22 December 2009

An article in the New York Times today battles a common meme that it is more ethical to eat plants than animals because they don’t feel pain.

Sorry, Vegans: Brussels Sprouts Like to Live, Too

“Even if you have quite a bit of knowledge about plants,” Dr. De Moraes said, “it’s still surprising to see how sophisticated they can be.”

It’s a small daily tragedy that we animals must kill to stay alive. Plants are the ethical autotrophs here, the ones that wrest their meals from the sun. Don’t expect them to boast: they’re too busy fighting to survive.

I, personally, find arguments regarding sustainability and environmental impact as more convincing arguments for vegetarianism than the ‘animals feel pain’ argument. Perhaps it’s the scientist in me that daily remembers that that I exist in an animal body and have animal needs, and that, regardless of ‘higher’ impulses, I am constrained by my physical being and my evolutionary nature.

I am an omnivore. I have nutritional needs that perhaps can be met on a vegan diet, but it requires effort that I consider unnatural. However, I think people eat too much meat, and I still do not understand how a burger at McDonald’s can cost less than a salad.

Historically, for most people, meat-eating was reserved for special occasions. For better and sometimes worse, refrigeration and mass transit have changed the immediacy of eating a just-slaughtered full animal.

I think I would feel better about eating meat if I slaughtered my own animal, but until I get there, I am comfortable eating it rarely, but for health and other reasons.  It does not make sense to elevate one animal kingdom above another as more worthy to live just because we belong to it.

An ancient thought that captures the difficulty of our duality as self-conscious animals.  Psalm 8:

5 What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou thinkest of him? 6 Yet Thou hast made him but little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. 7 Thou hast made him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet: 8 Sheep and oxen, all of them, yea, and the beasts of the field; 9 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea; whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

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