29 April 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Officials Point to Swine Flu in New York” (front page, April 26):

Dare we ask why this happening [sic]? While its exact origin is still unclear, this pathogen, and many others (like avian influenza), originated from animals being raised or eaten for food.

As the world moves toward raising the majority of animals in the unnatural setting of factory farms, it is likely that more, and worse, such pathogens will arise. What will it take for us, and our public health leaders, to question our addiction to meat and tolerance of factory farming? The meat industry is environmentally devastating, incredibly inhumane and now potentially the end to us all.

Edward Machtinger
San Francisco, April 26, 2009
The writer is an associate professor of medicine and director of the Women’s H.I.V. Program, University of California, San Francisco.

25 April 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Science, Mythology, Hatred, and the Fate of the Gray Wolf” (Editorial Observer, April 13): Verlyn Klinkenborg is correct that it’s not just the behavior and biology of wolves that will determine whether they survive. It’s also our own attitudes and actions.

And our choices about wolves have significant implications beyond the wolves themselves. Wolves are an indicator species not just ecologically, but symbolically as well, a connection to a time when humans were one species among many, and a reminder that we are one small part of a larger world.

Those who find this reminder threatening or inconvenient are first in line to shoot wolves.

This is a dangerous mind-set. The belief that we are separate from and better than the natural world is what drives us to destroy the very environment we depend upon.

Wolves provide us with an opportunity to discover whether we can coexist with another species, rather than destroying it. And as go the wolves, so may go the world.

Dorothy Hearst
Berkeley, Calif., April 14, 2009
The writer is the author of a novel about the beginnings of the relationship between humans and wolves.

23 April 2009

Virtual Experience

Here is the latest from Farm Sanctuary.

20 April 2009


Mylan Engel and I were graduate students at the University of Arizona in the mid-1980s. We have stayed in touch all these years. Mylan is a good philosopher, a good teacher, and, most importantly, a good person. I am proud to have him as a friend.

16 April 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 6 of 13

For an explanation of this feature, click on “Moral Vegetarianism” at the bottom of this post.

The Argument from Glass-Walled Slaughter Houses

Mel Morse, former president of the Humane Society of the United States, once remarked: “If every one of our slaughter houses were constructed of glass this would be a nation of vegetarians.” One might assume—although again this assumption may not be jusitified [sic]—that Mr. Morse was using this consideration as a moral argument for vegetarianism. But what exactly does the argument construed as a moral argument amount to? Perhaps it can be unpacked in this way: the blood and gore of slaughter houses is disgusting and is enough to turn many people’s stomachs; so if people saw what went on in slaughter houses, they would not eat meat; consequently one should become a vegetarian.

KBJ: I have no idea why Martin thinks Morse is arguing. Perhaps it is an occupational hazard. Philosophers are trained to criticize arguments and derive satisfaction from doing so. In their zeal to criticize, they mistake observations or explanations for arguments. Isn’t it obvious that Morse is trying to explain something, namely, why decent, sensitive people participate in an institution that inflicts a great deal of suffering on animals? The explanation is ignorance: These people do not know how their meat is produced. If they knew, they wouldn’t eat it.

But the argument so construed is weak. Even granted the premises, the moral conclusion does not follow from the factual premises. The general premises about natural reactions do not yield ethical conclusions. Furthermore, the argument cuts too deep. It should be noted that people might have strong negative gut reactions to large-scale food preparation having nothing to do with meat or animal products. One suspects that there would be fewer peanut butter lovers if the walls of peanut butter factories were made of glass, for it has been reported by Consumer Reports (May 1972) that rodent hairs and other disgusting materials were found in many of the jars of peanut butter they tested. Conditions inside peanut butter factories may be less than appetizing, yet this hardly provides moral grounds for refraining from eating peanut butter. Even if sanitary conditions were improved, the sight of tons of peanuts being ground and large vats of peanut butter being processed might have a depressing effect on one’s desire for a peanut butter sandwich. But again this is hardly moral grounds for not eating peanut butter.

KBJ: I agree with Martin that the argument he made up is weak. May we move on to something plausible?

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Humanity Even for Nonhumans,” by Nicholas D. Kristof (column, April 9):

Thank you for this inspiring and enlightening article. Animals raised for food suffer miserably.

The meat and dairy industries want to keep their operations away from the public’s discriminating eyes, but as groups like PETA and the Humane Society have shown us in their graphic and disturbing undercover investigations, factory farms are mechanized madness and slaughterhouses are torture chambers to these unfortunate and feeling beings.

The overwhelming passage in November of Proposition 2 in California, which banned tight confinement of many of the animals raised for food, is a fine example of the power of publicity to educate people about the atrocities we commit to those animals who have no voice of their own.

Laura Frisk
Encinitas, Calif., April 9, 2009

To the Editor:

In making the personal decision of where to place ourselves in our ethical relationship with animals, it is important to evaluate the reality of our words. If human beings were confined, mutilated and killed, would we call it “humane” if the cages were a few inches bigger, the knife sharper, the death faster? Would we say these people were slaughtered in a “people friendly” manner?

Confinement is confinement, mutilation is mutilation, and slaughter is slaughter. Animal agriculture is inherently inhumane.

Animals rescued from so-called humane farming establishments have been found in horrific condition.

Our relationship with animals should be based on respect and caring, and that begins with not eating them.

Irene Muschel
New York, April 9, 2009

To the Editor:

Nicholas D. Kristof’s column brought back an image of my father dropping live lobsters into boiling water. I was 4 or 5, and I cringed.

At 14, as I started making my own choices, my eating habits began to change. After time in the Marines, I veered strongly away from eating creatures, thinking of their suffering. In my 40s, I became a vegetarian because I was saving sick and injured birds, and I just couldn’t eat them and save them.

My doctor says my tremendous health and strength are due to my being a vegan. Push-ups, sit-ups, carrying 50-pound bags of bird seed—and I will be 71 in May. I still have the same six-pack stomach I had in the Marines.

Every meal, for me, is a celebration of life. That’s right, for me—but it may not be for others. Being “kind” to the animals has been great for my quality of life.

Buzz Alpert
Chicago, April 9, 2009

To the Editor:

Often overlooked in the discussion about industrially raised farm animals is the fact that many American farmers already engage in humane practices by raising animals in open spaces and on food that nature intended them to eat.

These farmers work long hours moving animals from pasture to pasture and often struggle with a paucity of meat-processing infrastructure suitable to the needs of small-scale producers. They deserve recognition and support for offering Americans an alternative to meat raised in confined spaces.

Caroline Abels
Montpelier, Vt., April 9, 2009
The writer is the editor of Vermont’s Local Banquet, a quarterly magazine about food and agriculture.

To the Editor:

The term “free range” sounds prettier than it usually is.

Egg production, including on free-range farms, entails the mass killing of newborn male chicks, a point made in Nicholas D. Kristof’s column.

However, it is not just the male chicks that are routinely executed. Hens in all forms of egg production endure an equally cruel execution once their profitability has declined.

The debeaking of hens and other routine cruelties of egg production are seldom put before the public. Blithe images of all forms of animal production hide the bleak realities.

Karen Davis
Machipongo, Va., April 9, 2009
The writer is president of United Poultry Concerns, an advocacy group.

15 April 2009


Here is a New York Times story about veganism.

10 April 2009

Health and Morals

Here is a New York Times op-ed column about free-range pigs. The author is confused. He seems to think that the demand for free-range pork is a demand for wild pork, when in fact it's a demand for morally acceptable conditions for the pigs. In other words, people want to eat not wild pigs but domestic pigs raised in humane conditions.

Henry S. Salt (1851-1939) on Beefy Morals

Nor is it only among schoolboys that over-eating is rampant, for the tables of the wealthy are everywhere loaded with flesh-meat, and the example thus set is naturally followed, first in the servants' hall, and then, as far as may be, in the homes of the working classes. To consume much flesh is regarded as the sign and symbol of well-being—witness the popular English manner of keeping the festival of Christmas. "We interknit ourselves with every part of the English-speaking world," said the journal of the Cosme colony, in Paraguay, describing its Christmas celebration of 1898, "by the most sacred ceremony of over-eating." A nice moral bond of union, truly, between colonies and motherland! What is likely to be the effect on the national character of such swinish gorging?

We come back, then, to the point that though it is not absolutely true that "Man is what he eats," there is, nevertheless, a large element of truth in the saying, and the Vegetarian has just ground for suspecting that beefy meals are not infrequently the precursors of beefy morals. Carnalities of one kind are apt to lead to carnalities of another, and fleshly modes of diet to fleshly modes of thought. "Good living," unfortunately, is a somewhat equivocal term.

(Henry S. Salt, The Logic of Vegetarianism: Essays and Dialogues [London: The Ideal Publishing Union, 1899], 81)

09 April 2009

Animal Rights

Here is a New York Times op-ed column about legal rights for animals. Peter Singer is quoted.

04 April 2009

Philosophers in the News

Mylan Engel is quoted in this Northern Star story.

01 April 2009


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