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Morality of Animal Agriculture

Jim Anderson
On Love (September 2013)

To the editor: I appreciated and learned from Joe Snyder’s fine essay on the bonds of animal agriculture (May/June 2013). We have in many ways lost the balance of care, responsibility, and stewardship in our relationship with animals in what Joe calls the “monetization” of agriculture. He warns us that a simple rejection of the animal side of our food system, as some vegetarianism involves, may cause still more harm to nature, and even more death to living things. We need to hear this and develop a food system that respects our covenants with nature and sees the hazards of a simple “industrial” vegetarianism.

That said, I believe an informed vegetarianism, one that is not based on the regular raising and killing of animals as a source of food, is a better path to moral and balanced living than the traditional patterns, for all their sensitivity and care (at their best) toward animals being raised for food. I also believe it is more in accord with my Quaker faith.  Neither the biblical covenantal tradition, nor modern ecological awareness, leads us necessarily to a meat-based diet and food system.  Indeed, the Jewish tradition imagines that the killing and eating of animals did not become the “tradition” until after The Flood, and many environmentalists remind us of how inefficient the production of animal protein, as compared to plant protein, is on a given piece of land. Of the traditional patterns, the Indian use of the cow as a source of milk, labor, and fuel seems to me to represent a well balanced human/animal pattern suited to the cultural context, but one that is not based on the production of meat and the killing of animals.

I am glad that Joe has given us such a thoughtful representation of this issue, and though I come to a different place in my food choices, I’m relieved to have this again brought forth as a concern among Friends. While I am glad for the call to observe more humane and caring practices in animal raising, I do not believe a modern food system that is based on the killing of animals for food is morally sound when most of us in this culture have healthy and affordable alternatives. I hope Friends will be provoked by Joe’s essay to look more carefully at how we are called to respond in making food choices today.  

For a thoughtful effort to engage with this problem in the varied modern food production system, I recommend Jonathan Foer’s Eating Animals.

Jim Anderson

Environmentalism Animal rights

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