Don’t pat yourself on the back if you buy your meat at Whole Foods or similar places where meat products come from humanely raised animals and/or humanely killed animals. Even if you don’t eat meat from factory farmed animals – and these days, most of us know about the horrors of factory farming -- causing animal suffering and killing animals are both wrong.
That’s right: it’s wrong to kill an animal prematurely, however painlessly, for its meat, even if it’s been raised humanely, because that animal’s losses in being killed greatly outweigh any benefit people may get from eating meat.
It’s not enough for an animal to have a comparatively nice life if that life is shortened – however nicely – so people can eat the animal.
These opinions were key take-away messages from a panel discussion -- “Non-human Animals: Eat, Test, Love” -- on October 8 at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. Its three participants were headed up by Peter Singer, Ira W. Decamp Professor of Bioethics in the University Center for Human Values, Princeton.
He was joined by Jeff McMahan, Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Philosophy, Rutgers University; and Dale Jamieson, Professor of Environmental Studies, Director of Animal Studies Initiative, Professor of Bioethics and Philosophy, New York University.
The panel discussion was held in conjunction with an art exhibit with the same title, featuring large-scale collage-paintings of animals by Hetty Baiz. The artist spoke briefly on her inspiration – Singer’s book, Animal Liberation (1975) and his concept of “Speciesism” – and described her artistic process.
Singer opened with a visual overview of “a tradition of artists working with animals,” from cave paintings in France through a Roman mosaic floor portraying animals; a portrait of “Clara,” a rhinoceros, by Jean-Baptiste Oudry; “Whistlejacket,” a horse, by George Stubbs; William Hogarth’s engravings, “Four Stages of Cruelty,” and images of a cow having her throat cut and vivisection of a dog – while both were conscious.
Contemporary artists Sue Coe and Barbara Dover, as well as Hetty Baiz, are among those who respond to the plight of animals in today’s world, Singer said, showing images of their work.
He cited Genesis 1, 28, on man’s dominion over every living thing, as the quote that set the tone for the next couple millennia. It took Jeremy Bentham, in the late 18th century, to ask: Not can they [animals] reason or talk, but can they suffer?
Against the speciesism prevalent for centuries, Singer proposes “an ethic of equal consideration”: “Is the fact that a being is not a member of our species a reason for giving its interests less consideration than we give to similar interests of members of our own species?”
Professors McMahan of Rutgers and Jamieson of NYU reacted to and supplemented Singer’s presentation, essentially taking his side throughout, to audience members’ apparent satisfaction
Equating the wrongs of causing animal suffering and killing animals, McMahan described Temple Grandin as one whose work has [merely] made the latter act less stressful. Mentioning other artists whose work addresses animals today, Jamieson noted that Baiz’s images “confront but aren’t confrontive.” Today’s world offers a wide intellectual context of interest in animals (think “animal studies” programs) for those working in the arts, he said.
Jamieson advocated a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, a recommendation his colleagues unsurprisingly agreed with. Audience questions preceded a public reception in the nearby art gallery.
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“Non-human Animals: Eat, Test, Love,” an exhibition of collage-paintings by Hetty Baiz, remains on view through October 18 in the Bernstein Gallery of Robertson Hall, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ. Gallery hours: Monday through Friday, 9 am-5 pm.
Freelance writer Pat Summers also blogs at nj.com/pets.