I share Tyler Cowen’s wariness regarding the morality of meat-eating. In a macro and realist sense, the morality is not so difficult: if the developed world stopped eating meat, then the prices of non-meat would skyrocket, and even if in equilibrium net food costs did not change for the undeveloped world, the dietary adjustment would be costly. Furthermore, since meat is such a cheap source of protein, in equilibrium net food costs probably would go up for the undeveloped world as production shifted to more expensive sources of protein.
On the margin though, I have always seen vegetarians as being more moral than non-vegetarians- I, by the way, am a meat-eater. Ceteris paribus, not killing must be preferred to killing, right?
There are two good counterarguments for this come. First, that the death experienced by animals in the wild is worse than the death experienced when they are hunted, fished, or slaughtered. This is the argument made by slaughterhouse engineer and famous autistic Temple Grandin, and by Tyler Cowen in his Bloggingheads with Peter Singer.
The second argument is that life is a good thing, and because we eat meat, there are billions of farm animals who live that would otherwise not have lived. From a strict utilitarian sense, I don’t think you can make this second argument, since we don’t know the utility of not being born. Nevertheless, intuitively I simply have a hard time believing that life itself is not a good thing.
In order for these counterarguments to defend the morality of carnivorousness, animals must live a life worth living. In that vein, I am glad to see urban hunting taking hold. Of course, in some ways it’s an extension of the silly fad of urban farming; upper class urbanites with time and money to waste looking for increasingly extravagant ways to signal their environmental ethics. On the other hand hunting does seem to require a particular type of person that it would be hard to fake for the sake of signalling- field dressing a deer is not for everyone. Either way, I think it’s a positive development towards more moral carnivorousness.