After reading a vegan argument against the consumption of eggs, I began seriously thinking about the ethics of eating. To quickly rehash the argument, Laying Hens are selectively bred to produce eggs of an unnaturally large size and at unnaturally high rate which is consequently detrimental to the quality of life of the hen. In short, eating eggs is unethical because egg production is hard on the hen.
Using this same logic, I looked to the world of farmed edible plants, meat, and hunting and gathering. My goal: To discover an extremely ethical diet.
For most folks, extreme isn’t realistic. With a hint of satire and a good dose of warped logic, I hope to make you smile while making you think about the food you eat. In the end what I’m really looking for is a mindfully ethical diet that is realistic for your family and good for your conscience, your health, and your world.
The Problem with Farmed Edible Plants
Like laying hens, most edible plants are selectively bred to produce high yields of unnaturally large-sized edible goods at unnaturally high rates. GMO takes this a step further. Plants don’t have feelings so does it really matter what we do to them? Regardless, it’s unnatural. Does unnatural mean unethical? Is selective breeding really unnatural?
Organic farming seems to be the solution to this problem. However, organic farmers still use selectively bred seed. They still irrigate. They fertilize. They battle insects and weeds on behalf of their crop. Pulling weeds and battling insects sounds rather violent. All of these practices give the plants an edge not available to plants in the wild. Does that make it unethical?
Whether farming organic or not, most operations use copious amounts of power leaving a giant sized carbon footprint. Think of all the pollution caused by those tractors. Without that power, the farms wouldn’t be as efficient or successful. Without those tractors we’d have to use horse power or human power. Is it better to make horses work hard, or humans? Is working hard unethical? Is machinery unethical?
Farmers make food but they also have to make money and therefore they may be tempted to grow the crops that pay the most rather than the plants that will grow best in the area or the plants that offer the most value to human health. How many highly nutritious products are actually made from corn, soy, and wheat compared to the mass of processed foods whose main ingredients are corn, soy, and wheat? Is growing plants for the purpose of making money unethical? Is it unethical to grow crops that will ultimately be turned into junk food?
The Extremely Ethical Solution: Gathering from the Wild
Grab a basket, a field guide of edible plants, and get out into the wild. Make sure to only take what you need. Waste not; want not. Also be sure to leave enough of each species so they can continue to thrive in the area. In harvesting your meal remember that it is unethical to kill. If you are plucking leaves, don’t pluck them all. If you are digging for roots, leave some in the ground. If you are collecting fruits, nuts, or seeds, leave some behind to sow next years’ vegetation.
There likely aren’t enough edible plants in the wild to feed the planet so get out there before the competition arrives. I’m pretty sure survival of the fittest (in this case fastest) is natural selection in action. Natural is ethical, right?
The Problem with Livestock
Even the most hardcore carnivore wouldn’t argue that large-scale livestock production is environmentally responsible or the least bit humane. What about small-scale, free-range, steroid and antibiotic free, organic meat production? Even these animals are selectively bred to be docile and most importantly, meaty. The fate of animals from either farm is the same. No matter how quick and painless the slaughter, it is still killing.
Like the plant farmers, livestock farmers use trucks and tractors and power. Raising livestock leaves a pretty deep carbon footprint. The payoff for this footprint, meat. An animal isn’t just meat. What do we do with hair, fur, and feathers? What do we do with bones, hooves, tendons, and entrails? Regardless, we’re still killing. Is killing unethical?
Entomophagy is a buzz word in the protein industry. What is entomophagy? Eating insects. There is far less waste and much less power consumption in raising insects compared to other livestock, but it is still killing. Furthermore, the insects are bred and raised in very unnatural conditions in very tight quarters. Imagine thousands of bugs inside a container, crawling over each other, defecating on each other. Ethical?
What about hunting and fishing? Humans are not carnivores and therefore do not need to hunt and kill prey. We do need protein. My vegetarian friends tell me we do not need to eat meat because of our access to meat alternatives. If you’re going animal-free protein, we’ve already covered edible plant products. We already know eggs aren’t ethical. What about dairy? I’m guessing it isn’t natural to keep an animal lactating long after its offspring have been weaned off the teat.
The Extremely Ethical Solution: Scavenging
If you absolutely insist on eating meat, scavenging is the only extremely ethical option. All you really need to do is hang out by a highway in the evening. Just wait until some unsuspecting ungulate hops onto the road only to be blinded by headlights and killed by the blunt force trauma of a speeding vehicle. If you’re lucky you’ll score a moose or elk and have enough meat to feed your family for several months.
If roadkill isn’t your bag, you could hit the trails in search of natural-death animals. Make sure to cook them really well. Who knows what brought their demise. Lastly, but probably most dangerous, is to follow a wolf pack and clean up the remains of the hunt. Act quickly because you’ll be fighting off the ravens and maggots.
The Extremely Reasonable Conclusion
Do some research. Investigate. Find out how you can add more ethically grown or raised food to your diet. Start slow. Some is better than none. As you learn more, you’ll change more.