Today I’m going on a Vipassana meditation retreat at Dhamma Dipa. It’s 10 days of silent meditation without reading, writing, internet, phone calls etc. I have less spiritual and more utilitarian reasons for embarking on this course than many people. It will certainly be uncomfortable but I’m interested in exercising my prefrontal cortex and learning techniques of self discipline and avoiding distraction that may help me be more effective. Also, I’m just quite a sensation seeking person generally and even if this doesn’t reboot my life it will be a deeply interesting experience (even if what’s interesting about it is how boring it is). Anyway, I won’t be on the blog, twitter or Facebook until late August. Hopefully when I get back I can make a video about the experience to post here.
Today in London there was the first public tasting of in vitro meat (although it seems a bit
silly that the fate of such a potentially gamechanging technology would be influenced by the initial reaction of a couple of gourmands). The Guardian has dubbed Post’s in vitro patty as “the world’s first cruelty free hamburger” although Peter Singer, who actually wrote the piece knows enough to steer clear of this misnomer. This is a milestone for sure but how much difference will in vitro meat make to actual animal cruelty or the number of animals used for food? I previously explored how lab meat is created and whether in vitro meat would help animals in this podcast, including an interview with David Pearce where I asked (around minute 7), what market forces might move lab meat to involve the least amount of animal suffering.
In this blog, I first discuss the aspects of in vitro meat that are still potentially unethical. Then I talk a bit about how disgust, and the groups that are most disgust sensitive, may reduce the impact that in vitro meat will have on the reduction of animal suffering.
In the last blog, I made the case that there really wasn’t a good ethical reason not to eat mussels and oysters. As an astute commenter noted, I wasn’t really making a case FOR eating mussels and oysters so much as saying that the argument against lacked sufficient evidence from the perspective of reducing suffering. In this blog, I’m going to remedy that by outlining some positive effects that might result from the acceptance of oysters and mussels as ethical to eat if not defined as “vegan”. Specifically, I think that eating oysters and mussels 1) undermines the case that vegans are motivated by disgust and purity 2) offers some nutritional benefits that might make people more likely to eat (or continue eating) in a way that causes the least suffering.
Just a quick note before I post my followup to the Oyster and Mussels blog.
Last week was a pretty big media week for me. On Sunday, June 2nd I was on BBC1′s “The Big Questions”“Has man’s dominion been good for the planet?”. My major contribution on The Big Questions was meant to address the idea that humans are the “pinnacle” of evolution. I argued that intelligence is a somewhat arbitrary criteria by which to judge superiority and if we were to judge species, say, by their ability to pick up objects with their noses we would instead say elephants were the pinnacle of evolution (and here is me gesturing like I have an elephant nose, for your amusement).
On Tuesday June 4th I was on “Your Call” Radio 5 Live “Should we go vegetarian to save the planet?”. In both these appearances I mostly made an argument that preventing suffering is what is important rather than more abstract (and potentially less effective) actions such as recycling or saving endangered species (more on this in a followup blog). On Radio 5 Live I said that just like environmentalists strive to reduce their carbon footprint we should all be trying to reduce our”suffering footprint” by not consuming animal products. Turns out I had converged on a term used by Matt Ball of Vegan Outreach.
It was five years ago this month that I became vegan, or…well, ostrovegan. In this blog I officially come out of the closet, err, shell. I am almost sure that cultivated mussels and oysters are ethical to eat. I argue eating these animals is completely consistent with the spirit if not the letter of ethical veganism and the tenet of causing less harm with our consumer choices1. This is blog 1 on bivalve sentience/ability to suffer; for further arguments, including nutrition arguments, see my second blog.
The mirror test is used to gauge self consciousness by ascertaining whether an organism can identify itself in the mirror. Usually, the experimenter puts some kind of ink or marking in a spot that can’t be seen without a mirror and then observes the animal. Examining or touching the spot or marking indicates that the animal knows the image is, in fact, not another individual but a reflection. Richard Byrne spoke about the mirror test last week at his talk at Portsmouth and showed us that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror (or at least one elephant can, the other apparently showed no interest). He also told us that dogs and cats cannot recognize themselves in the mirror but eventually acclimate to having an intruder around all the time who they cannot smell.
When I was last in the States I was at a pet store and saw the betta fish display. Bettas, otherwise known as “Siamese fighting fish”, are colorful, aggressive, territorial fish that will display when put in proximity to other fish. Like many territorial species the males will size each other up with aggressive displays and it’s in both males’ interests if they can figure out who would win without actually fighting. Many places that sell Bettas put these fish close together where they will display all day to one another ultimately stressing them out and potentially reducing their longevity. Often Bettas will be put in front of mirrors which will get them really geared up as they prepare to fight a rival who is equally matched on all dimensions of strength, size, vigor, and display.
I know how the fish feel.
“Good evening,” it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches, “I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?” -Douglas Adams “The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
Nonhuman animals raised for meat have been domesticated for thousands of years. Some characteristics that have been artificially selected for are earlier maturation, tolerance for crowding, reduced exploratory behavior and docility including an almost across the board decrease in brain size (and arguably intelligence, compared to their wild cousins).
As much as we have changed the behavior and responses of animals bred to be eaten we have not been able to breed out of them the desire to carry on living. What if animals could be bred who had no preferences about existing and who wanted to be eaten?