What is Ethical Eating?… Is Eating Meat Ethical?

Hello, hello… and alert: I would love your input on the controversial subject I’m covering in this article. 

I was raised to believe that eating meat is devastatingly unethical. I believed that one day we would recognize the folly of our ways, and look back on omnivorism with regret and distaste. As such, my recent transition from vegetarianism to omnivorism has been made with much research and deliberation.

On April 4, 2012 I received a message from my brother. He wondered whether I’d thought of entering the New York Times essay contest: Calling All Carnivores Tell Us Why It’s Ethical to Eat Meat: A Contest. “U don’t have much time:/”, he texted. I read the essay prompt and calculated the 4 days I had remaining before the deadline. My blood sped and my thoughts buzzed.

English: Jonathan Safran Foer at Barnes & Nobl...

Jonathan Safran Foer

Having converted to omnivorism in January 2012, this subject frequently propelled my mind and heart waves. The essay captured my intention and the panel of judges positively arrested my motivation! Peter SingerMichael PollanJonathan Safran FoerMark BittmanAndrew Light! As it was, this subject had been monopolizing my brain-space for months. Organizing my thoughts in 4 days was not only “no problem”, it was unavoidable! My biggest hurdle was squeezing my arguments into less than 600 words. In fact, if you count the words in my essay below, you will find 599;)!

American science journalist and author Michael...

Michael Pollan speaking at Yale

Now, regardless of my current knowledge of the outcome of the contest, I find myself (once again) animated by the challenge! I must interrupt my excitement to share that I was not victorious. I write today to usher my readers to participate in the critical discourse on ethical eating. Our food choices have considerable influence on our future. With immediate ties to health, happiness, and vibrance and effect on our soil, environment, and global relationships, food must be principal curriculum for citizens of all ages and nations.

What is ethical eating? Is eating meat ethical? What does food mean to you? Please share your thoughts! Reading them will make me very happy! Below is the essay I submitted to the contest (with a few visual aids added). If you’ve visited my blog before, you may notice that I pulled many arguments from one of the first articles I wrote for Biocadence: “Is Eating Meat Sustainable?“. I recommend reading the winner’s, as well as the finalists‘ essays as well!

I Remember

By Annie Tichenor

I am eating meat after 30 years as a strict vegetarian. For decades I nurtured a sincere faith that evolution gives us the opportunity to rise above our barbaric ancestors and preserve the lives of animals. When health concerns ushered me to consider diet changes, I began to study. In hopes of evading a lifestyle change, I sought confirmation that eating meat is devastatingly unethical. The diagrams in Jim Merkel’s Radical Simplicity and compelling statistics in Anna Lappé’s Diet for a Hot Planet gave me comfort that I could hold in my hands, read on my flashcards, and roll on my tongue. But my fatigued blood whispered, “Keep reading.”

Joel Salatin holds a hen during a tour of Poly...

Joel Salatin holds a hen during a tour of Polyface Farm. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Imagine for a moment how many living organisms are in a handful of healthy soil. This life-source has been squandered since the invention of synthetic fertilizer and mono-crop farming. In his book, Folks, this ain’t normal, farming revolutionary Joel Salatin writes, “[…] in recent decades we’ve used more energy, destroyed more soil, […] mutated more bacteria, and dumped more toxicity on the planet than all the cultures before us – combined.” Modern farming techniques that were once praised as the vehicle for record production yields are now convicted for the mass murder of ecosystems. While I thought I was preserving lives through my vegetarian food choices, how many ecosystems were destroyed in vain? Are the lives of micro- organisms less important than the lives of larger animals? If so, then why? In the coming decades, I estimate that we will be forced to learn just how important live soil is. The magic that our species has only recently forgotten must be remembered.

Ethical eating involves organic, local, in-season food, prepared at home. I reach further to find that it also requires feeding our food-source more than we are taking from it. Animals are a mandatory component of this equation. Life in the soil is re-established and maintained through its interaction with animals. Rotation of pasture, harvest, and cover crop allows us to use relatively few acres, nourish the soil, and yield an abundant edible output. Fogline Farm, in Santa Cruz, CA shares, “We graze our animals through our orchards and vineyards, constantly moving them to fresh pasture.” Followed by cover or harvest crop, the benefit of a happy-animal parade is captured. Each ingredient of the cycle is respected in an ethical farming strategy. Animals are incorporated in order to feed the soil while feeding the community.

Is eating meat ethical? Far too often not! Soft leather gloves of big business grip an industry that produces nutrient-light/toxin-heavy “food”. Feeding us from the prison cells of concentrated animal feeding operations is not only unethical, it is despicable. Can eating meat be ethical? “Yes!” resounds. Absorbing life with gratitude, kindness and grace is a lyric to an ancient song that still echoes through our land and is so often unheard. The delusional attempt to extricate myself from a life-cycle that involves death is a delirious vacuum. The suction allures me, inviting me to a familiar circus where lights glow as they deceive and music spins as it distracts. With piercing clarity and flashes of anger, Lierre Keith, author of Vegetarian Myth, writes about her arduous path, “Eventually we see our only choices: the death that’s destroying life or the death that’s a part of life”. Finding peace in surrender wafts a divine essence through the room. As we kindle this understanding, we will reconnect with the natural cadence of our life cycle. Connectedness will cleanse our systems and we may be overwhelmed by the thought, “Oh, thank heavens, I remember.”


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About Biocadence

Hello! I’m Annie Tichenor, Founder of Biocadence, LLC (www.biocadence.wordpress.com). I hope to ignite a path toward over-consumption recovery, global sibling interconnectedness, and quality-of-life design. A few years ago, I began measuring my impact on the environment. Since then I’ve analyzed my energy-use habits while researching the impact of over-consumption on the global hunger epidemic, global relations and global quality of life. This process has driven me to notice the disparity between my environmental impact in the past and my footprint goal for the future. My drive to change my own habits has evolved into a desire to share my strategies. I crafted the Biocadence Recipe and the Impact/Disturbance (ID) Model, to illustrate the critical role of behavioral sustainability in the sustainable lifestyle transition process. Biocadence is focused on increasing the accessibility of sustainable living and facilitating the rhythm of humanity in harmony with nature. The vision of Biocadence is to build a community of environment-lovers who come together to leverage each other’s knowledge and celebrate sustainable living accomplishments. Learn about the Biocadence Recipe and ID Model: http://www.biocadence.org/biocadence.html

18 responses to “What is Ethical Eating?… Is Eating Meat Ethical?”

  1. Bobby Fernandez says :

    Thanks for the pingback above! I really enjoyed organizing my thoughts for this contest because they challenged us to ignore all arguments of sustainability and health benefits. I had been, until then, content to stop at all those arguments against monoculture and the biochemical benefit of local, organic, grass-fed beef. The negative elements of animal cruelty, overcrowding and disease were easily answered by such arguments.

    The contest organizers sought to do away with all the utilitarian argumentation and focus on the basic etical question of wether or not, we humans, at our current state of civilization, need to eat meat. My essay basically states that evolutionary biology has confirmed that our capacity for cognition and emotion took a major leap when we left the tree tops and created the rotisserie. We arrived at a place where we can even contemplate ethics specifically because we learned how to make meat a major part of our sustenance. Science suggests that if we collectively stop eating meat, we can devolve in to a species that diverts more energy to the digestion of cellulose rather than digestion of ideas and abstractions. Read more in my essay here: http://mfwblog.com/2012/04/08/is-eating-meat-ethical/

    This entire issue is largely born from secular humanism in that there is a movement to equate humans with animals in all ways apart from placement on the food chain. What it boils down to for me is that if you grant that humans have a unique spirituality (a soul) that animals do not, the case for eating meat is a no brainer. I try to present my arguments to those who would deny the existence of a soul in humans. It’s a little more difficult of a task but not one I’m affraid to undertake.

  2. curi56 says :

    Hallo, Annie: Thank You for reading my blog! (There are more!)
    Recently I published my book about pigs in CAFOs -sorry, only in German language available), and I could state this: our meat-eating costs not “only” the life of billions of animals – it destroys human lives, too.
    I don´t speak from physical life only: I am speaking about VIOLENCE in the
    relationship with ANIMALS IN CAFOs. Not “only” pigs become crazy, suffering
    on stereotypic behaviour, apathie etc., humans eat all the spiritual things with
    meat. The pain, the panic, the fear, the trumbling of these poorest animals,
    we incorporate it.
    Dr. Annamaria Grabowski M.A. Ps.A.

    • Biocadence says :

      Dr. Grabowski-

      Moments ago, I thanked you for your re-blog of my article. In re-reading your comment, I am reminded of the intensity of your argument! I just quoted you on my FB page, and will look forward to hearing more comments from you in the future! Please share with us: what is your book called, and where can we find it? (And feel free to highlight this on the Biocadence FB page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Biocadence/162629397179476


  3. commongroundkansas says :

    Annie, thanks for the pingback. We are a group of volunteer farm women who help answer your questions about food and farming. Most of your readers probably don’t know a farmer firsthand to whom they can direct questions. We volunteer our time to answer those questions and are happy to share our experiences raising crops and livestock on our family farms.

    We feel comfortable feeding our families meat because it’s a great source of protein and part of a balanced diet. However, we realize that not everyone includes meat in their diets. That’s totally OK. Remember, what you eat is your decision. We’re not here to tell you otherwise. We want to invite you to ask questions and get the information you need to make an educated decision.

    Today, most folks are several generations removed from farming, so it’s totally normal to have questions about how food is raised — especially when the media often shows a side of food production that is not representative of the majority of farms. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports the vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated. In fact, that’s 96 to 98 percent of the 2.2 million farms in the United States.

    Healthy, content animals are simply good business for farmers. The well-being of our animals is a very high priority, and we are constantly exploring new ways to raise our animals in the best way. Many of us participate in stewardship and certification programs that ensure the good care of our animals.

    At processing facilities, there is a great deal of regulation in place to ensure livestock are handled in a way that does not cause pain and that they must be made numb to pain before processing. Careful oversight and strong penalties for violations help ensure humane treatment of the animals.

    You might be surprised to learn that we, too, care about the environmental and health impacts of food production. Modern science allows us to know more now about these issues than any generation before us. As an industry, we are working toward raising food to feed a growing global population in a sustainable way that also produces nutritious food.

    Are there bad apples out there? Yes, but that can be said of any industry. We believe those instances are very few and far between. This is our livelihood, after all. If we don’t take good care of our animals and the land, we cannot continue in this industry.

    More simply said, it is the right thing to do.

    When you have questions about how food is raised, we are here to answer them with first-hand perspective as farmers. In the end, your food choices are yours to make.

    You can find more information about us at http://findourcommonground.com.

    • Biocadence says :

      Common Ground Kansas!

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for featuring my writing on your blog! I am flattered and quite fueled to continue my work!

      I am inspired by the message of Common Ground Kansas. I’m sure my readers are as well. I have a feeling your site will be very helpful and I thank you for the open invitation to ask questions! I do not grow my own food nor raise my own chickens (yet) and I recognize the value of full-disclosure farming operations! I expect that all citizens will feel more and more of a pull to the farming curriculum, as we become more aware of the enormous impact it has on our well being!!!!

      Please feel free contribute to the Biocadence FB page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Biocadence/162629397179476


  4. mijnheer says :

    “The delusional attempt to extricate myself from a life-cycle that involves death is a delirious vacuum.”

    But isn’t it awfully convenient for us humans that we seldom have our own lives terminated unnecessarily and prematurely for other creatures? We’re the ones holding the knives and the guns, not the ones on the receiving end. With respect, I would find the “death’s a part of life” argument more sincere if its proponents were willing to sacrifice themselves to hungry cougars, or be turned into organic compost in the prime of life. One thing we humans are exceptionally good at is pulling the wool over our own eyes.

    • Biocadence says :

      Thank you for your comment- mijnheer! When I read your words, I’m touched by a sentiment that still flushes through my heart. Hearing your lines of thought gives me hope. I hear compassion; I hear protectiveness; I hear courage.

      For 30 years, I could not reconcile the taking of life for my own. Vegetarianism seemed to be the path to avoiding death. After reading “The Vegetarian Myth”, by Lierre Keith, I was stunned by the understanding of how many lives are taken unnecessarily to feed vegetarians, “It is my conviction that growing annual grains is an activity that cannot be redeemed. It requires wholesale extermination of ecosystems–the land has to be cleared of all life.” Surrendering to the idea that death is an inevitable part of our life-giving food remains quite painful for me. I’m not sure that will ever change.

      For now, I find comfort in the certainty that my quest remains the same: to minimize the death that contributes to my life through food. My opinion about the ingredients I choose as a result of this quest, has changed. So with a gentle spirit and open mind, I contribute to the debate. I eagerly anticipate the connections that will be made, as more passionate intelligence is devoted to this curriculum!!!!! I hope that you will visit again, and continue contributing your thoughts!


  5. Joyness Sparkles says :

    I don’t believe in anyone being able to tell another group how to eat, how to act, how to think or behave. I grew up in a culture where different is wrong and that is no way to live…it is painful.

    So with that said. People like you who have actually taken the time to understand where your food comes from, I have no problem with your choices. For people who eat they way they were programmed with no questions as to how their choices may affect others or themselves…I do have a problem with willful ignorance. Anyone can read a book if they apply themselves.

    We are vegan, but I have told my children that they can eat animal products when they move out. I will not have a problem with it if they raise the animals and do the slaughtering themselves A) it will most likely be organic and B) to slaughter, they will have to look that animal they raised in the eye before the blood flows. I think meat eaters should on occassion be part of that process (even city dwellers)…they need to know what it means to take a life, not just reap the rewards later on. Americans revel in the whole “ignorance is bliss” thing way too often.

    • Biocadence says :


      Thank you for your rich contribution to the conversation! You build a line-up of beautifully crafted points! Food choices should be respected, participation in food-curriculum should be encouraged and applauded, and the “big bang” that shakes my spirit with its resounding truth: omnivores should be willing to be part of the process of slaughter. With 30 years of emotion-filled devotion to vegetarianism under my belt, I don’t know how I will ever participate in the killing of an animal!!! This anxiety only contributes to my whole-hearted agreement with your sentiment.

      My goal remains the same as it was in my veg days: to minimize the death that is involved in getting food to my plate. I believe there are vegans, vegetarians, and omnivores who share this motivation. The more we bring our compassion-fueled intelligence to the discussion, the more quickly our solutions will evolve!!!!! Please continue contributing, Miss Joyness. Your work and your MIND have inspired me repeatedly, in the short time since we “met”:)!


  6. polythenepam says :

    I went back to eating meat when I started growing my own and small scale farming. It cannot be done without animals and animals need farming which means occasionally culling. sad but true. And if we are going to kill them we have to eat them if only out of respect. Great post.

  7. jones@me.com says :

    LIke to eat your meat

    • Biocadence says :

      Yes, that is true. But only recently. The first 6-9 months I virtually had to force feed it to myself:)… uggh. I’m glad to finally see it as food, and feel so much more energy. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

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