First round of proposal is approved!

If you have ever been curious as to how I am approaching my Masters project, be curious no more! As of about 10:30 last night, the first official draft of the proposal is on the chopping block for the MALS committee to approve. Here's what I have so far. The project does not yet have a title!!!

A. Project Goal
As a vegetarian battling the ideologies of veganism on one side and free range meat eaters on the other, I am conflicted by the debate around the use, or lack thereof, of animals in the human diet. In this final project, I want to explore this debate in depth – from the literature of animal rights, to alternative diets (i.e. flexitarianism and 100 mile diets), to the societal pressures influencing our eating habits. At the end of this project, I would like to come up with an ideal peace between the two worlds. Can we live in animal cruelty free world and still eat meat?

B. Context
According to the USDA Factbook, in 2000 the total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmed-weight equivalent) per person - 57 pounds above average annual consumption in the 1950s. Each American consumed an average of 7 pounds more red meat than in the 1950s, 46 pounds more poultry, and 4 pounds more fish and shellfish. Yet, according to a Zogby Poll, between 1994 and 2000, the number of vegetarians and vegans doubled in size in the USA – from 1% to 2.5%. We’re eating more meat, but at the same time, more people are giving up meat. How do we account for this?

We obviously live in a world where some animals are revered (i.e. the burgeoning pet industry), but how do we account for the paradox between our esteem for animals in our homes versus such a demand for meat that we have resorted to inhumane factory farming conditions? This is the dilemma I have been unable to resolve. How can one reconcile the discourse between an animals rights perspective which may over-sentimentalize animal experience and scientific studies citing evidence that an animal’s experience in life is fundamentally different than that of a human’s? Can we find a middle ground that will be optimal for animals and people?

Recent bestsellers like Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma rally advocates to support local foods in a quest for the “right way to eat.” Other books like The 100 Mile Diet argue for a similar approach to eating. But, this stance has yet to convince animal rights activists (and me) it is okay to slaughter, under even the most perfect of conditions, an animal for human consumption. In my thinking, there is a gap in the literature that convinces the vegetarian/vegan with sentimentality towards animals that it is okay to kill another animal at any time for our own purpose. It is this lack of persuasion I am exploring in this project.

C. Method
I plan on taking a three part approach to this project. In the first section, I will discuss literature on many sides of the debate around the current human use of animals in food production. I plan on analyzing a large selection of rhetoric - from animal rights advocates, to the small farmer, to the factory farmer and the meat lobby - around beliefs of perceived animal experience and our right, or lack thereof, to utilize them in our diets.

In the second section, I plan on addressing my hypothesis that the hidden world of slaughter and the use of “happy animal” advertising allow us as a society to propagate a disconnection between us and our food. I am supportive of hunting animals for food in nature, as I feel that the predator/prey relationship mirrors others in nature. But, I believe the pork producer and distributor show us a “happy pig” wearing a chef’s hat and a smile to falsely replicate that natural exchange of the hunt. The “happy pig” gives us its okay – we don’t have to hunt it, just eat away. It is this deceit that bothers me as an animal advocate in the debate over animal consumption. Then, organizations like PETA show us traumatic images of slaughter facilities. Yet even with actual photos of slaughter and mistreatment, most people blind themselves to the realities of meat and animal product production in a factory farming society. Do we have to deal with the trauma by swearing off animal products altogether, or can we find an acceptance of slaughter at a level that reduces animal suffering and shows respect to the beings that lose their life for the benefit of ours?

In the last section, I plan on personally reflecting and commenting on my exploration of these subjects. This project is the end result of a great deal of personal introspection around my inability to take a stand with either the meat eaters or the vegan animal activists. I feel I am in a position that many people may find themselves in, and I feel that by the conclusion of this project, I can come to some sort of personal resolution around my relationships to animals in daily life. The conclusions and research done for this project may change my current lacto-ovo vegetarian lifestyle.

D. Preparation
I feel my MALS experience has provided a great deal of background in dealing with these issues. The most pertinent classes are Dr. Kathy Rudy’s Ethics in America: The Case of Animals and The Meaning of Pets. Adding to the philosophical discourse around the proposal topic is Dr. Matt Cartmill’s The Animal-Human Boundary class – the literature in this session is instrumental for looking closely at human’s relationships to animals and their use throughout recorded history. I also feel that the coursework with Dr. Kristine Stiles in Trauma in Art, Literature and Film will be helpful in dissecting animal rights groups’ attempt at spreading awareness though traumatic visual imagery. Lastly, my personal interest in this topic provides a passion in examining this issue – with a hope of personal fulfillment and wider discernment with others around this topic.


Cartmill, Matt. A view to a death in the morning: hunting and nature through history. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Eshel, G. and P.A. Martin, “Diet, energy, and global warming,” Earth Interactions 10, Paper No. 9 (2006): 1-17.

Fox, Michael W. Eating with Conscience: The Bioethics of Food. Troutdale, Oregon: NewSage Press, 1997.

Francione, Gary L. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2000.

Grandin, Temple. Animals in translation: using the mysteries of autism to decode animal behavior. New York: Scribner, 2005.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. New York: Basic Books, 2006.

Masson, J. Moussaieff and Susan McCarthy. When elephants weep: the emotional lives of animals. New York: Delta, 1996.

Nierenberg, Danielle. Happier meals: rethinking the global meat industry. Washington, D.C.: Worldwatch Institute, 2005.

Orlans, F. Barbara, eds [et al]. The human use of animals: case studies in ethical choice. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Petrini, Carlo and Jamey Lionette. Manifestos on the Future of Food and Seed. (need additional citation information – book on its way from Amazon)

Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a natural history of four meals. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

Reinhardt, Mark W. The Perfectly Contented Meat Eaters Guide to Vegetarianism: A Book for Those Who Really Don’t Want to Be Hassled About Their Diet. Continuum Press, 1999.

Singer, Peter. Animal Liberation. New York: HarperCollins. 1975.

Smith, Alisa and J.B. Mackinnon. Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally. (need additional citation information – book on its way from Amazon)

Taylor, Angus. Animals and Ethics: An Overview of the Philosophical Debate. New York: Broadview Press. 1993.

Vialles, NoƩlie. Animal to edible. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

www.mypyramid.gov. The Food and Drug Administration of the United States of America.

http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2000may/2000maypoll.htm. “How Many Vegetarians Are There?” Vegetarian Resource Group.


Anonymous said...

You need to eat a hamburger...

M said...

not til I finish the project - but thanks for the suggestion.

Ellobie said...

Very interesting! I hope you're able to find some personal peace within the various issues. I always thought it was interesting that I wasn't grossed out by The Jungle or Fast Food Nation (or at least, not enough to stop eating factory-farmed meat). Even though I know intellectually that these animals were treated with nothing short of abuse and the resulting foods are absolutely disgusting and atrocious, sometimes I just want a McDonald's cheeseburger or some spagetti-o's with meatballs!

Perhaps your findings will enlighten me - if not enough to make me stop eating these foods, enough to understand why it's so hard to give them up. :)

Anonymous said...

Sounds interesting! I'm looking forward to reading the outcome. This is certainly one of those wicked problems that we battle internally for all the days of our lives.


rebecca said...

Definitely interesting! I also have to say, I was specifically intrigued by your feelings about hunting. I'm kind of the opposite on that one — I will usually choose to avoid "game" meats, because the sporting aspect of it bothers me. If a person was truly hunting for subsistence purposes, I'd be much more likely to excuse them, but I have a big problem with the whole sporting aspect of it, knowing people are more or less killing animals for the fun of it.

Anonymous said...

I am seconding the first comment. Eat a burger. If you eat it and just do not like the flavor or texture, then do not eat it again.

I guess you could call me a corn-a-tarian because I only like corn and corn by-products, like cows, karo syrup, and hushpuppies.
Long live the scarecrow.

M said...

you people have to be frickin kidding me. i haven't been a vegetarian forever. I've had more burgers than i count. Just because you "like it" or don't like it doesn't make it right to eat. Do I actually know some of the people posting here????