There's No Reason to Eat Animals

By Bait, Lindsay | Earth Island Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

There's No Reason to Eat Animals


Bait, Lindsay, Earth Island Journal


A vegetarian since her teenage years, Lindsay Rajt manages grassroots campaigns at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Rajt has coordinated campaigns targeting KFC's "torture" of chickens as well as the treatment of horses at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.

If we care about the environment and believe that kindness is a virtue--as we all say that we do--a vegan diet is the only sensible option. The question becomes: Why eat animals at all?

Animals are made of flesh, bone, and blood, just as you and I are. They form friendships, feel pain and joy, grieve for lost loved ones, and are afraid to die. One cannot profess to care about animals while tearing them away from their friends and families and cutting their throats--or paying someone else to do it--simply to satisfy a fleeting taste for flesh.

What does it say about us that we're willing to give animals a safe pasture and freedom from suffering only to betray them by killing and eating them in the end? Nicolette Hahn Niman argues in her recent book that it's acceptable to raise animals for food as long as they are treated humanely and killed quickly. But we wouldn't extend that philosophy to dogs, cats, or children. The inconsistency means that eating animals simply cannot be justified.

Ms. Niman assures consumers that the animals at the ranch that she manages with her husband, Bill Niman, have a "good life and an easy death." This likely conjures up images of pigs frolicking together, getting belly rubs and playing in mud puddles while turkeys strut about, gobbling along to music and eating fresh corncobs, melons, and grapes until they're peacefully euthanized at a ripe old age. Think again. While the animals at BN Ranch may have a better life and may face an easier death than the animals killed for Smithfield or Butterball, "good" is not an accurate description. What kind of good life ends at age 12, which is the human equivalent of the oldest non-breeding animals on farms such as hers? Niman's arguments are similar to those of slaveholders who advocated treating slaves more kindly but did not actually want to abolish slavery.

Ultimately, it's not our farming practices that need to change--it's our diets. As Niman knows, we cannot use only pastureland to produce the amount of meat that is currently consumed in this country. Approximately 10 billion cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys are killed for food each year in the United States alone. The sheer number of animals killed to satisfy people's taste for flesh makes it impossible to raise and slaughter them all on small family farms.

Claiming that meat eating can be ethical or eco-friendly tends to pacify people who want to feel as if they are doing the right thing but don't want to stop eating meat. Yet raising and killing animals is neither moral nor green. As Niman knows, meat production is resource-intensive and plays a role in nearly every major environmental problem, including climate change.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Animal agriculture is one of the world's largest sources of C[O. …

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