This afternoon I listened to a podcast produced by the Minnesota Atheists which left me depressed. The podcast guest spent time in college studying philosophy & the ethics of morality. These studies, along with a lifelong passion for animal rights, let him to embrace first vegetarianism and later, veganism.
I listened to the podcast in audio format, although it is a cable television program and the video is also available. The discussion about the guest’s life experiences, education, philosophical beliefs, and decisions on diet were interesting. However, there was a video shared on the cable show which was very disturbing. I only heard the audio of it, though as I said the full version is available. I can’t bring myself to watch the video, or even to listen to the audio part again. It featured horrific details of what could only be describe as animal torture performed to cheaply produce meat and dairy products.
The audio had an extraordinary emotional effect on me. I find myself disgusted and overwhelmed. As a consumer, I am shocked and frustrated that I don’t have control over this treatment of animals.
But as a person who tries to also think skeptically, I am troubled by the video in a different way. Its shock appeal is not a logically sound argument. Surely, if animals are harvested for food in such a horrific way, and if I do not support avoidable torture of animals, I should not eat animals which were harvested for food. But is the premise of animal torture valid?
How can I know that animals are always harvested for food in such a horrific way? From where I sit right now, I can’t know this. I have not personally witnessed any of it. I don’t know if the data samples provided to me through media sources are the absolute worst of the worst, provided for sensational shock value, or if they reliably represent the majority.
But even if this premise is true, it doesn’t have to continue to be true.
Providing accessible protein sources is important. I understand that humans can live pretty well on non-animal protein sources. But if there is meat or dairy available to eat, people will continue to choose to eat it. And anyway, what am I going to start feeding my cats if I make a taboo against animal proteins?
Temple Grandin, who holds a doctorate in Animal Science, has done some pioneering work towards improving slaughter-house conditions. Its a complex issue, but if ethical treatment becomes a priority, it seems we could give nutrition to people and do so with a clean conscience. I recognize that this viewpoint may be naïve. However, its more naïve to think enough people would embrace vegetarianism to make a difference.