07 June 2004

Confusions and Fallacies About Animals, Part 9

It’s a sad fact of life that some people don’t care about animals. It’s tempting to think that no argument for vegetarianism could appeal to these people. But let’s think about it. Suppose you care only about humans. That is to say, suppose that when you deliberate, about diet or anything else, you take only the interests of human beings into consideration. As far as you’re concerned, animals count for no more than rocks. On the moral scale, they have no weight.

You should still be a vegetarian. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But keep two facts in mind.
1. Meat-based agriculture is wasteful. “If we are to analyze the real efficiency of animals as food machines, . . . we must add in all grain and other food energy spent in rearing and maintaining breeding animals and all losses resulting from infertility and deaths. When these are figured in, only about 17 percent of the usable grain or food energy fed to a dairy herd is recovered in milk, and only about 6 percent of that fed to a beef herd is recovered in edible meat” (Jim Mason and Peter Singer, Animal Factories, rev. and updated ed. [New York: Harmony Books, 1990], 110 [endnote omitted]).

2. There are human beings throughout the world, including in the United States, who are starving to death or otherwise malnourished. I hope I don’t need to support this factual claim. If you doubt it, do some research.
By doing what you can to end animal agriculture, such as refraining from eating animal flesh, you improve the world for human beings. What’s good for animals turns out to be good for human beings. This gives the lie to the idea that we must choose between humans and animals. There is no conflict. There is no competition. There is no dilemma.

Animal agriculture has many other harmful effects on humans, from pollution of the air they breathe and the water they drink to erosion of the soil they depend on (see here) to the spread of diseases (think of Mad Cow). And meat-based diets are themselves unhealthy, even deadly. They’re linked to heart disease, colon cancer, and stroke, among other maladies. Don’t take my word for it. Check into it! Take responsibility for your choices.

I hope you care about animals, because that in itself will, if you’re rational, dictate your diet; but even if you don’t—even if you care only about humans—you have ample reason to become a vegetarian. All roads lead to vegetarianism.

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