Arguments For and Against

Eating Meat

Arguments for:

Cannibalism

In Vitro Meat

Genetically Engineered Food

Against Genetically Engineered Food

Industrial Agriculture

Right to Food

Duty to Feed the Hungry

Against the Duty to Feed the Hungry

Responsibility for Obesity

Appropriate Eating

Gustatory Aesthetics

Food as Art


Arguments for Eating Meat

Taste

If you like the way meat tastes there is no reason to deprive oneself.  Therefore, you should be allowed to eat meat.

Replies

It is not really an argument about taste but about rights.  We should have the right to eat whatever pleases us.  But if that were true then that would permit eating  humans, pets, the food off of the plates of strangers in restaurants, and other things normally viewed as wrong to eat.

Does this mean that a person has the right to pursue any action that gives pleasure? Listening to loud music even if it annoys others?  Urinating in public because you feel like it?  Gnawing on puppy tails because you like enjoy the sensation in your mouth?

Or to restrict it to animals, does this license any treatment of animals in the name of the pursuit of pleasure?  Are there no limits on how we treat animals? 

For more pro-and-con:

David J. Yount, “Eight Arguments in Favor of Eating Meat”

Alastair Norcross, "Puppies, Pigs, and People: Eating Meat and Marginal Cases" (pdf)

Esquire, “A Vegetarian Eats Meat for the First Time”

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Nutrition

A healthy diet requires amounts of nutrients, especially protein, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and calcium that can only be attained by eating meat (and dairy products).  Therefore, eating meat is required for a healthy diet.

Eating meat does not cause health problems such as heart disease; problems are caused by over-eating.  The problem is an excessive amount of saturated fats, not eating meat in moderation.

Replies

If eating meat is required for a healthy diet then it would also permit eating humans.  If the nutrition argument exclude cannibalism, reasons must be offered to defend the permissibility of eating some kinds of meat but not other kinds.

A healthy diet does not require eating meat, especially if it includes dietary supplements.  A vegan diet requires more dietary supplements but is also provides adequate nutrients.

Note: facts about nutrition are empirical matters better explained by medical science than philosophy.

For more pro-and-con:

Nutrition.gov, "Eating Vegetarian"

Mayo Clinic, “Vegetarian Diet: How to Get the Best Nutrition”

NIH.gov, "Vegetarianism"

FAO, “Meat and Health” 

This Man Thinks He Never Has to Eat Again

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Human Nature

Humans are omnivores.  We are anatomically suited to eat both animals and plants.  It is not in our nature to eat an exclusively plant-based diet.  Therefore, we should be allowed to eat meat.

Our pre-historic ancestors ate meat, first raw then cooked.  Eating meat was essential for human evolution.  Therefore, to eat anything but a diet that includes meat is unnatural.

Eating meat made us human.  To refrain from eating meat makes us less human – or worse humans.

Replies

Arguments from human nature make an unjustified appeal to nature.  Just because N exists does not mean that N is good or right.

Nothing follows from the fact that something is natural except facts, no values.  You cannot determine what you ought to do based only on what is the case.

Having the capability to do X does not justify X.  Humans have, for example, the anatomical capability to strangle others humans; but is does not follow that I ought to strangle others.  Or, to restrict it to animals, the fact that one is capable of dismembering puppy dogs does make it morally acceptable.

Some natural things (that animals do) are not morally acceptable for humans to do: eating our newborn like hamsters do, or establishing social dominance by threatening, vocalizing, and lunging (like elephant seals do), or eating lice and hurling feces (like chimpanzees do).  

Note: facts about anatomy and evolution are empirical matters better explained by nutritional and paleoanthropological science than philosophy

For more pro-and-con:

UC Berkeley News, “Meat Eating was Essential to Human Evolution”

National Geographic, “Evolving to Eat Mush: How Meat Changed our Bodies”

NPR, “Meat-Based Diet Made Us Smarter”

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Culture-Tradition

Cultures and traditions determine what is appropriate and inappropriate to do.  My culture and tradition does not forbid eating meat, therefore there is nothing inappropriate about it.

Replies

The argument is an appeal to tradition.  X has always been done, therefore X is right.

It is not difficult to think of traditional practices that are morally objectionable, such as slavery, dog fighting, and burning witches.  The fact that one is raised in a meat-eating culture merely explains why someone develops a taste for meat.  It does not justify it.

For more pro-and-con:

NY Times, “Eating Meat is Only Human”

Michael Pollan, “Unhappy Meals”

Oldways, “Traditional Diets”

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Religion-Spirituality

If the sacred texts or traditions of my religious tradition condone eating meat then members of that religious tradition are permitted to do so.

Eating animals can celebrate traditions, flavors, and the gifts of nature in a way that abstaining from eating animals cannot. Therefore, the best way to honor what nature provides to us, to relish in our traditions, and to sanctify life is to partake in the sensuous pleasures of life. 

For centuries religious leaders have given sound advice on what foods truly represent a sacred path.  If meat is prepared and eaten following religious guidelines then it is permissible to eat it.

Replies

Appeals to religious tradition are binding only for adherents of that tradition; they are not universalizable.  Worse, appeals to religious tradition suffer the same flaw as any appeal to tradition: the fact that an action is traditional fails to justify it.

For more pro-and-con:

Alliance for Jewish Renewal, “The Sacred Foods Project”

Humane Society “About the Sacred Foods Project”

Wikipedia, "Vegetarianism and Religion”

Roger Scruton, “The Duty to Eat Meat”

David J. Yount, “Eight Arguments in Favor of Eating Meat”

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Happy Meat

It is wrong to support industries that treat animals poorly by purchasing and eating meat products; but if animals are not treated poorly then it is not wrong to purchase and eat meat. 

“Happy meat” refers to animals raised humanely, who live a decent life, and are slaughtered humanely (e.g., farm raised chickens or grass fed cattle).  Happy meat does not suffer.  There are no ethical grounds prohibiting happy meat eating.

Livestock are treated much more humanely than opponents of confined animal feeding operations (or factory farming) would have us believe.  Animals are sheltered from the elements, they receive veterinary care, and their treatment is governed both by professional codes of conduct and enforceable laws.   There is nothing wrong with eating either happy meat or humanely treated factory farmed animals.

Replies

How can happy meat be acceptable when it ultimately involves taking an animal’s life?  Isn’t killing a form of suffering?  If it is not, then is it morally justifiable to kill a human so long as the person does not suffer?

Any sentient being has an interest in its survival and continued existence. Animals are identical to humans in this respect.  They care about both how we treat them and that we kill them.  Human interest in satisfying taste and hunger is trivial compared to the animal’s interest in survival.  Therefore, killing even well treated animals is wrong.

Humane certifications only make consumers feel better about the food they purchase.  The animals still live their lives solely for the purpose of being slaughtered for food.

For more pro-and-con:

Certified Humane.org, "Certified Humane"

Grist.org, "The Vegan/Omnivore Alliance against Animal Farming"

Finger Lakes Community Newspaper, “In Defense of Dairy CAFOs”

Peace Prairie.org “The Free Range Myth”

Gary Francione, “Why We Must Reject the Happy Meat and Flexible Vegan Movements”

Gary Francione, “Happy Meat/Animal Products: A Step in the Right Direction?”

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Plant Welfare

Plants are also sentient: they are conscious of sense perceptions and can suffer pain.  If vegetarians and vegans are concerned about pain caused to sentient beings then they should refrain from eating plants, as well.  But that is absurd because then there would be nothing to eat.  Therefore, eating meat is as permissible as eating plants.

Replies

Plants are not sentient.  Don’t be ridiculous.

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Arguments against Eating Meat

Animal Suffering

Good actions increase the greatest happiness (or decrease unhappiness) for the greatest number of sentient beings.  Raising and killing animals for food causes great pain and suffering.  If everyone stopped eating meat there would be no demand for it; no one would raise and kill animals for food.  Therefore, if everyone stopped eating meat the overall happiness in the world would increase.

The extended suffering animals endure outweighs the short pleasure of eating meat.  Therefore, eating meat is morally unjustifiable.

The relevant question to ask of a sentient being is not “can it reason?” but “can it suffer?” Animals deserve equal moral consideration as humans.  To discriminate against animals is “speciesism” an unjustifiable prejudice like racism or sexism.  To support animal suffering but oppose human suffering is speciesist, hence morally unjustifiable.  

It is morally permissible to eat certain kinds of meat so long as the animal does not suffer during its life.

Replies

Individual consumer choices have no bearing on the lives on animals.  More people are vegetarian or vegan than ever yet global consumption of animal products only continues to increase.  Consumer boycotts do not work.

The actions by consumers to purchase or refuse to purchase neither cause not effect meat producers, consumer choice to eat meat is not morally wrong.

The argument from speciesism is mistaken: there are morally relevant differences between humans and animals – and to fail to recognize them is to fail to recognize our distinctly human obligations.

Most of us would say that other matter more than animals do.  Speciesism is not only commonplace but common sense and acceptable.  The burden of proof likes with those who argue that an action is not only speciesist but also morally wrong because it is so.

From the perspective of animal rights, the animal welfarist argument is arbitrary and weak.  Animals care not only about how they are treated and killed but whether they are killed.  Animal rightfully seeks to reduce suffering but it still condones some suffering without justification.

For more pro-and-con:

American Veterinary Association “What is Animal Welfare?”

USDA Animal Welfare Information Center

Animal Welfare Approved “Standards”

Nicolette Hahn Niman, “Avoiding Factory Farm Foods: An Eater’s Guide”

BBC “The Ethics of Speciesism”

Gary Francione, “Animal Rights: The Abolitionist Approach FAQs”

Peter Singer, “Animal Liberation at 30”

Robin Hanson, "Why Meat is Moral and Veggies are Immoral"

The Telegraph, "10 Reasons We Should Eat Insects"

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Animal Rights

All sentient beings have a right to life, that is the right to be treated with respect, as an end-in-itself not as a mere means to an end.  Raising animals for food – no matter how well they are treated – violates their rights.  Therefore, eating animals raised for food is wrong.

As Tom Regan argues, non-human animals have inherent value as a subject-of-a-life and must be regarded as ends-in-themselves.  Animals make conscious choices, they have preferences and desires, and the quality of their lives matter to them.  Being the subject-of-a-life is the basis for having rights.  Therefore, raising animals for food violates their rights.

As Gary Francione argues, all sentient beings deserve equal moral consideration of their interests.  The most basic interest is freedom – not to be the property of another.  If we extend the principle of equal consideration to animals then we cannot treat them as property.  The legal ownership of another sentient being is unjust.  Therefore, it is wrong to treat animals as property, to confine, kill, and eat them.

Replies

Rights holders must have the capacity to distinguish between their own interests and what it right, otherwise they cannot act on principles of justice.  They must have the capacity to recognize what their obligations are. Although individual humans may lack this capacity, our species as a whole does whereas animals do not. Animals lack the capacity for free moral judgment, they are not members of a moral community, and they are not self-legislative.  Therefore, animals do not have rights.

Although we can grant equal consideration of some interests to both humans and animals there are some interests that only humans have, such as future directed interests in happiness.  Humans have interests that can rightfully supersede the interests of animals.

Rights and duties go together.  Animals cannot have rights because they have no obligations.  There are no rights holders who can reasonably makes claims against animals.  Therefore, animals have no rights. 

Granted, we have obligations to some humans who have no obligations in return but as a species we have rights and duties in relation to each other, not with other species.

Humans have obligations to animals even though animals have no rights.   We have the obligation to minimize suffering, for example, even if the obligation is to a non-rational being who is not a member of amoral community, i.e., an animal.

For more pro-and-con:

Wikipedia, “Animal Rights”

BBC, “Animal Rights”

Ethics Updates, “The Moral Status of Animals”

Roger Scruton, “Animal Rights”

Peter Singer-Richard Posner Debate

Interview with Jean Kazez on animal rights

Richard Brown, "What is Wrong with Eating Meat?"

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Virtue

A virtuous person has good habits and character traits.  A virtuous person strives to develop the traits that decent, compassionate, and thoughtful members of society should have.  People who eat meat in order to satisfy desires knowing that animals suffer are selfish and inconsiderate.  Their character and thus their behavior lacks virtue.  A person who lacks virtue eats meat; a virtuous person would not.

A compassionate person would feel moral discomfort (even outrage and revulsion) by enjoying something made possible by the suffering of another human or animal.  A compassionate person should not eat meat.

A person believes it is wrong to cause animals to suffer and be killed for food yet still enjoys eating meat lacks integrity.

A person who eats meat knowing that animals raised for food endure suffering lacks virtue: he is callous, indifferent, thoughtless, and selfish.

Replies

The same character traits that ostensibly defend abstaining from eating meat could also be used to justify the actions of someone who eats meat – most likely someone who obtains meat for another as an act of generosity, compassion, understanding, or perhaps even love.  For example, a person who purchases meat (when no other alternatives are available) to feed has the virtue of care and responsibility.

Virtue arguments are often used to justify hunting (and special meals that involve meat).  If you show proper respect and appreciation for the animal you hunt and/or consume and if you are sufficiently humbled by the experience, then you are entitled to eat meat.  If you do not show proper respect for an animal, you do not deserve to eat it.  Eating meat is appropriate if you do so with the right attitude.

What if members of a community condone meat eating and attribute correspondingly admirable character traits to hunting, slaughtering, cooking, and eating animals?  Tradition-bound virtues might both condemn and condone eating meat; virtues are, therefore, unreliable and far from universalizable.

For more pro-and-con:

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “The Moral Status of Animals: Alternative Perspectives”

Rosalind Hursthouse, “Environmental Virtue Ethics”

Nathan Nobis, "Vegetarianism and Virtue: Does Consequentialism Demand Too Little?"

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Environmental Harms

Meat production cause pollution, wastes energy and water, and causes a litany of harms to the environment, including greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, land degradation, and loss of biodiversity.  The happiness gained by eating meat is out-weighed by the bad consequences to the environment.  Therefore, it is morally unjustifiable to eat meat.

Replies

Only factory farming CAFOs cause environmental harms.  Animals reared on organic pastures contribute to a farm ecology and land management.  Therefore, it is only morally unjustifiable to eat animals raised in large-scale confinement systems.  It is not unjustifiable to eat animals raised on organic pastures and farms.

If environmental harms could be eliminated by better technologies there would be no environmental grounds to oppose raising animals for human consumption.

If environmental harms were eliminated by better technologies there would still be ethical issues about the rightness of raising animals for human consumption.

Raising cattle for diary products also causes environmental harms, unless done in a sustainable fashion.  It is morally wrong to support the production of both meat and dairy products.  Therefore, a vegan diet is the only morally appropriate diet.

Note: facts about environmental consequences are empirical matters better explained by environmental science than philosophy

For more pro-and-con:

FAO, “Livestock a Major Threat to the Environment”

FAO Magazine, “Livestock Impacts on the Environment”

Audubon Magazine, “Unconventional Farmers: Let Them Eat Meat”

Time Science, “Meat Eating vs. Driving: Another Climate Change Error?

Wikipedia, “Environmental Vegetarianism”

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Health

Industrial agriculture produces a litany of health risks for workers and consumers including respiratory diseases, illnesses from manure and fertilizer-polluted water, foodborne pathogens, hypertension, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, gallstones, obesity and food-borne illness.  The happiness gained by eating meat is out-weighed by the bad consequences to the health of workers and consumers.  The happiness is further out-weighed by the public health costs that are paid for by taxpayers.  Therefore, it is morally unjustifiable to eat meat.

Replies:

Health risks from eating meat are caused by over-eating, not by eating animal products as such.  The harmful consequences can be eliminated by eating less meat. 

The argument for health risks does not support either a vegetarian or vegan diet.  Eating meat in moderation is morally permissible.

If health risks could be eliminated by better production technologies and/or drugs to combat there would be no health reasons to oppose raising animals for human consumption.

If health risks could be eliminated by better production technologies and/or drugs to combat there would still be ethical issues about the rightness of raising animals for human consumption.

Note: facts about health consequences are empirical matters better explained by medical science than philosophy

For more pro-and-con:

WebMD, “The Truth About Red Meat”

The Independent, “Consumers Ignore Cancer Risks of Eating Red Meat”

Cornell University: Program on Breast Cancer and Environmental Risk Factors, “Consumer Concerns About Hormones in Food”

Harvard School of Public Heath, “Eating Processed Meats, but not Unprocessed Red Meats, May Raise Risk of Heart Disease and Diabetes”

Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production

Environmental Health Perspectives, “How Sustainable Agriculture Can Address the Environmental and Human Health Harms of Industrial Agriculture”

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Arguments for Cannibalism

We are morally permitted to treat deceased humans differently than the living.  We can, for example perform autopsies on them, bury them, exhume them, and take their possessions.   There is no harm done to the dead person if he or she is eaten by others.  Therefore, there is nothing wrong with cannibalism.

When there are conflicts of rights, responsibilities, or interests between the living and the dead we should privilege the living.  Only the living have rights to be respected, interests to be furthered, and happiness that can be increased or decreased.  If the only way to avoid starvation is to eat a dead person then it is morally permissible to do so.

It is permissible to eat a dead person if it maximizes happiness.  The dead person cannot care; if the person does not know his fate after death and no one else either knows or cares then there are no bad consequences to this act of cannibalism, only good consequences.

If consensual, there is nothing wrong with cannibalism.  It is permissible for someone to agree to be food for another after she dies or to be killed for food.

People consent to having their organs donated after they die.  They also consent to having their lives terminated.  Sometimes they sacrifice themselves heroically for others.  If these acts of consent are morally permissible then so are other voluntary acts where someone agrees to be eaten by another.

Survival cannibalism is generally viewed as regrettable but permissible.  Only psychopathological cannibalism and non-consensual consumption of human flesh from a living person are wrong.

If cannibalism means eating the flesh of your own species then many people around the world commonly practice cannibalism when they eat human placentas.  If there is nothing intuitively outrageous about eating placentas then there is nothing intuitively outrageous about cannibalism.

Some cultures perform ritualistic cannibalism as a part of burial ceremonies.  Others for medicinal purposes.  In these cultures, eating dead humans is considered appropriate on some occasions – even the respectful way to honor human dignity.

Eating human muscle tissues grown in cell cultures would neither cause harm nor violate rights.  Eating in vitro human meat is morally permissible.

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Arguments against Cannibalism

Eating another human being is categorically wrong. Cannibalism violates human dignity and is always wrong.

Humans instinctually do not eat other humans.  It fills most of us with horror and revulsion.  Like incest, cannibalism is something people reject as repugnant but have a hard time giving good reasons why. 

According to instinct and tradition, cannibalism is viewed as morally wrong, even when there are no bad consequences.  Instinct and tradition in this case are a reliable guide.  Cannibalism is at best highly inappropriate if not universally offensive.

Cannibalism devalues human life.  If we regularly ate our dead we might come to see humans as no different than animals.  To devalue human life would potentially produce bad long term consequences.  It is therefore wrong to eat humans.

There are other victimless things we can do with the dead that we usually consider wrong and inappropriate (and often illegal), such as having sex with the dead, taking their possession, mixing up their cremated ashes, reading their private correspondences solely for pleasure, dancing on graves.

Living persons care about their fate after they die.  If eating the deceased violates their expressed (or tacit) desire not to be mutilated or defaced then it is disrespectful of one’s legitimate expectation and wrong to violate their trust.

There is an implicit promise made among members in non-cannibalistic societies.  The deceased are to be treated with respect, usually buried or cremated.  We expect that our bodies will not be used for unnecessary purposes, such as symbolic food for another.  Cannibalism violates an implicit trust and is therefore wrong. 

For more pro-and-con:

Wikipedia, “Cannibalism”

Theodore Dalrymple, "The Case for Cannibalism"

Michael Sandel, “The Case for Cannibalism” (at about 29:00)

New York Times Book Review, “The Ultimate Taboo”

Paranormal Place, "Cannibalism and Human Sacrifice"

Richard Routley, “In Defense of Cannibalism”

Learning to Love Cannibals

NPR, "People . . . Who Eat People"

BBC News, "Cannibalism: A Modern Taboo"

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Arguments for In Vitro Meat

Growing meat tissues in cell cultures would produce a number of desirable consequences: it would be a good source of protein, less fatty/more nutrient rich than conventionally raised animal products, less polluting, reduce fossil fuel and water consumption, eliminate food born disease, scale back on farmland currently used for feeding and raising animals.  It would taste like processed meat, such as sausage, hamburger, chicken nuggets, or fish sticks.  The only undesirable consequence of in vitro meat currently is the cost.  The animal welfare, environmental, and human health benefits outweigh the harms, therefore it is morally permissible to produce and consume in vitro meat.

Replies

The idea of meat grown in a metal tank in a laboratory is disgusting.  The very idea of it is offensive and abhorrent.  This feeling of disgust is reason enough to maintain the intrinsic wrongness of in vitro meat.

Arguments Against In Vitro Meat

In vitro meat is too expensive, technologically infeasible, and unpopular.  It costs too much to produce; enough cannot be manufactured to produce the alleged animal welfare, environmental, and health benefits; and people surveyed say they would not knowingly eat it. 

Replies

Although the current state of in vitro meat production technology is expensive, time consuming, energy inefficient, and infeasible that will not always be the case as technology improves. 

Food tastes change.  People used to object to TV dinners, microwave ovens, genetically-modified food all of which are now considered commonplace.  And there any number of foods not synthesized in laboratories that many people find disgusting such as snails, blood pudding, head cheese, haggis – or animal products to a vegan – and other foods that particular cultures (and individuals) find repugnant.

For more pro-and-con:

Oxford University: Practical Ethics, “Artificial Meat: the Best Idea You’ve Heard All Year”

New Harvest.org: Cultured Meat FAQ

Wikipedia, “The Wisdom of Repugnance”

Leon Kass, “The Wisdom of Repugnance”

Philosophy Now, “On the Yuck Factor”

Rebecca Roache and Steve Clarke, “Bioconservatism, Bioliberalism, and Repugnance”

The New Yorker, "Test Tube Burgers"

NPR.org, "Burgers from a Lab: The World of In Vitro Meat"

In vitro meat (You Tube)

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Arguments for Genetically Engineered Food

Health and Safety

GE foods are safe to eat.   They have been tested by federal regulatory agencies and university laboratories and proven to pose no demonstrable health risks.

GE foods can be engineered with longer shelf life thus reducing the risk of spoilage, the waste of rotten food, and the spread of food born illnesses.

They can be engineered not to cause allergic reactions in people who have certain food allergies.

Nutrition

GE foods can be designed to supply nutrients people lack in their diet.

They can be designed to be drought tolerant and to flourish in poor soil conditions where crops usually do not grow.   GE foods can , therefore, increase the food supply and help alleviate malnutrition and hunger.

Plants and animals can be engineered to be larger, faster growing, and provide more (for more people) in a shorter time.

Genetically engineered animals produce better eggs, milk, and meat.  Chickens are designed to lay low-cholesterol eggs; cows to produce skimmed milk; and pigs to produce pork with less unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids and more healthy omega-3s.

Environment

Seeds can be engineered to require fewer resources, such as water, and fertilizer, and energy.

Seeds can be engineered to be resistant to insects, disease, and weeds reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides that are harmful to workers and pollute water.  It also lowers the costs of production making more food available.

Value-added traits

Foods can be designed to be used as vaccines or have other medicinal properties, for example rice with added iron and vitamin A, and bananas that produce hepatitis B vaccine.

Food can be designed with other desirable traits such as tomatoes that are frost resistance, and potatoes that absorb less fat when fried.

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Arguments Against Genetically Engineered Food

Heath and environmental risks

GE plants and animals may have unexpected and harmful consequences for health and the environment.  The long term – possibly irreversible – outweigh any short term gains.

GE plants and animals may transfer their genes with natural organisms and potentially eradicate them or produce other harmful environmental effects.

They might produce new strains of diseases, insects, and weeds that are immune chemical or antibiotics and difficult to eradicate.

Any organism poses a risk when introduced into a new environment.  Exotic species (such as kudzu in the US and toads in Australia) can often cause environment havoc, spread diseases, and reduce flora and fauna biodiversity.

Labeling

In many countries, it is not mandatory that products containing GE foods be labeled.   Consumers have a right to know what they are eating so that they can make informed choices – for reasons of preference and taste, ethics, religion, or politics.  Without information there is no informed choice; without informed choice there is no autonomy.

Ownership/patents

GE foods are patented intellectual property owned by biotech companies.   The more GE foods are used, the more developing nations will be dependant on industrialized nations for their food.  GE foods, therefore, undermine food sovereignty (unless they are given away or sold at low cost).

A handful of biotech companies could potentially control the world’s food production.  The loss of control means an unfair loss of freedom and a violation of the right to food.

For more pro-and-con:

FAO, “Agricultural Biotechnology: Will it Help?”

World Health Organization, “Biotechnology (GM foods) and Nanotechnology”

PBS.org, Nova/Frontline Special Report, “Harvest of Fear”

Genetically Modified Foods.com “Fact Sheet: Pros and Cons”

Nature.com: Genetically Modified Organisms: Transgenetic Crops and Recombinant DNA Technology

GM Watch

Gary Comstock, “Ethical Arguments Against Genetically Modified Food”

Colorado State University, “Labeling of Genetically Modified Foods”

Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology, “Have Transgenes, Will Travel” (pdf)

Reuters, “Are Regulators Dropping the Ball on Biocrops?”

Wikipedia, “Genetically Modified Food Controversies”

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Industrial Agriculture

 

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The Right to food

The right to adequate food is a basic human right enshrined in Article 25 of the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights.  It protects the fundamental right of all people to be free from hunger, free from malnutrition and food insecurity, to access either directly or by purchase sufficient food to live with dignity in accordance with the cultural traditions to which they belong.

The right to adequate food means that every man, woman and child alone and in community with others must have physical and economic access at all times to ade­quate food using a resource base appropriate for its procurement in ways consis­tent with human dignity.

The state has the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill each person’s access to food.

Respect: states have a duty not to destroy access to food.
Protect: states have a duty to protect access to food against destruction by another (person, group, or business enterprise).
Fulfill: states have a duty to ensure that people overcome their deprivation.  States have a duty to provide access to food when they cannot do so themselves for reasons beyond their control.

Replies

All rights are mere social conventions.  They are neither natural nor inviolable nor absolute.  Rights are civil and legal.  We have only the rights that states provide and defend.  In the US, there is no legally enforceable right to adequate food.  Therefore, there is no right to food.

We have political and entitlement rights but no right to food.  We have the right to freely access food and the right to possess it but there is no corresponding obligation held by the state to provide specific access to food.  The only obligation the state has is to protect freedom, expression, and property.

The language of human rights is abstract, hollow, and de-motivating – it disconnects us from the true sources of moral authority that empowers us to act ethically.

Human rights are not universalizable but merely an 18th century Western European invention.

The discourse of human rights is rhetorically strong but practically week.  It simplifies complex social and economic issues and proposes overly narrow (and anemic) solutions.

For more pro-and-con:

Right to Food.org, “What is the right to food?”

World Hunger.org, “The Right to Food in a Basic Human Right”

University of Minnesota, Human Rights Library, “The right to adequate food”

David Kennedy, “The International Human Rights Regime: Still Part of the Problem?”

Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund, “FDA Raw Milk Interstate Shipment Ban”

FDA's Response to FTCLDF Suit over Interstate Raw Milk Ban

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Duty to Feed the Hungry

The sight of people suffering from hunger and malnutrition is terrible.  Intuitively I know it is wrong.  We have an obligation to do something to help them.

Everyone has a basic right to life.  No one can enjoy his or her rights if he or she lacks what is essential for a healthy life: food, water, air, shelter, security, autonomy.  The right to life implies subsistence rights – the necessary conditions to exercise one’s rights.

The pain and suffering endured by the hungry outweighs the inconvenience the well off experience when they give money to relief organizations.  We have an obligation to give to charity to help others.

The overall pain and suffering endured by the hungry outweighs the overall happiness enjoyed by the well off.  Justice requires that the well off reduce the suffering of others.

If it is in our power to prevent hunger we have a moral obligation to do it, if we do not have to sacrifice anything morally comparable. 

It is a virtue to be compassionate and charitable.  It is a vice to be indifferent to suffering and stingy.

Extreme disparities of wealth among nations are unjust.  Justice requires a more fairly distributed economic benefits and burdens.  Justice requires that nations distribute resources more fairly so that everyone can enjoy their basic right to life.

Western nations are largely responsible for the conditions that produce global hunger: the legacies of colonialism and imperialism, and current economic systems that give an advantage to wealthy developed nations over poor underdeveloped nations.  Nations, like individuals, are responsible for the wrongs they cause.  Wealthy nations caused global hunger and, therefore, have an obligation to cure it.

Wealthy nations as well as instruments of international economic and political justice, such as the World Bank and United Nations, recognize the legitimacy of repressive regimes that fail to protect the basic rights of citizens.  The global economic-political order supports these regimes to the benefit of wealthy nations over poor nations. 

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Arguments against the Duty to Feed the Hungry

If a nation is poor through no fault of another nation, then no other nations have an obligation to rectify an injustice they did not cause.  Therefore, nations have no obligation to help nations they did not impoverish.

If a person is poor through no fault of another person, the no one has an obligation to rectify an injustice he or she did not cause.  Therefore, individuals have no obligation to help people they did not harm.

We should help the poor out of compassion not obligation.  Arguments for the duty to help others disregard the disposition of the giver and, therefore, fail to consider what is morally relevant about the action.  In other words, a just action is one that comes from a benevolent character, not merely one that produces good consequences.

Helping other people or nations is matter of charity.  It is optional.  It is a matter of obligation because it is not a matter of justice.

There have always been people who are poor and hungry, and there always will be.  There is nothing that can be done about it.

We are not all equal.  Some people have natural advantages over others, just like some nations have advantages over other nations.   The fittest survive and thrive, just like in nature.

Giving money to poor people is demeaning and degrading.  It is a short-term solution that fails to address underlying causes of poverty.   Give a man a fish . . .

Giving food to the hungry in poor countries will make their lives worse.  Foreign aid overlooks the realities of reproduction.  Eventually, people in poor nations will out-number people in wealthy nations.  The wealthy will be unable to support the poor; the poor will use up all of the resources.  Everyone will suffer more as a result of foreign aid than.

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For more pro-and-con:

Peter Singer, “The Examined Life”

Peter Singer, “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”

John Arthur, “John Arthur, “World Hunger and Moral Obligation: The Case Against Singer” (pdf)

Sandra LaFave, “Duties the Less Fortunate”

Hugh LaFollette and Larry May, "Suffer the Little Children"

Hugh LaFollette, “World Hunger

Santa Clara University, Markula Center for Applied Ethics, “World Hunger: A Moral Response”

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “A Place at the Table”

Jan Narveson, “Feeding the Hungry”

Garrett Harding, “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”

Libertarian Party, "Against Welfare for Nations -- Foreign Aid"

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Responsibility for Obesity

Individuals

Each person is responsible for what for how much he or she eats.  Unless a person is coerced or deceived, the credit or blame for a good or bad diets lies solely with that person.

Parents are responsible for the care of their children, including what and how much the children eat.  They are also responsible for teaching good dietary habits so that children will learn how to eat healthfully.  Parents are responsible if their children are obese.

The solution to obesity is more individual responsibility, not more government intervention or corporate responsibility.

Replies

Individuals must have information and the knowledge and ability to act on it in order to be held responsible for something.  The dietary information on food necessary to make good choices is often unavailable or difficult to find.  Therefore, persons who make poor choices cannot be held responsible if they are uninformed.

Furthermore, individuals cannot make good choices if they are ill-informed either by lack of education or by misleading advertisements.

Children are vulnerable to advertising.  Even if the ads are honest, children respond very strongly to them and they often press their parents into purchasing consumer goods (such as toys and unhealthy foods) against the parent’s better judgment.  Parental autonomy is compromised by the whining, pleading coercion of their children and, therefore, cannot be held entirely responsible for poor food choices.  The advertisers who market to children bear some responsibility, as well.

We are only responsible for our choices, not our involuntary actions or bodily functions.  Food choices are motivated by unconscious needs, urges, and desires rising from genetic predisposition.  We cannot be held responsible for what is beyond our control, including how tall one is, what one’s blood type is, and what one’s Body Mass Index is.

For more pro-and-con:

American Enterprise Institute, “Obesity, Personal Responsibility, and Public Policy”

Kathleen Parker, Op Ed Washington Post, “Health Reform and Obesity: Eat, Drink, and Watch out”

The Lunch Tray, “Personal Responsibility, Obesity, and my Response”

Slate, “Fat Change: Obesity, Genetics, and Responsibility”

Psychology Today, “Obesity and Responsibility in the Health Care Debate”

New York Times, “In Online Games, a Path to Young Consumers”

The Atlantic, Marion Nestle, “Food Marketing to Kids Goes Viral”

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Governments

Governments have an obligation to promote the general welfare.  This obligation includes protecting public health from such things as toxins, pollutions, unsafe products, and disease.  Obesity and diet-related diseases cost nations billions annually in health costs that the public bears.  Governments have the responsibility to protect consumers from the health risks and costs associated with obesity.  They can do so by, for example, taxing unhealthy foods (to drive prices up and to use the revenues for public health campaigns), subsidizing healthy foods (to drive prices down), requiring nutritional information be made public and accessible, and banning certain foods or processes.  Governments are responsible for preventing obesity, educating the public about its risks, and reducing the prevalence of obesity.

Replies

Governments overstep their authority when they take responsibility for individual choice in the name of public health or public welfare.  They make laws that restrict my consumer choices and hence my freedom.  A government that restricts freedom is unjust.  Laws designed to discourage obesity and foster healthy diets are unjust.

For more pro-and-con:

Hartford Currant, “Government has Fitting Role in Fat Fight”

New York Times, “Is Obesity the Responsibility of the Body Politic?”

Chicago Tribune, “Should the Growing Weight of Nation be Placed in Government’s Hands?”

CATO Institute, “Government Gets Fat Fighting Obesity”

NPR.org, “CDC: Obesity is a Major Public Health Threat”

Michael Pollan, “You Are What You Grow”

California Public Interest Research Group, “Stop Subsidizing Obesity”

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Food Industry

The food industry sells some products that are high in fat, salt, sugar, calories, and cholesterol.  There are demonstrable links between these foods and obesity, diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and cancers.  Companies that produce high-calorie, high-fat foods are responsible – and liable – for selling products that carry known health risks.

Replies

The responsibility for obesity and other diet-related diseases does not lie with the food industry; it lies with individuals.  It is common knowledge which foods are high-calorie and high-fat.  It is common knowledge that these foods should be eaten in moderation, not in excess.  When they are eaten in excess they often produce diet-related health issues.  When they are eaten in moderation they do not.  The burden of poor responsibility lies, therefore, with consumers not producers.

For more pro-and-con:

CNN Business, “Is Fat the Next Tobacco?”

Sustainable Business Forum, “Corporate Versus Personal Responsibility: Is Obesity Campbell Soup’s Fault?”

Student Pulse, “The Obesity Epidemic in America and the Responsibility of Big Food Manufacturers”

Pepperdine University, Graziadio Business Review, Obesity, Social Responsibility, and Economic Value

NPR.org, “Experts Says Ads Makes Kids Fat”

New York Times, “A Sweetener with a Bad Rap”

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Weight Bias

Overweight people face discrimination in employment, education, and health care. Yet, unlike other groups that experience discrimination, there are no federal laws to protect overweight people. To improve working conditions, healthcare, and overall quality of life for millions of Americans, weight should be on the list of categories that are covered in antidiscrimination laws.

In employment, weight should be including in the Civil Rights Act or create separate federal anti-discrimination legislation based on weight. In health care, health care organizations should include language on weight bias in their patients' rights policies, and require weight bias training for all health care professionals. In schools, overweight and obese children should be protected from bullying and intimidation in school by requiring states and/or school districts to adopt and enforce policies prohibiting harassment, intimidation, or bullying on school property. Weight should be included as a specific protected category.

Replies

Weight bias is indeed real but the solution to discrimination is education and public awareness, not legislation and advocacy. The latter creates legal consequences for actions but does nothing to change beliefs and convictions.

More anti-discrimination laws will increase the number of workplace lawsuits and only make our already litigious society even more so.

If laws are passed prohibiting weight discrimination it would create a precedent for laws to protect any group that experiences discrimination -- including short people, unattractive people, bald men, and so on.

For more pro-and-con

Rudd Report, "Weight Bias: A Social Justice Issue" (pdf)

Teaching Tolerance, "Understanding Size Bias"

USA Today, "Weight Discrimination Could be as Common as Racial Bias"

ABC News, "Weight-ism More Widespread than Racism"

Talking Philosophy, "Weight Discrimination"

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Appropriate Eating

All cultures determine appropriate eating and drinking conduct.  There are customs and practices that regulate what we should eat, how much, when, where, in what manner, and with whom.  Manners regulate dining surfaces, usage of utensils, comportment of the body, the topic of conversation, and a myriad of other features of eating and drinking alone and together.  Table manners, eating customs, and etiquette are part of the moral landscape we all inhabit, even if these landscapes vary among societies.

The ancient virtue of temperance (or moderation) central to eating and drinking conduct continues to govern what we consider proper conduct.  Although the norms vary by place and time, the virtue of temperance is omnipresent.  We should strive to avoid the extremes of poor eating and drinking manners: neither gluttony nor abstention.

It is generally considered wrong to overeat, indulge, binge, eat too quickly, eat other people’s food without permission, and to eat things at the margins of appropriateness for a society.

It is generally considered wrong to under-eat, to deny oneself food for no reason, to derive no pleasure at all from eating, and other overly ascetic practices.

Proper manners and etiquette are primarily concerned with appropriate conduct with and for others.  They are primarily concerned with the welfare of others, civility, and humanity, and therefore represent genuine normative concerns.

Replies

Although manners and etiquette are normative they are trivial; they are non-universalizable; they are regional; they vary by class even within a region.  Manners and etiquette are always controversial and contestable, hence unreliable.

Manners and etiquette may be overridden by more generalizable normative claims of moral conduct or even the law.

Manners and etiquette are tools of social control more than vehicles of social cohesion. They foster repression not conviviality.

For more pro-and-con on table manners:

Judith Martin, "The World's Oldest Virtue"

Civility in a Democracy: A Conversation with Miss Manners

Philosophy Now, “The Etiquette of Ethics, or Morality as an Affliction: the Feeling Fallacy”

Oxford University: Practical Ethics, “The Ethics of Etiquette”

Roger Scruton, “Real Men Have Manners”

For more pro-and-con on gluttony and abstention:

The Atlantic, “The Moral Crusade Against Foodies”

Salon.com “Do We Need B. R. Meyer’s Moral Crusade Against Foodies?”

Edo Ergo Sum, “The Moral Crusade Against Truffle World”

Matthew Brown,” Picky Eating is a Moral Failure”

Mary Eberstadt, “Is Food the New Sex?”

The New Republic, “Is Food the New Sex? Well . . .”

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Gustatory Aesthetics

There is no accounting for taste in food.  It is entirely subjective and a matter of personal preference.  To claim otherwise is factually mistaken; to search for objective standards is misguided.

Taste in food is determined by culture.  What is considered delicious in one culture might be considered disgusting by another.  There are no transcultural, universally accepted standards of taste.

Taste is a sense.  Taste receptor cells on the tongue that are able to detect primary flavors: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami.  We also detect flavors by the texture of the object in the mouth, the temperature, and spiciness as well as by the sense of smell detected by the olfactory tissues in the nose.   Taste is primarily physiological.  Objective properties in food can be correctly detected by the senses (and in greater or lesser degree).

Social class and power within societies determine standards of taste. Our preferences, tastes, and interests are shaped by our class status, reinforced by baroque distinctions that reinforce social class.

Taste can be acquired and perfected with experience and practice. The standards of taste are set by those who have the best taste: those who have refined senses, acquired experience, ability to make comparisons with other objects and experience, and who strive to be impartial and unbiased. That is to say, standards of taste are set by critics.

Food can be pleasurable -- even truly delicious or awful -- but we can never claim that everyone ought to find something yummy or yucky. The judgment of taste in food is too tied up in the satisfaction of (personal) desires ever to aspire to the kind of impartiality (and disinterested) we typically reserve for judgments about art works.

For more pro-and-con:

Harvard Medicine, “There’s no Accounting for Taste”

Carolyn Korsmeyer, “Disputing Taste”

Kevin Sweeney, “Alice’s Discriminating Palate”

Francis Raven, “Are Supertasters Candidates for Being Humean Ideal Critics?”

New York Institute of Philosophy, “The Project on the Nature of Taste”

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Hume's Aesthetics"

David Clowney, "Kant's Aesthetics"

Wikipedia, Pierre Bourdieu, "La Distinction"

KQED, “The Science of Taste”

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Food as Art

Food has aesthetic properties that are similar enough to works of visual arts and plastic arts to be considered artworks themselves. Food can reasonable be described as beautiful, delicate, imaginative, refined, elegant, well-crafted, playful, original and other properties that artworks share.

Food can be as moving and profound as artworks. It can evoke strong feelings of memory, nostalgia, awe, disgust, and wonder. If food can elicit the same emotional response as artworks then it should be considered as art.

Culinary arts involve high levels of skill, technique, and creativity -- not to mention perseverance, endurance, and concentration -- all of which requires years of practice to perfect. Culinary arts are, in this respect, similar to the fine arts.

Artworks are more expressive than food. They have more articulated qualities, histories, and meanings. Food can represent social and historic meanings to some extent but in nowhere the detail and sophistication as artworks. Food should, therefore, not be considered art. It is more fiting to consider it a craft or a lesser artform.

Whether or not food is art is irrelevant. The culinary art do not need to be likened to the fine arts to be validated. The aesthetic value of food can be determined without comparing it to art.

For more pro-and-con:

Washington Post, “Can Food Be Seriously Art?”

The Guardian, “Is Food Art?”

Elizabeth Telfer, “Food as Art” (pdf)

Modernist Cuisine: The Art and Science of Cooking

Jennifer Rubel, “Creation”

Jennifer Rubel, “Icon”

The Bread Art Project

Hyperallergic, “Absence as Food Art”

Tate Modern, “Ai Weiwei”

Bento Box Art

Latte Art

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