Having attended last Friday a forum on the ethics of food animal product hosted by the National Catholic Bioethics Center , I was particularly interested in the Times Literary Supplement ‘s review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals . It is an uncritical and even fawning review and beneath the TLS ’’s usual standards (and rather different from the review conservative Christian works usually receive), but seems to summarize the book well.

The review and apparently the book both suffer — as did some of the comments at the forum — from a lack of clarity about what man is and animals are. In arguing against a comparison with “companion animals,” the reviewer writes:

Even if painlessly euthanized at that age, the brevity of its life precludes that life from having been a good one (at best, it was “promising”).

The reviewer seems to assume, but does not even try to argue, that food animals deserve a long and fulfilling life (whatever fulfilling means for them), and therefore to kill them for our use is wrong. But since they have no real consciousness or memory, how can they know, much less care, that their life is shorter than it might have been? (Might have been in human hands, not in the wild, but that’s another matter.)

Would a beef cow fall into despair if told he was being slaughtered on Monday? Would he start lamenting the books he had not read, the symphonies he had not written, the fact that he won’t be grazing in the field with his great-grandchildren? Animals don’t live in time as man does, and therefore being deprived of time is not an injustice.

In its blurring the fairly obvious difference between man and animal, that argument is typical of the kind of argument often offered against the current use of food animals. Whatever is the argument for treating food animals better than we do, that is not it.

On a different subject, at the dinner the night before the forum, the one vegan at the forum, Gene Bauer of Farmsanctuary , ordered a martini. I know there are no animal products in martinis and that therefore they are a vegan drink, but still . . . somehow I feel that vegans should not drink martinis. Beer and wine, yes, but not martinis.

Articles by David Mills

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