To many, it is very acceptable and seemingly natural that humans include meat in their common diet. This practice can be found historically and globally across many countries and cultures. It is undeniable that humans are omnivores and have been for the past many millenniums. However, is consuming meat actually natural? What is acceptable may not be natural and may have become acceptable due to our environment and nurture, and it is important to distinguish between the two, as popular acceptance does not equal to moral rightness.
In Animal Liberation, Peter Singer argues that, as animals have the ability to feel pain and pleasure, they have sentience and hence, are subject to the equal moral worth as human beings. Therefore he claims that it is only moral that most of us ought to opt for a vegetarian lifestyle. I agree with Singer on this claim based on the Natural Law Theory and with scientific proof that animals indeed have a sentience and also based on our natural physiological design.
Singer argues that equality should not be limited only to humans and points out that beings with a sentience should be entitled to equal consideration of their interests (Singer, 1990), with sentience being the ability to perceive through the senses. This is perfectly reasonable as there is ethological evidence that animals do have sentience on several cases, such as sheep being able to recognize faces, prairie dogs speaking their own language.
Furthermore, elephants bury their dead, gibbons take care of their elderly, and male bats babysit young bats that are not their offspring while their mothers are out hunting (Basile, 2005). These animals need not do these actions, as these actions are not necessary for their own survival, nor do their own progeny’s survival depend on them. However, these altruistic deeds show that animals do not merely act on instinct. Moreover, emotions are present in animals such as chimpanzees showing excitement and joy when they are allowed out in the sun. Also, sadly, works of Dr.
Donna Haraway, a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, show that maternal deprivation, abuse and total isolation are shown to cause severe trauma in infant monkeys (as cited in Weisberg, 2009). The Natural Law Theory states that “good and right a direct function of the way things are naturally” and the good of human comes from realization of what is natural (VanDeVeer & Pierce, 2003). This law also supports anthropocentrism with “anthropo” being humanlike, with regards to sentience. When this theory was proposed, it was thought that only humans had the capability of being sentient and put human as of most importance.
However, since some animals are now proven to have sentience, and arguably, morals as well, should they not be entitled to their own rights and interests as well? One might argue that since some animals, such as clams, cannot be proven to have emotions or morals, and hence it is morally acceptable to harvest them as food. However, this argument contains a fallacy of ignorance and is equivalent to arguing the Moon emits light before it was proven that in fact, it reflected the light from the Sun. Non-existence of an object should not be accepted simply because it has not yet been proven.
Another objection to the equality of interests of animals may ensue from the natural state of the ecosystem: humans are at the top of the food chain and it is natural to consume beings positioned below us. And since the Natural Law Theory focuses on humans’ capacities, tendencies and desires, it is morally correct to consume meat as human beings. This is yet another fallacy of ignorance to what is natural. In fact, researchers have shown that humans are physiologically designed to be herbivores, and according to Dr. T.
Colin Campbell, professor emeritus at Cornell University and author of The China Study, we have only started consuming meat around 10,000 years ago, which is recent in our years of evolution (as cited in Freston, 2009). Meat consumption is not essential for human survival and our omnivore tendency is out of choice, not of need. The anatomy of a human being is strikingly similar to one of a herbivore’s. Our not-so-sharp canine teeth and molar teeth are designed to optimize not the tearing of meat, but the chewing and grinding of fibrous plants.
Also, carnivores have very short intestinal tracts, which is approximately three times its body length. However, a herbivore’s intestinal tract is around 12 times the body length, and human beings are extremely close to herbivores than carnivores. Also, humans lack the essential amino acids to properly digest meat and “It is clear that humankind’s gastrointestinal tract is designed for a purely plant-food diet. ” (Mills, 2009). On a health perspective, meat eaters are found to be at a much higher risk of having intestinal cancer and heart disesse than those who opt for a vegetarian or even vegan diet. Towell, 2009) Since being vegetarian ultimately benefits humans and therefore flourishes humankind, fulfilling the Natural Law Theory, one can come to reason that being a vegetarian is morally correct and most should follow this lifestyle. However, it should also be pointed out that in some cases, if the human is extreme deficiency of a substance such as the vitamin B12, and in that situation, meat contains enough of such substance that benefits the human in a much shorter time domain than choosing the vegetable alternative would, then the human should be allowed to consume meat for the sake of an utilitarianism view, as Singer supports.
Since the interests of all beings count, the instant relieve of the human being leads to the longer pleasure from not being sick, and would maximize the net worth of happiness. Therefore, it is morally accepted, so long that the animal sacrificed in this case is treated as humanely as possible and with the least amount of pain inflicted upon it.
Although we cannot deny that humans have more factual superiority, it does not mean we can abuse that power and forcefully consume animals against their will only to fulfill our unnatural tendencies and lust for meat. It is immoral to consume meat simply because years of nurture has made it seemingly acceptable and as a species with higher intelligence, we must take the responsibility to distinguish between nature and nurture, while ensuring the wellbeing of our moral equals and taking their interests into consideration.