First, we had one college student's diatribe against her vegan friend for refusing to eat animal products while along on a family camping trip, insisting that politeness trumps ethics. This morning, I stumbled across a piece from Washington University's paper ("The delicious flesh of animals") in which its Senior Forum Editor proclaims that "there is no real 'meaning' to a cow’s life, other than to be killed for the cow’s meat". According to AJ Sundar, taste buds trump ethics. Reflecting the sort of muddled thinking that results when proponents of welfarism around the world turn the question of the treatment of nonhuman animals into the main question with which we should concern ourselves (i.e. while ignoring the ethics of using them in the first place), Sundar writes:
Is this what happens when too many well-meaning former-hipster profs throw books by guys like Michael Pollan on the syllabus for "Arts & Humanities 1000" classes?
Perhaps animals ought to be treated in kinder terms, and I want to be very clear about where I stand: I do think that factory farming, or any other inhumane method of slaughtering and breeding animals, should be replaced by more humane methods of raising and killing animals. But I don’t think there is an extra obligation to refrain from killing animals altogether [...].
Sure, animals might lead a hard life on the range, what with the neutering and branding and penned-in spaces. But is it really that much worse than the average human’s life? Sure, factory farming is cruel, but surely raising animals in a free-range environment would be far kinder to the animals than in nature: Remember that it takes a wolf roughly half an hour to kill a cow, and the poor cow stays alive through most of this time as it gets eaten alive.
An article in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania's Weekender this morning ("Just say no to meat") was a good reminder of why advocating for anything less than veganism as a moral baseline when promoting the interests of nonhuman animals will, invariably, perpetuate serious moral confusion. Weekender's General Manager, Rachel Pugh, describes herself as a supposed vegetarian of "15 years" who, while having "dabbled with the vegan way of life", has also purportedly "dabbled" with eating animals, allowing "fish in and out of [her] diet for the past eight years". Following in the Jonathan Safran Foer mode of thinking, by which knowing and thinking about how animals are raised for us to use somehow nudges us up the moral ladder in terms of our own consumption ethics (i.e. regardless of our follow-through), Pugh claims to be "conscious" of what she eats and where it comes from and insists that after having watched the movie Food, Inc., she's "even more conscious than ever".
Hmm... So what does it mean to be "even more conscious than ever"? Apparently not a single thing. She writes that "others’ choices to consume meat and animal by-products has [sic] never been a concern of [hers]". Furthermore, her own use of animals isn't really a concern of hers, either:
I think I’m somewhat in the vegetarian minority due to the fact that I could care less about others’ meat eating habits. It just doesn’t rattle me. Perhaps this is because I wear antique fur, which makes me a total hypocrite. And I’m fine with that mainly because I love mink stoles from the 1940s. In my book, if it’s been dead for over 30 years, it’s fair game. I just wouldn’t kill anything now for an accessory. I should add, of course, if it dies of natural causes today, this is also fair game which is the case with my recently purchased water buffalo bone ring. See? There are exceptions to every rule but a girl has to have standards.Lesson learned? If you think that we should not exploit other sentient creatures because they have interests of their own, say so. And say why. Shrugging and suggesting that every little bit counts gives credence to the sort of wishy-washy half-hearted messages spread by people like Pugh, where lifestyle choices involving whether or not to be complicit in the use and slaughter of other sentient creatures are described as "dabbl[ing]" and where participating in this dabbling is written off as "personal preference".
Don't we really owe nonhuman animals more than that?