The Ethics of Meat-Eating

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In its contest to find the best ethical case for eating meat, The New York Times assembled a high-profile list of judges, but they're all white men. Is consuming animals a feminist issue?

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Staunch feminist that I am, I am greatly enjoying the fuss over the all-male judging panel for The New York Times' contest calling on "carnivores to tell us why it's ethical to eat meat." The Times' ethicist, Ariel Kaminer, announced the contest in Sunday's magazine:

So today we announce a nationwide contest for the omnivorous readers of The New York Times. We invite you to make the strongest possible case for this most basic of daily practices.
We have assembled a veritable murderer's row of judges -- some of the most influential thinkers to question or condemn the eating of meat: Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Andrew Light.

In the graduate course in food ethics I taught at New York University a couple of years ago, I had the class read:

  • Peter Singer and Jim Mason's The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter
  • Michael Pollan's critique of Singer's views in The Omnivore's Dilemma
  • Jonathan Safran Foer's critique of Pollan in Eating Animals.

I also had them read a scientific paper (Whaley et al. J Nutrition 2003;133: 3965s-3971s) on the nutritional benefits of adding meat to the diets of children in developing countries.

Discussions, to say the least, were lively.

As for the other two: Mark Bittman writes eloquently about ethical issues in food choice for The New York Times. Although I am not familiar with the work of Andrew Light, a quick Google search reveals that he writes about the ethics of climate policy.

All happen to be white men.

On her blog, the "vegan-feminist intellectual" Carol Adams, author of The Sexual Politics of Meat, says:

Here's the crux of the problem, our culture is heavily invested in the identification of meat eating with manliness.... How could an intelligent woman miss the fact that her own panel of "ethicists" is male-dominated and that such a choice is, itself, an ethical issue?

Michele Simon writes on her blog, Appetite for Profit:

When I asked why all the judges were male, Kaminer replied that she couldn't find one female expert in food ethics with a fraction of the name recognition of the men. She argued that the famous male judges would bring far more attention to the contest, and in turn get more people to consider the ethics of meat eating.

Full disclosure: Michele puts me first in her list of ten women who should have been considered.

You can see why I am amused, no?

If you want to enter this contest -- and please do! -- send written entries of no more than 600 words to ethicist@nytimes.com. Entries are due by April 8.

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This post originally appeared on Food Politics, an Atlantic partner site.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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