Virtuous Meat Consumption: A Virtue Ethics Defense of an Omnivorous Way of Life

By Haile, Beth K. | Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Virtuous Meat Consumption: A Virtue Ethics Defense of an Omnivorous Way of Life


Haile, Beth K., Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture


CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIAN ETHICISTS and moral theologians have not, for the most part, attempted a serious ethical defense of an omnivorous way of life. Those who take the question of eating meat seriously from both an ethical and theological perspective usually do so in order to either oppose eating meat as totally unethical or to defend a vegetarian way of life as more morally sound than an omnivorous way of life. Stephen Kaufman and Nathan Braun's book Good News for all Creation: Vegetarianism as Christian Stewardship argues that Christians should adopt a vegetarian way of life as not only an embodiment of the love and compassion of Jesus Christ, but also the ideal way of practicing Christian stewardship. (1) In a similar approach Stephen Webb, co-founder of the Christian Vegetarian Association, argues in his book Good Eating that a vegetarian diet is a biblical ideal, advocating it "not as a prerequisite for Christian faith, but [as] a consequence of the Christian hope for a peaceable kingdom, where God will be all in all and all violence will come to an end." (2) In The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory, Carol Adams argues that there is an underlying affinity between feminism and vegetarianism in that historically, women have been treated as "pieces of meat" by men who objectify, commodify, and eventually consume them. According to Adams, the oppression of animals and the oppression of women are both byproducts of a patriarchal system that can be challenged by adopting a vegetarian lifestyle. (3) In an article in America Magazine, Thomas Witherell writes about his own moral struggle with adopting a vegetarian life and concludes that on an ideal level, "both the Jewish and the Christian moral imaginations move towards vegetarianism and cosmic non-violence." (4) Though he notes that vegetarianism is not an absolute moral requirement, he offers no moral defense of a meat-eating way of life besides the fallenness of the world, in which sometimes, humans need to kill in order to survive.

Recently, John Berkman published an article in Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture entitled "The Consumption of Animals in the Catholic Tradition." This article, rather than presenting a moral argument either for or against the consumption of meat, rather presents a survey of the complex history of Catholics on the topic, exploring the ascetical, medicinal, and eschatological reasons Catholics have chosen to abstain from flesh. Berkman concludes that Catholicism is a religion most certainly compatible with, if not encouraging of, vegetarianism. (5)

What does not exist in the literature, however, are any moral theologians offering a moral defense of eating meat, despite the fact that most do. The question of eating meat is an important issue for moral theologians to address, not just in order to defend a vegetarian way of life, but in order to defend an omnivorous one, especially in light of all the moral arguments against eating meat. Working within the Roman Catholic tradition, this paper will attempt to provide a moral defense of an omnivorous way of life by following the principles of virtue ethics. This tradition, as Romano Guardini writes, "seeks to do justice to the living majesty, nobility, and beauty of the good." (6)

The Questionable Ethics of Eating Meat

Many people realize the questionable ethics of eating meat when they learn about modern husbandry and slaughtering techniques. (7) In 2008, 17,328,000 cattle, 4,590,314,000 chickens, and 57,542,000 hogs were slaughtered for food. The factory farm industry uses selective breeding and growth-promoting antibiotics to unnaturally and painfully produce animals ready for slaughter as quickly as possible. Most factory farms house their animals in small, overcrowded confinements, prohibiting the animals from engaging in their natural habits like foraging, nesting, roaming, and running. The slaughtering processes themselves are also quite atrocious, with practices like cutting the beaks off of chickens and the tails off of cows pre-slaughter commonly utilized.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Virtuous Meat Consumption: A Virtue Ethics Defense of an Omnivorous Way of Life
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?