Michael Pollan in the 10 November 2002 Sunday New York Times magazine writes thoughtfully about animal rights, factory farming, militant vegetarianism, and the constellation of complex moral issues surrounding our treatment of other species. Pollan's essay is titled "An Animal's Place". It argues persuasively in favor of eating meat --- but only if the creatures are consumed "...with the consciousness, ceremony and respect they deserve."
It's a fine essay, worth re-reading. It reminds me of JonathanSturm's recent comments on the value of knowing the first name of the person who is the source of your meals, and on the independence earned by growing your own food. It also resonates with some old ^zhurnal bits (e.g., WhatCounts (24 Nov 1999), RobertNozick (2 Feb 2002), ...).
Pollan's article led me to the complete version of Jeremy Bentham's 1789 remarks on animal rights which I quoted in part here a couple of years ago (see SufferTheAnimals (11 June 2000)). Footnote 2 in Chapter XVII of Bentham's Principles of Morals and Legislation is quite interesting in its totality. It reads:
Under the Gentoo and Mahometan religions, the interests of the rest of the animal creation seem to have met with some attention. Why have they not universally, with as much as those of human creatures, allowance made for the difference in point of sensibility? Because the laws that are have been the work of mutual fear; a sentiment which the less rational animals have not had the same means as man has of turning to account. Why ought they not? No reason can be given. If the being eaten were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to eat such of them as we like to eat: we are the better for it, and they are never the worse. They have none of those long-protracted anticipations of future misery which we have. The death they suffer in our hands commonly is, and always may be, a speedier, and by that means a less painful one, than that which would await them in the inevitable course of nature. If the being killed were all, there is very good reason why we should be suffered to kill such as molest us: we should be the worse for their living, and they are never the worse for being dead. But is there any reason why we should be suffered to torment them? Not any that I can see. Are there any why we should not be suffered to torment them? Yes, several. See B. I. tit. [Cruelty to animals]. The day has been, I grieve to say in many places it is not yet past, in which the greater part of the species, under the denomination of slaves, have been treated by the law exactly upon the same footing as, in England for example, the inferior races of animals are still. The day may come, when the rest of the animal creation may acquire those rights which never could have been withholden from them but by the hand of tyranny. The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor It may come one day to be recognized, that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate. What else is it that should trace the insuperable line? Is it the faculty of reason, or, perhaps, the faculty of discourse? But a full-grown horse or dog is beyond comparison a more rational, as well as a more conversable animal, than an infant of a day, or a week, or even a month, old. But suppose the case were otherwise, what would it avail? the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?