Choosing the winner of an essay contest about the ethics of eating meat must have been difficult for the five hand-picked men chosen as judges for The New York Times’ contest. That’s because those men are either vegetarians or opposed to the modern practices of raising livestock. But, true to their obligation, choose a winner they did – though the author of the winning essay admits he’s a “vegetarian who returned to meat-eating.”
Still, the winner of The Times’ contest is a meat eater. Hey, those of us who still support modern agriculture must take small victories where we can find them.
Jay Bost wrote the winning entry, and he told The Times he has been "a farmworker, plant geek, agroecologist and foodie for the past 20 years." He teaches at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, N.C., and plans to head to Hawaii next year for a Ph.D. in tropical plant and soil science. His deepest interest is in agrobiodiversity.
The contest was initiated by The Times’ ethicist, Ariel Kaminer, who also picked what she calls “some of the strongest ethical critics of meat, or at least of the way we consume it – Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan and Peter Singer.
In a column in Sunday’s Times, Kaminer acknowledged the contest drew plenty of heat from both sides of the ethical argument. “Immediately, incensed blog posts, e-mails, radio broadcasts and tweets started appearing,” Kaminer wrote. “Carnivores condemned the contest as antimeat propaganda. Vegans condemned the contest as pro-meat propaganda. Yet others said that I was trying to impose a single moral code; they were matched by those who said I was abetting moral anarchy. People dismissed the contest as either too elitist or too populist.”
The contest drew about 3,000 entries, and the judges considered 29 semi-finalists. Almost 17,000 people voted online for their favorite essay among the six finalists. Kaminer’s personal favorite entry “got zero votes from the judges. It was a simple paragraph that basically said: like it or not, when we render this planet uninhabitable, we’re going to have to move to another, and the only thing that’s going to make anyone let animals into the spaceship is the chance to eat them.”
Art Brisbane, The Times’ public editor, noted in his column the same day, “the contest started a fuss even before it was over, as bloggers, commenters and e-mailers lodged objections on every conceivable side of the question, while others jumped in as participants.”
About the winning entry, Brisbane wrote, “it argued that eating meat was ethical only under certain conditions – so many conditions that I am just going to have to refer you to the essay in the magazine, because it’s awfully complicated.”
Brisbane also noted that the popular vote-getter among The Times’ readers was one written by PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk, who argued that only in vitro meat is ethical to eat.
“I think you get the picture,” Brisbane wrote. “The case for eating meat, as presented in The Times, is a pretty narrow one.”
Preparing to write his column, Brisbane also noticed the commentary by Lisa Henderson posted on Drovers/CattleNetwork, “Why The New York Times essay contest is phony.”
(Full disclosure: Lisa is my daughter, brainwashed since birth about the advantages of modern agriculture and the responsibilities humans have for proper animal care. She was also fed cheeseburgers and spare ribs as a child, allowed to ride a horse without a helmet, and forced to bait her own fishing hook. She’s now a sophomore at Kansas State University majoring in ag economics and ag communications.)
Brisbane noted that he called Lisa and asked her what she thought about meat eating. She said: “I believe that humans are omnivores and that meat provides protein and other things that are essential for health. Animals utilize grass. Animals help us utilize more of the earth. I am not anti-vegetarian, but they seem to be anti-meat, and they seem to want to take that choice away from me.”
Case closed. Contest over.
And the winner has something in common with you and me – he’s a meat eater.