I wasn't trying to make a statement about the morality of eating meat specifically.
This appears to be standard practice on Hubski. At most, there are expressions of concern, but the majority of the discussion has focused on the tone of the discussion, or people in the discussion, or contrived exceptions to the central question.
Very little talk has been given to taking a stand on the question of whether eating meat is morally justified.
I very much appreciate your candor. I think it is a hard subject to be honest about.
I feel like it is not my place to tell you how to exercise your values. I am no authority and I live with a lot of compromise. I'll address some of your questions in case you were curious to know my opinion.
Does my better understanding of an animal's suffering make me morally culpable whereas a less intelligent carnivore is not?
Not sure if you mean a less-informed human carnivore, or a lion. I think none of us blame animals for behaving according to their nature. Animals are not moral agents, according to the present majority view. (I wonder if the movement to increase recognition of the human-like qualities of intelligent animals like chimpanzees could one day lead to holding a chimpanzee somehow accountable for a harmful action.)
For people, "ignorance of the law" is not a legal excuse, and supporting industrial meat causes the same harm whether you realize it or not. This gives fuel to the activist, who wants to raise awareness so people will at least recognize the effects of their choices. Once you are aware of the harm, I do think it is morally suspect to refuse to acknowledge the harm, refuse to investigate it, and refuse to consider making different choices to mitigate the harm (absent a sound moral counterargument, something more sophisticated than "bacon tastes good, pork chops taste good").
Is all suffering to be avoided, or can minimizing suffering be enough, and when?
This doesn't seem like such a hard question. You don't have to completely "exit a morally objectionable system" to live more ethically. You can make different choices that lead to less harm. That's the way we approach almost every moral aspect of life; you don't have to be perfect, and inability to be perfect is not a good reason give up trying to do better.
Reading Michael Pollan on hunting makes me want to try it. I have learned a life lesson that deep pleasures can be had by participating in experiences common to our species from the start: running, walking, telling and hearing stories, preparing and eating food, stargazing, sitting by water, swimming. I don't buy the argument that humans are natural herbivores. I believe that "Walking with a loaded rifle in an unfamiliar forest bristling with the signs of your prey is thrilling."
Ethics has shades. Shoplifting is thrilling too.
Oddly, I don't think avoiding meat would make me feel better about my behavior.
That is odd, especially for someone who supports voting. With some contrived exceptions, like pulling a burger out of a trash can, any time you choose cabbage instead of chicken you are reducing your participation in and contribution to the meat industry. You said you would be "happy to eat vat meat," isn't that the same as feeling better?