"Meat and Evil"

In Andrew Chignell (ed.), Evil: A History (Oxford Philosophical Concepts). Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 88-96 (2019)
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In a world where meat is often a token of comfort, health, hospitality, and abundance, one can be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the conjunction “meat and evil.” Why pull meat into the orbit of harm, pestilence, ill-will, and privation? From another perspective, the answer is obvious: meat—the flesh of slaughtered animals taken for food—is the remnant of a feeling creature who was recently alive and whose death was premature, violent, and often gratuitous. The truth is that meat has a checkered history in the West. From its origin-story in Abrahamic religion to its industrial production in today’s world, meat is well-marbled with evil and its minions: sin, violence, injustice, destruction, suffering, and death. Beyond keeping company with these obtrusive forms of evil, meat’s success at remaining, nevertheless, in our collective good graces illuminates some of evil’s subtler shades too. We might learn something of insidiousness, self-deception, rationalization, and bad faith by exploring why the ever-strengthening consensus that habitual meat-eating is unhealthful, morally dubious, and environmentally damaging is often still no match for a philosopher’s savor of cheeseburgers. My aim is to consider meat’s fitness for a place in the Western history of evil by reflecting briefly on its outsized roles at the bookends of this narrative: meat’s primeval history in Genesis, and its contribution today to ethical and environmental problems of arguably apocalyptic proportions.



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