Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Ethics of Eating Meat

The following is my answer to a question posed by the New York Times on eating meat. We were to address ethics only, not the multitude of side conversations on personal preference, whether meat is industrially produced, grass-fed, etc. I thought they should hear from a western range rancher.

The New York Times asks us to ponder the question, “is it ethical to eat meat?” As a cattle rancher born and bred, I have been wracking my brain to explain why I sleep soundly at night. I desperately want to reference the role of domesticated animals and the good lives they lead. What about tradition and the value of pastoral communities? And on and on. But I refrain, and through much thought have it finally straight in my mind.

Boiled down to its essence, this is a biological question. And biology says that humans are designed to consume meat. Of course many would disagree with me, for they believe research proclaiming that meat, specifically red meat, is bad for us. What isn’t reported is the vigorous debate surrounding this research, much of what is observational rather than cause and effect.   
The planet is in a constant state of living and dying. Plants grow up, mature, and are returned to the soil. Herbivores eat those plants, get eaten themselves, and also return to the soil. Decomposers then do their job of further breakdown, eventually providing nutrients for new plant life, and the cycle continues. It is no less, nor more romantic than that. We all face the same fate.

This ecosystem that sustains us is marvelously complex, efficient on a grand scale, messy, and rich with symbiosis - species working together in complementary ways. In seasonal climates, animals have been throughout time, an effective and transportable way to store the bounty of the growing season to be used later by meat eaters during the dormant season. These herbivores turn non-digestible plants into protein, fat, vitamins and minerals that coincidentally (?) provide just what a human body needs. This design is breathtaking in its genius.  

It’s only been in recent times with the ability to preserve food and transport fresh produce from warmer climates, that we in temperate zones have had the luxury of varied year-round diet selection. Has eating meat become unethical only of late, when we have bananas at Christmas and vitamins from a jar?

I respect each individual’s decision to consume meat or not, but to presume that we as a species have evolved to a point where we are above eating meat is ignorant or elitist, probably both.

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