Last Saturday I was unloading an ice chest of meat when I turned and saw a man come up to my table wearing a shirt with “PETA” in big letters across the front.  I was a little shocked at first.  I only raise and sell animals, and I didn’t think there was much I could do for someone in the vegan leaning organization PETA.  When I went to the table to talk with him I saw that beneath “PETA” the shirt read “People for the Eating of Tasty Animals.”  My blood pressure went down.

I have been thinking about PETA since then and I have decided to order two t-shirts.  One would be a shirt like this customer was wearing and the other would be the regular PETA shirt with the acronym spelled out beneath: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.  Though the first shirt is in some sense making fun of the second, the two aren’t in conflict if you divorce the idea of a person for the ethical treatment of animals from the organization that proposes to represent them. 

There are many ways in which the eaters of tasty animals are in a better position for the ethical treatment of animals than non-animal eaters.  While many thousands of animals die as a direct result of vegetable farming the non-animal eater is unaware of the reality that animals died in the process of harvesting the soy for their tofu.  Not only that, but many non-animal eaters buy industrial vegetables that were grown in ways that damage the environment far more than the permanent agriculture system of pastureland and forest on which good animal husbandry is done.  Even good, small organic vegetable farms are not as sustainable as ecosystems as a forest-pasture based system where cattle, sheep, chickens and pigs are grazed and many hundreds of animals find ample habitat. 

Animal eaters have no ignorance about the fact that an animal was killed for their sustenance.  They therefore have a clear task before them of making sure that they only buy the meat of animals that were raised ethically—with the freedom to range, good food to eat, and the ability to express their essential nature.  This puts them in a markedly easier ethical position than those who are ignorant that the food they ate involved the killing of mice, raccoons, meadowlarks, deer, turkeys, and woodchucks, not to mention the many invertebrates killed as a regular course.  I do not want to pick on vegetarians here, but too often the ethical burden is put on animal eaters.  That burden is misplaced.  The burden should be placed on those who eat primarily from the industrial food system, be it a vegetarian diet or an omnivorous one.  With an increasing number of small, sustainable animal farms one can easily be for the eating of tasty animals and the ethical treatment of animals.

Story by Ragan Sutterfield. This article originally appeared in Plenty in July 2007.

Copyright Environ Press 2007

The other PETA
The debate between vegetarians and meat-eaters continues.