About a month ago, Nathanael Johnson wrote a piece for Grist asking: Is there a moral case for meat? In the piece, he writes:
His sentiment reflects a common theme, it seems, in writing about animal welfare and vegetarianism. In fact, back in 2012, the New York Times ran a contest for people to write essays justifying that it is ethical to eat meat. The premise was essentially the same as that put forth by Johnson:
A blog post for the New York Times by Bob Fischer and James McWilliams earlier this week attempts to adjudicate between competing factions within the vegetarian/vegan movement. In the nearly 1000 comments on the post, again and again, crops up the same premise mentioned above: that there is no intellectually sound ethical case for eating meat.
Ultimately, however, I think this premise is wrong. There are many intellectually sound, internally consistent arguments for eating meat. I think what many of these people are saying is "well, I'm not convinced by those arguments." But, that's not the same thing as saying such arguments are non-existent or bereft of intellectual punch. I will be the first to admit that there are a number of well written, internally-consistent philosophical discourses that make a compelling case against eating meat. But, that doesn't imply there aren't good counter arguments on the flip side.
I also suggest a chapter by the Judge Richard Posner in the book Animal Rights edited by Sunstein and Nussbaum.
Another good place to turn would be this intelligence squared debate, where four invited guests debate the motion: don't eat anything with a face. Chris Masterjohn and Joel Salatin make the case against the motion. After the debate, the audience was just about split between the for and against side (also note that 95% of Americans routinely eat things that had faces). Now, you may not agree with Masterjohn and Salatin's arguments, but are you comfortable calling 43% of the audience in New York City at the debate (and 95% of the consuming public) illogical, unthinking, or immoral?
Personally, I've written a number of pieces that attempt to grapple with this issue. I'll share several of them below. I'm not saying I fully endorse any of the positions, but I think they provide a flavor for how one might go about tackling the issue.
Attempt 1 (the Utilitarian case; written with Bailey Norwood a couple years ago).
Attempt 2: (The Exchange argument; also with Norwood in chapter 6 of our book Compassion by the Pound)
Attempt 3: (The stewardship argument leading to religious argument; also with Norwood in chapter 6 of our book Compassion by the Pound)
Ultimately, I'm asking for less intellectual dogmatism on the side of some non meat eaters. After sifting through all the philosophical cases for and against eating meat, here's where Norwood and I wound up: