An Ethicurean Dilemma

I recently wrote a brief opinion piece which was published in the Point Reyes Light. I was hoping that it would appear in the online edition, but it didn’t, so I’m reprinting it here for the edification of those who cannot access paper copies. Enjoy.

It was with great interest that I read the piece Chicken Slaughter: Killing Them Softly in the Pt. Reyes Light this week. In addition to being an eye-opening discussion of smaller scale poultry farming, the article also brought attention to the major loophole in the Humane Slaughter Act which allows poultry to be excluded from regulatory practices.

Ranchers like David Evans are striking a blow for the vegetarian and carnivorous communities alike, because I suspect that both can agree that all living creatures deserve humane treatment, whether they are being eaten or not. There seems to be a growing awareness in the United States about farming and agricultural practices, thanks to authors like Michael Pollan and major news events like the contamination of spinach with Escherichia coli.

More and more consumers are demanding to know the source of their food, and are attempting to find foods that are raised in a healthy and respectful way which is good for the environment, the consumer, and the food source. With a growing population, it’s time to think long term about American agriculture. Factory farming is not working for us: it is not humane, it is not sustainable, and it is not ethical. What it is, right now, is lucrative, and that’s something that is beginning to change.

As a former vegan, I can strongly sympathize with the belief of the vegetarian movement that animals are not for food. However, as a former farm girl, I also feel that animals, when raised and slaughtered in a humane and loving environment, are an acceptable (and tasty) source of protein. In my youth, I raised poultry, sheep, goats, and cattle for food, wool, milk, cheese, and other products, and I participated actively in their slaughter. Working as I do, in the raw vegan community, I am hardly biased on the side of meat consumers!

I’m proud of the Pt. Reyes Light for publishing such a bold article on farming practices, and for forcing their readers to think about the source of their dinner. Reading about the process of creating meat from living creatures can be disturbing, and in my vegan days I argued strongly that people should be exposed to the reality of farming, to where their chicken, beef, and pork were coming from, and that carnivores needed to think carefully before eating meat.

I firmly believe that it is better to be a conscious omnivore than a mindless one, and that there is a growing middle ground between vegetarianism and blind carnivorousness—it’s called being ethical. Being an ethical eater involves eating food in a way which is designed for provide the least harm. None of us are innocent: vegetarians, for example, can credit the commercial agriculture industry with the deaths of mice and other field animals at the teeth of combine harvesters. We should all be striving towards a goal of sustainable agriculture, even if some of us may personally disagree on the ethics of eating animals.

Even Peter Singer, author of Animal Liberation, one of the most groundbreaking books in the animal rights movement, agrees that it’s better to be an ethical omnivore than a mindless meat eater (or vegetarian). He applauds the growing push towards transparency in farming practices, arguing that anything which exposes the reality of factory farming to the public is a good thing—even if it’s an article which ends in promoting slaughter.

The question for me is not whether or not we have the right to eat animals, or whether we have dominion over them, but whether we have the responsibility to treat all animals ethically, and I think that we do. As fellow living creatures, I think we owe each other respect and humanity, and farmers like Evans are putting these ethics into commercial practice. Furthermore, I applaud articles like this one, which raise thoughts and discussion about animals, and their role in our lives. It is my hope that all readers, vegetarian and carnivore alike, came out of the experience with a desire to amend the Humane Slaughter Act to include poultry. Furthermore, I hope it raised awareness about sustainable farming practices, and led the readers to want to read more, to research alternate methods of obtaining food from wheat grass for juicing to rumps for roasting.