If you've been reading the site awhile, you'll know that I only eat humanely raised meat and eggs. This is a good way to be unpopular with everyone. People who eat meat dislike you because of the uncomfortable implication that they, too, should care about the suffering of the animals they eat. And vegetarians are apalled by what they regard as half-measures. Don't I realize that an innocent, adorable little animal died to provide my dinner?
I do. I take that seriously. But for animals (not for humans), I'm essentially an aggregate utilitarian: I think that as long as their lives are worth living, it is a positive good to eat them.
It is hard, to be sure, to determine what a chicken considers "the good life". However, I'm pretty sure that industrial farming conditions do not constitute a life worth living; if those chickens had the cognitive and mechanical capacity to commit suicide, they would. Likewise veal calves, pigs, and any other animal that lives its entire life confined in a darkened space too small to move, marinating in its own feces, and more than occasionally, those of the animals around them.
But if a bird or mammal has a decent amount of space in which to move, the company of its own kind, and the ingredients of such recreation (mostly hunting for food) as they are capable of enjoying, I consider that it is better for them to be born, live, and be killed for food, then never to have lived at all. Eating certified humane meat is not a compromise; it's a positive good.
I've had more than one vegan friend tell me that it's better for a cow never to be born, then to live its life as a slave. This strikes me as the comment of someone who has never spent any time near a cow.
Cows Bovine Americans do not have the same kinds of aspirations to liberty and self-actualization as the other residents of our great nation. They mostly want to chew. This routine is broken by short bouts of walking, the very occasional trot, and some lying down to enjoy the grass externally as well as internally. If they have access to the opposite sex, occasionally they will mate, a process that is nasty, brutish, and short. But even if you leave them the large print version of On Liberty and broadcast the Teaching Company's philosophy lectures into the pasture every afternoon, their political consciousness tends to remain very low.
By a similar logic I used to be a lacto-ova vegetarian. But milk cows and laying hens are treated worse than the members of their species who are raised for meat. And they're eventually slaughtered anyway; they just suffer longer before they die. Plus, you know what farmers have to produce a lot of, in order to keep their cows in milk? Veal calves.
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