Should animals eat animals?

Last Thursday, Portland State hosted a roundtable discussion called “Eating Animals” as a chance to discuss the ethical, environmental and economic repercussions of eating animals, not eating animals and changing the way we eat them.

Last Thursday, Portland State hosted a roundtable discussion called “Eating Animals” as a chance to discuss the ethical, environmental and economic repercussions of eating animals, not eating animals and changing the way we eat them.
A panel of three local experts led the event: Ramona Ilea, philosophy professor at Pacific University, Kathy Hessler, director and professor of animal law at Lewis & Clark College, and Camas Davis, founder of the Portland Meat Collective, which teaches ethical butchery and allows members to see every stage of their meat, from farm to table.
Alastair Hunt, PSU assistant professor of English and the roundtable’s moderator, opened with a short discussion of the title “Eating Animals.”

Because “[we’re] not just animals who can eat, but animals who must eat and must eat well,” Hunt asked the roundtable’s experts, “How can we eat animals well, if at all?”
Ilea, who teaches a class on animal ethics, began the discussion and her segment with a short history of philosophy and vegetarianism.
“We’ve been talking about it for a very long time, at least 2,500 years,” she said.
For example, Pythagoras, best known for his geometric theorem, was a vegetarian who talked about vegetarianism and his reasons for being vegetarian, Ilea said.
According to Ilea, since Pythagoras’ time, many philosophers from Aristotle to Tolstoy have discussed “the moral status of animals.”
More recently, Tom Regan, founder of the Philosophy of Animal Rights, said “animals have negative rights…rights against bodily interference,” according to Ilea.
Positive human rights are considered to include the right to an education. An example of a negative human right is the freedom of speech.
If animals have negative rights, then chickens have the right to not have their beaks cut off and “they have the right not to be killed,” Ilea said.
Since Americans eat 83 animals every year per capita, “It’s a lot of suffering for just some pleasure,” Ilea said.
Aside from causing the suffering of animals, Ilea said meat production causes human suffering through negative effects on local economies such as in the case of factory farming putting small farmers out of business. The environmental impact of livestock is responsible for significantly more carbon dioxide than transportation and a lot of plant matter goes into the production of a relatively small amount of meat.
Responding to a question about the naturalness of eating animals, Ilea said “some things are natural that we don’t want to do…we can use our reason to figure out what habits we want,” such as using toilet paper and brushing our teeth.
Hessler, who teaches the Animal Law Clinic at Lewis & Clark, has been a vegan for 22 years and said that for her, the animal movement is a social justice movement.

    She said animals have no rights in a legally binding sense, although Regan and others might feel that rights are due to animals.

    Under our legal system pets are property, although, Hessler said “I can destroy my book, but not my pets.”
    We have federal laws protecting cats and dogs from cruelty, but “there are no federal laws that protect animals being raised for food,” Hessler said.
According to Hessler, there is no logical or scientific reason to distinguish between dogs and cows or animals and humans—all feel pain and live in family groups. This brings into question our moral right to raise and eat animals, she said.
However, a collision of rights complicates the issue. Hessler noted that if animals have the natural right to bodily integrity, it clashes with our legal right to eat them.
Davis, the last speaker, said, “I’m not here to argue for or against eating meat.”
Like Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Davis believes that, currently, we have two choices: “Not to eat animals at all or to eat animals and look away [from factory farm and slaughterhouse practices].”
After studying butchery in Europe last summer, Davis founded the Portland Meat Collective to provide sustainably produced and humanely slaughtered meat for those who want to eat meat but object to current practices.
Davis hopes to use the custom exempt law—a law which allows farmers who sell to slaughterhouses to kill one animal a year for their own use—as a loophole, whereby members of the Portland Meat Collective would buy a single live animal and slaughter it themselves or pay someone to slaughter it for them.
Davis said the Portland Meat Collective will only buy animals from Polyface Inc. farms, where animals graze freely on the kind of food their stomachs evolved to digest and where they live, arguably, painless lives.

Asked about a possible connection between violence and killing animals, Davis, who finds slaughtering animals emotionally difficult said, “The point at which I slaughter an animal and I don’t feel anything, I’m not going to do it anymore.”