This example is very rough and has plenty of flaws, but I would be interested in people’s answer to this, as it will uncover at least a little about the value system that leads to people’s justification for being meat eaters or reason for being vegetarian, as well as what type of utilitarian you are (if you are indeed one).
Imagine you live in a society where things seem to be a little off. You have all of your physical needs provided for you in this society. You receive some health care, shelter and enough food to keep going. Your diet consists of a mix of food provided to you by ‘the government’ and whatever you want to pick in the area in which you live. Life is pretty easy, but not that interesting.
You have apparent freedom, however when you trying to push the boundaries in terms of your travel, something always pushes you back, like Truman in The Truman Show. A storm closes the airport. Your ship sinks. You can explore a pretty big place, but something gets in the way and prevents you from escaping further. When people get to a certain age (say about 60 years old), they are ordered underground, like in The Time Machine. No one really knows why people go underground, but it is a seeming requirement of being in this society so everyone generally just goes with the flow.
Your suspicions increase, and eventually you realise the grand conspiracy; your whole society is controlled by super intelligent ‘Aliens’ that have a taste for human flesh. You decide to follow those subterranean bound individuals, and split from the group. You find the Aliens, and confront them. They explain everything. You and all of the humans you know are bound to be meat products.
The Aliens tell you about their rules. They have to treat the humans well. They are required to ensure that the humans suffer as little as possible while growing up to become the food of the Aliens. In fact, they tell you that humans in the areas controlled by the Aliens live much more comfortable lives than ‘wild’ humans. ‘Wild’ humans die of predator attacks. They die of infections. They suffer in their deaths a lot more than the farmed humans. The upside of being a ‘wild’ human is that you have somewhat more freedoms, but you still aren’t completely free.
They tell you that humans never occupied as much space on the planet as they used to. The Aliens facilitated the expansion of the space that humans occupy to about 10 times the amount of space that humans formerly occupied. They tell you that many Aliens don’t eat human meat, because they think it is cruel and they know that the food needed to feed a human to make meat is a LOT more than what is needed to eat other foods.
They tell you that the human eating Aliens and vegetarian Aliens made a deal; if a human ever discovered what was happening, they would give that human the choice to determine the fate of the other humans. You have a choice: either you allow the continued ‘farming’ of humans for the food of the Aliens, or the Aliens would pack up farming operations. The packing up of the operations would occur over one generation, and the last of the humans in the farm would be allowed to live out their lives, but not reproduce. It would be the end of your line and the line of all the humans you know. The space used for farming the food for humans would be turned over to farms for food to feed Aliens (and the number of Aliens will subsequently increase). The total number of humans following the phasing out of human farming would be reduced by around 90%. It would likely see the extinction of your ‘breed’ of human, and only a very small number of slightly different humans would exist as ‘wild’ humans.
What would you choose, as this human?