New York Times Public Editor Arthur Brisbane got in a little food fight with Ariel Kaminer, the Ethicist columnist for the paper's Sunday Magazine, over Kaminer's much-hyped essay contest in which readers were invited to defend the unenlightened, outdated, just plain bizarre practice of...eating meat?
Populist impatience with his paper's righteous liberal fussiness seeped out of Brisbane's copy: "The case for eating meat, as presented in The Times, is a pretty narrow one. If you can crawl through the eye of the needle with your in vitro burger in hand, you may feel free to chow down in good conscience." Proving his point, the winner of the popular vote was an essay from the founder of PETA, a vegetarian.
Count on The New York Times to take a basic topic and vault it into the stratosphere of esoteric, philosophic discussion. Food, for instance.
Other daily newspapers and Web sites tell you about restaurants, recipes and diet. The Times does that, of course. But it also tells you about the ethics of eating. Whether you like it or not.
In the Sunday magazine today, The Times completes an essay-writing contest initiated a few weeks back by Ariel Kaminer, who writes the column “The Ethicist.” Today’s column announces the winner from among 3,000 essayists who responded to Ms. Kaminer’s request to “tell us why it’s ethical to eat meat.”
The contest stirred a fuss even before it was over, as bloggers, commenters and e-mailers lodged objections on every conceivable side of the question, while others jumped in as participants. In addition to the 3,000 people who took the time to write an essay of up to 600 words, almost 17,000 people submitted votes for their favorite essay among the six finalists selected by a panel of judges.
It was fun, unless you were a meat-eater who just wanted to dine in peace. The setup of the contest virtually ensured that no unapologetic ode to meat would win. That’s because the six judges were, in Ms. Kaminer’s words, “some of the most influential thinkers to question or condemn the eating of meat.”
The winning entry, as selected by the panel, argued that eating meat was ethical only under certain conditions -- so many conditions that I am just going to have to refer you to the essay in the magazine, because it’s awfully complicated.
There was a different winner in the popular vote by readers. That essay, written by Ingrid Newkirk, a founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, argued that the only meat that can be ethically consumed is in vitro meat.
According to Ms. Newkirk, this form of laboratory-grown meat will be available later this year and is “real meat, grown from real cow, chicken, pig and fish cells, all grown in culture without the mess and misery.”
I think you get the picture. The case for eating meat, as presented in The Times, is a pretty narrow one. If you can crawl through the eye of the needle with your in vitro burger in hand, you may feel free to chow down in good conscience.