Note: As CommonGround volunteers, we don’t tell folks what to eat or not to eat. Those decisions are solely yours. We’re simply here to answer your questions based on our experience as farm women. Many of us raise animals for meat, and respecting and protecting those animals is very important to us. We also feel comfortable feeding it to our families as a nutritious source of protein. It’s OK to have questions, and we invite you to ask us about your concerns. We don’t judge or condemn any eating choices, and we welcome all viewpoints. Ask away!
Recently, Ariel Kaminer, writer of “The Ethicist” column for the New York Times, held an essay contest challenging readers to, “Tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat.” The controversial topic garnered a lot of attention from both sides of the issue — including a Kansas State University student whose class assignment led to being quoted in a national newspaper.
Lisa Henderson is a sophomore in agricultural economics and agricultural communications from Olathe, Kan. Her essay, published on the Drover’s Cattle Network in late April, raised some objections to the way the contest was being judged.
Henderson asserted that the judges’ anti-meat predisposition “made the contest a sham.” Her arguments caught the attention of New York Times reporter Arthur S. Brisbane, who recently recapped the contest in his May 5 article, “In the Middle of a Food Fight.”
Henderson was referring to the panel of judges that included:
- Peter Singer, self proclaimed vegetarian and “flexible vegan” who wrote Animal Liberation
- Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules: An Eaters Manual
- Mark Bittman, American food journalist and author Food Matters
- Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Eating Animals
- Andrew Light, philosopher at George Mason University and editor of a collection of essays, “Animal Pragmatism: Rethinking Human-Nonhuman Relationships”
Henderson’s point? The judges were stacked heavily against meat.
Brisbane elaborated, “The setup of the contest virtually ensured that no unapologetic ode to meat would win. That’s because the six judges were, in Ms. Kaminer’s words, ‘some of the most influential thinkers to question or condemn the eating of meat.’”
To Henderson, it seemed unlikely that the other side of the story could be heard.
“Does anyone really think this collection of judges could pick a winning essay that says anything positive about the eating of meat?” Henderson wrote. “Not likely.”
“To this criticism,” Brisbane wrote, “Ms. Kaminer said that having meat skeptics as judges made the competition more interesting: ‘If you can get someone who’s not already in your corner to take your argument seriously, then you’ve really got something.’”
But it wasn’t just the lack of viewpoints among the judges that bothered Henderson. In presenting the contest, Kaminer asserted that meat eaters “have had surprisingly little to say.” That’s just not the case, Henderson said.
“Meat eaters have had plenty to say, though we’re not often afforded a platform as large as The Times gives to the anti-meat folks,” Henderson wrote. “The judges for this essay contest about the ethics of eating meat are all anti-meat. Is it any wonder why Kaminer and The Times believe vegetarians and vegans have ‘dominated the discussion about the ethics of eating?’”
What do you think about the contest? Was the judges’ panel well-rounded enough to make a fair assessment of the essays’ arguments? What arguments would you make for or against the ethics of eating meat? As always, feel free to ask us questions. As volunteer farm women, we’re happy to answer your questions about raising animals for meat. We also encourage you to check out the questions and answers on our website.