Animal Kingdom: Friend or food: The ethicality of eating meat


Graphic by Shraddha Sriram

Humans love meat. Steak, fried chicken, bacon, pork belly and sausages are often the highlight of dinner. Eating meat has become so normalized that many people do not consider something a proper meal if there is no animal meat involved. While only a few decades ago meat was considered a luxury, a cheeseburger is now only a few dollars at your nearest McDonalds.  

 Paradoxically, meat is pretty much the most inefficient way of feeding humans. On a national scale, meat is an unsustainable source of nutrients or calories. According to Nature Food, it takes 28 times the amount of carbon emissions to produce a kilogram of beef compared to a kilogram of wheat. When looking through the lens of the climate crisis, sustaining our entire population on an animal based diet is a sure way to lead our planet further toward destruction. 

In contrast, the consumption of meat is not inherently unsustainable or unethical. While intensive farming practices are detrimental to both animals and the environment, there are many sustainable and ethical methods of meat production. Small-scale and family-owned farms, for example, can provide animals with ample space, access to the outdoors and humane treatment.

Humans follow the natural order, similar to many other species, consuming smaller and weaker animals. That is the way it has always been. Around 2.6 million years ago, the hominins started to incorporate meat as a regular part of their diet. Being a herbivore was easy; plants did not run away or fight back — but it just was not enough. The addition of meat provided a tastier, more fulfilling meal that the herbivore diet did not offer, offering nutrients like B12. According to modern studies, the switch to a diet full of calorie-rich meat meant an excess of energy that could be directed to supporting larger, more complex brains. 

While it is true that humans have evolved to eat meat, it is important to consider the ethical implications of this when it comes to the treatment of the animals that we rely on for our food. Just because something is natural does not make it ethical, as other animalistic impulses include rape and murder, both of which are considered unacceptable.  Despite being tasty and healthy, meat is no longer necessary for survival or thriving, and alternatives such as plant-based diets have become increasingly popular. While meat may have been essential to human evolution, this is no longer the case in modern society.

Our food does not simply tend to our biological needs, as meat has evolved to play an important role in many cultures and traditions around the world. Meat-based dishes are often central to celebrations and special occasions, and for many people, eating meat is an important part of their cultural identity. Despite how meat is revered and seen as a delicacy, there are prejudices surrounding eating different types of animals. 

While eating pigs, cows, ducks and other birds is completely natural, dogs are completely off limits. The only reason society holds dogs in higher regard is due to the emotional connection our species has created with these domesticated animals. If pigs, animals with higher intelligence than even toddlers, were household animals, society would not be willing to accept them as food. In many parts of the world, dogs are bred, similar to farm animals, for the sole purpose of being slaughtered to feed humans. It is a social norm to hold hypocritical standards towards people who consume this meat. Discriminating against people for the food they eat, animals like millions of others, is outright unacceptable. 

Ultimately, while the topic of meat consumption is controversial, meat will continue to be an essential part of many lives. It is impossible to expect everyone from different cultures to all conform to the same diet, as different cultures hold different values.