It’s been almost five months now that I’ve been raising, and writing about, the three pigs in my backyard. They’re fast approaching market weight, and my husband, Kevin, and I are planning for the day we slaughter them.
We have given them the best life we can, and they are, to the extent that we can tell, happy. We are determined that their death will be free from stress, fear and pain. There is nevertheless the question of whether, even under these circumstances, it is moral to eat animals. Many people believe it isn’t. I, obviously, disagree.
I believe it is moral to eat animals because the good outweighs the harm.
The harm is straightforward: You take an animal’s life. But there is also good.
For starters, there is meat. Animals convert things humans can’t or won’t eat — grass and brush and waste and acorns — into high-quality food. But that’s not the only benefit. In doing it, they provide fertilizer that helps us grow plants. Some of them can till our fields without using fossil fuels. Others keep insect populations in check. The wooly ones provide sweaters, the tough-skinned ones provide shoes.
And then there is the good of the life itself. If we didn’t eat them, we wouldn’t have cows or sheep or pigs — it’s prohibitively expensive — and their very existence has to go in the plus column. While those animals are converting grass and waste into food, they are also, in any responsible system, enjoying themselves. They have ample food and comfortable shelter, elbow room and companionship.
One of the reasons vegans and vegetarians oppose killing is that they believe animals can know happiness, and I agree. What animals can’t know is that their life is finite, and that death ends it. The harm we do by taking their life is limited to the pain we inflict while taking it; that their life is ending is lost on them.
We want our pigs to die instantly, over a dish of a favorite food. They will not see it coming, they will not feel pain. We will have given Spot and Doc and Tiny six months of good piggy life, and then taken it without their knowing. And, for that, Kevin and I and several of our friends will eat well for a long time.
We wouldn’t be doing this if we didn’t love pork. We’re inordinately fond of prosciutto and bacon and barbecue. But we also wouldn’t be doing this if it were wrong. Looking at the big picture, it is clear to us that having well-treated, humanely slaughtered animals in our food system and, sometimes, in our back yard, is the greater good.