There are a lot of people who believe that it’s not “humane” to eat meat. I get it. On the surface, it can seem that the most humane thing to do is to not eat meat. Avoiding meat can also appear to be the best for sustainability and the “cleanest” way to eat. I understand that having compassion for animals seems at odds with eating them. This is why I don’t support factory-raised meat.
There are some important environmental reasons why we need herbivores.
Recently, I wrote a piece explaining how grazing animals are beneficial for the soil. Their chomping on grass stimulates new growth, their hooves, urine and manure work critical microbes into the land, increasing the biodiversity of life underground, which helps in the carbon sequestration process. I explained how most of the studies showing how much water it takes to make a burger are actually looking at green water (includes rain) and not blue water (water used for drinking by the cattle). When you look at this study, which uses the blue water methodology, “typical” beef production has a similar water footprint to rice, avocados, walnuts and sugar. I also explained that when you look at the amount of land not suitable for crops, and only usable as pasture, that cattle and other herbivores don’t need to compete with vegetables for space. Here’s a great graph explaining the environmental impact of grass-fed beef.
There is another recent study from Tufts University explaining how a vegan diet is not the most sustainable from a land use perspective. Cropping all of the usable land in order to produce vegetables is simply not an efficient use of space. The study looked at land usage, and again, when we consider that much of the earth’s land surface is not suitable for vegetable production, it’s clear that including animal protein in the human diet is efficient from a land use perspective. What the study didn’t consider is pasture-based herbivores as the primary source of protein. It considered “typical” meat intake. Factory-raised meat chickens, which have seen an increase of nearly 400% of global animal protein intake, eat grain. If we swap out chicken meat for grass-fed and finished beef, then the equation would look much different.
The other day, I received the following comment on the post:
“Why is it necessary to eat the animals? I don’t understand why it’s assumed that this is an acceptable part of the process. If the herbivores are to be ‘used’, could they not simply live out their lives fertilising the soil for more effective crop production?”
This comment clearly required its own post, so here are my thoughts:
Is it more “humane” to the animal to let it die “naturally”? What does dying “naturally” mean to people? There are many ways animals die in nature. Natural death doesn’t = painless death. Not all animals simply die in their sleep of old age. In fact, (just as in humans) this is rarely the case.
Being eaten by another animal is a common way to go. This usually involves a stressful encounter and a painful death. More often than not, it’s relatively slow, compared to a quick bullet to the head or a slit to the throat, as is the practice in this short film I helped to produce. Small-scale slaughterhouses that employ humane handling techniques make sure the animal dies quickly and with the least pain possible. The people working there honestly care about this process and take pride in taking the animal to “the next phase of their existence”: feeding lots of people. By contrast, hyenas are not very “humane” when it comes to their treatment of wildebeests. On our farm, sheep are sometimes consumed by coyotes. Does this sheep have rights? If so, did the coyote violate the sheep’s rights by eating it? Coyotes play an important role in nature, and they need to eat too. What about the hawks that eat our chickens, or eat field mice?
Besides violent death, sickness may take over an animal and kill it. This process is also not painless. But let’s say the animal is completely protected from predators, doesn’t die from sickness or infection, and lives out life to a very old age. By the end of its life, its organs start to fail and the animal can no longer eat or drink. Maybe it goes blind. Is this process painless and fast? Is allowing the animal to suffer a better way to go? Life is great when you’re young and healthy, but nothing stays young and healthy forever. When see images of herds of healthy looking zebras or deer in the wild, they are only healthy looking because the sick and old have been culled by predators. Do we then remove the predators? Is this “more humane?”
Let’s say we all decide that we allow herbivores to restore our soils and we don’t consume them as protein. We have to ask, how are we going to control their populations? Is it better to let the wolves and hyenas control their populations and be well fed while we eat tofurky and drink soylent? Should we sterilize a certain percentage of these herbivores so they can’t reproduce? Is sterilization more or less humane than death by hyena? Another question to ask is how is a system of grazing cows to support healthy soils going to be financially sustainable? Cows are worth a lot of money as dairy and meat. They’re not worth as much to a farmer if they are simply “soil improvers.” Responsible farmers/ranchers are treating their animals right and making money at the same time. Who would be responsible for making sure they have fresh pasture, water, and are treated when injured or sick if they’re not getting paid? Systems need to include financial sustainability as well.
“But it’s all about intent.”
It’s important to understand that a meatless diet is not a bloodless diet. Many animals lose their lives in the process of farming vegetables. Birds and butterflies are poisoned by chemicals, rabbits and mice are run over by tractors, and vast fields of mono-cropped vegetables displace native populations of animals that once lived on the land. The farming of vegetables is not humane to rabbits.
I have heard people respond say that as long as they didn’t intend to kill the bunnies for their soy burger, then it’s morally ok. The idea of intent is complex, but If you know that your actions will cause death as a side effect, and you do it, then you are still causing death.
If I drive to a certain store to buy some tofu and on the way I accidently run over a chipmunk, did I still kill it? Yes. But do I have any guilt or culpability? No. It is clear that I had neither foreknowledge nor intention that my driving would kill the chimpmunk.
What if I told you that each time you went to that store to buy tofu, you were definitely going to run over a family of chipmunks on your way, that this was inevitable. If you know that you are going to kill the chipmunks on the way to the store to buy tofu, is it still morally ok to go to the store, even if you’re not intending to kill the chipmunks?
It seems to me that if you’re aware that your actions cause a known effect, then intent is present.
I am now officially stating again that in order to produce vegetables, animals are killed in the process. Is it still morally better to eat vegetables?
If you equate the life of a rabbit or chipmunk as equal to that of a cow, and are truly looking to kill the least amount of lives to feed your own, then I would argue that killing one cow that lived on pasture is actually causing less death than the number of animal lives that are lost by modern row cropping techniques. The principle of least harm may actually require the consumption of large herbivores (red meat.)
Here are a few more responses I often hear from people looking to do “least harm.”
“I only consume dairy and eggs.”
Ok, I get it. You don’t want the animals to die, but you’ll consume their milk and eat their eggs. This may seem better from a moral perspective. Is the milk you’re drinking from 100% grass-fed cows? If it’s not, then did you know that those cows are likely not moving much and spend the majority of their lives indoors? Do you know how you get a cow to produce milk? You need to get it pregnant. How do you think this happens? Naturally? Do you know what happens to the babies of these cows? What about your eggs, are they from 100% pasture raised chickens? If not, those chickens, just like dairy cows, are not really living the life of a “natural” chicken. What do you think happens to the male chickens, the ones that don’t produce eggs? I think it’s certainly healthier to consume dairy and eggs than to eat 100% plant based, but there are many more considerations that need to be questioned if you have a moral issue with death.
“Ok, I’ll eat fish, and maybe chicken, but definitely not red meat.”
I wonder why it’s “better” for those eating “clean” to think fish and chicken are superior to red meat on a moral level. Is it because the flesh of fish and chicken is white? Is it easier to eat it when there are no bones and you can’t see “blood?” (Actually, the red juice in those steak packages isn’t actually blood, it’s myoglobin.) Is it easier to buy smaller pieces of white flesh rather than large red hunks of beef on the bone? Are chickens and fish somehow less of an animal than a cow? Is it because beef has fat on it? Is everyone forgetting that saturated fat is no longer a bad guy?
Nutritionally, are all of our health woes really caused by our “increased” consumption of red meat? Again, when you look at what people are actually eating, red meat consumption has not increased in 50 years, but our chicken consumption has increased nearly 400%. We eat a whole lot of fish as well. Studies that vilify red meat consumption are observational, using self-reported data. People might remember the burger they ate last week, but they tend to “forget” to report the deep fried apple pie, 72oz soda, and large fries they had along with the burger. It’s not the meat that’s so damaging, it’s how we raise it, how we prepare it, and what we eat it with.
“I feel more (virtuous, clean, pure, etc.) eating only plants.”
Here are some other questions to consider. In addition to the animals that are dying during the tilling and harvesting of your crops, there are also many animals harmed in the production of many vegetarian products. Palm oil is a great example. I’m not sure that palm oil should really be considered “ok” on a vegan diet when you consider the impact this industry has on orangutans. What about the humans that are harvesting your vegetables? I see very little attention given by those in the plant-based world to human social justice issues. What about the 400,000 children that are migrant farm workers? Do you eat bananas, chocolate or drink coffee? There are so many issues going on within the food industry well beyond whether or not it’s “ok” to eat meat.
What’s the most “moral” way to eat?
If you truly are looking to cause the least harm to animals, be the most sustainable and ethically responsible with your food consumption, then your lens has to open a bit to include some other questions. If you know animals will die for your soylent, is it ok to drink it? If you know that the spraying of non-organic bananas also means schools and local homes are also sprayed with toxic chemicals, causing incredible illness and birth defects, is it still ok to eat them? Is it ok to eat tomatoes when you don’t know who harvested them? If you knew that a 12 yr old girl had worked a 12 hr day instead of going to school so that you could have red tomatoes in January, are tomatoes more virtuous and cleaner than lamb? If you don’t see “blood” or bones in your plastic wrapped package of chicken, does that make it easier for you to eat it? Is white meat “cleaner” to eat? Are birds less of an animal than a cow? Is it ok to drink milk from a confined dairy cow but not ok to eat the meat from a cow that has spent its entire life on pasture? Which process allows the cow to live a good life, (ok, maybe a grass-fed cow has one bad day, but that dairy cow will also die.) Which system is better to support? Are Meatless Mondays changing how cows are treated?
By opting out of the system entirely, and not eating meat at all, are you changing how meat is produced?
Factory farming is not the answer, but in my personal opinion, if we all had more exposure to sustainable food production, then there would be far less confusion about what is right. If everyone had the experience of working or living on a small-scale organic farm that integrated pasture-based animals (like I do) then the answers to these questions would be much more clear. We are part of nature. As much as we like to avoid the thought, life is not possible without death.
If we agree that cows are critical for soil health, then we should also eat them.
Further reading: Caroline Watson wrote a great post on the morals of meat eating. The Vegetarian Myth, written by an ex-vegan, also does a good job explaining the moral argument to consume meat, and I just purchased Vegan Betrayal, by Mara Kahn and am looking forward to diving into. On the flip side, I also recently purchased The Humane Economy, by vegan and head of The Humane Society Wayne Pacelle, to better understand where animal rights activists are coming from. I believe it’s critical to explore both sides of a story in order to understand it fully. While I appreciate the “intent” of those who choose not to eat meat, I simply disagree with their logic.
What are your thoughts?
Brian Klein says
Wow, you are truly on a roll. I haven’t found such well written opinions on this subject, and it’s making it easier for me to explain to people the misconceptions of plant-based “sustainability.” Thanks!!
Yes I agree animals are killed in the process of producing vegetables. Just as they are in any large industrial process. Just as they are in the building of houses, roads and cities. Are we to believe that in the process of producing, transporting, and marketing meat to feed hundreds of millions of Americans the only animals killed are the ones that were intended to be killed? So since there will be unintended animal deaths in the process of housing and feeding a large human population regardless of what we eat does that justify the existence of an industry which raises billions of animals annually for the sole purpose of killing them for food? Unless the human population shrinks dramatically and we go back to living in caves humans will inevitably cause unintended animal deaths regardless of what they eat. This fact is somehow supposed to justify raising animals with the purpose of killing them for food. It’s crazy what kind of reasons people come up with to justify their actions.
What does justify killing plants? They provably suffer as well. Is it that animals are closer to you in the evolutionary tree so they can enjoy a special kind protection? It’s crazy what kind of reasons and entire political ideologies people generate to justify their irrational actions.
Plants may feel pain when killed, but there is little evidence they are self aware or that their fruit feels pain when eaten since it is not yet a plant.
I fail to see how my vegetable garden is killing animals or how plants living out their life are feeling pain making fruit for me to eat.
Yes, thank yoy for this response!
But who gives us a right to cut down animals time? We’ve bread these animals to die. Most people buy their meat at the grocery store, aka factory farming. People are not the same as animals & it’s a ridiculous comparison. Animals eat each other to survive. So maybe the cow gets brutally murdered out in the wild. I’m sure he lived a better life than he would if he was born into factory farming. We don’t need meat to survive.
Gino Lefevere says
“small- scale organic farm that integrated pasture-based animals” say’s it all, this is not the way you can feed 7+ billion people on this planet. And even that pasture- based chicken would not lay an egg every day but 10 to 20 times less if it was treated the natural way. Meat and dairy is simply a very inefficient, environment harmful and cruel way to produce food as produced now (50% of the just born chickens go into a grinder because the are male). A shift to plant based as the norm could free up land for crop for human use and leave grazing land for animals and wild life. For meat eaters there is a solution as cultured meat is coming. As climate is changing we need to urge and seek a solution for all not for those who can afford it alone.
Great read! I try to not get frustrated by the vegetarian and vegan movement as I definitely believe we all have our own journey to take in regards to health. Your last line fits my view perfectly; “While I appreciate the “intent” of those who choose not to eat meat, I simply disagree with their logic.” Educating ourselves on both sides of an issue requires knowing what good research is and understanding the motives and funding of those doing it. That goes for documentaries as well. Thanks for a well articulated article. 🙂
This is really well thought out and written!
Facts trump feelings every time.
I stumbled upon this website (SuperMeat.com) the other day that sort of addresses this issue. I’ve looked it over and must admit that it’s gotten my attention. A lot of advantages it would seem with every few, if any disadvantages. Thoughts?
Robb Wolf says
Diana addressed this topic in previous posts, but here are a few things to noodle on:
-Does growing meat in a petri-dish make sense from an energy in vs energy out perspective? Especially when compared to sunlight>>grass>>grazers.
-IF grasslands need herbivores to be healthy, how is this process helping to prevent desertification and reverse climate change, which is what holistic management appears to offer?
Excellent post, as always, Diana. I just want to add what always comes to my mind in discussions like these — if industrial agriculture and CAFOs are allowed to continue the destructive way they’ve been operating, the planet won’t be worth living on for any of us anyway.
Kellie Blair says
This article is very interesting! I farm in north central Iowa and we raise pigs and cows, so the vegetarian question comes up every so often.
Now, my beef (catch the pun?!) with this article is that you make so much sense when putting facts to the vegan/vegetarian vs. meat eaters (like: soil health and a humane death), but then you say that “factory farming” is not the answer.
I’m assuming you mean factory farming to be conventional farming. I am a conventional farmer.
We raise our cows outside on pasture. When they are ready to be finished for meat, we move them indoors to feed them. Is that wrong?
We raise our pigs indoors 100%. We utilize their manure at the exact rate and time for the soil that is needed. Is that not sustainable? When it is 100 degrees outdoors, it is 80 inside. When it is 20 below 0 outdoors, it is 80 inside. Is that wrong?
I don’t like to think of food like that: organic vs. conventional; free range vs. confinement. I believe they are all, in some way, the answer.
I completely agree with the statement that we all need more exposure to food production, but I don’t believe you understand the way I produce food and feel that you’d learn that we are sustainable “even though” we are conventional.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
I appreciate your comment and agree that farming isn’t black and white with respect to conventional vs. organic. I don’t believe that they are “all” the answer, however. I’ve seen “organic” farmers raise pigs with absolutely no grain in a New England winter and it looked to me like those pigs were suffering. You raise a good point. I need to differentiate though, between what people are exposed to in food films with respect to animal treatment and slaughter vs. what is do on the farm where I live. Most places are somewhere in between, I understand. Starting the conversation though, that all meat is not “bad” is the important piece.
“We raise our cows outside on pasture. When they are ready to be finished for meat, we move them indoors to feed them. Is that wrong?” Cows and pigs are more resilient than given credit for. I’ve seen farms in Canada that were able to graze their cattle year round without the need for supplementing and I’ve also seen farmers here in Texas who’s cattle happily frolick and play all day even in 110+ degrees. It has a lot to do with which breed you raise and how you tend the pastures. In hot places like west Texas we plant shade trees and keep shaded water tanks out so the cows have 24/7 access to water and can lounge in the shade. In Canada they rotate the pastures and leave some to get very overgrown so the cows can easily get to the grass.
The important thing to remember is that cows are rumaninents and can’t properly digest grains. No matter how well they’re treated, if you’re feeding your cattle grains then it’s unethical. Grain feeding is a relatively new practice at just under 100yrs old. Before that cattle were rotated in the pastures and if supplement feed was needed for things like winters in the barn, they used peas, not grain. That’s why black eyed peas are called cow peas in the south and how the tradition of eating black eyed peas for New Years was started.
ALICIA DEITNER says
My husband and I also conventional farm in Ontario, Canada. We have hogs and are held up to very high standards that we must up date on a yearly basis. Called CQA (Canadian Quality Assurance) our barns are inspected by a Vet and records of medications given and deaths of hogs are kept. The barns are inspected at each renewal time. So, as I really appreciate your article (very well written and many well researched points) on the subject of Vegan vs Meat I have to say that I believe in how our family farms.
Georgina Lock says
I have found your article very interesting. I have tried many ways of eating eg, paleo, vegan, “western diet”, vegetarian, pescitarian and am always interested in ways of eating to increase my energy and help me feel good.
Since you like reading books I would love to know if you or anyone here has read “Eat Roght For Your Type” by Dr D’Adamo. It’s the blood type diet. When I was vegan I was not at peace with people choosing to eat animal products. After reading this book it made me realise why some people are so hardwired to eat meat… like you’re saying, they need it, it’s in their genetics. But I think it’s equally important for you to understand some of us don’t need it… also based of our genetics. You seem very open minded so I hope you look into it. It will help you understand why vegetarians and vegans are the way they are and why some people do great eating that way and why some people don’t. Most importantly none of us should be put under the same umbrella. Some of us a meant to be vegetarian/vegan, some are meant to be paleo and others can eat it all. ✌🏻
We get a number of questions about the Blood Type Diet. The short answer is that the Blood Type Diet is unfounded, not supported by scientific evidence, and not recommended. Here are some links that might interest you:
Robb has talked about the Blood Type Diet on the podcast a few times, topic #7 of this episode was one of them http://robbwolf.com/2011/07/12/the-paleo-solution-episode-88/
Joanna Sheldon says
Suffering? Do you mean cold? Grain is not as warming as food with more roughage like hay or silage.
And pastured pigs are happy to eat hay. https://www.iamcountryside.com/pigs/wintering-pigs-on-pasture/#:~:text=A%20lot%20of%20people%20think,replace%20it%20with%20another%20one).
If you meant undernourished, that’s another issue. But that has nothing to do with extensive/organic or intensive/non-organic feeding systems.
Thanks for your work on this topic.
Wow, you spent a lot of time typing up these points and not one of them is valid. Animals are killed in vegetable production? So what? My choice of not supporting an industry that intentionally breeds animals and forces them to live in horrible conditions is pointless? That’s a very weak argument.
Yes, grazing animals are beneficial for soil. Wild grazing animals. Not animals that are bread for meat production, eat corn, and are kept in factory farms. These just cause methane pollution and they never see a grazing area. It’s not even close to possible to sustain global meat production using grazing herds.
I’m sure all your friends think you are very smart and all these people commenting that don’t want to feel guilty for doing something that they know is horrible. Best to just keep pumping out these “facts” and keep blowing smoke up each others asses. You couldn’t possibly be doing anything wrong. Everyone’s doing it!
Robb Wolf says
“Wow, you spent a lot of time typing up these points and not one of them is valid. Animals are killed in vegetable production? So what? My choice of not supporting an industry that intentionally breeds animals and forces them to live in horrible conditions is pointless? That’s a very weak argument.”
No, it’s a robust argument which was well articulated. You either did not read the article, missed the nuanced point that “intentionality” does not get you a pass on this topic, or it’s outside your reading comprehension.
“Yes, grazing animals are beneficial for soil. Wild grazing animals. Not animals that are bread for meat production, eat corn, and are kept in factory farms. ”
A grazing animal is only valuable in the ecosystem if it is “wild?” How can these animals be grass-fed (which is what the article argues for) AND eating corn and living in CAFO conditions? Do you see your own mistake here?
“It’s not even close to possible to sustain global meat production using grazing herds.”
Citation? Or is this a touchy-feely approximation?
Galina L. says
Why vegetarians often assume that meateaters feel guilty or think that eating animals is wrong? Not at all. I think that feeling guilty about natural things is a frequent sentiment among spoiled people from western world who crave some Utopian world order.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
A lot of people come to paleo from being vegetarian or vegan. People who think about their diets often end up experimenting with eating no meat for some period of time, but as their health fails, they usually end up paleo, because… meat is something that humans need to consume. Many of these folks still feel strange about eating it from an ethical perspective, and certainly it’s quite fashionable to be “plant based” these days. We are so disconnected from nature, which makes it hard to articulate or even understand why their bodies crave meat, yet they think it’s “not humane”. I get it. I think it’s actually odd to never feel strange or think hard about the idea of eating another animal’s muscle or their embryo (eggs).
‘meat is something that humans need to consume’
That’s not true, unless you know better than the US dietary guidelines and several scientists around the world. A well planned Vegan/Vegetarian diet provides all the nutrients one needs (considering B12 supplementation).
I missed the part where you included the effect of methane production by cows as an envorimental cost of meat production. This is a really important point to consider when you address this subject. I also wonder if you are sure about stating that a vegan diet is not the most sustainable. Here’s a nature paper showing that moving towars plant-based diets would reduce deforstation.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
Nowhere in the dietary guidelines does it say that a vegan diet is optimal for human health. A vegetarian diet is not technically void of animal products and can be healthy if well planned (lots of animal products like eggs, milk and cheese).
I link to the article where I talk in depth about the poor methodology used in calculating methane emissions. http://sustainabledish.com/meat-is-magnificent/
For the statement about vegan diets not being the most sustainable – this was the result of new research (linked to in the article) that looked into the importance of considering the use of pasture land, which is not in competition with humans for cropland. Much of the world’s landmass is only suitable for grazing, not vegetable production. When you consider this, a diet which includes herbivores (animals that eat grass) makes the most sense. I went to the study you linked to and it basically said the same thing:
“Under conditions of low yields and small cropland areas, ruminant-based diets have an advantage over monogastric-based diets. In these cases, ruminants use resources that do not compete for cropland that is, in this scenario group, limited.”
Are you suggesting that a craving for meat is somehow indicative of a biological need for meat? That seems absurd to me. Does the person who craves donuts and potato chips have a biological need for those foods? Food cravings are based on personal preferences for different foods and on past exposure to those foods. They do not arise because there is some special nutrient in that food that we need.
Mike Ritter says
I know I’m pissing in the wind here but – you mentioned that you choose not to support an industry that treats animals horribly with poor living conditions and counter intuitive feeding practice which sounds exactly like Diane’s position. I sure as hell don’t see a disagreement beyond the suggested solution.
I take it that you would be excited to support a system that does the opposite- improve land value & quality, life quality of animals, supply people with an insanely rich food source, improves the quality of crops, stimulate local economies and potentially wreck the meat industry that you vehemently oppose?
There is a place my friend, and you should go.
Chris Johnson says
Good article, covering a lot of important points.
I know some vegetarians, and would like to point them at this. I know it will be unpleasant reading for them. It would really help if the numerous typographical errors were fixed. Even better, would be some editing to improve clarity and cohesion in a couple of places. It’s much easier for those holding opposing viewpoints to simply write off an essay like this when they can spot so many English language usage errors.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
If you found the information useful, and you’d like to be helpful, feel free to email me the corrections. info (at) sustainabledish.com
This is a very good post! I once watched a video by Sean Croxton and he talked about how it’s not only the big animals but also the small animals that are important. This is so true. It is refreshing to read a post with a good information from the ecological and economical view point too.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
I agree that all animals are important – I talked about cattle specifically because they are vilified the most. However, we eat way too much chicken.
ALICIA DEITNER says
Just read an article in our local farm paper that states beef consumption has deceased by 8% and is at it’s lowest level in 37 yrs. While chicken consumption is up over 400%. Just an FYI from Ontario.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
But all of our modern diseases like obesity and T2D are from all this extra beef we’re eating!!! lol
You make a few valid points but I’m afraid really you have just cherry-picked some facts to support your argument and ignored many others that do not.
There is enough hard information available now for people to get an idea of the impact of animal farming and, from what I’ve seen (and I have read widely), the conclusions made by researchers and statisticians don’t agree with what you are saying.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
For people who know how to read research instead of headlines, it’s much easier to see the faulty methodology used in the studies claiming meat is: an incredibly high water use (they’re including rainfall, not just water for cows to drink), high methane (they aren’t looking at how beneficial cow manure is for the soil, only the farting of cows fed grain), and nutrition (they’re largely looking at observational research, which can not prove cause). So, yes, I’m choosing to cite research with methodology that supports my view that nature works, and that lab-produced proteins are not what they seem. Here is the paper you can read and decide for yourself. Please actually follow links instead of going with mainstream thought and use your own judgement: http://sustainabledish.com/meat-is-magnificent/
Finally, at the end of this post, which by the way is largely about the moral implications of eating meat, so I actually didn’t cite many studies since this is a philosophical argument, I DO list a book written by a vegan that proposes a completely opposite point of view – saying that that if humans are to have a “humane” economy, then meat shouldn’t be part of the picture. Did you not catch that? I actually read a ton of research on the subject of meat production, from ALL angles.
You say that “grazing animals are beneficial for the soil” but perhaps that should say *can be* beneficial, if farmed in an ideal fashion.
The vast majority of livestock farming is very harmful for the environment. Soil compaction and erosion, loss of soil structure and (often ignored) degradation of soil biodiversity due to inappropriate land use methods such as deep tilling and associated intensive crop production. Diffuse watercourse & groundwater pollution through use of chemicals, leaks from slurry stores and any number of other sources. I could go on…
I am not some flag-waving ‘hippy’ dreamer or vegan campaigner. I work in the agricultural & food production sector, grew up in a farming community and still live in a rural part of the Marches (the Welsh borders) where agriculture is an important part of the economy. I don’t have an agenda. But I know what I see and the practices and the very real consequences. I have spoken with Environment Agency employees, wildlife NGOs and volunteers and more, all of whom will tell you the same depressing story.
You can wax lyrically about the sweet concept of pasture-fed animals, lovingly cared for by their adoring owners, but that image is not representative of the huge industry supported by the 99.9% of consumers (meat and non-meat alike). Yes nature works but animal farming, whether for meat, milk, eggs or other related products, using the 21st century technology, breeds, plant varieties and so on common in the first world countries can in no way be called ‘sustainable’, never mind being described as ‘good for the environment’.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
I state very clearly that I do not endorse factory farming and propose that consumers create more of a demand for animals raised using regenerative techniques. If there is no demand, then the change will not happen. There is great demand growing in the US for meat raised this way. I happen to LIVE on a farm where we sell lots of meat raised this way. Meatless Mondays and other ways of opting out of the system aren’t going to drive change in animal ag.
IMHO a change towards lower meat consumption is *more* likely to drive real, positive change in agriculture – and be environmentally and ethically acceptable to those who care about these things – than what you are proposing. Doing this is no more “opting out” than any other choice. I think that term has negative connotations that are unhelpful to a healthy discussion. If you were an arable farmer would you deride the current vogue for gluten-free / wheat-free diets as “opting out”? Industrial scale arable production has its issues too.
Regardless, I don’t see how you can persuade enough farmers to rear animals this way and get the general population to buy it (many of whom couldn’t afford it even if they wanted to)? And, once you have persuaded them to do it, how do you make that system sustainable for the general population with the quantities of meat we consume now? I cannot see how that is even remotely possible.
Robb Wolf says
Good questions. It’s tough to unpack ALL issues in a single blog post. The scalability topic has been well addressed in academic literature and outlets like the Savory Institute. You will see more of that pop up here and we are also working on a book. Please keep these questions hot in your mind, take in that material and evaluate it critically.
It was a lot of work on my (and others) parts to get the idea across that gut permeability is a big factor in autoimmunity, neurodegeneration and insulin resistance. It’s a complex story, as is this sustainability story. All i ask is you remain open to the POSSIBILITY that what is proposed here may have legs.
thomas warren says
i am grateful to the author for her considerate and well reasoned approach to this issue. my journey from vegetarian to something else reflects many of the points raised in this article.
my current stance is that my most ethical option is a balanced diet of wild harvested plants, and hunted wild game. allow the buffalo to leave yellowstone and repopulate their native range. allow our ecosystems to heal from invasive resource extaction and farming techniques so they can sustain the medicinal and nutrient rich plants that our bodies are trully craving.
Robert Seitz says
I would like to make the world a better place, and food has and will continue to be a very major topic of discussion. One thing to consider is the amount of food that is wasted, especially in the United States. Like all products, things are mass produced and consumed at varying rates. If it is textiles, Electronics, etc, companies have little regard for overproduction of goods, as long as they can sell enough to make money. So the leftovers are strewn across the planet and put into garbage dumps. In this way, I propose a simple solution to the most poignant question this article provides: WE overproduce Meat and Vegetables at a consistent rate, allowing for more trash through food than consumption. Everyone should buy only what they are going to eat, it would eliminate the need to house 8 million chickens in one poultry den. It would eliminate the need to put 1000 milking cows in 1 room. Consume everything you purchase or make, and we won’t need to OVERPRODUCE anymore. Think about it
Becky Davis says
Hey Diana and Robb! Awesome post and I absolutely love what you’re doing. I have definitely seen a shift here in NC over the past few years towards an increase in demand for local and sustainably produced food. It’s been incredible to watch the area go from a couple farmer’s markets to an entire chain of restaurants and stores providing meat from local farmers.
I appreciate you linking to my graph, I’m thrilled you found it useful!
Caroline Watson’s posts are both excellent, I’ve read them a few times over, and wow! the soft slaughter video is eye opening. I had a chance to watch the demonstration at Primal Eye on butchering a chicken and the amount of care and gratitude that smaller farms demonstrate for their animals stands in such contrast to the large scale operations.
Excellent point on the human ethics side, too, it’s often a point that’s missed. I’ve never understood how people can raise a fuss over the cruelty of eating meat and then ignore issues like cocoa produced by forced child labor and clothing from sweat shops.
Best wishes and thanks for all your work!
Elizabeth Resnick says
Such a great post! I was a vegetarian for over 30 years. Ovo-lacto for most of that time, sometimes more of a pescatarian, and vegan for a short time. it all started because I loved animals, but then I also began to believe that it was healthier. I felt great at the beginning stages of vegan, but eventually my cystic acne worsened, as did my digestive problems. I also developed anxiety. I’m not saying that being a vegan caused this, but I can say that after I finally decided to add some high quality animal protein and fat to my diet, everything changed for the better. My skin cleared, digestive issues resolved, anxiety gone. All in a few months. (I also completely cut out grains, but its not like I was eating a lot of them to begin with.) I think maybe some people can do fine on a vegetarian or vegan diet. But I now know that at this stage of my like (about to turn 50) I feel amazing consuming pastured animal products. We all have to listen to our bodies.
Lulu T says
Interesting article. I just wish the author had educated herself better on ‘factory farms’ and large slaughterhouses” to better understand the science and ethological processes that exist in these places. I suspect she has never set foot on modem dairies and spoken to the animal caregivers there, or witnessed the animal handling facilities designed by Temple Grandin that are in place in slaughterhouses.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
Yes, actually I link to a short film I created in a slaughterhouse that was designed by Temple Grandin. I’m not sure I understand your point. Are you saying that I am against “factory farms” because of their inhumane practices? Yes, in many cases, large facilities generally are not Animal Welfare Approved, however this is not the only reason I am against CAFOs in general.
Lea Deborde says
I think animals or plants are the same thing, they just have to be treated with ‘respect’ (in a sense to respect their primitive need), but yes eventually they will die, and it’s okay !
You made me laugh a lot with ” Is it because the flesh of fish and chicken is white?”
Megan McKinney says
I feel as though the author makes the slaughter of cattle seem much more “humane” than it actually is. In the majority of cases, at 14-16 months old, the cattle are rounded up at the prime of their lives and transported to a slaughterhouse. Considering that they are capable of living 25 years, these animals are essentially adolescents. The process of transporting the cattle is extremely stressful. Like all animals, cattle have an innate fear of unfamiliar surroundings. Current laws allow transporters to travel up to 28 consecutive hours without a rest period. The 28-hour period can be extended to 36 hours by simply submitting a written request. During this time, the animals are deprived of food and water, and vomiting and diarrhea are common due to hours of vibration and maneuvering. At the slaughterhouse, each individual is placed in a “stunning box” designed to restrain the animal so he/she can be stunned. The tool most commonly used for this procedure is a captive bolt pistol. A pointed bolt penetrates the brain causing the animal to spasm uncontrollably, and then collapse. After being shackled by the hind legs and raised off the ground, the cattle’s throat is cut, and an incision is made from the neck to the abdomen. During the bleeding process many cattle regain some degree of consciousness, and workers must be cautious not to stand too close as the struggling animals flail their limbs. It’s also worth noting that the conditions the majority of these cattle are raised in are not natural or comfortable for the animals. With all of this considered, I personally believe a natural death is less traumatic. Even domesticated, they are susceptible to natural deaths, vulnerable to attacks by coyotes and other predators. As a result, U.S. Wildlife Services kills thousands of native wild animals each year. These predators are invaluable to the local ecosystem where they play an integral role in keeping other animal populations in balance. In addition, native wildlife must compete for resources with these domesticated animals. In the 20th century, more than 98% of prairie dog populations were wiped out, primarily due to livestock rearing. Also, restricted within a particular area, the cattle often have no refuge from extreme weather. Many die as a result of intense heat, hypothermia and seasonal floods.
A few other things to consider:
1) Thirty percent of the world’s ice-free surface is used to grow food for cows, chickens, and pigs which could be fed directly to humans instead. The amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet. The US population is about 324 million.
2) The average fossil energy input for all the animal protein production systems is more than 11 times greater than that for grain protein production. Also, livestock directly uses a relatively small amount of the total water used in agriculture, but when the water required for forage and grain production is included, the water requirements for livestock production dramatically increase.
3) About 60% of United States pastureland is being overgrazed and is subject to accelerated erosion. It takes approximately 500y to replace 1 in of lost soil.
4) The biggest threat to sustainability, however, is population growth. It’s getting to the point where neither diet is sustainable because the earth is overpopulated. The earth would likely thrive without us in the first place. A couple of helpful solutions would be to grow more of our own food and to adopt. There are so many children in the system who need good homes.
I’ll admit that the fact that animals are killed in the process of plant production is thought-provoking. The author compares the death of one cow to simply “modern row cropping techniques.” The argument for which one is more ethical would depend on how many people one cow can feed vs. the production of vegetation to feed the same number of people and the number of small animals killed in the process, which is difficult to calculate.
What about the number of small animals killed in the process of producing food for the farm animals? As stated earlier, 30% of the world’s ice-free surface is used to support the livestock/chicken/pigs people eat. There’s no such thing as humane murder. Yes, animals get killed in the process of plant production, but no one on a tractor wants to run over a chipmunk, but s*** happens, and what are we supposed to do, not eat at all? An air-based diet? Until more people start growing their own food, the commercial farming of plants will be inevitable if people actually get to eat. Also, maybe something needs to be done to keep small animals out of the crops, such as a fence that extends into the ground, so that it’s no longer a problem.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
First of all, the slaughter process you describe is not the norm and there are a ton of overly emotional descriptors in there that are unnecessary. I’ve witnessed several slaughters, have you? Not all animals travel that far, because not all slaughterhouses are that far away from farms. Also, you say “A pointed bolt penetrates the brain causing the animal to spasm uncontrollably” – nope, this is not true. I’ve seen it, have you? The bolt renders them senseless to pain, so that the throat slit isn’t as cruel. Some animals like pigs do spam AFTER the throat slit, but this is a spinal nerve reaction and not a pain reaction. Animal Welfare Approved has specific guidelines for slaughter which I endorse.
“Even domesticated, they are susceptible to natural deaths, vulnerable to attacks by coyotes and other predators. As a result, U.S. Wildlife Services kills thousands of native wild animals each year. These predators are invaluable to the local ecosystem where they play an integral role in keeping other animal populations in balance.” – yes I address this in the actual post.
“Also, restricted within a particular area, the cattle often have no refuge from extreme weather. Many die as a result of intense heat, hypothermia and seasonal floods.” – what responsible rancher would do this, from a humane or simply economic perspective? You think they hate their cattle? Where is your citation for this?
Your other points:
“1) Thirty percent of the world’s ice-free surface is used to grow food for cows, chickens, and pigs which could be fed directly to humans instead. The amount of grains fed to US livestock is sufficient to feed about 840 million people who follow a plant-based diet. The US population is about 324 million.” – did I advocate for grain fed animals ANYWHERE in this post? I also happen to not advocate for grain fed humans.
Your point #2 – Please read links in the article before spewing out erroneous factoids http://sustainabledish.com/meat-is-magnificent/
Point #3 – citation for this? Soil erosion is actually from loss of grazers and grain farming (which, as I mention numerous times, I DO NOT endorse)
Point #4 – Yes, there are too many people. This was a post on the moral argument for being an omnivore, so due to restraints, I did not get into population control. Adoption is great, but also messy – please see the amazing film Poverty, Inc regarding adoption.
“The author compares the death of one cow to simply “modern row cropping techniques.” The argument for which one is more ethical would depend on how many people one cow can feed vs. the production of vegetation to feed the same number of people and the number of small animals killed in the process, which is difficult to calculate.” – this would be quite simple to calculate: cows win.
“What about the number of small animals killed in the process of producing food for the farm animals?” – there you go with the grain thing again – I DO NOT endorse feeding grain to cattle.
“Yes, animals get killed in the process of plant production, but no one on a tractor wants to run over a chipmunk, but s*** happens, and what are we supposed to do, not eat at all? An air-based diet?” – see my argument about theory of least harm.
This comment, however made my entire day!
“Also, maybe something needs to be done to keep small animals out of the crops, such as a fence that extends into the ground, so that it’s no longer a problem.”
ha ha ha – fantastic idea! I’ll just build a fence to keep those little animals out, around thousands of acres, that will work GREAT!
Laurie Rauch says
Very informative post and learned a lot from it. As a scientist I know the rigors of trying to include all angles, so as far as I am concerned, no one can win this argument. Both sides have important things to say, not to win any perceived argument, but rather to make people think, look to their own hearts and decide for themselves. I would just like to ask, given that you posed this question to another respondent.
“I’ve witnessed several slaughters, have you?”
I’m curious, have you ever slaughtered a domestic animal yourself to eat it?
Diana Rodgers, RD says
Yes, I live on a working farm and have slaughtered a domestic animal myself and have eaten it.
Geoff Stone says
I find such acts barbaric and unnecessary. I’m from New Zealand and have worked on various farms and orchards. I’ve observed a normative disregard for animal welfare and a generally unreflective factory farm mentality (operating at various scales and across different circumstances). From my standpoint, I would be only too happy for grazing farmland to revert to bush and for more sustainable methods of vegetable and fruit growing to be invested in (particularly organic). There are plenty of meat alternatives that will inevitably be produced at an increasingly larger scales that will supersede standard forms of meat production on cost alone, let alone considerations of environment and ethical grounds. You are nostalgically arguing for the maintenance of increasingly redundant lifestyles and technologies. Virtues ethics would suggest that on balance it is least harmful to move to a more vegetarian and vegan diet. I generally find the people who do so more thoughtful and interested in what it is to be fully human. Diana, you might one of a few exceptions that proves the rule (in terms of your willingness to explore the issues)
Leaf Eating Carnivore says
Aside from the population issue (hey, folks, 1 child/person, MAX, and the problem will resolve itself sooner, rather than later), the word that is missing here is HABITAT, as in DESTRUCTION. Fences? Nope – you are depriving the rabbits and voles and the bugs that feed the birds of the local lunchbox to which they are adapted, etc, etc. Endpoint = extinction. Small personal veggie gardens? Nope – each one drives a smaller scale displacement. Add them all up and you get the same endpoint. Humanely, sustainably pastured or wild ruminants ARE the most benign solution, as they are symbiotic with, and regenerative of, the grass and shrubs they eat (and we cannot).
Bottom line – if the ethics of killing to live bother you ( and they should – they do deserve serious thought), you can either accept that life = death = life, for every creature, including us by our very existence, and behave as respectfully as you can towards your food and the world in which it lives, or you can shuck the responsibility – just stop eating and die. There is no choice. You can mitigate, but you can’t escape this reality.
Tom Kilworth says
An honest and engaging article on an important topic, but in spite of your efforts, it fails to establish moral grounds for the consumption of animal products.
Humans are incredibly recent mammals, and to imply that our continued use of animals for food sources is necessary for an environment that progressed in our absence for orders of magnitude longer than we have inhabited it is, frankly, absurd.
When you say that a death on a farm is preferable to that in the wild, you’re not wrong, but the example is fallacious. Vegans aren’t saying that it would be better for billions of animals to die in the wild, rather, they are saying it would be better not to have billions of animals on farms. It’s a population of creatures that exists only through the activities of humans. Essentially, it’s a matter of deaths on farms + death in the wild, or just deaths in the wild.
Unless there is a stronger ecological case to be made, there is still no moral grounds for animal exploitation for an unnecessary source of nourishment.
Lastly, on the point regarding animal death from crop harvest, et al., there are two key points:
1. The issue is one of reducing causes of unnecessary harm, wth a goal of its eradication. If there is another way to feed humans without killing field mice, then it should be done, but if not, see “unnecessary”
2. Animals eat plants too. If you choose to stop eating meat, eggs, and diary, you are causing no (* a great deal less) demand for the sustaining of that species, thus you reduce demand for crop yield too. And while you may sing the praises of cows grazing on wide open fields, it is in no way a viable method for feeding the sheer number of humans on this planet.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
In the specific case I referenced, the vegan said “why do we need to eat the animals, why can’t we just let them improve the soil and live out their lives” – so THIS is where I am coming from. If we need the cattle to improve the soil, then we should eat them. Your second point about environmentalism, please see http://sustainabledish.com/meat-is-magnificent/ which is also cited in the post.
Your last two points – you can not have life without death. impossible. and I do think there is a way for regional, sustainable agriculture and pasture-based methods to feed the world. In the beginning of the post, I cite a very recent study about land use and how producing a plant-only diet for humans is NOT the most efficient use of land – we CAN NOT feed the world on a vegan diet, it makes no sense (most of the land on the earth’s surface is not suitable to grow vegetables, but much of that IS suitable for grazing): http://elementascience.org/article/info:doi/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116
It’s much much more efficient from a land use perspective to use pasture land for grazing and crop land for vegetables. We need to get more efficient with the types of meat we eat, how we prepare & store it, and stop throwing away so much of it. That’s another post/book.
“Humans are incredibly recent mammals, and to imply that our continued use of animals for food sources is necessary for an environment that progressed in our absence for orders of magnitude longer than we have inhabited it is, frankly, absurd.”
– Regardless of animals Vs plants, humans (regardless of how long we’ve been here) are impacting the environment in a huge (and terrible) way. The question is how to reverse the damage and find the most sustainable way forward. If we were to mimic nature as closely as possible as omnivores, then we would continue to eat animals and plants. As we now (for better or worse – yes it’s ‘worse’) we control/impact the environment so yes, animals are necessary. Other species of animals are facing extinction that are not in our food chain.
“It’s a population of creatures that exists only through the activities of humans.”
– There are about 100 million cattle in the U.S.
– When we arrived to the U.S. there were an estimated 60 million buffalo
As Diana states, you can’t have life without death. Do we kill off animals (or prevent the offspring) to reduce the amount of suffering?
It would be sooooo much more productive if the vegetarian/vegan/paleo/ethical/environmental/etc. people joined forces against the clearly inhumane and negative impacts on the environment regardless of whether it’s animal or plant foods. Let’s face it… 99% (unscientific – no reference) of our food chain needs to be improved! The animal Vs plant argument is a distraction from the real issues.
Karrington Moudry-Cooper says
“This is necessary. Life feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on life, feeds on life…” Maynard James Keenan, singer of Tool.
Well put Diana, and well articulated.
Stephanie Welch says
Thanks Diana for posting this! Like many people here, I also spent a couple of years going hardcore vegetarian for all the “right” reasons: health, ethics, and sustainability. I’ve since had my mind thoroughly changed on all three. Here’s how I personally summarize my rationale, pretty consistent with your points.
Health: If you know Dan Lieberman’s work (cited in Born to Run), the best explanation for how humans came to be so advanced is on account of the high-calorie, nutrient-dense animal foods we acquired when we became endurance-running predators. This is what allowed us to feed our ever-expanding and energy-hungry brains long before cooking or tools. It is also consistent with the makeup of our digestive systems, an omnivorous proportion of organs that has more in common with a rat’s than with a chimpanzee’s. Now that we’ve also established that sugar, not saturated fat, is to blame for the majority of metabolic health problems, we should be looking at meat as a species-appropriate and beneficial food source.
Ethics: We are a result of life feeding on life on this planet, and it is senseless to think we can be morally superior by “opting out” of the so-called “harm” that is an inevitable part of continuing to live here. (“If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”) Everything that lives dies. So we can attend to two things: the quality of life, and the manner of death, that we participate in. If you gave any animal the option of how it wanted to live, and one of the options was “lovely farm where you’ll never be hungry or chased by predators and you’ll get to engage in normal animal activities,” they would all sign up for it. If you gave them an option of death being “swift and painless, no being eaten alive, no drowning, no starving to death, no dying of illness, etc.” they would all sign up for it. (Furthermore, if you asked the animals at what point in their life cycle the ideal end would be, they would say, “What do you mean?” as they, lacking as developed a pre-frontal cortex as us, only live in “the now.”) So while we don’t always do a great job exercising these principles with our existing practices, we are more than capable of prioritizing them to exceed the comparable outcomes in nature, where suffering is quite regular.
Sustainability: The systems that created cattle, chickens, plants, and us all developed without our help. It’s the poor ways we’ve tried to manage it, like monocropping and CAFOs, that have caused us to create so much waste (both of resources and in toxic byproducts). Grasses and grazing animals evolved together along with predators and microorganisms and insects and everything else, interdependently. The closer we can get to appreciating and approximating ways to operate our own methods as closely to this as possible, the better we will get at maintaining sustainability, biodiversity, species interdependence, soil quality, water resources, etc.
Evolutionary biology. It’s our only hope of getting ourselves out of the messes we’ve created.
Leaf Eating Carnivore says
Kymber Maulden says
I love you, Diana!!
I am a nutritionist and health coach and have been working out how to approach “paleo” health coaching, as I have already received so much vegan hate and I havent even launched my site yet!! Im also a recovered bulimic and have been working through a whole slew of complex health challenges over the years and trading in veganism for paleo has been the biggest game changer of my whole life!!
I almost want to make a youtube video where I read this article out loud instead of just posting it for others to skim through on social media. Also, I think im definitely going to be linking it into my site!! You are a gift. <3
Amy H says
Interesting, this article felt like rationalization to me. I’d like to see a link to how we feed the world’s growing population on grass-fed beef and humanely killed animals at current consumption levels. That is the biggest issue. It is not possible.
Instead of alienating vegans and vegetarians, try to gain support for grass-fed cows on otherwise unsustainable land and unite forces with them against CAFOs.
As far as animals dying regardless… I suppose if we could ask them, they would rather not die at a fraction of their lifespan. However, most animal suffering is caused by the 99% of non grass-fed cows.
Lastly, are you saying Paleo people never eat non grass-fed beef, produce off-season or from a faraway location, non-organic bananas, chocolate or coffee? Doubtful.
Diana Rodgers, RD says
I think there is huge room for improvement within the paleo community for better food choices – I try to bring this to light at all the talks I do.
Kavre Drago says
Stephanie Welch wrote: “… Evolutionary biology. It’s our only hope of getting ourselves out of the messes we’ve created.”
Are you able to answer this question:
Did paleolitic humans impose monogamy to themselves?
I think that the current rate of destruction is strongly linked to how humans organize their families, and the consequent insatisfaction of natural bodily needs.
Stephanie Welch says
This is off the main topic, but it does in fact tie back to what we changed when we started doing agriculture (controlling our own food resources instead of relying on traditional methods that embrace the cycle of life and death and biological interdependence). I think it’s good to recognize that our mismatches are all part of the same bigger picture when we look for solutions.
Back when humans lived in small tribes where your genetics were closely tied to everyone in the group and survival was dependent on everyone else (you couldn’t feed your own kids and let everyone else’s starve without being ostracized), monogamy would have had no particular reason to be preferred. Sex was able to be used as more of a social bonding tool. Furthermore, in that light, homoerotic behavior probably served the same function and wasn’t strongly selected against because it didn’t hurt to have a few spare aunts or uncles occasionally to increase the caretaker-to-dependent ratio in the tribe to support our long periods of childhood dependency.
Monogamy had no reason to become a thing until agriculture, where we started settling in one place for a long time, organizing ourselves more nuclearly, producing more for ourselves instead of relying on one another, being able to accumulate substantial amounts of property, and wanting to pass it down to our direct descendants instead of sharing everything with our community. So, yes, we are now fighting with ourselves against our evolutionary, hunter-gatherer instincts when it comes to relationships, too, and it basically all goes back to when we started farming.
Kavre Drago says
Maybe “off the main topic”, but still essential, because:
too much competition
Healthy resources are scarce, and such is a “best and only” woman / man. Environment wouldn’t stand it for long. We should legalize symmetrical polygamy anyway, paleodiet or not.
good article/essay. i very much agree. in fact i’ve made many of those observations myself.
no getting through to vegans of course until the blinders come off.
Bharat @ Mcdonaldsindia says
I was against that but now you make me satisfy about it. My view somehow got changed.
Thank you for responding so patiently and thoughtfully to the folks who oppose your article on principle, but didn’t actually read it and attack you for things you didn’t say and don’t believe.
Kavre Drago says
Stephanie: your answer is “no”. But I should underline the main point:
As is true that our digestive tract is not *genetically* predisposed for neolitic food, the same applies to our reproductive organs in regard to monogamy. It is not just a matter of free choice. That’s why I wrote “imposed”.
Consequently, the following is true:
too much competition
Healthy food resources are scarce, and such is a “best and only” woman / man. We should legalize symmetrical (balanced) polygamy anyway, paleo diet or not.
I have just watched the best part of my evening go south as I duked it out with a vegan in the comments section on a French translation of this article. For a vegan, she was going for blood… Anyway, thank you for a great article and Diana for taking the time to battle it out with people who have already made up their minds and have no intention of shifting. This is what I describe as folks who start by being open-minded, because hey, being vegan is quite an alternative life choice. And they get more and more open to these new ideas until they start closing up. Until finally, they are as close minded as those people who judged them from the get-go. Give me your hinting, fishing good old boy whose mind is closed because it never got the chance to open than someone who went through open mindedness and came out closed the other side!
I have been a vegan for 20 years (after growing up on a small and lovely family-run dairy farm) and there was a lot I enjoyed about this article. I don’t often come across defenses of eating meat that go as far as this post did into the ethical concerns that are, in my mind at least, at the core of veganism. I see veganism as being squarely based in an ethical/philosophical inquiry into animal rights (and not specific to dietary concerns), rather than an inquiry into environmental or health concerns (which are obviously related and matter equally, but aren’t so squarely centered in the semantic bucket of veganism). So, thank you for that. It’s really comforting to me to see this kind of ethical engagement with animal rights, specifically. It was supportive to me to read what you had to say.
I am writing you because your article and the comments after the article leave me with the sense that this is particular post is serving as a forum for folks who have a negative opinion about vegans, even though there is a shared concern about a number of ethical issues related to animals. Reading it, I had the subtle sense that, as a vegan, I’m not particularly welcome here. I’m sad about that because I really support this idea from Pan:
“It would be sooooo much more productive if the vegetarian/vegan/paleo/ethical/environmental/etc. people joined forces against the clearly inhumane and negative impacts on the environment regardless of whether it’s animal or plant foods. Let’s face it… 99% (unscientific – no reference) of our food chain needs to be improved! The animal Vs plant argument is a distraction from the real issues.”
I think that’s so true!
After I became a vegan, I spent about seven years of my career working in rangeland conservation, partnering with cattle ranchers on issues of environmental sustainability We shared a lot in common in what we valued: improved soil quality, improved wildlife habitat, conditions that allowed families living on ranches to thrive and meet their livelihood needs, improved dialogue and community. There was a lot we disagreed about on strategy levels, but there was still soooo much connection on the values level that we were a primary part of one another’s social circles for years. Once, a rancher said to me, “I am inviting all the folks out for a cattle branding and BBQ. It will be a lot of fun and I want you to know are invited, but I imagine you wouldn’t enjoy it because of the branding part.” I said thank you and that, yes, it wasn’t a good fit for me. This exchange was very warm, and I felt it was so touching that I could be so fully welcomed and accepted while also being implicitly acknowledged as standing for the well-being of the animals being branded. He could believe that I cared about my connection with him even though I feel distress at the thought of an animal being branded. I believe he cared about the suffering of his cattle (and that he trusted I knew it), and that he cared about the sensitivity I would feel in the presence of it, even though he believed it necessary to conduct the branding.
I especially value this kind of relationship: positive, connected, respectful and also transparent about differences. We definitely changed each other’s minds for the better in this context.
For what it is worth to any of the folks in this forum, I want to say that it is a lot easier for me to stay open-minded and open-hearted when I believe the speaker:
* believes my values matter, even if they aren’t as high a priority for them
* can recognize and appreciate my efforts to live out those values, even if there is disagreement about the strategies I am employing
* trusts that I have invested in and done my best to wrestle with the philosophical issues around my choice, even if there is knowledge I still don’t have
* does not assume that I am a single-issue fanatic unable to consider and balance other ethical issues besides animal rights.
I bet it’s true that many of you could make a similar list of what you wish for in dialogue with vegans. If you are willing, I hope you will make it, imagining a calm vegan having a good day as your audience, rather than the worst experience you ever had with a vegan (my rule of thumb for online addresses to any group). It would be great if there could be more forums where connected discussion about these issues were possible.
For what it is worth, I didn’t find this site because I am out to convince paleos to befriend vegans. I found it because, independent of being a vegan, I care a lot about nutrition and I’m interested in what paleos have to say about adequate protein levels. I was looking for what kind of recommendations there might be from the paleo world for vegans and proteins. It’s really hard to find anything like that and perhaps it doesn’t exist. Being vegan only matters in my diet with respect to a philosophy-based exclusion I choose to make–a set of foods I don’t eat. With respect to what I do eat, there is a lot of overlap between my dietary habits and paleo dietary habits, so I was hoping to find information about vegan protein needs. Most often, I see “plant proteins aren’t optimal.” Since optimal is a relative and not an absolute term (something is only optimal with respect to a defined set of values), this is hard for me to take in. If you accept that I choose to get my proteins exclusively from plants, optimizing for my own unique values, is there insight to be had from the paleo world?
This is great. We would be happy to work with more people like yourself to help progress on these issues. There’s probably more we agree on than we disagree on, and no reason to fight each other when can help each other with the issues we do agree on.
I agree with most of your points, including the ones that the harvesting of crops can cause death to animals in the process and that grazing animals are beneficial. I went vegan 1 & 1/2 years ago (health/ethics/environment), but am always open minded and accepting of other people’s beliefs & knowledge. I know it’s not entirely clear whether there are health and environmental benefits of a vegan diet that outweigh an omnivorous diet at this time and more research and time is needed. But I think it is hard to argue against a person’s own ethical reasons for choosing a vegan diet.
First of all, we know that humans can obtain all the nutrients they need and survive and thrive on a vegan diet if it is well planned just like any other diet. If humans could not do so, vegans and ethical arguments for/against eating meat would not exist, this article would not have been made, etc. Second, yes it is true that even when avoiding all animal products in an attempt to avoid harm and death, you may kill even more animal. It is impossible to be 100% vegan in our current society, but the definition itself implies doing the best you can as far as is practical.
Third, most of our crop production (soy, wheat) is used to make animal feed, not for human consumption. Fourth, humans breed cows, chickens, pigs, etc. and they would not exist if we had not. Does that mean we need them? No, we can certainly raise a lot less animals for food. We can of course keep some cows or theory animals for grazing (or as pets?), but that does not mean we have to kill or eat them. Fifth, we can avoid factory farm animals, which we know involves the most harsh conditions. But why avoid all animals, even wild, free-range, grass fed, etc.? Because there is a huge disconnect between how we view different animals: dogs & cats as pets; cows, chickens, pigs, etc. as food, etc. The disconnection we have when it comes to killing an animal and paying others to do it or maybe killing or hunting them ourselves for no reason other than us liking their taste. We have dogs & cats at home, but would not choose to kill & eat them, but in other countries people do. It mirrors how humans have discriminated against other humans, because of skin color, gender,etc. To what extent do humans have the privilege to make choices like these and not feel bad about them?
Last, it is true that most of our ancestors were omnivorous, but it does not mean that humans did not evolve over time to tolerate different diets. A much bigger, more important evolution that occurred is not physical, but mental: how we perceive the world and show empathy and compassion towards others. That is why there is a rise in vegans lately (Check out the Facebook page Plant Strong Fitness) This does not mean that if you’re not vegan you’re not compassionate. It’s just that veganism is a stepping stone towards a more compassionate viewpoint. In my experience, even if I did not choose to go vegan, being willing to learn about the reasons for doing so opened up my mind more towards the suffering that all animals, including humans experience.
To avoid typing a whole essay, I’ll conclude my comment here, lol. Just want to add that I appreciate your website and what I’ve learned from it and other people’s comments, but am sticking to a plant-based (vegan) diet due to the reasons I stated above.
Hi All, great article lots of intelligent conversations here, i think it great so many people are beginning the question where there food comes from and the nutritional value of it….that’s a plus in itself !!!
I have something to add about the ethics of eating meat. It’s not the killing of the animal I have a problem with. At the moment, I’ve been vegetarian for several months because I disagree with animals being raised for a small proportion of their natural lifespan, with the sole purpose of being slaughtered.
Petra Strubel says
Do I understand this right? The author argues that it is more human to kill people at a young age and process them to meat when allowing them to grow old and sick? No? When why should this nonsense be valid for cows?
I’m in a tough situation, in that I really don’t like meat but I eat it bc I know its healthier for me. I’ve been largely Paleo since last year though I only recently found out it has a name! My body began “telling” me what it wanted me to eat once my sleep apnea was cured via CPAP (my appetite hormones had been screwed up, resulting in crazy appetite for carbs/sugar, and massive weight gain). I realize Paleo says no grains, but my body has not “told” me that yet, it just “tells” me “less grains” so all I eat as for grains now is the occasional whole wheat pasta in a recipe. Anything sweet is gone, anything processed is gone, anything GMO is even gone! I’ve dropped 90 lbs so far and am no longer diabetic according to my doctor! But I don’t like meat, I never did. My mother even said when she was preg with me, meat made her sick so her dr (this was in the 1950s!) had to create a vegetarian diet for her.
Wow, haven’t read such a load of something for a long time. Nice way to make yourself and other meat-eaters feel better! If you NEED meat for food as you will probably use the “we are born this way, it’s in our DNA” argument – then go hunt it yourself and kill it. Farming animals just so few can eat it is wrong. You think people wouldn’t survive without meat? We evolved to a point where we don’t need to produce animals for our 3 minutes of pleasure.
Oh and about the fruits feeling – people, learn about nature. There’s a reason why fruits drop from trees and when not eaten get rotten. If you take an apple from a tree it will grow back fulfilling a cycle. When you cut cow’s head it grows back – oh wait! No it doesn’t! You have to impregnate more cows to have more cows and milk.
Written for meat eaters by meat eaters. There are a million other articles written by vegans for vegans with exactly the same childish arguments. To say that beef production takes the same amount of water as rice doesnt make beef production environmentally OK, it just means that rice needs questioning. [insert same logic for all the above].
And no, Im not a vegan but “why its necessary to eat animals”, what a load of tosh
Jim Jam says
It is not necessary to eat animals so don’t be pressured by anyone that you have to or that it is necessary for you to do it. Your freedom to eat your own healthy diet is yours to defend and promote if you wish to do so.
Not only was this painfully stupid, it was entirely misinformative, illogical, ridden with straw men, anti-factual, subjective, poorly reasoned, fallacious and downright without value. Nice.
Jason H says
I’m a vegan, about 4+ years. Made the choice for reasons of animal ethics (Melanie Joy’s work played a big role).
I appreciate your arguments around regenerative ag as well as the ethical quandaries posed by many staples of a vegan diet. A lot of food for thought-pun intended.