Do I HAVE To Be a Vegan?

Since January 1, I've been trying to increase the number of vegan meals and dishes my (vegetarian) family eats.   More than half the time, these vegan concoctions have been taste-challenged. What does that mean, morally speaking?  Do I have a duty to give up yummy food and eat yucky food, for the sake of animals?

This question will be found irritating by fervent vegans.  They will insist that vegan food is delicious.  But their point of view isn't the one that counts.  What matters is what vegan food tastes like to a non-vegan.

Setting aside my own food experiments (maybe I'm just using the wrong cookbook), take someone we'll call "John". This might be a real person I know, but might not (call off the lawyers!).  John is a meat and potatoes guy.  He doesn't even like vegetables on the side.  To him, a vegetarian dinner is dull, and a vegan dinner beyond dull.  And don't say he hasn't tried them--he has.  He finds vegan food austere, weird, just not satisfying.

Please: don't pretend nobody's like that. Don't think all John needs to do is eat at your favorite vegan restaurant and he'll be thrilled.  It ain't so.

What is John morally required to do?  It would be silly to say "if it tastes good, do it." It can't possibly be that taste is completely exculpatory, that you're free to do anything in the service of flavor.  But can it be that a person is required to consistently lower eating pleasure by 50%, or 75%, or 90%, for the sake of animals?

If you look at the matter "from the point of view of the universe," then yes.  Giving no more weight to John's interests than to an animal's, it seems very clear that he should change his ways.  But given all the facts as laid out, it really seems odd to expect this sacrifice from him.

Why is it odd? What's going on here?  I confess that I'm not sure (yet!).


The Orca at Sea World

Nice post from Jerry Coyne today on the orca that killed a trainer at Sea World, and on zoos and aquariums in general. (Did you know there used to be human zoos?)

This story has an interesting twist.  Sea World has said it has no intention of killing the animal, which surprised me.  It seems to me the usual way of dealing with animals that kill humans has been to exact retribution--odd as that is, considering that animals are (surely) not responsible for their "crimes." But no--the orca will stay.  Stay forever?  Stay on display?  We'll see.

I've always loved visiting zoos and aquariums, so it's with regret that I've come to see them as indefensible (though I can't say I'll never go again).  From a child's point of view, an elephant in a cage and an orca in a tank are more or less in a natural habitat.  When we grow up (literally and figuratively) and learn about the lives of animals, we come to see that zoos and aquariums are horribly restrictive prisons (particularly for large mammals)--as much as they're fun places to visit.


Letters on Shriver

I think the letter-writers below are guilty of wishful thinking, while Adam Shriver is admirably realistic.  On all plausible estimates, there will still be a huge amount of factory farming in the foreseeable future.  To deny this is to to confuse what will be with what should be.   When we're not realistic, we do animals a disservice.    So--Shriver's thinking about the future in the right way (without wearing rosy "vegan education" or "Righteous Porkchop" colored glasses). I just think he may not be thinking about pain in the right way--but that's a very difficult question, and he certainly has an interesting argument.

To the Editor:
Adam Shriver’s Op-Ed article arguing for genetic engineering of farm animals to reduce their perception of pain (“Not Grass-Fed, but at Least Pain-Free,” Feb. 19) was a bone-chilling read.
Industrial confinement systems, especially the constricting crates and cages used on veal calves, sows and egg-laying hens, keep animals in conditions that could lead to criminal prosecution if used for cats or dogs.
Just as a consensus is emerging among Americans that we must greatly improve such cruel conditions, Mr. Shriver is arguing that we should instead focus on the ability to feel pain.
If his recommendations were pursued, we shudder to think of the barbaric treatment that would become acceptable in the industrial livestock sector.
Nicolette Hahn Niman
Bill Niman
Bolinas, Calif., Feb. 22, 2010
The writers are cattle and turkey ranchers. Ms. Niman is the author of “Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms.”

To the Editor:
It would be comforting to think that “Not Grass-Fed, but at Least Pain-Free” is an attempt at satire in the Jonathan Swift vein. Alas, Adam Shriver is clearly in the camp of “science solves everything,” even our vague stirrings of conscience over the suffering of animals we cause.
His argument that we can all feel better about stuffing animal parts into our mouths if the animals have been deprived of their ability to register pain as “unpleasant” is appalling. He writes that “we are most likely stuck with factory farms.” To the contrary, there is plenty we can do as consumers to bring down the factory farm, which makes no sense in terms of livestock management or consumer preference or safeguarding consumer health. We can eat only locally, humanely produced meat or give up animal products entirely.
Elizabeth Dyck
Bainbridge, N.Y., Feb. 20, 2010
The writer works for an organic farming organization.

To the Editor:
Given that our current system for producing meat inflicts pain on animals, the sensible response is to change the system, not the animals.
Adapting food animals to an admittedly cruel system is a poor use of advanced scientific knowledge, especially since we are not “stuck” with the confined animal feed operations, or CAFOs, that dominate our current system.
Smart pasture operations raise cows on pasture, which is what they are built to eat. The same pasture operations that make for contented cows also protect air and water quality, sequester heat-trapping carbon and don’t undercut the efficacy of valuable human antibiotics. Eventually the price differential between CAFO and grass-fed cows will decrease as pasture-intensive operations scale up.
Instead of engineering animals to adapt to pain, we should focus on moving now toward food production systems that are good for people, food animals and the environment.
Mardi Mellon
Director, Food and Environment
Program, Union of Concerned Scientists
Washington, Feb. 19, 2010

To the Editor:
Adam Shriver applauds the possibility that we may soon be able to reduce the discomfort of the animals we choose to raise in the horrific warehouses of factory farms through neuroscience. I’d like to propose an alternative: that we consider using neuroscience and genetic engineering to modify humans so that they derive less pleasure from consuming large amounts of animal flesh and more pleasure from consuming things like tofu.
Another option, of course, is that we leave both humans and animals unmodified and instead encourage the humans to use their superior intelligence, freer wills and more developed moral sense to see how deeply repellent it is for humans to continue to devote so much energy to find new ways of exploiting animals so that they can have tasty morsels on their plates.
N. Ann Davis
Claremont, Calif., Feb. 19, 2010
The writer is a professor of human relations and philosophy at Pomona College.


'Round the Web

I had papers to grade yesterday, so naturally I did a lot of web surfing.

Jerry Coyne has been taking apart Jerry Fodor--convincingly, and with wit.  (Though I have to say--Jerry Fodor is someone I esteem so highly I once named a cat after him.)

I'm the last on my block to see it, but this is a great interview with Peter Singer covering "humane meat," incrementalism, what he eats, how he sees other animal advocates, etc.  A must read. 

Recently I was pondering radical life extension, cryogenics, and the like, so this story caught my eye. Family fights over grandma's head.  Seems she'd signed on for a brain freeze, and the kids didn't like the idea.

Here we have Alexander Pruss explaining how atheists parents can't (logically) love their children properly, because they can't love them as gifts from God. Plus, atheist kids must (logically) have a distorted relationship with their parents, since they must feel grateful to them, rather than God, for their existence.  So we have:  insufficiently loved kid bowing down (is that it?) to unloving parent.  It's not an empirical claim, but that's what you'd get (he seems to think) if atheist parents and children had attitudes consistent with their beliefs. 

I think in my household our attitudes are consistent with our beliefs.  So his theory yields a prediction about us. Amazingly enough, it's....false.


Are You Grateful for Your Existence?

Alexander Pruss writes here that it would distort one's understanding of the parent-child relationship to believe children simply come from parents (as the "proximate agential causes of their existence"), rather than from God.  If you read the comments, it becomes clear that the distortion he has in mind is that godless parents will (should?) think their children owe them gratitude for their existence. 

As soon as I read this clarification, I turned to my children (two 12-year olds) and asked if they were grateful to me for their existence (since it's out of the question that they're grateful to any supreme being).  They both immediately said no.  "Really, not at all?" I asked.  Reply from my daughter: "Not with our cell phone plan."  Frown.

Pressed to explain why she's not grateful to me for her existence, my daughter made the point that she'd been alive all her life.   I do see her point.  The truth is, most of us take our existence as something that couldn't have been otherwise. In our own eyes, we are "necessary beings."

Even when we confront the reality that we are not necessary at all--and in fact highly improbable-- gratitude doesn't ensue, or even seem logical.  Why should I be grateful to my parents for making me exist when they didn't the least bit have me in mind?  I may as well be grateful to the Texas State Lottery if one day they decide to award a prize to any Texas resident, chosen at random, and I happen to be the winner.

My next step was to find out if my kids are glad they exist--glad in the fulsome*, ebullient sense. Think Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. Answer: yes from one.  "Other than AT&T, yes" from the other.

So: not grateful for their existence, but still glad.  I find their attitude perfectly reasonable.  I think I'm owed a little more gratitude for our cellphone service, which I consider more than adequate, but I don't believe they should be thankful to their parents for "making" them.

If some theists are thankful to God for their existence, why don't atheists have to be thankful to their parents for their existence?  Well, reproduction and creature-creating are completely dissimilar processes.  There's no reason at all why offspring should feel toward their parents what some theists feel (whatever that might be) toward their creators.

* Reply to email:
Fulsome is often used to mean "offensively flattering or insincere." But the word is also used, particularly in the expression fulsome praise, to mean simply "abundant," without any implication of excess or insincerity. This usage is etymologically justified but may invite misunderstandings in contexts in which a deprecatory interpretation could be made. The sentence I offer you my most fulsome apologies may raise an eyebrow, where the use of an adjective like full or abundant would leave no room for doubt as to the sincerity of the speaker's intentions. [American Heritage Dictionary]
I think I'm good here, though I admit I wasn't quite sure when I wrote it!


Carnival of the Animals

Philosophy Carnivals are compilations of blog posts.  This one focuses on animals and philosophy.  Plus, there's a section at the end on "everything else."  Find out how to host a future carnival here and contact Richard Chappell if you're interested (r.chappell@gmail.com).
For your listening pleasure, The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens:
At Practical Ethics, Lena Groeger discusses Thomas White's proposal for dolphins to be classified persons of the sea.

Richard writes an interesting post about Species and Cognitive Enhancement at Philosophy, et cetera.

Check out this post at Inhumanities for a continental perspective on the distinction between animal welfare and animal rights.

Ashok presents Briefly Noted: Xenophon, "Art of Horsemanship" posted at Rethink.

As for little tiny creatures, T presents Catenin Seahorse at Secret Lives of Proteins.

Ifat Glassman gets ultimate with What is ethics and why do we need it? posted at Psychology of Selfishness.

Can and should pain be engineered out of livestock?  Adam Shriver argues  yes and yes in a post (submitted by Gualtiero Piccinini) at Philosophy of Brains.

Shriver made the same argument in a New York Times editorial last week; see criticism by Stephanie Ernst here. He defends himself in the comments.

I wrote about Shriver's proposal last fall--here and here.  Some find it objectionable that Shriver wants animal advocates to be involved in reforming (as well as ending) factory farming.  I defend "conscientious participation" in this post about lab vet Larry Carbone.

Is animal pain an impediment to theism?  Alexander Pruss says no at Prosblogion.  (And follows up with this.)

Outside philosophyville:  here's a post about theism and animal pain from evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne, who isn't impressed with the apologetics of journalist Andrew Sullivan.

If you don't understand consciousness, you can't understand any minds, whether "ours" or "theirs." Richard Brown presents Welcome and Opening Remarks « Consciousness Online posted at Consciousness Online.

Avery Archer discusses Rational Transitions and Hurley’s Monkey posted at The Space of Reasons.

Wayne Yuen worries about whether dogs are green at Piles of Philosophy.  In the same vein, Sheril Kirshenbaum asks "Time to Eat the Dog?" at a blog outside philosophyville.

Thom Brooks discusses endangered species in It's (almost) the end of the world as we know it at The Brooks Blog.

Mylan Engel promotes switching to a vegan diet as a New Year's Resolution at Animal Ethics.

Outside philosophyville, there's this about gradual dietary change from novelist Jonathan Safran Foer.
Martin presents Does Mathematics Need New Directions? posted at Enigmania, with honorable animal-mention at the end!

Aaron Kenna presents  Science, Induction, and the Positive Relevance View of Evidence and  Andrew Brenner presents The Truth About Socrates both at Florida Student Philosophy Blog.
cs presents The Sexual Contract posted at Cold SnapDragon.
Bryan presents Special Relativity and the Bell Theorems posted at Soul Physics

Kevin lande presents Crane on the Intentionality of Emotions posted at Philosophengang - The Philosopher's Walk.

Wesley presents Theories of Pretense posted at Go Grue!.

Madeleine Flannagan presents Property Rights: Blackstone, Locke and the Legislative Scheme Part I posted at MandM

Jonathan Phillips presents Kant and Experimental Philosophy posted at Yeah, OK, But Still.


Knockout Meat

It's awfully cool that Adam Shriver has an editorial about knock out meat in the New York Times today. I blogged about the issue here.

I hope to get a few more animal-related submissions for the Carnival of the Animals on Monday. Send them to jkazez@smu.edu

Note to my son: come on, it's just a link and a reminder.


Blog Fast

My son has challenged me to a one week blog fast, and I've decided to rise to the occasion.  I'll be back February 22 when the Carnival of the Animals is coming to this blog (see link to the left).  Keep those submissions coming. 


Skeptics and Deniers

Chris Mooney explores vaccine denialism with Paul Offit in his debut interview as host of Point of Inquiry.  Interesting issue, good interview. I suspect Point of Inquiry will keep on providing the best podcasts around.  Thanks to the program, (A) my house sometimes gets cleaned and (B) I sometimes get something called "exercise."  (Have you heard of it?) 

The vaccine deniers are people who deny that vaccines don't cause autism.  That's a lot of negatives.  More simply, they're people who assert that vaccines do cause autism.   Obviously, the point of calling them "deniers" or "denialists" is to bring to mind Holocaust denial.  A denier (as opposed to a skeptic) is someone who both flouts reason and evidence and is morally reprehensible for doing so.  The flouting leads to some sort of egregious misbehavior.  The Holocaust denier grossly dishonors the millions who suffered and perished in the death camps.  The vaccine denier encourages people not to have their children vaccinated, exposing them and other kids to serious health risks.

For a while I've been thinking about the difference between a "denier" and a "skeptic" because I use the word "denier" in the third chapter of Animalkind to describe people who claim that animals have no conscious experiences, and specifically feel no pain.  That's the term I use to refer to Peter Carruthers, Peter Harrison, and Stephen Budiansky.  I do think they flout reason and evidence, and I do think they're morally reprehensible-- especially Peter Carruthers, because he explicitly draws out the implications of his stance on animal pain.  He writes--
Much time and money is presently spent on alleviating the pains of brutes, which ought properly to be directed toward human beings, and many now are campaigning to reduce the efficiency of modern farming methods because of the pain to the animals involved.  If the arguments presented here have been sound, such activities are not only morally unsupportable but morally objectionable. ("Brute Experience," p. 268)
Did you pay for anesthesia when you had your dog neutered? How silly of you.  Animals feel no pain!  The money should have been put toward something more important--he tells us. And don't lets be fussing about factory farming and slaughterhouses.  The animals feel nothing!

You might say that it's obvious to any reasonable person that the Holocaust did occur, and obvious to anybody who's studied the scientific evidence that vaccines don't cause autism.  On the other hand, there's a real puzzle about what animals experience. So is it fair to call Carruthers & Co. "deniers"?

Perhaps this is the best way to explain why animal pain deniers deserve that name. The sort of doubt you can feel about animal suffering is the wrong type to ground decisions to withdraw pain relief from animals. It's armchair doubt, ivory tower doubt, the kind of doubt you can generate in a philosophy class.  It's beyond a reasonable doubt that a dog will feel pain during surgery (see my chapter for discussion). So saying they don't, and consequently excoriating people for "alleviating the pains of brutes," really does involve a morally reprehensible mishandling of evidence.

The vaccine issue is interesting for lots of other reasons.  More on that in another post.


Snow in Dallas

Nothing's more fun.  Kids even built a pet snowball! The only problem is--people are getting skeptical about global warming.  (No, I'm  not kidding.)

More Philosophy of Dog Food

Take the poll to the left, if you've made up your mind, but I'm still thinking.  These seem to be the relevant considerations:

#1  Dogs like meat.  So it costs them some pleasure to put them on a plant-based diet. (supports A)

#2  There's some uncertainty about the impact of a vegan/vegetarian diet for humans, but there's even more uncertainty when it comes to dogs.   Pet food is made out of "remainders" that can't be sold as human food.  Analogy: if you boycott a store that sells Levis "seconds," will that affect production at the Levis factory? (supports A)

#3 There are lots of reasons for me to choose a vegan/vegetarian diet that don't transpose into reasons for me to choose that diet for my dog.  When I choose not to eat animals, it spurs me to think, teach, and write about animal ethics.   I see the same connection between diet and advocacy in my children.  On the other hand, vegan dogs don't campaign for animal rights. (supports A)

#4 We shouldn't give priority to predators over prey, or to dogs over "food" species.  It's just bias that makes us think a little more food pleasure for dogs takes precedence over preventing misery for cattle (pigs, chickens, etc.).  (supports B or C)

#5 While choosing autonomously is important for human beings--even children--choosing is not as important for the well being of animals.  So there isn't the same downside to choosing for dogs (as opposed to giving them options to choose from).  (supports B or C)

#6  Though there are no visible chunks of meat in Humane Choice, animal-derived vitamins may have a high cost in death and suffering.  We shouldn't be fooled by invisibility. (supports B)

#7 OK--that's enough philosophy of dog food for the day.  Good heavens!  (supports D)

I'm not ready to take the poll!


Philosophy of Dog Food

Hey, it's a philosophy blog. I can't just write a post about dog food--I have to call this "philosophy of dog food."

If you want to get a laugh out of people, just say "vegan dog food." Most people think it's really funny.  Is it funny? I'm not sure.

In any event, the Humane Society is starting to sell a plant-based dog food.  It's natural, organic, and made out of vegetables. Well, but it's not natural for the dogs!  Probably not, but plant-based dog food spares the cattle (etc) who would otherwise be eaten.  Presumably the Humane Society thinks that's a good thing.

In fact, their dog food isn't quite vegan--the vitamins in it are animal-based. A lot fewer animals were harmed in the making of the product, but not none.  They must have reasoned that dogs need their vitamins, and consumers need reasonably priced dog food. So, they struck a compromise.

What do you think?

(A)  Humane Choice is bad, because bad for dogs.   In taste tests, surely dogs (being carnivores and all) do prefer meat-based food.  Should that extra pleasure be taken away from them?  Should their preferences, their autonomy, their natural tendencies, all be violated? 

(B)  Humane Choice is bad, because bad for cows, chicken. fish, etc.  Of course, a lot fewer had to be killed to make this brand, so that's progress. But it could have been none. If you're going to stop dogs from eating animals, you should go all the way.

(C)  Humane Choice is good enough.  Life is all about compromises.  The Humane Society has found the perfect compromise between what's best for dogs, what's best for cows (chickens, fish, etc.), and what's best for people.

(D) Don't be ridiculous. There's no such thing as the philosophy of dog food.

I haven't decided.   The poll (LEFT) will be up for a week.


A concern, a quibble, and a point

I can't complain about a reviewer who calls my book "cogently argued" and compliments me for taking "a fresh, often funny, look at difficult issues." (That's Sanjida O'Connell in BBC Wildlife Magazine.) But I can be just a bit concerned about what she covers in her short review. She makes it seem as if the main message of my book is that Jonas Salk was right to experiment on animals in the 1950s, and prehistoric cavemen were entitled to kill animals for survival. In other words, she seems to think I'm out to defend human prerogatives

But no, not at all. I'm out to defend animals from human disrespect and cruelty. I tackle hard cases like Salk and the caveman in order to be a believable advocate for animals. We know it's OK for a starving caveman to kill for food.  But why?   Another thing we know:  when relief workers go into a disaster area, it's right for the first responders to save the humans first. Again,  that's a very hard thing to explain, but we need to explain it. Otherwise, the whole idea that animals deserve respect and compassion will start to merge with an implausibly extreme egalitarianism.

The discussion of Salk comes from the 8th chapter of Animalkind, which begins with examples of medical research -- the good but also the bad and the ugly. I argue that Salk's research cannot be condemned if we think the caveman's survival hunting is ok.  But that's not the main point of the chapter.  I give lots of examples of horrific animal research, and I argue at length that lab animals are insufficiently protected under US law.  The main point is quite clear -- that we owe much more to animals than we are now giving them, even if they do not have a status exactly equal to our own.

Besides the above concerns, I have a quibble or two.  O'Connell says the number of monkeys killed in Salk's research was 17,000, but that was just in the first stage.  I say the total number was 100,000.  She says in the 50s "medicine had not advanced sufficiently to allow virus culture without live incubators."  But  I point out that by the 50s virus was being cultured in vitro, thanks to the pioneering work of John Enders in the 1940s.

Finally, a philosophical point.  I ague in the book that different animals are owed different amounts of respect.  There's more to respect in a dolphin than in a dust mite, so we must be much more careful to avoid killing dolphins than dust mites.  O'Connell worries that if we think along these lines, we'll have to think sophisticated aliens would be justified in using us for food and experiments.

Perhaps she sees that as a reductio ad absurdum of my position, but I wonder if she could seriously embrace the egalitarianism she seems to be urging upon me.  Does she really want to condemn the caveman, Jonas Salk, and the first responders who save humans first?  If she approves of them, why?  What makes their conduct not just understandable, but right?  My explanation is that there are differences in worth that separate members of different species.  It's not pretty to say so--yes, it sounds nasty and elitist. But that may be what we simply have to think, if we are willing to think about it.

And yes, if we think that way, then we have to accept that humans could get the short end of the stick if we were visited by super-sophisticated aliens.  That's an unpleasant thing to contemplate, but it doesn't seem preposterous. 

A more serious worry, to my mind, is that inegalitarianism about dolphins and dustmites could lead to a pernicious sort of inegalitarianism within our own species.  People aren't as different from each other as dolphins and dustmites, but there are huge differences.   After a natural disaster, the least capable people surely don't have to stand at the back of the line.  I argue that egalitarianism within our species is required, even though egalitarianism between species is not. (For details, see chapters 5 and 6.)

If you're reading the book and have comments feel free...here or by email.


Division of Caring

Last night I got to see a talk by Greg Mortensen, author of Three Cups of Tea.  A man with an amazing life story, against all odds he's built over 100 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the last 10 years.  He spoke incredibly movingly about the importance of lifting up whole societies by educating children--especially girls.

Next to me at the talk was a woman wearing a fur coat--not a faux fur coat, but a real one. Which got me thinking--if you care about one moral issue, will you care about others, or is there some limit on how many things we can care about?  Do people inevitably become specialists--with some caring about animals, others about the earthquake in Haiti, others about capital punishment, etc?

I suspect it's some of each. If you're tuned in to one moral issue, you probably will care about many others. But passion, commitment, activism, rethinking basic assumptions--all these are another matter.  There are lots of problems in the world, and there's inevitably a division of labor.  Those who are intensely focused on girls in Afghanistan may just not have the energy to also think about animals, and animal advocates may be too preoccupied with animals to think about girls in Afghanistan.

Because of these facts about our moral psychology, it's got to be right for activists to appreciate small contributions.  We went to this event with friends who are extremely tuned in to Afghanistan issues.  They may have been disappointed when we didn't accept their invitation to join a reading group focused on those issues.  On the other hand, I couldn't help but notice the meat they ate for dinner.  Well OK--the truth is that we've each bit off some of the world's problems, because that's just how people are.  

Most animal activists know to accept what each person is prepared to give on behalf of animals--whether it's just meatless Mondays, or adopting a dog, or sending a check to the Humane Society, or becoming 100% vegan. Some don't know it, and demand nothing less than a vegan lifestyle overhaul from all.  Not smart, I wouldn't say.  When they demand that much, they ought to ask themselves "what have I done about girls' education in Afghanistan lately?"  That might make them demand less...and (in the aggregate) get more.


Temple Grandin on HBO

I'm so proud to have Temple Grandin's endorsement on the cover of my book. My only problem--how am I going to watch the HBO movie about her life, if I don't get HBO? She's being played by Claire Danes, a fine actress who does a great Grandin imitation. The New York Times gives the movie a glowing review, calling it "funny, instructive, and also intangibly charming."

Grandin is what I'd call a "conscientious participator" in this country's inhumane system of food production. She makes farms and slaughterhouses less miserable for the animals. Some animal rights people disapprove, but I looked into my crystal ball this morning, and this is what I saw: however hard people work to spread veganism, there will still be close to 10 billion animals killed for food over the coming year.  The "left behinds" will vastly outnumber the spared. You can't care about all those animals left behind and disapprove of what Temple Grandin does--and does well. If you want details, have a careful look at her website.

And no, don't be tempted to think that the 10 billion don't matter because animals don't really feel anything, or exist just to be eaten, or want to serve us...(see my book on all those excuses).  But also don't be tempted by propaganda from the other end of the spectrum.  Helping the 10 billion isn't going to swell their numbers.  Most people can be brought around to care about the treatment of farm anmals, but it isn't pivotal.  They're not going to eat less meat because animals are mistreated or eat more because the treatment got better.  The "treatment dependent" omnivore represents a very small subset of eaters.   It would be absurd to neglect the 10 billion in order to hold back these people-- both morally and statistically preposterous.

Now about HBO...does anybody have a clue how to tune in for 2 hours?


Goodbye DJ

I'm a huge fan of Point of Inquiry, the podcast produced by the Center for Inquiry.  Which means: I'm a huge fan of DJ Grothe.  When I listen to him, I get the feeling he agrees with everything I think. He asks exactly the questions I want him to ask. But here's the magic: probably everyone feels that way.  DJ is a former magician, so it's possible he's doing something with scarves and mirrors. But in fact, I think he creates the "sympatico illusion" by being intellectually extremely flexible.  He can speak as if having many different viewpoints.  This makes him a really good interviewer.

For a long time I've been waiting for DJ (first name basis because, after all, he and I agree on everything) to be whisked away by some big time media outlet.  Well, he got whisked away, but not my any media outlet. He's leaving PoI to be president of the James Randi Foundation.  Three interviewers are taking his place, including none other than Chris Mooney.  Yes, that Chris Mooney.  The one who criticized PZ Myers in his (and Sheril Kirshenbaum's) book Unscientific America, much to the consternation of many atheists. Now there's more consternation (also here).  Why him, of all people?

I don't share any of this consternation, but I do think we're not going to have another DJ in Chris Mooney.  Chris is a person with publicly and passionately held Views. Nuthin wrong with that, but he can't very well be a guy known for Views and create the sympatico illusion.  Well, everybody has their own strengths.  We shouldn't be expecting the new triumverate to be DJ times three.  I'll certainly keep listening, and open-mindedly, but I'm gonna miss DJ!


36 Arguments for the Existence of God

Next novel I plan on reading is Rebecca Goldstein's latest.  Yes, it's a novel, with 36 arguments for the existence of god somehow playing a role in the plot.  I just came across the website that goes with the book.  Philosophy never looked like so much fun.

Got Ethical Milk?

THE CHEAP STUFF. Maybe no milk is ethical, but some is at least more ethical.  The regular cheap stuff is beyond the pale, as this Nightline story makes clear.  Here's a clip used in the report.

ORGANIC MILK. What about organic milk as a more ethical alternative? The "organic" label is supposed to be used only if cows spend a good part of their lives in outdoor pastures...
Section §205.239 or the USDA Organic standard mandates that:“The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals including ... access to the outdoors, and, access to pasture for ruminants.” 
... but unfortunately some dairies get away with minimal adherence to the standard.

If you drink organic milk (in the US), you will want to read  a scorecard that's been created by an organization called Cornucopia.   There are lots and lots of high-scoring local brands. Unfortunately, some of the biggest brands, like Horizon and O-Organics, do miserably. Organic Valley and Whole Foods score high.

THE VEAL QUESTION. When I first saw the Peta video Meet Your Meat I was shocked when Alec Baldwin intoned "if you drink milk, you are supporting the veal industry." The male offspring of constantly impregnated dairy cows have no commercial value to the dairies, so they're destined to become veal.  Or so he says.

I stopped eating veal back when someone handed me a leaflet  in front of a Burger King in Boston about 25 years ago. I don't want to support the veal industry (and you don't either). So what's the deal?  If you drink organic milk, are you supporting the veal industry?

I wrote email messages to two organic milk suppliers, Horizon and Organic Valley after watching the video (about five year ago, when I was buying both brands), and both told me the same thing. No, organic male calves do not become veal. The reasons both gave were purely economic. The  mainstream dairy industry meets all the demand there is for veal.  Plus, organic calves are too expensive to be bought by veal producers. Based on that explanation, I would think this is the case for organic males in general, and not just males at these two dairies (but I'd like to see the issue addressed by Cornucopia).

So what becomes of male calves? For the most part, they become organic beef (the messages both said). Do dairy breeds make good beef? I suppose they must make "good enough" beef--for soup, pet food, who knows what. Organic beef cattle are better treated than regular beef cattle. The important difference is that they never wind up being bulked up at a feedlot, where they'd have to be stuffed with very inorganic antibiotics, hormones, corn, and worse. (That doesn't mean there's no branding, dehorning, and castration.)

So organic milk drinkers do support the organic beef industry, but not the regular beef industry, and not the veal industry.  Lacto-vegetarianism has its roots in India, where it truly was a no-kill affair. Male calves grew up to be used for labor in that cultural setting, not for meat. But in western societies today, there's no separating milk from killing. (There could be no-kill milk in the future--see this post about bull semen sorting.)  But milk doesn't have to go hand in hand with the barbarities of veal and feedlots.

If you drink milk, there are lots of reasons to choose organic, but you really do need to read the Cornucopia scorecard.