When I think about the debate surrounding the ethics of eating meat, I often wonder why it is so difficult for meat eaters to admit that killing animals (to eat their flesh) is unethical? Truly, I cannot think of one sound ethical argument in favor of slaughtering animals for their meat.
The simplest way to put it is that slaughtering animals for their meat is a socially permissible ethical transgression. Societal permission does not make it ethical, it just makes it acceptable. Slavery was for centuries socially permissible (in spite of the fact that there was always a minority standing firmly against it). Did that make it any less unethical? I doubt anyone today would say yes.
As a pig farmer, I live an unethical life, shrouded in the justificatory trappings of social acceptance. There is more, even, than simple acceptance. There is actually celebration of the way I raise the pigs. Because I give the pigs lives that are as close to natural as is possible in an unnatural system, I am honorable, I am just, I am humane, while all the while behind the shroud, I am a slaveholder and a murderer. Looking head on, you can’t see it. Humanely raising and slaughtering pigs seems perfectly normal. In order to see the truth, you have to have to look askance, just like a pig does when it knows you are up to no good. When you see out of the corner of your eye, in the blurry periphery of your vision, you see that meat is indeed murder.
Someday, perhaps centuries from now, we will know this and accept this as well and as much as we know and accept the evil of slavery, but until that day, I am and will remain a paragon of animal welfare. Pigs on my farm are as piggy as pigness, the ideal form of the pig. They root, they lounge, they narf, they eat, they forage, they sleep, they wallow, they bask, they run, they play, and they die unconsciously, without pain or suffering. I believe I suffer their death more than they.
The grapple of ethics hooks us and we begin to struggle when we look askance. Do, so, please. See through the false legitimacy of the bucolic alternative to factory farming, an alternative that is but another obfuscating layer of the justificatory shroud that hides the ugliness of raising animals to kill so that we can eat their meat. Look and see who I am and and what I do. Look and see who and what the animals are. Look and see what is on your plate. Look and see that society acceptably says yes, Ethics, I believe, universally, unequivocally, and undeniably says no. How can you justify taking a life for gustatory pleasure? It is in looking askance, consciously, that we take the first steps in our evolution towards becoming the kind of beings who do not construct systems and infrastructures whose sole purpose is to kill beings whose sentience and capacity for an emotional and empathetic life we have barely scratched the surface of.
What I do is wrong, in spite of its acceptance by nearly 95% of the American population. I know it in my bones, even if I cannot yet act on it. Someday it must stop. Somehow we need to become the sort of beings who can see what we are doing when we look head on, the sort of beings who don’t weave dark, damning shrouds to sustain, with acceptance and celebration, the grossly unethical. Deeper, much deeper, we have an obligation to eat otherwise.
It might take incalculable generations of being hooked by and grappling with the ethics of slaughter to get there, but we really do need to get there, because again, what I am doing, what we are doing, is wrong.