Animal liberation, speciesism, sustainability … should we eat meat?

News – 18 August 2016

At the members’ discussion meeting on 10 July 2016 we outlined some of the issues entwined in this topic. It was a challenging discussion, so, many thanks to the members who shared their ideas and personal stories. It is also a confronting topic, as our attitudes to diet are moulded by culture and strongly reinforced by pleasure and habit.

The history of vegetarianism and its many cultural facets makes a fascinating study. It was interleaved with radicalism in eighteenth-century France, was combined with the promotion of animal rights in Cromwellian England and became part of the call for sympathy with nature in the nineteenth century by the poet Shelley, whose influence extended to Leo Tolstoy and G.B. Shaw, amongst others. And for Hitler, a vegetarian diet offered ‘purification’ and multiple health benefits.

Some of the areas our discussion touched upon:

  • On moral grounds should we eat meat? Is our attitude to other sentient animals discriminatory, and will animal rights be as widely accepted in the future as women’s rights, the abolition of slavery and gay rights are today?
  • Can we afford to eat meat? If we take a global perspective and consider food security for the burgeoning world population and water and land scarcity, the production of meat is a costly exercise compared to growing grain. Not to mention the problem of methane production and its probable contribution to climate change.
  • Are there more humane and ethical alternatives? In our affluent society we frequently eat more meat than is recommended for a healthy diet. Scientists are currently growing meat from animal stem cells in laboratories. Free-range eggs and meat products are available – but not all advertising is reliable, unfortunately. Choice magazine recommends the cluckar app for checking the claims of free-range eggs.

Our numbers on this occasion were depleted by illness and the cold weather, and it is hoped that while we managed to probe this complex topic a little, some of the ethical issues will be discussed further in the future.

Report by Jennie Stuart