Pufendorf makes the usual claims that our dominion over animals is a function of our reason, our special place in God's order of things, and also follows Hobbes in pointing out that we are in a "state of nature" with animals since we cannot make covenants with them (i.e. we are in a state of war with them). He mentions that some thinkers have worried about the suffering of animals, and the inevitability of suffering during slaughter, but suggests that since the consumption of animals is not explicitly forbidden by God, it must, generally speaking, be permissible. But at the end of all of this (in The Law of Nature and Nations (1688), Book IV, Chapter III), he writes:
Yet that the abuse of this power [of human dominion over animals], and especially such as is attended with foolish cruelty and barbarity, deserves to come under censure is beyond dispute. For, as it is the interest of particular states, that no person squander away, or waste and spoil his possessions; so it turns to the prejudice of the universal society of mankind, and to the dishonour of God, the giver of so great gifts, to consume them idly and wantonly, without promoting any benefit or advantage of life.This is a bit more expansive than similar passages (of which I'm aware) in Aquinas or, say, Kant, where the basic claim is the well-worn, "be kind to animals, since cruelty to animals might lead to cruelty to humans" (with the reminder that cruelty to the animals doesn't harm them, but harms ourselves). The judgment that one should not waste animals does seem implicit in a few things Aquinas says, so perhaps Pufendorf isn't saying anything essentially new. But he is quite a bit more explicit in his emphasis that the use of animals is limited only to those which promote a clear "benefit or advantage of life." What we know about diet and nutrition now certainly suggests that one doesn't need much (or any) meat to have a good diet, and it certainly--as I suggested to my students--makes bacon seem pretty unnecessary. (Though perhaps Pufendorf would suggest that it would be wasteful not to cure the bacon if we're going to slaughter the pig for its much more nutritious loins?) For some reason, I find myself thinking back to Epicurus' reminder that many, perhaps most, of our desires are vain.
One more fascinating tidbit from Pufendorf, for your consideration. He reports that a writer named Rochefort wrote of a people in Peru who abstained from meat, "and that if desired only to taste any, their answer is, they are not dogs."
I also learned this evening that traditional cheeses are made with rennet, which coagulates the milk, and rennet is traditionally obtained by extracting the enzyme from the salt-cured stomachs of ruminants, often veal calves. First, yuck. Second, who the hell figured that out?