Ethical Carnivores Care for Animals Too

Have you heard about Lucy? The intensively-farmed sow with the intelligence of a three year old who, in a series of Australian radio ads, tells of a life so miserable that she wishes she could “close [her] eyes and not wake up.”

Many would see the Lucy ads as a call for more Australians to become vegetarian or vegan. This would not be a bad thing. Vegetarians walk the walk. Whether frowning at menus short of meat-free options or unapologetically arriving at cocktail parties in tennis shoes, they put their morals where there mouths are and by so doing implicitly challenge the rest of us to do the same. “I care about the suffering of animals, and so I don’t eat meat or wear leather,” the vegetarian wordlessly proclaims. “What about you?”

Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the meat-eating divide. A vegetarian during my late teens and twenties on ethical grounds, I began eating meat again when, pregnant for the first time, my dreams became crowded with steak and hamburgers and my midwife diagnosed me with low levels of iron. Another pregnancy and more than a decade later, I have never looked back.

But while I continue to eat and enjoy meat, I rarely feel guilty. This is because, for the most part, I am an ethical carnivore.

Most people don’t know it, but the central claim in Professor Peter Singer’s revolutionary book Animal Liberation is that because animals suffer, they are owed moral consideration. The sort of moral consideration that requires we humans to eliminate any unnecessary suffering, and reduce as much as possible the suffering justified by the greater good: like that caused by scientific experiments which will yield important results that can not be obtained in any other way.

This means that while vegetarianism is a good way of meeting our moral obligations to animals, it is not the only one. Another is to commit ourselves to only consuming animal products that have been farmed in ethical ways: in way that mean that the animal does not suffer during its life or, as far as is possible, in the slaughtering process.

Does this mean ethical carnivores eat less meat? Almost certainly yes, as most restaurants serve factory-farmed products, so most meat-eating must be done at home. But it also means that when we take the time and pay the cash for free-range pork, chicken and eggs, we can consume it guilt-free.

The Lucy ad is the latest in a long-line of attempts by animal liberationists to inform us of the intense, unnecessary and unjustified suffering of intensively farmed animals. Animals that may spend their entire lives in darkness and in cramped boxes that deny them the freedom to stretch, turn, or even stand, little less perform any of their normal behavioral repertoire like scratching or nursing young. Animals whose suffering should and does move us.

Ethical carnivores accept that the indifference of western consumers to the suffering of animals is a consequence of our removal from the gruesome and inhumane conditions in which most live and die. We accept that it is our obligation to look at the reality of the lives of the animals whose flesh and products we consume, and accept responsibility for it.

But we believe that turning vegetarian or vegan is not the only way to do this. Another is to make sure that the life of the animal we consume have been managed with care.

Publication history

Ethical Carnivores Care for Animals Too  Sunday Sun-Herald (Sydney)