John Berkman started this whole thing a few weeks ago by challenging us to rethink our relationship with the factory farming of non-human animals.  I responded by fundamentally agreeing with his view while also detailing other problems (including those related to ecology and economics) that make support of factory farming even more seriously problematic.  John responded with a convincing argument which attempts to show how eating meat produced in factory farms is, in fact, formal cooperation with evil.

Now, one may not be working with a ‘cooperation with evil’ framework (like John, I think it is particularly useful in our multi-layered and interconnected world/economy) but nevertheless still have important misgivings about participation in the sinful social structures associated with intensive factory farms.  And if we have such misgivings, then shouldn’t we now be asking the practical question, “What is to be done?”

In what follows I ask a series of more specific questions designed to provoke thought and discussion about practical decision-making with regard to factory farming:

Should we purchase factory-farmed meat for ourselves?  What sort of reasons would justify participation in this kind of sinful social structure?  Could mere pleasure or convenience possibly be a viable reason?  What about price considerations for those who will have to sacrifice other goods?  What if someone is nutritionally deficient?

Should we accept factory-farmed meat given to us by another in the spirit of hospitality?  To what lengths should one go to not offend another or to show gratitude?  Need one eat a meat like veal?  At what point should one become a prophetic witness to the evil structures of factory farming?

Should we buy factory farmed meat for another?  Perhaps a child?  Perhaps a growing child that is struggling to get protein or other nutrients?

Should Christian (and specifically Catholic) organizations participate in factory farming by purchasing factory farmed meat for community events and meetings?  This could be especially dicey if many who are attending do not share the same point of view of the ethical issues in play.  Again, to what extent must we serve as a prophetic witness to those who do not share our views?

How should we relate to the non-meat products of factory-farming?  Should we think differently about milk?  Eggs?  Leather shoes and wallets?

Should moral (and other) theologians focus on factory farming (and non-human animals more generally) more often in our courses and research?  Could it be that focusing on ‘anthropology’ as the center of our concern is speciesist in a way that is unhelpful and even unjust?  Should we recenter our concern in such a way that all value is not ultimately located in the narrowly-conceived interests of human beings?

Should Roman Catholic Bishops, including the Bishop of Rome, speak out against factory farming? It has already been done with regard to related issues of ecological concern.  And Pope Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger, has clearly condemned factory farming as being at variance with what the Bible understands our proper relationship with other animals to be.  Is it time for something more formalized?

For some, seriously engaging these questions–and then acting on the answers–might seem too radical.  But we should hardly be surprised at coming to radically counter-cultural conclusions when our culture is so dominated by the kind of self-obsessed consumerism and violence which marginalizes the vulnerable. From the perspective of Catholic Moral Theology, what is demanded of us on these and other issues is, unsurprisingly, quite radical.  Indeed, nearly every choice we make–including what we choose to eat, wear, and otherwise consume–has an important moral dimension to it.

So…any answers to any of the questions above?