Who won the New York Times’ “ethical meat” essay contest?  »

You guys, check it out: The in-vitro-meat vegetarian won the essay contest in the New York Times! I voted for this essay, because of ethics and also aesthetics—it’s totally weird to think about eating meat that isn’t dead.

The last paragraph is particularly powerful; allow me to quote:

In vitro meat is real meat, grown from real cow, chicken, pig and fish cells, all grown in culture without the mess and misery, without pigs frozen to the sides of metal transport trucks in winter and without intensive water use, massive manure lagoons that leach into streams or antibiotics that are sprayed onto and ingested by live animals and which can no longer fight ever-stronger, drug-resistant bacteria. It comes without E. coli, campylobacter, salmonella or other health problems that are unavoidable when meat comes from animals who defecate. It comes without the need for excuses. It is ethical meat. Aside from accidental roadkill or the fish washed up dead on the shore, it is perhaps the only ethical meat.

So once the test tube meat comes, will you eat it? I am … undecided. It’s just so strange, I can’t wrap my head around it!


Which Times reader makes the best case for ethical meat? A Vegansaurus voter’s guide  »

Remember that contest the NY Times announced last month, calling on readers to “Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat”? The quintet of white dudes have chosen their finalists, and now you can read their six top essays and vote on which one makes the best case for (or against!) ethical meat.

I’ve quoted the best part of each one below, for your giggling/eye-rolling/cheering pleasure.

Contestant No. 1 says:

If it is not morally wrong to kill animals, then it shouldn’t horrify us to do so. That may be right. But this recognition has little tendency to remove the sense of horror we feel at what is going on.

Totally, contestant No. 1. If it’s not wrong, why is it so goddamn awful?

Contestant No. 2 says:

Almost 25 years after deciding it was wrong to eat animals, I now realize that it’s not that simple. There is an ethical option — a responsibility, even — for eating animals that are raised within a sustainable farm system and slaughtered with the compassion necessitated by our relationship.

Totally, contestant No. 2. You owe it to your “hapless chickens” to kill and eat them! If you’re not going to do it, how else will you prove your point?

Contestant No. 3 says:

Eating meat ethically, on this view, requires explaining why we kill by pointing to other things of moral worth. This does not justify the killing — if our situation is tragic, that cannot be our aim — but it does suggest how we can eat meat ethically, albeit wrongly.

Totally, contestant No. 3. On the scale of “murdering your children” to “buying some prepackaged chicken breasts at Costco because they’re already separated into servings and all you have to do is dump one on a pan and broil it and now your kids won’t starve on a busy Thursday night,” buying the dead chicken is less amoral.

Contestant No. 4 says:

For me, eating meat is ethical when one does three things. First, you accept the biological reality that death begets life on this planet and that all life (including us!) is really just solar energy temporarily stored in an impermanent form. Second, you combine this realization with that cherished human trait of compassion and choose ethically raised food, vegetable, grain and/or meat. And third, you give thanks.

Totally, contestant No. 4. We are all made of stars, which means if you say, “Thanks for not being a predator and for being made of delicious tissues, cow,” paying for someone to raise and kill and cut it up for you is like completing the circle of life. Also Native People, and Hakuna Matata.

Contestant No. 5 says:

Aside from accidental roadkill or the fish washed up dead on the shore, [lab-grown, in vitro meat] is perhaps the only ethical meat.

Totally, contestant No. 5. While it’d probably weird me the fuck out, if you really want meat, it’s got to be harmless, lab-grown tissues that were never part of a sentient being. I feel you.

And contestant No. 6 says:

The eating of animals is paramount to the production of food in a system that embraces the whole of reality. This is why eating meat is ethical. To not consume meat means to turn off a whole part of the natural world.

Totally, contestant No. 6. If you don’t eat meat, you might as well be a robot who eats oil, or like, one of those gross poor people who eat nothing but Oreos and Home Run Pies (for the fruit) and never sees the sun. It’s unrealistic not to eat meat!

I don’t know who I’m voting for. Maybe the proponent of the in vitro hamburger, because I like the “roadkill and pre-dead fish are the only ethical meat” argument. Maybe the one who points out that “killing things feels wrong because it is wrong, how about listening to your gut, jerks.” What about you? Who’s got your vote? You’ve only got till midnight tonight, April 24, to do it, so read up.

[Image from NYT by Russell Bell]


The bizarre, fascinating habits of chickens  »

"Is it anthropomorphic to say that hens find life more or less interesting? I’m told that battery farming isn’t too bad because the chickens don’t know any better (and it’s not for long, anyhow); you can’t miss what you never knew existed - the convenient concept of tabula rasa again. I’m sorry, but I can spot a happy chicken a mile off. Anyone who ever lived with chickens about the place wouldn’t spout such rubbish."

This lovely, engaging essay is well worth reading. A professor in England writes about the habits and hierarchies of his chickens, addressing battery farms and humane treatment as well. As a vegan, most of the written pieces that are brought to my attention are about animal atrocities and big-picture thinking. It’s important to be aware of those things, it’s true. But it’s also good to remember why animals are awesome in their own right.

"If I’m working in the garden, the chickens come, sit on the wall and watch. If I’m chopping logs, the tamer ones have a disconcerting tendency to hop on to the chopping block looking for tasty woodlice. They follow me into the shed and back out into the garage, through the side gate, tripping me up every time I turn, all the while murmuring and clucking softly. I think they may be reassuring me so I don’t get spooked."

I know that keeping chickens isn’t a vegan thing to do, but you should still read this article. And then send it to your relatives. He approaches the philosophical issue of humane treatment very thoughtfully and gently, without taking himself too seriously.

"Their preferences are astoundingly obvious, so what possible excuse could there be for giving them any less? If they like greens, why give them pellets? If they like sunbathing, why pack them into a tiny, noisy, smelly place with no natural light? If, as I suspect, the answer is something to do with the "efficiency" of food production, then the notion of efficiency is horrible, incompetent, brutalised and brutalising, and it’s certainly not in the interests of chickens at all. And I’m not sure that our ethical notions are all that more advanced than chickens’."

Author Peter Lennox is “senior lecturer in spatial perception in artificial environments and director of the Signal Processing and Applications Group, University of Derby.”

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