Commentary: Should we continue eating meat?

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From groups like PETA gaining publicity for their warped campaigning against animal agriculture, to vegan activists preaching a no-meat-on the-table dietary revolution, to environmental apologists flogging the argument that planetary survival depends on the elimination of livestock production, the anti-industry momentum so many media channels have helped generate has become overwhelming.

In contrast, there have been precious few voices raising arguments that support—much less extol—the benefits and values of meat eating. At best, industry has a couple attack dogs whose bark’s a lot worse than their bite, some low-profile scientific types whose research paints a different picture than the opposition’s rhetoric, and a number of well-credentialed but vocally challenged dietary “experts” who offer limp endorsements of the “a varied diet is a good diet” philosophy.

Oh, sure. There’s any number of celebrity chefs and restaurateurs who love to include various animal foods in their repertoire and their pricey cookbooks, but most aren’t really outspoken enough about the principle that raising livestock and producing meat products is positive and valuable and justified.

Well, now there’s a chance to change all that, a contest to sink your teeth into, so to speak, a chance to speak up and—for once—shout down the naysayers who’ve held the stage for decades with their message that animal husbandry is wrong, meat-eating is bad and the entire business of animal food production is a disaster that’s already happened.

The New York Times (actually the newspaper’s Magazine) is launching a contest to see if there is someone, anyone, out there who can offer up a coherent justification for the practice of meat-eating.

That’s right: Things have gotten so one-sided that the “Newspaper of Record” feels compelled to ask readers if there really is any reason not to board the vegetarian bandwagon.

Here’s how the newspaper’s contest announcement phrased it:

“In recent years, vegetarians—and to an even greater degree vegans, their hardcore inner circle—have dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating. From the philosopher Peter Singer, whose 1975 volume ‘Animal Liberation’ galvanized an international movement, to the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, who wrote the 2009 best seller ‘Eating Animals,’ those who forswear meat have made the case that what we eat is a crucial ethical decision. To be just, they say, we must put down our cheeseburgers and join their ranks.

“In response, those who love meat have had surprisingly little to say. They say, of course, that, well, they love meat or that meat is deeply ingrained in our habit or culture or cuisine or that it’s nutritious or that it’s just part of the natural order. Some of the more conscientious carnivores have devoted themselves to enhancing the lives of livestock, by improving what those animals eat, how they live and how they are killed.

“But few have tried to answer the fundamental ethical issue: Whether it is right to eat animals in the first place, at least when human survival is not at stake. So today we announce a nationwide contest for the omnivorous readers of The New York Times. We invite you to make the strongest possible case for this most basic of daily practices.”

After reading that, I feel like a prosecuting attorney who’s just heard from the bench the question, “Counselor, are you ready with your closing arguments?”

This is a challenge that rivals the duels of old, when a rival slaps you across the face and dares you to respond. So here’s how to do exactly that, in the newspaper’s own words:

“We have assembled a veritable murderer’s row of judges—some of the most influential thinkers to question or condemn the eating of meat: Peter Singer, Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer and Andrew Light. If you can make it past them, we’ll put your name in lights (or at least in print). So get thinking. And get writing. You have two weeks and 600 words in which to make sense of our species’ entire dietary history. Bon appétit!”

I would love to have as many people who visit this website, who depend on the scientists, business experts and journalists whose contributions appear here each day, to take up the challenge, to put together their thoughts on why the noble profession of animal husbandry—the world’s second oldest, to be precise—should be the recipient of compliments, not criticism, of congratulations, rather than condemnation.

If nothing else, I want The Times to be flooded with as many comments as possible from among the millions of people who earn a living in this industry, who own companies that produce the food that sustains millions more families, who work as scientists, researchers, technicians, managers and marketers helping develop and improve the animal food products on which humanity has thrived for untold millennia.

There—I just gave you an opening paragraph.

Gentleman—and ladies—start your laptops.

 Click here for access to contest details.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.


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Craig A. Moore    
Billings, MT  |  March, 22, 2012 at 10:01 AM

I srnt in my two cents worth and thought it best to keep it short and simple, as the following. The main thing is to stay natural, as in nature. Every mammal that has cannine teeth are a carnivour or omnivour. Every mammal or fowl with forward pointing eyes has meat as part or total of it diet. Being a human does not remove me from the natural scheme of things. Craig

Thom Katt    
Midwest  |  March, 22, 2012 at 11:33 AM

Well said!!!

Jess    
Heppner, Oregon  |  March, 22, 2012 at 12:52 PM

It's not just eating meat! People are so oblivious to what goes on around them. Animal bi-products are in EVERYTHING. Gum, candles, asphalt, clothes, wall paper, crayons, beauty products. Not to mention that unless you want to re-digest you're own waste there is no way for our bodies to break down vitamin B, which is extremely necessary for normal body functions. Yes, the world could stop eating meat but what about everything else? As a cattle producer, you can bet the New York Time's is going to get my two-cents.

Dan Murphy    
Everett, Washington  |  March, 22, 2012 at 03:24 PM

So far, so good. I like what I'm reading, and I'd love to see a dozen more people--a day--taking up the challenge to explain animal agriculture to people who (apparently) don't understand.

Kathryn    
Sisters, OR  |  March, 22, 2012 at 08:51 PM

I think you've missed the point of the Times contest. They don't care about the husbandry aspect of livestock production or the associated science or support industries. They want us to explain the ethics of being a carnivore. Look up the definition of ethics - it's a philosophical debate that those of us who are busy raising the animals don't have time for. Some things you just know are ok. Philosophers don't want an answer, they want an endless, circular discussion. It's a stupid contest.


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