One thing I haven't seen touched on here is the way in which meat industry practices have become a game-changer in the debate. Yes, people have been arguing for time on end about the ethics of eating meat, and I'm not going to say it's impossible to justify in principle.
But regardless of one's position in the abstract, what goes on in CAFOs (aka "factory farms") is very hard to defend. Plain and simple, it's animal torture -- if you treated a dog or cat this way, you could be jailed for years. In the US, some states have actually had to introduce loopholes into their animal cruelty laws in order to keep these operations legal.
And if the cruelty factor doesn't make one stop and pause, the environmental, economic and sanitary aspects should -- CAFOs are a major contributor of greenhouse gases (more so even than the transportation sector, by some accounts) and they produce toxic runoffs that get into the waterways. Some of the larger producers routinely ignore regulations because it's more profitable to suck up the occasional fine.
Even if you oppose these practices but still want to eat meat, you don't have a whole lot of choice because CAFOs have driven most of the alternatives out of business. That, by the way, was why I gave up meat; I intended to be a "conscientious omnivore", but practically speaking this is hard to accomplish given what's actually available on the shelf.
Ben wrote:It was to give some people pause for thought to stop thinking about themselves and their preoccupation with what they put in their mouths (and those of others) and perhaps avert their attention to those who have nothing are fleeing famine, disease, lions and militia and are starving.
There's no contradiction between being more heedful about what we consume and being attentive to global suffering. On the contrary, it seems to me that the two go hand in hand. I share your concern, but you're putting forward a false dichotomy.
Maybe it's different Down Under, but in the United States, at least, it's not like we're suffering from an overload of overly conscientious, finicky vegetarians and vegans. Rather, what we see here is a great deal of utterly mindless consumption -- and the rise in obesity rates (and other food-related health problems) shows it.