Should MIT go vegan?

PETA VP spars with MIT Debate Team

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PETA Vice President of Policy Bruce Friedrich presents his view on the ethics of eating meat during a debate on Monday, April 25, in 10-250.
Nicholas Chornay—The Tech
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Shireen S. Rudina ’13 of the MIT Parliamentary Debate Team debates the ethics of eating meat with PETA Vice President of Policy Bruce Friedrich. The two presented their opposing arguments Monday night to a packed 10-250. Not surprisingly, neither was convinced to concede the point.
Nicholas Chornay—The Tech

Bruce Friedrich, the vice-president of policy and government affairs for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), debated the ethics of eating meat with the MIT Debate Team on Monday night in 10-250. Shireen S. Rudina ’13, the debate team’s vice president of tournaments, argued against Friedrich’s proposal that eating meat is unethical under all circumstances.

Instead of the suit and tie typical of vice presidents, Friedrich was dressed simply in tan khakis and a red dress shirt. He started the debate with a speech arguing that a vegetarian lifestyle is ethical for environmental, energy, and animal-cruelty reasons.

“Vegetarianism is simply a matter of aligning your values with your actions,” Friedrich said.

“How many people believe that animals should be legally protected from abuse?” Friedrich asked. The majority of the audience in 10-250 raised their hands. Americans almost unanimously agree on this point, Friedrich said, claiming that this showed that people view animals to be an “ethical good.”

Friedrich pointed out that more power is needed to produce meat-based food compared to plant-based food. The vast majority of calories that we feed to an animal is expended for them to simply exist, Friedrich said. As a result, he asserts that “if we are eating meat, we are basically stomping on the Earth in combat boots.”

Friedrich then proceeded to show a sequence of videos from factory farms. The films showed chickens on industrial farms with their beaks clipped off to prevent them from pecking each other to death, along with several birds strung upside-down by their feet on their way to the slaughterhouse.

Rudina countered that Friedrich did not provide an adequate definition of ethics. While Friedrich believes that a person who eats meat and a person who does not recycle is unethical, Rudina disagreed. She argued that just as a person who neglected to recycle once is not unethical, neither is a person who makes the environmentally less-efficient choice of eating meat. She further disagreed that humans owe a moral responsibility towards animals.

“In order to be given moral consideration, [animals] must be capable of taking moral consideration of others as well,” Rudina said. She encouraged MIT students to question the scientific robustness of Friedrich’s claims that plant-based food is fourteen times more energy-efficient than meat, because of the complex nature of statistical studies.

As the debate went on, both sides became increasingly involved with the concept of “black or white” ethics. Friedrich brought up a famous situation proposed by philosopher Peter Singer: in a situation where a man must veer and crash his car in order to save a girl on the street, most people would conclude that an ethical man is compelled to sacrifice his expensive car in favor of a human life. However, in an essentially equal choice where the man could buy a car or donate the cash towards a charity and save hundreds of lives, the decision is not nearly as unanimous.

Friedrich refused to concede his position that eating meat is unacceptable even in regards to organic or grass-fed meat products.

“How many people would choose to spend an afternoon slicing chickens’ throats open on a humane farm?” Friedrich asked. “No one!” He has been a vegan since 1987.

This public debate is part of a series of debates about meat ethics that Friedrich has been having on campuses of “top universities” including Harvard, Yale, and the University of Chicago.

“Doing public debates are a great way of letting people see what debate is like and allow them to look at how to approach certain interesting issues” said Julia A. Boortz ’12, president of the debate team. “The philosophy of a debate tournament … involves being put on a side that you do not necessarily believe in personally.” Boortz added, “It is a great educational experience.”

Rudina was chosen to be the devil’s advocate for the tournament. “I am definitely more middle-ground than my arguments in this debate,” she said.

During the cross-examination, Rudina was cut-off by a member of the audience who objected to her arguments.

“This extends way beyond dogs or cats” he interrupted loudly, shaking his head. Both Friedrich and Rudina refused to respond to him and Friedrich asked the audience-member not to continue with his statement. According to Boortz, the man who interrupted may have been a local animal rights activist.

A large group of activists were in the audience, though it is unclear how they heard about the event, Boortz said. Friedrich had apologized to the debate team for the presence of the activists. According to Boortz, Friedrich said that he did not know the activists would be at the event and did not like to advertise similar events to local activists because he believed it contributed to a negative debate atmosphere.

Anonymous over 10 years ago

7 Things You Didn't Know About PETA

1) According to government documents, PETA employees have killed more than 19,200 dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens since 1998. PETA puts to death over 90 percent of the animals it accepts from members of the public who expect the group to make a reasonable attempt to find them adoptive homes. PETA holds absolutely no open-adoption shelter hours at its Norfolk, VA headquarters, choosing instead to spend part of its $32 million annual income on a contract with a crematory service to periodically empty hundreds of animal bodies from its large walk-in freezer.

2) PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk has described her groups overall goal as total animal liberation. This means the complete abolition of meat, milk, cheese, eggs, honey, zoos, aquariums, circuses, wool, leather, fur, silk, hunting, fishing, and pet ownership. In a 2003 profile of Newkirk in The New Yorker, author Michael Specter wrote that Newkirk has had at least one seeing-eye dog taken away from its blind owner. PETA is also against all medical research that requires the use of animals, including research aimed at curing AIDS and cancer. for the rest of the list

Anonymous over 10 years ago

If MIT goes vegetarian, the world will be a dumber place ruled by radical quasi-terrorists like PETA. An omnivorous diet is the root of human intelligence.Meat was one of the main components that sped up our evolution to have the large brain capacity we have today. Meat contains all 20 amino acids, and provides energy-rich fatty acids for our brain tissues. Hunting for meat also made us more intelligent and resourceful. We had to learn how to use our hands and brains by innovating tools to kill our prey. And if you look at nature, meat eaters and omnivores are usually more intelligent than plant eaters. It takes a lot more cognitive, visual, and physical skill to subdue a moving prey as opposed to just eating the grass that's laying in front of you.

Meat was also a lot harder to come by than grass, and a lot more calorie-dense than lettuce, so it makes much more sense to seduce and impress others with meat than grass. Buying a girl a 50 dollar steak is probably much more impressive than a 15 dollar plate of salad. Meat also allowed us to reciprocate to others. A hunter who got lucky with a prey wouldn't be able to eat the entire carcass. Taking his share, he could provide the remainder for others, in hope that they would return the favor when he comes up empty.

Predation, however violent and brutal, is all part of nature's design to benefit the ecosystem as a whole. If you feel sorry for the gazelles that are preyed upon by the cheetahs, don't be. As a species, gazelles have to depend on the cheetahs for their survival and well-being. And because of cheetahs' predations, they develop and evolved talents such as jumping abilities and agility and other unique physical traits such as their horns, colors, etc. The threat of a cheetah causes the gazelles to move to different areas so they don't over populate or overrun their comfort zones and starve. Plants and grass that the gazelles eat also benefit from cheetah's predation, and so do countless of other species that rely on healthy grass for survival. By the same token, chickens and cows also depend on the predations of human beings for their health. Humans are to domesticated chickens as wolves are to lamb. If we all turn into vegetarians and stop domesticating and eating chickens, chickens would probably become extinct and take down with them other species that depend and thrive upon the co-evolved arrangement between chicken and human beings.

Anonymous over 10 years ago

Vegans and people who cry about animals rights are not ecologically looking at the bigger picture. They worry about whether or not each individual animal would suffer, but they aren't thinking about nature or the species as a whole. Animal rights activists are liberals look at life through their own anthropologic lenses. Their ethics apply to liberal individualism that exists only in a man made society. It does not apply to the nature world with its built in system of checks and balances.

Vegetarianism is just a way for these liberals and animal rights activists to have something to cry and feel special about. Vegetarianism in the long run does not work for the environment. Eating meat is not only good for the animals, but for nature. Grasslands and pastures that are grazed on the natural way by grass fed cows are a lot more sustainable and healthier than grasslands with no animals. There are a lot of pastures and habitats that are diminishing because we aren't letting ruminants grazing on them. Grass can only be green and healthy and natural if they are grazed. And since ruminants need predators like us to be healthy, our predation and domestication of these animals are crucial for the well-being of these habitats.

It's not like if all of a sudden everyone turns into vegetarians, less animals would die and suffer. Animals would die no matter what type of diet human beings choose to follow. If everyone was a vegetarian, farmers would need to cultivate crops with a lot more intensity and give way to more rangeland, and that in turn could lead to the decline of the animals that depend on that particular habitat.

Also, if you take the animals out of the picture, not only would you have unhealthy lands and grass because there will be no animals to graze them and help them grow new and healthy grass, you would have no choice but to use artificial fertilizer and chemicals, since you wouldn't have the their feces to compost the rangeland. Not to mention all of the hilly and rocky places in the world that cannot grow crops. You would have to make these people eat artificial foods or industrialized foods, where without meat, you would have to have your greens delivered from thousands and thousands of miles away, using vast amounts of fossil fuel leaving larger carbon footprints.

Anonymous over 10 years ago

PETA has taken an extremist veganism approach to make room for moderate vegetarians. Of the vegans I know, none support the abolition of animal research entirely. Furthermore, ad hominum [insulting the speaker rather than the issue] is a logical fallacy .

The two primary models of the evolution of human intelligence are "The Social Brain Hypothesis" by Robin Dunbar (intelligence is as an effect of living in large social groups), and "The Mating Mind" by Miller (intelligence is a fitness indicator). While eating meat had some impact in our evolution (it was certainly necessary for calories in pre-agricultural society) it is incorrect to state it is the cause of our intelligence.

It is further incorrect to imply that to stop eating meat would lower our intelligence. In fact there is a positive correlation between vegetarianism and intelligence ( Moreover, vegetarian diets are overall healthier than meat-consuming ones; vegans are over fifty percent less likely to have a heart attack for instance. (

Many arguments concerning vegetarianism revolve around its unnaturalness. Primarily, nature is not always ideal: agriculture, technology, and care for the mentally ill and elderly are not natural either. Moreover, the the meat-industry is not natural in the slightest. Hunting causes a weak animal to suffer momentarily while improving the wild stock. Domesticated animals are raised (barbarically) to be killed, with around 50 of the worlds meat production in indoor factory farming (wiki factory farming). In fact domesticated animals are not considered species.

Furthermore, the meat industry is decimating the environment. I source the United Nation's FAO, and summarize that pastures and grasslands exist to raise cattle, replacing natural rainforests or other environments, exacerbating erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, raising meat is more intense and inefficient than raising crops directly. (

Animal suffering and death will continue, like human suffering and eventual death, regardless or not if we slaughter either of them. But mortality is no reason to justify ending a life prematurely.