Letter to the New York Times: The Ethics of the Ethicist

What follows is a letter signed by 59 scholars, artists, writers, and physicians (including me) who disagree with the motivation and spirit of the New York Times Magazine’s “Defending Your Dinner” contest. Please spread this letter far and wide. We very much hope it will be published. 

Editor, The New York Times Magazine

Dear Editor,

We are a diverse group of scholars, researchers, and artists from such disciplines as philosophy, women’s studies, sociology, law, political theory, psychology, and literary studies, writing to take sharp issue with the Magazine’s decision to run a “Defending Your Dinner” contest.

Do ethical vegetarians, a growing but still quite small percentage of the population, pose such a “threat” to the meat and dairy industries that the Times Magazine must now invite its millions of readers to shout them down?  Is the point of this contest really to open up honest debate about the meat industry, or is the point, rather, to close it down?

We find it disturbing that the Magazine would organize such a one-sided contest, and moreover that Ariel Kaminer should introduce it with such frivolity. “Ethically speaking, vegetables get all the glory,” Kaminer writes, caricaturing vegans as members of a “hard-core inner circle” who have “dominated the discussion.”  With her very breeziness (“Bon appetit!”), Kaminer seems intent on trivializing the warrant for ethical veganism.  A more serious-minded critic would have given at least cursory attention to the empirical basis of the position, namely, the known facts about animal cognition and the unspeakable suffering that farmed animals endure so that they can end up as meat on our plates.

First, there has been an explosion of scientific research in recent decades showing beyond any doubt that many other species besides our own are emotionally and cognitively complex.  Farmed animals are capable of a wide range of feelings and experiences, including empathy and the ability to intuit the interior states of others.  The evidence suggests that they experience violence and trauma to their bodies as agonizingly as we do.

Second, most people are now aware of the horrific cruelty and violence that goes on behind the locked doors of the meat industry.  Billions of cows, chickens, pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, and aquaculture fish suffer each year in abominable conditions, then are brutally slaughtered, many of them while they are still fully or partially conscious.  Such so-called factory farming accounts for 99% of the meat consumed in our society.  The mass slaughter of oceanic fish, meanwhile, is so catastrophic to marine life that even the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia (the academic arm of the Canadian fishing industry) has frankly compared today’s commercial fishing campaigns to “wars of extermination.”

These and other facts have led a majority of contemporary moral philosophers who have studied the question to conclude that killing animals in order to eat them is not a morally defensible human interest, certainly not in a society such as ours, where vegan alternatives are widely available.

Even on purely prudential grounds, i.e. human self-interest, meat finds no rational justification.  Numerous studies have shown meat-based diets to be associated with myriad negative health outcomes, including higher risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer (to name but two).  Meanwhile, animal agriculture has proven to be an ecological and public health catastrophe, poisoning human water supplies, destroying vast tracts of the rainforests of Latin America, causing soil erosion, and creating dangerous new pathogens like Avian Flu and Mad Cow Disease.  Animal agriculture is also one of the leading sources of global warming gas emissions.

Given these and many other facts demonstrating the nightmarish consequences of the meat industry for humans and nonhumans alike, why has the Magazine invited its readers to defend that industry, their essays to be judged chiefly by proponents of “humane” meat eating?

Kaminer implies that she has assembled the most judicious and meat-averse line-up of judges, a “murderer’s row” that will be hard to persuade of the case for eating meat.  But is that true?  Michael Pollan promotes Joel Salatin and other organic meat producers.  Mark Bittman publishes meat recipes. Peter Singer has consistently defended, in principle, the killing of nonhuman beings for human purposes (provided that it be done “painlessly”).  Jonathan Safran Foer, in his otherwise admirable book “Eating Animals,” defends small animal farms and backs away from open advocacy of vegetarianism.  Only Andrew Light seems to hold a position that finds no ethical justification for meat eating as such.

So the contest’s overt bias (“Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat”) is compounded by its pretense with respect to the judging.  Kaminer might instead have tapped any of dozens if not hundreds of prominent scholars, writers, critics, and well-informed activists who unequivocally oppose meat production for ethical reasons.  The fact that she did not tells us everything we need to know about how seriously Kaminer takes the “ethical” issues at stake in this debate.

Kaminer’s lack of balance reveals itself further in her having stocked her bench solely with men, when there are so many prominent feminist theorists and writers available to provide a critique of our society’s masculine penchant for organized violence against vulnerable populations, whether against women and girls, foreign peoples, or other species.

There is an important debate to be had about the ethics of killing and eating animals.  But this is not the way to have it.  Honest ethical inquiry begins with the question, “How should we live?” or “What should I or we do about ‘X’?”  It does not begin with a predetermined conclusion, then work backwards for justification.  To throw down a rhetorical gauntlet–“Defend X as a practice”– is not to open up an ethical conversation; it is to build closure into the inquiry, and to stack the deck from the outset.

Signed*,

Karla Armbruster, Ph.D., Professor of English, Webster University

Anurima Banerji, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Department of World Arts and Cultures, UCLA

George Bates, DVM, Associate Professor of Veterinary Medical Technology at Wilson College

Kimberly Benston, Ph.D., Francis B. Gummere Professor of English, Haverford College

Susan Benston, M.D., Visiting Assistant Professor of Writing, Haverford College

Chris Bobel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Women’s Studies, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Carl Boggs, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, National University

G.A. Bradshaw, Ph.D., Director of the Kerulos Center & President of the Trans-Species Institute

Thomas Brody, Ph.D., Staff Scientist, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland

Matthew Calarco, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, California State University, Fullerton

Jodey Castricano, Ph.D., Associate Professor Critical Studies, University of British Columbia (Okanagan Campus)

Elizabeth Cherry, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Sociology, Manhattanville College

Sue Coe, Artist (represented by Galerie St. Etienne, New York City)

Susana Cook, Playwright (New York City)

Ellen F. Crain, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine

William Crain,  Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, The City College of New York

Karen Davis, Ph.D., President of United Poultry Concerns

Maneesha Deckha, LL.M., Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Victoria (Canada)

Margo De Mello, Ph.D., Lecturer, Central New Mexico Community College

Josephine Donovan, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of English, University of Maine

George Eastman, Ed.D., Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Berklee College of Music

Stephen F. Eisenman, Ph.D., Professor of Art History, Northwestern University

Barbara Epstein, Ph.D., Professor, History of Consciousness Department, University of California at Santa Cruz

Amy Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology, University of Windsor (UK)

Gary L. Francione, J.D., Distinguished Professor of Law, Rutgers University Law School-Newark

Carol Gigliotti, Ph.D., Faculty, Emily Carr University, Vancouver, BC (Canada)

Elizabeth A. Gordon, M.F.A., Instructor of English, Fitchburg State University

Roger Gottlieb, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Michelle Graham, M.A., Lecturer, Department of Writing, Literature & Publishing, Emerson College

Kathy Hessler, J.D., LL.M., Clinical Professor & Director, Animal Law Clinic, Center for Animal Law Studies, Lewis & Clark Law School

Laura Janara, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia (Canada)

Victoria Johnson, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri

Melanie Joy, Ph.D., Professor, University of Massachusetts, Boston

Joseph J. Lynch, Ph.D., Professor, Philosophy Department, California Polytechnic State University

John T. Maher, Adjunct Professor of Animal Law, Touro Law Center

Bill Martin, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University

Atsuko Matsuoka, Ph.D., Associate Professor, School of Social Work, York University (Canada)

Timothy M. McDonald, M.F.A., Assistant Professor of Art, Framingham State University

Jennifer McWeeny, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, John Carroll University

James McWilliams, Ph.D., Associate Professor, History, Texas State University

Helena Pedersen, Ph.D., Research Fellow, Faculty of Education and Society, Malmö University (Sweden)

Steven Rayshick, Ph.D., Professor of English and Humanities, Quinsigamond Community College

Carrie Rohman, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English, Lafayette College

John Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Philosophy, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Kira Sanbonmatsu, Ph.D., Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University

Richard H. Schwartz, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Mathematics, College of Staten Island

Michael Selig, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Emerson College

Jonathan Singer, Doctoral Student, DePaul University

John Sorenson, Ph.D., Professor and Chair, Department of Sociology, Brock University (Canada)

H. Peter Steeves, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, DePaul University

Gary Steiner, Ph.D., John Howard Harris Professor of Philosophy, Bucknell University

Marcus Stern, M.F.A., Lecturer in Dramatic Arts, Harvard University

Deborah Tanzer, Ph.D., Psychologist and Author

Susan Thomas, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Gender and Women’s Studies, and Political Science, Hollins University

Gray Tuttle, Ph.D., Leila Hadley Luce Assistant Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University

Richard Twine, Ph.D., Department of Sociology, Lancaster University (UK)

Zipporah Weisberg, Doctoral Candidate, Programme in Social and Political Thought, York University (Canada)

Tony Weis, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of Geography, The University of Western Ontario (Canada)

Richard York, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies, Director of Graduate Studies for Sociology, University of Oregon

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

50 Responses to Letter to the New York Times: The Ethics of the Ethicist

  1. C says:

    The other side of this is that even crowd-sourcing from the elite and over-educated readers of the NYT, all of the arguments SUCK! They range from “wrong to completely wrong to not even wrong” (to steal from a philosopher whose name I can’t remember). The only coherent defense presented is the essay for that defends eating lab-meats (and so is merely wrong about what the argument is about). Might as well have been a defense of eating Quorn. Even using crowd-sourcing, there is still no intellectually respectable defense of meat-eating. The wisdom of the crowd has spoken.

    • wolfkin says:

      All the more reason I don’t understand why the contest itself is so offensive.
      ==

      Kaminer might instead have tapped any of dozens if not hundreds of prominent scholars, writers, critics, and well-informed activists who unequivocally oppose meat production for ethical reasons.

      ==
      This doesn’t actually address the issue. We already know why Vegetarians and their ilk don’t eat meat. Those reasons have been documented and are constantly streamed from near every media source you can find (books, TV, reality TV, movies, radio, video games, blogs, my social media networks) to varying degrees of loudness. The question is why do the rest of us eat meat in the face of the seemingly lack of ethical incentive. This shouldn’t be offensive to non-meat eaters. What we should see if a singular (winner) well thought out list of reasons why you should feel ethically ok about eating meat. At which point you can look at this list and simply say “No, these points are wrong and here’s why”. The conclusion then is that even well thought out ethical purposes for meat eating is wrong and the non-meat eaters “win” again. This letters asks “Do ethical vegetarians, a growing but still quite small percentage of the population, pose such a “threat” to the meat and dairy industries”. I pose the opposite. There’s no ethical reason for eating meat? Why are you so disturbed that someone would ask for one? This is functionally the same as the NCAA getting all up in arms if a reporter asks WHY George Zimmerman thinks it’s ok to be racist. I openly invite someone to write an essay on why it’s ethically ok to be a racist. I would gladly take the opportunity to completely and totally decimate each and every one of their points.

      • Ellie Maldonado says:

        In most of the avenues you mention, vegetarians are marginalized, vegans are even more so. Animal rights advocates have been ridiculed on TV shows, if not criminalized.

        I wouldn’t have objected to the contest if the New York Times gave equal space to rebuttals. Sure we could send all send letters to the Editor, but there isn’t much chance the NYT will publish them. I think this letter has a better chance of being published.

      • wolfkin says:

        I disagree Ellie. It’s true that vegetarians are marginalized, mocked, and caricatured, and it’s true that traditionally this has been the only way they have been portrayed but in contemporary media I don’t really think that’s the case any more. A lot of celebrities like Andre 3000 (arguably one of the greatest rappers of all time some think) are well known vegans (even if they aren’t most well known as such) and they aren’t considered particular. There are exceptions like Alicia Silverstone but it’s no longer really at the point where if you say you’re vegetarian people assume you’re a kooky hippie. Maybe a bit strange but not so weird we need to move away from you. Even Animal Rights activist aren’t always just opening lab cages to free rabbits in New York City. If a girl is a vegan on reality TV yes we assume she’s “that” girl but noone really cares so much.. well maybe on reality TV but realty TV isn’t really reality per se.

        If anything this life style is more ignored than mocked that I can see. Sure there’s a story here or a blog there but no more than any other lifestyle.

      • Ellie Maldonado says:

        I agree in part, Wolfkin, but I think mocking is still an issue, albeit not for celebrities because their fans love them.

        About 2 years ago an episode of The Mentalist portrayed an animal rights advocate as a real nut job. He looked weird; there was a cat walking all over his computer; and he said “bugs rule the earth”. With this one member of The Mentalist’s team whispered to another that the advoate was “crazy”.

        ( I wrote to CBS to remind them of our dependence on bees, and sent along a similar statement to the one that was labeled “crazy”, i.e., a science article titled “Viruses rule the deep sea”:
        http://classic.the scientist.com/blog/display/54977/ )

        Around the same time, McDonald’s did an outrageous TV commercial of a fish who didn’t want customers to eat fish, asking them to empathize with his fate. This seemed to animal advocates, including myself, to poke fun at the animal rights message.

        Also, prior to September 11th, the FBI declared animal rights extremists the number 1 domestic terrorist threat.

        But I do agree that the animal rights philosophy is ignored by the mainstream media, to the extent that very few people even know what it is.

  2. Ellie Maldonado says:

    I’m elated! It’s wonderful to witness 59 scholars, artists, writers and physicians join together to write and sign this most poignant letter on behalf of nonhuman animals. And I think it’s absolutely right to challenge the New York Times on this contest, as it’s apparently closed to meaningful discussion. Thanks to all who wrote and signed this letter. If any letter to the Editor should be published, it’s this one.

  3. Morna Crites-Moore says:

    When I first read Mark Bittman’s challenge – Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat – I thought it was nothing short of brilliant. Obviously, I thought, nobody would be able to make an argument for any ethical reason to eat meat. The lack of entries would prove the point. Boy was I wrong. They received thousands of entries! And they actually, seriously judged them. Apparently, lots of people think it is ethical to eat meat.

    • Morna Crites-Moore says:

      Oops! Don’t know why I put Mark Bittman’s name in there! Correction: Ariel Kaminer issued the challenge.

  4. cheapv says:

    Bravo! Some of what’s been coming out of the New York Times these past several weeks concerning veganism vs. choosing to exploit other animals has been just plain old sensationalist and shameful.

  5. Butterflies says:

    Shared and in support of this letter being printed by the New York Times!

  6. brian lindberg says:

    I didn”t see any farmers signing your letter (…you know, some folks just don’t like to see a lot of letters after a fellow’s name….makes them uneasy…)….so here’s one:

    Brian Lindberg, farmer, Newt’s Ranch, Creston, California

    • CQ says:

      Hey, Brian,

      Since you’re a vegan and a farmer, maybe you’d consider responding to fellow California farmer “Mountain”: https://eatingplantsdotorg.wordpress.com/2012/04/24/the-animals-almanac-cherish-them-with-warmth

      He makes the claim that vegans cause many wild animals to be killed, which, in his view, could be considered a form of speciesism. I figure your answer is bound to be better than anything a vegan city slicker could say.

      Do you farm veganically? If so, then you wouldn’t use chemical herbicides or pesticides or fertilizers — or animal blood or bones or manure, right?

      And, according to what I’ve read, you wouldn’t need to till the soil, is that right?

      And maybe you wouldn’t even need to irrigate, correct?

      If all that is true, then it seems a veganic farmer wouldn’t have to harm any wildlife.

      In which case if we vegans all bought veganically grown produce and no animal products, we’d be killing neither directly nor indirectly. Does that sound correct — and feasible — to you?

      Thanks for your input.

      • Ellie Maldonado says:

        I’d like to know about this too. If I may add a thought to this, there’s a difference between demanding the death of farm animals, and the incidental death of field animals, despite taking precautions. I’ve met farmers who chase animals out of their fields before they use a tractor, or who plant crops when animals aren’t around to eat them, so they can avoid causing them harm. Other crop farmers deliberately kill field animals to protect their profit.

      • Mountain says:

        No, there really isn’t a difference between the death of farm animals in meat production & field animals in grain production. The field animals would tell you this but, oops, they’ve been killed in the production of grains.
        d
        There isn’t a difference because the deaths are a necessary part of that particular food production system. The mechanized industrial processes involved in growing grains require vast fields in which the only living thing is the grain itself; any field animal, bird, insect, weed, or soil life that could consume or compete with the grain must be destroyed. That’s because grains don’t thrive in diverse environments; they thrive only in monoculture.

        If I knew any vegans who ate only fruits, nuts, and vegetables, I could agree with them that they were causing minimal animal suffering. But every vegan & vegetarian I know eats grains & legumes, and there’s nothing ethical about that.

      • Ellie Maldonado says:

        Mountain, I don’t think anyone here is claiming the vegan diet is free of harm. That’s why I’ve tried to grow my own vegetables, but haven’t had much success in a city apartment. Vegans don’t want to field animals to be harmed, but we can only do the best we can.

        I don’t gloat in the reality that many more deaths result from animal farming. Not ony are billions of animals slaughtered, but most of the world’s soy, corn, and grain is used for animal feed. Last time I checked, it was 70% of the world’s grain, and 80% of the world’s soy. So even if we only consider the interests of field animals, animal farming causes them much more harm.

  7. It looks as if “Ethicist” columnist Ariel Kaminer will be stepping down and that this weekend’s column will be her final one. Coincidence? In his memo concerning it, New York Times editor Hugo Lindgren not only defends the contest, but applauds:

    “While her official goodbye column closed this week and will run in the April 29th issue, she will unveil the results of her overwhelmingly popular ‘ethics of meat eating’ writing competition (which set a new impossibly high standard in reader-engagement projects) in the May 6 issue and then will close the cover story for the May 13 issue. That story could well be one of the biggest of the year for us.”

    Shameful.

    http://my-face-is-on-fire.blogspot.ca/2012/04/copy-of-letter-to-new-york-times-ethics.html

  8. Sanjra Mortimer says:

    I am seriously wondering about the content of these entrants pieces… I cant think of a single reason as to why its ethical to eat meat.
    So, the winner will be the one to write the most convincing fairy tale, yeah?

    • wolfkin says:

      seriously we SHOULD be interested in these entries. These entries will give insight into why meat eaters eat meat and reject vegetarianism. Such information would be invaluable in developing a strategy to converting the nation to a no meat diet. If you knew what people thought you would know how to better educate them and there for win them over to your cause. There are entire papers on why integration worked to reduce the influence of racism because it was the only way to get people to actually see the minority and realize all their belief about them were wrong. Functionally you can’t do the same thing with animals/meat.

      While most people ignore vegetarians as cooky and a bit “crack pot”-like maybe actually asking them will lead to specific prejudices that you can approach and correct.

      • Larry says:

        As your comment makes clear, vegetarians and vegans are not so much crackpots as they are evangelist preachers. They have a very specific, narrow, and unchangeable view of the world that they want everyone else to embrace. This, of course, will inevitably antagonize people who would otherwise simply ignore them and leave them to their self-imposed dietary restrictions.

  9. Cecelia says:

    I support this letter in its entirety. It makes me sad that such an important issue/debate turned into a backwards thinking effort. But we all know it was written for the masses and not for a real, ethical reason. Veganism has a place in the future whether meat eaters like it or not because we cannot keep doing what we are doing. There’s a ceiling and its about to burst. The suffering of non human animals is just too much for this planet. I read that Mad Cow made an appearance in California this week; chicken is packed with arsen and countless other reasons why this is insane. I am disappointed this contest was set up this way – the magazine has a real shot at making a planet saving shift in the mindsets of countless people … but they glossed over it with a “joke.”

  10. Just wondering…… you mention in the article intro that you are a physician yet the signature area of the article lists you as an associate professor of history.

    • “What follows is a letter signed by 59 scholars, artists, writers, and physicians (including me)” . . . .
      I can see how this construction might lead you to include that I was referring to myself as a physician. The parenthetic clause refers to “59 scholars, writers, and physicians” rather than to the last item in that list of four professions. I’m a scholar and writer, rarely an artist, and never a physician. Sorry for any confusion.

  11. Jamie Berger says:

    This is an awesome letter and I hope they publish it. I used to really like the NYTimes but the bias of this contest and other recent articles is absolutely absurd.

    This one made me even more upset than the Ethical Meat contest: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/16/the-challenge-of-going-vegan/

    It’s bursting with flippant, dismissive, unfounded claims like: “As countless aspiring vegans are discovering, the switch from omnivore to herbivore is fraught with physical, social and economic challenges — at least, for those who don’t have a personal chef.” Economic? Really? What about the many vegans who say changing their diet has been one of the easiest things they’ve done, and that it has only improved their health and decreased the strain on their wallet?

    Language in phrases like the following: “Substitutes like almond milk and rice milk can shock the taste buds” is so dramatic and exaggerated. There is nothing shocking about common milk substitutes, and I have never heard anyone claim that there is.

    This tops it all off: “But my husband is the Midwest meat-and-potatoes man. Coming home to vegetable-stuffed green peppers doesn’t turn him on as much as a steak and baked potato would.” Now vegans are turn-offs, and eating flesh is sexy.

    I will concede that socially, veganism can be difficult at times. But what bothers me most about this article–as well as most of the others concerning veganism or meat eating on the NYTimes– is that they are so disgustingly one-sided and do not address ANY of the reasons why veganism is such a good choice. If they seriously considered the reasons to adopt a plant-based diet alongside reasons to remain an omnivore (like the ones above), the arguments for omnivory (including all those selected for the Ethical Meat contest) would be exposed as the ridiculous, even laughable, claims that they are.

    • wolfkin says:

      I don’t think that’s fair to the traditional food lifestyle and produced food. Yes the language is inflammatory and full of hyperbole but I don’t like Soy/Almond Milk, it does taste different (though not “shocking”). I realize that as a vegan you see it as one in the same but I think you really have to separate the ethics and practicality of this food lifestyle.

      Every article can’t be seven paragraphs on why Veganism is the only logical/ethical/evolutionary food lifestyle. This article specifically addresses the challenges one faces AFTER you’ve decided to change food lifestyles. Maybe that “sexy” bit is wrong but the point of the article is that when you go Vegan you have to consider food. It’s no longer as simple as eating the first thing that comes to your mind. You have to stop and consider does this food item contain meat. The article (which doesn’t actually cite numbers) does imply that many people haven’t realized this when they decided to change foodstyles. This extra effort has cause many people to give up, and actually as I finish the article I don’t think that’s the conclusion. The article seems to basically suggest that it’s just the nature of the lifestyle and people switching have to deal with it. It also says that people DO deal with it. If anything it’s more of a jump off point for discussion on WHY people face these issues. (i.e. Why is meat so subsidized? Why are fruits and veggies so expensive but Pepsi so cheap? etc)

      I think there is value in knowing what will challenge you when you change a habit. Smoking is bad but throwing away your cigarettes unprepared isn’t how you quit smoking (not impossible, just not suggested). Seeing as Smoking and Eating Meat are legal it’s probably best not to try to go cold turkey unawares because you’ll just backslide (as opposed to Wife Beating and Slavery which legally compelled you to go cold turkey).

      You suggest that:

      What about the many vegans who say changing their diet has been one of the easiest things they’ve done, and that it has only improved their health and decreased the strain on their wallet?

      Personally I just find that hard to believe. a) changing habits is hard and b) doing more work is harder. I’m not suggesting that everyone wavers (far from it) but it must be harder to have to know what you can and can’t eat in a grocery story rather than just picking what looks good. I guess it’s possible that some people who go vegan never had a food they liked that involved animals (i think that’s unlikely but I concede it’s possible). I never knew marshmellows contained meat until I worked with this Muslim girl. Most people, I would have to think, like food and there’s at least one or two foods that had animal products and now you can’t eat them.

      Now far be it from me to argue the point if you say so but my sister is a vegetarian and her food generally costs more than the meat normative versions. Are you really suggesting that a vegetarian lifestyle is a cheaper lifestyle financially on the end customer wallet? I’ve heard arguments that it’s cheaper in the long run for businesses and stores and that the savings will trickle down to the customer if this foodstyle ever gets mass acceptance. Right now however I see the vegan lifestyle as a more expensive one (financially). I have a few vegan friends and obviously that’s not a proper sample size but it does afford me a measure of information I’d be interested in hearing about.

      • wolfkin says:

        I don’t think that’s fair to the traditional food lifestyle and produced food.

        What I meant is that traditionally we eat meat, and food everywhere uses animals. Point being it’s not like it’s easy to avoid meat casually. It’s a very active process.

  12. Brilliant. Shared.

  13. wolfkin says:

    My final comment is about the reasons I can see that vegetarians should be annoyed:

    Is the point of this contest really to open up honest debate about the meat industry, or is the point, rather, to close it down?

    The nature of this contest is one sided. And in spite of the implications made in this post it doesn’t actually directly support either side. It’s a single essay. It’s not supposed to be a debate. It’s a question. It could be argued that they should have a similar contest for the non-meat side of the issue.

    I can’t disagree with that. Perhaps they should, but hey wouldn’t it be nice to know what exactly is the “ethical reasoning” for eating meat, before writing a no meat essay? spending all your time talking about farm conditions does nothing to counter the essay on “animals don’t feel”.

    To which I can only suggest that a) I’m not familiar with the column but it sounds like the sort that is commonly only expressing a single side to the debate (i imagine other contest would be “Why universal healthcare will fail” or “Why should state power be reduced”) again I don’t know I’m guessing so if I’m wrong I gladly concede the point but that isn’t clarified here.. it should be b) the no-meat side of the argument is, as the author here points out, well documented and mostly well known, therefore not interesting. We can just type in #Vegan in twitter to find 1000 reasons to not eat meat. But the question of “Is there an “ethical” reason FOR eating meat?” that’s interesting. I imagine you might say there is none… but what do people come up with.

    • Jamie Berger says:

      I don’t have a big problem with the contest itself or even the phrasing of the question. I actually looked forward to reading the answers because, like you, I thought that perhaps they would “be invaluable in developing a strategy to converting the nation to a no meat diet.”

      I also agree with you that we can easily find 1,000 reasons not to eat meat (assuming that we’re looking). However, I think the most important reason, the ethical one, is often ignored, downplayed, or even mocked/not taken seriously, while health and environmental benefits are highlighted. I also do not agree that the ethical side of this debate is well known, even to NYTimes readers (again, unless they’re looking for it they may be completely in the dark).

      I don’t understand why the NYTimes didn’t hold a “Tell Us Why It’s Unethical To Eat Meat” contest simultaneously. As I mentioned in my post above, this contest is just one of many one-sided articles they have published recently. I’m not certain that they haven’t published any articles about why it’s unethical to eat meat lately, but a quick search on their website reveals nothing since Gary Steiner’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable” piece from 2009.

      • wolfkin says:

        excellent points. Benefits of the no-meat lifestyle are played up but it is entirely possible that specifically the ethical arguments are downplayed and/or mocked. Especially if you consider it the most important reason to not eat meat then those are perfectly valid and explained reasons to be annoyed at the article.

  14. susafras says:

    Thank you! Brilliant.

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  17. morlancarr says:

    Reblogged this on The Dolphin Rock Star and commented:
    Please add and share this great article.

  18. Provoked says:

    It’s not all over. Throughout the web are articles from those whose nerves have been rattled by the apparent lack of good “ethical” reasons to eat meat.

    A few I’ve seen have argued the plant sentient angle – I won’t even link to those.

    This other one attacks plant based diets because collateral harm is done to rodents, birds and insects. Someone recommended you Dr. McWilliams as an authority to research accurate information. And I left a comment there too…
    http://www.policymic.com/articles/7700/why-vegetarians-are-killing-the-environment-as-much-as-anyone-else

    And then there are the industry folks… Who didn’t like the question to begin with. They thought the contest was “phony”.
    http://www.cattlenetwork.com/e-newsletters/drovers-daily/Commentary-why-The-New-York-Times-essay-contest-is-phony-149176065.html

    I’m happy the topic is being discussed – But I’m even happier in seeing that there really is no substance to their argument. It’s as hollow as I suspected… Maybe even a little rotten in the center of it all?

    • CQ says:

      Hollow … rotten in the center … you mean, the carnists have no substantive “core” values? 🙂

      • Ellie Maldonado says:

        They certainly make ridiculous excuses.

      • CQ says:

        I guess my attempt at throwing out an overripe pun missed the apple cart. groan…. 🙂

        You’re right, Ellie, they do indeed make ridiculous excuses.

      • Ellie Maldonado says:

        Ya know, I thought you might be using a pun, but I wasn’t sure. Sorry, I missed it CQ 🙂

  19. Pingback: A Surprising End to the New York Times Ethical Meat Challenge | One Green Planet

  20. Pingback: US: ‘A surprising end to the New York Times ethical meat challenge’ « world news for life

  21. Provoked says:

    I see the Times picked their winner… No surprise – We are all to “Give Thanks” (for the right to be unethical)…

    And I saw that the article failed to link to the “59 scholars” that were casually mentioned – So I provided the way back here. If they even print it…
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/magazine/the-winner-of-our-contest-on-the-ethics-of-eating-meat.html?_r=1

  22. Pingback: A Surprising End to the New York Times Ethical Meat Challenge? | One Green Planet

  23. Boe says:

    Thank you for your letter to the NYT.

  24. jamie says:

    Methinks thou dost protest a wee bit too much. While I agree with nearly everything in your letter, it appears to me that you’re forgetting the context of the contest. While this may still be the newspaper of record, it is published in a country in which the VAST majority of citizens not only eat meat, they do so with considerable comfort and not a little pride. Like it or not, that’s our reality and that’s the Times’ audience.

    In my view – and I would think yours as well – to get this contest to happen at all in the pages of the Times is a huge step in the right direction, especially given the way the question was posed – forcing comfortable omnivores to think about and justify their choice to eat meat. By presenting the contest as a light hearted romp, Ariel managed to lure thousands of people to grapple with – and ultimately fail to come up with – anything remotely defensible.

    Score one for the animals!

    (and special kudos for referring to biblical justifications as ‘bycatch’)

    • Ellie Maldonado says:

      We see that clearly, but unfortunately, I doubt most readers will even grasp how nonsensical these “defenses” are. There won’t be meaningful change until public understands the nonhumans’ perspective, but for the most part, the NYT doesn’t allow it.

      Among the Contest Finalists, the only exception was Ingrid Newkirk’s description of farm animals: “who knew what hit them, who saw and smelled it coming, their hearts thumping in their chests, their eyes wide with fear…”

      Today the newspaper closed its two online blogs regarding the Contest, so there will be no further discussion on it. Here’s hoping it will at least print letters from advocates.

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