My dear friend Tammi “Tammois” Jonas, of Jonai Farms and Twitter (I consider her to essentially be a dual citizen of Australia and Twitteronia) has a wonderful (she would say “orsm”) post on the ethics and pragmatics of omnivory. Of course, it scratches at the surface of a rather huge body of thought and contention, but she happily links to many resources beyond her own brilliant analysis, such that you needn’t settle for that “impasse we come to when his position is ‘it’s immoral to eat animals’ and mine is ‘no it’s not'”.
Much and more of course could be said on the issue, but you could hardly do better than to start with her post:
On the sustainability question I can cite a lot of research that supports systems that integrate livestock into holistic agricultural systems. My post on agroecology and food security has links to some of that research, as do my notes from the 2011 Sustainable Food Summit, and I’d strongly recommend reading ‘Meat: a Benign Extravagance‘ by Simon Fairlie, which even converted the previously staunch vegan George Monbiot to advocating for sustainable agricultural systems that include livestock. Monbiot’s post is an excellent overview of Fairlie’s book, and captures the key messages about inaccurate reporting of feed conversion ratios, livestock water consumption, and other fallacies that lead to the conclusion that one shouldn’t eat meat.
So while it’s easy these days to counter the ‘animal farming is unsustainable’ furphy with an increasing body of evidence that show how we can feed the world with small-scale, integrated, ethical agricultural systems (because of course the vegans and ethical omnivores already agree that intensively farming animals is both unsustainable and unethical), the ethical disagreement seems harder.
My recent twitter debate with vegan activist @MSizer reminded me what an impasse we come to when his position is ‘it’s immoral to eat animals’ and mine is ‘no it’s not’. Although I have some background in philosophy, it’s not my discipline, but there was an excellent article in the Conversation that went through the very difficult and complex philosophical arguments around eating animals that I recommend you read.
The fundamental question is whether one believes it is okay to take an animal’s life for our nutrition and pleasure. @MSizer does not believe it is morally defensible to do so, but like many other omnivores, I believe it is, so long as the animal has lived a pain and stress-free life on the paddock in an environment that allowed it to engage in its instinctive behaviours, and that its slaughter is quick and painless, and preferably done without the animal knowing it was about to happen. I am comfortable with humans eating non-human animals in the same way that I am comfortable with birds eating worms or lions eating antelope.
Go there; read it.