Eat Les Chikin

The American fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A urges us to


Unfortunately, from an animal welfare perspective this might not be the best course of action. For those of you reading not entirely certain that many sorts of agricultural animals are incapable of morally relevant pain and suffering, and in turn concerned by your “direct” contributions to that misery (averaged across your uncertainty), consider instead partly reducing your consumption of eggs, chicken, and small fish rather than cows and pigs (perhaps even increasing your consumption of beef to “compensate”, if you really want). Unless you regard cow suffering and death to be way worse than bird and fish suffering and death, most of the analyses I’ve seen suggest that cutting eggs and fish over cows gets you a good bit more bang (in terms of less maybe-suffering caused) for your caloric buck (see, for example, here, here, here, and here). Basically, minimize expected suffering by eating the flesh of larger things, all else being equal, and not listening to Chick-fil-A or Gaston.


Some caveats, however — calorically, beef seems to be “worse” than dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs for various environmental metrics (like land and water use, greenhouse gas emission, and reactive nitrogen production), so you’ll have to weigh how much you care about things like that relative to animal suffering, too. Unfortunately, the long-term effects of contributing to global climate and ecological change are pretty damn unclear, at least with respect to non-human welfare, so good luck! You’ll also have to weigh how much you value different animals relative to one another (if your chief criterion for moral worth is non-binary, and instead the disutility of animal suffering is weighted proportionally to, say, that animal’s intelligence, you might value pigs more than chickens or fish. If you say pig suffering is several times worse than chicken suffering, it might be “better” to eat poultry and pickerel than pork). And of course, if you’re coming at this from a qualitative, moral purity sort of perspective, a stopgap like this might not be entirely satisfying — the death and mistreatment of cows is still tragic, and if you care more about intentions than results, perhaps more tragic than the death of field mice.

If you can overcome the social stigma against them, you might also try experimenting with veg*n meat substitutes. I’ve tried a fair few, and (with respect to chicken), the following, on their own, are difficult for me to distinguish from the real deal:

Trader Joe’s Chickenless Mandarin Orange Morsels
Trader Joe’s Chickenless Crispy Tenders
Beyond Meat Chicken Strips
Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausage

When taken cooked in dishes containing a variety of other foods and flavors (e.g. salads, stir-frys, casseroles, tacos, sandwiches, pies, etc.) they are essentially indistinguishable to my palate, especially if the dish contains any sort of particularly flavorful sauce.

Alternatively (or additionally), if you personally value the marginal increases in convenience, pleasure, and health brought about by fish, egg, and chicken consumption over the unpleasantness it potentially (if you think there’s a nontrivial chance non-human animals can suffer) causes, consider (in essence) paying other people to reduce their personal contributions to animal agriculture by donating to effective animal charities, such as those recommended by Animal Charity Evaluators. A lot of the estimates I’ve seen suggest fairly large effects per dollar donated, and you might better fulfill your preferences by donating to such effective organizations than by reducing your individual meat consumption. Research into the effectiveness of various outreach endeavors is still ongoing, however, and estimates like those above can be really iffy and should be taken with a fairly large grain of salt. Of course, if survey data is to be trusted, meat consumption may be falling through time in the US, so it’ll be harder and harder to convince others to eat less meat as fewer people do. As a result, this approach might not work as well in a few decades (if meat consumption is even economically feasible or legal then; who knows where legislation will swing, especially given shifting attitudes towards animal suffering and budding technologies like in vitro meat). It also might not be entirely consistent with your moral intuitions if you’re donating in some sort of “offsetting” sense.

(e.g. how responsible are you for “good deeds” that others do, even if you helped convince them to do them? How far removed from a good deed do you have to be before you stop taking credit for it? If by [to use one target, perhaps uncharitably] “persuad[ing] one other person to give 10%… you’ve doubled your impact”, it seems like you’ve claimed for yourself all the positive juju generated by the act of donating 10%, leaving none for the other person (since obviously both the persuader and persuadee can’t claim all 10%, as only 10% has been given. If they can, then it seemed the most goodness could come from endlessly donating money to each other or something). So too with donations to, say, animal welfare veg*n outreach-esque charities — is it the person who stops eating meat who’s prevented 60-ish odd animal deaths (or w/e) a year, or the person who funded the outreach with their donation (or the person who created the ad? Or the person who founded the organization? Or the bus driver who was late that day, causing the would-be veg*n to linger on facebook 5 minutes longer, leading them to see the ad in the first place). It seems if everyone claims responsibility, much more would need to get done than actually is. Responsibility/causality is tricky to evaluate, here and and in other contexts, too — e.g. what slice of guilt should be apportioned for, say, a murder, to a) the murderer, b) the murderer’s abusive parents, c) society, for allowing the murderer to develop so, d) the weapons manufacturer the produced the murder weapon, e) the violent media that served as inspiration for the murder spree, etc. etc. etc.)

(also, our intuitions might balk at applying this principle to other dilemmas, especially where humans are involved)

(I’ll probably write a longer post on this some time, edit: see here for now)

(header image credit)


2 thoughts on “Eat Les Chikin”

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