On the Atlantic this week, Texas State University history professor James McWilliams debunks the "conscientious carnivore". It's a term seeing increasing use these days with the trend toward ethical eating.
McWilliams wrote a 2009 book called Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly.
In his opinion piece, McWilliams notes that so-called conscientious carnivores avoid the products of factory farming by purchasing, for instance, free-range pork, grass-fed beef, and cage-free eggs from small "humane" farmers.
The professor argues that these consumers don't challenge the foundation of factory farming, but maybe even strengthen it.
Broaden your perspective on the concept of "conscientious carnivorism" and it becomes clear than it's little more than a catchy justification that helps consumers avoid investigating the deeper implications of nurturing an animal to kill it for food we don't need. It's so much easier, after all, just to focus exclusively on the relative happiness farm animals experience while alive rather than to contemplate the entirety of the animal's life cycle. Narrowing our moral vision this way, something every "conscientious consumer" inevitably does, obscures several aspects of "conscientious" meat eating that deserve due consideration.
He goes on to contest the rationale, economics, and desensitization of "conscientious carnivorism", before concluding:
All these problems with conscientious carnivorism—the killing of an animal despite acknowledging its moral worth, the economics of efficient production, and the desensitization required to deal with the slaughter—end up collectively supporting the very foundation of factory farming. As long as we're willing to commodify a living creature that has intrinsic worth, directly link its lifespan to consumer demand, and numb ourselves to the painful essence of the slaughter, we're doing nothing more than reaffirming the core values of factory farming. It might feel good to call ourselves "conscientious carnivores," but at some point we'll have to recognize that the only conscientious carnivore is, alas, an herbivore.
If you are interested in the link between the killing of nonhuman animals and the food on your plate, Earthlings is one documentary that tackles this subject.
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