Mark Rowlands has an interesting review of Jonathan Safran Foer's book, Eating Animals, in the TLS of March 5, 2010 ("Choice Cuts"). It raises important moral, and for Marxists, I think, political problems, that arise from the way animals are killed and consumed under the capitalist dominated meat production industry (under which almost ALL our meat is produced in the US-- ie., by CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
Unfortunately, Foer's argument is based on LOGICAL conclusions deduced from readily available empirical facts and, as Rowlands points out human beings in general "don't respond well to logical argument"-- especially when they are engaged in politics. Marxists, however, if they have escaped from the mental disorder of sectarianism and have matured beyond the infantile disorder of ultra-leftism, may prove an exception since their whole philosophy ultimately derives from a logical conclusion deduced from Marx, after he read Hegel's Logic, regarding the way to end human exploitation by means of abolishing the extraction of surplus labor by capitalists.
Well, let us look at Foer's arguments and see if Marxists should also fight to end the exploitation of our fellow animals-- not only on moral grounds but also on the grounds of the SELF INTEREST of the working people of the world. The following is based on Rowlands' review, Double quotes (") are from Foer's book, single quotes (') from Rowlands.
Why did Foer write this book? Because he has recently become a parent and he wanted to set forth examples of the best moral behavior and health behavior for his children. It may turn out that this example applies to all of us.
The book is based on three empirical facts (scientific facts) which are used as premises to draw a conclusion that any person who is rational (and not an overly irrational MAGA enthusiast) will accept. The premisses are:
1. Human beings do not need to eat animals to live healthy lives.
2. The way animals are now treated and killed for us to eat 'causes suffering on an unimaginable scale' [this presupposes we think this is morally wrong -tr].
3. The way animals are now raised for food is 'environmentally catastrophic.'
THEREFORE: We should not use animals for food as they are now treated and raised.
Notice this is not an absolute vegetarian conclusion, and indeed the author calls for what he terms "contingent vegetarianism"-- but more on this later. Let's look at the evidence for the truth of the three premises.
Premiss One: The American Dietetic Association says that vegetarian diets are appropriate for humans at all stages of life and that meat eating is unnecessary [like smoking-- it’s just a bad habit--tr] and is healthy for us--less cancer and heart disease. [Working people would certainly benefit from better and more healthy diets and Marxists should be advocating for vegetarianism as tribunes of the people--tr].
Premiss Two: the 'horrors of factory farms are well known.' Cattle are supposed to be killed by a bolt to the brain, to cite just one example, but investigations have shown a 'non-negligible minority' are still alive and conscious when the skin is peeled off their faces and their legs are chopped off. Similar horrors happen to pigs, chickens, horses, etc. [Since many humans are singularly unaffected by the torture and killing of animals (hunters, fishers, fans of cock, dog, and bull fights, fur wearers, etc.,) this may be the weakest premiss-- tr].
Premiss Three: The UN Climate Commission (Pew Commission) reports that the animal food industry 'is responsible for more climate change emissions than all forms of transport combined-- in fact, nearly 40 per cent more.' Talk about reducing gas emissions! And don't forget all the government unregulated animal poop flooding the nation, getting into the food supply-(E. coli comes from animal intestines--what's it doing in peanut butter?), as well as the water supply. I hope you don't live near a factory pig farm.
What is "contingent vegetarianism?" Foer himself has become "a committed vegetarian." He is not vegan. Cheese and milk seem to be ok, but in so far as the dairy business is also part of the CAFO system (dairy cows end up there as do their calves i.e., veal) premise two seems applicable.
Foer leaves open the possibility of humane (?) farming which allows for limited meat eating but Rowlands thinks that Foer's arguments are stronger than Foer himself thinks they are. 'The qualified nature of his conclusion -- contingent vegetarianism -- suggests that he hasn't quite understood just how convincing his book is.'
My take is that vegetarianism is the only politically correct position to take vis a vis the interests of the working class, and not only the working class but all of humanity as well. First, how can Marxists not advocate the most healthy diet possible for people? Capitalist agribusiness pushes meat for profit not out of concern for human well being. Second, if we destroy the earth, sea and atmosphere with unending pollution the working people and all other segments of humanity cannot possibly survive. CAFOs are major contributors to this pollution. The capitalists have no intention of doing anything serious about ending pollution as long as their super profits keep rolling in. To defend our class and humanity we should advocate AT LEAST contingent vegetarianism.
I think that under capitalism we will not be able to significantly change the eating habits of people. It will take the complete reeducation of humanity that will be required under socialism to bring up future generations of humans dedicated to people before profits, the abolition of war, protection of the environment, the end of economic exploitation, and the end of the killing and eating of animals with all of its attendant cruelty.
Nevertheless, this is a topic worthy of consideration and discussion by the international communist and worker's movement. The time has come for both individual Marxists, and, indeed, whole parties to debate this issue and come to a consensus based on the scientific evidence and the logical conclusions derived from it.
MEAT, MONEY AND MARKETS
We’ve known for some time that having too much red meat in our diets has negative health consequences. We also know that the meat industry goes out of the way to play down these risks as it is motivated by profits and not public health. We also know that the only really effective way to protect the public from the negative consequences is to demand that the government regulate and educate. We must work towards expanding democratic control of the economy in order to achieve these ends.
New scientific evidence released by the Harvard School of Public Health, definitely shows that eating red meat increases mortality from both cancer and cardiovascular problems.
The results of the Harvard study have been reported in ScienceDaily, but it has some good news, which is that we can all lower our risks for these health problems by replacing red meat with nuts, legumes, fish, and poultry (and of course a vegetarian diet would dramatically reduce these risks).
An Pan, the main author of the report, is quoted as saying: “Our study adds more evidence to the health risks of eating high amounts of red meat, which has been associated with type two diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, and certain cancers in other studies.”
The study followed thousands of people over two decades correlating their diets with disease incidents. The researchers found that eating processed red meat daily (e.g., two strips of bacon or a hot dog) increased your risk 20 percent (a daily serving of unprocessed red meat upped you risk 13 percent.) Cured red meat was thus seven percent more deadly than uncured.
The report also found that those who replaced the red meat serving with fish, poultry, nuts, low fat dairy, or legumes had a significant reduction in their risks of death. This led Frank Hu, a nutrition specialist and co-author of the report, to say, “This study provides clear evidence that regular consumption of red meat, especially processed meat, contributes substantially to premature death. On the other hand, choosing more healthful sources of protein in place of red meat can confer significant health benefits by reducing chronic disease morbidity and mortality.”
So red meat consumption ought to be limited in the interests of public health, and especially the health of children. Processed red meats as well as red meat in general should be regulated and reduced in school lunch programs (remember the Republicans in Congress want to classify pizza as a vegetable– which shows the influence of the junk food industry; money always comes first) and in all other government food programs.
The new USDA “food plate” simply has “protein” as one of its recommendations but no further recommendations such as less beef and more fish or other red meat substitutes. Beef should not be given equal time with chicken! In any event progressive politics goes hand in hand with progressive health advocacy and we can hope people will heed the warnings of science.
APPENDIX— here is more evidence for at least contingent vegetarianism; it’s from the People’s World of 3-26-2012
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.