28 November 2009

Sixth Anniversary

I started this blog six years ago today, on 28 November 2003. Where has the time gone? Three years ago on this date, there had been 42,820 visits, which is an average of 39.0 visits per day. During the past three years, there have been 101,807 visits, which is an average of 92.8 visits per day. Overall, in six years, there have been 144,627 visits, which is an average of 65.9 visits per day. As you may have noticed, I recently changed the blog's appearance. I hope you like it. If you have something to which I should link, please send it. I do not like being used as a mere means to other people's ends, so please don't try to use this blog to get publicity for some product or service you are selling. I do, however, enjoy publicizing things that are designed to benefit animals.

25 November 2009


Here is an essay about industrial farming.

24 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “Animal, Vegetable, Miserable,” by Gary Steiner (Op-Ed, Nov. 22):

Mr. Steiner might feel less lonely as an ethical vegan—he says he has just five vegan friends—if he recognized that he has allies in mere vegetarians (like me), ethical omnivores and even carnivores. Some of us agree with his outlook, but just don’t have the fortitude to make every sacrifice he makes.

In fact, a whole lot of semi-vegans can do much more for animals than the tiny number of people who are willing to give up all animal products and scrupulously read labels. Farm animals also benefit from the humane farming movement, even if the animal welfare changes it effects are not all that we should hope and work for.

If the goal is not moral perfection for ourselves, but the maximum benefit for animals, half-measures ought to be encouraged and appreciated.

Go vegan, go vegetarian, go humane or just eat less meat. It’s all good advice from the point of view of doing better by animals.

Jean Kazez
Dallas, Nov. 22, 2009
The writer teaches philosophy at Southern Methodist University and is the author of the forthcoming “Animalkind: What We Owe to Animals.”

To the Editor:

Soon after I read Gary Steiner’s article, my wife asked me to kill a spider, which I did. This made me feel guilty. Spiders are living creatures, too; perhaps I should have gently caught it and carried it outdoors?

It is hard to imagine where a line can be drawn. We kill so many living creatures when we build a house, construct a road, drive down that road or just walk on a path. How far do we go in protecting them?

When we plant and harvest crops that vegans would find acceptable to eat, many animals are killed and their habitats are destroyed.

If we all decide to consider animals as precious as humans, the only logical place for us is back in the jungle. But even then if we were to survive we would have to kill some animals in self-defense.

Alexander Mauskop
New York, Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

I am an ethical vegan. Gary Steiner perfectly articulates my feelings, and particularly my frustration, as so many around me obsess about the preparation of their turkeys.

When one “goes vegan,” what seems obvious to that person is ridiculed by a large part of society. Mr. Steiner illustrates the disconnect within our culture about eating animals and the righteousness with which people will defend that disconnect.

Alice Walker once said: “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

I hope that Mr. Steiner’s essay will result in people at least stopping for a moment, before carving the birds on their tables, and giving these ideas some serious critical thought.

Chris Taylor
Lawrence, Kan., Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

Gary Steiner’s case for veganism founders on the facts. First, the human digestive system has evolved to accommodate an omnivorous diet, not a purely vegetable one.

Indeed, many paleoanthropologists maintain that the evolution of the large, energy-hungry human brains depended on a transition of our ancestors’ diets to include meat.

And vegans must tread a very narrow line to avoid all sorts of deficiency diseases, while omnivores have very broad latitude in diet, as a survey of world cuisines makes evident.

Second, our food animals have co-evolved with us. Cows, domestic sheep, chickens and many others would not survive if they were not raised for human consumption, protected from malnutrition, disease and predators.

Professor Steiner is entitled to his beliefs and his tofurkey; most of the rest of us will enjoy our turkey without guilt (but with vegetable stuffing).

Lawrence S. Lerner
Woodside, Calif., Nov. 22, 2009
The writer is professor emeritus at the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at California State University, Long Beach.

To the Editor:

Gary Steiner recognizes that many of us justify eating animals because we believe we are superior to them. Mr. Steiner rightly rejects this view as morally flawed.

Humans can acceptably consume animals precisely because we are not superior to them at all. Wolves eat sheep. Tuna eat mackerel. We are animals ourselves—and are no more (or less) than the animals we consume, or than the predators that would otherwise consume them.

If we are not justified in eating mackerel ourselves, are we not also morally obligated to stop the slaughter brought on by the tuna?

Such an obligation would make us the protectors of all species, and the destroyers of every ecosystem on earth.

L. David Peters
New York, Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

As a vegetarian for 18 years, I have been confronted with the same questions that Gary Steiner faces from those challenging his dietary habits. I learned an effective response long ago that has benefited both my blood pressure and friendships.

I say with a big smile: “My vegetarianism is a personal choice that I usually don’t discuss in detail. I’m happy to eat with nonvegetarians.” And then I’m quiet.

That has pleasantly ended many potentially uncomfortable exchanges. Being vegetarian, as with being a member of a political party or a religious denomination, does not bestow license to convert others to one’s own way of thinking.

On my deathbed, I’ll be happy to have lived life as a vegetarian and also (I hope) comforted by many who were not alienated through heated discussions about my dietary choices.

Lisa Dinhofer
Frederick, Md., Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

I will rise to the challenge Gary Steiner presents. He’s right: I don’t care deeply about the suffering of animals I eat, wear or otherwise benefit from. Suffering and injustice are inherent in life, and time is short.

Moreover, I find no way to shine a moral spotlight on one corner without letting shadows fall on another. I radically limit my conscious sphere of concern (just as Mr. Steiner must).

My moral boundaries may be rational or reflexive, expansive or selfish—who can judge?

I also recognize that alleviating suffering in one area may cause pain elsewhere. My mind and spirit are continually tested by outrages, from the countless dead innocents in current wars to the limited life prospects of my son’s first-grade classmates with drug dealers for parents.

Were I also to internalize the pain experienced by animals, I’d simply shut down. Whose lot could that possibly help?

Sandy Asirvatham
Baltimore, Md., Nov. 22, 2009

To the Editor:

I was shocked to read that Gary Steiner thinks his cat can’t appreciate Schubert’s late symphonies. It’s not the feline lack of musical discernment that I found disturbing (I don’t “get” Schubert’s symphonies either), but rather that Mr. Steiner owns a pet.

If he wishes to make no distinction between animal and human life and rights, how does he justify keeping an animal in what amounts to captivity?

And where does he draw the line between keeping a cow for milk and keeping a cat or dog for comfort or gratification?

Alice Desaulniers
Irvington, N.Y., Nov. 23, 2009

Note from KBJ: Every letter except the first (by an analytic philosopher with whom I attended graduate school) is confused. Several of them commit flagrant fallacies. Sometimes I despair over the quality of thought in this country. When even educated, intelligent people make elementary mistakes, there is no hope.

22 November 2009

"A Meat-Crazed Society"

Here is a New York Times op-ed column by philosopher Gary Steiner.

19 November 2009

The True Costs of Eating Meat

In this Washington Post column, James E. McWilliams highlights the true environmental costs of eating meat:

  • The livestock industry as a result of its reliance on corn and soy-based feed accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the United States, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones.
  • Livestock production consumes 70 percent of the water in the American West—water so heavily subsidized that if irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound.
  • Livestock accounts for at least 21 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally—more than all forms of transportation combined.
  • Nearly 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced are fed to farmed animals to prevent (not treat) disease. Undigested antibiotics leach from manure into freshwater systems and impair the sex organs of fish.
McWilliams’s column reminds us of the scientific findings documented in Livestock’s Long Shadow, the Food and Agricultural Organization’s 390-page report on the environmental impact of meat production. According to the Executive Summary of that FAO report:
The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.
Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale.

To put the point in perspective, McWilliams ask us to consider how we would react if someone told us "that a particular corporation was trashing the air, water and soil; causing more global warming than the transportation industry; consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel; unleashing the cruelest sort of suffering on innocent and sentient beings; failing to recycle its waste; and clogging our arteries in the process." He thinks we would rightly "frame the matter as a dire political issue."

Such a dire political issue requires a political response. McWilliams insists that vegetarianism is "the most powerful political response we can make to industrialized food. It's a necessary prerequisite to reforming it. To quit eating meat is to dismantle the global food apparatus at its foundation."

The Bottom Line: One cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist. If you care about the planet, follow McWilliams's advice, and switch to a plant-based diet. Do it for the Earth, do it for the animals, and do it for your health. Menu suggestions and recipes for a cruelty-free, planet-friendly Thanksgiving feast are available here.

About the Washington Post columnist: James E. McWilliams is Associate Professor of History at Texas State University at San Marcos and a recent fellow in the agrarian studies program at Yale University. He is the author of Just Food.

16 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Last Act for the Bluefin” (editorial, Nov. 9) has it right. The bluefin tuna needs an immediate respite from all fishing. No wildlife species, especially a migratory one shared in common by many nations, can withstand commercial hunting without end.

In the United States, we learned this lesson just in time to rescue our migratory waterfowl and other prized game species from oblivion at the beginning of the 20th century. All commercial hunting was banned, and those species were carefully managed for sport hunting only.

Commercial hunting of wildlife was always a losing proposition on land. Though some commercial fisheries have been well managed, others have been a disaster (Atlantic halibut, Atlantic cod, Hawaiian lobster, sharks). It is now or never for the bluefin. Governments need to step up and do the right thing. Will they?

William J. Chandler
Washington, Nov. 9, 2009
The writer is vice president for government affairs, Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

15 November 2009

Manfred Kuehn on Kant's Cosmopolitanism

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) Kant's ideas about cosmopolitanism are still hotly debated today. They are dismissed by some as a "Eurocentric illusion," and praised by others as the answer to the problem of humanity's survival. Whether they are the one or the other will be for (still) future generations to discover. Nevertheless, they make clear that Kant considered himself first and foremost not a Prussian but a citizen of the world. He was glad to be alive while momentous changes were taking place in the history of mankind, and he saw himself as rising to the challenge, addressing the important issues resulting from the changes, and trying to nurture what was good in them. However insignificant some of the occasions for these essays were, Kant succeeded in transcending them and in saying something of lasting importance.

Kant's cosmopolitan ideas were meant to form part of a civil religion similar to the kind that James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and the other framers of the American Constitution envisaged. His transcendental idealism, at least in morality, ultimately is a political idealism, in which attaining the greatest good is not something that will be accomplished in another world but is a task to be accomplished on this earth. Kant's political writings were an attempt to show how rational (or reasonable) ideas can be substituted for religious ones, and why indeed it is necessary for the good of mankind to reinterpret religious ideas to make them fit the needs of humanity.

(Manfred Kuehn, Kant: A Biography [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001], 384-5)

Note from KBJ: I no more think of myself as a citizen of the world than I think of myself as a citizen of North America or of the Northern Hemisphere. I'm a citizen of the United States (as well as some of its subdivisions, such as Texas and Fort Worth). By the way, one answers questions and solves problems. One does not answer problems.

Note 2 from KBJ: Kant denied moral status to nonhuman animals. Our duties to them, he argued, are actually duties to particular human beings. Animals, being nonrational, have no intrinsic moral significance. Kant's dog, in other words, counts for nothing, while some Chinese peasant counts for as much as Kant himself. So much for cosmopolitanism! It sounds more like parochialism or anthropocentrism to me.

09 November 2009

Moral Vegetarianism, Part 12 of 13

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

The previous argument was based on an alleged indirect effect on human beings of not eating meat. The argument from brutalization is basically of the same kind. It is argued that the killing and eating of meat indirectly tends to brutalize people. Conversely, vegetarianism, it is argued, tends to humanize people.

This argument can have a strong or weak form depending on what is meant by “brutalize” and “humanize.” In the strong form, it maintains that eating meat (indirectly) influences people to be less kind and more violent to other people; conversely, not eating meat tends to make people more kind and less violent. In the weaker form of the argument it is maintained only that eating meat tends to make people less sensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people and more willing to accept people’s brutality and inhumanity to other people.

Whatever form the argument takes, it is important to understand its status. I have argued that there is no incompatibility between being a nonvegetarian and advocating the painless and humane treatment of animals. Consequently, there is no logical connection between being a nonvegetarian and the cruel treatment of animals, let alone the cruel treatment of persons (human or otherwise). Similarly, there is no logical connection between eating meat and being insensitive to the inhumane treatment of animals or humans.

The argument from brutalization, however, does not appear to postulate a logical connection between vegetarianism and inhumanity but rather a psychological one. Thus the strong form of the argument seems to assume the truth of the following psychological generalization.
1. People who do not eat meat tend to be less cruel and inhumane to persons than people who do eat meat.
As far as I know, no good evidence has ever been collected to support or refute (1). Pacifists like Gandhi are often cited as examples of people who are vegetarians and who are opposed to violence. But Hitler was also a vegetarian. Indeed, Hitler’s vegetarianism is a constant source of embarrassment to vegetarians, and they sometimes attempt to explain it away. For example, the Vegetarian News Digest argued that “there is no information that indicates [Hitler] eliminated flesh food for humanitarian reasons.” But the reason Hitler did not eat meat is irrelevant to the present argument. Here we are only concerned with whether or not eating meat tends to make people less brutal.

But perhaps the psychological generalization presupposed is a little different from (1). Perhaps the argument from brutalization presupposes
2. People who do not eat meat for moral reasons tend to be less brutal than people who do eat meat.
In terms of (2) the comments of the Vegetarian News Digest are not irrelevant. The case of Hitler need not count against (2).

The truth of (2) is by no means self-evident, however, and empirical evidence is needed to support it. Although I am not aware that such evidence is available at the present time, let us suppose that (2) is well confirmed. This by itself would hardly be a strong argument for vegetarianism, since the following generalization could also be true.
3. People who eat meat after reflection on the morality of eating meat are less brutal than people who eat meat without such reflection.
The bulk of the population has given no reflection at all to the morality of eating meat. Consequently, a comparison between moral vegetarians and meat eaters at large is hardly fair. Putting it in another way, supposing (2) to be true, moral vegetarianism per se might not be responsible for humanizing people. Rather, what might be responsible for such humanizing is simply moral reflection, reflection that might lead either to the acceptance or to the rejection of moral vegetarianism.

What would be significant is if the following generalization were true.
4. People who do not eat meat after serious reflection on the morality of meat eating are less brutal than people who eat meat after such reflection.
The truth of (4) would enable us to say with some confidence that something besides moral reflection is involved in becoming less brutal. At the present time, however, there is no reason to suppose that (4) is true.

Similar considerations indicate that the weaker form of the argument from brutalization also fails. The weaker form of the argument seems to assume
5. People who don’t eat meat for moral reasons are less likely than people who do eat meat to be insensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people.
Whether (5) is true or not is uncertain. But in any case (5) is not terribly relevant to moral vegetarianism. A relevant comparison would not be between moral vegetarians and nonvegetarians in general but between moral vegetarians and nonvegetarians who eat meat after moral reflection, that is between moral vegetarians and what might be called moral nonvegetarians. Thus, what needs to be established is not (5) but
6. People who don’t eat meat after reflection on the morality of eating meat are less likely than people who do eat meat after such reflection to be insensitive to people’s inhumane treatment of other people.
At the present time we have no more reason to accept (6) than we have to accept (4). And we have no reason to accept (4). Thus the argument from brutalization fails.
KBJ: I agree that this argument fails. Perhaps that is why I have never heard anyone make it.

From Today's New York Times

Cattle To the Editor:

Nicolette Hahn Niman (“The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” Op-Ed, Oct. 31) is simply wrong in suggesting that grass-fed beef produces less methane than feed-lot meat. It is the other way around, with grass-fed animals producing up to three times more methane.

It may be true that in some trials scientists have found ways to reduce methane emissions from cattle, but until these methods are in widespread use, they are simply not relevant to the consumer choices we face.

In any case, globally, only 8 percent of all meat is produced in natural grazing systems, and there is little available unforested land suitable for such systems. To replace factory-farmed meat without further tropical forest destruction is impossible.

Hence the call to cut down or eliminate meat-eating, especially beef, should be supported by everyone concerned about the future of our planet.

Peter Singer
Geoff Russell
Barry Brook
New York, Nov. 3, 2009
Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and the author of “The Ethics of What We Eat.” Geoff Russell is the author of “CSIRO Perfidy.” Barry Brook is a professor of climate change at the University of Adelaide, Australia.

06 November 2009

From Today's Wall Street Journal

Jonathan Safran Foer's pup-in-cheek essay "Let Them Eat Dog" (Weekend Journal, Oct. 31), while humorous enough, masks more serious issues.

Beyond the environmental impacts of meat production there is a basic ethical issue involved. So here is an even more modest proposal than roasting Fido: Try eating only what animals you are willing to kill with your own hands. I suspect that meat consumption would decline dramatically under such a code; it would certainly make many of us less hypocritical.

Steve Heilig
San Francisco

Mr. Foer misses the point of the debate completely. A decision not to eat dogs has nothing to do with our inherent hypocrisy, but with our relationship to different animals. Dogs were bred to be companion animals; pigs and cows are raised as food. To suggest that eating one and not the other represents a conflict of ethics is preposterous.

However, I agree with Mr. Foer that factory farming has to go. We carnivores have to become more benevolent. Rather than eating dogs, we all ought to eat exclusively small-farmed, free-range meat. Arguments like "Let Them Eat Dog" caricatures the antifactory farm position, which is a shame because it's an important argument to hear. I suggest that Mr. Foer stop writing about food and stick to the stories.

Sarah V. Howland
Northport, N.Y.

At one point during my year living in China, I ate dog. The fury this meal caused my friends and family back in America motivated me to examine whether eating any animal was justified. Why was a dog more worthy of not being dinner than a pig? My interactions with farm animals have been as affectionate and fun as any I've had with dogs or cats. In the name of moral consistency I became a vegetarian four years ago. The peace of mind—and the weight I've lost—have been well worth the effort.

Chantelle Wallace
Austin, Texas

The irony of this article, which is reminiscent of Irish author Jonathan Swift's suggestion of eating "excess children" to shock and awe his readers, isn't lost on an intelligent reader. Mr. Foer's book "Eating Animals" is definitely worth the reading for any individual who has the guts to face the facts of a meat-based diet and the damage it is doing to man and animal alike.

Elaine Livesey-Fassel
Los Angeles

03 November 2009

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” by Nicolette Hahn Niman (Op-Ed, Oct. 31):

Living “green” is not easy. Yes, every decision we make results in more or less of an impact on our environment. As a parent of young children, I have much to worry about regarding what my children eat—a balanced, wholesome diet, free from antibiotics, hormones or bacteria. Need we feel guilty about being carnivorous?

The best advice Ms. Niman gives us is to pay attention to the source of meat products and what our mothers always told us: clean your plate. Regardless of what we choose to eat, doing so will reduce our dietary carbon footprint by half because “about half of the food produced in the United States is thrown away.”

Jeffrey H. Toney
Union, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009
The writer is dean of the College of Natural, Applied and Health Sciences at Kean University.

To the Editor:

The claims Nicolette Hahn Niman makes for how greenhouse gases might be reduced while still eating meat may very well be true, and I do not have the expertise to challenge them. But the method she advocates for reaching those goals—raising grass-eating, pasture-foraging farm animals—would appear to be notoriously difficult to reproduce on a scale large enough to harvest enough meat, at a reasonable cost, for all the people wanting to eat meat in this country, let alone the world.

What would the cost of a hamburger at Burger King or McDonald’s be if the meat were to come from Ms. Niman’s ranch and others using comparable methods? How many people would be able to afford the price?

When I see “grass-fed” beef from the Niman Ranch and others on menus at the high-end restaurants I occasionally visit, the items offered are invariably among the most expensive on the list.

And how much land would be required to contain ranches like the one owned by Ms. Niman for pasturing the animals to provide all the beef, turkey, chicken and pork eaten in this country? Would no forests need to be cut down to create the pastures?

Lois Bloom
Easton, Conn., Nov. 1, 2009

To the Editor:

As an ethics instructor who aims to inspire my students to think about the connections between their values and daily practices, I found Nicolette Hahn Niman’s article disappointing.

Borrowing a move from the tobacco industry, Ms. Niman obscures the well-evidenced connection between veganism and environmentalism.

Contrary to Ms. Niman’s suggestion that the findings do not apply to smaller farms, the United Nations and the University of Chicago reports demonstrate the inefficiency of beef “production” because a cow must be fed to convert grass or grain calories into protein before a human can consume even “humane” or grass-fed beef.

Ms. Niman’s argument amounts to lowering an ethical standard to fit the demands of our meat-centric culture and Western privilege. Instead, we should heed the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, who advised giving up meat for one day a week at first, and then decreasing it from there.

Stephanie Jenkins
Highland Park, N.J., Nov. 2, 2009

To the Editor:

While Nicolette Hahn Niman’s article demonstrates our folly in oversimplifying solutions to many of our challenges and offers many viable solutions to sustaining our lifestyles in generations to come, she leaves out one very green practice: hunting and fishing.

There is little that is less polluting and less harmful to the planet than hunting wild game responsibly. What is greener than forage-fed meat? I take umbrage at the omnivores who buy grass-fed beef and call me a barbaric savage for harvesting Maine’s overpopulated deer, moose, rabbit and fowl.

James Siegel
Portland, Me., Nov. 1, 2009

To the Editor:

Nicolette Hahn Niman’s otherwise fine article would have been stronger if she had not blurred an important distinction. After noting the special criticism beef receives, she treats all meat the same.

Yet the turkey she raises is a much smaller factor in advancing global warming than the cattle on her ranch because they produce meat much more efficiently. Birds need only a fraction of the food that cattle do to gain a pound of meat.

Indeed, in Ms. Niman’s natural environment they’re even more environmentally beneficial than cattle because of their diet. A “free range” bird eats insects, as well as plants, so it gets more nutrition out of the same amount of land than do her cattle, which eat only the grass. They also help with pest control.

Thus, it’s not enough to say that Americans should “cut back on consumption of animal-based foods.” Regardless of how much meat they eat, they need to switch from eating beef to poultry.

Barry Rehfeld
New York, Nov. 1, 2009
The writer is the editor of Zero Energy Intelligence.com.

To the Editor:

When Nicolette Hahn Niman refers to “a conscientious meat eater,” she is using an oxymoron. Can anyone in good conscience be complicit with the unnecessary suffering and slaughter of another sentient being?

Steven G. Kellman
San Antonio, Oct. 31, 2009

01 November 2009


There were 2,758 visits to this blog during October, which is an average of 88.9 visits per day.