The Omnivore’s Dilemma

Prompt: Why is it—to some—so controversial and unethical to eat animals? What arguments do Michael Pollan and Peter Singer bring up concerning the moral status of an animal? Do you think eating meat is justified? Do you think animals have rights? What is the vegetarian’s dilemma?

In Michael Pollan and Peter Singer’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma the authors address the topic of the ethic of eating animals and makes a claim that, fundamentally, eating meat is unethical. Pollan and Singer present a variety of arguments, one of which claims that the way when we eat meat we are “speciesist” whose definitions of what should and should not be eaten falter when we “marginal cases”.

While Pollan and Singer bring up valid ethical considerations the fact of the matter is that human beings are distinct from animals, contrary to what Pollan and Singer believe, and therefore the ethics of eating meat should be determined by society and principles based off the equality of humans and animals.

Pollan and Singer bring up an interesting point when they claim that the decision of whether or not to eat meat boils down to either satisfying “gastrointestinal preferences” or causing animals to continually suffer. However there is a flaw to this argument. The assumption that eating meat is a “gastrointestinal preference” assumes a first-world setting with individuals whose diets can be dictated by choice rather than practicality or affordability. The fact of the matter is that in low-income communities getting to a mere grocery store to get adequate nutrients is already a challenge. Couple the difficulty getting nutrients with the demand that humans not eat meat for ethical considerations and those who are low-income are in a situation where the only way they can comply is to do damage to themselves nutritionally. However if animals are assumed to be equal to humans, as the authors of this book do, the issue of whether or not animals suffer or low-income individuals suffer a lower quality of life has an easy answer: animals should not suffer. However the assertion that humans and animals are equals is a flawed assumption, as human beings possess special qualities that differentiate humans from animals.

Human beings are distinct from animals because of two reasons: human potential and genetics. Despite the various arguments for animal and human equality, human potential grossly overwhelms any animal potential. Humans have created grand institutions to continually develop technology and acquire new information. Humans have found the ability to sustain large populations of human life (whether or not they choose to is a different question entirely) and have found the ability to destroy large populations of human life as well (hydrogen bombs). To say that animals could have created any of these technological advances would be a false assertion. To say that none of these advances matter would be undermining the very advancements that make human life (specifically, yours) even possible to begin with.

The authors then try to equate humans to animals by stating that the very qualities that we use to discount animals from being humans (ability to rationalize, speak, etc.) are very qualities that those with disabilities lack. Thus the authors claim that if we count those with disabilities as something humans do not eat, we should not eat animals as well. However this ignores the randomness of genetics. Human beings are fundamentally and genetically human despite the physiological outcome. Genetics are so fickle that to say that any human being definitely could not have been one of the “marginal cases” (those with some form of disabilities) is not a claim that anyone could realistically make. To have the great potential of human kind comes with the possibility of disabilities. Therefore to equate the characteristics of those with disabilities to  the characteristics of animals would be to equate something that all humans share on some level (the possibility of having it at the very least) and would equate two fundamentally different potentials. Thus choosing between the health of a human being and the survival of animals becomes a much more difficult decision. To limit the quality of life of human beings to save animals would be playing god amongst people who neither asked for their condition nor for the moral imposition pegged to their attempts to obtain proper nutrition.

Despite the fact that eating meat is not unethical, animals should have rights. The way that animals are treated can be incredibly brutal and despite the fact that they are not humans they are still living beings and should be treated as such. Where to draw the line for animal rights is tough and should be left up to those who truly understand the issue and the nature of animals.

Post Submitted by: Jesse Chiang


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