The Meat & Dairy Habit is No Longer Just a “Matter of Personal Choice”
The birth of the modern animal rights movement is often associated with the publication of bioethicist Peter Singer’s seminal book, Animal Liberation in 1975. In his book, Singer claimed that within the doctrine of utilitarianism (the doctrine that actions by humans are right if they are useful or benefit a majority of humans), the boundary between humans and “animals” is completely arbitrary. Singer argued that we humans should extend the same ethical and moral considerations to non-human animals that we extend to our fellow humans.
Over the past 40+ years, animal rights advocates have built upon Singer’s framework, constructing claims against meat and dairy consumption specific to the rights of the exploited animals– that animals are capable of physical and emotional suffering; that we humans are infringing on their rights to be free from our exploitation that causes such suffering; and further, that as self-proclaimed moral agents, we humans are immoral to cause any such “unnecessary” suffering, and we have a “moral imperative” to end such suffering.
Over those years, mainstream debate about the “necessity” of suffering inflicted upon farmed animals has centered on claims by meat & dairy consumers and industry advocates that animal-based foods are essential for human health. I.e., their suffering from our exploitation is essential for our human health, etc.
However, such claims have been variously debunked by a comprehensive body of scientific research, including T. Colin Campbell’s “China Study” and many others, which has determined that animal-based foods are not essential for human health, and in fact, are the cause of the most prevalent diseases in modern humans including heart disease, various cancers, and diabetes.
Indeed, in 2003, the National Institutes of Health published a meta study by the American Dietetic Association (ADA) which “reviewed scientific data related to key nutrients for vegans including protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D, riboflavin, vitamin B-12, vitamin A, n-3 fatty acids, and iodine.” The ADA concluded that “a vegan diet can meet current recommendations for all of these nutrients,” and that a “well-planned vegan diet is appropriate for all stages of the life-cycle including during pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence.”
With such exhaustive scientific proofs that nutritional “necessity” of animal-based foods is in fact mere fallacy, vegans have thus reinforced their advocacy that eating animals is morally and ethically indefensible.
So where does that leave the +90% of Americans who continue to eat animal-based foods? Popular ethical debate is now shifting to claims of perceived individual rights to “personal choice.” This basis of “personal choice” to eat animals is indirectly supported by a trio of rationalizations including, (1) the “natural order” argument; i.e., “it’s the way of nature– animals eat other animals, we’re an animal, etc.” (2) the “cultural heritage” argument where the defense of eating animals is constructed as the protection of cultural autonomy or the preservation of sacred and/or endangered cultural traditions. And (3) the “food entertainment” argument– “I eat animals because my body craves it; it makes me feel good.”
To be clear, the food entertainment argument is not a throwback to the already debunked claim of nutritional necessity. Rather, it’s a glimpse, finally, into the basis of casual (unnecessary) consumption of animal flesh by humans– it’s a learned food addiction that simply makes its consumers “feel good”. In fact, there is building scientific evidence that the proteins in animal-based foods have addictive properties similar to opiates (which make us “feel good”).
Of course, there are physical addictions to meat and dairy, such as explained in this excellent and concise article on dairy addiction, as well as psychological addictions to meat and dairy consumption as indicated above in the examples of the “natural order” and “cultural heritage” arguments.
More and more, addictive disorder is considered a “disease” with common biological markers that indicate morbidity of neurological and hormonal systems. These biological markers are common across physical addictions such as food, alcohol and drug addiction; behavioral addictions such as gambling and sex addiction; as well as psychological addictions such as anger-mongering, hate-mongering (racism), chauvinism (sexism and jingoism), and likely, speciesism.
In modern society, most all these addictions are legal, and considered a matter of “personal choice” so long as they don’t affect the “personal rights” of other humans. For example, a sex addict can legally use pornography to satisfy their addiction, but as soon as they impose their cravings on another to satisfy their addiction, without consent, it is considered rape.
The attempts of the modern animal rights movement to extend “personal rights” to non-human animals has been largely a failed strategy in terms of encouraging a mass transition of humans to veganism. But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It just means that moral arguments are no more likely to convince a meat eater to give up their meat, than any other addict to give up their choice of addiction. Thus the common phrase, “addicts have to hit rock bottom.”
So, it’s a bitter irony that the burgeoning crises of climate change and species extinction– caused foremost by meat and dairy consumers themselves– are plunging all of human society to the proverbial “rock bottom” of human excess.
Meat and dairy consumers are the #1 cause of global deforestation, rainforest depletion, soil degradation, global warming, catastrophic weather and wildfires, water pollution, desertification, ocean dead zones, ocean acidification, water scarcity, food insecurity (aka World Hunger), global refugee crises and related global security issues (aka resource wars).
“Meat and dairy consumers are the single most destructive force on Earth.
Meat and dairy consumers are the single most destructive force on Earth. Not only because of their exploitation of over one trillion fish, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other farmed animals force-bred, force-grown and killed each year to make meat and dairy consumers “feel good.” And not only because of the 57% of the lands used by humans are used to feed meat and dairy consumers. But that meat and dairy consumers are now driving escalating planetary crises unlike any seen in the history of humanity, and which now infringe on the individual rights of every human on the planet.
Further, the global crises driven by today’s meat and dairy consumers not only threaten the extinction of other species, but also threaten the very survivability of our own species as well.
It’s a different world now than in 1975. The appetites of meat and dairy consumers now infringe upon the most essential of all individual human rights, the right to a healthy planet and secure future. Their massive impacts to the planet affect us all and future generations. So, meat and dairy consumers can no longer defend their destructive habits as simply a matter a “personal choice.”