Tuesday September 16, 2014

Food Fight: Is it more ethical to eat meat if you kill the animal yourself?

(Corey Morse/The Grand Rapids Press)

(Corey Morse/The Grand Rapids Press)

Listen 15:54

When it comes to Food Fights, the debate about the ethics of eating meat is one of the most heated. For close to a decade, Tovar Cerulli was firmly on one side. He was a vegan, eating no animal products at all.

But now he's changed his diet, and his world view, with the help of a rifle.

It's a choice that lets him stay true to the reasons he chose a vegetarian lifestyle, while still eating meat.

It's not a choice, however, that everyone can support.

Tovar Cerulli now hunts and kills animals, and eats them.

Cerulli says it was his Buddhist naturopath who recommended incorporating some meat or dairy into his menu. It's a path that he says had lead a number of former vegans to embrace animal proteins again.

"I've heard this from other ex-vegans or ex-vegetarians. When their naturopath or their acupuncturist or their yoga teacher--someone who shares their philosophy in a broad sense--suggests that they might need to reconsider (eating meat), as uncomfortable as it is, they are able to hear that and consider it in a different way coming from that kind of source."

He says his energy level and immune system improved after incorporating some dairy products. Over time, he made the choice to eat meat, and to hunt it himself.

'When I take a package of venison out of the freezer that I've taken, there's a very immediate sense of connection to that, and a sense of the price at which that food came, including the life of that animal. It's not anonymous.' - Tovar Cerulli, author The Mindful Carnivore.

While Tovar Cerulli has been able to fit hunting into his formerly-vegan ethical framework, it's not a 180 that Lesli Bisgould can get behind. She teaches law at the University of Toronto, and ran Canada's first animal rights law practice.

She says animals that are taken down by hunters rarely die in the painless, instant way described as the best-case scenario.

"Some hunters would like you to believe they're the best shot and can land the biggest animal the first time, but the truth is that it's an imperfect act, so a lot of animals get injured, and aren't captured. They will wander off to a much slower, painful death," she told Jim Brown.

When asked if hunting could be compared on a scale with large-scale farming of meat, she says she can see how people might make that case.

"But to make that kind of simplistic argument leaves out a whole host of ethical problems that are created when you start looking in that direction."

'I think there is a fundamental argument about why it's okay to hurt and kill animals for our food at all now, when there's so much evidence about--not only why we don't need to--but how it can actually be hurting us.' - Lesli Bisgould, animal rights lawyer

Nathan Kowalsky is a professor of philosophy at St. Joseph's College at the University of Alberta. He edited a collection of essays on what it means to hunt, called "Hunting - Philosophy for Everyone: In Search of the Wild Life."

He says hunting can be an ethical choice for individuals, but might not be a sustainable one if too many people chose to take it up as a way to put meat on the table. He notes that the wildlife management system is doing a good job of managing demand at this point.

Kowalsky, who does hunt when he can, says he thinks other uses of animals for food do cross the line.

For example, he chooses not to drink milk.

"If I were to think about one of the most undignified ways to treat an animal, it would be to pull on its udder and make milk come out of it for me to drink, rather than its own children," he says. "I thought that would be kind of insulting to the cow."

When it comes down to it, the ethical choices involved in hunting, buying, or eschewing meat are up to each individual, says author Tovar Cerulli.

"My decision to get into hunting was very much related to the ethics that I held as a vegetarian," he says. "Not wanting to support factory farming, and wanting to take the quality of an animal's life and the swiftness and humaneness of the animal's death into consideration."

Related Links:

Tovar Cerulli's "The Mindful Carnivore"
Lesli Bisgould speaks at Tedx
Nathan Kowalsky's "Hunting: Philosophy for Everyone"