Why we must educate our children about meat

Late last year the New York Times blog for students told its readers about a contest run by The Ethicist magazine: write an essay about why it’s ethical to eat meat. It asked the students to comment online with their opinions on the matter, including “Is it okay to eat meat? Do you? Should there be reforms in the ways that meat is obtained, processed and sold?”

A perusal of the bons mots left by readers left me troubled. While there were some well-reasoned responses from students who were clearly informed on the topic, those were in the same minority as they’re found in our wider society.

The respondents in this case are teens but their answers provide a snapshot of how most adults think about (or rather do not think about) the consequences of eating meat.

Those consequences include, for starters, catastrophic ecological damage and (comforting yet oxymoronic “humanely raised/slaughtered” myth aside) the abuse and violent killing of tens of billions of animals a year.

All of this matters. It matters big time.

I can think of no better brief overview of these consequences than Philip Wollen’s impassioned 10-minute speech at the 2012 “Should animals be off the menu” debate (it starts at around 25 seconds into the video).

And you don’t even have to recognise animal suffering as an important issue in order to agree that animals should be off the menu.

When you realise how much human suffering could be eliminated by a widespread move towards a plant-based diet you realise there are few topics more deserving of a place on the curriculum.

It’s not there because most adults would sooner look the other way when presented with the inconvenient truths about meat than change their own diets.

Update: I was prompted to add to this article (both above and below this point) after a reader wrote in to say that although we don’t know how old the students are, “I feel a bit iffy laughing at a thirteen year old for example.”

While I would guess most who responded were older than that, it was a fair point. I realised that my hastily put-together first draft of this article didn’t properly explain my purpose in writing it.

It’s not to mock, but to highlight how shockingly this younger generation has been failed, and what a pressing concern this should be for all of us.

Unless there is a widespread move away from the meat-centric diet, we will continue to lay siege to our planet and its life support systems and one day in the not too distant future we’ll reach a point of no return with that.

But chronic oil and water shortages will plague us before then – will that be enough?

Will escalating food prices and widespread food shortages do it?

So. Here’s a selection of answers to The Ethicist’s question: “Is it okay to eat meat? Do you? Should there be reforms in the ways that meat is obtained, processed and sold?”

15. “I believe that eating meat is certainly acceptable. We have always eaten meat, and I don’t see why we should try and change that now.”

14. “I think that it is ethical to eat meat because what else are we suppose to eat. I love meat. I am not saying to other people to stop eating meat. I mean like people who don’t eat it it’s good for them, but not for me. I like eating everything including meat. This is why i think it is ethical to eat meat.”

13. “It is ethical to eat meat. There is no reason not to eat what has been provided to us on this Earth. I think that vegans should be able to eat whatever that stuff is that they eat, but I know I will forever eat meat. The benefits of protein and iron are to necesary to overlook. The only time it is unethical is when humans eat other humans. That is unacceptable.”

12. “Yes it is okay to eat meat i think. I eat meat all the time almost everyday. Meat is very important because thats were all your protein comes from.”

11. “Eating meat is great! I love meat I have to have some on two if not three meals a day (sometimes I don’t have it for breakfast). Eating meat is not only good for you but good for the economy, it creates jobs for farmers, butchers, and slaughter houses.”

10. “Yes, I eat meat, but I do not support how the slaughter houses and butchers treat the animals. I’d rather not see the process of raising and growing animals to be slaughtered.”

9. “i think that its okay to eat some meat but not all meat. iete meat alot. i do not know no one that dont eat meat. meat makes you be more healther and gain weight.”

8. “I think it is ethical to eat meat. There is no reason not to eat meat if it is provided for you to eat. I guess some people think it is unethical, but I think it’s fine. This is a really boring conversation, so I’m going to stop writing now.”

7. “I think that people are allowed to have their own opinion on things. If you don’t want to eat meat that’s fine but I do eat meat and I think that it is an important part of the food groups and everyone needs a good source of protein in their diet. I don’t really ever think about it being ethical or not, I just bite into my hamburger.”

6. “I do not think there is a problem with killing cows and other animals for food because we need meat to be very healthy. If we stop killing animals, we will starve because not everyone likes vegetables.”

5. “Is it ethical NOT to eat meat? Then that means that they killed the animal for no reason and now it’s going to rot and be buried in the dump.”

4. Just think about it. If we don’t consume the amount of meat that we already do, there will be an increase of the animals. With an increase of animals, there will be a decrease in the amount of land available for every organism.”

3: “[If humans didn’t eat meat] over population of all animals would grow to be an issue. Perhaps carnivorism is just a form of population control.”

2. “In my opinion I do think it is okay to eat meat. I personally do eat meat and i love it. I think the way meat is sold, obtained, and processed is a good process and should not be changed. I think it is handled in a good manner.”

1. “Vegetables are what give this planet oxygen, and the vegetarians and vegans of the world are taking out of the oxygen producers in the world, whereas omnivorous humans are balancing the toll on the environment, just like evolution was meant to do.”

Recommended reading: No more excuses. The only defensible option is to go vegetarian, from the February 17, 2013  edition of The Guardian. John Harris reminds readers that, “The global meat industry destroys the planet and leads to animal cruelty. If you care, there’s only one thing for it.”


  • Pretty sad reading….I’ve been vegetarian/vegan for forty years. I realised at FIVE years of age that it was NOT ethical to eat meat. I realised it from within, not from what anyone else told me.

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    • One wonders what these students are being taught in school… Whatever it is, what they NEED is emergency instruction on personal responsibility and the consequences of their choices on other humans, other sentient beings, the planet on which they live, and their own bodies.

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  • Hi Sarah,
    Whilst answers 1,3,4,and 5 are the most ammusing of the lot, I think what we have to remember, is that they are teenage answers.
    In other words, children.
    You don’t say how old, but I feel a bit iffy laughing at a thirteen year old for example.
    Lord knows what I was pontificating at that age. Sometimes I’m self concious and ashamed of what I occasionally come out with now for goodness sake.
    You say that you wonder what the students are taught in school. Well I’m not aware of any class anywhere that teaches about animals and food or veggie or vegan alternatives. Nothing while I was at school and I would be shocked if anyone seriously covered it now. And when I say seriously, I mean, honestly, as opposed to the way, let us say that a government minister would lay down the ‘facts’.
    We all know that raw food, veggie food, vegan food and let’s not forget living food (sprouts etc ) will always be the most miniscule of areas and that most people will either never have heard of them, never be interested in them and even if they are taken up by some, will struggle to stick to them and come a cropper.
    Even Dr Thomas Lodi says that some people he treats for cancer do better on a little dairy or meat than they appear to do on a strictly vegan diet.
    The world is a hard cruel place a lot of the time, and whilst certain people can do their bit to try to improve matters, I see the future with just as many problems and issues as the past.
    We may one day not eat animals, but this will not be through ethics. It will be through some disaster that will radically change everything and then the populations will be forced onto a different approach.
    Who knows what. Maybe three blue pills per day and like it.
    Keep well,

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    • Hi Neil,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. You prompted me to expand on what was initially only a short (and, admittedly, written-in-haste) article, and clarify that my point is not to mock, but to highlight that we’re failing our children by not educating them about this – and what a pressing concern that ought to be.

      You made other valid points too. I would agree, for example, that a widespread move to a plant-based diet is more likely to be due to necessity than ethics – that because I believe that “necessity” is only, at most, a decade or two away now, whereas a widespread ethical shift, while unmistakably in progress, is likely to be a slower process.

      While the world is, in many ways, a cruel, hard place, and there are many reasons for pessimism, I’m reminded of Margaret Mead’s inspiring argument against defeatism – “Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” It was not so long ago that it seemed impossible that slavery would ever be abolished, or that women would get the vote…

      Thanks again,


      PS I wasn’t aware that Dr Lodi had revised his vegan stance – I’d be interested to know where you read that, and if you could send a link that would be great.

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