The Ethics of What We Eat

The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, by Peter Singer and Jim Mason.  Rodale, 2006.

At least three times a day, we all make choices that have profound ethical consequences: what we eat.  After interviewing three actual families about the foods they choose and why, authors Singer and Mason track down producers of these commonly-eaten foods and examine the means of production.  Noting that “no other human activity has had as great an impact on our planet as agriculture,” they show how animals, our land, and oceans are treated in that process.  The book is not a vegetarian polemic, although both authors are vegetarians.  Rather it provides a  balanced investigation of hidden factors in food production, and asks readers to make the kindest choices they possibly can.  It is, however, strong in its condemnation of factory-farmed meat, eggs, and dairy products: “Since factory farming inflicts a vast quantity of unjustifiable suffering on animals, persuading others to boycott it should be a high priority of anyone concerned about animals.”

For most people, transitioning away from meat is best done gradually, and the focus need not be on perfection.  The authors write, “Personal purity isn’t really the issue.  Not supporting animal abuse–and persuading others not to support it–is.”  If one still wants to eat meat on some occasions–at family gatherings, business lunches, and when traveling, for example–one can still reduce or eliminate meat consumption at other times.  To help readers locate acceptable food sources, the book includes a “Where to Find Ethical Food” chapter at the end.  The take-away: Get informed, decide what ethical eating would look like in your life, and then do something.

Singer’s books never disappoint; he thinks clearly, is thorough, presents convincing research, and conveys compassion for all beings. I may sometimes disagree with him, but am better informed for having heard him out.

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