McWilliams on Conscientious Omnivorism

The Atlantic’s James McWilliams argues that conscientious omnivorism isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and that a kinder, gentler meat industry just can’t scale. It’s a point I’ve made many times (beginning five years ago in Meat Market): that alternative meat producers are under the same cost-cutting competitive pressures as factory farmers. And these pressures will only grow, as more money is up for grabs and competition in the alternative meat sector intensifies. The people who put animal care above all else simply can’t compete on price, and consumers can’t be expected to reliably find out which producers maintain great standards, and which producers fall short.

More importantly, once you embrace the idea that the fate of these animals matters, you get stuck with the deeper question that concerns about compassion inevitably lead to:

As more and more “conscientious carnivores” do what their designation dictates and, as did our chef, move closer to confronting the ethics of slaughter, they’ll be similarly jarred into recognizing the gravity of killing a live animal. They’ll witness firsthand the fact that the animal does not want to die. And in so doing, they will either have to acknowledge the easy way out of the carnivore’s dilemma (choosing not to kill animals for food) or they will have to, a la the chef, desensitize themselves to the slaughter, thereby undermining the conscientious part of “conscientious carnivore.”

McWilliam’s points have been made by others, but I’ve never seen a conscientious omnivore—not even Bittman, and certainly not Pollan—speak to these concerns in a direct way. How, exactly, do you reconcile this “does not want to die” thing against the trifling counterpoint that you happen to like how the animal tastes?

Perhaps—just perhaps—conscientious omnivorism is society’s gateway to veganism. Link.

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