Owning pets, animal rights & vegetarianism / veganism

Hurt Go Happy - I liked this; semi-plot spoilers follow. The book is targeted mainly to preteens/young teens (main character is ~14), and it spends most of its pages dealing with the themes of overbearing/overprotective parents, being/feeling like an outcast, & being deaf, but the book also shows the development of a relationship between the main character and a chimpanzee, and does an excellent job of showing just how inhumanely chimps and other animals are treated by people who profit from them (I'll leave it at that to avoid spoiling the plot for anyone who ignored my warning).

A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift

Owning pets

Eating animals

I thought about this issue for a few years b/c I had conflicting feelings about it (I like to eat meat but I also feel bad about the way I've heard the animals are treated). After coming to some conclusions about the way the world works, though, I think I've figured out how to think about the issue. The answer I've come to isn't pretty, but that's been the case with a lot of the answers I've come to about the way the world actually works.

What I think is going on:

1. There's no such thing as an objective "right" or "wrong"; there's only those who have power and those who do not have power.
2. People have an in-born ability to feel compassion for things they associate with; people can associate with a LOT of different things, from inanimate objects to other humans. I don't think there's a real difference between the feeling of compassion someone feels for another human and the feeling of compassion someone feels for an animal or inanimate object; it's just a feeling someone has, aka a bunch of neurons flicking on.
3. People also like to eat meat; it seems established that meat can have useful nutrients (protein, iron, omega-3s and other stuff from fish), and that seems likely to be why it tastes good.
4. Humans live in societies that can develop certain codes of conduct, such as religious practices, not staring at people, tipping, etc. The development of these codes of conduct is usually out of the hands of any one person, but people can usually choose what group to associate with nowadays.

So my tentative conclusion is that if your goal is to be happy then you should follow whatever code of conduct will make you happiest. For some people that may mean adopting whatever code of conduct the people around you have adopted. The more time you spend thinking about the animal the more likely it will be that you'll develop a strong emotional reaction to it, which is why I think most people avoid thinking about them. That's probably also why factory farmers don't want their customers to see what the factory farms look like: it will provoke a predictable emotional response in people.

Even if you could get middle-class people to start buying meat from well-treated animals, there would continue to be an incentive to produce cheap meat for the poorer people in the world.

2015.04.21 - GatesNotes - Is There Enough Meat for Everyone?

  • This is a review of the book "Should We Eat Meat?"

Meat is a great source of high-quality proteins that help children fully develop mentally and physically. In fact part of our foundation’s health strategy involves getting more meat, dairy, and eggs into the diets of children in Africa.


As usual, Smil offers up some intriguing statistics along the way. A quarter of all ice-free land in the world is used for grazing livestock.


...there are reasons to be optimistic. For one thing, the world’s appetite for meat may eventually level off. Consumption has plateaued and even declined a bit in many rich countries, including France, Germany, and the United States. I also believe that innovation will improve our ability to produce meat. Cheaper energy and better crop varieties will drive up agricultural productivity, especially in Africa, so we won’t have to choose as often between feeding animals and feeding people.

I’m also hopeful about the future of meat substitutes. I have invested in some companies working on this and am impressed with the results so far. Smil is skeptical that it will have a big impact—and it is true that today the best products are sold mostly in fancy grocery stores—but I think it has potential.

With a little moderation and more innovation, I do believe the world can meet its need for meat.

2015.05.19 - GatesNotes - Beach Reading (and More)

Should We Eat Meat?, by Vaclav Smil. The richer the world gets, the more meat it eats. And the more meat it eats, the bigger the threat to the planet. How do we square this circle? Vaclav Smil takes his usual clear-eyed view of the whole landscape, from meat’s role in human evolution to hard questions about animal cruelty. While it would be great if people wanted to eat less meat, I don’t think we can expect large numbers of people to make drastic reductions. I’m betting on innovation, including higher agricultural productivity and the development of meat substitutes, to help the world meet its need for meat. A timely book, though probably the least beach-friendly one on this list.

Factory Farming

From watching videos and reading some books it seems clear that the modern factory farm industry is and has been conducting a Holocaust thousands/millions of times over [disclaimer: this is assuming animal consciousness/pain is within 1/100 of that experienced by humans, which I think most people, especially pet owners, would agree with]. But because animals have no ability to lobby others for help, and b/c there's no one out there who has an incentive to go after the people who are harming the animals, nothing is going to happen for a long time. The same thing has happened to one extent or another to lots of other groups: the Jews in Europe, gay/minority/female people in the US and elsewhere, etc.

How to fix what is happening:

  • try to change nations' cultural eating habits to a more plant-based diet - this wouldn't completely solve the problem on its own but could help. of course, achieving this would be a huge undertaking on its own and who knows how realistic an objective it is. Interestingly enough, this would prob. also have huge health benefits for people.
  • improve animals' lives by letting them live in fields, etc. - this is what whole foods has been doing. but the problem is that there will continue to be an incentive to produce cheaper meat (at the cost of the animals' quality of life) for people who don't care.
  • outlaw certain practices (eg keeping animals in cages their whole lives) - but it is probably currently politically impossible to get laws like that passed in the US (and may continue to be impossible for the next 50-100 years). and even if they're passed in the US, other countries will continue to have an incentive to produce meat as cheaply as possible.
  • create genetically-engineered animals that are basically brain-dead - this is not a very pleasant solution to think about but it is actually one of the first things I thought of when I first started thinking about this issue at length in high school. a few years later i found a philosophy book in barnes & noble that mentioned the same idea. one obvious problem is the question of how difficult/expensive it would be to figure out how to create such creatures. another problem is the question of whether the changes we make to their genes would have unintended consequences on the health of the animal and/or the quality of the meat; some people are very worried nowadays about genetically-engineered corn. a third problem is that it probably wouldn't make people feel warm and fuzzy inside to think about such creatures; so even if the feelings of pain are removed from the animals, the humans' feelings of compassion would not be relieved b/c people would still feel bad or weirded out or disgusted.
  • keep animals drugged their whole lives so they don't feel any pain - this idea is similar to the genetic-engineering one, with the same problems.

Sources of information on this topic:

Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer - I remember finding this alright; I think I remember it having some good information, but I think I also remember not being blown away by it. The book is about the author's struggle to decide whether to be vegetarian/vegan since he had become a father wanted to set a good example. It includes a bunch of information that he found out about how our meat is produced. The main thing I took away from it was that modern factory farming is very, very different from the way meat had been produced in the past (it seems far more cruel now), and the number of animals being killed every year is staggering (in the billions).

Meet Your Meat (from PETA, narrated by Alec Baldwin)

The Foie Gras Assembly Line 

Shocking Animal Cruelty at Tyson Foods Supplier
http://video.humanesociety.org/video/62 ... -Supplier/

Synthetic meat

2015.04.01 - FastCompany - The $325,000 Lab-Grown Hamburger Now Costs Less Than $12

  • Wow, 10 years ago I was thinking of brain-dead animals but it never occurred to me to just grow the meat without the rest of the animal.
  • If I had to guess, I'd guess this is how the factory farming problem is going to get solved.
  • It has the added benefit of potentially being much more efficient.