Friday, 30 September 2011

Reflecting upon arguments against vegetarianism.

As it is coming up to World Vegetarian Day (1st October), I thought I’d reflect upon some of the arguments that are levelled against vegetarianism. Having previously been a meat-eater, I have experience of both using and being on the receiving end of such arguments. While at university, for example, I had many a discussion with an ethically motivated vegetarian. Rather ironically, when I met him again at graduation and proudly announced that I’d become vegetarian, he informed me that he and his fiancé had started eating meat again! In the brief discussion that ensued, he was using the arguments that I previously used against him, and vice versa.

While some arguments against vegetarianism warrant serious consideration, many are quite ridiculous. Examples of the latter include “But… Hitler was a vegetarian!” and “Carrots feel pain too!”. If such arguments carried any weight, we would have done away with motorways on the grounds that Hitler also thought they were a good idea, and pulling a carrot from the ground would be widely regarded to be as morally reprehensible as an act of animal cruelty. Religious arguments which hold that animals were divinely created for human consumption are no better.

There are a number of more challenging arguments against vegetarianism and it is these arguments that will be considered here.  


“We are meant to eat meat”

It is often claimed that humans are “meant to eat meat”. The ability of the human body to digest the flesh of non-human animals (hereafter referred to as animals) is cited as evidence that this is something human beings should do, and have indeed been ‘designed’ to do via biological evolution. On this basis, it is often further argued that the consumption of animal flesh is essential for good health.

If this is granted as true, for the sake of argument, the obvious implication is that the failure to regularly eat the flesh of animals should have negative consequences. A robust body of scientific evidence on the ill-health caused by vegetarian diets should therefore be expected to exist. Importantly, it does not. As Key, Appleby, and Rose (2006) state, “Overall, the data suggest that the health of Western vegetarians is good and similar to that of comparable non-vegetarians”. The view that humans are meant to eat meat is quite simply irreconcilable with the good health of vegetarians.

If good health does not depend on the consumption of animal flesh, the basis on which humans are meant to eat it is unclear. Perhaps it could be argued that the ability of the human body to digest it is itself an adequate justification. However, on such a view, any action which is made possible by the physiology and anatomy of the human body and which should not cause immediate personal harm must be accepted and engaged in unquestioningly: the mere potentiality of an act is evidence that evolution ‘intended’ for it. Fortunately, behavioural decision making is typically a more complex process involving, amongst other factors, rational and moral thought.

While many meat eaters might like to believe that they are meant to eat meat, they really aren’t. Worlds apart from the genuinely predatory animals that instinctively kill other animals and eat their raw flesh on the spot in order to survive, human beings are carefully cooking (to avoid food poisoning) pre-packaged meat and preparing it into meals in their kitchens despite it being within their power to use non-animal ingredients. Worse still, human beings have developed elaborate intensive farming systems into which certain species of animal are bred, imprisoned, and artificially pushed beyond natural limits. It is absurd to believe that any of this is entailed by biological evolution. It could all be otherwise, in a way it never could be for predatory animals. Vegetarians are living proof that this is a fact.

As an aside, it is instructive to consider the human consumption of cow’s milk. As with meat, it is claimed that this is something we are meant to be doing and something that is essential for good health, particularly of the bones. Most people at least accept the latter claim to be true. But there are good reasons to doubt the truth of both. Milk serves the purpose of providing nourishment to the offspring of an animal. A human baby is meant to drink the milk of a cow no more than a calf is meant to feed from the breasts of a human. The situation becomes all the more bizarre where adults are concerned. If a human adult engaged in the behaviour directly by suckling on the udders of a cow, they’d be considered weird- a sexual deviant of some kind. But if someone else artificially inseminates the cow, collects the milk, pasteurises it, and packages it, then it is completely normal, and essential, for people to buy and consume this product. The very notion that human health is dependent on drinking milk intended for the offspring of other animals is ludicrous.

The truth is that eating meat is not necessary. It is neither required for good health nor is it evolutionarily ordained. In civilised society, human beings are not living in an environment where hunting and eating animals is required for survival. An individual can decide to eat meat or not to eat meat, in the same way that they can choose to wear a real fur coat in winter or not to wear such a coat. They can decide whether to behave in ways that contribute to the killing of animals and the infliction of suffering upon them or to behave in other ways. Sadly, too many people choose the former.


“We are top of the food chain”

Another commonly used argument against vegetarianism is that we are “top of the food chain” and that therefore there is really nothing wrong with killing and eating animals. Just as a cat will kill and eat a mouse or a lion will kill and eat a zebra, humans should kill and eat any animal of their choosing – it is merely the natural order of things in a brutal and amoral world. Some would take this argument further and suggest that the intensive farming procedures developed by humans are just more efficient and effective means of doing what we would otherwise be doing on a smaller scale and that there is nothing really wrong with this as our intelligence affords us a position of dominance over other animals.

Despite the beauty of the natural world, it is undeniably brutal. The strong do prey on the weak and there is no moral dimension to their acts as animals are (to the best of our knowledge) incapable of moral thought. There is no right and there is no wrong where their behaviour is concerned. According to this argument, the human species is just one of millions on this planet and we are too are part of this natural order.

Importantly, however, human beings are capable of moral thought, which draws a distinction between us and animals and requires that our behaviour be judged on a different basis to theirs. A human being is able to evaluate potential acts against notions of right and wrong and to decide on the basis of this evaluation whether or not to act in a particular way. Our ability to understand the existence of other minds, to empathise with others, and to anticipate how a particular course of action would affect their mental state is important in informing this moral evaluation in many instances. We are also not particularly instinctive. Aside from the rare occasion on which the survival instinct might be required to kick in, our behaviour is usually the result of a decision making process that can take into account a wide range of considerations, including moral considerations. Given these important differences, it is inappropriate to judge human behaviour on the same basis as, say, a frog extending its tongue to capture a fly in an instinctive act devoid of a moral dimension. It must also, therefore, be inappropriate to use such behaviour as a guide for human behaviour.

Another important difference is that while the relationship between animals in the wild just is, the way in which humans relate to animals is variable. Human intelligence, adaptability, and the ability to be socialised in vastly different ways allows for societies, and individuals within them, to relate to animals differently. These qualities allow for, say, Westerners to traditionally eat cows while Hindus do not and for individuals to freely adopt an entirely vegetarian diet. They also allow for us to keep domestic pets, which we look after, feed, stroke, and treat, all for reasons relating to companionship, enjoyment, or satisfaction. This desire to have companionship with animals and to look after them certainly doesn’t sit well with the view that we’re predatory animals (which we must surely be if we are “meant to eat meat”) sitting at the top of the food chain. When considered in a moral evaluation of killing and eating animals for food, the ability to freely choose to be vegetarian and to maintain good physical health in so doing is particularly damning.

A further objection, similar to an objection to the “we are meant to eat meat” argument, can be raised here. That is, the potential to act in certain ways does not mean that we should act in those ways or that those acts are desirable, sensible, or moral. There is no doubt that the intelligence of the human species allows it to dominate this planet and to do as it pleases to animals. And it is worth noting here that it is indeed intelligence that affords us this position. In comparison with the predatory animals that meat eaters imagine we are like, we are physically rather feeble – we’re slow, weak, with blunt digits, blunt teeth, and a small and weak jaw. If an unarmed human happened to be confronted by a lion, it is very unlikely that they would emerge from that situation alive.

The important question here is whether the ability to dominate animals and cause harm to them means that we should do so. If this question was asked about the ability to act in these ways towards other humans, the answer would be a resounding ‘no’. Behaviours such as bullying, violent theft, and rape - all of which require that the perpetrator is able to dominate or overpower the victim - are considered morally wrong. Large scale and systematic manifestations of behaviour of this kind, such as enslavement of people (e.g. sex trafficking) or genocide, are met with even greater revulsion and those responsible for these acts are often labelled as ‘evil’. Since moral considerations intervene between the potential for an act and its actualisation where inter-human behaviour is concerned, a clear basis on which to exempt animals from our moral thinking is required if those who eat meat are to do so in good conscience.


“Animals aren’t sentient”

One basis upon which some people argue that moral considerations should not be applied to animals is that animals, they claim, are not sentient. In other words, animals are devoid of conscious awareness and the ability to sense or perceive the external world and it is therefore inappropriate to take moral considerations into account in relation to our behaviour towards them. On this view, killing an animal doesn’t involve the termination of a conscious being and is no more wrong than tearing a plant up from the ground, and while the conditions and treatment that animals are subjected to in factory farms might appear to be cruel, they aren’t aware of anything and so nothing wrong is being done.

This argument is certainly the most challenging one for ethically motivated vegetarians. It is so challenging for two reasons. Firstly, it strikes right at the heart of the issue, for if it is true, and animals are indeed not consciously aware, then it isn’t appropriate to apply moral considerations to our treatment of them and ethically motivated vegetarianism therefore does not make sense. Secondly, the immaterial and subjective nature of consciousness and mind presents serious epistemological difficulties for investigating these qualities in animals, which would be unable to report linguistically on their subjective experiential existence.

Consciousness is a very difficult and controversial area of inquiry. Science has been able to explain many things, but consciousness is not one of them. There are good reasons - such as the ability of psychoactive substances to alter conscious experience - for thinking that consciousness is an emergent property of the physical matter of the brain, but precisely how this occurs is unknown. The scientific method has been able to use advanced neuroimaging techniques to examine neurological correlates of behaviour and reported conscious experience in humans, but this type of investigation has yet to lead to an explanation of consciousness. Self-report is clearly crucial for research on consciousness as there is no means by which the conscious mind can be directly observed. Similar investigations in animals are complicated by the unavailability of self-report, which means that behaviour must be used to make inferences about conscious experiences. This is clearly unsatisfactory and it is therefore not surprising that “no systematic neuroscientific investigation of animal consciousness has yet been undertaken” (Edelman and Seth, 2009).

The implication of the subjective, private nature of consciousness and the additional problems associated with researching it in animals is that it might not be possible to determine whether animals are conscious and, if they are, that it is impossible to know what it is like to be an animal. This is perhaps an uncomfortable idea for those who believe science to be explanatorily omnipotent, but the ‘problem of other minds’ is considered by many philosophers to be irresolvable by the scientific method. Given that it is not known, and arguably not possible to know, whether animals are conscious, the premise of this argument (i.e. that ‘animals are not sentient’) is unwarranted. At the very least it must be conceded that animals might be conscious, in which case it does not follow that we should not apply moral considerations to our treatment of them. If an individual has reason to believe that a particular act might cause suffering, the moral imperative is surely to act differently.

There are good reasons for suspecting consciousness in animals. From an evolutionary perspective, it seems unlikely that consciousness would have emerged suddenly in humans without less sophisticated forms having existed previously. Obviously, the consciousness experienced by an animal would be vastly different to human consciousness – for example, there would be no linguistic element to it and no ability to think abstractly. No sensible person would ever ascribe these higher-order abilities to animals or entertain the idea that animals could be sitting there mulling over the latest discoveries in particle physics or contemplating issues in analytical philosophy. However, it is not these higher-order abilities that are important in informing how we should treat animals, but rather the possibility that they can experience pain, discomfort, distress, and fear. Those who doubt that animals can experience these things would do well to watch video footage depicting animal cruelty – the squeals and shrieks of cats and dogs skinned alive for fur in China would surely be enough to convince anyone that they do.

Interestingly, most people do not consider animals to be the ‘beast machines’ of Descartes. Pet owners, particularly of cats and dogs, view their pets as companions with minds and ‘personalities’ of their own and not as non-sentient biological machines. They like to treat their pets well and ensure that they live good lives. Cruelty to animals is widely abhorred and those who commit acts of animal cruelty are frowned upon. Unfortunately, this opposition to animal cruelty is not extended to those animals which have been unfortunate enough to have been categorised as “farm animals” in our cultures. The conditions and treatment that these animals are subjected to in factory farms and abattoirs doesn’t appear to concern most people, but isolated acts of cruelty or accidental harm to animals in the “domestic pets” category can cause outrage. The case of Mary Bale, who threw a cat into a wheelie bin because she “thought it would be funny” and subsequently received death threats, is an illustrative example. Although it is clearly not nice to put a cat in a bin, farm animals face far worse and on an unfathomably greater numerical scale. To Miss Bale, the cat was “just a cat”, and to many people, the animals they are eating are “just pigs” and “just cows”.


Other Arguments

The arguments considered thus far do not succeed in undermining the case for vegetarianism. Basic appeals to evolution and nature ignore the human potential for moral thought, and the unproven assertion that animals are not sentient does not provide a means by which to avoid the moral implications of our treatment of animals. Many people convert to vegetarianism upon learning of the reality of meat production and deciding that the acts involved are immoral. Unfortunately, for many people behavioural change of this kind represents the path of greatest resistance, and so they’ll use various arguments to exempt themselves from guilt. Three of these will be briefly considered here.

“Eating meat is part of our culture”. Eating meat is certainly part of our culture, but that is all it is. It is a behaviour that has emerged from sociocultural evolution, not biological necessity. It is not something which must be part of our culture and it is not something that any individual is obliged to do. People can and do choose not to eat meat. Therefore, those who do eat meat but feel uneasy about the killing of animals or suspect that the way in which those animals are treated is immoral can’t hide behind the fact that eating meat is culturally normative. Slavery was once part of Western culture, but that doesn’t mean that it was right or that those who kept slaves were doing no wrong. Importantly, people identified it as being wrong and campaigned against it.

“I just buy the meat; I’m not doing anything wrong”. This argument fails quite simply because purchasing meat or other animal products contributes to causing demand for those products and their subsequent production. If no one purchased these products, they would not be produced. Anyone who does purchase these products must therefore bear some of the responsibility for the acts required to produce them.

“I’m just one person, I can’t make a difference”. While it is true that one person deciding not to eat meat will not make a significant impact on the plight of animals, this fact does not absolve them of their portion of the responsibility. In addition to personal behavioural change, people can also inform others of their reasons for becoming vegetarian and perhaps influence them to change too. Being free of the guilt associated with eating meat and enjoying the health benefits attributed to the vegetarian lifestyle surely makes the decision worthwhile.


Conclusion

The arguments considered here, either alone or collectively, fail to undermine the case for vegetarianism. Individuals with a sufficient level of moral development can not avoid the moral implications of eating meat by appealing to non-existent biological or evolutionary imperatives, intellectual supremacy over animals, cultural acceptability, or unproven claims of animal non-sentience. Eating meat is a choice. It is not something we are meant, required, or compelled, to do. It is something that people can not do and suffer no negative health consequences as a result. On this basis, the decision to eat meat is one of evaluating ones own personal gratification to be of greater importance than the well being of animals: the enjoyment derived from tucking into a beef burger justifies the killing of an animal and all the suffering it endured in its life. This is an indefensible position.





24 comments:

  1. An exceptionally well-written piece. Clear, concise, and eloquent. Bravo!

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  2. Excellent piece covering the moral,psychological and cultural aspects of not eating meat.
    Thanks for the links.

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  3. Ragarding your exploration of the ideas of conciousness and awareness,Buddhist view is unequivocal about animals being sentient beings.They possess minds and a concept of self.
    Buddha teaches that an animal experiences more suffering than humans but are capable of experiencing compassion for their own offspring.Wild animals especially experience extreme hunger and fear driving them to actions of extreme brutality.If you truly contemplate the lot of an animal,including a captive animal kept merely for slaughter,it makes visiting eve a supermarket a very different experience.

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  4. Thank you for writing this. It is well-written, logical, and straightforward. I'm going to bookmark this to link people to it instead of struggling to say the same things less eloquently.

    Also, though perhaps it cannot be scientifically proven at this time, I think simple observation of and interaction with animals leaves little room to doubt that they have some form of consciousness. Perhaps the nature of this consciousness and exactly what they are experiencing cannot be known at this time, but given animals' responses to stimuli and what we know about animal nervous systems, we do know that they feel pain and can suffer. Considering how similar our own species is genetically and physically to many of these animals, I think we can infer some degree of similarity in sensation between us and other non-human animals with complex nervous systems like our own.

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  5. Well done Mark. I especially like: "Obviously, the consciousness experienced by an animal would be vastly different to human consciousness – for example, there would be no linguistic element to it and no ability to think abstractly. No sensible person would ever ascribe these higher-order abilities to animals or entertain the idea that animals could be sitting there mulling over the latest discoveries in particle physics or contemplating issues in analytical philosophy. However, it is not these higher-order abilities that are important in informing how we should treat animals, but rather the possibility that they can experience pain, discomfort, distress, and fear."

    I also prefer to err on the side of mercy and compassion (although I have no doubt they experience some level of pain, fear, etc.).

    I have a question for Galla. If Buddha teaches what you claim, why do so many Buddhists eat animals? Is it forbidden in Buddhism? Just wondering. Thanks.

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  6. Next I want to discuss your comment: “…that the failure to regularly eat the flesh of animals should have negative consequences. A robust body of scientific evidence on the ill-health caused by vegetarian diets should therefore be expected to exist. Importantly, it does not.” Hmm, I would say it absolutely does:

    http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2009/6/23/the-argument-against-cereal-grains.html

    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/lipid-hypothesis/the-vegetarian-myth/

    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/low-carb-diets/nutrition-and-health-in-agriculturalists-and-hunter-gatherers/

    And further, a vast body of evidence shows the good health resulting from high-meat diets:

    http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/cardiovascular-disease/four-patients-who-changed-my-life/

    http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2010/2/12/panu-and-type-ii-diabetes.html#comment7430810

    (I don’t include mush in the way of observational studies because generally I don’t trust them. I can explain myself on this note if you are interested…)

    The relative good results of vegetarian diets that you mention, in comparison to a standard American diet is likely a result of factors other than the absence of meat. The meat typically consumed in the U.S., for example, is dangerously high in linoleic acid (omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs), because of the corn/grain that is fed to the animals, as well as the fact that the oil it is almost always cooked in is highly unstable, high-linoleic-acid-containing vegetable oils, like corn, soy, and canola oils. (Pastured meat is much lower in linoleic acid and higher in linolenic acid, or omega-3s—but lower in PUFAs in general.) Conventional meat is also full of hormone and antibiotic derivatives that were fed to the animals. Further, vegetarians are likely to be more health conscious in general, a.k.a. more active, less likely to smoke, etc.

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  7. Hi Mark, my response is too long so it is not letting me post. I will try posting in several installments...

    Your conclusion, that “the arguments considered here, either alone or collectively, fail to undermine the case for vegetarianism,” is, I would say, more or less true, but that’s not a function of vegetarianism’s validity, but I would argue the faultiness of the counterarguments you propose.

    Mostly, the arguments you considered,
    • Hitler was vegetarian
    • Carrot’s “feel pain too”
    • Religion
    • Moral thought/sentience
    • Part of culture
    • Top of the food chain/dominance over animals
    • “I just buy the meat”
    • One person can’t make a difference
    …are weak and ill-conceived. I agree with you that these are not valid arguments. The first two are absurd and religion is irrelevant when discussing nutrition/physiology. Your argument about sentience is all fine, except that it assumes that killing animals for food is inherently (or, in all cases) immoral (I’ll return to this one in a minute.) Eating meat may be part of our culture, but that is irrelevant, and it is in fact more than that—for centuries it was necessary for survival (more follows on this one, too.) Where we are on the food chain is also irrelevant—what is important is that we are a part of the food cycle. I don’t support unsustainable and domineering farming methods. And as for the last two, I don’t know who you’ve talked to, but whoever says those things are extremely—tragically—ignorant. My defense of eating meat includes none of those arguments.

    Before modern society, hunter-gatherers killed animals not for fun, but to survive. There is no way plant life alone would have given primal man sufficient sustenance, especially in climates where edible plants may have been more scarce. There’s also no way hominids evolved to have the large brains that we have eating only plants (that should be a clue, right there, that our biology prefers animal fats and proteins to thrive.) As Mark Sisson said,

    “Big brains (the existence of which, I’m hoping, even the most ardent vegetarians don’t argue against) were made possible by the consumption of meat, organs, and other nutrient-rich animal products. Instead of spending all their metabolic energy processing cellulose and plant matter, our ancestors turned to a high-meat diet, which utilized fat-soluble vitamins (already converted into the forms we can best take advantage of)…to fuel their massive brains.” http://www.marksdailyapple.com/meat-eating-human-evolution/

    We have also evolved to have complex hand motor precision and coordination—and thus the ability to use tools. Just because we don’t have fangs does not mean we were not meant to hunt. So in response to your comment, “we are physically rather feeble – we’re slow, weak, with blunt digits, blunt teeth, and a small and weak jaw,” that is insufficient evidence to conclude that humans are not meat-eaters. We have large brains and the ability to use tools instead. However, I will take this argument further and say that human digestive systems are similar in nearly every way to those of carnivores, and dissimilar in nearly every way to plant eaters; here’s a chart: http://paleodiet.com/comparison.html. Further, concerning our lack of fangs, the question is not whether humans are purely carnivorous, it is whether meat is a natural part of our diet, so throwing in comparisons to animals that are pure carnivores is invalid.

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  8. @Madeleine

    It appears that our understanding of "robust body of scientific evidence" is rather different. The opinions of "Dr Mike" on his "Protein Power" blog or of some guy advocating "Primal Living" on a website called "Mark's Daily Apple" isn't what I had in mind.

    By "robust body of scientific evidence", I meant a substantial number of methodologically sound research studies producing consistent results, ideally supported by sound systematic or meta-analytic reviews. There is no such body of evidence confirming that a vegetarian diet is associated with negative health consequences. On the contrary, the weight of evidence indicates that vegetarians are healthier than non-vegetarians. Those who are desperate to cling on to the belief that vegetarianism is unhealthy have to retreat to arguments such as "vegetarians are more health conscious!", as if doing exercise and refraining from smoking would somehow correct for the failure to ingest a food source that is supposedly absolutely essential for good health.

    The good health of vegetarians is confirmed by the existing scientific literature. It is not sensible to argue otherwise on the basis of opinion or anecdote.

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  9. Part 2:


    Next I want to talk about nutrients in plant matter v. that in animals. Plants are predominantly made up of cellulose, something humans cannot digest. Humans don’t have enzymes to digest cellulose. (We do have enzymes that break down animal fats and proteins.) Further, many of the nutrients in plants are tightly wrapped in cellulose; thus since we can’t break down the cellulose we can’t access those nutrients. So many of the vitamins and minerals we think we are consuming are actually going through our system intact and unabsorbed. Aside from the cellulose, plants (especially wheat, and other grains, soy, and legumes) contain proteins like gluten and other lectins and phytates. These we cannot digest either, and, similar to cellulose, are highly inflammatory, irritating and even tearing walls of the gut and small intestine as they travel through our systems whole and active. Further, proteins like gluten readily bind tightly to metal ions like iron, magnesium, and calcium. These nutrients, then, are also unavailable for absorption. (Moreover, gluten and lectins/phytates have effects beyond the digestion—they readily transfuse through walls of the small intestine to wreak havoc throughout the body, and a large body of evidence* shows that long-term consumption causes a host of autoimmune diseases and other issues.) Lastly, the small percentage of nutrients in plants that we do end up absorbing is, as Mark Sisson says, often not in a form the human body can best take advantage of. Vitamin A found in plants is in the form of beta-carotene, much less useful than retinol, the vitamin A found in animal products. (Here’s a good post by Kurt Harris on the topic: http://www.archevore.com/panu-weblog/2009/11/8/do-you-believe-in-magic.html)

    How can we be “meant” to eat a diet that is so incompatible with our biology?

    In response to your sentence, “human beings are not living in an environment where hunting and eating animals is required for survival,” I disagree. Do you believe that the earth could support nearly 7 billion people exclusively on plant matter? Not long term. Yes we have a disgusting surplus of corn production (and drastically more if we redistribute grain that is animal feed to humans), but that is not sustainable. Our corn, soy, wheat, etc. fields are destroying our soil—we won’t be able to grow corn forever. So your comment, “It could all be otherwise, in a way it never could be for predatory animals. Vegetarians are living proof that this is a fact,” does not work: global vegetarianism would not support the life cycle.

    In fact, it would be absolutely destructive. In the words of Lierre Keith, “a vegan agriculture is…and ecological wasteland.” The life cycle is not possible without predators and prey. Animals eat plants, digest them and fertilize the soil with their manure, and the enriched soil then allows more plant life to grow and continue the cycle. So I take issue with your assertion that killing animals for food is, by definition, immoral. By farming animals on grassland and in conjunction with perennial polycultures of plant life, each aspect of the farm nourishes and completes the life cycle (including human’s role—of consuming animal and plant so as to keep both in balance.)

    Obviously, this is not the pretty picture of conventional farming. I would never support CAFOs, or any grain-fed/un-pastured operation. But I also do not support the vast fields of monocrops that wiped out entire ecosystems to construct, that displaced entire species of animals, that drained rivers and lakes and killed populations of fish for irrigation, that poisoned the soil with chemical fertilizers and/or GMOs, that obliterated the top soil by growing the same annual crops year to year…

    The animal products that I do buy are from local, sustainable, open-pastured, free-range farms that rotate cropland with pasture, and thus keep the ground fertile and the life cycle balanced. That is what is sustainable.

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  10. Last part:

    Next, the reason we cook: we cook meat because the meat that is part of the SAD (Standard American Diet) is of such poor quality that it could make us sick eaten raw. But cooking actually changes the molecular structure of the proteins (in anything, not just meat), and in the case of meat and most animal products the proteins are in their optimal form raw. Good quality animal products can be eaten raw with no repercussions (steak tartare; sashimi; raw dairy…) So I agree that the faux food that is ubiquitous in America—the products of intensive unnatural farming that you mentioned—is not evolutionarily justified. That doesn’t mean, though, that eating meat is not justified. There are other options—options that humans have taken advantage of for as long as humans have existed.

    About cow’s milk/dairy: dairy is certainly a Neolithic food, and not necessary for good health, I agree (humans thrived for millennia without it.) But that does not mean it isn’t nutritious. And your analogy to a sexual deviant is beside the point. We consume a lot of things that don’t “make sense” in that way. You said, “The very notion that human health is dependent on drinking milk intended for the offspring of other animals is ludicrous.” Okay, so then I would say, the notion that human health is dependent on soy and cereal grains and plant matter that is inedible without extreme artificial processing—and even then full of indigestible matter—is ludicrous.

    On your comments: “They can decide whether to behave in ways that contribute to the killing of animals and the infliction of suffering upon them” and “whether the ability to dominate animals and cause harm to them means that we should do so” and "Importantly, however, human beings are capable of moral thought”:

    Animals may or may not be sentient; I don’t think that’s relevant either way. I have already established that we both agree that CAFOs and similar operations are inhumane and immoral. Again, you are falsely assuming that farming has to be cruel but in fact humane operations exist. Eating animals is not inherently immoral—the question of morals concerns the farming method, not the act itself.

    You are arguing the question “are we meant to eat meat?” but I think that misses the point. The question should be “does eating animals serve the best interest of humans and the earth?” So in that context, I think yes. As long as it is within a sustainable system—local, perennial, pastured farms.

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  11. @Madeleine

    Many of your scientific statements are inaccurate. Plant matter does not consist "predominantly" of cellulose. Cellulose is an example of dietary fibre. It comprises approximately one-third of dietary fibre contained in vegetables and nuts and approximately one-quarter of that contained in grains and fruit. Carrots, for example, contain 2.5g of dietary fibre per 100g, and broccoli contains 2.3g of dietary fibre per 100g.

    Aside from your assertion being entirely false, it also implies that not being able to digest food in its entirety is a bad thing. On the contrary, the health benefits of dietary fibre are well documented in the scientific literature. Please see the following two reviews:

    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-3010.2008.00705.x/full
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2009.00189.x/full

    Notice that I'm linking to the scientific literature, and not to the personal opinions of crackpots promoting fad diets on the internet.

    If I was in your position and was making all sorts of claims about the necessity to eat meat and the physiological impossibility of healthily eating a vegetarian diet, I think that the undeniable good health of vegetarians as a population would make me reconsider my opinions. If you'd rather let pseudo-science and speculation about the dietary habits of human beings many thousands of years ago get in the way of that fact, more fool you!

    The bottom line is that you are not required to eat meat. Inventing an obligation to do so does not circumvent the moral question.

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  12. @Madeleine

    You say that "Animals may or may not be sentient; I don’t think that’s relevant either way" and "Eating animals is not inherently immoral—the question of morals concerns the farming method, not the act itself".

    On this basis, would you consider it to be morally neutral for a superior being (which is capable of moral thought) to terminate your existence via a 'humane operation'?

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  13. On the issue of sustainability that seems to be the holy grail of those who advocate flesh consumption, the most promising technology that could literally feed the world several times over is being ignored. I'm speaking of urban farming and vertical gardens.

    If more efforts were made in making these "feeding stations" a reality we would solve many problems at once. Obviously one of the first issues that would be addressed is the reduction of fossil fuels in transporting food to metropolitan areas. And since these facilities would be capable of generating their own power, through recycling chaff - They would in essence create surplus energy for the community. Water usage would decline drastically as water doesn't evaporate, but rather condensates in an enclosed system. It would also take care of waste water by using the population's natural and readily available fertilizer - In the form of "humanure".

    Such facilities could be located on specific floors of high-rises or literally on the rooftops of stores - Thus generating power for their marketing facility on ground level. You can't get any more "local" than obtaining your food from the place that grows it as well.

    I realize to most it sounds like distant, unlikely science fiction... But this really is the only viable solution to our ever expanding population. At some point humans will no longer desire to compete with other animals for land or for food - As we are doing both already.

    The benefit of these systems would also be that predators species would no longer endanger "livestock" - Thus removing the need for their "management". If such systems were to expand to floating barges to grow crops, harvesting systems would not inadvertently harm field animals. We would also eliminate the need for insect pest control that poisons our environment.

    Lastly within such facilities we also may be able to incorporate "vat-meat" stations that would provide alternative protein besides what whole plant foods would provide.

    If an astronaut were to depart for a long journey - And if our planet is indeed our spaceship - The most logical course for survival is not lugging a cow through the galaxy; Nor is it wise to lug the cow, pig or chicken through our evolution on this earth.

    Compassion and ethics aside - Thriving on a plant based diet is our only hope.

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  14. I agree that all the above arguments are useless. I wouldn't argue with anyone's view that eating animals is immoral, unless they were a more radical, ALF-type who wanted to blow up my house or something. Saying we were meant to eat meat or we evolved eating meat means little to someone who chooses not to for ethical reasons. I do tire, however, of people citing things like The China Study for reasons their vegetarian diet is superior to my whole foods plus meat diet. I find the China Study to be flawed. Even when I was a veg*n studying nutrition in college I found some of our "fact" to be a little hazy and would not cite things like dietary cholesterol as an argument. I say eat what you want to eat but don't tell people how inherently unhealthy meat is when there are many other factors at play. (ie, where the meat comes from, what the meat ate, etc.) Also, humans are very complex and what works well for you may not work for everyone, morality aside.

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  15. 1. If you are a Christian, then one must take Christian beliefs and ideals into consideration. Considering that the majority of the United States, it should not be dismissed.
    2. We are not carnivores. We, as humans, are omnivores, so it does not follow that one should have serious medical ailments from not eating meat. Also, "good health" is relative term. Does greater bone density make one healthier? Does a stage III vitamin B12 deficiency, found in 60 percent of people on a vegetarian diet, constitute poor health (Herrmann, Geisel, 2002)? I believe it does, but perhaps you disagree.

    3. Humans cook food not because eating meat raw is dangerous, but rather, because diseases that may live within that meat are dangerous. Take eggs, for example, we generally don't eat raw eggs because: 1. it doesn't taste as good and 2. because it may carry salmonella . The egg in and of itself is harmless, but it may carry a bacterium (which is also possible with plants) and because it is more palatable that way, we cook it.

    4. Farming methods are a result of human innovation. The same innovation also affects the plants you eat. The way in which the plants you eat are grown and harvested are also far from natural. Naturally, plants would grow not in fields but in nature, and then animals would scavenge to find and eat them, and their seeds would be naturally distributed either through the air, or through animal digestion of their fruits. Today, however, plants are grown in large, uniform fields using mechanical equipment to grow and harvest them. Likewise with animals, they have been altered through artificial selection to produce larger, more desirable crop. So unless you scavenge daily for food, your argument is unsound.

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  16. 5. Milk is good for us, and humans are one of the only species other than cows that can digest lactose with lactase. Perhaps it is not natural, but since we have already established that human innovation should not be discarded, and likewise new knowledge about what humans are capable of healthily digesting, there isn't any reason humans should abstain from drinking milk. Pop (Soda, coke, depending on where you live) is unnatural, yet it is not immoral to drink. Gatorade is not natural, yet it is very useful to replenish nutrients (much like milk has nutritional benefits), so we drink it.

    Simply because something is not evolutionarily ordained or required (debatable premise) for good health does not mean we should not use that thing. If that were true, no form of human innovation would be considered moral.

    6. I agree that humans and animals should not be judged the same way. In order for this argument to be sound, however, you must demonstrate why it is immoral to eat or kill an animal.

    7. It is our intellectual superiority that we have evolved to make us the top of the food chain. We hunt with tools. Without our ability to outsmart animals we would not be on top of the food chain. You can't discredit our place in the food chain because of the evolutionary advantage we have. Some predators are faster than their prey, while others are stronger, while others, like humans, are smarter.

    8. P.S. If eating meat is not intended for humans, then how do you explain the existence of the gallbladder. There isn't much fat in plants, yet we have a gallbladder to help us digest fatty substances. But I digress...

    8. They are not the same thing. We, as humans, are superior to animals. We, as humans, are not inherently superior to humans. Unless you believe that every living being is inherently as valuable as a human, that comparison does not work. If a dog tries eating a child, you kill the dog because the child is inherently more valuable. This is also where religion comes into play. I believe in natural law. I am Catholic.

    9. I believe humans are conscious, and in believing that I believe they should be treated humanely and killed humanely. I also agree that most slaughter houses and factory farms fail in this area, but if an animal is carefully shocked and unconscious when killed, I don't see a problem with it.

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  17. @Kara

    1. I am not Christian and I am not going to accept the view that animals have been divinely provided for our sustenance, unless this view can be shown to be true.

    2. I maintain that if we are "meant to eat meat", not doing so would have negative health consequences. As you appear to accept, we have the choice to refrain from eating meat without consequence. This is all that is required for the moral argument for vegetarianism/veganism to succeed.

    3. I eat many of my vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, etc raw, with no problem whatsoever. In fact, I haven't had food poisoning since I stopped eating meat. All the meat and eggs you eat must be cooked and the dairy heated to extremely high temperatures to ensure that it doesn't make you ill or at worst kill you.

    4. Of course agricultural innovation affects the plant foods that I eat. However, plants are not sentient creatures like animals are. Saying that non-sentient plants are grown in large fields does nothing to justify the intensive breeding, exploitation, and murder, of sentient beings.

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  18. Okay, that is all.

    I would like to mention that I respect your choice to be vegetarian or vegan, but I don't believe eating animals is immoral or unethical. I believe all animals deserve to be treated with respect, which is why I do so with mine. I'll admit that I don't treat them equally to humans. I make my dog use the restroom outside (even in the snow and rain), which I would never make my child do. I also give my dog a kennel, and my horse a stable rather than a bedroom, but I do treat them humanely. They have good lives. The same is possible with cows, sheep, and pigs. It isn't overly popular, but one can take good care of their animals and have them humanely slaughtered.

    Other food for though:
    Imagine the implications of a worldwide vegetarian diet among humans. Where would all of the cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens go? Farmers wouldn't keep them, and frankly couldn't afford to keep them. The reserves aren't large enough to support all of the animals. While I believe your cause is built on good intentions, its success will be the end of the very thing you are trying to protect.

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  19. Reply to your responses.
    1. I respect that, but considering that the majority of the people reading this are, statistically, Christian, I don't think it should be eliminated without directly saying that you dismiss it because you also dismiss Christianity (or Abrahamic religions).

    2. We'll have to agree to disagree. You say: "That is, the potential to act in certain ways does not mean that we should act in those ways or that those acts are desirable, sensible, or moral" Since both of our opinions are merely subjective in this regard (just because you can live on a vegetarian diet doesn't mean one should), we must agree to disagree.

    3. One can eat raw eggs. Only 1 in 10,000 eggs contain salmonella. It just happens to be more palatable cooked, as many people would say regarding vegetables.

    4. I won't respond to this yet, as it is obviously tied to the sentient argument.

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  20. @Kara

    5. As with meat, the question that needs to be asked of milk is whether it is an essential dietary requirement. The dairy industry, unsurprisingly, claim it is. Others disagree. Any thinking person would obviously see the idea that the milk of another species is required for human growth or health for the nonsense that it is. Most people seem to be aware that milk, its byproducts, and processed products containing it are unhealthy - full fat milk, cheese, cream, pizza, and so on, are all best avoided. The only argument presented for milk being healthy is that it contains calcium, but as Harvard point out... it isn't the only or even best source: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/ Bearing this in mind, should we be artificially inseminating cows, forcing them to produce insanely large quantities of milk, and then collecting and processing the milk? I think the answer is no, we shouldn't be doing that.

    6. I've dealt with the question of the morality of killing and exploiting animals in other posts on here. See the one on a response to William Lane Craig on the issue of animal pain/suffering.

    7. I acknoweldge that our intelligence places us in a position of superiority over other animals. However, I also point out that we possess congitive faculties which endow us with moral agency.

    8. There are plenty of plant-based foods containing a large proportion of fat. Nuts are typically high in fat. In 100g of macademia nuts there is 75g of fat! Even avocado has 15g of fat per 100g. The proportion for olives is simiar. And the great thing about these foods is that the fats are mostly not saturated and they do not contain cholesterol.

    I've dealt with the question of assigning value to life in the most recent post on here. Philosophically, I think it is very problematic to assign value to life.

    In response to your response:

    2. Our opinions might be subjective, but my opinions do not translate into behaviours that would require me to breed, exploit, and kill animals, or for others to do so on my behalf. Are the actions of the person who tortures domestic pets permissible because opinions on the matter are subjective? How about the actions of murderers, rapists, and so on? Obviously not.

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  21. I have a little bit more time.
    5. I disagree that it needs to be an essential dietary requirement to be consumed. Nothing is a required dietary requirement. I don't have to eat strawberries, nuts (I completely forgot about nuts by the way when talking about the gallbladder. Sorry about that. I feel kind of stupid now), watermelon, sweet corn, etc. I just need the nutrients that come from them. The source is irrelevant. Calcium and vitamin D are important nutrients for us. I think milk is healthy for us to drink in the proper quantity. The same is true with cheese. Overconsumption of sugar is also very bad for you.
    6. I don't see that post. I don't know how to use this blog, however, so perhaps that is the problem. Regardless, it seems your problem is with factory farming and careless slaughter of animals. I agree. I think animals can be cared for and slaughtered in a human way.
    7. I agree with this statement. However, since we both agree that animals are not equal to humans, why is it immoral (I don't have time to read all of these comments, and I also couldn't find the one you told me to read. I apologize. Perhaps I will tomorrow.
    8. I admit that was a bad point on my part. I forgot about olives and nuts.

    Assigning value to life is unavoidable. If a mosquito lands on your arm, you will most likely kill it. If your house is invaded with bed bugs, you will hire an exterminator. If you must decide whether to buy food for your child or your dog, you will pick your child. It is undeniable: humans are inherently more valuable than other living creatures. Also, do you believe in abortion? I don't want to get into an abortion debate, but abortion is the murder of an individual human being.

    Your response to my response to number 2: I don't believe any animal should be abused. Your examples with rape and murder are not the same thing, as you have to agree that humans are of a higher value than other animals. No animal should suffer. All animals should be treated humanely.

    Should intentional animal abuse such as dog fighting and other abuses be tolerated? No. Should Koreans be allowed to properly farm dogs and eat them? Sure. So long as the animal is humanely raised and killed, I don't see a problem with killing them. Do you believe in euthanizing animals when they are sick? If they live a happy and healthy life, and die a pain free death for human consumption, then I believe it is moral to do so.

    Now I really have to go. I will be back tomorrow. If this response sounds dumb, I apologize and will correct it tomorrow, but I am truly out of time.

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  22. @Kara

    I think you're missing the point about meat and dairy being non-essential. I'm not saying there are other essential foods. What I'm saying is that since meat and dairy are not essential, and that the production of these foods entails the systematic breeding, exploitation, and killing of sentient beings, we should consume other foods. To me, this position seems so uncontroversial that I find it remarkable that someone would oppose it. Seriously, why choose the option that involves causing harm to other sentient beings when it is entirely unnecessary to do so?

    I've never agreed that animals are objectively of less value than humans. I've written about this before here: http://mb27.blogspot.com/2012/01/animals-life-is-not-as-important-as.html Even if you could establish that a human life is objectively more valuable than any other sentient life, it does not follow that it is morally acceptable to exploit, hurt, or kill it when it is entirely unnecessary to do so.

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  23. @Kara - You mention the killing of insects that might harm us... I've swatted a blood-sucking bug many times with little regret - But I do so out of self defense. My physical safety is being threatened. I don't see how you can compare killing for self protection with deliberately breeding innocent beings who are totally harmless to us.

    I also think you are mis-using the word humane. Humane means to be concerned with the alleviation of suffering. These animals are not diseased, injured or in aging pain. They are quite young, healthy and fit for life - So when they are delivered to the knock box there is no "suffering" to alleviate.

    Try substituting the word "compassion" or "kind" in the description of slaughter and "humane slaughter" will show itself to be as absurd a notion as it is.

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  24. @Mark - Great post! Well written and very logical! Bravo!

    @Kara - There is an earlier comment of yours that no one responded to. I would like to give it a go. You said
    ''Other food for though:
    Imagine the implications of a worldwide vegetarian diet among humans. Where would all of the cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens go? Farmers wouldn't keep them, and frankly couldn't afford to keep them. The reserves aren't large enough to support all of the animals. While I believe your cause is built on good intentions, its success will be the end of the very thing you are trying to protect.''

    If everyone went vegan overnight and all the animals were freed, i agree it would be hazardous to the environment. It would also be hazardous for some of the farmed animals too, i am referring to the animals that have been genetically altered and bred for the purpose of producing meat. Many of these animals would not survive in the wild, as their ancestors did. (for example, i read that turkeys that are raised for meat are now incapable of mating naturally and need to be artificially inseminated). Therefore i think the solution would be to put an abrupt stop to the breeding of these altered animals and consume the last wave of them. As for the unaltered ones, there is no reason why they can not live in the wild. There is no reason why a cow could not as the Bison lives now.

    However, i don't think global veganism would happen overnight (but i wish it would). I think it would more likely be a gradual process and the farmers would breed less of these animals to match the demand for meat. So it would be reasonable to conclude that reducing ones intake of meat would in turn reduce the demand for meat and as a result, farmers would raise less animals to be slaughtered and the world would be a better place for both humans and animals(less environmental damage, animal slaughter, global warming, water wastage, food wastage, Deforestation, bird flu etc)

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