The Ethics of Omnivorous, Paleo Eating
December 11, 2013
Food ethics has always been an important topic to me, and my solution to the ethics of my sustenance has been a paleo/primal approach. This may surprise some, as paleo’s reputation for being “all meat all the time” might seem counter-intuitive as a response to the question of nutritional ethics. Aside from the “all meat” image of primal eating being 100% false, the thinking that advocates “ethical vegetarianism” is, I believe, deeply flawed. I started giving serious thought to my eating (not to mention the larger question of carving out an ethical place in the world for myself) about ten years ago. Throughout that journey, I’ve been guided by a desire to improve the world for all creatures, human and animal alike. I believe that the paleo model is the best way to do that. Here’s why:
2500 years ago, the Buddha taught a philosophy based on one simple notion: do no harm. He advocated vegetarianism as a part of the “do no harm” principle, because in his world, an individual’s abstention from meat-eating directly prevented the slaughter of an animal. However, if he were visiting with hosts who had already slaughtered an animal, he would eat it; it was important that the animal’s sacrifice not go to waste. The Buddha’s lesson is that the ethics of vegetarianism hold only if abstention reduces suffering.
Today, in a world of factory farms and national-scale production, an individual’s abstention from eating meat does not directly keep an animal alive. Thus, the problem with vegetarianism is that giving up meat does not actually reduce aggregate suffering. Worse, it sends the message that no matter how animals are treated, it will never be good enough to earn meat a place on the table. Thus, it gives factory farms no incentive to change the way animals are raised. Vegetarianism, in effect, tacitly perpetuates an unkind system. In contrast, eating pastured, humanely-raised meat sends the crucial message that kindness is profitable. Buying ethically-raised animals from farmers who care about them is a powerful call for real change in a language – money – that the industry understands. For better or worse, it is the only action an ethical eater in today’s world can take that actively reduces the suffering of other creatures.
I care about animal welfare. I eat animals. Specifically, I eat animals because I care about animal welfare. Food for thought.
Feel free to leave comments with your thoughts on the ethics of meat eating, as long as they’re offered politely. I’d love to hear what you all think.