I’ve always loved the taste of meat. My family and I used to always gather around the table for a homely dinner of steak and potatoes once a week. Every Sunday we would reminisce and laugh over such meals, enjoying the comfort of such a hearty feast. Meat was an intrinsic part of my diet, and lifestyle. So much so that I rarely questioned the impact it had on myself, the world, and those beings I was consuming. It’s because I started to find answers to these questions that I now eat a completely plant-based diet.
Having eaten meat for thousands of years, it’s hard to consider such a diet could negatively affect the health of humans. However, upon learning of the overall negative health affects of eating animal products, I began to question my dietary habits. With such a diet increasing the BMI, cholesterol and blood glucose compared to those eating a plant-based diet, I started wondering what exactly I was ingesting several times a day. Moreover, why was I letting my family eat such an unhealthy diet? After all, I wanted to continue our Sunday family dinners without the risk of a heart attack mid-meal. With the reduced risk of diabetes and cancer, and the risk of coronary heart disease being 57% lower for those eating such a diet, the decision to change was obvious. When a diet can not only reverse the effects of coronary heart disease, but reduce the outcome of chronic disease, one must wonder why more people aren’t opting for such a diet.
Perhaps you may not be interested in the longevity of your life. However, the ramifications of eating animal-products affect both humanity and the environment alike. Due to the mass amounts of animal agriculture on earth – covering almost 45% of earths land – the amount of water, feed and forestry wasted on the industry is enormous. Animal agriculture accounts for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, 91% of Amazon Rainforest destruction, and 70% of global freshwater consumption. All of this goes to jeopardise humanity, as climate change is ever increasing. The UN even urges that “A shift toward a vegan diet is vital to save the world from hunger, fuel poverty and the worst impacts of climate change”. When comparing the water needed for 1kg of animal protein, it is 100 times the amount needed for plant protein. These plants also yield 37,000 pounds of food per 1.5 acres, compared to the 375 pounds of beef that is created with the same space. Moreover, animal agriculture needs upward of 200,000L per kg of beef due to the grain needed to feed the animals. This grain that is produced in the US for livestock, is 7 times the amount eaten by the US population themselves. Because of this, we are currently growing enough food on earth to feed 10 billion people in a world of only 7.4 billion. This is because much of the food we are producing is being fed to animals for human consumption. Of all the starving children in the world, 82% of them live where this food is being grown. Instead of being able to end their life-threatening hunger, they are denied any amount of food, so that western citizens can keep the luxury of cooked meat. By contributing to the animal agricultural industry, we are perpetuating the global injustice that is starving millions all over the world. To emphasise this wrongdoing, I’ll pose the same question that ethicist, Peter Singer has once before. Would you let a child die on the streets of your home town as you walked by? If not, why would you let it happen elsewhere? Relative closeness should not and is not a determinant for moral action. Not when - given the globalisation of the world and our current technologies - our actions impact those all across the world.
The moral philosopher of Princeton University, Peter Singer, has been contributing to this conversation for decades. He openly advocates the abstinence from meat through the a priori argument against animal suffering, and thusly eating meat. It is widely accepted that animals have moral status, after all we have animal rights for that very reason. We condemn those who bring unjust harm to an animal, whether it be our pet dog, a cow, or a wild bird. Like humans, we recognise that these nonhuman beings can suffer, and should not need to. Thusly, like humans, nonhuman beings are in the interest of avoiding suffering. It is this ability to suffer that merits moral consideration for all beings. This is what gives both nonhuman and human beings moral status.
Based on this interest, it can be understood that this merits the same moral consideration for humans and nonhuman beings alike. If then a being is suffering without proper justification, then the interest – of not suffering - of that being is being violated. If we consider it immoral to cause undue suffering on a being, and thusly violate its interest, then this action is morally wrong. Therefore, if it is morally wrong to cause undue suffering for a human, it is also, mutatis mutandis, wrong for all nonhuman beings.
Following this logic, we cause undue harm on animals every day when we confine, cage and kill them. This is all done for the selling and consumption of their flesh, which as we know is not necessary for the health of humans; it is quite the opposite. Therefore, harming animals for meat whether it be for the taste or for its nutrition is ultimately morally repugnant.
I understand how easy it is to detach yourself from this immoral act; I did so for years. Buying prepackaged meat from the grocers allows for a disconnect between the immoral action and what we eat. However, we live in a world where our dollar dictates the demand for such products. In abstaining from the consumption of meat, the overall demand for these food products diminishes. This ultimately reduces the amount of suffering caused to these beings, which as we now know is unjustifiable and unsustainable in today’s world.
These issues whether it be environmental, or moral are compounded by the fact that 6 million animals are killed for our consumption every hour. We rear 70 billion farm animals each year and submit them to the same fate; an immoral act almost too large to fathom. Beyond that, it is destroying our world as rainforests and oceans are degraded beyond repair. Farmed countries are left with the dying and starving, all so that we can enjoy the taste of a single steak. With that knowledge I cannot consciously enjoy a dinner with my family that stems for such atrocities, not when a meal would be just as enjoyable – if not more so – in the absence of meat on my plate. In doing so I know that I, through a minor change to my diet, am acting in the most conscionable way possible. If we all start to make this change, we can not only reduce the amount of suffering inflicted on this planet but also save the lives of countless beings. Both human and nonhuman alike.