A few weeks ago, we invited readers to make an argument for the ethics of eating meat. Thousands of readers submitted essays, and thousands more voted on the finalists that we posted online. Our panel of judges — Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan and Peter Singer — chose the essay below as the winner. It will be published in the May 6 issue of the magazine.
As a vegetarian who returned to meat-eating, I find the question “Is meat-eating ethical?” one that is in my head and heart constantly. The reasons I became a vegetarian, then a vegan and then again a conscientious meat-eater were all ethical. The ethical reasons of why NOT to eat meat are obvious: animals are raised and killed in cruel conditions; grain that could feed hungry people is fed to animals; the need for pasture fuels deforestation; and by eating meat, one is implicated in the killing of a sentient being. Except for the last reason, however, none of these aspects of eating meat are implicit in eating meat, yet they are exactly what make eating some meat unethical. Which leads to my main argument: eating meat raised in specific circumstances is ethical; eating meat raised in other circumstances is unethical. Just as eating vegetables, tofu or grain raised in certain circumstances is ethical and those produced in other ways is unethical.
What are these “right” and “wrong” ways of producing both meat and plant foods? For me, they are most succinctly summed up in Aldo Leopold’s land ethic: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” While studying agroecology at Prescott College in , I was convinced that if what you are trying to achieve with an “ethical” diet is the least destructive impact on life as a whole on this planet, then in some circumstances, like living among dry, scrubby grasslands in Arizona, eating meat, is, in fact, the most ethical thing you can do other than subsist on wild game, tepary beans and pinyon nuts. A well-managed, free-ranged cow is able to turn the sunlight captured by plants into condensed and protein with the aid of the microorganisms in its gut. > diverse plants > cow > human. This in a larger ethical view looks much cleaner than the fossil-fuel-soaked scheme of tractor-tilled field > irrigated soy monoculture > tractor harvest > processing > tofu > shipping > human.
While most present-day meat production is an ecologically foolish and ethically wrong endeavor, happily this is changing, and there are abundant examples of ecologically beneficial, pasture-based systems. The fact is that most agroecologists agree that animals are integral parts of truly sustainable agricultural systems. They are able to cycle nutrients, aid in land management and convert sun to food in ways that are nearly impossible for us to do without fossil fuel. If “ethical” is defined as living in the most ecologically benign way, then in fairly specific circumstances, of which each eater must educate himself, eating meat is ethical; in fact NOT eating meat may be arguably unethical.
The issue of killing of a sentient being, however, lingers. To which each individual human being must react by asking: Am I willing to divide the world into that which I have deemed is worthy of being spared the inevitable and that which is not worthy? Or is such a division hopelessly artificial? A poem of Wislawa Szymborska’s, “In Praise of Self-Deprecation,” comes to mind. It ends:
For me, eating meat is ethical when one does three things. First, you accept the biological reality that death begets life on this planet and that all life (including us!) is really just temporarily stored in an impermanent form. Second, you combine this realization with that cherished human trait of compassion and choose ethically raised food, vegetable, grain and/or meat. And third, you give thanks.Continue reading the main story
A hungry shark befriends a penguin. A dog tries to save his owner by jumping in the lake. Helpful tips to improve the lives of animals in our community. And the many ways, from nourishment to companionship, animals benefit us.These were the topics of this year’s winning entries for Arlington’s annual Animal Essay Contest.City leaders, including City Councilwoman Sheri Capehart, surprised winners Friday at schools across Arlington.“The essays were creative, and the students were really thinking outside the box,” said Chris Huff, the city’s animal services manager. “You could see that our young people have developed a lot of insight and knowledge on the subject of animals.”More than 1,200 students at public, private, and home schools submitted essays, the highest turnout since the competition began 11 years ago.First-place winners in each grade received a $500 savings bond. Second-place received a $350 bond, and third-place received a $150 bond.Each grade was asked to write about a specific topic.For Grade 3: If animals could talk, what would they say?For Grade 4: What feelings do you think animals have?For Grade 5: What are some ways that can make life better for animals in your community?For Grade 6: How do animals benefit us in our daily lives?Essays included stories about beloved family pets, whimsical tales about talking armadillos, and information on the importance of picking up litter to provide strong habitats to wild animals.A panel of local citizens and members of the Arlington Animal Services Center Advisory Board judged the essays on elements of writing, including focus, development of ideas, and voice.WinnersThird grade:
1st place: Megan McDonald, Moore Elementary
2nd place: Jace White, Brockett Elementary
3rd place: Kawther Osman, Butler ElementaryFourth grade:
1st place: Vivian Tran, Fitzgerald Elementary
2nd place: Dawna Berry, Butler Elementary
3rd place: Jacob Fly, Fitzgerald ElementaryFifth grade:
1st place: Christina van Waasbergen, Butler Elementary
2nd place: Tyler Blake, Children’s University
3rd place: Tanner Greenwood, Corey ElementarySixth grade:
1st place: Amy Karlson, Children’s University
2nd place: Gideon Adeyemo, Lynn Hale Elementary
3rd place: Julian Lopez, Bryant ElementaryBy Sarah Bahari
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