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Rolling Out Our Contest Results: “Why It’s Unethical to Eat Meat,” Starting With Runner-Up Ashley Capps

By Visiting Animal — April 23, 2012

In response to The New York Times’ recent contest, “Calling All Carnivores: Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat,” launched by “The Ethicist,” a column written by Ariel Kaminer, we launched a counter-contest, “Calling All Herbivores: Tell Us Why Its Unethical to Eat Meat.” Our ask was simple: Send us 600 words or less telling us why eating meat is unethical. We asked that the pieces be completely original and never-before-published. The contest was judged by me (Jasmin Singer), animal law professor and OHH co-founder Mariann Sullivan, and vegan cookbook author Isa Chandra Moskowitz. 

Photo by Derek Goodwin, Courtesy of Farm Sanctuary (

Your essays poured in, making our jobs very difficult. We found ourselves inspired by your passion, compassion, and articulateness. We decided to dedicate this week to publishing the essays of four runners-up and, finally, one winner — which you’ll see this Friday right here on Our Hen House. The four runners-up, published beginning today and through Thursday, are listed in no particular order; we just really liked what these people had to say, and felt they made their argument in a well thought-out, concise, compelling, and creative way. 

If you’re interested in reading the results of The New York Times’ contest, there are five essays waiting for your perusal in “Put Your Ethics Where Your Mouth Is.” They are asking for our votes for the winning article. Pay particular attention to “I’m About to Eat Meat for the First Time in 40 Years,” which details a long-time vegetarian’s flirtation with eating in-vitro meat! That one clearly has our vote. 

And so, we now begin showing you some of the essays you submitted that also won our hearts. We begin with runner-up Ashley Capps. 



Why It’s Unethical to Eat Meat

by Ashley Capps

In any discussion concerning the ethics of eating animals, it feels important to begin by pointing out a frequently overlooked distinction: that harming and killing animals from necessity is not morally equivalent to harming and killing animals for pleasure. Just as shooting someone in self-defense is not commensurate with shooting someone to satisfy a sadistic urge — killing animals for food when we have no other choice for survival, is not morally equivalent to killing animals when we have plentiful alternatives. Violence committed in order to save a life is never analogous to violence committed for pleasure or profit.

This distinction is crucial for several reasons, the first of which is that it clarifies a serious category error, in the thinking of people who insist that meat-eating is “natural”— and therefore morally neutral — because other animals eat animals. It’s important to realize that, with a few exceptions, when humans kill other animals for food, we’re not doing what animals do in nature. When animals kill other animals for food, they do as they must, in order to survive; they have no choice in the matter. Many humans, on the other hand, do have a choice, and when people with access to non-animal food options choose to consume animals anyway, because they can, or because they like the taste, they are not killing from necessity, as animals (and some humans) do. Whether we’re talking about a lion taking down a water buffalo, or a human in some remote or impoverished location forced to hunt in order to feed her family: these are acts of necessity, and do not equate to, nor justify, wholly unnecessary harm to animals. There is no analogy to be found in nature for the massive harm we do to animals for pleasure.

Another reason it’s important to recognize the necessity/pleasure distinction is that harming animals for pleasure goes against core values most of us hold in common — which is why, for example, millions of us were outraged over Michael Vick’s involvement in dog fighting, and why we oppose dog fighting on principle. The notion of deriving pleasure from violence toward animals is repulsive to us; so how can we justify harming animals for the taste of their flesh? How can it be wrong to harm for pleasure in one instance, and not the other? The same reasons that compel us to oppose dog fighting compel us to abstain from killing animals we don’t need to eat: namely, that it is wrong to harm animals for pleasure, and it is wrong to kill animals for pleasure.

Finally, to harm animals for pleasure is also, ultimately, to harm ourselves. Constantly acting in opposition to our own core values deforms our hearts — and it diminishes our integrity, and hinders our emotional and moral growth. Day after day, and year after year, our lives can be seen as the culmination of thousands of instances in which, equally assured of nourishment and pleasure, we had the opportunity to choose kindness and mercy, or to choose violence and selfishness. What can it mean for caring people to regularly reject compassionate choices that cost them next to nothing, and to instead embrace unnecessary violence that costs its victims, literally, everything? To do so is to destroy kindness in our hearts. It’s a simple equation. Every time we put food in our mouths, we reinforce a value. When we choose, over and over, to activate apathy and selfishness in ourselves, we become different people than the people we would have become had we chosen instead to cultivate compassion and mercy.

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(8) Readers Comments

  1. April 23, 2012 at 10:53 am

    Ashley, Fantastic essay! I particularly appreciate this part and find that this line of reasoning works better than trying to argue with someone about whether humans are "meant" to eat meat or not: "Whether we’re talking about a lion taking down a water buffalo, or a human in some remote or impoverished location forced to hunt in order to feed her family: these are acts of necessity, and do not equate to, nor justify, wholly unnecessary harm to animals. There is no analogy to be found in nature for the massive harm we do to animals for pleasure." I also love where you say, "Every time we put food in our mouths, we reinforce a value." So true!

  2. April 23, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    Wow, I loved this essay. The last paragraph especially was SO powerful. I've never heard anyone articulate that argument quite like that, but I think that is really at the heart of everyone's decision to go vegetarian. It is also why most of us feel infinitely better in every way after doing so.

  3. April 23, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for your kind thoughts and words, Carol! And thanks so much, Our Hen House! What a total honor to have my essay featured here. I love and respect the heck out of you all. And can't wait to read the other essays. Cheers!

  4. April 23, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    I love the exposition of the fact that we seem to have drawn the line at killing animals for pleasure at our companion animals. It's appalling to me that nearly everyone would be horrified of disgusted to learn that someone killed a cat or a dog because it brought them pleasure, yet most people eat dead animals on a daily basis simply because they like the taste. Crazy!

  5. Christopher Langston
    April 29, 2012 at 10:47 am

    I really liked this essay, especially the first two paragraphs. Basically, the essay argues its permissible to eat meat, except if it is only for the purpose of pleasure. The reasons given for this exception is that the pleasure from eating meat comes at the expense of the harm to the animals. I wish this essay would have said something about cases where someone gets pleasure from eating meat that doesn't come at the expense of harm to animals. For example, if an animal dies naturally, is it wrong to eat it? Or, if animal is killed in order to save it from further suffering ("mercy killing"), is it wrong to eat it? Or, perhaps most controversially, if an animal is killed painlessly so that the only harm it suffers is the pleasure it is deprived of, is it wrong to eat it if more pleasure is had by those who eat it? I feel like the essay misses these important questions because it confuses *harm* with *death*, especially death by means of violence. But these aren't the same thing, as the examples of natural death and mercy killing illustrate.

  6. Sarah Hamilton
    April 10, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    This has changed my way of thinking about vegetarianism. I have never exactly thought of it from this point of view. I have always thought about that eating meat is just wrong completely. But this essay has shown me that there are wrong and right ways to it -- of course im going to stay vegetarian, it just made me see another side I've never thought about before.

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