What Does it Mean to Eat Ethically? – Theme Talk by Aaron Gross for Spring Retreat 2021

Earth as well as the ecosystem

What Does it Mean to Eat Ethically was the topic of the Theme Talk given by Professor Aaron Gross at this year’s EUU Spring Retreat. He emphasized the importance of thinking about our food consumption to avoid harming the environment, including all living organisms on Earth, as well as the Ecosystem. His talk was divided in two parts.


Part I
It was mainly about meat production.

According to Prof. Gross, chicken production was industrialized through selective breeding that was a form of genetic modification. Currently, the production of broilers for most farms is done globally by just a few companies, and the broilers are bred in factory farms to provide food. This farming was related to collateral damages such as:

– Reduction of small and medium sized farms that maintain ethical and moral standards
– Exploitative jobs
– Pandemic risks linked to infectious diseases transferred from the animals to humans
– Deforestation, climate changes and damages to the ecosystem
– Chickens suffering from obesity, heart and lung diseases, etc.

He shared also that this style of factory poultry production was implemented for beef and aquaculture production, which escalated the protests requiring transformation of the food production system back to small and medium local farming without gene manipulation and with more ecologically adjusted production.

In addition, the global meat industry is monopolistic, oppressive, and unethical, resembling monstrous brainwashing and political dictatorships.

Part II
Eat Consistently As Few Animals as Possible, Ideally None
According to Professor Gross, as explained in part I, meat means something for us, but refusing to eat meat is something important too. Refusal to eat meat can be a way to express our concern for human and animal life and to stand against oppression, due to the lack of response from the animal production industry, approved by political authorities.

The value of veganism is not the only way to express our concern, but is a way to take a stand by our refusal of the global meat Industry which became a monstrous force causing unacceptable risks and violence to life that have been going on for decades, leading to: climate change, pollution, farmer suicide and pandemic risks

Factory farming’s perpetuation of global violence is the strongest argument for the growth of vegetarianism and veganism as a practice for spiritual movements. For example the “Food for the Spirit Movement” by Steven Rose and other political and religious leaders is aligned with anti-racism, anti-colonialism, and anti-discrimination dominated by white supremacy. Veganism is an act of resistance to materialism and a symbolic act against white supremacy which is similar to feminism and Black Lives Matter.

Black veganism is a theoretical metaphor referencing the oppression of people of color within the white supremacy framework. Part of the colonialist’s task has been to ensure that a certain future remains unimagined, that certain ideas remain unthinkable, making it seem that whatever we have now is all we have to work with. Black veganism is a tool to reactivate our imagination.

APh KO wrote in her book Aphroism: “As black people we have been encouraged to create borders around our own racial oppression without realizing what white supremacy provides us with those border walls. The walls have been so high that we haven’t been able to see that our struggle involves the struggle of others.”

The human animal divide is the ideological bedrock underlying the framework of white supremacy, according to the black veganism ideology. The negative notion of the animal is the anchor of this system.

Professor Moneesha Deka addresses the situation of animals. The human-animal divide is the ideological bedrock underlying the framework of white supremacy. The notion of the inferiority of animals is the anchor of the system Animal is not a biological designation, but, like human, an abstract idea. The idea of animals as distinct from humans supports a racist perspective with its negative notion of animals.

According to Christopher Carter’s description of black veganism, a racist hierarchical anthropocentrism is where one’s moral worth is tied to their humanness which is determined primarily by ones whiteness or their ability to mask white. Human being is at the top of the hierarchy.

“Eat conscientiously, as few animals as possible, ideally none,” according to Professor Gross, and remember that we eat in community.

My Own Reflections and Comments

I would like to offer putting a historic perspective of our human evolution, in light of Prof. Gross’s Talk. The first homo-sapiens on earth followed our animal ancestors by hunting other animals to get food. Later on they settled in small communities and started to plant seeds, vegetables and fruits as well as raising animals to eat. This went on for millennia until the big farms were created when the powerful and rich people created feudalism, meaning that a few people owned everything; the poor people were used as slaves. The agriculture/animal production was done in a traditional way.

To cut the story short, we reached the 19th century when the urbanization and increasing population in many parts of the world led the animal production to be “industrialized” by bringing the animals indoors under controlled conditions. One example is the poultry production where chicken are fed for a certain time to reach an average weight of 1kg to be marketed; this was named as broiler farming, which started around 1920s in the US and reached some countries in Europe, such as Germany and the Netherlands. To optimize the productivity and quality, the original strains have to be merged in hybrids in a natural way, which was used only for 3–4 generations to produce the broilers.

As Farm manager in a national Egyptian company in the 1960s–1970s, I had a very positive experience of a healthy and high quality broiler production. We received the “grandparents” of the broilers from Germany and the Netherlands, to produce the “parents” of the broilers. In the farm, we received the newly hatched broiler chickens from our labs and put them in clean, well ventilated houses, each one 960 m2, hosting 10 000 chickens. They reached a minimum weight of 1 kg in 8 weeks, were healthily treated and vaccinated against some diseases, and the death rate was about 3–5 %, which indicates a healthy and good quality production. In addition, we never experienced any indications of pandemic infectious diseases among our employees in our company or in the surrounding areas.

Considering that not all population will turn to veganism and vegetarianism, but some will continue to consume meat from different sources, we have to stop the massive factory farming and enhance ecologic and ethical farming regulated by international and national authorities.

Sherif Soliman, UU Basel