Commentary: Why The New York Times' essay contest is phony

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Remember how you and your friends created games when you were children? And do you remember making up the rules as the game progressed? That’s what is happening at The New York Times with its phony essay contest about the ethics of eating meat.

“Calling all Carnivores” was the headline on the article in The Times imploring readers to write – in 600 words or less – why they believe it is ethical to eat meat. Author Ariel Kaminer begins the sales pitch for why you should write such an essay by claiming that vegetarians and vegans have “dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating.”

Really? Maybe those groups have dominated the discussion inside the pages of The New York Times, but there are many other places where the voice of the anti-meat crusaders is drowned out by common sense.

“In response,” Kaminer continues, “those who love meat have had surprisingly little to say.”

Hello? Haven’t you been listening? Does The Times not have reporters? Meat eaters have had plenty to say, though we’re not often afforded a platform as large as The Times gives to the anti-meat folks.

But, wait. Here it is, an essay contest that will finally allow those of us who love our steaks medium-rare, our burgers topped with cheese and mushrooms and our pork ribs slow-cooked and slathered with tangy sauce, to tell the world why we think such eating behavior is just fine.

Just as my excitement was building to write such an essay, Kaminer revealed the phony part of the contest. “We have assembled a veritable murderer’s row of judges — some of the most influential thinkers to question or condemn the eating of meat.”

That’s right, the judges for this essay contest about the ethics of eating meat are all anti-meat. Is it any wonder why Kaminer and The Times believe vegetarians and vegans have “dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating?”

Let’s examine the judges of this contest. First is Peter Singer, a self proclaimed vegetarian and a “flexible vegan” as stated in a May 2006 interview in Mother Jones. Singer also authored the book Animal Liberation that is cited for being the touchstone for the animal liberation movement.

Then there’s Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma which openly critiques modern agribusiness. In his most recent book Food Rules: An Eaters Manual, Pollan’s principal is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

Mark Bittman is also a judge, an American food journalist and author of the book Food Matters which covers environmental challenges, lifestyle diseases, overproduction and over consumption of meat.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

Next is Jonathan Safran Foer, American writer and author of Eating Animals, his third book. Foer explores the topics of factory farming, commercial fisheries, and slaughterhouse conditions and said that “in American slaughterhouses, cows are consistently bled, dismembered, and skinned while conscious." Foer also analyzes the risks in the health of human consumption of meat.

Andrew Light rounds out the panel of judges, a philosopher at George Mason University, specializing in environmental ethics and policy. He edited, with Erin McKenna, a collection of essays, “Animal Pragmatism: Rethinking Human-Nonhuman Relationships.”

Does anyone really think this collection of judges could pick a winning essay that says anything positive about the eating of meat? Not likely.

If we really needed proof that this whole contest was phony, that it was just another reason to put the vegetarian, anti-meat agenda in the limelight, The Times announced its six finalists last Sunday. Here’s a sampling of the first sentences from four of those entries.

  • "We would be foolish to deny that there are strong moral considerations against eating meat."
  • “In 1989 I decided that I could no longer justify the slaughter of animals on my behalf.”
  • “As a vegetarian who returned to meat-eating, I find the question ‘Is meat-eating ethical’ one that is in my head and heart constantly.”
  • “I’m about to eat meat for the first time in 40 years.”

Sorry, but those don’t sound like ringing endorsements for the livestock industries to me, and it doesn’t sound like the authors are carnivores. I’m pretty sure that none of them were written by Larry the Cable Guy.

So why bother? It’s obvious The New York Times doesn’t want to hear our story. What they wanted was another opportunity to call for an end to livestock and meat production – your livelihood.

In a few days they’ll announce a winner to this phony essay contest and we can all go back to ignoring The New York Times.

Source: Lisa Henderson is a sophomore in Agricultural Economics and Ag Communications at Kansas State University

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Kansas City  |  April, 27, 2012 at 09:12 AM

I hope you sent this article to the NY Times editorial section. If you did not, please do.

nebraska  |  April, 27, 2012 at 09:23 AM

We carnivores have little to say because we are busy chewing...YUM:)

Elizabeth Martin    
April, 27, 2012 at 09:24 AM

I thought the exact same thing!!

Joe Hernandez    
Upstate New York  |  April, 27, 2012 at 09:40 AM

Lisa, you are missing a great opportunity to open the discussion on your side. Don't "go back to ignoring the NYT", take them on.Explain your side. Not all cattle ranchers/farmers are as they paint them. Explain the need for balance in diet as in nature. Make your case and demand or dare them to print your response. Good luck

NYC  |  April, 27, 2012 at 09:41 AM

Read your comments and could not agree more. Was thinking the same thing as I read the essays this morning. I also some a stat somewhere that vegetarians only make up about 2-3% of the population. Not sure if you can check that somewhere, but if all you read was the new york times you would think that meat-eaters are in the minority. We may just be in the NYT editorial board.

Denver  |  April, 27, 2012 at 10:12 AM

Ah! Excellent! I just sent you an email (to your K-State email) saying I hoped this would see print, and here I see it's already headlining. Keep up the good work!

Suzie wilde    
San Angelo, TX  |  April, 27, 2012 at 10:17 AM

I tried to read the essays. I was shaking my head so much in disgust that I finally gave up. Phony, scam, and just plain ol' lies. I'm tired of reading, I'm going to get a 100% beef burger for lunch.

Chandler AZ  |  April, 27, 2012 at 10:28 AM

Those "judges" are just a little skewed, LOL--like the rest of the Times. Besides the yummy taste, how about the iron, the zinc, the other pluses? In addition, vegetarians and vegans always look sort of wrung out, but that may be from their incessant bounding up and down mountains and the like.

Texas  |  April, 27, 2012 at 10:33 AM

New York Times? Isn't that the stuff we put on the floor of the bird cage? No, really, the NYT is still printing their lies? Who reads it? No one important. Why even worry about their silly little game? It is all inconsequential.

Jennifer Griebenow    
Richmond, KY  |  April, 27, 2012 at 11:37 AM

I read your article regarding the essay contest! I believe in every word that you typed! I heavily considered entering the contest, as a pro-meat eater, agriculturalist, animal science major, farmer, etc. etc. However, as I was wrapping up my essay, I just sat and thought a few minutes on how 'wrong' the whole essay idea really was!!! I could not write the essay without returning to biblical times etc. etc. (As human beings, we are the caretakers....animals, livestock etc. etc. are not our equal) I didn't turn in the essay; I thought that it was just ridiculous! Anyway, I am so thankful that you wrote this article!

Calgary, Alberta  |  April, 27, 2012 at 11:55 AM

Yes, a group of us were naive enough to think that a logical, unemotional submission about meat consumption would be considered. W

meat consumer    
nebraska  |  April, 27, 2012 at 11:57 AM

The NY Times uses a natural resource for profit, and does harm to the evnironvent. Paper still comes from trees. Let he without sin cast the first stone. Meat sustains life.

Stacey Machado    
California  |  April, 27, 2012 at 12:51 PM

Thank you!!!! My thoughts exactly!! The panal of judges was insane how could they ever pick a"good" essay!!!

April, 27, 2012 at 01:18 PM

I hope we are not backing away from an opportunity here. We have been issued a challenge to discuss the ethics of using animals for food. It should not be taken lightly. I too believe that ending an animals life for the benefit of the human race is justified, but we must take every opportunity to verbalize that position. If we don't like the rules of the game, I'm not sure that is a good enough reason to sit on the sidelines and expect something positive to happen. I would challenge Drover's to sponsor their own essay contest, and invite a balanced panel or judges, meat eaters and non-meat eaters alike to participate. We could learn alot, and generate some tremendous new talking points to use as we move forward.

wisconsin  |  April, 27, 2012 at 02:02 PM

I once had a vegan drive me crazy with her "Go Vegan" stuff. So I looked into it a little. Here is something interestting to do... go to the US census information (available online). Look at the US population and use those numbers to estimate the protein needs of the US. Then look at the amount of crop land in the US, the average yield of soybeans/acre, and the protein content of soybeans. If all crop ground was planted in soybeans, we would barely have enough protien for the US population's needs. Not very feasible.

WY  |  April, 27, 2012 at 09:20 PM

But here in the real world who really cares.?

Virginia  |  April, 30, 2012 at 07:09 AM

Instead of declaring the contest to be phony you should be watching closely to see what gets turned in. NYTimes readers are an interesting collection: they may generate perspectives that are eye-opening to all

Illinois  |  April, 30, 2012 at 10:15 AM

If we're going to ask if its ethical to do a certain thing, isn't the first order of business to decide if something is ethical just because we say it is, or is there an ethic that transcends even our most sincere intentions? If we get a majority together and say this or that is unethical or ethical, does that then make it so? Does sincerity equal truth?

kansas  |  May, 01, 2012 at 09:34 AM

Excellent piece, but meaningless if the only readers are other farmers. As more than one of us suggest, it's important that this be forwarded to the NYT and every other media outlet in the US. While we can all agree it's dishonest and repulsive bias & bigotry, we cannot afford to ignore the 1.3 million "innocents" who read the Sunday NYT because they are our customers too. Remember that 1.3 million is equal to the total number of active, non-hobby, farmers in the entire U.S. now. With the 10s of millions of dollars being spent by HSUS, PETA, Sierra Club, etc., etc. to destroy modern agriculture, it would be foolish to miss any opportunity to expose the fraudulent claims they make to being Friends of our Customers.

SD  |  May, 02, 2012 at 01:38 PM

This isn't my original idea, but ethics is properly related to how we treat our animals, NOT whether or not it is right to eat meat. The vast majority of farmers/ranchers care wisely and well for our animals. We generally love what we do, which involves at the least a high regard for animals, probably genuine affection, or even love of those animals, though we know well those animals are being raised to be used as food. A more interesting 'contest' might just be what is ethical about trying to harm the career choice and very living of people who choose to eat animals or to raise food animals, as opposed to live our lives as we believe is right and properly ethical.

Sd  |  December, 27, 2012 at 01:09 AM

It's time all profesional fermers quit producing food- Let everyone fend for themselves. I'll rent my land to the highest bidder and they can produce their own food just like the NY Times suggests.The NY Times knows exactly how to feed the world. I give up. Its time to let a liberal activist newspaper control our food supply regardless of its having no clue how food is produced.

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