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My take on the ethics of eating "happy meat."

Suppose animals could be raised humanely, live considerably long lives, and then painlessly killed for food. Would eating such happy creatures be wrong? That question is suggested in a recent article by New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof, who answered it in the negative. According to Kristof, as an alternative to consuming tortured animals raised in factory farms, which is problematic, it is possible to consume happy ones raised on efficient farms with “soul.” Some will even have names: like “Jill,” Sophie,” and “Hosta.” In the article, Kristof introduces us to his high school friend Bob Bansen, a farmer raising Jersey cows on “lovely green pastures” in Oregon. Bob’s 400+ cows are not only grass-fed and antibiotic-free, they are loved “like children” – every one of them named. “I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me… They’re living things, and you have to treat them right.” With great enthusiasm, Kristof concludes: “The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.” 

The rest here:

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Comment by Spencer Lo on October 26, 2012 at 11:44

Hi Kath,

My take on the ethics of eating "happy meat" is what I describe in my post: although I summarize Jeff McMahan's arguments on the matter, I agree with them. I don't think consumption of "happy meat" is justified.

As for my current non-vegan status, yes it's true I'm not fully vegan, but that's not because I don't think veganism is obligatory (I do) or because I have cravings for animal flesh (I don't). Rather, my current living situation is such that going completely vegan has proven difficult for me (for a variety of reasons). I don't claim my reasons are particularly great, but they're there and it's certainly an issue for me. In mind, if not fully in body, I am committed to veganism.  

Comment by Kath Worsfold on October 26, 2012 at 11:25

Spencer Lo, what IS your take on the ethics of eating "happy meat"? You've shared lots of articles that others have written on the subject, you've shared blog posts that you've written, but nowhere on any of these forums have I seen you write what YOU YOURSELF think about this subject. I can't get a sense of what you think - do you mind clarifying?

I gather that you are not a vegan yourself, am I right?

I leave you with a couple of comments on your recent blog post:

19peace80, on September 19, 2012 at 1:52 pm said:
"Despite the huge amount of press “happy meat” gets, the vast majority of omnivores do not confine themselves to consuming it. The organic meat market is only a very tiny (we’re talking single digits) percentage of the meat industry as a whole."

elliemaldonado, on September 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm said:
"So if most animal consumers don’t buy happy meat, then these reforms are only effecting a small percent of farmed animals, at best. Meanwhile, according to D’Agostino supermarkets, the addition of “certified humane” products increased meat sales by 25% — so apparently, they’re also making some consumers feel comfortable with meat eating."

Comment by Spencer Lo on September 28, 2012 at 9:27

I'll just add that I think the philosophical issues surrounding the ethics of killing can be very deep and complicated, and even though McMahan may be wrong in his views, he has thought carefully and rigorously about them (as evidenced in his book The Ethics of Killing). But I agree with the problematic usage of the "it" language, which is an unfortunate product of linguistic convention. Although McMahan doesn't believe animals are "its," his usage may unconsciously reinforce the notion that they are.

Comment by Spencer Lo on September 28, 2012 at 9:13

Thanks Carolyn! I linked to Jeff McMahan's philosophy bites podcast in my post, but thanks for directing me to the ARZone discussion about it (will be reading it with interest).

Comment by Carolyn Bailey on September 28, 2012 at 8:58

Nice article, Spencer! 

I am always grateful when people speak about the pleasure other animals are capable of, rather than just the pain. 

I'm not sure about Jeff McMahon's theories. I agree with some of his work, but it's difficult to get past his constant use of the word "it". This is a podcast of his that Tim posted a few months ago that you might be interested in. It's a Philosophy Bites podcast - they are only about 15 minutes long.


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