Contest dances on meatless pin
In our March 30 edition we took a predictable stance on a contest ginned up by the New York Times Magazine asking its readers to submit essays offering an ethical justification for eating meat.
The contest is over. Lest we again be accused, as one reader suggested, of taking a cheap shot at the Gray Lady's expense, we defer to comments made by The Times' own public editor, Arthur S. Brisbane, in his after-action report.
First some background.
In setting up the contest, Ariel Kaminer, The Times' ethicist, noted that many celebrated vegetarians and vegans have presented "powerful ethical critiques" against eating meat.
Meat eaters, she said, readily discuss why they like meat and explain the cultural underpinnings of its consumption.
"But few have tried to answer the fundamental ethical issue: Whether it is right to eat animals in the first place, at least when human survival is not at stake," Kaminer wrote.
In a column that ran in the May 6 edition of The Times, Brisbane said Kaminer's panel of judges "virtually ensured that no unapologetic ode to meat would win."
Of the 3,000 entries, the judges picked an essay written by Jay Bost, a self-described former vegan turned "conscientious meat-eater." He claims consuming meat is only ethical in vary narrow circumstances when the animal is raised the "right" way. If it's not obvious, the "right" way isn't the way most meat consumed in America is produced.
Readers chose as their favorite a more radical argument proffered by Ingrid Newkirk, a founder of PETA. She wrote that the only ethical choice is "meat" grown in the laboratory from the cells of animals, which she claims will soon be available.
Cooked right it could be good.
"The case for eating meat, as presented in The Times, is a pretty narrow one," Brisbane wrote. "If you can crawl through the eye of the needle with your in vitro burger in hand, you may feel free to chow down in good conscience."
We appreciate Brisbane's wit and gift for understatement, not to mention his willingness to give voice to those who found fault with the premise of the contest. They, like us, don't believe an ethical justification for consuming meat is required.
Brisbane's own disclosure of his food preference echoed our original sentiment.
"The public editor ate a lot of barbecue during his years in Kansas City," he wrote, "but he quit eating meat a while back and is unwilling to explain himself on the subject."
An individual's choice in food need not be a dilemma. Eat what you will, and do so without apology. No justification is required, and none should be expected.