Animal matters: Sahar Akhtar on the morals of animal treatment
UVA professor of philosophy Sahar Akhtar's class "Animals and Ethics" is a popular one.
"Students now want to know what the justifications are for treating animals in certain ways," says Akhtar, "what the morality and ethics of that is, and what, if any, obligations we have to them as a society and as human beings."
The class examines the moral and legal standing of non-human animals, and how we come to terms with using animals for research and for food.
Akhtar, a self-proclaimed "almost vegan," clearly leans in the direction of embracing a more widespread practice of producing vegetables to feed the world, but she's not against people eating animals. She wants people to understand what that means however, from the processing systems humans have in place to kill animals, to the point of view of the animals themselves.
Of course, any trend or research at UVA wouldn't be complete without Jefferson having thought of it first. While not a vegan as it's practiced today, Jefferson appears to have preferred vegetables over meat as the main course.
The basis for Jefferson's preference isn't known, but as Akhtar skims over such historical tidbits, she's intrigued. Perhaps the Father of the University might have something to teach her students. And perhaps it's no accident that UVA Law School actually has an Animal Law Program– something Akhtar calls "pretty amazing."
Indeed, the program, made possible by a gift from famous game show host Bob Barker, covers animal cruelty laws, agriculture and food use of animals, biomedical use of animals, and other issues.
For Akhtar, developing established legal rights for animals, and passing laws that protect them, is an important trend.
"Animals should have legal rights that protect their interests," she says, and not just for their benefit. "Cruelty," she says, "is corrupting to ourselves."
It was the cruelty Akhtar learned of at those big meat processing plants that first shocked her into focusing on this subject.
"We need better human laws to protect animals, to consider them valuable beings as well," she says.
One way, says Akhtar, is to look to our local farms for our food.
"More people supporting small farms, giving them their business, instead of factory farms," she says, "…that's a very worthy goal."
Indeed, with grocery stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Integral Yoga– not to mention Feast!, the City Market, the Local Food Hub, and all the restaurants in town now using locally produced foods– which offer not only local food, but the latest in meat and dairy substitutes, local businesses and consumers are making a significant effort.
"There's no question that our sustainability practices, and the way we get our food, goes hand-in-hand with how animals are treated," says Akhtar. "And Charlottesville happens to be a leader in more conscious food practices."Read more on: Sahar Akhtar