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It’s Wrong to Kill Meat-Eaters

From: Isa Chandra Moskowitz To: Charles Eisenstein Subject: About "mindful" killing…

Hi Charles,

Let's say a woman is walking her dog in the park, and I come up and slit the dog's throat. Would it be of any comfort to her that the dog had a happy life? Would that make me any less of a monster? The issue at hand isn’t death. It’s killing.

Even a quick glance at the cats sitting on the sofa next to me, licking their paws and cuddling together, provides me with enough information to know that they would probably enjoy a couple more years of doing so. If an enjoyable life is what animals prefer, then isn’t a longer enjoyable life even more preferable?

Animal husbandry cannot satisfy animals' needs. A hen’s “natural” life would include roosting in a jungle and laying maybe 2 dozen eggs a year. Are you prepared to move to the jungle so that you can have your omelet? A cow naturally produces only enough milk for her babies. How is it “natural” for a human to take that milk from her? Even worse, how is it “natural” to take her baby from her? And at this point I will stop putting scare quotes around the word “natural” because I know it’s annoying. But you get my point. I feel silly even addressing the difference between plant life and animal life. It’s simply sentience. Yes, perhaps we do set up a hierarchy by valuing animal life over plant life. But you are wrong to assume the hierarchy must have humans on top. An ethical vegan extends moral community to the rest of the animal kingdom. This is the fundamental difference between vegans and everyone else. We know animals value their own lives, and it disturbs us that people dismiss animals' concerns. This is what you do, Charles, by thinking only in terms of animals' value to us. But in principle, it is possible for a vegan to value all animals equally, without placing humans on top of the hierarchy. It’s very strange to talk about a plant as possessing a "spirit." We have no reason to think that a plant has any experience of the world. It simply doesn’t have the necessary hardware. If a blade of grass has a purpose, it is an ecological purpose. But we don’t understand our purpose as human beings in ecological terms, so why should we think of plants this way? If you are hell-bent on thinking that plants have feelings, consider this: it takes many pounds of plants (anywhere from 5 to 25, depending on who you ask) to create one pound of meat. So if you wish to minimize sufferingand it sounds like you dothen a plant-based diet is still more ethical, because, all things equal, if suffering were measured in pounds, we should choose the least amount possible. When I first went vegetarian 18 years ago I painted the back of my jacket with a quote from the ’80s
British anarcho-punk band Flux Of Pink Indians—“Strive to survive causing least suffering possible.” I’ve since recognized that a) Painting slogans on your denim jacket is a little dumb and b) it’s a hackneyed version of utilitarian philosophy. But nonetheless, I think it’s a good ethical guideline and, for me, what ethical veganism is about. It is about minimizing suffering, and for the purpose of argument I include a life cut short as suffering. Even the “softest-hearted” vegan does not obsess about worms being eaten by robins. But sometimes nature is horrific. When animals tear each other apart (including, sometimes, human animals), we don’t regard this as a good outcome. Look at the terror in a gazelle’s eyes as a lion cuts it down: This is not a beautiful sight, and might fill you with a sense that something has gone wrong. That’s not to say that we need to hold the lion accountable—she can't choose to do otherwise.

Humans, on the other hand, are fortunate in that we can choose to abstain from this kind of violence. We have an omnivore’s digestive system, and brains capable of making ethical assessments and modifying our behavior accordingly. Nature is often sociopathic in its drive for survival, and doesn’t make a good foundation for human ethics. If, for some bizarre reason, you were forced to choose between killing a child and killing a tree, would you reflect on which was more beautiful, or consider the child’s capacity to suffer? Your image of the idyllic farm is compelling but I’m not sure where it comes from. Is this how you eat, or is it how you would like to eat? Forgive me for being skeptical, but I find that people who claim to be "ethical meat-eaters" don't usually follow through when it comes down to it. They’ll eat mom’s factory farmed turkey and meatloaf or even a fast-food burger in a pinch. And even in your ideal farm, there are still ethical problems. For instance, why is it necessary to kill the chicken that eats the insects that plague the cows? How would you feel about a society in which we all lived short, beautiful lives but were expected to accept death once we grew too old to contribute to society? According to Logan's Run, we’d all be dead at 30. And while the idyllic farm might address some of the arguments against vegetarianism, how realistic is it in a world with six billion people? We can eat animal products from these farms today because the prices are kept down by competition from factory farms. But if the world’s agriculture were turned over to this kind of pastoral model, we’d see the true cost of its resource- and labor-intensive practices. Would a cut of steak from this farm be attractive at $50 a pound? We’d see many more vegetarians for economic reasons if this kind of farming became widespread.
Mindful killing is still killing. Saying a prayer or giving thanks for what you've killed may assuage your own guilt, but it won’t do much for the cow, who has a lot more riding on your choice. You say killing is only wrong if the killer is callous about it. So is it okay for me to kill you, so long as I understand the consequences and feel compassion for you? Of course, I am not threatening to kill you, though your logic frustrates me. To wrap things up: Animistic societies came up with the idea of animal spirits, because they recognized that something meaningful was destroyed when they took the life of an animal. But today, we no longer need to take those lives. So what do you call a necessary evil that is no longer necessary? Love, Isa

NEXT: I'd rather kill a cow than chop down a redwood

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