Dreadlocks met suits in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Wednesday night to debate the merits of vegetarianism.
The Yale Debate Association hosted Bruce Friedrich, a vice president for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to debate the topic “Is Eating Meat Ethical?” More than 100 people filed into a lecture hall to hear Steven Kryger ’10 and Grant May ’10 of the YDA argue for the affirmative against Friedrich.
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Friedrich began his argument by sidestepping the philosophical issue of animal rights and instead asserting that humans have three mandates to consider: caring about global poverty, the environment and animal cruelty. He argued that if any audience member cared about any of these issues, then they are morally obliged to give up the “inconsequential palate preference” of meat eaters.
“Our appetite for meat is causing people to starve,” Friedrich added, citing a United Nations study that said it takes 20 calories of animal feed to produce one calorie of meat.
Friedrich then showed a clip from “Meet your Meat,” a film he produced for PETA. Speaking over footage of a chicken farm, Alec Baldwin’s voice said that chickens are “probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet.”
Friedrich argued that if someone would not want to kill the animals themselves, then they should not pay for someone else to “cut throats.”
Kryger took the stage first for the YDA, telling the audience that meat eating is a topic “near and dear to my arteries.”
He then presented a more philosophical approach to the question, outlining out his belief that rights only extend to human beings because of their unique ability to think rationally, a trait that is “probably not true” of animals, he said.
Kryger shared the remainder of his time with May, who argued that Friedrich’s environmental and humanitarian arguments were both flawed.
May said rice production, for example, also causes environmental harm by creating floods that hurt the environment, and that a reduction in demand for grain brought on by a decrease in livestock would only cut supply, not reallocate it to the impoverished.
In response, Friedrich said these claims are “categorically incorrect.” He cited the UN report “Livestock’s Long Shadow — Environmental Issues and Options,” which said the meat industry is one of the top two or three causes for all of the most serious environmental problems. He also said most agriculture economists agree that a decrease in meat consumption would ultimately get more food to those in need.
Kyger and May ultimately accused Friedrich of lacking a defined ethical system to address the question directly.
“There are a lot of things that would benefit the world if they didn’t exist,” May said. “But that doesn’t mean they are all intrinsically unethical.”
Friedrich concluded the formal debate by telling attendees that the topic at hand “is a very easy case.”
In response to Friedrich’s statement, the sound of fists pounding on the desks, the traditional demonstration of audience approval at YDA events, drowned out the few disapproving hisses that mostly emanated from the area where the debate team was sitting.
Friedrich, who debates this topic at colleges at least 20 times a year, said afterward that the he does not usually have such a sympathetic crowd. This does not usually bother him, he said, because the meat eaters are the people he is trying to reach.
Kryger was less optimistic about the results of the event.
“It’s impossible to win the debate,” he said. “The vegetarians are going to stay vegetarians, and the meat eaters, meat eaters.”
Greg Garvey, a Hamden resident and Quinnipiac professor who attended the event, said that although he is not a vegetarian, he was persuaded by Friedrich in the end.
In 2007, peta2, PETA’s youth-focused division, recognized Yale as one of the “Most Vegetarian-Friendly Colleges in America.”