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Why is eating meat allowed as a social setting ( Most people think it's not bad ) but not animal cruelty as a social setting ( Most people think it's bad )?

Like: Imagine what would happen if someone abused an animal in a crowd. Imagine if someone eats meat in a crowd of people.

Both are equally harassing or killing animals. However, it seems difficult to see the difference between direct and indirect. Eating meat made by killing animals by other people is also considered an act of participating in the livestock industry.

(please don't edit this) This question was not written to criticize vegetarianism or non-vegetarianism but was written out of curiosity.

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    The strongest argument I've heard in favor of eating meat, is that if we didn't eat cows or chickens, cows or chickens would be extinct. "Meat is murder, vegetarianism is genocide"
    – causative
    Sep 12, 2022 at 18:20
  • 3
    You know that notorious leader of National Socialism was an animal lover and a vegetarian. The plot thickens if we let it.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:04
  • 4
    The Wild African cow is happily extant and undomesticated.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:06
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    "Both are equally harassing or killing animals." is a rather strong statement, and one many people would disagree with. It'd be better prefixed with "It can be argued that..." or "As I see it..." or "According to Someone (link)..." or something like that.
    – hyde
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:50
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    Peoples of the high Arctic, such as the Inuit, traditionally eat a diet that was almost completely derived from dead/hunted/killed animals/fish/birds. Although they ate plant material when available, it’s simply was not sufficiently available. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inuit_cuisine why eat meat? No choice. Why not be cruel to animals (more than hunting)? Because you have a choice. Because they respected nature and the animals they ate. I reject vegetarian culture centricity from the parts of the world or agriculture can be practiced.
    – Krazy Glew
    Sep 12, 2022 at 21:46

24 Answers 24

43

Imagine what would happen if someone abused an animal in a crowd. Imagine if someone eats meat in a crowd of people.

I think there are two major effects at play here:

A) Predictable behavior

Social acceptability is strongly affected by how predictable the actions are.

Compare with if someone smashes strawberries to the ground, versus if someone eats strawberries in a crowd. It's very likely people would distance themselves from the strawberry-abuser, just because they appear irrational and unpredictable.

Similarly to smokers, car drivers and other common behaviors which can be detested for valid reasons, meat eating does not cause confusion or fear in people. Everyone knows that the meat eater will eat their hamburger, they won't come eat you or your pet chicken. But an animal abuser shows their disobedience of common social rules, and therefore it is reasonable to assume they may be dangerous in other ways also.

The origins of social rules is very much a circular definition: common things are acceptable because they are common, uncommon things are easily despised just because they are uncommon.

B) Empathy towards the animal suffering

Let me reframe the question so that there is no difference in predictability, visibility ("out of sight, out of mind") or utility:

Two people are fishing on the pier. One of them immediately snaps the neck of the fish, before putting them to a bucket. Other one puts the live fish to a bucket, letting them suffocate. When asked about the taste effect, they explain "these are for our ducks, they don't care".

Most people will feel for the fish and their unnecessary suffering. For the fisher, avoiding the time to kill the fish yields higher utility. The innate sense of empathy in humans demands that they should spend some time to reduce the suffering when possible.

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    This explains a lot. No it doesn't. Yes it does...
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 11, 2022 at 20:02
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    Although social rules may be circularly-defined, I don't think our preference for predictability as used here is.
    – Theodore
    Sep 12, 2022 at 19:26
  • 1
    "Utility" might be a better term than "predictability".
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 12, 2022 at 21:47
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    @DKNguyen I don't think it is. For example, I find absolutely zero utility in smoking, but I still tolerate it better than less predictable behavior, such as use of intoxicating substances. And if smoking has utility in "reduces stress", then animal abusers probably find some relief in kicking their dog..
    – jpa
    Sep 13, 2022 at 6:06
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    @komodosp that's because it's not an exact comparison, but merely the same concept to a less intense degree.
    – Hobbamok
    Sep 13, 2022 at 11:33
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So the question is why people draw a distinction between the act of consuming meat and the act of torturing an animal. There are several reasons.

Many people might agree that factory farming processes are cruel, but they are not aware of them or believe that there are other routes to reforming those practices beyond refusing to eat meat. For example, people might preferentially purchase humanely raised meat. Also, the act of eating meat does not, in and of itself, involve causing pain to a living creature. The part where the animal was killed, humanely or not, happened elsewhere and none of us had to watch it.

Intentions matter to people. Let's consider the following cases:

  1. Bob is walking on Carl's property at night. It's dark, Bob steps off a walkway and breaks their leg.
  2. Carl leaves a roller skate on the dark walkway. Bob steps on the skate and breaks their leg.
  3. Bob sees Carl on the walkway, Bob attacks Carl, steps on the roller skate, and breaks their leg.
  4. Bob sees Carl on the walkway and attacks them. Carl defends themself and breaks Bob's leg.
  5. Carl is on Bob's walkway. Bob sees Carl, attacks them, Carl defends themself and breaks Bob's leg.
  6. Carl is on Bob's walkway, they see Carl, Carl attacks them and breaks their leg.

In all of these cases Carl is responsible for Bob's broken leg, to some degree or another. But they're not equally morally culpable in every case. How the leg got broken and why is important to people when judging Carl's action.

Similarly, people might consider the same result of causing distress differently depending on the circumstances. Torturing an animal for fun is different from maintaining inhumane conditions for profit. It may not be better, per se, but it is different, and people view it differently.

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    There is a story that curare was used as anesthesia in children, who complained that they were aware and felt everything. Someone tried it and found out it was true.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 11, 2022 at 20:32
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    It's worth keeping in mind that the intent, for the most part, is "I like how their flesh tastes", which certainly wouldn't fly if you try to apply that to humans. (People raise some health concerns too, but I doubt very many people have unbiasedly investigated the actual research on the topic in much detail before dismissing veganism as being unhealthy).
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12, 2022 at 9:58
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    @NotThatGuy well, for a noticeable part of the world it is also one of the few ways to get food, particularly protein, from their land (we cannot eat grass, but eat the cows that do so).
    – Chieron
    Sep 12, 2022 at 13:44
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    @Chieron Indeed. For what it's worth, ethical veganism is about reducing animal suffering as much as viable, so that doesn't object to eating meat to survive, when you have no other option.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12, 2022 at 14:03
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    @anongoodnurse: This source seems to be good enough quality. broughttolight.ucsf.edu/2016/10/31/…
    – Joshua
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:51
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Such questions are strongly cultural. That means both location and time dependent.

Consider, for example, the prevalence of such activities as bull fighting, rodeos, and circus shows involving animals. There are many other examples of practices related to animals that are accepted as routine in some locations but reviled in others.

Since these issues are cultural it is unlikely that a completely clear, logical, and rational thought process has produced these ideas. Why do we do this particular thing? Because it is traditional. Because we have done it for a long time. Because we have all the support structure to do it. (Farms, stores, training in food prep, and so on.) Because people are accustomed to doing it that way.

It is quite a challenge to persuade a person to change cultural norms. Things that are accepted due to culture will be so deep in a person's psychology as to produce strong emotional responses when questioned, even quite gently. Most especially when a person is still in that culture. The reasons they started doing this are cultural. And those reasons are still all around them.

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The alternative would be to give animals more rights than humans, which doesn't seem to make any sense.

When a lion eats a human, we consider that a tragedy. We do everything we can to keep lions from eating humans. But we don't accept that it's our place to eliminate lions entirely. We see value in preserving natural behavior.

But we don't stop lions from eating deer. We don't really see that as morally tragic for the deer because it is natural for the lion.

So while we don't allow nature to harm people when we can stop it, we generally don't see a moral problem with natural behavior harming animals. Part of this is due to our moral opposition to trying to remake the natural world to accord with human morals except where that's necessary to protect human life and safety.

So I can eat a burger for the same reason a lion can eat a deer. It's natural behavior that poses no significant risk to human life or safety. Why should I have less right or authority than a lion does if I'm not hurting people?

While we do oppose cruelty to animals, we usually don't put this opposition above our general approval of natural behavior that doesn't hurt people. We don't really look for ways to make lions kill deer more painlessly. We don't generally try to prevent non-human animals from harming each other.

As a general rule, we do not have moral objections to behavior that we perceive as natural, whether engaged in by humans or animals, except when it puts humans at risk. We generally do not believe it to be the role of humans to engineer nature and to impose our views and values for the natural world beyond that necessary to protect ourselves.

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    A lion is not considered a moral agent capable of making moral decisions (we do frequently kill animals who harm humans, but this has less to do with considering them to be immoral and more to do with considering them to be an unpredictable creature and preventing them from doing it again). Therefore "I can eat a burger for the same reason a lion can eat a deer" seems comparable to "I can kill a person for the same reason a tornado can kill a person". Appealing to something being natural is a logical fallacy.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12, 2022 at 15:00
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    This engages in special pleading in favor of human beings on two accounts. No justification is presented as to why human life is worthy of protection, while animal life is not. I do not disagree that many humans feel this way, but it would be a fallacy to present it as a moral argument. Additionally, it is suggested without justification that humans' rights to perform actions ought to exceed those of animals in all ways. This is similar to suggesting that adults ought be permitted to throw tantrums in public because toddlers can.
    – eclipz905
    Sep 12, 2022 at 18:01
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    @eclipz905 - I don't think it's meant to be a moral justification so much as an explanation for why people are the way they are today, and for that, it's a good answer. You can stand on a podium and explain the logical fallacies but all you're really proving is that people, on the whole, aren't very logical. The interesting bit is where "behavior that we perceive as natural" can vary wildly, not just society to society, but person to person (or even today versus tomorrow).
    – JamieB
    Sep 12, 2022 at 18:50
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    They basically have that in the UK. People in the UK have been noted to treat there dogs better than they treat each other. Which in turn has led to the RSPCA becoming the world's strangest para-military organisation.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:09
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    @DavidSchwartz "we do find moral repugance in a lion eating a person" - and I mean morality doesn't factor into this. Our objection arises purely from valuing human life and/or wanting to reduce suffering and death (of humans, at least). There's a huge difference between preventing animals from killing other animals compared to killing animals ourselves. Compare this with preventing humans from dying of disease and hunger in Africa vs killing humans ourselves - the former may be considered good, but not doing it isn't typically considered to be immoral, while the latter definitely is.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 13, 2022 at 9:19
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It's simply the psychology of "What the eyes don't see, the heart doesn't grieve over." Most people think of themselves as good. A good person will not harm any creature directly. But buying meat, or especially eating cooked meat, removes the killing from your eyes. So it becomes palatable, even if it's not entirely logical.

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    This nonsense. Almost everybody will kill bugs and mice with impunity. And if we were still agrarian, which wasn't that long ago, almost everybody would have their share in the actual killing of livestock.
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 14:00
  • 20
    Double nonsense, since people involved in killing animals have far fewer qualms over it. They get used to it as a simple fact of life, just like we get used to killing bugs and plants. But there's a huge difference between killing an animal for food, and killing a friend for food. And there's a huge difference between caring for and protecting an animal and slaughtering it when the time comes, and harming that same animal for fun, every day, for months. You're going to die too; that doesn't mean that your life isn't worth living, or that it doesn't matter whether you're treated cruelly.
    – Luaan
    Sep 11, 2022 at 14:58
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    @verybigcat You make my point. The unpleasantness of killing is not at all relevant to the morality. "It's icky" doesn't mean "it's bad".
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 16:32
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    @verybigcat Because your lawmakers are stupid? Because the general population where you live likes pigeons? Because they would rather deal with the problems that pigeons bring than suffer the general unpleasantness of killing something? Take your pick, neverminding that "illegal" does not equate to "immoral".
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:42
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    Ugh, this kind of veganism is ideological, not reasoned. It's how you can say without any sense of wrongdoing or consideration of conflicting facts that your ideas aren't just right, but should forcibly be put on everyone until they submit "willingly".
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 19:01
12

It's simply that I like a good steak, and I have no interest whatsoever in causing pain to an animal. The animal being killed painlessly so I can eat the meat is fine to me. The same animal being killed in a painful way so I can eat the meat would be absolutely not fine. The animal being kicked or poked or whatever because someone enjoys inflicting pain on animal would be totally unacceptable.

I think OP fell into a trap where they judge things to be equal that are not equal. And not feeding any meat to a meat-eating animal like a dog or cat is animal cruelty.

PS. I prefer jpa's answer. If someone eats meat I don't expect them to eat my children if I don't watch out. If someone tortures animals, I wouldn't trust them with anything.

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    Many would assert that you’ve never eaten a steak from a cow that never suffered as it was raised for your table. The same people would assert that the way animals are slaughtered is always painful to the animals. I’ve seen some videos that certainly made me believe that cruelty free meat is impossible, unless it’s lab grown. That said, I still eat meat. Sep 11, 2022 at 13:13
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    @ToddWilcox These definitions of cruelty are warped and broad, starting with the idea that any pain is cruel, which compounds into further ridiculousness with the definition of pain. Killing your food is kind of like paying taxes. It's pretty much always unpleasant, but serves a vital need.
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 14:17
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    Given the horrible living conditions of many animals in the meat industry, it's simply not enough to just look at the last few seconds of their lives and decide if it was acceptable or not. Sep 11, 2022 at 16:43
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    @EricDuminil Given that animal husbandry can be practiced in numerous ways, and that acquiring meat without it is possible, also in a variety of ways, insisting that has anything to do with the morality of consuming meat is a red herring, and bringing it up now on this answer is moving the goalposts.
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:37
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    I request a minor edit on the point that cats are obligate carnivores. We have not yet isolated complete set of plant based amino acids a cat needs to live yet, and their digestive tract can't handle the amount of fiber they'd have to handle to try. Withholding animal product from cats isn't just cruel, it's fatal.
    – user18050
    Sep 11, 2022 at 18:06
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It's about cognitive dissonance and how our brain tries to repair this. We want to see ourselves as good, so we ignore the fact that we cause suffering. We will justify it with tons of reasons, like "it's the natural thing", or "it's for nutrition", although none of those really matter. We can clearly live easily without meat with just some minor attention to our nutrition, and whatever is "natural" is irrelevant on a scale of 8 billion people using up the planet with our advanced technology.

You can easily see this by how outraged people are when a dog is hurt while they are still having meat for dinner. We even have a 'dehumanizing' name for animals that are made for eating, livestock, so we don't have to think about it as much. It makes them into a product instead of a being with feelings.

2
  • Your answer enlightened me about the semantic shift happening here. You didn't go into "cruelty" aspect of the question and (as I understand) you assume that paying others to kill an animal means "cruelty". The other side of the debate defines that word differently, operating on a naive assumption that livestock is bound to be eaten anyway, hence paying others and even killing by oneself, doesn't mean cruelty, but torturing always does. (Killing per that view is not a matter of choice, see? If there is no choice, there is no cruelty.)
    – kubanczyk
    Sep 13, 2022 at 12:50
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    @kubanczyk thanks, and yes I do think people at least think that they would be able to do the killing themselves, while still holding the view that mistreating a dog is wrong. How our brain ‘fixes’ cognitive dissonance can be fairly extreme and far from rational. Sep 13, 2022 at 13:51
8

In the wild, a majority of animals meet their end when another animal stalks, chases, and violently kills them, usually by suffocation. Isn't this the same problem? To reject meat consumption is to reject a fundamental fact of biology. Things consume other things. We can talk about how, but rejecting why is a failure in comprehension. I don't mean to put forward a tautology, but humans eat meat because humans eat meat.

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    And it's easy to miss unless you get really deep into how evolution works... but animals domesticated us just as much as we domesticated them. We found mutualistic symbiotic relationships with them, we both benefit. Caring about cruelty vs. rejecting raising animals for food is like improving the balance in the mutualism vs. letting entire species die out. I'd say the latter is more cruel - and utterly indifferent to the fate of those animals. And it's very likely the naturalistic fallacy has a lot to do with the overcompensating "using animals is always wrong"; nature is not nice.
    – Luaan
    Sep 11, 2022 at 15:03
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    @Luaan Letting a species die out, I'd argue, feels wrong because of our sense of loss and unknown opportunity, rather than an altruistic sense that species are entitled to propagate. Consider how the woes of a lost species is expressed: "I'll never get to see a dodo", and so on.
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 16:37
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    The huge difference is that in the wild, animals have at least a decent chance of living happy years. Their last 5 minutes might become extremely unpleasant, sure. But it's still better than living 2 years in often horrible conditions, with no prospect of ever living free, or spending more than a few minutes together with their offspring. As an example, the life of a cow in intensive dairy farming seems really unpleasant from the beginning to the end. Sep 11, 2022 at 16:52
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    @EricDuminil That falls under criticisms of "how we eat meat", not why.
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 17:22
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    "That falls under criticisms of how we eat meat, not why." Totally right. Intensive farming keeps on growing, though, so "why we eat meat" is more and more "why we eat cheap meat from miserable animals". Sep 11, 2022 at 18:01
8

In western culture killing and torturing are generally not viewed as the same thing. For example, even countries that practice death penalty, generally do not allow those sentenced to death to be tortured, and favor painless methods of putting them to death - see Cruel and unusual punishment.

Similarly, although people kill and are killed in a war, there are Law of war that limit who, when, and how can be killed: one cannot kill prisoners of war or otherwise defenseless combatants (e.g., paratroopers while landing), and one is prohibited from using certain munitions that can incur particularly painful death or wounds, like napalm or cluster bombs. The laws of war also typically limit anything that may harm civilians and anyone who is not a part of the conflict, even if these could potentially have the effect on the outcome of the conflict (see strategic bombing and scorched earth.)

This is to say that there is the difference in the degree of suffering incurred on the animals when simply killing them for meat or deliberately torturing them. This obviously seems like a ridiculous difference to someone who is vegan, just like the overwhelming support for a Just war might be shocking to a pacifist (see, e.g., Pacifist position on Ukraine), but seem completely justified to most people.

7

It's not just about animal cruelty. We can easily remove this difference between the two things you're looking at to get down to the difference that actually matters.

Ask yourself what would happen if someone were to sell burgers made with fresh beef in a public place. Now ask yourself what would happen if that beef was so fresh the seller slaughtered and butchered his cows in that same public place. All of the sudden, the beef would be a little too fresh.

The only remaining difference is that before the beef was super fresh, the majority of the people involved did not see the cows getting slaughtered and butchered. There was an option to ignore this very ugly aspect of the situation. Most people choose this option and would be very offended if this option was removed.

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    Removing yourself from sight of dead animal is really important to facilitate eating meat. Before that separation became common, people simply accepted that killing is a fact, because they've seen it happen. Just like in Faroe islands, big whaling event wasn't shocking or controversial to local population, until photos circulated the globe. To me it seems that morality is a feeling rather than a judgement. If you're shocked, you hesitate. If you're used to it, and it feels good, you just do it. Sep 11, 2022 at 20:27
  • @verybigcat Less violence now, and we react to it more strongly. Is this bad? People had to live with the conditions they were in.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 12, 2022 at 1:15
  • I think this answers the 'why' question from a psychological perspective, but not from the philosophical perspective.
    – Ivana
    Sep 12, 2022 at 15:29
  • @verybigcat Humans are good at adapting. A person raised to do the most atrocious things probably wouldn't think much of it, because they're used to it. We experience shock and start questioning whether something is actually good when we get some distance and thus perspective (although skepticism may lead to the same result).
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12, 2022 at 15:34
  • @NotThatGuy one could turn this argument the other way: that the shock at killing animals (and generally exaggerated fear of death) is an aberration typical for city dwellers, who have never seen animals killed (and might have never even seen them alive). When it comes to human we see these in desire to support semblance of life in a body by technical means, even though the person might be brain-dead or in agony. Those who grew up in a village feel less shocked about killing an animal, but also see human death as a naturally occurring process. Sep 13, 2022 at 13:37
5

In general, eating is good, and in general, cruelty is bad; both are not the same thing; both are not mutually exclusive: we can eat meat without being cruel to animals.

In case of conflict of interests (I want to eat in order to survive, but I need to be cruel, which I don't want to), surviving has the priority; that's not a human trait, it's a natural behavior: many raptors eat the guts of their pray while they are alive and walking, and possibly experiencing what can be considered extreme suffering.

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    As a child I was taught how to catch fish and 'clean' them, which of course involves killing a thing one is holding in one's hands. I haven't done it since, but have eaten a lot of fish, cows, chickens, pigs, etc. Would I have starved without those foods? Probably not. Was I vegetarian for a long time? Yes. Did that work for me? No. Is there a good answer to this issue? No.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 11, 2022 at 20:00
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    @ScottRowe There is a good answer to this question ;)
    – user10479
    Sep 11, 2022 at 20:05
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    Our "animal brains" (pun not intended) may consider meat to be necessary to survive if our diet already consists of it, but that's not to say there isn't non-meat alternatives available. So while this may explain why modern humans eat meat, it doesn't really serve as a moral argument.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12, 2022 at 13:45
  • 1
    @10479: That answer is just the Appeal To Nature Fallacy. Regardless of our history & evolution, we have moral choices & consequences now that we are responsible for, & reflect on each of our characters. They have found vegan hominid teeth, & many people's diets away from Northern latitudes have had little or no meat
    – CriglCragl
    Sep 12, 2022 at 15:55
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    @CriglCragl That things consume other things is not at all an appeal to nature. It is a plain fact, and one that must be ignored for veganism to be found in one's reasoning. And the insistence that how farm animals may or may not be treated is why one should be vegan is a non sequitter.
    – user10479
    Sep 13, 2022 at 1:31
5

See this previous discussion on land use and human health issues: Is 'veganism' a settled issue in Philosophy and Ethics?

The two World Wars, and loss of wild places to urbanisation and industrialisation, have been linked to a decrease in blood sports and increase in valuing animal life. This kind of social change is very interesting in terms of examining the underpinnings of our moral reasoning. See The Great Cat Massacre for a striking example of social change not only of animal lives, but human lives.

Peter Singer gives a compelling account of moral progress, in his book The Expanding Circle, which relates increasing concern for animal welfare to the same drivers that saw slavery and serfdom ended.

I make the case here that this kind of moral progress has practical advantages for societies adopting them, by supporting greater intersubjective insights and cooperation: Studies exploring the rationale of gender equality

In Buddhist tradition the harm was considered to be in killing the animals. As Mahayana thought moved towards monastic living from living by alms, collective responsibility had to be accepted for the impacts of the monastic food supply. But consider that the source of the moral issues of killing animals can be seen differently. For instance, consider in Tibet where it was historically pretty much impossible to survive without yak meat for winter. Or what about livestock that have net positive lives, with quick painless deaths? You have to consider how you assign personhood, and attribute moral concern, especially where there are conflicts (eg poorer people relying on fish or hunting to survive). We can enter into mutually supportive relationships, like Hindus with cows, or beekeepers with bee colonies.

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    Good points about increasing insights. Some people consider any involvement of beings to be exploitive. Keeping bees means 'taking' their honey for example. (No sense of cooperative benefits in that view.) Separating harms from use can be difficult. It was humans idea, so they should get to decide, right? Verges on to things like child labor, etc. Who will be the Regent for those unable to advocate for themselves? It comes down to seeing them as beings, which opens a can of worms right away. Guilt for past wrongs, and so on.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 10, 2022 at 14:06
  • 1
    What's interesting to me is that "the Buddha allowed monastics to accept meat as long as it was not seen, heard, nor suspected that an animal had been killed for their sake." It's also possible his last meal was pork (this is disputed.)
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 12, 2022 at 19:19
4

The concept of slaughtering and consuming animals and treating them humanely is not necessarily mutually exclusive.

For example, the Humane Slaughter Act.

According to the law, animals should be stunned into unconsciousness prior to their slaughter to ensure a death with less suffering than in killing methods used earlier. The most common methods are electrocution and CO2 stunning for swine and captive bolt stunning for cattle, sheep, and goats. Of these methods of electrocution, electronarcosis has been widely acclaimed as the safest, most humane and most reliable as well as the surest way to stun the animal and render them insensitive to pain.

Disregarding the humane nature of slaughtering animals for consumption in general, it's fair to say that there is a moral standard for how to treat animals whether they are meant for companionship or for slaughter, and in both cases the moral standard is to minimize the suffering felt by those animals.

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  • Muslims and practicing Jews would never do this though.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:27
  • @NeilMeyer: Jews, no, but the vast majority of Halal meat sold in the West is stunned pre-slaughter. Sep 13, 2022 at 6:40
  • @NeilMeyer True, although Kosher Slaughter has its own set of rules for ethical slaughter of animals. myjewishlearning.com/article/kosher-meat
    – Zibbobz
    Sep 13, 2022 at 12:52
3

All of Nature is red in tooth and claw. We must eat to survive. I don't differentiate eating meat from killing an animal. If I eat pork, I have participated in that pig's life and death. So either I grow my own meat (yes, for years I did that) or I pay more to buy ethically raised and killed animals.

I gave my animals the best life I could, a good life where they were free to roam but protected from harm, fed good food that I myself would eat, and killed them as quickly and as painlessly as possible. And I accepted the fact that I had just killed an animal in order to eat meat.

If I had more integrity and will power, I would be a vegetarian. I did try it for a couple of years at least, not for health reasons but because of the responsibility I bore to the animal whose body part I was consuming.

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    My mother grew up on a farm, so it sounds like the experience of most people who did.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:51
2

Because killing animals for their meat is not necessarily crueler than what the animals suffer in the wild. And if done correctly, it might be much less cruel.

Yes, there exist farming practices which make animals suffer, however

  • you can choose not to buy meat from there, and select a producer who is not using such practices, or raise/hunt animals yourself
  • laws and regulations are moving in the direction of reducing the suffering of animals in industrial farming, and improving their living conditions.
  • even if we compare it to factory farming, animals in the wild don't live an idyllic life

How do wild animals live? They are not immortal, and more importantly, they are not immune to suffering. Except a few rare cases (like elephants), animals in the wild never die of old age. They all starve to death or are killed and eaten by other animals.

Smaller animals would increase their numbers by tenfold or hundredfold each year, and in a couple years there would be billions from just one pair. Even large animals would double their population every year. This obviously doesn't happen. This means that only a very small percentage of animals born in a year will survive to the end of it, the vast majority starves or is eaten. Both end results make the animal suffer. The natural balance is not animals living happily in harmony, it is a population exploding in numbers when the conditions are right, exhausting their food supply, most of them dying off, then their food supply recovering and exploding in numbers, and the cycle begins anew.

So, if we take care to not induce unneeded suffering in our domesticated animals, they live a life where they are always well fed, taken care of, and when they get killed, in one moment they are perfectly fine, and in the next moment, bam!, it's over, painlessly. Compare that to being chased by a predator, being bit into, and then being torn apart while still alive.

We can, if we are willing, eat meat, in a way that the animal we consume suffered less than what it would undergo in the wild.

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    The argument I see from this is that most animals that humans eat nowadays don't come from the wild. They are specifically raised to be slaughtered and eaten.
    – DKNguyen
    Sep 12, 2022 at 21:57
  • I guess the counter to factory farming is that the conditions can be worse than the average life of a wild animal. Wild animals might live for years reasonably well before dying. If we don't bring about the conditions of wildlife, we don't need to worry much about their quality of life, it was already that way. When we alter things, we are responsible.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:44
2

There is the "population control" argument, which applies to non-farmed animals. Humans have become the primary predators of some species of prey animals (generally through wiping out the competition). It could be argued that humans have an environmental responsibility to regularly cull these species in order to prevent environmental degradation. From here, we could just kill these animals and waste the meat, but since we can derive significant nutrition from eating these animals, it makes the most sense from a conservation of resources perspective to eat their meat.

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    All the large animals mysteriously disappeared from Australia about 35,000 years ago. Any theories? Maybe we are a little too good at what we do.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 12, 2022 at 11:46
  • 3
    This likely only accounts for a tiny fraction of all meat eaten, and wouldn't apply to factory farms, which does a whole lot of harm to the environment.
    – NotThatGuy
    Sep 12, 2022 at 13:41
2

As a bit of a frame challenge, let me ask you a different question: why is it OK to eat plants? I expect most people would say that "plants don't have feelings" or something along those lines. But in fact, research shows that plants do have some sort of nervous system that transmits information. Another example is fermentation. Why is it OK to eat microbes? If you are a vegetarian or vegan, you have surely consumed some insects, some of them were alive. Is that OK?

All of these are living things but only some of them are deemed problematic to consume. Almost paradoxically, the idea that some creatures should not be eaten is inherently based in the notion that humans are special. Nothing in the natural world is concerned with what other living things consume. Only humans have this notion and we are the ones who come up with these notions about what is acceptable for other humans to eat.

The upshot here is that this comes down to beliefs about which living creatures are superior to others. There's nothing wrong with that per se until you start assuming that your feelings are something that is inherently true. Many people are against animal cruelty while believing it is acceptable to eat meat e.g. the Buddha. While someone might think, for example, it's cruel to hunt and eat deer, I would argue that allowing them to become overpopulated and starve en masse is worse. Or, does the deer shot cleanly through the heart suffer more than the deer who is slowly strangled by a wolf? I've watched enough Nature shows to know. I'm not a hunter but I don't think it's unethical or wrong when done within certain bounds.

Everyone is free to believe that some living things that are regularly killed and consumed by humans should not be. You are also free to try to convince others of your beliefs. But the assumption that it follows from intolerance of cruelty to animals is not logically coherent.

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  • Two wrong don't make a right. Even if everything you say about plants is true that does not excuse meat eating. Maybe we should all be fed nutrients trough an IV drip. My happiness in life would be increased if I never had to eat again.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:25
  • @NeilMeyer It's up to you decide whether it's wrong to eat any living thing. I'm not aware of anyway to survive purely from an IV drip but maybe it's possible. I really have no idea what you are referring to about 2 wrongs making a right. I don't recognize that as any part of my argument or see it as related to it in any way. Feel free to elaborate.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:30
  • @NeilMeyer Even if you were to survive from an IV drip, where are you getting the nutrients from that go in the drip? Sep 13, 2022 at 6:38
  • @NeilMeyer I used to be really miffed about having to eat, eliminate, sleep, etc. Seemed like it cut in to my limited lifespan. I guess a virtual world with supported body would be best. Well, time to go listen to birds and crickets...
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:56
2

Both are equally harassing or killing animals. However, it seems difficult to see the difference between direct and indirect. Eating meat made by killing animals by other people is also considered an act of participating in the livestock industry.

No it's not.

In one case you're doing active (killing) or even senseless/unnecessary harm (harassing) to a living being that is able to perceive and suffer from that harm. And in the other case you're doing things with their corpse.

Both from the perspective of the perpetrator and the victim these are not equal. Let's just set aside the animals for a second and think of the same situation for human beings. Then you'd compare desecration of corpses and cannibalism of deceased people to killing and murdering people. While neither is great, the latter is likely going to get you the longer sentence. Unless you actively helped to produce those corpses in which case you're again talking about the latter case primarily.

So regardless of the diminished legal status that we often have for animals, the two actions itself are not considered to be equal.

Also no it is specifically NOT CONSIDERED to be the same as killing the animals or even as an participating in the livestock industry and you might argue that this is part of the problem.

It's actually fairly easy to argue that that the actual "crime" of harming and killing the animal has happened before your involvement in the process even started and that your presence or absence in that process has no positive or negative influence on the fate of that particular animal because it was dead already before you bought the meat from the grocery store.

You might even argue that without you buying it, the meat would rot and the animal would have suffered for nothing.

Now that is only half of the story and you might just as well argue truthfully that buying the product acts as proof to the "producers" (those that do the killing) that there is an acceptance of and a market for their good and thus encourages them to restock the supply. So while you're not responsible for what's on display right now the fact that it sells and keeps them in business is what contributes to a partial responsibility for future killings of animals. So by eating meat you're specifically not CONSIDERED to act as a part of the livestock industry, but you ARE, regardless of that, a factor in it. As long as there is money to be made in that business, there'll be suppliers.

So it's actually fairly easy to push the responsibility to the producers, while not punishing them for their actions thereby keeping the conscious clean while everything stays the same. It's the production that produces the harm not the consumption (that causes, not the harm, but the production) so if you can manage to neatly separate the two it's not "your problem".

Another thing is that you can argue that killing living creatures up to humans is considered legal as long as it necessary to survive (self-defense for example) and that eating is necessary to survive. Now you can also argue against that saying that there are nowadays ways to get around doing that by killing other animal species. But then again people also start wars and get involved in ultimately pointless murder of our own species. So it's not that we are just hypocrites when it comes to animals we're also hypocrites when it comes to humans as well.

So TL;DR killing and torturing animals reveals something about the character of the person doing that, in that they don't empathize with the suffering of another living being. While using the products of such an action is able to pretend they're just making the best of that situation. It's not fully covered by logical arguments but just enough to distance oneself from the process while still taking part in it.

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  • So it's like dealing with drug problems: if there was no demand, there would be no supply. But, if demand is unlikely to be altered, then creating a better and cheaper alternative works. When efficient light bulbs came down in price, people preferred them to incandescent. This is why I keep saying it is an Engineering problem. We can change the outcomes with no debate, no protest, no laws being passed, and no hint of any moral argument. Greed ultimately will bring about the change.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:37
  • Not sure drugs are a good analogy. Because it might never have been about the physical substance to begin with. Like drugs are a means of escapism whether it's increased or numbed perception. Like in case of incandescent light bulbs the demand is not for light bulbs but for light, so engineers finding better ways to produce light without tons of heat solves the problem of energy waste (that is if the production is as energy efficient or better). However in terms of drugs the actual demand of escaping an unpleasant reality is much more difficult and highly engineered drugs as a solution ...
    – haxor789
    Sep 13, 2022 at 12:20
  • ... have literally managed to score a place in the dystopian section (brave new world and it's "soma"). The thing is there are tons of things that contribute to a bleak outlook on reality that are not all technical in nature and not even within the same field. Not to mention that increasing efficiency usually ends up being a win-win situation that solves problems and fills the pockets of the people selling it, but greed itself usually also finds a lot of ways to do that "more efficient", in that they don't solve a problem but just empty other people's pockets.
    – haxor789
    Sep 13, 2022 at 12:23
  • It is possible to improve one's outlook on reality for nothing. That 'buddha' guy showed us 2500 years ago. But it hasn't worked, so I was really hoping greed would.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 12:36
2

I can give a pretty nice answer to this. The point is that we shouldn't take pleasure in killing animals for itself but at the same time we need meat to survive.

Eating meat is really a necessity. There actually certain proteins and substance there in meat which our body can't get otherwise so eating meat is a necessity (eg: some amino acids, Vitamin B12).

From a cultural perspective, there are many examples of cultures throughout the world advising against slow killing of eaten animals. See eg Kutha meat.

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    One can supplement; smart vegetarians are healthy. And supplements do not need to come from animals. Sep 12, 2022 at 19:04
  • 1
    We certainly don't need meat to survive.
    – Neil Meyer
    Sep 12, 2022 at 20:26
  • @anongoodnurse I was smart for over 10 years, but eventually it wasn't working for my body. Can't tell you how much better I felt after starting to eat again with non-vegetarians.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:48
2

You need to eat. You don't need to be cruel.

The simple truth is that, conceptually, these are two entirely distinct activities. They fall into different mental categories.

Eating is a necessary activity, and what exactly you eat is a detail. Eating meat is generally accepted because a) we are biologically omnivorous and b) it's very common.

Cruelty is a non-essential activity that needs its motivation explained, and there are very, very few positive motivations. It also creates nothing that is useful or necessary - thus there is no justification and all that's left is the evil of the act.


A connection between meat consumption and cruelty is being made by those who are against meat consumption. It is not necessarily true though the industrialized meat industry certainly does make animals suffer more than necessary.

That does not change the fact that conceptually we don't feel the same about these two things, and it will take a lot more effort and time if one were to desire that in the future, we should.

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  • You need to be (slightly) cruel to eat meat (or perhaps kill a vegetable). They are not different categories -- your moral "ticker" just isn't willing to treat them the same.
    – Marxos
    Sep 15, 2022 at 19:51
  • @Marxos I disagree entirely. My meat comes ready and packaged. There is zero cruelty involved on my side. There certainly is cruelty in the meat factory - but that is not cruelty I commit and you could say the same about the child labor that produced the T-Shirt you're wearing.
    – Tom
    Sep 15, 2022 at 20:27
  • Your answer betrays your attempt to hide your shame. Your dollar is your vote. If you pay someone to kill another for you, have you not "aided and abetted" the crime?
    – Marxos
    Sep 15, 2022 at 20:57
  • @Marxos only if you consider it a crime, which I don't. You argue that cruelty and meat-eating are the same thing, but they are not. A lot of the stuff in your house is the product of unsafe work conditions - do you feel guilty for that? When you drive a car, you routinely kill hundreds of insects - how do you feel?
    – Tom
    Sep 15, 2022 at 21:29
  • Again, your attempt to swing the question to me betrays your own shame. Perhaps we should address that first? If the world is this diseased (that we can't live anymore without being cruel to innocence), we should destroy it, yes?
    – Marxos
    Sep 15, 2022 at 22:53
1

Eating animal meat to sustain human life is preferable and is therefore not cruel.

The life of a person is worth more than the life of an animal. Therefore it would be greater cruelty to starve a person, than to kill an animal for meat to preserve the life of a person. Preserving a person's life is not cruel even if it means eating animal meat.

Killing animals needlessly is cruel.

10 But, the blood of all flesh which I have given you for meat, shall be shed upon the ground, which taketh life thereof, and the blood ye shall not eat.

11 And surely, blood shall not be shed, only for meat, to save your lives; and the blood of every beast will I require at your hands.

12 And whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed; for man shall not shed the blood of man.

13 For a commandment I give, that every man’s brother shall preserve the life of man, for in mine own image have I made man.

JST, Genesis 9:10–15. Compare Genesis 9:4–9

Eating excessive meat is needless and therefore cruel.

flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man with thanksgiving; nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter, or of cold, or famine.

All grain is ordained for the use of man and of beasts, to be the staff of life, not only for man but for the beasts of the field, and the fowls of heaven, and all wild animals that run or creep on the earth;

And these [animals] hath God made for the use of man only in times of famine and excess of hunger.

God has given animals to man in part for the purpose of sustaining our lives during times of winter and famine. It is not pleasing to God for man to waste animal flesh or to kill animals needlessly. He will hold each of us accountable for every animal's life that we destroy, and has expressly forbidden the killing of animals except for meat to save our lives. (Yes, God even sees and knows when any person is torturing or otherwise abusing any person or animal. He made them all. There is no escaping accountability for this.) He has made these decrees for all people on Earth to follow and has forewarned us that there will be consequences in the day of Judgment for every animal life that we destroy without a need.

Consistent with the requirement to use animal meat with thanksgiving, wasting the meat of an already killed animal shows disrespect to the animal and renders the sacrifice of its life needless, making the act of killing it or disposing of it cruelty.

Eating animal meat to preserve human life is justified, while eating animal meat while there is no need is not justified. Both of these observations are in complete harmony with and are consequent from the initial reference stating that the value of human life is greater than that of animal life, but that both have very significant value.

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  • 2
    If God showed us the ledger books, there would be a lot more compliance. (I'm not making fun, honestly, just frustrated.)
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 13, 2022 at 10:58
  • 1
    The ledger is visible, and it is written in plain print on each person's Conscience and in the books that God has caused to be written to inform and rekindle Conscience. If we would consult the ledger books more regularly, I think we could not help but be more kind-hearted. Rationalizations and willful ignorance are in play, however, and ignoring reality will not defuse it.
    – pygosceles
    Sep 13, 2022 at 16:45
1

It's a lessor of two evils. Everything in life requires power. If I don't have power, then I have to get it from an animal (or human).

Should I have power (compared to another human or animal or plant)? Yes, if I can improve the universe for it. No, if I cannot. That's how simple that is.

Ultimately, (as long as YHVH-GAIA exists) I will die eating meat (or making the wrong decision with another human), if I don't give back equally, because the animal was innocent and there are larger forces which keep track of these things. That's the equation for that moral quandary.

1

I would argue it this way:

  • Animals will die nevertheless, it's inevitable.

  • Animals may die cruelly in natural circumstances, think e.g. a lion eating prey. It's not pretty.

  • Humans have techniques to minimize suffering.

Implies:

  • It's possible to view consuming animal meat as ethical as long as the growing of and the death of the animal involves the least amount of suffering. Again, it's also possible that cutting the head of the animal or something contains less suffering than dying because of a disease or something.

This still leaves the problem of deciding when someone thinks it's the right time to kill an animal (without its consent).

1

To a certain degree, we must accept that life on this earth is a continuous cycle of birth and death.

It seems an unavoidable part of our existence that something must die for us humans to continue to live.

Do we need to eat meat, no? We can sustain ourselves from plant matter. Do we need to hunt the Kudu and the Eland with a bow-and-arrow in some pathetic attempt to prove our manhood? Also, no.

Americans currently have a massive problem with Asian carp in the Ohio river.

It is a tasty white fish that eats plankton. Not that plankton is the standard. Americans eat all types of sea cockroaches.

Americans will not eat this bountiful white fish that is on the verge of causing an ecological disaster, but southerners will eat catfish. With some rhetorical gymnastics, carp are considered thrash fish while catfish are not.

I myself find the hunting of antelope an exercise of tremendous vulgarity. The Eland and the Kudu are majestic figures of the African landscape. What types of people shoot these animals with high-powered rifles, I ask you?

For what do these animals have to die like this? So some yuppies can have steak and biltong in their fridge.

I have never wanted a steak so badly that I would spend weeks of my life chasing after it.

Why do Americans import salmon from Alaska while the Ohio River contains an endless supply of white fish? I cannot understand it.

So, in closing, though we cannot escape the cycle of death and birth, We, as humans, can decide that the way we nourish our bodies is the least cruel and causes the least suffering.

Maybe the best we can do is choose the lesser of two evils.

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  • I was not aware of the Asian Carp. I have never seen it in the grocery store. Meanwhile, people in England still eat eels.
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 22, 2022 at 0:41

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