I think it's a valiant attempt with some major blind spots. He bases his argument on the premise that omnivorism is believed to be unethical (i.e. traditional PALEO is unethical) because it results in the death of animals. He then argues that if you accept that premise, you should also believe that being an herbivore is unethical because everything we eat (veggies included) results in the death of animals one way or another. One example: farming razes fields, killing cute little gophers. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/is-eating-meat-ethical/#axzz1r66vf5dG
I don't think being Paleo is unethical, but I do think Sisson misses some big points:
(1) If you farm your own veggies, or find small, environmentally responsible veggie farms, this could greatly reduce or even eliminate animal killing (ants totally do not count, I assume we're talking about relatively sentient beings).
(2) The premise could be inaccurate--it might not be the death of animals that is the root of ethical questioning, but rather, the sheer magnitude of the animal deaths or the mechanisms by which they die. So, for example, veggie farming might kill animals, but eating meat kills more animals. So maybe it's considered to be unethical because you aren't reducing impact when you could be, NOT because there is death per se.
What do you think?
[EDIT: I think this post has drifted into areas already covered by other posts (my bad!) we should probably close it (needs a moderator or three more votes). Look here for posts about ethics of paleo: http://paleohacks.com/questions/9826/paleo-vs-vegetarian-a-question-of-optimal-health-vs-evolved-compassion#axzz1r6SYVgbI).]
I suggest that anyone who is interested in this topic check out the book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. She essentially deconstructs the arguments in support of vegetarianism from three realms: biology, politics and ethics.
In regards to ethics, the arguments in support of vegetarianism can be dismantled from numerous angles. While vegetarians are justified in their disgust and horror over factory farming, the leap to disregard all meat eating as unethical often goes unexamined. The existence of vegetarianism can in many ways be traced to our increasing alienation from the world of nature. Keith suggests that vegetarianism is often intertwined with a denial of the reality of death (not to suggest that the SAD meat-eater is not also in denial), a refusal to accept the inevitability that our survival is dependent upon the death of others (be they animal, vegetable, fungi). Vegetarians are just as presumptuous about the lack of plant sentience as most meat-eaters are about non-human animal sentience (see: The Lost Language of Plants by Stephen Harrod Buhner, which presents a fascinating explication of the biological mechanisms suggestive of plant sentience). There is no escape from some kind of killing for our survival (good luck trying to be a fruitarian/scavenger), and only a people who get there food from the grocery store could think otherwise.
Fundamentally, vegetarianism is dependent upon the unsustainable practices of agriculture. Modern veganism, in particular, is also dependent upon the globalized industrial food chain. Vegetarianism (via agriculture) literally feeds on entire ecosystems in the service of its ideals. Animals raised on pasture (provided they are not allowed to overgraze) can actually build topsoil and enhance biodiversity, whereas agriculture erodes topsoil and consists first of all in the removal of all life from the land to be cultivated.
But to accept that agriculture is unsustainable would mean that we would also have to accept that civilization is not sustainable, that the Paleolithic (by which I mean "indigenous") is not something from which we can pick and choose. It is the only sustainable and therefore the only truly ethical social/ecological arrangement that is available to humans.
Another thing that was not mentioned was the fact that most of the animals we eat - poultry, pork, cattle, goat, sheep - would not exist had we not deliberately bred them over centuries for use in human consumption. These animals are just too maladapted (read: stupid - with the possible exception of pigs) to survive in the wild. So the question becomes: was it ethical to undertake husbandry in the first place? Is the "ethical" alternative to let these species completely die out?
I don't think it makes sense to focus on the magnitude of animal death since it is a function primarily of the magnitude of animal life, whether domesticated or wild. Rather, the relevant metric should be (i) the quality of animal life and death and (ii) the diversity of animal life. To that end, transitioning to pasture-based animal husbandry practices should alleviate some of the ethical obstacles to eating meat, provided it doesn't result in a material increase if deforestation (which I don't think it would).
Thus, I'm all for the focus on ethics of eating meat - but not because I think eating meat is unethical - rather, just because the likely result of that focus is an increased awareness of the horrors of CAFO facilities and perhaps an increased willingness to pay a bit extra for pasture-based meat.
As far as I'm concerned, eating meat is natural and the right thing for me to do. I don't like the thought that animals have to die for me to survive but I have tried to live without meat and it did nothing but cause me health problems.
Regarding your first point: As Mark mentioned, the question he was answering didn't allow consideration of nuances such as local vs. factory-raised with regards to meat eating, so it only seems fair to not allow that consideration with regards to vegetable/grain farming as well.
Frankly, the only reason we are able to make this distinction between ethical and nonethical eating is because of meat. Do other omnivores in Nature question their ethics?
Our only distinction between them (other omnivores) and us, is complex communication and philosophy. Many (myself included) truly believe that we evolved those traits when we discovered something more defensive (and offensive) than anything else in the animal kingdom - the ability to collaborate beyond the mentality of the pack/herd.
Those skills of collaboration (communication, religion (love it or hate it), community, technology, art) were easier to develop when we gradually discovered the benefits of having multiple, calorie-dense food sources.
In other words, meat gave us the evolutionary tools we needed to survive. It gave us another food source when long-departed ancestors were (most likely) severely affected during famine and climate change due to having considerably less varied (and calorie-sparse) food sources.
The inclusion of meat into the hominid diet made us what we are today. Therefor, meat eating is ethical - and makes the implications of not eating meat quite unethical for our continued evolution.
There are many other variables that could be discussed in regards to ethics that might cast it in an unfavorable light. Many of those were not allowed to be defended or even discussed thanks to the ridiculous limitations set on the original essay. Is eating meat sustainable for the growing world's population? I'd like to say yes, but I don't believe that. Are modern factory-husbandry and slaughtering practices ethical? Again, I really don't believe so. Is distinguishing between what animals are "ok" to eat, and which ones are verboten, ethical? No, especially as it has the potential to alienate cultures which make no such (or considerably more liberal) distinctions.
This essay was doomed from the start, as the restrictions laid forth did not even go into the intricacies of "ethical meat". That is why, in keeping with their rules, by my "boiled down" primal conclusion, meat eating is logical, and in the Natural world, logic trumps ethics.
This sleep-deprived rant was brought to you by the letter M. For Meat.
I think that it is ultimately neither "ethical" or "unethical" to eat meat.
To the extent that we fancy ourselves as "ethical" beings, we at least owe it to ourselves to back that sentiment up with actions that show a concern for the well-being of creatures specifically bred, raised, and killed for our consumption.
Speaking to my original statement, however, is it "ethical" for a bacterium to fatally infect a child? Is it "ethical" for a lion to take down a gazelle? We can say, well, the lion and bacteria don't know what they are doing. So the problem is not the act itself, but the intention, or awareness of the act?
We want to conduct ourselves in accordance with our ideals, but when "pushed" or "pulled" we rationalize how we are still "good" in spite of doing something "bad".
I say this as a person who "tries" to be ethical and I do my best to buy more expensive food that was responsibly produced, harvested, raised. But, if I am broke (which has happened on more than one occassion), I will eat CAFO meat since my ultimate responsibility is to myself. Were we to live in a world of unrestricted abundance, we could also be unrestricted in our beneficence.
Can we be better stewards? Absolutely, it would ultimately benefit us as well as the animals we eat. Can we answer the question of whether or not it is "ethical" to eat meat? I suppose it depends on your ethics.
As far as I am concerned, per my spiritual practice, animals, plants, and humans are on equal footing. Nothing is better than anything else, and so we honor our bodies by eating what is designed to do, with an omnivorous diet. Now, I also believe we should do so with the least pain and harm to the ecosystem, as earth is our Mother. So my meat is pastured, and my veggies organic and local whenever possible.
Just in case you were wondering, I'm a Neo-Pagan. Certainly not all Neo-Pagans believe the way I do, but that's the path I take.
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