Tremendomeatatarianism is the ethical stance of vowing only to eat meat that’s tremendously delicious. To some who are blinded by old ideas, tremendomeatatarianism may sound more like a joke than an ethos.

Your doubts and jeers aside, it is a demanding standard by which to judge your actions. The tremendomeatatarian refuses to eat meat simply because it is what his parents did, or because it is convenient, or because he lacks willpower. The tremendomeatatarian respects the fact that his food came from a living being, which died to provide him with dinner, and which may have suffered or be rare and overfished.† Or perhaps it’s bad for the environment. Any of these things are costs, so the good utilitarian must balance them out. So he vows that he will respect that sacrifice by only eating meat if it is tremendously delicious.

(†) Fish are not meat, but here they are honorary meat.

(‡) T-Rex made up the concept of Tremendomeatatarianism, but maybe he meant something different from what I mean. If you’re interested, go look at the interpretive issues.

(‡†) I’m not the only philosopher to propose a peculiar ethical doctrine concerning food. If you want a view that’s worked out in more detail, you can look at the Acutetarian page.

24 responses to “Tremendomeatatarianism

  1. How, before tasting any given meat morsel, would one discover that it is tremendously delicious? Is its aroma a certain indicator? Appearances are potentially deceiving. Or does one always review the recipe and make assumptions based upon ingredients and steps in the preparation? Perhaps one trusts the purveyor of meat morsels, a known chef say, or a culinary figure of repute. Still, even the greatest must have their failures, thus threatening to undercut purity of the tremendomeatatarian’s dietary regime. But perchance the reward is worth the risk.

  2. This reminds me of the old objection to utilitarianism: an adviser to the Emperor or Rome protests that having people killed in the Colosseum is bad because of the horrible suffering caused to the people being killed. The Emperor thinks about this and comes up with the following “solution”: sell more tickets, thereby balancing out the suffering of the people killed with the increased pleasure resulting from having more people enjoy the show.

    Anyway, note that if you’re going to take a thoroughgoing utilitarian approach to the question of eating meat and other animal products, the relevant way to go isn’t to weigh the suffering endured by the animal against the enjoyment of the human eating the meat, but rather to compare the difference in the quantity of pleasure between eating the meat and eating a vegan meal/foodstuff instead. The question for the utilitarian is not the quantity of pleasure I get vs. the quantity of suffering I inflict, but the quantity of additional pleasure I get from choosing the meat over a tasty vegan alternative.

  3. Amazing! I join!

  4. Is it really an ethical stance?

    It sounds rather like being fully aware of why meat is completely unethical, but allowing yourself occasional indulgences when you feel like it.

    The idea that your transient enjoyment could somehow outweigh the enormous harms inflicted on animals for the sake of that enjoyment seems to require a seriously warped brand of utilitarianism, viz. one that grotesquely trivializes the suffering of nonhuman animals.

  5. So, I was being quite impressionistic in presenting the view here, and I also don’t really do normative ethics.

    In any case, I’m no utilitarian. So far as I’d comment on normative theory, I’d want to be 1) rather pluralist about goods, and 2) place substantial weight on the “higher pleasures”. Call it “cognitivism about culinary value”.

    Someday when I have spare time for less serious philosophical pursuits, I’ll try and articulate the necessary assumptions of tremendomeatarianism. It requires a really specific set of assumptions about the way one weighs different goods and what things are goods, but assumptions that aren’t obviously beyond the pale.

    Eric, your point is perfectly reasonable. That said, I think there’s one thing about my position that fits poorly with your comment. If I go somewhere where the options are very bad vegetarian food and mediocre meat, I consider myself obligated to take the vegetarian food, and feel regret when I stray. At a very good restaurant, to a first approximation, all options seem permissible, since each of them will provide a novel experience.

    Jonathan: if you only experience transitory pleasure from food, you should be a vegetarian (and you should only ever eat lentils and beans, so as to give the money to the third world). I will note that while you may find my scruples absurdly weak, since coming to think about matters this way, I have consumed less meat, even in circumstances when I would’ve felt some marginal enjoyment from doing so.

  6. I’m astonished to find that I’m a tremendomeatatarian, not a vegetarian. On rare occasions (most memorably ), I have made an exception to the rule.

  7. J.L.Goodrich III

    Bravo! A hearty bravo! I try to apply this principle generally (e.g. I only bye clothes produced in sweatshops when I look particularly dapper in them). Three cheers for Tremendomeatatarianism!!

  8. Species Being

    To Goodrich: maybe it’s important that sweatshops affect human beings, who have moral standing.

  9. Pingback: I Am A Tremendomeatatarian « Philosophy On The Mesa

  10. I think Jonathan’s point was that it’s stupid to hold Tremendomeatatarianism on Utilitarian grounds — not that Tremendomeatatarianism is flat-out wrong for everyone.

    I’m inclined to agree. Utilitarianism is cool, eating (the best) meat is cool, but unfortunately, if you’re going to be consistent, you have to give up on one of them. Otherwise it seems like you’re just picking your ethical theory for selfish reasons (which would be ok if you were defending egoism instead of Uism).

  11. I think I’m with Jonathan (although obviously he may not be with me when/if he reads this, who knows). The view does seem more like a joke than an ethos precisely because it “grotesquely trivializes” serious suffering. The issue (for me) is as much about character (and hence virtue theory) as more failings in utilitarianism.

    Consider “hilaritarianism,” the ethical view that one will avoid sexually harassing women unless they’re really really hot or the joke is just too funny to pass up. I’ll justify the view by simply substituting sexual-harassment issues in where animals arise in the original post. Thus,

    Your doubts and jeers aside, it is a demanding standard by which to judge your actions. The hilaritarian refuses to sexually harass simply because it is what his parents did, or because it is convenient, or because he lacks willpower. The hilaritarian respects the fact that women are living beings deserving of respect, not objects for his vicarious consumption and pleasure and that they suffer greatly under sexism (worse pay for the same job, trivialized, objectified, etc.). Or perhaps it’s about recognizing unearned privilege. Whatever. Any of these things are costs, so the good utilitarian must balance them out. So he vows that he will respect women by only sexually harassing when the chick is really really hot or the joke is just too funny to pass up.

    Justifications like this are jokes, not serious ethical views in that they’re self-undermining in straightforward ways. “Yeah, yeah, we take the problem seriously except when it’s tremendous not too!”

    The underlying issue for me isn’t about whether or not such views “pay off” in less animal suffering/sexual harassment (which is, presumably, a good thing) but in what they say about the underlying attitude — there seems to be a clear failure to “get it” with regard to the underlying ethical issues running all the way through the justification. And this matters to the character of the agent and to the reliability of their future ethical behavior.

  12. RC: “The view does seem more like a joke than an ethos precisely because it “grotesquely trivializes” serious suffering.”

    Well, except that veganism trivializes the suffering of any animal that suffers and dies in food production that is not eaten; for example animals chewed up by a combine. Some grains (particularly rice) cause vast numbers of deaths per calorie, while some meats (wild game) cause orders of magnitude less.

    Only the animals that are eaten after death are deserving of a vegan’s concern.

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  14. Guy Srinivasan

    For humans who have and know they have bounded resources, especially willpower, it’s way way better to spread the idea of tremendomeatatarianism than to say “oh you don’t get the underlying ethical issue so I’ve downgraded my estimate of your character and future ethical behavior”.

    You can work on fixing their attitude once the majority of the world only eats meat when it’s really freaking delicious. It might even be the best marginal thing to fix by then. Right now? Nope, not even close.

  15. Jesus, what a bunch of joykills you all are.

  16. I’m posting from my phone so this will be brief, but I doubt that, even assuming ethical vegetarianism, my position is theoretically or practically worse than the standard meat eating view.

    Unless a meat eater holds that harms to animals are completely irrelevant, a position I find incredible, they presumably have to claim that the goods of eating meat outweigh the harms. I merely say that it does so in a narrower range of cases than the standard meat eater.

    “Tremendously delicious” is of course meant to be funny, but that doesn’t make the view a joke. ‘Deliciousness’ will also tend to mislead the unimaginative into thinking of relatively insignificant pleasures. But gastronomy is one of the major exercises of human creativity, and we should not trivialize its associated good. For that reason, the comparison to sexual harassment indicates a simple failure to think carefully about the issue.

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  18. I consider myself a Tremendomeatatarianist, when I’m sober.

  19. Although I have long sought to reduce my meat eating for environmental reasons, I explicitly started eating a similar diet (although I called mine the much less cool sounding “smart meat diet”) after a particularly amazing brisket made me realize the silliness of most meat dishes. Often, the meat is simply a vessel for spice, so I felt that morally, I should substitute a less harmful vessel.

    I agree with Guy Srinivasan above. The question for me is not whether the suffering of an animal is outweighed by my enjoyment of a meal — after all, moving to plants just shifts the recipient of suffering; the act of eating is inherently violent. Rather, I like tremendomeatatarianism or the smart meat diet because it is practical and causes me to engage with my eating habits at every meal. After many attempts to limit my meat intake, the smart meat diet has been by far the most successful.

  20. It seems that this ethos is still relative to a person’s will power and opinion, as it would be hard to create an exact set of requirements that would establish a delicious taste in the meat in question. One person may find most meat innately mediocre or even subpar, while another may find it all delicious.

    This also appears to be a highly anthropocentric view because the animal’s suffering is easily outweighed by how much we enjoy its taste. If our own enjoyment is that much more important than an animals’ well-being, why do we put its’ well-being into question in the first place?

  21. Sorry to be so late replying — I checked back throughout the day and saw nothing, then didn’t look back until today.

    Some replies:

    John: you’ve heard of non sequiturs, right? What, precisely, are you reading in to my argument that makes you think your point is relevant?

    Guy S: I acknowledged in my post that the view may do some good in the world. That fact is independent of whether the ethical justification offered for it is a joke and my point was about the latter.

    Brandon: I appreciate your comment — it helps show that my comparison to sexual harassment was more apt than Justin is willing to credit. In both cases moral critics are socially ostracized for being humorless. After all, what could FAIL to be funny about women’s suffering or animal suffering? The “humor” involved in tremendomeatarianism isn’t inessential to its failings as a remotely credible ethical view. And so to one of Justin’s point: no, it’s being meant to be funny wouldn’t in all contexts/with all issues make it a joke. But for these kinds of issues involving oppressive power relations — it does. I see no basis for the idea that we sometimes get a “free ride” not only to overlook serious suffering we help cause, encourage, and sustain but to actually go further and make light of our privilege to overlook these things.

    Justin: to your other points. I didn’t argue that the view was worse than ordinary meat-eating. The explicit and objectionable humor in the view is one way in which it may be worse, however (see above).

    As to the great goods of gastronomy — nothing I said implies that these aren’t tremendously important goods. The tremendous goods of gastronomy are, however, fully available to vegans. So there’s no need to keep the odious aspects of tremendomeatarianism to retain respect for such goods. The view is is a frivolous rationalization dressed up as an ethical view.

  22. “… gastronomy is one of the major exercises of human creativity, and we should not trivialize its associated good.”

    This needed to be said.

  23. Fish are not meat, but here they are honorary meat.

    I agree with that.

    But what is the difference to the enviroment in a salmon that endend in a great sushi or a salmon that ended in a poorly cooked meal?

  24. Surely there’s no difference to the environment. But similarly, there’s no difference to the environment if you drive 10 miles with no purpose, vs. driving 10 miles to go do something valuable.

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