Most Harvard students eat meat. And most Americans probably think of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals as an extremist group.

You wouldn’t have known it at the debate the Harvard College Vegetarian Society organized this afternoon between Wesley N. Hopkin ’11, a social studies concentrator and member of the Harvard Speech and Parliamentary Debate Society, and Bruce G. Friedrich, vice president of policy and government affairs for PETA.

The most heated dispute concerned our own Harvard University Dining Services. Hopkin praised HUDS: “They are moving in the right direction,” he said. “We can, generally speaking, eat meat or eat meat products with a relatively clear conscience even now.”

Friedrich responded sharply. He noted that HUDS buys eggs from cage-free farms, but said that is the only bright spot. “Eating meat in HUDS when they are doing nothing for farmed animals, and eating meat in the real world, in any restaurant around here,” he said, “for people here who said you do eat meat: that is unethical.” Get the skivvy on Hopkin's response and more after the jump.

Throughout most of the debate, though a slim majority of the packed Science Center audience admitted to eating meat, Hopkin conceded Friedrich’s arguments about the immorality of being a carnivore in today’s world. PETA seemed downright reasonable.

Hopkin and questioners from the audience rarely presented compelling reasons to dispute the main thrust of Friedrich’s well-supported argument. The PETA leader argued that facts overwhelmingly show that eating meat is bad for the environment, for the world's poorest, and for the conscious experiences of animals. Instead of disputing Friedrich's figures, Hopkin and others raised abstract intellectual questions heard in Social Studies 10 and “Justice”: How can we compare animal pain with human pain? And can animals be a part of the social contract?