The Ethics of Eating Meat

April 21, 2012

The New York Times recently asked readers to write a 600 word (or less) essay on Is it Ethical to Eat Meat? Expecting a few hundred responses, editors of the NYT Magazine received thousands. They were overwhelmed with the number of readers who felt strongly enough about the topic to submit an essay. Unfortunately they didn’t choose mine, but after reading the six finalists, I can see why. I focused on grassfed beef and they were really looking for advocates of meat in general. I left out all those ethical chicken and sheep farmers I know! So, to read the excellent finalists you can go to the New York Times blog, The Ethicist. They will publish the winner in their May 6 edition. Below is my entry, focusing on grassfed beef.

Well-managed cattle play a crucial and unique part in Mother Nature’s big picture. They are fossil fuel-free plows, tractors, fertilizers, and pruners.  They act as natural tillers that build healthy soils and deep roots, preventing erosion and promoting plant “filters” that clean waterways and air. There is no question that certain practices of raising meat are not environmentally sound. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) do present challenges for water quality and humane treatment, but there are viable alternatives and that is the direction we need to be going in, on a large scale. Grassfed beef is Mother Nature’s perfect byproduct: a protein-rich food source that has the added benefits of enriching soil, promoting healthy grass and rangelands, and increasing biodiversity on the watersheds we all depend upon. Animals raised on open pastures and rangelands, with plenty of access to fresh water and abundant grasses, live good lives. They enjoy better views than many humans and are born, raised, and die in stress-free environments.

Their lives are honored further when they are harvested for good food that nourishes people’s bodies and brains. Grassfed beef is a pure source of essential nutrients including iron, Omega-3 fatty acids, beta-carotene, and minerals. These are the very building locks of healthy bodies. Like plants, grassfed beef is something our bodies have naturally evolved to digest and absorb – there is no waste or added calories that contribute to obesity, diabetes or osteoporosis.  Protein is needed to develop young brains and ward off Alzheimer’s in aging brains.  Amino acids, the body’s building blocks, are instrumental in forming cells, repairing tissue, making antibodies, building nucleoproteins (RNA/DNA), carrying oxygen throughout the body, assisting muscle activity, as well as being part of the enzyme and hormonal system. Another benefit of protein is helping the body fight off illness and disease and keeping the immune system functioning properly. Our bodies need the nutrients in grassfed beef.

Health benefits aside, well-managed grass and rangelands reduce global warming by sequestering carbon out of the air. Grasslands cover about one-fourth of the earth’s surface. Rangelands, unsuitable to grow other crops, account for even more, up to 70% of the earth’s surface by some estimates. In order for plants to thrive and photosynthesize they need to re-generate. What better way to plant, fertilize, water, and harvest – so it can start all over again – a blade of grass (or native vegetation) than a cow (or goat)? Again, Mother Nature is at work and we meat eaters are merely her benefactors. When managed properly and on a large scale, livestock peacefully go about their day grazing, fertilizing, and turning the soil we all depend upon.  They create healthy ecosystems which act as the earth’s largest carbon sink and actually produce the oxygen all life depends upon.  Your question should be: “Is it ethical not to eat meat?”


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