I was prompted by a recent post over at Action Skeptics to pull out my copy of The Ethics Of What We Eat (also published as The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter) by Peter Singer and Jim Mason and re-read it.
Akusai was on the warpath over some misguided PETA members on the campus of his uni, and really let them have it.
I must admit that I don't think terribly highly of PETA - to me they're nearly as irresponsible as Sea Shepherd although this is probably unfair on PETA.
But when it comes to animal welfare, I like to think that I at least try to do what I think is the right thing. Which is where this book is actually pretty good.
I really liked the way that this book broke down all the different ethical issues in what people eat - Singer and Mason really do kinda just put the issues out there and let you make your mind up, even though you just know that they're leaning towards vegetarianism.
And you know, this was a great read, I thought personally. So much so, that this blogger is attempting to go organic. Well, at least with regards to vegetables.
Organic meat is so unbelievably expensive.
Anyway, Singer and Mason's ("S&M" - Heehee) book is a genuinely good read, but there were a few things that I didn't really get the first time that I read it.
Now I do.
Here's a couple of criticisms I had:
One of S&M's key gripes is that where something has the ability to feel pain, one shouldn't be killing them. This is fair enough, but at no point do they examine the question of killing species that cannot feel pain. This in my opinion is quite arbitrary, as it becomes a bit "speciesist". Animals do feel pain. Does this make them more worthy of not killing than plants on this basis? Particularly if humane killing methods exist - and they do, as S&M point out throughout.
Thus, where the opportunity to discuss the ethics of fruitarianism exists, and it does, S&M pointedly refuse to make any mention of it. I say pointedly, because I refuse to believe that S&M merely forgot to address the issue. In addition, the pair of them would most certainly be aware of the concept.
Fruitarianism seeks to avoid harming living plants (which cannot feel pain, natch) by only eating nuts and fruit which have fallen from the tree. The fact that they devote zero space to it is a major deficiency.
2. Comparisons of land use and greenhouse gas emissions
S&M's analysis uses good examples of where land use for grazing compared to crops yields less. However, while they consider land use for growing the food, they do not consider land use for fertiliser requirements.
Likewise, where they are quick to target cattle for methane and CO
3. The ethics of veganism
Oh this section made me mad.
The worst part about it was that S&M don't appear to be even convinced by their own arguments. All the way through, for example, they keep qualifying a vegan diet as being a "well planned vegan diet".
Anyone who has ever tried to cook vegan food will tell you that it is easier to learn brain surgery than to construct a balanced vegan diet.
In reality, it's exceedingly easy for omnivores to have a balanced diet. It is frustratingly difficult for vegans to do this.
On top of this, their suggestion that veganism is ethical on the basis that humans can choose to be vegans, is truly breathtaking irrelevance.
To be fair, they do admit that a vegan diet is deficient in vitamin B12, but they view this as a minor trifle. I found this to be irritating given that a few chapters prior they considered the issue of turkeys requiring artificial insemination due to oversized breasts (i.e. they can't have sex) to be a major issue.
But if they really were being fair and not continually qualifying vegan diets with the "well-planned" line, they would have to acknowledge that most vegans normally also require iron, calcium and maybe zinc supplements frequently as well. Possibly even omega-3 too.
Yeah, so that's it. On the whole, it really is a good read, but some parts are pretty light on for detail, which is not what you'd expect from possibly the world's foremost ethicist and his journalist buddy.
And it's not going to make me a vegetarian (or a vegan for that matter) but it's still largely good reading.