Industrial Meat: How Will Our Great-Grandkids Forgive Us?

Lake Chalice is looking at four current practices that we would find it most difficult to justify to our descendants. The criteria, proposed by Kwame Anthony Appiah, are these:
  1. The arguments against it have been around a while, had time to sink in and time to be refuted if they were going to be.
  2. The arguments for it tend to be arguments of convenience or necessity or tradition rather than arguments of rightness or genuine social benefit.
  3. Continuation of the practice relies on people just not thinking about it much.
Industrial Meat Production

The arguments have been around a long time. In fact, it has been 230 years since Jeremy Bentham wrote:
“The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ Nor, ‘Can they talk?’ But, ‘Can they suffer?’…The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes.”
People who eat factory-farmed bacon, or hamburgers, or chicken rarely offer a moral justification for what they're doing. Those who do it, do it from habit. We choose foods for comfort, I believe, and habits are comforting. We put out of our minds the stomach-turning stories about what the animals went through to give their flesh to our comfort habits at the lowest possible price.
“Ten billion animals are slaughtered for human consumption each year. And, unlike the farms of yesteryear where animals roamed freely, today most animals are factory farmed -- crammed into cages where they can barely move and fed a diet tainted with pesticides and antibiotics. These animals spend their entire lives in crates or stalls so small that they can’t even turn around. Farmed animals are not protected from cruelty under the law -- in fact, the majority of state anticruelty laws specifically exempt farm animals from basic humane protection.” (Vegetarian Times, see here)
If you have the stomach for it, take a look here. (Most folks refuse to look, which satisfies the “just not thinking about it” criterion.)

Appiah offers this suggestion:
“At least 10 million [cattle] at any time are packed into feedlots, saved from the inevitable diseases of overcrowding only by regular doses of antibiotics, surrounded by piles of their own feces, their nostrils filled with the smell of their own urine. Picture it -- and then imagine your grandchildren seeing that picture.”
What are we thinking?

We also know that the meat production industry produces 18% of all greenhouse gases – more than the entire transportation sector. If climate change is a concern (and it surely is), the one single most effective step would be to end meat production. Future generations will find it difficult to forgive us for our meat-eating comfort habits that bequeathed them an environmentally devastated planet. In fact, environmental stewardship in general is an area for which future generations will condemn us. More on that to come.

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This is part 5 of 7 of "The Future Will Judge Us"
Next: Part 6: "Warehoused Elderly: How Will Our Grandkids Forgive Us?"
Previous: Part 4: "The Prison System: How Will Our Grandkids Forgive Us?"
Beginning: Part 1: "What Were They Thinking?"


  1. Thank you for this intriguing project, and I'm looking forward to seeing the next three current practices that we would find it most difficult to justify to our descendants.

    I think Unitarian Universalists may acknowledge the existence of moral progress more than does the general population or even other faiths. As is often noted in our sermons today, Theodore Parker observed more than a century ago that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.

    That said, it's disappointing that so many UUs think that it's only other people who need to progress, and do not acknowledge their own complicity in the misery, injustice, and immorality that is animal agriculture.

    You single out "industrial meat" as a practice today that our descendants will abhor, and indeed industrial meat is a monstrous evil, but it's really not that much more abhorrent than so called "humane" meat.

    Our descendants will question the morality of how we could harm and slaughter *any* sentient being for nothing but a taste preference, just as we question today how our ancestors in Parker's time could have morally owned slaves. And our questioning extends even to those owners who treated their slaves "humanely". Some slaves were not beaten as badly as others, didn't work as many days or as long of days as others, and were not separated as often from their families as others, but today we consider that even the so-called at the time "Christian slavery" is immoral.

    This website has some extensive information about the myth of humane meat: www.humanemyth.org

    1. Thank you, Charlie, for that important addition. Missed you and Vicky at GA!