An Informal Discussion of the Ethics of Eating Meat

I wrote this piece in two stages. In the first stage, I felt fairly grounded in my position and in the second, I grappled with it more heavily. Throughout this piece I struggle with my own thoughts and perspective on this issue.

The other day, Firefox suggested an article called Are we wrong to assume fish can’t feel pain? Curious, I clicked on it. It was a fantastic article explaining and presenting evidence that fish are smarter, more socially adept, and overall more complicated creatures than we usually assume. Seriously, go read it if you haven’t. It’s long but it’s easy to read and digest while also packed with fascinating information.

It also brought up a question of ethics. Is it ethical to eat fish, given that they obviously feel pain? Do we need to rethink fishing methods?

This leads to other areas of similar thought, namely, is it ethical to eat meat at all?

I want to ask, is this even an ethical issue?

To some extent, yes, it is something to grapple with, a question of whether we should or should not eat animals. There are people on both sides for various reasons.

I can understand bringing ethics and humane treatment into how we obtain meat. The animal shouldn’t needlessly suffer. That, in fact, is often a reason people stop eating meat.

But I don’t think eating meat is itself wrong.

I’m finding that as I work through my reasoning for this that I’m questioning my motives for this belief. Do I think it’s okay to eat meat because I always have? Do I think it’s okay to eat meat because it tastes good? If that is why I think it’s okay, should I change my mind? Is taste and habit a real defense?

I have biases on this issue, and I’m well aware of them. I’ve gone hunting. My family has raised rabbits and ducks for food. In the case of the ducks, we ate the eggs and later the ducks. I helped my dad slaughter the ducks and I’ve helped him skin a deer. He processed rabbits, deer, and fish in our kitchen.

There are ways to avoid eating all animal products, but it is expensive and time consuming. If this became less of a barrier, it might change more people’s minds. Vegans have to put in a lot of extra effort to keep their food entirely plant-based.

Vegetarians, on the other hand, simply don’t eat meat, but may enjoy eggs, dairy, and other animal products which vegans don’t. Not all of them will, but it is possible.

There are ways to be vegan or vegetarian and get enough vitamins and minerals. That sometimes includes taking supplements to keep from having deficiency. Those supplements also increase the cost of the diet. In most cases, though, all the vitamins and minerals necessary can be obtained entirely from plants. That could change for people with allergies or other dietary restrictions.

I freely admit that eating meat or animal products isn’t required to live, at least in the developed world. If it was, this would not be a question of ethics, it would be of survival.

It is not a moral issue among other animals when one animal eats another, from our human perspective. Presumably the animals don’t discuss the ethics of what they eat and how they obtain their food. If they were capable of such discussions, they are still in a state of struggling to survive such that they wouldn’t have the conversation. Additionally, many animals are carnivores by necessity.

Humans are omnivores. Other animals, like some turtles, are omnivores. Gorillas eat insects and plants. Even dogs will enjoy apples, carrots, and other plants, though they are primarily carnivores.

This ethical discussion of eating meat only applies to areas of the world where the standard of living is high enough to suffer little consequence by cutting out meat.

If an animal is being put through massive suffering and poor living conditions to bring it to the table, I would feel that unethical. If, however, it was a free range chicken with plenty of space and good food and was killed quickly, I would have fewer reservations about consuming meat.

Ethics and morality are highly contextual. If you have ever explored the multitude of variations of the trolley problem, for example, you will know this. In the problem, either one person or five will die because of an oncoming train or trolley. In some iterations, you can push someone into the path of the train, in others you pull a lever to change the path. Depending on what is required to sacrifice one to save five can change a person’s answer.

It is the same with the ethics of eating meat. I’m thinking through everything and it’s complicated. It might be a simple thing for some people, but I went into this piece to defend eating meat. Now, I am open to changing my mind and my diet. In fact, that may be how this concludes.

To do more research for this piece, I watched this video from a vegan speaker. He brings up a lot of points and questions that I am grappling with. He used to eat meat and he grappled with it as well. This is very much a discussion with myself to explore what I think and why.

I don’t think I was wrong about what I said already, that if it were a question of survival, it would be different. If it were about maintaining an ecosystem, it would be different. If the animals were not bred specifically to be food and then slaughtered, it would be different. If there wasn’t needless suffering in the meat and dairy industry, it would be different.

There is a difference between the meat industry and hunting. In the latter, the animal was wild and you know how and when it was killed.

In Illinois, there is a problem with overpopulation of deer because humans killed off a lot of wolves in the area. There aren’t any predators for the deer anymore. Deer die because of cars, hunting, and hunger.

Why would it be gross to eat a deer but not a cow? If you eat beef, why not venison? Why the animals we do eat and why is it reprehensible to eat others? Why does eating veal (the flesh of a calf) and eating beef feel different? Why do I feel more disgusted by the former?

As far as survival is concerned, I view meat as acceptable. I’m not against animal products as a whole, either. But should I change my mind about eating meat? Since it isn’t necessary for me, should I stop?

I feel very stuck on this issue. I’m struggling to find valid reasons to excuse it.

The animals are not euthanized, they are slaughtered. Would that make a difference? If they were able to live good, full lives and did not feel pain when they died, would that be better?

I don’t want to give up meat, if I’m being honest. But I also don’t know that I can comfortably continue eating it without considering the animal that had to die. It’s unfortunate that something has to die for us to live, since none of us are plants or photosynthesize. The least we can do is give it the best life possible. I don’t feel that that is happening in most cases based on the information I have.

Due to my research and this complicated and rambling discussion with myself, I’m going to reduce and mostly eliminate meat from my diet at least until there is change. There is potentially a solution in lab grown meat, and if it becomes affordable I would be open to trying it. I have problems with the treatment of animals in the meat industry, so I will not support that for the sake of my taste preferences.

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Depression and Anxiety: My Story

I don’t often talk about my depression or anxiety. In a lot of cases where I think to talk about struggling with them, my anxiety kicks in to dissuade me. Today we’re going to talk about it anyway. It’s better that way. It’s just hard to convince myself that that’s true sometimes.

Several months ago, I wrote two paragraphs about how my depression paired with procrastination:

I struggle with depression. As much as I wish it didn’t, it affects my ability to finish articles for the blog. A disclaimer: I don’t deal with depression all the time, some days are better than others, and overall things seem to be improving.

Justine and I have talked about feeling swamped with the obligations we have offline and online. She has so many responsibilities, that sometimes my reason for not working on the blog when I have time feels like a cop-out, an excuse, and not a valid one. I could have been writing, but instead I was on Facebook, or Quora, or chatting with my friends on Discord, or anything else. I even open the Google doc I write my articles in. The tab sits, idle. I want to write, I need to write, but I don’t feel like doing anything. Sometimes I can force myself to write anyway. Other times I while away the hours on the internet, thinking how I’m not even enjoying myself but not liking any of my other pastimes any better in the present.

Some of that is still accurate. Sometimes. I still have days where I want to do nothing, I don’t feel like I can do anything, and I only get out of bed because I have to turn off my alarm. Generally, things have improved from when I wrote those two paragraphs. I started my personal blog in July and that’s forced me to focus. I worry every day about if I have content prepared, if I’ll keep up my daily posting, if I’ll miss a day, etc. Every. Day.

As far as depression goes, I had a lot of dark nights of feeling hopeless and worthless. I pushed through it, and while I felt really horrid for a long time after, I kept putting one foot in front of the other. If I hadn’t had strict deadlines for the last two years of high school, it probably would have taken me a lot longer to graduate than it did. As it was, no matter how unmotivated I was, no matter how much I didn’t feel like I could do anything that day, I had to force myself to get out of bed and do it anyway. Most of that force was fear of bad grades and of not finishing things on time and “what if I don’t graduate because I didn’t do this?” But I also spent a lot of time not doing homework when I should have been.

More recently, as I gained more control over my own life and my direction, I’ve dealt with depression less frequently. Things seemed especially bright around the time I started dating my boyfriend, last December. I had just gotten accepted into Praxis, so I knew what a year of my life was going to look like and I was so excited. Things were looking up. I noticed one month that I could feel the effects of depression but I was in an okay mood, none of the usual bad thoughts were there, which was unusual. This happened just about every month, and I think it may be partially connected to my period. This was quite the revelation.

I had one day that was so bad, depression and anxiety mixed together so well that I had to call off work. I was a mess, crying and irritable, and unmotivated and stressed out for no reason I didn’t think I could handle it. There were other days that were that bad where I still had to go in because to call off would get me fired. Those days were the hardest. Being on the verge of a mental breakdown while putting on a brave face and helping customers is probably the most difficult thing I have ever done. I don’t get a lot done when that happens, because I keep going to the bathroom about to cry, on top of all the other directions they pull me.

A lot of various interpersonal interactions make me uncomfortable and anxious. It’s normal to be nervous about public speaking and interviews, after all, they tend to be important. For me, those nerves can extend to other situations that aren’t strictly either. I can recall being asked to read a few Bible verses at youth group one night. To everyone. Unexpectedly. Over the speakers. I was shaking and hoped no one could tell how terrified I was. When I speak up and participate in group conversations, if I’m not familiar with everyone and comfortable with them, I get wild butterflies in my stomach. There’s been very few exceptions to this. Sometimes I have something I want to say but can’t. I have to convince myself to do it. If I finally do get to the point of forcing myself to speak, I feel shaky and nervous. It’s horrible, and it’s hard to convince myself that everything will be okay. So I tend to watch other people interact at group events rather than participate.

In really large group activities, I’ll latch on to a person or a few people I’m comfortable with and stick with them. If I lose them, it freaks me out and I feel lost and confused and strikingly out of place. I’ll frantically search for them or find a place to stand away from the crowd. Recently, my boyfriend and I went to a homeschool carnival my friends invited me to. I was a bit on-edge because of how many people were there, even though they were scattered over a large area. When I lost track of two of my friends, realizing they’d wandered off while I was absorbed in conversation with my boyfriend, I mentally freaked out. I scanned the crowd, trying desperately to find them. We found them and stood with them before going to wait for the carriage ride. Under the pavillion it was loud and my heart was beating fast and while I knew logically it was okay, I felt really unsafe. After the carriage ride, I felt really uncomfortable and out of place and very much not okay. So I said I was ready to leave. My boyfriend asked if I was sure, and I said yeah, so we said goodbye to my friends and left. I nearly burst into tears as we walked to my car and he asked if I was okay. And I said yes so I wouldn’t cry right then. I cried later, feeling horrible. I had wanted so badly to enjoy my time at the event with my friends and I couldn’t because I was so stressed out the whole time. I like to spend time with people, I really do, but I do much better with smaller groups of people that I know well.

Things can be really hard sometimes, but it’s not all bad. Since I started working at Walmart, I’ve gotten better at talking to strangers and feel more comfortable conversing with people I don’t know well. I also feel more in control of my life and that I’m moving toward my goals in a concrete way. That has helped me have more hope for the future, which erases a lot of the bad thoughts aspect that was so prominent in my depression. I know less about anxiety, because I realized more recently that I was even dealing with it and how it was affecting me. It seemed to be getting worse, but now that I know it’s there, I can take steps to better cope and combat it.

I may not have overcome my mental health problems yet, but I’ve made progress, especially in the last year. I may never be totally free of depression or anxiety, but I have hope for the future and know that it can and will get better. It will take time and effort, but I will get there.