As usual, the two of us differ enough — and yet listen sufficiently carefully to each other — that the ensuing conversation provides, I think, plenty of food for thought (so to speak) for anyone interested in the topic. Which, really, should be anyone who eats anything at all…
In the video, we first map out a number of standard positions on the ethical dimensions of eating, including of course veganism, vegetarianism, and variations thereof. Following which, Dan asks me why I changed my eating habits a few years ago, as a result of my own ethical reflections on the issue. I settled on a flexible approach that excludes very few things a priori, but that attempts to consider as much as it is reasonably feasible the treatment of animals, the environmental impact, and the impact on human labor and living conditions. For practical purposes this means that most of the time I behave either as a vegetarian or as a pescatarian, but not always.
The discussion then moves to the broader issue of utilitarian ethics and its problems, germane because the leading philosophical advocate of vegetarianism is Peter Singer, who is a utilitarian. But I put forth to Dan that there are other ethical frameworks — such as a number of virtue ethical approaches — that are inherently more flexible and which because of that manage to better tackle the complexities at issue.
That in turn leads us to a long back-and-forth on the very concept of ethical obligation, and how sometimes it is simply wielded in a moralistic fashion to make others behave in a way that we favor. Finally, returning to virtue ethics, we talk about whether some virtues are more important than others, and how that impacts one’s food ethics.