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Calling All Herbivores: Tell Us Why It’s Unethical to Eat Meat: A Contest

By Jasmin Singer — March 21, 2012

The New York Times’ column, “The Ethicist” (like yourself much?), has launched a contest entitled “Calling All Carnivores: Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat.” According to the article by Ariel Kaminer (who has shown herself in the past to be brain dead when it comes to ethics about animals), “In recent years, vegetarians — and to an even greater degree vegans, their hard-core inner circle — have dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating.” Well, I guess that’s true, to the extent that there has been any discussion, which, in fact, most meat-eaters generally avoid at all costs. Indeed, meat-eaters seem to be very comfortable interrogating us as to why we eat the way we do, but never seem to feel it’s necessary to explain why scarfing down a dead tortured animal is defensible.

Why not simultaneously have a contest that also asks people to submit their 600 words on why it’s unethical to eat meat? Oh wait, is it because we “hard-core inner circle” of vegans are already “dominating the discussion,” so why give us any kind of a further platform — especially when you can gain a massive amount of attention by asking carnivores, and only carnivores, to defend their behavior? Chances are that would be incredibly popular, since the vast majority of the world eats animals, and would probably love a way to justify their indefensible behavior.

This tell-us-why-it’s-ethical-to-eat-meat contest is being judged by Peter Singer (listen to his recent interview on our podcast), Mark Bittman, Michael Pollan, Jonathan Safran Foer, and Andrew Light (you couldn’t think of one friggin’ woman, New York Times?). And seriously, why include non-vegans on this panel at all? Anyone who is still eating meat is clearly not the best person to judge whether their own behavior is unethical.

As a counter to the New York Times contest, we’re calling all vegans, and asking you to tell us — in 600 words or less — why it is unethical to eat meat. Send written entries to contest (at) ourhenhouse (dot) org. Entries are due by April 8; no late submissions will be considered. The best essay or essays will be published in an upcoming blog entry, and one winner will receive an Our Hen House tote bag, as well as one of vegan guru Isa Chandra Moskowitz‘s cookbooks (your choice of which book) — signed, sealed, delivered. The entry must be completely original, and not printed anywhere else. Entries will be judged by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (who was also featured on our podcast recently, for the second time) of The Post Punk Kitchen, as well as me and Mariann. (That’s me, Jasmin Singer, and my partner, Mariann Sullivan — animal law professor and guru, and the official brains behind Our Hen House, not to mention our relationship.)

And since our audience is mainly comprised of people who have already awakened, at least somewhat, to animal issues, we encourage you to also submit a letter to the editor to the New York Times, reminding them that there is nothing ethical, no matter which end you look at it, about consuming the tortured body parts and byproducts of abused and murdered animals. Oh excuse me — there we go dominating the discussion again.

Looking forward to reading your entries.

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(29) Readers Comments

  1. March 21, 2012 at 11:53 am

    This is great, I will definitely submit an entry! I'm glad there is some time to think on it though. The other contest is probably going to get a lot of misled essays about our bodies being designed to eat meat and the horrible things that physically happen to you if you don't... and those people will probably win...

  2. March 21, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    I don't know about anyone else, but I got the impression the article was written grounded in the knowledge that eating meat is pretty much indefensible, "so go on meat-eaters, do your best - it's going to have to be really really good, though!". It seems the author knows this: I mean, how many arguments from meat eaters have ever made you or me really think? The panel of people who are aware of the issues would need a hell of a lot of convincing, wouldn't they? Once you accept the truth, there is no defending it, and this competition should prove it (I hope!!!).

  3. March 21, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I have to go with Becky on this one! I also saw this undertone that it is impossible to morally defend eating meat. Or they have to take reasons such as this in account. But, I also think that it would've been better if they made two sides on the contest (and added at least one woman to the panel). So thank you for giving non-meat-eaters the chance to explain their ethical thinking about eating meat ;)

  4. Kimberley Hodgdon Landsman
    March 21, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Having been asked to write a piece on "why it's wrong to eat meat" I submit to you my work. It is wrong to eat meat because "meat" is a living being with his or her own needs, desires, knowledge love and family. I don't think any other words should be necessary.

  5. March 21, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    I think that the NY times contest is awesome. It will only call attention to the fact that there is NO moral argument for torturing and killing animals to "survive" in 2012. A contest without a winner! I love it!

  6. March 21, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    Keep in mind that I say this as a vegan: I'm really tired of hearing vegans complain about how unethical animal consumption is. I'm tired of hearing myself, to be honest. It's true. Vegans are dominating this debate because we are passionate about our viewpoints, while those on the other side are apathetic and mostly indifferent to the extent we (vegans) have chosen to live lives consistent with our principles. I would love to see the New York Times publish as much as content as possible from "ethical" meat-eaters. It's an opportunity for omnivores to think more about their food choices and why they make them. Hell, let's publish pro-animal consumption content from omnivores on vegan news outlets. If we're right (and I think we are) this is exactly the spotlight on meat-eating we need to wake people up to making ethical choices for themselves.

  7. March 21, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I think this may be a clever way by the NYT to get at the issue from the other perspective. Meat-eaters find it easy to pick apart our reasons not to eat meat, even saying inane things like "how do you know carrots don't scream?" So by cutting out that side of the argument, not allowing any criticism of a non-meat eater, just defend your own choice- it is much harder. Ethically, as parents, how can you defend lying to your kids by not pointing out that you are serving them an animal that had to be killed for their burger, hot dog or fried chicken. Isn't it easier as a parent to instead be honest with your kids about serving veggie dogs, veggie burgers and a healthy diet of veggie that perhaps you and your kids can enjoy growing together. There is no shame in not serving dead animals to your kids, there is a kind of freedom in being open and honest. After all, no self-respecting parent would be able to look at the face of their innocent child and tell them that despite there being no necessity to do so, they enjoy choosing to kill cute piggies, baby sheep and sweet little cows for their food simply cause that's what everyone else does. That they don't care about the drinking water of communities that live around overcrowded animal farms. Then add a note that these animals aren't even allowed outside to walk around and are raised without any space to move, even mutilated so they can't move or even peck. No innocent child (or caring human being) would accept that horrible condition of having a beef burger if given a choice between causing so much misery and having a tofu burger or veggie burger instead. With so many non-meat options available with similar flavor and convenience without all the misery, shouldn't parents and schools at least educate them on the situation and give kids the option to choose for themself? If young people can be given honest choices, the whole infrastructure of the food industry would have to follow their humane and honest choices.

  8. March 26, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    thanks for this, here is my take.

  9. March 28, 2012 at 11:03 pm

    Late to the party because of school, but YES! Yes, yes. Thanks for the rejoinder -- will link to this on the blog so that my readers can participate :)

  10. March 29, 2012 at 8:11 pm

    I think you are missing the point of the NYT contest. The point is that nobody will be able to write a believable essay on why it is ethical to eat meat. It is a brilliant way to point this out.

  11. March 30, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    Eating meat requires an endless array of convoluted and elaborate moral acrobatics that all center around what social psychologist Melanie Joy calls the three N's of justification: eating meat is normal, natural and necessary. Joy explains how the psychology of meat eating is like all other dominant ideologies that require institutionalized violence and subjugation. They all use a similar set of defenses, including denial, silence, objectification and disassociation. In the end, Joy points out, this is all a house of cards that depends on our denial about the gap in our consciousness between the few species that we eat and the rest that we would never consider eating. The solution to this gap is witnessing. To quote Joy: "Witnessing compels us to view ourselves as strands in the web of life, rather than as standing at the apex of the so-called food chain. Witnessing challenges our sense of human superiority; it forces us to acknowledge our interconnectedness with the rest of the natural world, an interconnectedness our species has made every effort to deny for thousands of years. And yet witnessing is ultimately liberating. When we recognize that we aren't isolated fragments in a disconnected world, but rather are part of a vast, living collective, we connect with a power much greater than our individual selves. We no longer support a system that is based on domination and subjugation, a system that follows Hitler's credo that 'he who does not possess power loses the right to life."

  12. Michael Hogan
    March 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    So it's not acceptable to adjudicate arguments in support of the proposition that there are circumstances under which it is moral to eat meat? For two people so obviously in love with their own ethical conclusions your offense that someone might title his column "The Ethicist" is pretty rich. A little humility and a lot more openness to honest dialogue would do you a world of good.

  13. March 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Michael, I think she was more annoyed that the writer came off as condescending towards vegans (and apparently has in other articles too). Personally I think the NY Times contest could be interesting. I don't think there's anything wrong with having an alternative contest though! Jasmin-I sent an essay, but how do I know if it went through? I only ask because my email has a tendency to tell me that a message has been sent and then not send it...

  14. Amy Breyer
    April 4, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Hi Mariann - You guys oughta see if the NYT will publish your winning essay as a counter-point editorial. :) Just found out about this today from Jerry; did a little blog post on it just now - good luck!

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