I was hoping for an opportune moment to write more about the environment and economy of this island of Newfoundland, but just like with my last post we are—yes, yet again—in a State of Emergency. So I want to address one problem related to the SOE caused by the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 pandemic. The problem is how we treat other animals, and one solution is to change what we eat.
Mark Gollom, writing for the CBC, cites public health experts who are concerned that future pandemics will be caused again by human exploitation of animals through wildlife markets (a.k.a., wet markets) in China and elsewhere. The theory about the current pandemic is that the novel coronavirus spread between species at such a market, eventually to humans. The markets are deservedly criticized by animal-rights activists such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Although factory farms are a more regulated method for bringing animal products to market, they too are a risk because of instances of unsanitary conditions and overcrowding of non-human animals that come into contact with humans.
Partly in response, Derek Beres at Big Think entertains the idea that one solution to the problem is vegetarianism and veganism. Beres adds: "I'm wary of recent vegan arguments that humans were not designed to eat meat. You can't rewrite history—humans are humans thanks in part to our consumption of meat, as thinkers such as Daniel Lieberman and Richard Wrangham have pointed out. We can—and should—argue about the future, but let us at least understand where we come from."
I agree in principle about what to argue, but I would shift the emphasis. Even if humans became humans at the top of the food chain as a result of traditionally hunting and then traditionally farming other animals (a premise that seems insufficient for defining "humans"), we now have the knowledge, resources, and products to enable most people in most parts of developed countries to eat very well without meat. It might not be compatible with traditional Indigenous practises in the Far North, for example, where agriculture is almost impossible, but it is possible throughout most of the world. We can make a choice.
Incidentally, it would drastically improve our environments, too. Damian Carrington in The Guardian explains: "Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet. The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife." Even if most of us ate meat half as often, the benefits would be huge.
I have a French gourmet vegetarian cookbook from the 1970s (the decade of my birth) that shows that some of us have been thinking about this informed decision for a while now (relative to my age, at least). The choice is about treating other animals ethically, and this means not killing them or destroying their habitats when we have alternatives. Rather than produce "byproducts" such as viral pandemics, we can reduce sickness and death of humans and of other animals, while still eating well.
Now that is food for thought!
How to cite this blog in MLA format: Deshaye, Joel. "Meat Eating and the Coronavirus and COVID-19 Pandemic." Publicly Interested, 14 Apr. 2020, www.publiclyinterested.weebly.com.
Joel Deshaye is a professor of English literature with an interest in publics, publicity, celebrity, mass media, and popular culture.