Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Morality and Food

By Jocelyn Perez

An interesting question was tossed around during my Ethics and Moral Issues class the other day: Should we eat meat? Should we wear animal skins? Are the businesses that feed us, clothe us and supply us with an array of products, doing something morally “wrong”?

From what archaeologists can gather, the first humans hunted animals as a food source and used their pelts for clothing, and insulating their shelters. There has been evidence of tools and jewelry made from the skeletal remains of these animals. They used the entire animal and knew not to waste such a vital resource. Thousands of years later, these consumption practices were still present in Native American tradition and bison hunting, yet early colonists quickly dissipated the population when they started hunting for sport and leaving the carcasses behind. Today, although deer and geese are hunted for sport, they are eaten; some are even mounted on displays. These game laws are strictly regulated and sometimes the season may be extended due to their rapidly growing populations.

So, if our ancestors ate meat, wore skins, and even hunted for fun, should we do it? Even though I am an avid wildlife advocate, I believe that livestock such as cattle or poultry should serve their purpose and provide food. Leather and feathers are used in clothing and the remaining byproducts are used in the making of various daily used products, like soaps, moisturizing creams and lipstick. These animals have been domesticated for thousands of years, and many can not be released to fend for themselves. Sadly, they have been genetically altered to such an extent that they are merely a reflection of the great beasts that once existed; internally, these animals are packed with hormones and are “fattened up” quickly because of their lack of bone density. Even if a rancher chose to release some of his cattle, they would have devastating effects on pastures, and the surrounding ecosystems. These are animals born for the sole purpose of baring offspring, if they live long enough, and being sent to slaughter. It is ultimately, a person’s choice to consume the meat that is offered to them or endorse any of the products these animals are used to make.

The fur trade is also a subject that strikes up many arguments. I completely disagree with killing an animal for its skin and not out of dire need for food. Fur has come to be known as a fashion accessory, and countless species have paid the price for this fad. For example, it takes roughly three hundred chinchillas to make a small fur coat and only its back can be used because the rest of the fur is too fine and breaks apart easily. These animals were hunted so rigorously that they are now extinct in the wild and can only be found in captivity. They have been domesticated, and cannot be released, although there have been attempts. Raised on farms for their fur and by breeders as pets, these animals are considered one of the many “poster victims” for the fight against fur.

As always, please join the conversation. Leave us your comments!


  1. You make the claim that it is right to raise an animal on a farm and slaughter it for its meat for consumption. You later state that you "completely disagree with killing an animal for its skin and not out of dire need for food." So that means you would think that raising the same animal on a farm and killing it for its fur is wrong.

    Why is there a difference then, between killing an animal for food as opposed to killing an animal for its fur?

    Certainly, we don't need animal meat to survive. We can all become vegetarians. So the justification of killing animals for meat can't be that its out of a "dire need for food."

    And if the argument is that hunting animals for their fur leads them into extinction, that problem would be easily solved by raising those animals in a farm and killing them for their fur. A steady supply of animal fur on the market would increase supply thereby reducing prices for fur which would eventually act as a disincentive for poachers to hunt them.

    So again, why is it right to kill an animal for food but not for its fur?

  2. Vincent, we can't all become vegetarians because a vegetarian diet is actually more costly than a omnivorous one. Also, it would be unfair to impose such dietary demands on "third world" countries, not to mention the impact of such a decree on religous and cultural mores.

    Now, the difference between killing an animal for food as oppossed to killing an animal for its fur is that one is a luxury while the other is a necessity. Unless, of course, we are speaking of Russia or other countries with severe winters a fur coat is a inhumane luxury.

  3. Umberto,

    Firstly, a vegetarian diet is not necessarily more expensive than a carnivorous diet - especially in developing countries where meat is a lot more expensive than it is in industrialized nations. But in the U.S., you can still be a vegetarian even if you're on a budget; you will find however, that your options will quite limited.

    But why would it be "unfair" to ban meat in "third world" countries? Take the land that the animals graze on and convert it into farmland - less livestock, more crops. You say it would have an impact on social and religious mores and I can see how a vegetarian decree would upset people but how would it disturb religious mores? I'm not very savvy on religion but I don't recall one that urges people to eat meat.

    In your second point, you claim that the difference between killing an animal for food as opposed to killing for its fur is that in the former, the killing is done out of necessity. But you have yet to prove that killing animals for food is a necessity.

    I guess I should rephrase my point: Is it wrong to kill an animal for food if it's not out of necessity? I like to eat hamburgers but I certainly have less favorable options. However, I'll kill the cow anyway because I prefer hamburger over carrots for dinner. How is what I just did different from killing an animal for fur? Or am I unjustified in both situations?

  4. The point I was originally trying to make is that the only reason an animal should ever be killed would be for consumption purposes. (except on the off chance that something is attacking you and you needed to act in self defense. =/ ) I have only come to except this fact, because the animals have been subjected to artificial genetic selection for thousands of years and sadly, have lost their survival instincts. They have been raised to serve a “purpose” and generations have suffered for it.

    I greatly dislike the fact that animals have come to be regarded as dispensable. Some argue that the livestock or small animals being raised on farms are simply supplying products such as meat or fur, which to them bear no difference. My stand is that if a cow is already heading to slaughter for its meat, then the leather and bones are then available for use. Meanwhile, fur products are desired by the consumers for fashion purposes, and the methods of supplying these goods are wasteful and outright cruel. Animals are sometimes skinned alive because it is believed that their fur will be more supple, and the corpses are simply discarded.

    Like the example of the chinchilla I used, they are raised in the thousands, only for the fur on their backs (literally). The rest of the animal serves no purpose. I just do not see the point. This is just my personal opinion.

    As for being a vegetarian, it is not always expensive if you know where and how to shop. From what I have seen, the choices are also quite extensive.

    Jocelyn Perez

  5. Vincent, the keyword is that you have "options." Therefore, eating a hamburger is not a necessity is a choice. For instance, if you chose to, you can survive on a different diet. By necessity, I mean that the person does not have a choice between what is available and what he needs to remain a healthy and functional human being. In short, my argument is that you are not justified in killing animal for fur because if you can substitute cotton for fur, then the logical moral choice is cotton because from a utilitarian perspective it brings the greatest happiness to all. That is, the person who has to wear the coat and the animal whose life is spared. Also, from an economics perspective, the opportunity cost to produce a fur coat is greater than to produce a coat made of cotton, given that the coat is produced in a country where fur is not available. That's why it is justified for Russia to make fur coats because its harsh winter conditions as we as its resources permit it as oppossed to the residents of New York City.


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