The Future Is Meatless

Eating meat often enables cruelty to animals and is harmful to the environment, but the future of meat(less) products is bright.

In the churches I grew up in, hypocrisy surrounded me. The lessons we learned on Wednesday and Sunday had no correlation to how we lived outside of church. Inside those walls, we were Christians; outside of them, we were regular people.

I hated being part of a group that was so unapologetically hypocritical. It has always been clear to me that it’s not okay to behave in a way that is inconsistent with your beliefs, and if you have a difficult time following your beliefs, maybe you should look for new ones.

I do my best to live an unhypocritical life. I drive the way I want others to drive; I obey all the rules of the road and am courteous to my fellow drivers. It would be unfair to expect everyone else to obey traffic laws and not adhere to them myself. Voting is a necessary, but painful, hypocrisy. There are normally only two options with a chance of winning on the ballot, and the values of the politicians I vote for rarely align with my own. This year, anyone who votes for either of the two major candidates will be voting for men accused of sexual assault.

I do my best to keep the hypocrisy in my life to a minimum, but there is one hypocrisy in my life that I don’t agonize over. I try my best not to think about it, actually. Most Americans do the same.

I normally eat meat at least once a day. If you asked me where it came from, I’d probably say Kroger. I don’t know how the meat on my plate got there, and I don’t want to know. I try to view meat as any other food: something made by people, not something that once was living and breathing. I’m not here to preach to you about eating meat, but I believe we should at least think about where our food comes from, and consider making changes when we are able.

Is eating meat moral?

It’s difficult to know exactly how many animals are capable of feeling and consciousness, but we know these traits aren’t exclusive to humans. Every time we eat meat, there is an animal that likely suffered to provide us that meal. Many of us don’t eat meat because we have to in order to survive, we eat meat because we enjoy it and it tastes good. Cows, chickens, pigs, and more suffer for our enjoyment.

If we didn’t eat meat, though, cows, chickens, and pigs wouldn’t live blissful lives in green pastures, dying of old age. They wouldn’t exist. Which brings up another question: is the short, often painful, existence of an animal better than no existence at all?

Many human lives are short and filled with suffering; are those humans better off not existing? It’s easier to say that an animal would be better off not having lived at all than suffering because we value human life more than animal life. Even if a human is in pain and suffers, that suffering is worth it because the cost, the loss of a human life, is worse than the human’s suffering.

The life of a cow or chicken or any other animal is not worth that much to begin with to us, so of course we believe it’s better for those animals to not live at all than to live and suffer. We can’t understand the meaningful life experiences of a cow. Cows don’t go to school or get a job or get married, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a fulfilling life (which for a cow probably means eating grass and hanging out with cow friends all day). 

Meat consumption is not a black and white issue. Who am I to say that a cow or a chicken would rather never live at all than be bred on an ethical and humane farm for food? I believe it’s better for an animal to have a pleasant existence than no existence at all, but also that many animals we eat for food would have been better off never coming into this world. I don’t believe eating meat is inherently wrong, and it’s possible for the animals we eat to have pleasant and enjoyable lives.

Unfortunately, not many animals we eat have a pleasant existence; over 99% of U.S.-farmed animals live on “factory farms.” Ethical, humane farms aren’t that great, either. Treating animals right is usually worse for the environment (grass-fed cow farming produces two to four times as much methane, for example, and uses more land and water), not to mention more expensive. The environmental costs of raising animals for food in a humane and ethical manner are too great. We can’t afford the enormous amount of resources required and pollution generated when raising animals for food in a humane way. This is why the future is meatless (well, meat alternative).

We can’t stop people from eating meat; even vegans and vegetarians have a hard time resisting animal products, as 84% eventually return to eating meat. Our taste for meat isn’t going anywhere, but animals are. Meat alternatives aren’t just for people that don’t eat animal meat anymore, they’re for everyone. Eventually, meat alternatives will replace traditional meat.

Meat alternatives are the best long-term solution we have. The switch won’t happen overnight, but we’ve already seen major fast-food restaurants, some of the biggest targets of PETA and similar animal rights groups, try out alternative meat products in their restaurants. Some of them, like Burger King, have embraced alternative meats and permanently added them to the menu. Eventually, alternative meat will taste identical to the real thing (some are already indistinguishable to “real” meat products), and will be cheap to produce. When that happens, expect almost all restaurants and grocery stores to offer primarily meat-free products (as long as the agricultural lobbyists don’t get in their way). Until that day comes, we need to make sure the animals we eat are treated as humanely and with as much respect as possible.

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