Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Culture and Morality

From guest blogger, Zach.

In today’s society, culture and customs vary immensely worldwide. These customs span from dress, to religious beliefs, to gender roles. Food and its ingredients are a major difference among cultures. Delicacies such as the cheeseburger are mouthwatering to most Americans, while utterly offensive to most in India, where cows are sacred. While we keep dogs as pets in America, some are horrified to find out that dog meat is common in places such as China. This shows how hard it would be to set baseline moral principles regarding eating meat from certain animals, because animals are valued differently worldwide. 

Personally, I believe that all customs should be respected and honored. However some practices, such as shark fin soup, target animals who are becoming endangered. I believe that we have a moral obligation to protect animals who are endangered, and that this moral principle trumps cultural tradition. Meat can be substituted or supplemented easily. While this may not hold the same exact meaning as before, cultures can shift. Besides, if a culture’s culinary practices rely on an endangered animal, the practice would have to be shifted once the animal inevitably becomes extinct. Therefore, byproactively altering custom, a culture arrives at the same result they otherwise would have, all the while saving an animal species from extreme endangerment or extinction.

More On Norcross

From guest blogger, Zach.

In his article “Puppies, Pig, and People” Norcross discusses ignorance, and when it is okay to use it as an excuse for perpetrating the suffering of animals. Norcross explains that there are two types of ignorance: forgivable and unforgivable. Forgivable ignorance is an instance in which an individual has no knowledge of the suffering that they are buying into, and no means of accessing this information, such as a child. Unforgivable ignorance is when an individual may not be informed about the choices that they’re making, but have the resources and capability to be.

I agree with Norcross on this principle. I think that children exhibit forgivable ignorance, and quite frankly shouldn’t be held accountable for worrying about what they’re eating. This is not to say that they cannot make a difference, however. Parents directly control what their children eat, so if a parent knowingly feeds their child factory farmed meat, they are making the decision to perpetuate torture for them and their child.

The concept of unforgivable ignorance, I believe, is more controversial. In today’s society, with the internet and comprehensive food labeling, “not knowing” where your food is coming from is not possible unless by choice. Individuals often assume that being educated about what they eat is a choice they aren’t willing to make. Wrong, it is a choice we make not to seek out the origins of our food, not the other way around.

Under this philosophy, most of us are unforgivably ignorant to most of the food that we eat.

Fred's Basement and Norcross's Argument Against Meat-eating

From guest blogger, Zach.

In Norcross’s paper “Puppies, Pigs, and People," he argues that it’s wrong to cause a great deal of suffering purely for gustatory pleasure. I strongly agree with his argument, and think that gustatory pleasure is not a justifiable excuse for factory farming. 

Norcross uses the analogy of torturing puppies for chocolate consumption. He explains that “Fred” tortures puppies so he can eat chocolate. When arrested, Norcross claims that what Fred did was no different from individuals eating factory farmed meat.

To Norcross, enjoying the products of suffering is just as immoral even if you didn’t cause the suffering directly. This can be applied to most modern-day food consumers, who buy meat at grocery stores and restaurants. There aren’t any clear indications of suffering in the meat these people buy, but a great deal of suffering has most likely occurred. These consumers, in Norcross’ eyes, are morally in the wrong.

One of the two major arguments against Norcross’s piece is the disanalogy between what Fred did and us as humans, eating meat. I disagree, I think that what Fred did translates perfectly to us eating meat. Torturing animals and raising them in terrible conditions just so we can have gustatory pleasure (i.e., eating chocolate) is wrong. The second major argument against this principle is to simply deny it, stating that your taste trumps suffering. There isn’t really much of a possible rebuttal against a statement as apathetic as this, except to point out that if the situation were reversed, you would want someone to vouch for your interest not to suffer, as well.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Three Solutions to the Global Food Crisis

From guest blogger, Suzie.

One solution to the global food crisis is to reduce the world’s population. If there are fewer people in the world to feed it follows that there does not need to be as much food produced.

This presents many moral problems. For example, who would the burden of lowering the population fall on? Wealthy countries, like the United States and Germany, already have declining birth rates and are nearing or are below replacement level. However, we cannot place the burden of lowering population on people in less-developed nations. These populations often have high infant mortality rates and limited knowledge of birth control methods. While education and medicine can play a large role in fixing these problems, it would be a long and slow fix. Additionally, many of the high birth rate countries are in rural areas that are very agricultural. Families here need additional hands to help out with their farms or businesses. Causing these families to limit the amount of children they have would cause economic hardship, which in turn would cause suffering.

Based on these problems, it does not seem like a reduction in population is a moral solution to the global food crisis.

A second solution to the global food crisis is to intensify agriculture. If we can produce more food globally, then we do not have to worry about the population.

There are many issues that come along with agricultural intensification. It requires increased inputs like fertilizers and pesticides, which increases environmental harm. Fertilizers and pesticides can also be toxic to humans and other animals. These two problems can reduce quality of life and increase suffering. Another problem that arises with agricultural intensification is the need for more land. Many agriculturists believe that we cannot sustain the current and future population with the amount of farmland we have right now. However, there is not much land left to expand to. Creating new farmland often requires deforestation, which destroys important environmental habitats. Additionally, who would be displaced in order to create new farmland? There are many logistical and moral problems that come along with agricultural intensification.

However, there are benefits to intensification as well. One solution seems to be genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. These can increase yield while decreasing land, pesticide, and fertilizer use. Although they are very controversial, GMOs have the potential to change the world by increasing the number of people that can be fed while using the same amount of land.

While there are some aspects of agricultural intensification that seem to cause suffering and are not feasible, GMOs seem like a possible, ethically responsible solution to the global food crisis. If no one is harmed in the creation or consumption of GMOs, they seem to be a perfect answer to the current food problem. 

A third solution to the global food crisis is not a new invention like GMOs, but a change in the way we consume food. If wealthier people consume less, there will be more food available for the hungry. This does not harm the wealthy and is only beneficial for the people who will be receiving more food.

This solution seems to be morally acceptable in every facet. Wealthy people changing their consumption patterns only risk losing some gustatory pleasure. Additionally, it helps other species as well as humans. If less meat is consumed so more corn and other grains can be used for food instead of as feed, factory-farmed meat will be economically impacted and could possibly be reduced.

The reduction of factory-farmed meat could also open the door for more local, organic farmers. This would help food be locally available everywhere instead of needing to be shipped around the world.

All in all, it seems that reducing consumption is a morally acceptable way to solve the global food crisis. It harms no one and only has positive potential moral outcomes.

Culture and Food Policy

From guest blogger, Nina.

Many concerns regarding culture and food revolve around what people are eating and why, but I would like to conclude this series of posts with an examination of policy.  One thing is for sure: the government of a particular state should set food related policies that do not favor one culture or religion.  Though in many cases, we see that this seemingly obvious concept is violated.

In my own experience, the American government gives immense food policy preference to the average American and forgets about the impoverished. The Oglala Lakota Sioux that I serve on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation are given hardly a second glance when it comes to food distribution.  Throughout the entire 3500 squared miles that the reservation lies on, there is but one grocery store.  Any other food that can be found is at a sprinkling of convenience stores on the reservation.  Ultimately, the Lakota people eat cheap, processed foods (if and when they can get them) leading to the reservation having 8 times the diabetes rate than the rest of the US.  I don’t pretend to know much about politics or how policy is set, but I do know that such injustice and inequality is disgusting and what is worse is that the government turns a blind eye to Pine Ridge. 

There are many other cases other than Pine Ridge when a culture is disrespected or not given attention when it comes to food related policy, though what my argument boils down to is that food policy can cause great amounts of suffering too.  Whether that suffering is from lack of adequate nutrition, economic loss as a farmer, or the feeling of deep disrespect for one’s culture, the pain food policy causes is present and obvious.  In cases such as this, cultural differences should be given the utmost respect.

Cultural Practices and Food Choices

From guest blogger, Nina.

The concept of cultural practices can be spun in different ways depending on which light a person wants to shed them in.  One food related cultural practice is the avoidance of beef consumption in the Hindu religion.  Some of the reasons they do this are because of their belief in minimizing harm done to any living thing as well as the idea that when a person consumes meat, they are also consuming the emotions the animal felt during its slaughter (presumably pain and fear).  These two reasons align with moral principles we have studied including not eating meat as it causes a great deal of suffering, and to not cause a great deal of harm without a just reason to do so.  When put in this frame, cultural practices can be a positive example for why we should respect the culture for having the beliefs it does. 

However, certain cultural practices can be problematic.  In China, shark fin soup is a highly revered meal both for its symbolic and medicinal powers.  The problem here though is that sharks are hunted by the tens of millions, to be stripped solely of its fin and the rest of its body discarded.  On one hand, if we are respecting their culture’s right to make shark fin soup, we can at least be frustrated by the tremendous amounts of food waste created (eat the rest of the shark if you are going to hunt them!)  Though, in an ecological lens, it is difficult to respect the culture for what it is.  The hunting of sharks is decreasing their population massively, especially because their reproductive cycles are very slow.  This decrease in their population causes a decrease in biodiversity and screws up the food chain massively because the top predators are no longer there to regulate the population sizes of others.  When a cultural practice becomes an ecological problem, it is hard to respect it and we come to a stalemate of sorts in terms of balancing our concern for the environment with being respectful.

Moral Relativism and Culture

From guest blogger, Nina.

Frequently this semester (and in philosophy in general), a counterargument to many moral claims is using culture as a reason to adhere to said moral principle.  Boiled down to its most basic form, this is the concept of moral relativism.  This concept states that there are no objective moral truths and that morality is relative in the sense that “moral truths” are true only relative to a person’s or group of people’s attitudes. 

Initially, this may seem like an easy claim to accept.  It seems right that people should be able to form their own opinions based off of what knowledge they possess and the world view they hold; however, it is surprisingly easy to unravel this principle.  One approach is to ask what are some basic moral principles people can all agree on?  An is one is that harming others is bad.  Moral relativists would say that such a claim is only applicable to someone if they choose it to be.  When put in that frame, the argument sounds pretty lame and weak if you ask me.  You basically are giving people the power to do whatever they see fit.

So why do we let people get away with certain behaviors because of their culture?  To be sure, culture is something that should be respected, though in many moral cases, it can be put on a pedestal too high.  In the following two-blog posts, I will discuss the role culture plays in the realm of food ethics.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Reply to an Argument Against Genetically Modified Animals

From guest blogger, Haley:

For the argument against Genetically Modified Animals, I agree with some aspects but others I strongly disagree with. I don’t believe that selective breeding or artificial insemination (AI) is a bad thing. In fact I believe it has its own advantages. However, I do not agree with genetically modifying any animal in such a way that it takes away from things they do naturally.

For the past 50 years on my family’s farm we have used artificial insemination for numerous reasons. When we switched from dairy to beef this became more of an important aspect in some areas. For “first-calf heifers”, it’s in the name. This will be their freshening or their first time having a calf. If they’re bred by the farm bull, it could cause difficulty for the heifer when she gives birth, especially if the bull is known to “throw” large calves. Difficulties can include loss of the calf or the calf getting stuck which can require human intervention. Human intervention means tying a chain to the calf’s hind legs and pulling. All of this effort can lead to even more problems. This is where AI can help. When we AI these heifers we specifically breed them to a calving-ease bull which means their first calf will be a smaller one that will cause less difficulty. In this case selective breeding can be a good thing.

For genetics selective breeding is also a good choice. In some breeds, there has been campaigns to out breed a gene that can lead to problems with the animal quality. To “out breed” this gene you have to selectively breed to a bull that has passed a screening for the gene. This is an example of selective breeding being a good thing. Another example of good selective breeding would be doing it to maintain a genetic line. Some cows have show potential or high meat quality potential and to maintain this you can’t just breed them to any bull. The AI bulls have gone through numerous screenings to find out their qualities so you can be sure exactly what you’re getting. Also, if you come from a multi-breed farm such as myself, with some of the cows you want to keep purebred offspring and we don’t always get that breed of bull. So instead of buying multiple bulls which can be quite expensive, we AI.

As for the downsides of genetically modified animals, I don’t believe they should be modified in such a way that takes away from the things they do naturally. In our book they mention pigs and chickens being genetically modified to not support a mental state or physiological experience. I get how it could reduced suffering but it’s also unnecessary. I also see it as they may not know they are suffering but they still could be. With the way animals are now we can at least know that they are suffering and can stop to let them relax before moving forward or to help us know what we have to change in our process. If they were genetically modified in this way, we may never know if they are still suffering. I also don’t believe its right to take away a turkey’s brooding habits. This is a natural occurring process and for them to not have it is very unnatural. It may cause problems in CAFOs but why should we stop turkeys from natural behaviors to make our lives easier? It isn’t fair to the animal to take away their normal mannerisms. That takes away from their quality of life. If humans couldn’t form relationships with others, our lives wouldn’t be as fulfilled. All in all, we need to take these details into consideration before we genetically modify animals. 

Reply to the Argument from Animal Suffering

From guest blogger, Haley:

The Argument from Animal Suffering is that animal agriculture causes a very large amount of suffering. In this argument I agree that animals feel pain and they are a lot smarter than people give them credit for. As humans we need to be aware of how much pain we put animals through and be cautious of some of our practices involving our animals. But does that mean farming and agriculture is a bad thing and immoral? I don’t believe so. If we put our best efforts in and do all we can to be humane and reduce pain, then farming and agriculture is a moral practice.

I also don’t believe that all of what we see from CAFOs is true information. There are USDA regulations out there to keep these practices from occurring. Does this mean that farms can still get away with mistreatment of animals? Honestly speaking, yes they can. Some farms can get away with flying under the radar but that also doesn’t mean they should. For today’s society, regulations are pretty strong but they can always be stronger, it will always be that way. It is good to keep in mind though that some of what people put out about these farms is incorrect information and can be taken out of context. When working on a beef or dairy farm, the farmers are working with animals that are 1,000 plus pounds. If they aren’t careful they can sometimes be hurt and being careful sometimes means being forceful. Say if one of those 1,000 plus pound animals is standing on your foot, (speaking from experience) it can really hurt regardless of what footwear you’re wearing. In this situation you have to remain calm so you don’t scare the animal but you also have to get them off, which can mean being forceful. Cattle are also very sensitive to their surroundings which means when you move them they are very alert to the change that is going on and they can be very stubborn. To get this animal moving you may need to give them tap on the rear. It’s not harming them, it’s just to get the job done.

I disagree with premise three of the argument as well: there is no adequate reason for animal agriculture. The agriculture industry as whole is feeding the entire world. We have the resources, people, animals and crops to do it so we should stick with it. What’s more is if we stopped animal agriculture the farmers, the people who work in processing plants, the people who transport the animals and meat will be out of a job. The job loss and the loss of revenue from having meat on the market would also effect economies as well. Agriculture is a large industry worldwide and it’s not fair to the workforce to put them out of job. For some farmers, it is a multigenerational family tradition and their family’s life as well as their own life put into work. Why should they have to lose all they put in?  Instead, we should do our part to learn more about how food gets to our plates and we should also thank farmers for what they do.

Thoughts on Dive!

From guest blogger, Haley:

In response to Dive, I agree that as a society we need to do more to reduce waste. We are a very wasteful society and this is a true fact. Although, I don’t know if I would necessarily dive through a dumpster for my meals to make a point.

When I was showing steers, one of the local businesses that I would approach to come bid on my animal was Lenienkugal’s. I actually got to know Jake and his wife Peg pretty well over the years. After Jake bought my steer for the first time I asked him what his plans were for the meat he had purchased. He told me that there was no way him and his wife could get though that much. So after the meat was processed Jake and Peg would go through it all and pick out what meat they wanted to keep. Afterwards they would donate the rest to local food pantries so they would have fresh meat to give to people. I see this as an example of smart consumerism and this is what a lot of us need to be doing. They realized that they didn’t need it all and donated the rest to the needy.

In Dive when they brought up World War II it reminded me of a story my high school economics teacher told me. His family went over to his mother’s house to help clean and they were going through a few cupboards where they found dog food and a few other things squirreled away. He explained it to us like this: she grew up in the depression era which meant you couldn’t be wasteful and once you had a little economic comfort you still hid stuff and prepared just in case the depression came back again. Society was less wasteful during World War II because the Great Depression just ended and those people knew what it was like to have nothing so they took advantage of every meal. That meant clean plates all around the table and in some cases hiding away extra food just in case a depression hit again. As time moved on and the economy got better people got lazier with clean plates and finishing an entire meal.  Society got away from the “we need to take care of each other and help one another” views of the 40’s and 50’s. Even today food pantries are struggling to get enough donations to help families that truly need it and we need to keep this in mind as we enter the holiday season.

Would I dive through a dumpster to get food for my table? Most likely not, unless it was absolutely necessary. I was raised and am still a firm believer in the fact we should use what we have before we get more.  I think what he and his friends are doing is interesting it just might not be in the best way. Instead of over stocking on things it would take him years to use up, he could be donating it instead. There are people out there in California that need it way more than him. Every week he could take two or three night’s worth of dumpster dives to a local homeless shelter or food pantry instead. He has way more than his family could ever need even though they are being thoughtful with it and freezing it. He also could afford to go grocery shopping but instead he essentially steals from the trash. I don’t sees this as the right thing to do either but if this is what he likes to do and sees it as what he should be doing, then who am I to say he is wrong or shouldn’t do it.