Why you should eat meat

If you care about animals, it is your moral duty to eat them | Aeon Essays
Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty

Not eating animals is wrong. If you care about animals, then the right thing to do is breed them, kill them and eat them

by Nick Zangwill is professor of philosophy and honorary research fellow at University College London. His books include Aesthetic Creation (2007) and Music and Aesthetic Reality (2015).

If you care about animals, you should eat them. It is not just that you may do so, but you should do so. In fact, you owe it to animals to eat them. It is your duty. Why? Because eating animals benefits them and has benefitted them for a long time. Breeding and eating animals is a very long-standing cultural institution that is a mutually beneficial relationship between human beings and animals. We bring animals into existence, care for them, rear them, and then kill and eat them. From this, we get food and other animal products, and they get life. Both sides benefit. I should say that by ‘animals’ here, I mean nonhuman animals. It is true that we are also animals, but we are also more than that, in a way that makes a difference.

It is true that the practice does not benefit an animal at the moment we eat it. The benefit to the animal on our dinner table lies in the past. Nevertheless, even at that point, it has benefitted by its destiny of being killed and eaten. The existence of that animal, and animals of its kind, depends on human beings killing and eating animals of that kind. Domesticated animals exist in the numbers they do only because there is a practice of eating them. For example, the many millions of sheep in New Zealand would not begin to survive in the wild. They exist only because human beings eat them. The meat-eating practice benefits them greatly and has benefitted them greatly. So, we should eat them. Not eating them is wrong, and it lets these animals down.

Of course, the animals we eat should have good lives, and so the worst kind of factory farming is not justified by this argument, since these animals have no quality of life. Life is not enough; it must be life with a certain quality. But some farmed animals do have good lives overall, and sheep farming in New Zealand is an example. Perhaps a minority of meat produced in the world today involves such happy animals. But it is a significant minority, one that justifies much eating of those happy animals. If demand shifted to these animals, there would be fewer animals in existence than there actually are. But that is OK, since the argument is not a maximising one, but an appeal to history

Yes, there is the day of the abattoir, and the sad death of the animal, which is not usually as free from pain and suffering as it might be. And there is other pain and suffering in the lives of those animals, such as when mothers are separated from their young. However, the pleasure and happiness of animals also matters, and it may outweigh pain and suffering – something usually overlooked by most of those who affect to care for animals. The emphasis among the defenders of so-called ‘animal rights’ on animal pain and suffering while ignoring animal pleasure and happiness is bizarre and disturbing. Human beings suffer, and their deaths are often miserable. But few would deem their entire lives worthless because of that. Likewise, why should the gloomy and unpleasant end of many of the animals we eat cast a negative shadow over their entire lives up to that point?

I suspect that the pleasure and happiness of animals is overlooked because they are not of our species. This is a kind of speciesism that particularly afflicts devotees of ‘animals rights’. All lives have their ups and downs; and this is true for animals as well as human beings. Both ups and downs are important.

It is this ongoing history of mutual benefit that generates a moral duty of human beings to eat animals. Were the practice beneficial only to one of the two parties, that would perhaps not justify persisting with it. But both benefit. In fact, animals benefit a lot more than human beings do. For human beings could survive as vegetarians or vegans, whereas very few domesticated animals could survive many human beings being vegetarians or vegans. Indeed, if many human beings became vegetarians or vegans, it would be the greatest disaster that there has ever been for animals since the time that an asteroid strike wiped out the dinosaurs and many other species…



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