make grass edible to people sounds like a good idea... if only it were possible to fill our demand with only grass fed cows...)


I have not ate dead animals in over 30 years.
I have not ate dairy products of eggs consistently in the same time frame. It took me a while to realize not to eat dairy products and eggs also. Now I know we weren't designed to eat anything but raw fruit and vegetables. In fact the only thing that I cook is grains that you have to cook like rice, quona(sp?) corn meal,etc.
I decided I was going to try and juice my lawn next which is how I ended up here.

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