I appreciate Wyatt Williams’s honesty in “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” [interview by Finn Cohen, May 2022]. I, too, have loved eating meat. But thirty-three years ago, when I learned about the cruelty of our animal-agriculture system, I chose a different path than Williams and became vegan.
I’m not judging him for his choice to eat meat, but I was surprised by his passing comment about lab-grown meat. He said that it would be foolish to send lab-grown meat to the indigenous people in Alaska, as if this were the litmus test for a solution to a global problem.
Lab-grown, or “cultivated,” meat is grown from cells rather than obtained through raising and slaughtering animals. It’s animal protein without the cruelty, environmental destruction, pesticides, or antibiotics. It isn’t perfect — no food system attempting to feed 8 billion people ever will be — but it’s so promising that Williams’s dismissal was odd, especially because he could then eat meat without the moral dilemma.
Whenever the topic of killing animals for food is discussed, rationalizations, excuses, and inaccurate statements enter the conversation. Your interview with Wyatt Williams was no exception. For example, Williams says that blood meal and animal fertilizer are necessary for growing tomatoes and romaine lettuce. This isn’t true.
Human consumption of animal products is not necessary for good health. Animals are sentient beings who experience pain, loss, and grief. I acknowledge that not all killing can be eliminated — insects and small animals die in the farming process — but plant-based eating can reduce animal suffering, improve human health, and slow global warming.
In his interview with Finn Cohen on the morality of eating animals, Wyatt Williams says, “People aren’t going to stop eating meat.” I did. I went vegan ten years ago, when I was fifty-four years old. Like Williams, I learned about the animal cruelty inherent in our food system and the poor treatment of slaughterhouse workers. Unlike Williams, I did something about it.
It comes as no surprise that others look at the same questions about eating animals and come to different conclusions than I have. I see my own lack of optimism — whether for the promise of lab-grown meat or our ability to change our relationship to suffering — as pragmatic. The troubles we face with agriculture are so large that they necessitate many solutions.
I enjoyed Finn Cohen’s interview with Wyatt Williams but cringed when I read, “Civilization as we know it exists because of agriculture. It’s why we can be sitting here having this conversation, rather than worry about where our next meal will come from.” Many of us work long and often meaningless hours without much leisure time and still wonder where our next meal will come from. I question dominant narratives that reflexively elevate “civilization.” Not knowing how to gather, hunt, or even farm is the crux of food insecurity and also the norm in civilized society.
I understand the moral conundrum Wyatt Williams describes in “The Carnivore’s Dilemma” [interview by Finn Cohen, May 2022]. I have been a vegetarian for years, but I also live with five dedicated carnivores: three cats and two dogs. The cats eat kibbles mixed with tinned fish or meat products. For the dogs I boil turkey or chicken necks, strip the softened meat from the bones, and then cook rice or barley in the leftover water.
Without the slaughterhouses that supply this meat, my dogs would not have the food they need to survive. As an omnivore I have many food choices other than meat, but my animals don’t. Dogs and cats do not do well on a vegetarian diet, nor do the big cats in captivity for whom I send charitable donations. So I am a confused and, to some extent, hypocritical vegetarian. There is no way out of this dilemma.
Kudos for the mostly factual information about meat production and slaughterhouses in Finn Cohen’s interview with Wyatt Williams. Though the interview didn’t shy away from graphic descriptions of industrialized agriculture, it leaves out a lot of detail.
While Williams admits that chickens are quite aware of their imminent slaughter, so, too, are cows and other animals because of their strong senses of smell and hearing. The chickens humans consume are mostly female — the male chicks are fed into shredders to produce the blood meal Williams imagines is necessary to fertilize tomatoes. The hens’ beaks are ground down, and they are pumped full of antibiotics, creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Pigs have their tails cut off and their ears notched, and the males are castrated without anesthesia.
At least 23 million animals are butchered per day in the United States, and 200 million are killed per day worldwide. There is nothing humane about animal agriculture.
I was not surprised to see the outpouring of indignation over Finn Cohen’s interview with Wyatt Williams [“The Carnivore’s Dilemma,” May 2022], and I am glad that people care about the ethics behind their food.
When I was in my twenties, I worked on several different farms. One was a 1,600-acre, certified-organic vegetable farm where killdeer dive-bombed the tractor as it plowed over their nests. Bits of snakes, rodents, rabbits, and gophers were regularly churned out the back end as we tilled dozens of acres in a hurry to get the crops planted.
At other, smaller farms we raised chickens, goats, and rabbits, cycling them through the pasture and orchard and using their manure to enrich the fields. On days that we processed animals, we held small ceremonies to recognize the significance and heaviness of the moment.
When looking for ethical and humanely raised foods, it’s not just the living conditions of the animals that should be considered, but also the size and scale of the farm.