New Ethics for Omnivores

This afternoon I read an excellent article in The Atlantic that was written by two former vegetarians/vegans and one vegetarian simply titled “Eating Animals.” In the article they deposed some of the fallacies that have been fueling vegetarianism and veganism in the U.S. and make a case that eating meat can be healthful and ethical.

Since high school I’ve had quite a few vegetarian friends. While I have always respected them, I have never been able to respect most vegetarian propaganda. Because: “as any attentive observer of nature knows, life feeds on life. Every living thing, from mammals, birds, and fish to plants, fungi, and bacteria, eats other living things. Humans are part of the food web; but for the artifices of cremation and tightly sealed caskets, all of us would eventually be recycled into other life forms. It is natural for people, like other omnivores, to participate in this web by eating animals. And it is ethically defensible — provided we refrain from causing gratuitous suffering” (Nicolette Hahn Niman).

For me, Wendell Barry, Annie Dillard, numerous articles on nutrition and my own common sense/Biblical worldview were enough to convince me that eating meat can be healthy and ethical, both for myself and for the environment. But I appreciate the collective knowledge and research that these three contributing authors bring together in their article. For example, what Nicolette Hahn Niman learned as an environmental attorney:

“As I studied ecologically based food production, I learned that animals were essential to sustainable farms, which don’t rely on fossil fuels and chemicals. Animals can increase soil fertility, contribute to pest and weed control, and convert vegetation that’s inedible to humans, and growing on marginal, uncultivated land, into food. And as I visited dozens of traditional, pasture-based farms, and came to know the farmers and ranchers, I saw impressive environmental stewardship and farm animals leading good lives.”

Along with their collective research that found that, “Although health and nutrition research has yielded diverse and conflicting findings, there is consensus among mainstream experts: overconsumption of meat, dairy, and eggs can be harmful, but the optimal human diet includes some food derived from animals. “Animal source foods … play an important role in ensuring optimal health and function, and their consumption is particularly important for women of reproductive age, fetuses, and young children.”

While I support being omnivorous, I do share vegetarian and vegans outrage at inhuman commercial farming practices. Along with their concern about health. Instead of advocating abstinence from animal products, I believe that we should adopt the new ethics for omnivores, “rooted in moderation, mindfulness and respect,” that all three authors argued for.

One of the greatest benefits of the vegetarian and vegan movements in the U.S. is that they have brought with them more awareness and outrage at the awful practices of commercial farming. I am glad that as a result, it is becoming easier for the average person to find dairy, eggs and meat from sustainable and humane farms. Whole Foods is attempting to have a rating system for their meat so that you know the type of farm it is from. There are farmer coops you can be a part of in which you get groceries directly from farmers. Also, farmers markets and growing and spreading.

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