Friday, July 29, 2005

Should I buy this tripe?

Jonas wonders whether a utilitarian who opposes factory farming is permitted to eat low-demand organ meats -- intestines, brains, and such -- on the grounds that these foods don't exert any demand pressure on the meat-packing industry. (A year ago, in what's probably my most-cited post, I defined categories of Normal, Weird, and Fallen meat. I don't eat factory-farmed Normal meat, but non-factory-farmed Weird meat is still okay. Also edible is Fallen meat, which would exert no demand pressure to promote factory farming.)

I was just looking at a list of appealing offal in a taqueria yesterday -- beef intestines, brains, and other unusual parts -- and wondering about this. First, there's an empirical question to ask about the economics of the meat-packing industry. In the terms of my distinctions, does factory-farmed offal count as Fallen because it exerts no economic demand that can cause additional cow misery? I can see how this would be the case -- if 10% of the factory-farmed cow intestines in the world are eaten, and that number doubles to 20%, no more cows need be slaughtered to decrease the demand. So "Fallen parts" of factory farmed animals still would be fair game.


Julian Elson said...

Complicated. One possible argument against it is that if you eat tripe, you increase profits per head of cattle, and the increased profitability could lower the cost of more "ordinary," muscular meat when the profits of more tripe are competed away by the beef companies.

TheJew said...

julian said what I wanted to say.

Also, consider changing "fallen" to "stolen" because any renumeration will result in the problem julian points out. However, actively stealing would both avoid direct payment to meat interests from yourself and also increase the costs of meat consumption for meat interests.

Battlepanda said...

But, if the werewolf cooks delicious tripe and convinces all his friends that it is not a fallen meat, he will reduce the demand for dead cows as each individual dead cow is more thoroughly consumed. Ironically, if he becomes completely successful and everybody in the U.S. starts being mad for tripe, he will have to move on as the tripe would no longer be fallen.

Blar said...

What julian said. Plus, the increased demand for tripe will tend to raise its price, which may cause some consumers to reduce their tripe consumption in favor of further consumption of "Normal" muscle meat. The question is whether these indirect negative consequences are large enough in magnitude for quasi-fallen meat like tripe to be off limits to a utilitarian like yourself.

Mary said...

I thought this was a very interesting essay on the topic of factory farming, and challenging to me as a Christian:

Anonymous said...

As a utilitarian vegetarian, I think that you might be spending more utility worrying about this stuff than you would be by just being a vegetarian.

Blar said...

Anonymous, don't you see that this conversation is producing utility among most of the participants? It's not "worrying" if it's fun. And of course, with all the great publicity that Neil's post is getting, he may win some converts to his system who wouldn't have gone all the way to vegetarianism. In fact, I can't think of any post of Neil's that has higher expected utility.

Julian Elson said...

My personal approach in these matters is what I've dubbed "hypocritical veganism:" when I'm in college, I'm basically vegan, but when I'm home, I'm an ovo-lacto-vegetarian, so as to avoid driving my dear mommy crazy with my dietary demands.

Hmmm... so, it seems that in production, beef and tripe are complements (maybe bad for utilitarians), whereas in consumption, beef and tripe are substitutes (maybe good for utilitarians).

I'm not really a utilitarian (I'm more a "do what basically feels right with a bit of moral reasoning tossed in when you hit a dilemma" kinda practical ethicist, which is, I suppose, what most people are), but I do find it nice that utilitarianism reduces all these moral questions to something like economics.

George Will's column brings up some interesting points. To ask the question possibly most signifying vegetarian arrogance: why aren't people vegetarians or followers of the Sinhababu diet or whatever? One might identify four causes:

1. Unawareness ("Eating meat is a moral issue? Gee, that never really occured to me. Tell me more.")
2. Factual disagreement ("I think that animals don't have subjective experiences." or "Life on the farm is generally pleasant for the animals.")
3. Moral disagreement ("Well, yes, I know some people think this is a moral issue, but they're in error, because I'm a Kantian/Natural Law junkie/just don't think this is a moral issue.")
4. Akrasia ("I wish that I could be a vegetarian, but gosh, I can't go without meat without going crazy!")

Of course, one might find several of these causes in one person. You might talk to a someone to whom it has never occured that animal welfare is an issue, then once she's learned about it, she thinks that it isn't an issue because life is fine for the animals before a brief, painless slaughter, then once she learns about conditions, she deliberates morally, and finds that it still isn't wrong to eat conventional meat, and then once she has a change of heart and decides that it is wrong, she finds that she can't actually stop because she enjoys it too much.

George Will touches on all of these, though on #4 he only does so implicitly, by warning his readers not to read it. (presumably because it'll turn them from unaware, comfortable conventional-meat eaters into tormented, akratic meat eaters.)

I've been reading too much Nomy Arpaly lately.

Cihy bani online fara investitie said...

Barbeque beef intestines is my favourite food ;) It's a delicates!