The Secular Case for Vegetarianism

Guest Post by Rob Schneider

[Editor's Note: In my third anniversary post, I mentioned that I wanted to have more guest essays on Daylight Atheism, as well as more posts exploring issues where atheists don't all agree. This post accomplishes both those aims. Please welcome Rob Schneider (not that Rob Schneider) and his first appearance on Daylight Atheism.]

Veganism and vegetarianism have a bad reputation in our society. Those who identify as vegan or vegetarian tend to receive odd looks and questions like, “doesn’t that burger look good?” We get labeled as “tree-huggers” and “extremists.” It’s remarkably similar to being out as an Atheist. I hope to answer some common questions and present a secular case for vegetarianism as a sound ethical choice.

I’ll start by clarifying my terms. Vegan means refraining from the consumption of anything that contains animal products, especially things that come from animals with nervous systems. Yeast is ok, but a Vegan will avoid eating any food containing dairy, eggs or meats, and will carefully check ingredient labels to avoid additives from animal sources, such as gelatin (from hooves) or certain enzymes. Vegans also avoid any products containing animal hide, bones or other bits. Most vegans will use life-saving medicines made from animal components. The Vegan Society has a comprehensive list of animal products commonly found in food here.

Vegetarian covers a broad range of consumption choices. Strict vegetarians will use the same food guidelines as vegans, but use non-food products made from animal parts, such as leather shoes. Ovo-lacto vegetarians will consume eggs and dairy, but not meat. Some people will use the term vegetarian to mean that they avoid red meat, so they will eat fish and sometimes chicken. For this post, vegetarianism means the removal of all chicken, beef and pork from the diet.

I myself am a vegan, although I will be defending vegetarianism in this post. Without going into the animal welfare issues (which are well-documented elsewhere), my argument will focus on the environmental disruption and social justice issues caused by most large-scale farming practices.

Large-scale farming, also known as factory farming, is by far (pdf) the source of most animal products consumed in the West. Factory farming emphasizes size and concentration by confining a large number of animals into a small space. This causes numerous problems with waste management, greenhouse gas emissions and diseases.

Factory farming is often criticized for waste-management issues. Feedlot waste has been shown to have negative effects on the environment. The standard factory farm uses waste lagoons and spreader fields to hold the large amount of urine and feces generated by the animals. As you can imagine, the stench from a small lake of poop is vile, and has adverse effects on those who live nearby. Several studies (pdf) have shown that the fumes from feedlots cause health problems for those living nearby. Ammonia, Hydrogen Sulfide, Volatile Organic Compounds such as Methane and particulate matter are commonly found in the fumes coming from feedlots.

The feedlot lagoons and spreader fields often lack adequate runoff controls, so heavy rainfall or snow melt can cause direct leakage of the feces and urine into natural bodies of water and potable water sources for humans. This most commonly results in fish kills, but has also been shown to cause a long-term issue with mutated fish in streams.

According to The New York Times, “an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, which also estimates that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases — more than transportation.” The amount of fossil fuel needed to grow meat is also considerable; “…if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan — a Camry, say — to the ultra-efficient Prius.” According to Ulf Sonesson of the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology, roughly half the diet-based greenhouse gasses come from meat production. Replacing 50% of the protein from meat with protein from soy in the western diet would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “on the order of 70%.”

In addition to the pollution issues, industrial animal farming is an incredibly inefficient food source. The grain fed to cattle in the USA alone would feed 800 million people. Livestock are also water-intensive sources of food. According to the Stockholm International Water Institute, a kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic meters of water.

Thus far I have primarily talked about the environmental problems with using meat as a food source. There are numerous social problems with our modern meat industry as well. The modern US slaughterhouse industry has a history of food and worker safety violations, with the now-closed plant in Postville, IA, being just one example. Other abuses are regularly uncovered. Workers in US slaughterhouses are expected to work nearly twice as fast as workers anywhere else in the world. According to Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation, “…they [slaughterhouses] cut wages, they cut benefits, broke unions. And now it has one of the highest turnover rates of any industrial job.” The modern US slaughterhouse has a turnover rate between 75% and 100% per year. The workers, mostly poor and many recent immigrants, are also working in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says is the most dangerous job in America. Injuries are common due to the frantic pace of the work, the fact that power cutting tools are involved, and the amounts of blood and fat that end up on the floor while workers are moving around.

The modern industrial animal farm has many environmental and social costs that are not reflected on the in-store price tag. Our water and air are poisoned and our poor work in a dangerous job for little pay. While the modern steak is easier to buy than ever before, it is far more expensive than we as a society realize. We need to carefully re-think the true cost of our diet before we discover the bill is far more than we can afford.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • vgtr

    Just one thing: this link is not about mutations in fish, but morphological changes due to hormone-like chemicals. Change in gene expression, but not in the gene itself. Still bad though.

  • Jim Baerg

    Much of this is not so much an argument against eating meat as against raising meat animals in feed lots.

    There is a lot of land that is marginal to useless for raising crops, but which is quite good for grazing cattle. Sending meat cattle directly from pasture to slaughterhouse with no stop at a feedlot would reduce many of the environmental problems mentioned in the above post. The high use of fossil fuel for raising grain may force us to do that as petroleum gets scarce.

  • http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com Neuroskeptic

    I’m a vegetarian and while my main reasons are fairly airy-fairy ethical ones (I don’t like hurting animals) there’s also one extremely good reason that should give even the hardest-nosed animal-hater pause for thought.

    Animal farming is one of the major causes of infectious diseases. Zoonotic diseases (infections spread from animals to humans) are almost always the result of meat or dairy farming (or, in some areas, hunting for meat.) When you have millions of animals living in very close proximity to each other and to humans, the potential for zoonotic infection is high. The 1918 influenza epidemic which killed at least 20 million probably started on a farm. If East Asian bird flu becomes a pandemic, it will have started on a poultry farm. I would bet very good money that the present Mexican flu epidemic started on a farm.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Carrot Juice is Murder

    My secular case against Vegetarianism:
    Stand in front of a mirror.
    Smile.
    You’re looking at the teeth of an omnivore.

  • Zar

    Thanks for this. These are the reasons I’m vegetarian. It’s the consumption thing—a person who eats less meat consumes a lot less energy. Cows aren’t perpetual motion machines. Even if you use the lame “well, plants are alive too” joke/argument/dead horse, a vegetarian is responsible for less plant consumption than a meat-eater.

    Really, I don’t expect or ask everyone to give up meat—just a reduction in it would be better for the environment and for our own health.

    Jim—That’s not a bad point, but could we produce the amount of beef we consume that way? Pasture-grazed cattle tends to be more expensive and the process is less efficient; I imagine we’d see a reduction in beef consumption anyway due to cost. If we were to keep the same level of meat consumption, we’d have to devote a mind-bogglingly large amount of land to livestock. The biggest source of rainforest depletion isn’t logging—it’s beef, as forestland is razed to make room for pasture. That’s not very environmentally-friendly either.

    Carrot—Did you read this article at all? That’s the best argument you have? Really? That vegetarianism is unnatural? 1) That doesn’t address the notion of simply cutting down on meat, and we westerners surely consume more red meat than what is natural anyway. 2) Computers, wearing pants, and vaccines are also unnatural. If you really want to get natural, go hunt down your dinner with a rock and a pointed stick.

  • Julia

    My secular case against Vegetarianism:
    Stand in front of a mirror.
    Smile.
    You’re looking at the teeth of an omnivore.

    I find this a common but unconvincing arguement. Just because you’re technically qualified doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. A 13 or 14 year old girl is biologically qualified to be a mother, so should we be in favour of girls getting pregnant at that age? We go against our ‘natural inclination’ in many ways every day.

    Rather than be dismissive, consider reducing your meat consumption, try to buy from sources that cause less harm, and/or buy from sources that take into the account the true cost.

  • CSN

    “Replacing 50% of the protein from meat with protein from soy in the western diet would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “on the order of 70%.” ”

    Am I failing to do math here or does this not make sense? Reducing A by 50% reduces B (which includes all of A) by 70%??

    I wholeheartedly agree with everything you’ve said here. Of course as Jim points out this is a case against factory farms leaving organic/small farm meat as the obvious alternate choice. Arguably small farms are not a realistic way to maintain our current level of meat consumption however which points to the real problem. We (the US in particular) are not omnivores but ‘meatitarians.’ If it doesn’t have a big slab of meat involved it’s just a snack and it certainly isn’t manly to order ONLY a salad. If we learned to appreciate the massive resources that go into making the meat we buy abominably cheaply from the supermarket (for crying out loud at least go to a butcher’s) and treat it as a bit more of a special occasion we could massively reduce our environmental impact, no massive life-style changes required. The same goes for our 20 pairs of shoes and shopping sprees for redundant clothing too.

    The other angle is of course the morality of killing and eating things with minds/consciousness/nervous systems. To me that raises so many more difficult and thought-provoking questions. Keep up the good work and let’s see a follow up article on that please!

  • http://www.bellatorus.com Petrucio

    This is like saying to a teenage kid that in order to avoid pregnancies and STDs, they should refrain from having sex.

    We have problems that arise from eating meat? Sure we do. Do you go to work in a bike because we have problems that arrive from using a car/bus? Probably you don’t. Even if you did, riding a bike is NOT the way to avoid climate change – spreading information and pressuring car manufactures and government regulators would probably do a lot better.

  • Justin

    We have problems that arise from eating meat? Sure we do. Do you go to work in a bike because we have problems that arrive from using a car/bus? Probably you don’t. Even if you did, riding a bike is NOT the way to avoid climate change – spreading information and pressuring car manufactures and government regulators would probably do a lot better.

    Why can’t both be solutions to climate change?

    My secular case against Vegetarianism:
    Stand in front of a mirror.
    Smile.
    You’re looking at the teeth of an omnivore.

    Julia hinted at the problem with this argument. The naturalistic fallacy, in this case, says that just because our teeth evolved as they did is not a moral argument for how to use them. Besides, we all know that we have sharp teeth for opening bags of potato chips :)

  • Reginald Selkirk

    The other angle is of course the morality of killing and eating things with minds/consciousness/nervous systems. To me that raises so many more difficult and thought-provoking questions.

    One of those thought-provoking questions might be: why do we value organisms with minds more than other organisms? Isn’t that just egocentrism?

  • Kevin

    A decent post, although not quite what I was expecting. As mentioned, this is more of a case against factory farming than a case for vegetarianism.

    I think a better secular case for vegetarianism could be made (abbreviatedly) by observing that without the religious-derived elevation of ourselves to a specially-created pedestal (due to having a soul, being made in the image of God, etc.), we have no ontological basis with which to justify differential moral standards for humans and non-humans. All we have are observed qualities such as intelligence, empathy, sociability, etc. Yet we treat non-human animals differently (i.e. worse) than mentally-retarded humans with equivalent or lesser abilities. So why the difference? One could argue that mentally-retarded humans are part of a group (humans) which, on average, meets some minimal standard of ethically-relevant abilities. But this is repugnant to a fundamental ethical standard of modern society, which is that individuals should be judged on their own merits and not the basis of group identity — certainly we would reject out of hand a proposal that a particular black male be denied college admission, on the grounds that the average black male does not go to college.

    Thus we can conclude that the double standard of ethics here is probably not justified.

    (Apologies for the highly compacted argument!)

  • Leum

    I’m a vegetarian I have to agree that this post is against factory-farming and similar practices, not meat eating. A very good argument, I might add, but it’s not a case for vegetarianism.

    With respect to red meat especially, being a vegetarian is also a health/nutrition choice. Our ancestors ate red meat, of course, but not nearly as frequently as can be (and is) done now.

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know how much meat (compared to now) could be produced in the US if factory farming were banned? I suppose some of the cropland currently devoted to producing feed corn could be turned over to pasture (though that might not work as well for pigs and poultry), but I suspect the amount of meat produced would decrease.

  • Dean

    Beyond cannibalism, I’m of the belief that any food taboo of any sort, secular or religious, is just silly.

    And the only reason I’m against cannibalism is because it spreads horrible diseases like Kuru.

    But whenever I think of veganism I’m always reminded of the pelican’s line from Finding Nemo, “Hi there. From my neck of the woods, eh? Sorry if I took a snap at you at one time. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta eat.”

    I realize this is again the “naturalistic fallacy” that’s already been criticized here. The problem works in reverse though, with all shades of vegans equally convinced that the line they have drawn between haram food/products and halal/kosher food/products is the correct one. Unfortunately for them, they can’t all be right. At the extreme end of the spectrum, you have Breatharianism, followed by raw foodists and fruitarians, moving towards strict veganism (no food or products that relate to the handling of animals) to permissible veganism (no food that relates to the handling of animals) to lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, to pescetarianism, to simply “no-red-meat” eaters. Very quickly vegetarianism starts sharing so many things in common with religion it makes me uncomfortable. I despise dogma in any form.

    The core problem, however, is that we humans have to eat. We can eat meat so why not? Is it cruel to animals? Sure. I would argue that as a secular vegan it is impossible for you to significantly eliminate suffering you cause to animals in your life. And I know you’ll agree with me that there is no one keeping score how many spiders you step on or hamburgers you eat. So why ridden yourself with guilt over eating meat? If you don’t like the taste of meat, cool, don’t eat it. Don’t waste your time though thinking you’re accomplishing something by having a food preference, however.

    The world will be a much happier place when secular vegetarians, along with believers who follow religious food taboos, realize and admit that their food choices are arbitrary.

    At the end of the day, when I hear vegetarians talk about their secular/religious food taboo, I’m constantly reminded of the verbal gymnastics foodists of all kinds go through to declare one thing “good” and another “bad.” Case in point, you can eat beaver meat at any time during Lent. Why? Beavers are fish says the Vatican. And of course, fish aren’t meat, so it doesn’t violate your fast during Lent. Oh religion (and vegetarianism!)

  • http://neuroskeptic.blogspot.com Neuroskeptic

    “Out of curiosity, does anyone know how much meat (compared to now) could be produced in the US if factory farming were banned?”

    I think it’s not really a question of how much could be produced, its more a question of price. The price of meat would rise, a lot. Meat would probably return to being what it was 100 years ago, a minor luxury item.

    Until they start making meat in vats, but then, we vegetarians will have won!

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Out of curiosity, does anyone know how much meat (compared to now) could be produced in the US if factory farming were banned?

    I agree with Neuroskeptic that the issue is more of cost than of land use. Interestingly, traditional farming methods employing polyculture and crop rotation are generally conceded to be more productive, acre for acre, than factory farming and monoculture (see my review of The Omnivore’s Dilemma). But those methods are also more labor-intensive and ill-suited to take advantage of economies of scale. If we banned factory farming, the availability of meat probably wouldn’t decline – but the price would almost certainly increase.

  • Dean

    Neuroskeptic wrote, “I think it’s not really a question of how much could be produced, its more a question of price. The price of meat would rise, a lot. Meat would probably return to being what it was 100 years ago, a minor luxury item.”

    Bullocks. The price would rise and farmers would match supply to meat demand and the price would decrease again. The problem for vegetarians is one of transportation and refrigeration. People didn’t eat a lot of meat on average historically because they weren’t necessarily near a convenient source of meat. I’m pretty sure pre-industrial coastal communities ate a lot of fish. I’m pretty sure places with a lot of grazing land ate plenty of goat, lamb, chicken, etc.

    In fact, I would argue you actually can be a vegetarian for the same reasons meat is so prevalent. Choice. Without transportation and refrigeration you might be stuck living on the local crop and with your luck, might be just lentils or rice. If you didn’t like either, you’d just be SOL.

    “Until they start making meat in vats, but then, we vegetarians will have won!” Again, I’m reminded of how closely vegetarianism sounds like religion to me. Just as Christians declare the past America a “Christian Nation”, vegetarians declare human history as a “vegetarian diet.”

  • bbk

    This is anecdotal, but I think that vegetarianism and especially veganism can sometimes be subtle masks for eating disorders and image problems. I know a few very reasonable vegetarians who simply acknowledge that it’s an arbitrary lifestyle choice and that it helps them keep a healthier diet. But I also know many others whose veganism and vegetarianism is accompanied by crash “detox” diets. I know many who switched over to these dietary regiments as a result of trauma caused by relationship breakups or illness in the family. I also find that there is a relationship between these types of diets and homeopathy and self-medication. There is an unhealthy distrust of medicine and science here.

    I have personally reduced the amount of meat I consume – to one serving a day or so. I do think that there are problems with factory farming techniques and the use of hormones and antibiotics by the food industry. But I don’t think it’s necessary to create a dietary dogma in order to solve the problem – just don’t eat as much of that stuff.

    I also realize that soy production is very destructive to rain forests and that salmonella can be spread by spinach or tomatoes just as easily as avian flu by birds. Like it or not, all of agriculture has problems and there are very few sustainable food sources that will be able to keep up with human population growth. But the answer isn’t to abandon modern society for subsistence living in an idyllic agrarian commune. The answer is to research better ways of farming by using science to lower the environmental impact and improve the healthiness of food.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    Sure, the argument advanced in the post is against factory farms, but the implication there is that if factory farms and all of the inherent problems associated with them were brought down, then the availability of meat would go down, the price would go up, and people would generally consume less. The post, in other words, lays the groundwork for a general lessening of the overall consumption of meat in our society, by way of an environmental/economic argument. The two are not inseparable. A desirable end of the reform of the factory meat system is a reduction in the consumption of meat.

    Contrary to what Dean says, it would happen. His argument is nothing but hand-waving, magic of the market, “Ayn-Rand-a-cadabra” nonsense. There are many reasons to decide on a vegetarian diet, and the argument that vegetarianism seems like a religion is obviously meant to sting on an atheist forum, but it’s pretty clearly not backed by any solid evidence.

  • Dean

    Fargus wrote, “Contrary to what Dean says, it (prices rising) would happen. His argument is nothing but hand-waving, magic of the market, “Ayn-Rand-a-cadabra” nonsense.”

    My argument was not hand-waving at all. I even explained why. The limiting factor on access and prices of meat in years past is no longer relevant today. As an extreme example, here in the modern day I can get fresh, catch-of-the-day Maine lobster in the middle of Arizona desert. While I’ll pay a premium for that lobster, such access to a variety of fresh foods was unheard of and impossible even 70 years ago.

    So it makes sense that if the market price of beef rose because of “US regulation”, then international ranchers would simply compensate. You’d need further government intervention in the form of tariffs or meat “sin taxes” in order to keep the price artificially high. (A “win” for the vegetarians because they’d simply win converts by pure reduction in choices for other individuals.)

    “There are many reasons to decide on a vegetarian diet, and the argument that vegetarianism seems like a religion is obviously meant to sting on an atheist forum, but it’s pretty clearly not backed by any solid evidence.”

    If I had a dollar for every time a vegetarian qualified an argument for vegetarianism with, “but it’s not a case for vegetarianism.” or the like, I’d be rich. In fact, you’ll find several examples of this in the posts on this very topic. The real mind-blower is that I’ve heard that qualified for nearly every possible reason for being vegetarian, including “environmental”, “health”, “animal ethics”, “simple choice.”, etc. Just as religion, one finds the element(s) that identifies with them in that faith and then practices that behavior dogmatically. Just like with religion, the extra work required to be vegan (and to some degree standard vegetarian) creates a sense of piety as well.

  • roscomac

    I’m a vegan atheist whose choices aren’t arbitrary. I live by the golden rule as much as I can, and I couldn’t live with myself if I were eating meat and dairy. I’m healthy and happy, and it’s just that simple.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    Well, I’m a meat-eating atheist, and I have no problems with that. The bleeding-hearts that cry over the deaths of meat animals conveniently overlook the fact that in nature, “death by natural causes” usually involves being killed and eaten by a predator, and usually with considerable angst on the part of the organism being killed and eaten. Regardless of whatever ‘facts’ you can fabricate, the natural diet of humans includes meat. I am amazed that people who consider themselves rational enough to reject religion can still be prey to ridiculous superstitions such as vegetarianism or veganism.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • abusedbypenguins

    If one factors in all of the tax breaks and consessions given to factory farms of cows, chickens, pigs, etc. along with the cleanup costs born by all of us the real cost of a pound of hamburger is in excess of $10. Fast food places can push cheap bad food easier than the real cost of a $15 bigmac. I haven’t been to macdonalds in 34 years and even longer to taco bell. So. go for it, eat that poison, ’cause that’s what factory farms produce. Nasty stuff.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    Dean, you can save your nonsense. As was pointed out in the most recent comment, the point about factory farming is that the price of meat is artificially LOW, since all of the negative externalities aren’t factored into the dollar cost of the product itself. If they were, the price of meat would skyrocket.

    As for your baseless claim that all vegetarians behave dogmatically and piously, it’s nonsense. I’m a vegetarian, but I don’t talk about it unless someone asks, and even when I do, I don’t proselytize. It’s a personal choice based on a number of factors, and my behavior is not influenced by any dogma or central authority or anything of the sort.

  • bbk

    abusedbypenguins and Fargus, when it comes to tax breaks, ALL agriculture is heavily subsidized during all phases of production. In fact, the biggest hurdle to economic development on an international level is the heavy subsidization of agriculture by wealthy nations. Furthermore, much of the varied produce that makes vegetarianism and veganism palatable are cash crops that are grown in developing countries at the expense of basic staples that local populations are in dire need of. Furthermore, one of the most destructive crops in the world today is soy. There’s another product that, just as with meat, if it was priced with all the negative externalities factored in, people would simply refuse to buy it.

    The fact is, without the destructive and imbalanced practices of modern agriculture, vegetarians and vegans would have an extremely difficult time maintaining a balanced diet year-round. That fresh leafy salad that New Yorkers enjoy on bleak December days gets trucked all the way over from California. That tofurkey wrap came from a farm in South America that was rain forest just a year ago. The fact is that without these marvel of our modern economy, the only reliable way to obtain nutrition year-round is through a combination of animal and plant sources.

  • Leum

    Which is why winter and early spring was a time of famine. Even the meat wasn’t as good; it was either very lean or had been smoked and stored for the winter and was almost used up. In any case, it isn’t as though diets were balanced for anyone at that time of the year, regardless of how much meat they ate. (At least in northern temperate and subpolar regions, things were quite a bit better as you went south towards the Mediterranean and even better once you hit the tropics.

  • Snoof

    THX CHL (It’s like I’m addressing this to a robot), the main point Ebon’s making isn’t that meat-eating is cruel, but that high-meat diets may be ecologically or economically unviable, speaking long term.

    the natural diet of humans includes meat

    Thank you for that textbook example of the naturalistic fallacy. It’s natural for humans to die of exposure in winter. It’s natural for diseases to kill large numbers of people and permanently cripple more. It’s natural for large numbers of women and children to die in childbirth. The question is not “Is it natural?”, but rather “Should we, as (theoretically) thinking beings, continue to let it be this way?”

  • Jormungund

    “a kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic meters of water”
    It takes 15 metric tonnes of water to make a single kilogram of beef? What is with vegetarians throwing out these weird statistics? I had a vegetarian that knew tell me that it takes 10 gallons of water to make one pound of beef. I have heard X volume of water per Y mass of beef estimates that vary by many orders of magnitude. A quick internet search has also revealed estimates varying by orders of magnitude. I have stopped believing these statistics altogether.
    As far as eating meat goes: I have no moral objections against it and I’ll gladly pay the full price for meat if vegans and vegetarians will pay the full price for the crops they eat. On an unrelated note, reading this article is making me hungry for Ruth’s Chris.

    “THX CHL (It’s like I’m addressing this to a robot)”
    You are thinking of the film THX 1138. I thought it was “TX CHL” for “TeXas Concealed Handgun License”? As in he trains people in getting concealed handgun permits.

  • Snoof

    Ah, right. Apologies for misreading your name, TX CHL Instructor. Also, I apologise for not noticing this is a guest post, not one of Ebon’s.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    The point about the resources necessary to produce a kilogram of beef may be fuzzy, as you certainly point out, Jormungund, but that doesn’t mean that you can just brush them all aside and pretend that none of them have any truth to them. It takes a lot of grain and water to feed a cow, even for the pitifully short, miserable lives they have on a factory feedlot, and it takes a lot of fossil fuel and water to grow and transport that grain. Much more than if, for instance, some of that grain were repurposed to feed people.

    The math is relatively easy, no matter how it works out. Take a cow that produces X kilograms of meat, with a lifespan of Y months, that eats Z kilograms of feed per day. Let’s say the cow consumes “A” gallons of water a day, and the grain takes B gallons of water per kilogram to grow, and C of fossil-fuel-based fertilizer…You get the picture. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, and I don’t know why so many people come to so many different conclusions, but the actual math of the situation is straightforward once you have the right parameters.

    The point that you make about food being priced at its true price all around is a good one, though for some reason you seem to insist that it be made in such a way as to wound people who choose not to eat meat. There is something (many things, really) deeply, deeply flawed about the way we eat in this country, and about the way we produce our food. But saying, “I don’t like people who don’t eat meat” isn’t a justification to be a total ass about it, let alone to refrain from examining your own eating habits and their impact on the world around you.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    The secular case for vegetarianism? As opposed to what, the theistic case? As I understand it a literal biblical reading would suggest the theist would be a justified omnivore (dominion over the animals and all that: cuts to visions of Homer Simpson as Adam slicing pork off a jolly talking pig).
    I get the ethical argument about factory faming. For me the answer is to buy organic/free range when I can and trust the spin about happy chickens.

  • http://ramblingambulance.tumblr.com/ rabbitambulance

    Hell, vegetarianism is the morally superior dietary choice, no doubt about it, and if done right, it’s also at least as healthy as an omnivore’s diet.
    That being said, I just like the taste of meat too much.
    Based on that I have a lot of respect for vegetarians and vegans. And it usually evaporates the moment I try to have a meal with one of them. You know what I’m talking about.
    But the couple of friends I have who are non-meateaters and don’t get judgemental when I eat a döner are totally cool.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “a kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic meters of water”

    Which implies that the 15 m3 of water is permanently destroyed or otherwise rendered unusable. In which case, the earth obviously completely ran out of water several decades ago, didn’t it? Most of the arguments for vegan and vegetarian diets are contrived to an extreme that make arguments for creationism actually look convincing by comparison.

    “The question is not “Is it natural?”, but rather “Should we, as (theoretically) thinking beings, continue to let it be this way?”"

    Same sort of thinking used by proponents of bottle-feeding. Humans evolved with a diet that included meat, so meat is a natural (and healthy) component of human diet. I’ll give another little factoid: It is possible to get ALL of the human nutritional requirements exclusively from animal sources. Unfortunately, due to ‘modern’ agricultural practices, it is not generally safe to eat raw meat.

    It is possible to get all human nutritional requirements exclusively from vegetable sources, too — but significantly more difficult, and would not have been possible up until relatively recently. In particular, the human genome has not had enough time to completely adjust to grains, which were not a part of the human diet prior to about 7000 years ago (I am in the 35 percent or so of the population with gluten sensitivity).

    As for the health benefits of a vegetarian diet, one has only to look at populations that practice vegetarian diets for ‘ethical’ reasons — the area of the world with the highest percentage of vegetarians also has the highest percentage of diabetics.

    Correlation is not cause, of course, but I’ll give you an even more startling correlation: Populations that do not eat grain or processed sugar (but do eat meat) have no type II diabetes or osteoarthritis. (ref: Loren Cordain)

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Julia: Rather than be dismissive,…

    I present a biological argument, and you call it “dismissive”? That’s a clue that I’m not talking to a rational person.

  • http://www.poyt.net ArchangelChuck

    The problem I have with vegans and vegetarians is that they like to pretend that their personal diet is actually a moral issue. It isn’t.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    ArchangelChuck, do you have anything more to contribute than sweeping statements about a group that you clearly don’t understand (in truth, about a group that isn’t really much of a “group” at all, in any traditional sense)? Maybe even something to back up your refutation of the straw man you set up? Anything?

  • Archimedez

    In his brief article I think Rob Schneider presents a reasonable argument about an important issue. My main point of disagreement is editorial: I disagree with Ebonmuse’s decision to post this, because I don’t think it has enough to do with atheism. If the article dealt with wasteful and cruel animal sacrifice in some religions, and then provided non-religious ethical criticisms of those faith-based/superstitious policies, then I could see it’s relevance here.

  • Lux Aeterna

    “a kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least 15 cubic meters of water”

    A common argument posed by vegetarians based on the premise that meat is wasteful and takes disproportionate amount of resources to produce.

    The problem with our food resources right now is not that there is a lack of grains or the resources to grow them (though I’ll admit water might soon become a problem). The Third World (where we get a large proportion of our foodstuffs from) grows enough crops to cover the needs of both the First World and the Third. The problem is the UNEQUAL distribution of food between them. You have First World Countries buying disproportionately high amount of crops (since they can pay higher), resulting in needless large wastage and shortages in other less well-off countries.

    We have the resources to produce meat and atill have enough food for everyone. The problem is due to the unequal and inefficient distribution of food. Getting everyone to turn vegan is not the solution.

  • Jerryd

    The bleeding-hearts that cry over the deaths of meat animals conveniently overlook the fact that in nature, “death by natural causes” usually involves being killed and eaten by a predator, and usually with considerable angst on the part of the organism being killed and eaten. Regardless of whatever ‘facts’ you can fabricate, the natural diet of humans includes meat. I am amazed that people who consider themselves rational enough to reject religion can still be prey to ridiculous superstitions such as vegetarianism or veganism.

    I do not consider myself a bleeding-heart vegan. Instead, rather than being ignorant of the details of this lifestyle, I investigated them for myself over a year ago and found the trite cliches that I had used to label vegetarians and vegans were just that, and had no basis in fact. I had to open my mind to the reality of atheism by thinking about what I was told about religion, and by reading such books as “Letters from the Earth,” one of the few books around that exposed religion for what it was when I was growing up. Facts don’t filter through the air from one mind to another, they must be sought out with an open and skeptical mind.

    When I was faced with acid reflux that had me taking two prilosec daily along with multiple Rolaids, dysphagia that caused food to stick in my esophagus multiple times a week, anal fissures that had plagued me for over twenty years with pain and bleeding, and other problems, I looked for something that might resolve all these apparently diet-related issues. I read “The China Study,” “Diet for a New America,” “The McDougall Program,” and other books, all with an open mind and skeptical of what I read. After doing this I was utterly convinced that a vegan diet that concentrates on low-fat, complex carbohydrates, and unprocessed fruits and vegetables should be the best thing for me and for the planet.

    Now over 14 months later I can say unequivocally that I was right. I no longer have acid reflux and need no medications for it. My dysphagia and anal fissures are history, I lost about 20 pounds while eating delicious huge helpings of food every day and my cholesterol dropped from 210 to 150, and all other lab factors are normal. During that time no animals died so that I can live a healthy, happy life. If I were unable to live that kind of life without animal products, I would eat them. But since I find them unnecessary, why kill animals to eat foods that I don’t need to live a good life?

    My wife is an omnivore and I have to fight her off to keep her from eating all of my food, it is that good. Meat is absolutely tasteless without seasoning, just as much of what we eat is. I can flavor my foods with multiple non-animal products that make it as flavorful as any meat product you can buy. And I use the Cron-O-Meter, a free program based upon the USDA database of foods, to analyze my diet, finding it is complete in every aspect other than vitamin B-12 which I supplement.

    An atheist trying to convince religious believers of the folly of their way would ask that them to examine the facts, avoid the cliches, overlook the years of brainwashing, and see religion for what it is, a man-made way to destroy human reason. And I would ask that omnivores apply the same methods regarding a vegetarian diet. Read some books, talk to vegetarians, get the facts, you will be amazed at what you find if you leave your mind open to reality.

  • Maynard

    Factory farms or CAFO’s (confined animal feeding operations) are well established as an environmental problem. They produce large volumes of wastes that pollute our water and allow diseases to spread quickly in the cramped quarters the animals are housed.

    When I see “not dogs”, “soysages”, “tofurkey” and other meat-flavored but non-meat products on the grocery shelf, I’m reminded that I’m evolutionarily designed to want and enjoy meat. Beef, poultry, pork, and fish.

    I second Steve Bowen and support smiling, free range dinner.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    When I was faced with acid reflux that had me taking two prilosec daily along with multiple Rolaids, dysphagia that caused food to stick in my esophagus multiple times a week, anal fissures that had plagued me for over twenty years with pain and bleeding, and other problems, I looked for something that might resolve all these apparently diet-related issues.

    If that worked for you, great. I haven’t had any of those problems.

    Meat is absolutely tasteless without seasoning

    Apparently you can’t cook, or only bought the cheapest/worst cuts of meat.

  • bbk

    Leum, diets were generally imbalanced in the past but animal products were required, at minimum, to sustain life. Whether preserved as cheeses or as salted meats, laid as eggs or milked, these animal food sources were very important. Even a little bit of meat or cheese provided some of the nutritional value that grains and potatoes stored into the winter couldn’t. It’s only recently even possible to survive year-round on a vegetarian diet, thanks to agricultural techniques that are increasingly unsustainable. I have heard of some people going on “localvore” diets but don’t personally know a single person who attempted to survive year-round exclusively on an locally grown vegetarian diet. I don’t even know of a vegetarian or vegan who doesn’t rely on “superfoods” such as processed soy or quinoa to obtain a good mix of protein and amino acids, so I seriously doubt it’s even possible.

  • Joffan

    Right – poor regulation can and should be fixed. Other than that, it appears, meat eating is OK.

    And the greenhouse gas “statistics” there are so removed from context that they flirt with outright falsehood.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “Now over 14 months later I can say unequivocally that I was right. I no longer have acid reflux and need no medications for it.”

    This is an anecdotal sample of size 1. I also had acid reflux at one time, and it completely disappeared almost instantly when I banished all grain from my diet, and went on a high-fat, low-carb diet (including lots of meat) about 10 years ago. Other problems that incidentally disappeared include Restless Leg Syndrome, Severe Adult Acne, Diminished Night Vision, and constant indigestion. Along with my high cholesterol, high blood sugar, incessant hunger, and high blood pressure. Another anecdotal sample of size 1.

    Oh, and I lost 100 lbs on that high-fat, high-protein, low-carb diet. I am substantially healthier today than I was in 1999 (at which time I had been on the Ornish ‘diet’ for nearly a year, on which I lost about 15 lbs). In fact, the ONLY problem I have had to date with my high-fat diet is well-meaning fools telling me how “unhealthy” it is.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • Chuck

    I agree with what the others have said. This isn’t an argument against eating meat. It’s an argument against large-scale animal farming. If you want to argue for vegetarianism/veganism, then you have to show that eating meat is morally wrong.

    (As an aside, I think this can be done. It just wasn’t done here.)

  • Entomologista

    Vegan means refraining from the consumption of anything that contains animal products, especially things that come from animals with nervous systems.

    But when you grow crops you kill billions of animals that have nervous systems. And does this mean you don’t eat honey?

  • ildi

    Your link to sciencenews re. soy consumption also had this:

    For instance, substituting all beef production for chicken would cut meat’s projected carbon footprint by 70 percent, he said.

    I’ve also read (no source, I’m afraid) that too much soy can be bad for women because of too much consumption of phytoestrogens? I’m all for reducing/changing the amount/ types of meat we eat, though. My Hungarian relatives used to raise chickens in the back yard when meat was relatively expensive under Communism.

  • ildi

    Can’t help but share this t-shirt inscription I saw:

    meat is murder – tasty, tasty murder

    mmmmm…..

  • Tyler Seeger

    I find that growing up on a small farm has given me a different view on this topic. I understand alot of the points of view about how farming certian ways is bad for the environment. It’s easy to personify the farmer as the villainous hillbilly, hellbent on destroying the earth as we know it just to make an extra buck. But if you want to get down to the brass tacks of it, people farm these ways because it’s next to impossible to come out ahead any other way. Sure, there are success stories about people who are able to run successful organic/free-range operations and still turn a profit, but that is far from the norm. Where I grew up (Midwest MN), few farms were large scale operations. Most were just Mom and Pop, trying to keep the family farm alive by borrowing just enough from the bank to pay for next spring’s crop of calves. Yes, something needs to be done about ruining our earth, because we only have one. I’m just trying to help put the small farmer’s point of view out there for those who have never experienced farming and some of the hardships they endure. Thank you.

  • Brian

    I really don’t care what lifestyle anyone chooses to live as long as any of the negative aspects of it don’t affect anyone else. That said, if a vegan doesn’t have a problem with the fact that I eat meat, I have no problem with the fact that they don’t. I do believe that a vegan diet is seriously lacking in nutrition, and if done for ideological reasons I won’t argue against it, but I will argue the point that it is healthy. Again, it’s a personal decision affecting only your health. Where I am bothered is when parents force this diet on their children, essentially robbing them of nutrients during a very import time in their development.

  • dan burbank

    Reginald Selkirk,
    A brief biology lesson. Your teeth and digestive tract are nothing like a bears, a true omnivore. Your digestive tract is much more like a cow, in length. Check it out. If you look at the length of the systems, you will find that the human system is much too long to properly, safely digest meat. Flesh in the type of hot, acidic environment that is our digestive tract, putrefies very quickly. A true carnivore has a very short digestive tract. Look at a cats system for example. Putrefying flesh is very dangerous to the host. If you look at the massive rates of lower digestive tract cancer in the west, is directly connected to the consumption of flesh. You can easily find cross cultural studies on the subject.

    Secondly, look at the teeth of a bear, again a true omnivore, and you will see teeth not at all like our. Simply look around the animal kingdom you will see that again, a herbivores teeth, are closest to ours. Not completely the same,but closer. I will agree, that we as a species, have moved in the direction of a true omnivore, but we are still on the herbivore side of the equation. It really is simple biology and if you go into it with an open mind you can find these fact relatively quickly.

    The meat and dairy industry have been pushing the omnivore argument forever. You will also hear the famous “you need the protein” argument. Again, based on rat studies which need much more protein then humans. I actually seen the figure 1000 time more protein then a human.

    Brian, your “belief” about a vega diet has no basis in reality. You “Believe” this but a simple look at the facts will find that your “belief” is a blind one, not at all unlike a faith based argument. A bit of reasonable research will shed some light on the topic for you.

    Making the “what about the children” argument is based on a small handful of idiots which the news has clamped onto to justify the “belief” that we should all eat meat. Sorry, again, like Reginald’s argument, they are not based in reality. Many millions have been raised vegetarians. Think about this basic fact. Most traditional cultures breast feed between 3 and 5 years. Nothing like the 5-10 months that a child is breast fed here in the west.

    To the author, I have found that a rational discussion on Vegetarianism, is almost impossible. There are very few topics that will spark a knee jerk reaction from normally rational people then what they eat. I can’t explain exactly why this is the case, but I have seen very rational logical even minded people degrade quickly into what can only be equated with a bible thumping zealot when you talk about what they stick into their mouths.

    I have tried on many occasions to explain the environmental impact, the health impact and the ethical arguments, around vegetarianism. I have learned to never initiate the discussion. Too many times however I have been verbally accosted by people who I am eating with just because I choose not to eat the flesh of another animal. (I choose to use the term flesh here for impact, nothing I would do at a meal mind you!) People just can’t leave it alone. I usually try to NOT have the discussion, only to find a hostel stare from across the table. Depending on what they say, leads me to defend my stance with excellent facts, which more often then not fall on deaf ears. Good luck with this crowd. I have a lot of hope that you will at the very least make a few of them think about it. If anyone is serious about the environmental impact of eating flesh, please look at the UN report found here. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM

    Good luck to you all.

  • bbk

    Brian – I couldn’t agree more. I had lost 25lbs of muscle and fat in just 2 weeks during the invasion of Iraq because we were running low on food and water. At the time, I did not hesitate to pick up a piece of MRE meatloaf that fell in the sand and eat it. I can’t even imagine having an ideology that said it was wrong to eat meat for moral reasons, even the worst factory farm, processed, pesticide, and preservative laden crap. Morality has nothing to do with it, it’s just 100% about nutritional value and what happens to be readily available to eat without too much fuss. It’s just a personal lifestyle choice. If you like the 3-4 vegan restaurants within a 10 mile radius of your house, more power too you. I don’t. Some people don’t like peanut butter, I don’t like orange juice, whatever. If you just don’t like meat, get over yourself and stop looking beyond your own taste buds for the reasons why.

  • Kevin

    I am a vegetarian for a completely different reason. I only eat what I grow on my little two acres. The energy and industry that could go into growing animals for meat or milk, at least for me, is better spent on growing vegetables. I have thought about getting a couple of hens to keep the ticks and grasshoppers down, and to provide a few eggs, but really for me it is not worth the extra effort. Last year I spent just over 400 hours growing food. I keep careful spreadsheets of everything. The only food I bought last year was a big bag of salt and a pound of black peppercorns. The minute I add an animal I have to start growing or buying food for it. Growing or buying food for my food sounds a little ridiculous to me.

  • Kevin

    I will argue the point that a vegan diet is healthy. In addition to growing all of my own food I lift weights three times a week, and run the other four. I am 35 and was carded at a casino this winter. I had a full checkup with bloodwork done six months ago. The doctor said that I will probably live forever. I am in much better shape than anyone who has ever told me that a vegan diet is not healthy.

  • marty

    I’d like to see a moral argument that eating animals is wrong, but I don’t think I will. Animals can feel pain. Do plants feel pain? Do insects feel pain? Can you have crops without killing insects?

    If vat meat ever came about, would there be vegans who refused to eat it?

  • Julia

    Reginald:

    I present a biological argument, and you call it “dismissive”? That’s a clue that I’m not talking to a rational person.

    Your comment was short, terse and IMO not very convincing, so I made the assumption that you could do a lot better but instead chose to be dismissive. My apologies for jumping to conclusions; I shouldn’t have made the assumption.

    My opinions on meat eating are based on my experiences growing up on a farm, eating things I’ve help raise from birth, being in beef 4-H (where you essential sell your pet for food), and hunting for food (deer and grouse). I believe my opinions to be not only rational, but also well founded on personal experience. I think most people should have more respect for their food, particularly their thinking, feeling food.

  • Ritchie

    As many have pointed out, the article above is not about ethics. But such a case can easily be made for vegetarianism/veganism, and it has rather close ties with religion/atheism…

    Surely a humanitarian seeks simply to reduce suffering and maximise enjoyment for themselves and those around them? Why treat animals any differently? We can be pretty sure they can suffer and enjoy life. So what gives us the right to kill them (and in the case of factory farming, make them like in horrific conditions)?

    Traditionally the answer was that humans had a soul, were made in the image of God and elevated above mere animals. But surely we atheists can see this as arrogant nonsense? We are animals. So why should we not care about the suffering of other species?

    Marty, you asked if animals feel pain. I would say yes. Do plants? I would say no, because they do not have a central nervous system. Do insects? I’m less certain, but would still say yes. Can we have crops without killing insects? Possibly not. But if everyone in the world because vegetarian, we would grow less crops anyway.

    Ethically, eating meat is the much more difficult position to maintain.

  • Ritchie

    As many have stated, the argument above is not an ethical one, but I believe such a case can easily be made for vegetrarianism/veganism, and it is relevant to the religion/atheism debate.

    Surely a humanitarian seeks to minimise suffering and maximise enjoyment, for themselves and others? On what grounds do we draw the line at other species? We can be fairly certain they can suffer, and feel pain. So why should we only care about HUMAN suffering?

    Traditionally the answer has often been religion. Humans have souls, were made in the image of God, and are therefore above all other animals. Surely we atheists can see this for the ego-centric, arrogant nonsense it is? But without this defence, this leaves us again asking why we shouldn’t care about animal suffering.

    Indeed, when we consider that humans ARE animals, the belief that we are simply due more ethical considerations than other species starts to look oddly a little like racism.

    I am not saying we should value the life of an animal as highly as that of a human. Given the choice between killing a pig or a human, I would choose the pig. But this is not the problem we face for meat-eating. We don’t need meat (in fact, a vegetarian diet is generally more healthy than one that includes meat), so we are killing animals just because we ENJOY the taste of them. Can killing animals for our own gratification be defensible?

    marty, you asked if plants, animals and insects could feel pain. As far as we can tell, an organism requires a central nervous system to feel pain. This gives us grounds to believe animals do and plants do not. Your question about whether we can raise crops without killing insects is rather besides the point, since if we raised fewer animals for meat, we would grow fewer crops.

    Ethically, eating meat is the harder position to defend, because a proponent must explain why we should extend ethical considerations to humans but not to animals.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “To the author, I have found that a rational discussion on Vegetarianism, is almost impossible.”

    That’s because Vegetarianism is a religion, and you can’t have rational discussions about religion with its followers. Lots of arguments flying, but this discussion is like a smokey fire; more heat than light. Like the one about the length of the intestine, and how that “proves” we are more like cows than bears. Well, excuse me, but cows have 4 stomachs, and I only have one.

    If you ask a forensic examiner about it, you might find that humans digest meat several times more efficiently than they do veggies — you can tell what kind of fruits and veggies a murder victim ate at the last meal over 4 hours ago, but not what kind of meat. In fact, if your digestive system is intact and functioning correctly, you only have to chew your meat enough to get the pieces barely small enough to swallow in order to digest it completely — but you have to thoroughly pulverize your veggies prior to swallowing in order to extract any significant nutrition.

    …and so it goes. Humans are omnivores (and are capable of living healthy lives as pure carnivores), which has been shown by overwhelming evidence. IOW, humans can thrive on a wide variety of diets. But actual scientific evidence is not enough for Vegetarians — or Creationists, or followers of any other religion. When your mind has been poisoned by religion, you can be dismissive (“It’s like I’m addressing this to a robot”), or you can fabricate your “evidence”, or you can just live in lalaland.

    The same rational process that led me to reject god(s) lead me to reject other superstitions as well. In the case of nutrition, my ‘deconversion’ (I was an avid devotee of Ornish and McDougal for a while) came from reading several hundred peer-reviewed medical ‘studies’ (many of which would not earn a passing grade in any rigorous college-level science course; what passes for nutrition in the medical establishment resembles religion much more closely than it does science), and not just the misleading synopses(*). That, and I managed to see and finally understand what ultra-low-fat vegan diet was doing to me.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

    (*) My favorite of those was a peer-reviewed ‘study’ that reduced the amount of sugar in the test group diet, and concluded from the observed health benefits that “animal protein was bad for diabetics”, which was the way it was reported in the synopsis.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    TX CHL, do you have any links to any of these studies that you can show us? I’m interested to see what it is you’ve seen that was so convincing. At this point, though, I’m only seeing assertions on your part, and gross generalizations.

    At this point, though I feel like broken record, I must insist on pushing back against those who say that vegetarianism is a religion, or that vegetarians reject evidence, or that vegetarians are unhealthy, or any such categorical statements. Is this true of some? I’m sure. All? Not by a long shot. I’m not out here saying that anybody’s a practitioner of the “cult of meat” or something, so I feel like a little bit of propriety from the other side of the debate can work wonders for a the possibility of a mutual understanding.

    I’ll say again: I, personally, am a vegetarian, but one who lives and eats pretty much strictly by his own guidelines. I’m not proselytizing to anybody, I’m not denying facts, etc. I don’t talk about it if people don’t ask. I have fairly close friends who don’t know that I’m a vegetarian simply because it’s never come up.

    It’s my assumption, TX CHL, that because you’re on the comment thread at an atheist blog, you’ve picked your words very carefully so that they’ve got the maximum potential to wound. After all, what can you say to an atheist that would be more hurtful than, “What you do is a religion”? It makes me take your arguments far less seriously to see you resort to this tactic.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    dan burbank: A brief biology lesson. Your teeth and digestive tract are nothing like a bears, a true omnivore. Your digestive tract is much more like a cow, in length. Check it out. If you look at the length of the systems, you will find that the human system is much too long to properly, safely digest meat…

    Hey **** ****, I’m a biologist. If you’re going to offer me a biology lesson, it ought to be good. It’s obvious that you know squat about biology, and have just collected whatever portions you feel fit your pre-digested conclusion. You are a detriment to your cause; by using bad arguments you give the impression that there are no good arguments. I encourage you to go away and educate yourself. I mean acquire some real education, not just sophistically pick and choose the tidbits that fit your worldview.

    I call upon any rational vegetarians who might be around to censure you. Are there any left who can recognize sophistry, or have you all “chosen sides” and are unwilling to criticize someone like dan burbank? Inability to criticize someone “on your own side” is one clue that your cause is no longer just and rational.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    But an argument of, “If you don’t protest what I don’t like vociferously enough, then I’ll unilaterally rule you irrational” is itself rational?

    Yes, dan burbank’s argument sounded like nonsense to me. I ignored it, therefore, and decided to engage the arguments that made some more sense. That does not mean I was unable to criticize him and his arguments. It just means that I didn’t, for one reason or another. Making assumptions about the motives of your opponents isn’t really a hallmark of rationality.

    In addition, when you claim that one kook’s argument, in a thread full of more reasonable arguments from more reasonable people, gives “the impression that there are no good arguments,” you give the impression that you’re filtering out the more reasonable arguments so that vegetarianism fits your preconceived notions of crazy.

  • Ritchie

    I have to agree with Fargus here. The accusation that vegetarianism is like a religion is an absurd one. The four stomachs argument is silly – cows need them because they eat grass. Humans simply don’t.

    The length of the intestines however is relevant to eating meat. Carnivorous animals typically have relatively short intestinal tracts, while herbivores have relatively long ones. This is because it is dangerous to have a lump of meat sitting inside you for a long time. Much more so than for vegetable matter.

    Think about it like this – why do we cook meat? We have to do so to kill the harmful bacteria and make the meat digestable. A truly omnivorous animal does not need to do that because their bodies can cope with raw meat. Ours can’t.

    In contrast to TX CHL, I would say that it is meat-eating which can be compared to religion. I think most meat-eaters do so simply because they have been brought up eating meat and never really sat down and considered the ethical implications of their actions. Vegetarians, because they are going against the social norm, generally have thought about it and decided that the social trend is wrong, or at least, not for them. This they share with atheists.

    As TX CHL asserts, humans may be capable of living on a variety of diets. We are also capable of being cannibalistic. Is the fact that we are capable of eating human flesh justification for doing it? And what is the moral difference between eating human flesh and the flesh of a pig or cow?

    A vegetarian diet is generally more healthy than one which involves meat. Intensive rearing of animals has a huge and terrible impact on the environment. It is also morally questionable (at least) to kill animals for food. These are facts, not dogma.

  • Ritchie

    Reginald Selkirk – I confess I was also under the impression that herbivores had much longer intestinal tracts than carnivores did. Is this incorrect? If so, I would honestly appreciate being corrected on the matter. Can you show me a link or site that would corroborate you?

  • Chuck

    Surely a humanitarian seeks to minimise suffering and maximise enjoyment, for themselves and others?

    Ritchie,

    On what basis do you make this claim? Or are you just appealing to those who already accept it?

  • Ritchie

    Chuck,

    It is simply my understanding of humanitarian ethics (though greatly simplified). Would you disagree with it?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I confess I was also under the impression that herbivores had much longer intestinal tracts than carnivores did. Is this incorrect?

    I wouldn’t challenge that one factoid, but there is much else in what dan burbank wrote that is either wrong, or cartoonish in its oversimplicity.

    Your teeth and digestive tract are nothing like a bears, a true omnivore.

    “True omnivore”? Is this a technical biological designation, or is it just dan burbank talking out his ***? A quick Google search on this term brings up mostly vegetarian sites.

    If you look at the length of the systems, you will find that the human system is much too long to properly, safely digest meat. Flesh in the type of hot, acidic environment that is our digestive tract, putrefies very quickly.

    “Putrefies”? It digests. That’s good. We don’t take up protein and other biopolymers wholesale from our food, we need to digest it into amino acids, simple sugars, etc to absorb it. Using a word like “putrefies” is either pig-ignorant or deliberately misleading.

    If you look at the massive rates of lower digestive tract cancer in the west, is directly connected to the consumption of flesh.

    A simplistic look at cancer rates vs. meat consumption could never show a “direct connection.” Every budding scientist is taught that “correlation is not causation.” The issue is more complex than dan burbank would have you believe.

    The Four Stomach Chambers of a cow’s stomach.

    rumen…
    reticulum…
    omasum…
    Abomasum: The abomasum is the last of the four chambers. It is known as the “true stomach” because it works like that of a human or pig, for example…

    Cattle teeth – they have larger molars and premolars than us for grinding their food, they have incisors which are way up front for nipping grass, they completely lack canine teeth. If you were to choose one other common type of non-primate animal with which to compare human teeth, your best bet would probably be peccaries. You may recall the infamous “Nebraska Man” fossil which turned out be a well-worn peccary molar.

    Think about this basic fact. Most traditional cultures breast feed between 3 and 5 years. Nothing like the 5-10 months that a child is breast fed here in the west.

    Yes, think about it. Does prolonged breast feeding support or challenge the notion of vegetarianism?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    This site has some interesting stuff:
    THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM OF VERTEBRATES

    Unfortunately, they don’t have identical information for all taxa, and I can’t find a summary; but click through to compare human digestive tracts to bovids, bears, pigs, etc. Most have diagrams depicting the relative size of stomach, small intestine and large intestine.

  • Ritchie

    Reginald Selkirk,

    Can I ask: why do we cook meat? Why don’t we eat meat raw? Other animals do. And why is it that whenever anyone gets food poisoning, it is always traced back to meat as the cause?

    It seems to me that humans are not physically well suited to a diet of meat. We have no claws or talons, our bare hands are insufficient for tearing through an animal’s side, and our teeth cannot bite through the hide of a cow or pig. Put a man in a room alone with a pig, and it is difficult to imagine how he would kill it, frankly.

    Surely we need tools to hunt? Tools to cut meat? We need to cook it. While I hesitate to call this tool usage ‘unnatural’, it does rather imply that our bodies are insufficient for the job.

    By comparrisson, vegetables are generally easy to eat, and can be eaten raw. It seems we can cope with them easily enough.

    But be that as it may, even if our bodies were just as capable of digesting meat as they were vegetable matter, that still does not make it right. Richard Dawkins has said many times that we should draw no morals from evolution. It simply shows us what has happened, not what ought to have happened.

    If it were otherwise, then why shouldn’t we eat human flesh? We are capable of doing so (well, as capable as we are of eating any other kind of meat).

  • Chuck

    Ritchie,

    That depends. Is your maxim based on something that exists, or just a matter of preference?

  • Ritchie

    Chuck,

    Sorry, I don’t understand. What do you mean?

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Can I ask: why do we cook meat?

    Because we can.

    Why don’t we eat meat raw?

    Because it makes it easier to digest and kills parasites.

    Other animals do.

    And what are their options?

    And why is it that whenever anyone gets food poisoning, it is always traced back to meat as the cause?

    BZZZT – wrong! Raw alfalfa sprouts linked to salmonella-tainted seeds

    It seems to me that…

    This is a pretty good indicator that a bad argument is coming down the pipe.

    Surely we need tools to hunt? Tools to cut meat?

    And sure enough, we have those tools! Wow, what a coincidence!

    By comparison, vegetables are generally easy to eat, and can be eaten raw.

    Some are, some aren’t. Take grain, for instance. Grain makes up a large part of the human plant-derived diet. And it is mostly eaten cooked.

    Do you think your inane babblings are helping or hurting your cause?

  • barnetto

    Comparative anatomy isn’t going to get you very far in determining the suitability of the human animal for meat eating. Especially when you’re wasting time comparing us to ruminant animals like the cow.

    “The predominant feature in the gastrointestinal tract of most small mammalian herbivores such as the lagomorphs, herbivorous rodents, and arboreal marsupial herbivores is a large cecum, which serves as the principal site for microbial fermentation (Fig. 5.18). Although most primates have a well developed cecum, only a few are herbivores (Caton 1997).”

    http://www.cnsweb.org/digestvertebrates/WWWEdStevensCDAnatomy.html

    Go through and read about the wide variety of digestive tracts. There isn’t one size fits all for herbivores and there isn’t once size fits all for meat eaters.

    But I think part of the question is which is easier to digest, meat or vegetables? And the answer, in contrast to what you picked up from forensics, is vegetables are easier to digest. What the forensics see is true, they can tell 4 hours later that veggies were eaten, maybe even what kind, but not what meat was eaten by looking at the intestines. But the interpretation of why that is–that veggies are harder to digest– is incorrect.

    The key reason why the forensic scientists would be able to tell what was eaten is because fiber difference between meat and vegetables. Vegetables have a lot of it and it doesn’t get digested (you poop it out, helps keep you regular) so your forensic scientist might be able to tell what you ate hours earlier. Meat has no fiber and doesn’t end up in the intestines.

    Additionally, in contrast to what you stated meat *is* harder to digest. With or without chewing, meat or veggie, most of your digestion occurs after the food has been swallowed. But meat is harder to digest and should be more thoroughly chewed and will result in the production of more stomach acid. The difficulty in digestion arises from the fact that meat is a much more dense food. Vegetables are light because of all the fiber, but meat is packed with protein, fat, calories. To unpack all that denseness it takes more time and resources than it would take for the lighter veggies.

    Anecdotally, I find that after eating I can go for a run an hour later if I haven’t eaten any meat, but if I’ve eaten meat I have to wait nearly 4 hours (it takes between 3-5 hours for your stomach to digest food) so I don’t experience abdominal cramps.

    Lastly, look at the China Study, India, and other places to see how people are able to live healthy without eating meat.

    Disclaimer. I am not a vegetarian. I am a flexitarian with a vegan boyfriend who insists I eat too much meat to call myself a flexitarian (but I think his perspective is skewed).

  • roscomac

    I’m raising two vegan children who are above average in height and average in weight, have been identified as gifted, excel in sports, get straight A’s in school, have yearly physicals that indicate by all measures that they are healthy, have only missed a combined 3 days in a combined 16 years of school, and have a wide circle of friends. Before choosing to raise my children by my moral code, I thoroughly investigated all of the available studies.

    If you are going to suggest that I am a negligent or abusive parent, I would hope that you have evidence to support that claim. If not, perhaps you shouldn’t cling desperately to a belief that you cannot support.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Why don’t we eat meat raw?

    ever heard of steak tartare ?

  • Chuck

    Ritchie,

    Let’s put it another way. When you tell me to “minimize suffering and maximize enjoyment,” that’s prescriptive, but it’s also arbitrary. You have told me what I should do, but you haven’t told me why.

  • Ritchie

    Reginald Selkirk

    [Because we can]

    Insufficient. We NEED to cook meat to a degree that we don’t need to cook vegetables. It is not a simple matter of preference.

    [Because it makes it easier to digest and kills parasites]

    Doesn’t this imply our bodies are unable to cope with digesting meat raw? The logical conlusion of which is that our bodies are poorly designed for the consumption of meat?

    [And what are their options?]

    I merely mentioned this to highlight that other animal species are perfectly able to cope with raw meat in a way that we humans are not.

    [BZZZT - wrong! Raw alfalfa sprouts linked to salmonella-tainted seeds]

    Point taken. I stand corrected. But is it not far more common to find meat and animal products as the source of dietry illness?

    [This is a pretty good indicator that a bad argument is coming down the pipe.]

    Then you should have no trouble refuting it.

    [And sure enough, we have those tools! Wow, what a coincidence!]

    You missed my point. The fact that we need such tools suggests that our physical bodies are insufficient – ie, the human body is not well equipped for providing itself with a meat based diet.

    [Some are, some aren't. Take grain, for instance. Grain makes up a large part of the human plant-derived diet. And it is mostly eaten cooked.]

    That, at least, is true. Are you concluding from that that meat is as safe to eat as plant and vegetable matter?

    [Do you thing your inane babblings are helping or hurting your cause?]

    Do you think your aggressive self-righteousness is helping or hurting yours?

    I also notice you totally ignored my final point – that just because we are capable of eating meat, does not mean it is right. Perhaps this is because your whole argument seems to be based on the presumption that our ability to eat meat DOES make it right? If so, this is a fallacy. We are capable of doing all sorts of bad things. Is killing a human right because we are capable of it? Is eating human flesh right because we are capable of it? Is eating an animal’s flesh right just because we are capable of it? Where are you drawing the line, and why?

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “Think about it like this – why do we cook meat? We have to do so to kill the harmful bacteria and make the meat digestable.”

    BS. We cook meat because of the various excesses of ‘modern’ agriculture that leads to high probability of dangerous microorganisms for which we have limited immunity due to our cloistered lives. Cooking meat has very little effect on digestibility (it does make some cuts easier to chew, but chewing is not necessary for digesting meat); it only reduces the nutritional value. To minimize that, I cook pork and fowl using low heat in a slow cooker to 170 degree internal temperature. I generally show beef to the grill just long enough to sterilize the surface, and eat it with a cool, raw interior.

    “This is because it is dangerous to have a lump of meat sitting inside you for a long time.”

    More BS. Meat is completely digested in a healthy human digestive system in a couple of hours, before it leaves the stomach. Even if not thoroughly chewed. This was shown conclusively by Dr. William Beaumont about 150 years ago.

    “TX CHL, do you have any links to any of these studies that you can show us?”

    http://www.pslgroup.com/dg/1fed9e.htm is a (flawed) report of the one that I was referring to. However, I see that the summary has been re-written since I last saw it, to imply that sugar was removed from the diets of all of the groups tested. No doubt because it has become a laughing-stock of the nutritional science world. The complete study is only available by paid subscription (sorry, I don’t have the link handy, and I also see that most of the references that I used to have to this study are dead links, and it no longer shows up in a google search, which I find mildly amusing. You have to expend a lot of effort to so completely bury that sort of thing), and clearly indicates that only the test group’s diet had the sugar removed. There was a lengthy discussion in sci.med.nutrition on this study as a prime example of sloppy research (apparently some of the ‘researchers’ had ties to PETA). Note that the “and sugar” in the summary can easily explain ALL of the observed health improvement.

    I found that roughly half of all of the studies I dug up during my reading in 2000-2002 had similar flaws. Looking at the actual data, though, I did find one remarkable constant, namely, in all studies that I found in which either carbohydrate or glycemic index was reduced, there were health improvements, with no exceptions. However, those improvements were invariably attributed to some other factor, like reduction of animal protein, or increased fiber, or reduced fat, or whatever other axe the ‘researcher’ was currently grinding. After I discovered that, I pretty much lost interest in nutritional research and went on to other things.

    “After all, what can you say to an atheist that would be more hurtful than, “What you do is a religion”?”

    The arguments for vegetarianism closely resemble arguments for religion, which is something that is easily recognized by anyone who isn’t a True Believer. Likewise the dragging in of unrelated side-issues, misrepresentation of data and of other arguments, etc., all along the lines of what I have seen often in religious argument. The resemblance to arguments between Christians and Muslims is truly uncanny. One of the reasons I am able to clearly recognize this aspect of vegetarianism is that I once made those same flawed rationalizations myself, for which I am deservedly embarrassed.

    If that shocks you into some recognition of what is going on here, good. If it offends you, you are probably a True Believer, and not amenable to rational discussion on the subject.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • Ritchie

    Steve Bowen,

    [ever heard of steak tartare?]

    I have indeed, but other means are found to disinfect the meat – usually marinating it in red wine, or other alcohol, though the traditional Mexican method uses lime juice. This disinfectant process is still necessary between taking it off the cow and putting it on your plate.

  • Mike Ducey

    I do think there is a moral argument that stems from the “secular case” above. There is a moral option for vegetarianism or veganism, and it stems from the reasons given in this secular case.

    The argument is a utilitaarian one, and comes from Peter Singer:

    Animals have the ability to feel pain, just as we have the ability to feel pain. We take our ability to feel pain to be something of interest- it is taken into account when making a moral distinction. A utilitarian will say that hitting a child is wrong because of the pain it will cause the child. As a preference utilitarian, Singer says that the moral calculus takes into account the preferences of sentient beings: the child has a preference not to be hit because of the pain that will result, and thus the preference to not feel pain overrides the preference to hit the child, and the right moral decision is thus not to hit the child, and it would be morally wrong hit him him/her.

    What Singer says it that it is “speciesist” to only take into account HUMAN preferences. It is obviously the case that animals have preferences- they prefer to live and to live painlessly. So why don’t we take these interests into account? The meat industry (especially factory farming) does not. The animals live poor, painful, awful lives that are cut short to feed us. Their preferences to avoid pain and to keep living are not outweighed by our preferences to eat something tasty. It is proven without a doubt that we can survive and thrive without meat (look at vegans) so we have no moral reason to continue to eat meat.

    The case for vegetarianism is a practical one: eating meat is not wrong in principle. It would be okay to eat roadkill, or animals that lived their lives and died of natural causes. The problem is that our meat industry does not follow such practices. It kills the animals prematurely, it allows them to lead awful and painful lives, and it makes the laws that it follows, thus propagating an evil industry.

    I don’t know how you can say that the pain caused by the meat industry is outweighed by the pleasure we get from eating these animals, and thus, we should no longer eat meat in America. I say America, because not all countries have the resources to feed their people without meat. Aboriginal tribes cannot sustain themselves without meat, and perhaps not some third-world countries. But in most developed countries, we could get by without meat (perhaps not tomorrow, but eventually). So we have no reason to continue to eat meat (without being immoral).

  • Ritchie

    TX CHL

    Interesting. I will have a thorough look through that when I get the time (bit pressed now).

    But I noticed you too ignored my question on the ethics of eating meat. Even if humans are perfectly capable of digesting meat, does that make it right? We are capable of digesting human flesh. What is the moral distinction between eating meat and cannibalism?

    Back later…

  • Ritchie

    Chuck,

    I think I understand, though I’m not sure I have a good answer for you. I suppose I am simply taking it as the foundation stone of ethical behaviour to minimise suffering and maximise enjoyment. Not sure I could tell you WHY off the top of my head. But I’ll chew it over for a while and get back to you.

    But while I do, I think it is sufficient to say for the time being that it is hypocritical if we call it morally unacceptable to kill humans for food, and morally acceptable to kill other animals for food. This smacks of bigotry. One rule for us, one rule for others. A person who thinks that eating humans is unacceptable, while eating pigs or cows faces the problem of explaining the moral difference between the two.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    Shorter TX CHL: If you agree with me, you’re rational. If not, you can’t possibly be. Why? Muslims!

  • Scotlyn

    I cannot disagree with any of the post’s arguments against factory farming, but as a small 99% organic farmer (sorry, we cannot control fluke in our sheep without using total flock dosing) there are some points to be made on the meat production side, which may not be apparent to those on the consumption side.
    1) not all land is equal – some land is much better suited to animal farming, other land is more suitable for horticulture or grain farming. While we can, with great effort, supply ourselves with a certain amoung of veg, it would be impossible to make a living from them, so the veg is for the household and the household barter system, while the sheep, who can graze our rough mountain pastures economically, provide our income.
    2) very few vegetable crops do well in the absence of fertilizers that have undergone natural processing in an animal’s gut – unless you prefer to rely on fertilizers made from petroleum, which are not good at maintaining the biodiversity of the soil – how many vegans would go so far as to refuse “naturally” (ie animal manure) fertilized vegetable foods vs “artificially” (petroleum derivative chemicals) fertilized crops?
    3) horticulture (fruit and veg) uses as much water as beef production, and also a lot of international transport (see point no. 1 above), whereas pork and chicken do not require nearly this much.
    4) large scale grain farming, with its wholesale destruction of hedgerows and wildlife diversity, may be the cause of the current die-off in honeybees, which will cripple horticultural production if not reversed
    5) pork is the most efficient meat, they grow fast and there is very little waste – we fatten two pigs a year and they fulfill a multi-purpose a) efficient recycling of waste food b) production of organic manures and c)yum, yum – and no, they do not suffer. A healthy, happy porcine life and a quick painless death is what we consider to be our part of the bargain.
    6)I often think that every place that produces food waste – ie hotels, restaurants, hospitals, etc should be made to fatten a pig – the amount of food waste is, in its own way, ethically problematic.
    Sorry if this repeats any other comments, I may have skipped a few.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “What is the moral distinction between eating meat and cannibalism?”

    The first one that pops into mind is kuru, a disease specific to cannibals. It can be argued from first principles that any choice that is detrimental to the survival of the species is immoral. And I personally would object to being eaten if that meant being killed for that purpose (that’s a pretty much universal phenomenon that is generally thought to be needed for survival).

    @Fargus: An illustration of irrational attempt to refute a rational argument by misrepresenting the rational argument. But if you keep trying, maybe you’ll eventually learn to think.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    TX CHL: It’s pretty rich to see you accuse me of misrepresentation when your argument consisted of saying that vegetarianism is a religion, like Christianity or Islam, and that you’ve got the trump card of rationality, which you’ve got to reject vegetarianism to claim.

    My post was tongue-in-cheek, of course, meant to provoke a response. But that’s mostly because you haven’t been taking anything seriously in here. You’ve declared that it’s an entry criterion to the Rational Club that you can’t be a vegetarian. That, my friend, is nonsense, and particularly inflammatory in the context of an atheist blog.

  • barnetto

    “The first one that pops into mind is kuru, a disease specific to cannibals. It can be argued from first principles that any choice that is detrimental to the survival of the species is immoral. And I personally would object to being eaten if that meant being killed for that purpose (that’s a pretty much universal phenomenon that is generally thought to be needed for survival).”

    There are diseases associated with eating meat as well: Trichinosis, mad cow disease… So your objection that eating humans causes kuru doesn’t hold in light of the fact that we already eat animals that can transmit disease to us. We mitigate that likelihood, just as we could mitigate the likelihood if we ate people. ie, don’t eat the brain and don’t eat people who were ill.

    Secondly, the human species can survive even if we eat each other. The animals that we eat are some of the furthest from extinction. And our species has already survived war and human sacrifice. I think a sustainable method for human consumption was laid out in paper written by Jonathon Swift, “A Modest Proposal”.

    So neither of your two reasons why it wouldn’t be right to eat humans holds up because we already deal with those issues with animals. Want to try again?

  • barnetto

    ps, your link
    http://www.pslgroup.com/dg/1fed9e.htm
    doesn’t actually lead to a paper. It was a talk given at a conference. I searched and couldn’t find a paper with more details. Security through obfuscation may work for a limited time in software, but it doesn’t have any place in rational debate.

    If this guy’s research were up to snuff I would expect he would comment in the paper why he ignored the sugar or how he controlled for its effects. Otherwise if the guy’s research was not up to snuff, then he didn’t get to publish (but somehow he got to present his work). If it wasn’t up to snuff then you’re presenting us with low hanging fruit. Anyone can sound right if they present the other side as a straw man.

  • Jormungund

    Moral arguments against cannibalism? I doubt there are any. We instinctively don’t like the idea of cannibalism because of the way it would easily spread disease. We could mitigate that possibility by testing someone before eating them. In a world in which disease did not exist, I would have no objections to cannibalism. Of course I am talking about eating already dead people and not butchering people just to eat them.
    I would like to see someone try and make moral arguments against cannibalism that aren’t just practical concerns such as spread of disease.

    Why don’t we eat meat raw?

    Because meat factories accidentally puncture intestines and spill half-digested excrement on the meat. That means that the surface of beef must be sterilized for you to eat it safely. For ground meat that means that you must cook it all the way through since every portion of it is an exposed surface that could have excrement residue on it. For cuts of meat merely the outer surface needs to be cooked. If you wanted to you could eat raw beef or venison and not get sick. Chicken is another story, but if it weren’t for sloppy meat factory procedures we could eat raw beef all we wanted.

    But is it not far more common to find meat and animal products as the source of dietry illness?

    I thought that tainted vegetables were the most common cause of food poisoning.

    As far as religious vegans go, I have personally known two vegans who were very religious about veganism. They wouldn’t stop prosletizing about veganism. It was obnoxious. A few of those religious vegans could wrongfully give all vegans a bad name. For all I know there are many reasonable vegans around me. But I only know specifically the two religious ones that won’t shut up about it. A silent majority of vegans could be drowned out by a small amount of loud prosletizing vegans.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    @barnetto The paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal, and I read it in 2002, about the time it was discussed at some length in sci.med.nutrition. I had to make a trip to the UTHSC library to do so because I didn’t want to pay a ridiculous price for a subscription to a journal whose title I don’t even remember right now. I spent several hours there reading a number of papers in a number of journals, many of which are pretty damned obscure. I do not have a link, and as I mentioned, the references to the original paper appear to have been completely buried (the link that I had originally contained the complete title of the paper as well as the name of the journal, but that has been removed from the page — maybe it’s available via WayBack). If I had the time and inclination, I could probably track it down again, but I don’t, so I guess you can assume I just made it up if you like.

    I am aware that my reasoning against cannibalism is incomplete. I am aware that there is a fairly deep-seated bias against killing a member of your own species (not universal, but fairly pervasive), and I haven’t given it as much thought as I probably should have. By cultural convention, cannibalism is taboo, and I am in favor of it remaining so. Are you in favor of cannibalism? If not, maybe we can come up with a mutually agreeable rationale.

    I still haven’t seen any convincing argument, moral or practical, for avoiding the eating of meat. BTW, there are diseases associated exclusively with eating vegetables. I have one of them: gluten intolerance; a mild form of celiac disease (assuming you consider the gluten grains to be vegetable). Some estimates place the incidence of gluten intolerance at nearly 30% of the population. There are also many vegetables that are poisonous uncooked, and some that cannot be rendered non-poisonous by cooking. Extending that reasoning, one should not eat anything at all, I suppose.

    I pick and choose my vegetables to avoid health problems, much in the same way I pick and choose meats. BTW, I definitely prefer the taste of grass-fed beef and free-range chicken over that of feedlot-fattened varieties.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    “My post was tongue-in-cheek” — Fargus

    Your post was a misrepresentation of my argument, whether in jest or not.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • Chuck

    Ritchie,

    I think it is sufficient to say for the time being that it is hypocritical if we call it morally unacceptable to kill animal life for food, and morally acceptable to kill plant life for food. This smacks of bigotry. One rule for us, one rule for others. A person who thinks that eating animal life is unacceptable, while eating vegetables or roots faces the problem of explaining the moral difference between the two.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    Here’s the scoop, Fargus… I don’t have a problem with vegetarians or vegans eating any way they damned well please, but I have a problem with them telling me that I fall short of some moral code because I eat meat, eggs, fish, or dairy, and therefore I’m either mistreating animals indirectly or sinning against the environment. That’s a religious argument.

    When confronted with the obvious religious nature of that sort of argument, the vegans and vegetarians switch to the “oh, well, it’s healthier, or more scientific” or whatever. Also not supported in any way by objective evidence. For every study “proving” that animal protein and fat are unhealthy, there is another study saying the opposite. And, as I have already related, I am profoundly unimpressed with the scientific rigor of what passes for nutritional studies.

    Very similar to the reaction of creationist when cornered by logic, vegetarians either start to make stuff up, or come up with one-off anecdotes. Like the “despite the forensic evidence to the contrary, meat really *is* harder to digest than vegetable” presumably because of some subjective feeling related to the ease of running after eating meat (which, by the way, I have NEVER experienced, and yes, I have eaten meatless meals, and yes, I have run. As I recall, when I was). How you can come to that conclusion in the face of hard evidence to the fact that a lot of vegetable matter is completely indigestible is beyond me, but creationists do something very similar. The relative ease and speed of digestion of different types of food was firmly established by Dr. Beaumont about 150 years ago. I studied that in grade school. 6th grade, as I recall.

    When all else fails, go for the emotional argument “meat eating is like cannibalism”. Sorry, I don’t buy that one, either. So what else you got?

    To recap the vegan/vegetarian arguments:
    1) IT’S IMMORAL!!!! IT’S ANTI-ENVIRONMENT!!!!
    2) My way of eating is better than yours because of the way it makes me feel, and I am justified in looking down on you with smugness. Besides, I read somewhere it’s better for you.
    3) Your way of eating is gross like cannibalism.

    Exactly how do any of those arguments differ in form from those that you get from a religious apologist?

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    Forgot one — just start re-defining words like “digestion”, etc.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    See, here’s the thing, TX CHL. You’re talking about me, as a vegetarian, when you make sweeping statements about vegetarians. But (and I guess you’re going to have to trust me on this, as I have no way of proving it) you’re not describing me in the slightest. Ignoring that are people who don’t act like your trite stereotypes allows you to break out your super broad brush and just start painting every damn thing you see.

    But until you can address your arguments properly toward the people you’re actually talking about (namely, narrowing it down from all vegetarians to the vegetarians who act in the ways you describe), you’re not gonna have much luck with your “vegetarians are like religious people” argument.

  • Entomologista

    Your digestive tract is much more like a cow, in length.

    Right…because we have 4 stomachs, chew cud, and can digest cellulose. Oh, wait.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    @Ritchie: “Can I ask: why do we cook meat? Why don’t we eat meat raw? Other animals do. And why is it that whenever anyone gets food poisoning, it is always traced back to meat as the cause?”

    I had missed this particular bit of inanity on the first pass. I suppose Mr. Ritchie thinks that pistachios and tomatoes are meat… Or are we just redefining words to suit preconceived notions here?

    We cook meat because roughly 10,000 years ago, we discovered fire. Which makes it a relatively recent invention, evolutionarily speaking, and as a general rule, things which must be cooked to be edible are largely questionable as food. Fortunately, meat does *not* have to be cooked to be edible, although heating food can make it safer. I choose to eat my beef as raw as I can, and cook my fowl and pork with low heat in a slow-cooker to minimize the nutritional damage.

    @Fargus: “you’re not describing me in the slightest.”

    Really? You deliberately misrepresented my arguments, so I just assumed you were taking sides. Silly me.

    @Dean: You are one of the few people here that appears to be able to observe the obvious. I, too, have noticed the uncanny parallels. As I stated, although probably not as eloquently as you did.

    http://www.chl-tx.com

    http://www.chl-tx.com

  • dan burbank

    Reginald Selkir,
    you claim to be a biologist but you did not rebuke one of my points. Why is that? Because you can not. I gave you a rational biological argument against your lame “look in the mirror” argument. I would suggest you have never spent a single moment questioning your flesh eating.

    TX CHL,
    you state that vegetarianism is a religion. While some Hindu’s and Buddhist have “religious” basis for their practicing vegetarianism, I can assure you that my eating is based on 2 very rational reasons. 1. The extreme ecological cost of meat. There is also a equity argument that I fold into this one. 2. the health argument. Many cancers and most all cardio vascular disease is connected directly to meat.

    The third reason is not so logical, but more an ethical argument. That is to do as little harm as I can. Now I recognized that there are those who will try and belittle this argument, however I don’t care. What I do as my personal ethic is mine and no one else’s. I personally choose to do all I can to NOT harm others. I am in no way a pacifist, I will protect myself and those who I care about, but there is NO NEED for me to inflict pain on animals that are essentially held as slaves.

  • dan burbank

    Entomologista

    length. Not make up or design. I am speaking of the basic distance food travels from mouth to ass. There is a connection between how long food needs to stay in the digestive tract and how long it takes to extract nutrition.

  • barnetto

    “The paper was published in a peer-reviewed journal…I could probably track it down again, but I don’t, so I guess you can assume I just made it up if you like.”

    Nope, that’s fine. From the link and my search I couldn’t tell that it had ever been more than a talk at a conference. I trust you that it exists, but I don’t necessarily trust your interpretation.

    So I’ll quite beating around the bush on the science.

    I’m sure you’re a very intelligent guy, going back to the source of documents, programming, playing the violin, but I have to say that even the most intelligent people will find themselves at a disadvantage in background knowledge and current knowledge when confronted with an expert.

    I could look at papers in my free time and might eventually come to the scientific consensus on my own (not a complete given since there are any number of dissenters on topics), but given my layperson background I defer to the experts. To call up a couple, the American Heart Association, the American Institute for Cancer Research, and the American Diabetes Association.

    http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/?p=resource_centre
    http://circ.ahajournals.org/cgi/reprint/CIRCULATIONAHA.106.176158

    There’s a pretty high correlation between meat, especially certain processed meat products, and cancer. Veg*nism fits quite well within the guidelines suggested by the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. I’m sure diets that include animal protein can be made to fit as well, though I would note that they state, “Keep your portion sizes small. Three ounces is about the size of a deck of cards. You only need 4-6 ounces for the whole day.”

    http://www.diabetes.org/nutrition-and-recipes/nutrition/diabetes-meal-plan.jsp
    http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-research/summaries/mediterranean-style-diet-lowers-diabetes-risk.jsp

    “I am aware that my reasoning against cannibalism is incomplete…Are you in favor of cannibalism? If not, maybe we can come up with a mutually agreeable rationale. I still haven’t seen any convincing argument, moral or practical, for avoiding the eating of meat.”

    Well that’s why we were discussing the cannibalism question. I could tell you why I’m not a cannibal and why I’m not a vegetarian, but they would be *my* reasons. I’ve heard moral arguments for veganism that I find pretty convincing, but I like the taste of meat and I like not being left out of group outings so I’ll stay flexitarian. Its kind of a weird position to be in, nodding that I agree with all the arguments my bf makes, but then turning around, going out with co-workers, and having a burger. But in the way that some of the religious keep their scientific and supernatural beliefs separate, the uneasy equilibrium between my own pleasure and not causing other creatures undue suffering still exists.

    If you admitted it was immoral, would you, unlike me, feel compelled to switch back to being vegetarian? I don’t really understand why you protest so abrasively (accusing vegetarians of a religion) and so adamantly claim that there can’t possibly be a moral reason. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t convinced, but it does matter that you understand it isn’t a religion.

    “I have one of them: gluten intolerance; a mild form of celiac disease (assuming you consider the gluten grains to be vegetable). Some estimates place the incidence of gluten intolerance at nearly 30% of the population.”

    Yep. My neighbor has it, one of my teachers did. I’m sorry about your disease and the suffering it has caused you. But that isn’t veg*nism fault. Everyone is different. We’re not asking you (at least I’m not) to be veg*n, but just to understand. Those veg*ns who act like its a religion, they’ll grow up and mellow out, or they won’t, it doesn’t matter.

  • dan burbank

    A few FACTS on the environmental impact of eating flesh.
    Pound of tomatoes 23 gallons of h2o
    Pound of Wheat 25 gallons of h2o
    Pound of chicken 1,630 gallons of h2o
    Pound of Beef 5,214 gallons of h2o

    calories of fossil fuel/calories of protein
    Soybeans 2
    corn 3
    wheat 3
    beef 54

    Over consumption

    Percent of US grown corn eaten by people 2%
    Percent of US grown corn fed to cattle 77%
    US farmland used to grow vegetables for people 4 million acres
    US farmland used to grow hay for livestock 56 million acres

    Number of cows slaughtered every 24 hours in the US 90,000
    Number of chickens slaughtered in the US every minute 14,000
    number of “food” animals (not counting aquatic animals) every year in the US 10 billion
    Land mass used as pasture land globally, 1/2 of all land on earth.

    Environmental disasters.

    Gallons of oil spilled by the exxon valdez 12 million
    Gallons of Hog waste spilledon june 21, 1995 from a single waste lagoon into the New River in NC, 25 million
    number of fish kill immediately, 10-14 million,, fish breading area decimated as a result of the spill, 1/2 of mid-East Coast species. Acres of shellfish area closed to use, 364,000

    If none of these facts touch the basic reasoning part of your brain, then I have to ask you, what is behind your compulsion to eat meat?

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    No doubt every pound of fish takes a million gallons of water. So what? I drink roughly 2 quarts of water every day myself. Again, so what?

    I haven’t eaten any corn at all in the past ten years, and don’t plan to eat any for the rest of my life, given the high correlation between corn and arthritis. I even try to avoid corn-fed animals because corn screws with the lipid profile of the fat.

    And exactly what does a ship captain who was drunk and derelict have to do with anything at all? And why does a v*g*n care about closed shellfish areas? BTW, I prefer my fish un-breaded anyway.

    Oh, I see… It’s one of those OMG EATING MEAT IS IMMORAL!!!! things (even if not 100% consistent). Has nothing whatsoever to do with reason, and the fact you appear to think it does just reinforces my point(s).

    Next comes the redefinition of chosen words, or maybe the “holier than thou” spiel. Wait for it… in 3… 2… 1…

  • Alex Weaver

    No doubt every pound of fish takes a million gallons of water. So what? I drink roughly 2 quarts of water every day myself. Again, so what?

    So, you’re equating yourself and 8.00*10^-6 ounces of fish meat?

    You know, based on your comment here and some of them elsewhere, I’m inclined to agree.

  • Chet

    length. Not make up or design.

    The color is probably the same, too. Regardless, it is alimentary configuration, not simply raw length, that is the primary determinant of what an gastrointestinal system can process. Cows can’t eat grass simply because they have an intestine of such-and-such length; they eat grass because they have a complex set of organs that allow them to do just that, which we do not possess.

    Even if humans are perfectly capable of digesting meat, does that make it right? We are capable of digesting human flesh. What is the moral distinction between eating meat and cannibalism?

    What is the moral distinction between vegetarianism and cannibalism, for that matter? If you think that eating a plant means no animals died for your food, you’re deluding yourself. And it’s no less species-ist for you to simply ignore the many millions of insects (and birds, and mammals) that perished for your meal than it is for me to ignore the pig that died for mine. (The difference is that I embrace my speciesism; I privilege human beings over all other organisms because I am one, and that is what it means to be in a species.)

    You’ve got to eat something. The one thing we can all agree on is that humans cannot photosynthesize. Your continued existence means the death of another living thing, probably the deaths of billions of living things, and ultimately nothing you could change about your diet could make a dent in that death toll.

    By all means, continue to be vegetarian if that’s what you prefer, can afford, or require for health outcomes. But the moral case for vegetarianism, or any other diet, simply cannot be made. The only moral outcome, in terms of trying to minimize how much death you cause, is to dig a grave in the middle of a forest and kill yourself immediately – so that you feed, rather than feed on, as many organisms as possible.

    nsufficient. We NEED to cook meat to a degree that we don’t need to cook vegetables.

    Sushi. ‘Nuff said, or need I point out that sushi is raw fish on cooked rice?

  • Chet

    The key reason why the forensic scientists would be able to tell what was eaten is because fiber difference between meat and vegetables

    But “fiber” is just a word we use for the indigestible portion of plants – specifically, the cellulose that makes up the majority of their structure.

    Surely it’s untenable to claim that plants are “easier to digest” at the same time you’re pointing out that the vast majority of the plant’s structure can’t be digested at all.

  • Entomologista

    fish breading area decimated as a result of the spill

    BTW, I prefer my fish un-breaded anyway.

    I LOL’d.

    Look, vertebrate physiology isn’t my thing. But I don’t think length is the big deal you think it is. The big deal with herbivores is retention of material for processing. It takes longer to get nutrients from plant material than animal material. Since we’re animals, animal tissue then requires very little processing to get the nutrients out in comparison with plant tissue. You don’t necessarily need a long gut to hold your food a long time. Many herbivores solve this problem by having massive fermentation sacs. But the fact of the matter is, we’re just not as good as true herbivores at breaking down plant tissue. The bacteria in our gut do not produce cellulase, nor do we produce any endogenously. That’s not to say you can’t eat a purely vegan diet and be healthy, it’s just going to be harder for you than it is for a cow.

    I don’t think being vegan is bad. I think it is a morally neutral thing to be. But part of the reason people get passionate about this is that food is a huge part of culture and family. I make the same dishes my great-great German grandma made, and you better believe they aren’t vegan. You’re not going to convince me that I’m a terrible, earth-killing person because I make mandel brachen at Christmas.

  • Danikajaye

    I believe Scotlyn makes some very valid points. I also come from a farming background (producing wheat, barley, lupins, canola, sheep for wool and meat and pigs) and from my perspective there is no clear winning argument in the Meat Production Vs Grain/Vegetable Production debate in terms of environmental impact.

    The impact of livestock production is well outlined in above comments and in the article so I won’t repeat them. However the production of grains and vegetables come with their own set of problems. Depending on the type of crop plant foods can cause as much damage as grazing stock. Crops cannot be grown for many consecutive years in the same soil as it can strip the soil of nutrients and leads to soil degredation- which is why farmers use crop rotation cycles. The land needs to be cleared which can lead to problems with salinity, erosion of top soil and it also destroys the habitat of various native animals in the area. Herbicides and pesticides are also used on most commercial crops to minimise crop damage and loss- these can seep into ground water and they can also damage animal populations- particularly frogs and insects that in turn food for larger animals. Many of these chemicals can be carcenogenic and the full extent of that is yet to be researched so the direct impact on farmers who use the stuff and the consumers alike is yet to be known. Both plant and animal products need to transported- in some instances I would say vegetables have to be transported MORE because livestock does not have any seasonal availability issues. I object to plant based foods being help up as some kind of saintly or far morally superior option in regards to environmental impact. It shows a poor understanding of agricultural practices. Organic farming does address some of these issues, although not all, but it does come at a much higher monetary cost for producers and consumers.

    Leaving behind the production issues and moving on the morality of eating meat I would agree that INTENSIVE farming practices can be very cruel. However I also object the the blanket statement that ALL meat production is cruel. On smaller farms animals are very well cared for up until the moment they die. They roam large open areas, many of them have dams or soaks or troughs for water, they are free to graze and are grain fed when vegetation levels are low. They are kept away from predators and kept as disease and parasite free as possible. When they are slaughtered it is done as quickly as possible. I have seen animals slaughtered and I have also seen “natural” death and the latter is incredible painful, horrible and completely inhumane. To take sheep for example, they can often develop cancer- particularly in the face and large bloody tumours can often overtake their face. Sheep can also become infested with maggots while they are still alive. Another problem is if they get sick and fall over and can’t get up the crows will often peck their eyeballs out. They can also get mauled by foxes or fall victim to other parasites and so the list continues. The animals can lay in pain dying for several days with any of these things. I would decide what farming practices are cruel to animals not by whether the animals eventually die or not (as they all will) but the conditions they are kept in while they are alive- I’m not even going to touch the battery hen debate.

    Moving on to dietary issues I am unaware of any thorough or credible studies that have conclusively proved ANY kind of diet to be better for you than any others. High protien, low carb, cutting out dairy, cutting out gluten or all grains, low fat, vegetarian, fruitarian. From my personal experience dietary needs and the observed benefits of any of the different eating rituals vary greatly between individuals. I think the various dietary arguments are dead on this forum as the science behind some of them are dubious and any medical practitioner in the field will tell you that the human digestive tract is under researched and poorly understood despite being frequently debated.

  • Scotlyn

    I added my practical two cents from my experience in farming, above, but I would like to add a few points to the moral debate that is going here. I would subscribe to the view that if there is no soul, there is nothing to distinguish us from other animals. But there is one thing that naturally gives us a human-centred outlook, and that is simply that we are human. We are not other animals. Therefore, we cannot guess at how they would like us to treat them, apart from projecting our own desires and fears upon them. I do believe that we owe them, as we owe others of our own species, every possible effort to minimise their real and potential suffering and maximise their real and potential pleasure (see I was listening at other posts) insofar as we can guess what that consists in, and qualified by the knowledge that whatever we decide, it will be a guess. I believe the same goes for insects, plants and bacteria. None of this, in my view, contradicts ethical animal husbandry and meat-eating, if the animals are allowed to live lives that approximate to happy animal lives and their deaths are as quick and as painless as can be arranged (I would certainly like to do away with long travel periods between the farm and a central abatoir, for example – local butchers, who are a threatened species, used to buy local animals, settle them in for a day or two on a grassy field, and then quickly kill them out of sight of one another.) However, it should be recognized that very few of the foods we eat, whether animal or vegetable, are in their wild state. The vast majority of them, animal or vegetable, are cultivars, and that means that their survival is bound up with ours in a bargain made by our ancestors somewhere between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago. They will not survive, or at least, not in their present form, without our attention to their feeding and care, weeding out their competitors, feeding their soil, using the waste generated by one to feed another. We made this bargain in order that most of us could leave the wild and live in cities. As a farmer, I am conscious of my side of the bargain, which is a very large duty of care. As I fulfill it, I allow the animals and plants on my farm to survive in peace and comfort, and also allow my fellow humans, who choose to live in cities in large numbers to survive, also in peace and comfort. I would also like to point out that the arguments about what we are most suited to eat from nature are specious. We do not eat from nature – most of our species left that life long ago – if we still ate from nature, there would be very few of us, and none of us in cities, and none of us with access to academia, or other large institutions, our tecnology would still consist in chipping a better stone arrowhead. We have made our food, and our food has made us. We do not use claws or teeth to get our food, but our brains and our hands, and our sometime habit of cooperation. As a farmer, the notion of being vegetarian makes little sense, because animals and plants compliment one another. If you take the animals out of the equation, then you leave huge gaps in the cycle and recycle of nutrients. Re. cooking – I would like to point out that no one eats grains or pulses raw – they need either cooking or sprouting to be digestible, and soya beans require even more processing than that. Grains, pulses and milk are our most civilised foods – they are the foods we created as we became civilised – (although we probably have robbed birds nests forever). Our domesticated animals provide a source of meat that is similar to meat foods that were eaten long before we became civilised, with some evidence pointing to meat eating as far back as 1.5-3.5 million years. But, humans are able to eat a huge variety of diets, and curiously, the generation that is now eating the highly processed factory foods we all love to hate, is turning out to be the longest lived of all. Whatever that means.

  • http://www.chl-tx.com TX CHL Instructor

    dan >A few FACTS on the environmental impact of eating flesh.
    dan >Pound of tomatoes 23 gallons of h2o
    dan >Pound of Wheat 25 gallons of h2o
    dan >Pound of chicken 1,630 gallons of h2o
    dan >Pound of Beef 5,214 gallons of h2o

    OMG! I have a tree in my front yard that uses about 40-50 gallons of water EVERY DAY!!!! My lawn requires about 30 gallons of water a day just to stay green. (Fortunately, a good percentage of that falls out of the sky, but hey, why ruin a good hysteria with facts?) What’s even worse, is that some of that water is combined with CO2 to form CELLULOSE! OH NOES!!!!

    dan >Number of cows slaughtered every 24 hours in the US 90,000
    dan >Number of chickens slaughtered in the US every minute 14,000

    Number of poor, innocent rabbits chased down, mauled, and eaten raw by those vicious, evil wolves and coyotes? Who knows, but probably several thousand a day. Obviously, we need to track down those pre-dogs and civilize them, and train them not to commit such vile, evil acts. And we need to do something about all those snakes that eat rats, mice, and other small mammals. You got your work cut out for you, dan; better get to it!

    Alex: >So, you’re equating yourself and 8.00*10^-6 ounces of fish meat?

    Ah, yes, yet another sterling example of innumeracy and meaningless comparison. This is what passes for “reason” amongst proselytizing v*g*ns. (I qualified that so that Fargus can consider himself excluded)

    Every drop of water used in the production of ANYTHING has already been recycled several hundred million times, and will continue to be recycled.

    dan >Land mass used as pasture land globally, 1/2 of all land on earth.

    The land mass that *can* be used as pasture land is less than 50% of the total land mass (due to the inconvenient presence of things like mountains, deserts, permafrost, and marsh bogs), and a good percentage of what would otherwise serve as pasture has human dwellings erected on it, and another good percentage is being ‘used’ to grow things like trees. This “fact” was completely fabricated, and the other “facts” dan cited are equally reliable.

    The number of meat animals slaughtered per day is just a reflection of the size of the population. The citing of such completely meaningless “facts” is certainly not a good illustration of “reason”, except to proselytizing v*g*ns.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Ritchie: Insufficient. We NEED to cook meat to a degree that we don’t need to cook vegetables. It is not a simple matter of preference.

    Steak tartare already mentioned by someone. Indigestibility of many vegetables without cooking already mentioned.

    Doesn’t this imply our bodies are unable to cope with digesting meat raw? The logical conlusion of which is that our bodies are poorly designed for the consumption of meat?

    Steak tartare already mentioned. Parasites already mentioned. I will add that our weaker jaws and flat faces likely co-evolved with our ability to cook.

    I merely mentioned this to highlight that other animal species are perfectly able to cope with raw meat in a way that we humans are not.

    Are you unaware that most wild animals, carnivores, omnivores and vegetarians included, are full of parasites?

    I also notice you totally ignored my final point…

    That’s because I thought I had adequately demonstrated that you are ignorant about the topics about which you post, and I was too polite to state outright that you are an annoying twit.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    dan burbank: you claim to be a biologist but you did not rebuke one of my points.

    Yes I did. Sorry if you weren’t paying attention. And I note that not one other vegetarian has found it within themselves to condemn your lying ways. This speaks poorly for them.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    dan burbank: Apparently I left too many blanks fro you to fill in on your own. I.e. I may have overestimated you. So I’ll spell out a few of my refutations:

    You used the term “true omnivore.” My counter-argument was that this was not a technical biological term, but vegetarian propaganda. Go check out the page for omnivore on Wikipedia, you will note that humans are listed as an omnivore, and that the word “true” appears nowhere on the page. To spell it out for you, you were caught in a lie.

    You said that our teeth and digestive tracts are more similar to cows than bears. I provided several links with info refuting this, but perhaps I didn’t spell it out clearly enough for you: Our teeth are not very similar to cows, they don’t even have canine teeth. Our stomachs are almost completely unlike the four chambered stomach of cows and other ruminants. A closer parallel to humans for both teeth and digestive tract is peccaries and pigs. Both of which are omnivores.

    I pointed out your incorrect and (deliberately?) misleading use of the wprd “putrified.”

    And so on. And you said nothing to counter these revelations, merely stated, with no evidence or counter-argument provided, that I hadn’t refuted anything you said.

    And so on.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    dan burbank: If you look at the massive rates of lower digestive tract cancer in the west, is directly connected to the consumption of flesh.

    Since meat “putrefies” so rapidly in the stomach, why would you look at cancer of the lower digestive tract, rather than of the stomach?

    Stomach cancer

    (stomach cancer) represents roughly 2% (25,500 cases) of all new cancer cases yearly in the United States, but it is much more common in Korea, Japan, Great Britain, South America, and Iceland.

    Heriditary Link Studied As Colon Cancer Cause

    Published: Thursday, January 21, 1988
    Scientists in Japan have found evidence that hereditary predisposition to cancer of the colon and rectum may be a result of a highly complex process involving loss of protective genes on any of several different chromosomes.

    Genetics of Colorectal Cancer

    Colorectal cancer is a commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. In 2008, an estimated 148,810 new cases will be diagnosed, and 49,960 deaths from colorectal cancer will occur.[1] Two kinds of observations indicate a genetic contribution to colorectal cancer risk: (1) increased incidence of colorectal cancer among persons with a family history of colorectal cancer; and (2) families in which multiple family members are affected with colorectal cancer, in a pattern indicating autosomal dominant inheritance of cancer susceptibility.[2-6] About 75% of patients with colorectal cancer have sporadic disease, with no apparent evidence of having inherited the disorder. The remaining 25% of patients have a family history of colorectal cancer that suggests a genetic contribution, common exposures among family members, or a combination of both. Genetic mutations have been identified as the cause of inherited cancer risk in some colon cancer–prone families; these mutations are estimated to account for only 5% to 6% of colorectal cancer cases overall. It is likely that other undiscovered major genes and background genetic factors contribute to the development of colorectal cancer, in conjunction with nongenetic risk factors.

    I already pointed out the oversimplicity (i.e. wrongness) if confusing correlation with causation. Now i will also point out that you have provided no data whatsoever to back up your correlation claims.

  • dan burbank

    Reginald Selkirk,
    I never said cow, I said LIKE a herbivores. Big difference. Both horses and cows are herbivores, as are rabbits and none of them have the same type of teeth. Same with the digestive tract. So apparently it is you who are unable to fill in the blanks even though I thought I was pretty clear as to what my argument is. I never said we were ruminants. That is you trying again to distort the argument. I stated that Herbivores, all herbivores have long digestive tracts to allow the plant matter a long time to digest. I never stated that we had several stomach and there are herbivores that do NOT have several stomach. Predators have short digestive tracts so the PUTREFYING FLESH, which is what it does in conditions like those in a digestive tract, are short to limit the exposure of the host to the conditions caused by the act of putrefying flesh. They get it in, digest as much as they can, which btw mr. biologist means to break down into the bas components for use by the body, and get it out of the system, thus limiting the exposure to toxic byproducts.

    As far as out teeth

    go here for pictures of omnivore teeth
    http://www.alaskastock.com/pr/928159988/Alaskastock_100OT_FU0002D001.jpg
    http://www.alaskastock.com/pr/928159988/Alaskastock_100OT_BF0001_002.jpg
    http://a-z-animals.com/images/animals/features/raccoon3_large.jpg

    You will note that they have a substantially larger canine they the humans. For a better example of what our teeth might be compared to look at some of the other plant eaters, maybe a horse would be a better example. (Yes I know but we have a canine tooth, so your talking about 4 out out 52. I mean the rest.) I specifically stated that our teeth are modifying in that direction BUT, we are far from a “TRUE” omnivore. Even chimps have larger canines then we do, or our ancestors did. Look at the archeological record for that. I believe that the scientific community tells us we are omnivores is a misunderstanding of the facts and it helps to justify what we do. Science has a very long history of being used and using what it sees to justify the popular views of the day. There are many instances of this.
    I really do not need to refute your lack of evidence that I have put out there at this point, only point out that you appear to be trying to deliberately obfuscate the points I have stated. We are NOT ruminants but we are closer on the scale to a herbivore to the more widely recognized omnivores. Calling us omnivores because in our recent evolutionary past, we have included meat is similar to calling the sheep of the british isles omnivores because humans fed them animal parts to increase their protein consumption in the 80s. In the larger biological/evolutionary perspective, we are herbivores. you can not dispute this. An occasional steak or two for a few tens of thousand years does not change this biological fact.

  • dan burbank

    TX CHL Instructor,
    OH boy, you have degenerated into ridicule of fact rather then looking at them. Good. I guess you will just have to wait out the harsh reality coming your way.

  • ildi

    Calling us omnivores because in our recent evolutionary past, we have included meat

    I googled for this, and came across this book: Meat-Eating and Human Evolution, Edited by Craig B. Stanford and Henry T. Bunn. The description says

    When, why, and how early humans began to eat meat are three of the most fundamental unresolved questions in the study of human origins. Before 2.5 million years ago the presence and importance of meat in the hominid diet is unknown. After stone tools appear in the fossil record it seems clear that meat was eaten in increasing quantities, but whether it was obtained through hunting or scavenging remains a topic of intense debate.

    Sounds to me like it is safe to say we are omnivores.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    An occasional steak or two for a few tens of thousand years does not change this biological fact.

    I’m not in a position to link to a reference source (will try later time permitting) but as far as I recall the earliest hominins to eat meat are hypothesised to be the australopithecines which would put it anywhere between 2 – 3.4 MYA. We started cooking it (Homo Erectus did anyway) about 400,000 years ago. One theory is that brain size increased with increasing meat consumption as the calorific density is so much higher than vegetables and so supports the metabolic debt big brains require.

  • dan burbank

    ildi, Steve Bowen,
    yes, these are very common discussions in the archeological world. It is hard to substantiate either side. Having said that, it is still apparent that that the vast amount of our diet had been largely vegetable in nature. It is consistent with much of the actual copperlite record of hominids. I suppose I was being a bit too dismissive in the steak or two comment. I should have been more inclusive to the homo habalis crowd. I still feel that there is a mach larger majority of plant based diet for most of the human evolutionary record. Even the Hunter and Gather cultures that are mapped in cultural anthropology, meat eating is bay far the minority of the consumed calories, except at the extremes.

    Meat has never been the majority of the calories that humans and their kin have consumed, which supports my contention that at best, we are a marginal omnivore, which I stated. This was a direct confrontation of the “I am an Omnivore, man” argument being made.

    I would argue that the environmental reasons for not eating meat are much more important. I always have. The health issue will eventually work its way out on the individual level, then eventually on the societal level, if the medical/insurance industry starts looking at root causes, well meat eating will most likely become a liability.

    Personally neither of those arguments helped me become a vegetarian or a vegan. It was the ethical one that pushed me over. My own personal world view and it took years of trying. It started with the health discussion, followed by the environmental discussion> I tried and tried but would “fall back” on a semi regular basis. I loved burgers and bacon. (The smell of bacon can still make me a little weak in the knees. ;0) ) But it was looking at a cow one day that finally pushed me over. I had been around cows off and on through out my life, but the eyes one day clicked for me.

    Having said that, the environmental argument appears to be the most potent argument as the middle class, globally increases, it is becoming apparent that the ecology of the planet will be hard pressed to support the practice. Which, I think, the author was trying to point out initially.

  • velkyn

    What about “large-scale” vegetable farms. You’ll need them to feed everyone. Where are you getting the fertilizer becaue sustained planting will need it? And that fertilizer runs off too. What of areas that can’t support vegetables because of climate? Will you destroy the enviroment to make sure people don’t eat meat? What of the immigrants who work the fields? Waht of the equpiment that makes agriculture work? Do you want to go back to draft animals? How will that work to feed 6 billion people? I’d also love to know how those amounts of water used are calculated. I lived on a dairy farm and it seems more than a bit ridiculous.

    I find all of these major problems that are never addressed by vegan/vegetarians. I would like to grow my own garden but I live in a city and my backyard doens’t get enough sun for veggies. buying a part of the produce of a organic garden is a nice idea but not possible for the great majority. It seems to me that vegetarians and vegans wont’ even think about the downsides to their choice. and that’s sad and dishonest.

  • Scotlyn

    And, like I said, evidence of meat eating among proto-humans (1.5-3.5 million years ago) predates the consumption of grains and pulses (the vegetarian staples which we invented when we decided to become “civilised” or live in cities 30,000 – 10,000 years ago) by a couple of orders of magnitude.

    That we are omnivores is well attested by the fact that healthy humans can live on a huge variety of diets – including 90-100% meat and fish (pre-western Inuit, Sami and other northern native peoples), 100% vegetarian (see large populations in India), milk and blood of cattle and a bit of millet (some African herding people), spuds, milk, butter and salt (Irish pre-famine farming population), eggs, insect grubs, nuts, roots, leaves and berries and other found/gathered foods (native peoples who still have access to wild space for a gathering lifestyle) … cakes, biscuits, fries and burgers – modern, western, longer-and-longer-lived city-dwellers…

  • ildi

    Meat has never been the majority of the calories that humans and their kin have consumed, which supports my contention that at best, we are a marginal omnivore, which I stated.

    WTF is a marginal omnivore? An omnivore is merely an organism which gets its food energy from both plant and animal material. There’s no percentage in the definition. It really sounds like you’re just making stuff up.

    It was the ethical one that pushed me over.

    Well, then, stick to the ethical arguments if you want to be convincing. Humans are omnivores. Start from there, and move on.

  • Ritchie

    Jormungund -

    You say you would eat human meat, but only if the humans died from natural causes. This is a false comparison. The animals we rear for meat do not die of natural causes. Would you object to humans being reared and killed for the specific purpose of providing you with meat to eat? If so, why?

    Chuck -

    Cute.

    I draw a distinction between eating anmials and plants because, as far as we know, plants cannot suffer, at least not to the degree animals can. They feel no pain and suffer no distress. This, I believe, gives us grounds to draw a morally relevant distinction between killing animals and plants. The same distinction cannot be made between humans and animals.

    Chet -

    You are of course correct that we need to eat something, and that something will inevitably be organic matter sooner or later. But if you want to argue that taking the life of a plant is as immoral as taking the life of an animal, then that reasoning should still lead you to conclude that vegetarianism is the better option since without the meat industry fewer crops would be grown, so we would be causing the deaths of fewer plants too.

    TX CHL -

    Your argument is becoming ever more ridiculous. In fairness it seems I stand corrected for making such sweeping statements about vegetables being safer to eat raw than meat. It seems there is a lot more to it than ‘raw meat = bad, raw veg = fine’ (though you’ll forgive me if I refuse to sit down to a plate of uncooked pork tonight?). Though, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, this is still besides the point. Just because we CAN digest meat (to a degree) does not mean we SHOULD. You are drawing an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’. There are many things we are capable of doing, but that does not make them morally acceptable. You argument still seems to hinge upon the presumption that it if fine to eat meat because we can. It frankly seems to border on a religious argument – “God made us that way”, “It’s what we’ve been DESIGNED for…”

    I also enjoyed the comment that fire was discovered around 10,000 years ago. Very amusing. You might want to check that one again – that’s more recent than the domestication of the dog. Try closer to 800,000 years. Here’s a link to help:

    http://www.innovations-report.com/html/reports/earth_sciences/report-28544.html

    From insisting that arguments for vegetarianism are characteristically religious, you are now ridiculing the view that eating meat is immoral without actually refuting it. Could you please explain the morally relevant distinction between eating meat and cannibalism, and refrain from simply mocking the view until you have done so?

  • Ritchie

    Reginald Selkirk,

    I already pointed out that the meat in steak tartare still has to be disinfected. It’s not quite the same as eating a piece of flesh straight off a carcass, is it?

    You think so? Are you making a guess here, or do you have anything to back that up?

    I am. But what point are you trying to make here?

    1. You have done no such thing. 2. You are still avoiding my question. 3. Childish insults.

    If you could possibly post a mature response to the questions I raised in grown-up fashion without the schoolyard name-calling, that would be great, thanks.

  • Ritchie

    Lol, that didn’t work did it? Damn my techno-dumbness!!! Let’s try that again, shall we?

    Reginald Selkirk -

    Steak tartare already mentioned by someone. Indigestibility of many vegetables without cooking already mentioned.

    I already pointed out that the meat in steak tartare still has to be disinfected. It’s not quite the same as eating a piece of flesh straight off a carcass, is it?

    Steak tartare already mentioned. Parasites already mentioned. I will add that our weaker jaws and flat faces likely co-evolved with our ability to cook.

    You think so? Are you making a guess here, or do you have anything to back that up?

    Are you unaware that most wild animals, carnivores, omnivores and vegetarians included, are full of parasites?

    I am. But what point are you trying to make here?

    That’s because I thought I had adequately demonstrated that you are ignorant about the topics about which you post, and I was too polite to state outright that you are an annoying twit.

    1. You have done no such thing. 2. You are still avoiding my question. 3. Childish insults.

    If you could possibly post a mature response to the questions I raised in grown-up fashion without the schoolyard name-calling, that would be great, thanks.

    [Phew! That's better!]

  • Ritchie

    ildi -

    If you want an ethical argument, how’s this – the millions of perfectly healthy vegetarians around the world demonstrate that eating meat is a choice. It is not necessary for human beings. To whatever degree we are omnivores, we do not physically NEED meat. We eat it becauce we choose to.

    Would you think it morally acceptable to torture an animal to death simply for pleasure? How about simply killing an animal in a quick, painless fashion simply for pleasure? How about killing an animals because you want to eat it? And if you think the third suggestion is morally acceptable, what distinguishes it from killing a human because you want to eat them?

    Scotlyn,

    None of this, in my view, contradicts ethical animal husbandry and meat-eating, if the animals are allowed to live lives that approximate to happy animal lives and their deaths are as quick and as painless as can be arranged

    Would it be unethical to kill a person unnecessarily as long as you made sure their death was as quick and painless as possible?

    However, it should be recognized that very few of the foods we eat, whether animal or vegetable, are in their wild state. The vast majority of them, animal or vegetable, are cultivars, and that means that their survival is bound up with ours in a bargain made by our ancestors somewhere between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago. They will not survive, or at least, not in their present form, without our attention to their feeding and care, weeding out their competitors, feeding their soil, using the waste generated by one to feed another.

    Are you suggesting we are doing them a favour by killing them for food? I know that question comes across as sarcastic, but I don’t mean it disrespectfully. Are you saying that we can do what we like with these animals because they owe their existence to us in the first place?

    As I fulfill it, I allow the animals and plants on my farm to survive in peace and comfort, and also allow my fellow humans, who choose to live in cities in large numbers to survive, also in peace and comfort.

    You paint an idyllic image of life on a farm. But tell me, isn’t the whole reason we have intensive meat farms because they can ship out larger quantities of meat in a much shorter time than such farms as yours? Doesn’t most of the meat produced by humans come from such intensive-rearing farms, where animals live miserable lives? Wouldn’t a few more vegetarians in the world lessen the strain on the meat industry and allow a few more intensive-rearing farms to be replaced by more ethical farms such as yours? I ask these questions sincerely, since I imagine as a farmer you would have a better idea on these matters than I.

    As a farmer, the notion of being vegetarian makes little sense, because animals and plants compliment one another. If you take the animals out of the equation, then you leave huge gaps in the cycle and recycle of nutrients.

    How would not eating them be taking them out of the cycle of nutrients? Surely they would still die. Surely they would simply carry on living, eating grass and fertilizing the soil with their dung until they died, when their bodies would decay and the nutrients would return to the earth. Isn’t that how nature has worked for millions of years? Again, a serious, not sarcastic, question…

  • ildi

    Ritchie:

    I consider it personally morally acceptable to kill most animals for food. I consider it morally unacceptable to keep them under inhumane circumstances while they’re being raised for food. I personall consider it unethical to eat animals that are endangered species, though I can’t judge others who eat them when other sources of food are not available (gorillas come to mind). I also consider it morally acceptable to keep animals in zoos and as pets. I would never force you to kill or eat animals or keep them as pets – that would be cruel.

    I differentiate between plants/animals and humans. You differentiate between plants and animals/humans. Humans have legal and moral rights and responsibilities that I don’t assign to animals.

    Answer your question?

  • ildi

    Oh, and Ritchie, I really hope you don’t eat strawberries. According to LiveScience,

    Plants chatter amongst themselves to spread information, a lot like humans and other animals, new research suggests. A unique internal network apparently allows greens to warn each other against predators and potential enemies.

    Oh, noes, Ritchie is coming to eat our babies!

    /snark

  • Jormungund

    Would you object to humans being reared and killed for the specific purpose of providing you with meat to eat? If so, why?

    So you are asking me why I don’t like murder. Killing humans for their meat is murder. Killing animals for their meat isn’t murder. I am anti-murder and pro-meat consumption. I don’t advocate cannibalism either. I just can’t think of any moral arguments against it. Why is it wrong to consume human flesh (morally wrong, of course there are practical concerns against it such as disease)?
    The “eating cows is equivalent to slaughtering and eating people” argument is pretty ridiculous. Somehow I don’t see the connection between eating a hamburger and murdering people.

  • Ritchie

    ildi – To be honest, no your first post does not answer my question. You are merely stating where you are drawing your ethical boundaries in relation to the treatment of animals, but you are not telling me why. Why do you consider it acceptable to eat animals? You say you object to treating animals cruelly, but isn’t it cruel to kill one just because you enjoy the taste of its flesh? As for your second post, that’s actually very interesting. But is it relevant? Is it talking about ‘chattering’ as in, ‘spreading and responding to information spread chemically, as cells do to each other’, or are you implying this chattering suggests strawberries are somehow sentient, and therefore capable of feeling suffering, pain or appreciating a quality of life?

  • Ritchie

    jormungund – The reasonable point that killing animals is not murder is a legal consideration, not an ethical one. We do not draw our ethics from our laws; we draw our laws from our ethics. If we simply accepted our laws as automatically ethically sound, then there would never be any changes in the law. Furthermore your objection that it is ‘just obvious’ that killing a human is not equal to killing a cow similarly holds little water. At one time it was considered ‘just obvious’ that a black man was not the equal of a white man, or that a woman was not the equal of a man. Now, just to be clear, I am not saying I judge a pig’s life and a human’s life to be exactly equal, but I cannot see the moral distinction which justifies us killing the pig unnecessarily.

  • ildi

    I think you’re being disingenuous, Ritchie. I stated why I draw my ethical boundaries where I do. I assign humans different legal and moral rights and responsibilities. YOU think it’s cruel to kill an animal just for its flesh; I don’t. Feel free not to like the answer. Once we get past the “humans aren’t omnivores” and “eating meat is bad for you” BS, it really comes down to individual ethical decisions.

    My (admittedly snarky) example re. plant communication is that your moral bright line is just as arbitrary as you seem to think mine is. Google “plants communicate” if you really care about the article (I don’t like to put links in comments); it’s the first one to pop up.

    I’m curious how you know what quality of life animals are appreciating. How did they communicate this to you?

  • Scotlyn

    Ritchie,
    You ask some interesting questions – and apologies for my lack of skill in embedding your quotes here. I know they are not flippant questions, and I am finding this a most interesting thread, as it is helping me to greatly clarify my own thoughts.

    Yes, I do draw a distinction between killing and eating people and killing and eating animals. Mainly because I am a human person, and therefore, I have a visceral commitment to the survival of my species, and more particularly my children – I do not claim that this is a moral commitment – it is, I think, a very overwhelming biological one – the body that I find myself inhabiting happens to be human.

    I think I would not consider it unethical for someone to kill me, a human – at my own request – as painlessly as possible, should I find my life not worth living. If they chose to eat me after, it would, of course, be immaterial to me. Whether I would apply the same criteria to the painless killing of any other human, I cannot say – I haven’t thought about it enough. I think that I would not ever be able to bring myself to kill another human being.

    I am against gratuitous killing of animals (including all of those random insects and creepy-crawlies killed by pesticides on mono-crops) and I am against causing suffering to any creature, and that includes plants, which I am certain have an awareness of their own integrity and can sense when they have been damaged. Plants may react more slowly than animals, but they also have ways to fight for their survival and against their destruction. They lack an animal nervous system, but do have a circulation system which includes the circulation of hormone-like signalling chemicals, and they share with animals a physiologically generated DC electrical field, separate to the nervous system, whose biological properties for generating whole body awareness and integrity is currently under study.

    On the other hand, I am not aware that there is any carnivorous animal that has a moral scruple against eating any animal, including me, nor any animal whatever that has a scruple against causing pain to any other animal, including me, therefore, the reciprocity principle cannot be applied here. On the other hand, it would not disturb me to think that my death would come at the hands of a hungry predator, if my life were such that such an encounter was likely. I will die of something, and in any case, I will be honoured to be eaten in my turn by bacteria and worms and whatever else cares to grow on the spot after I am dead and buried, thus completing the cycle of nutrients that has sustained me all my life.

    But the bigger picture that I am trying to draw here is this. I am a human being. I am therefore, like it or not, a member of a species that has largely elected to separate itself from the wild and live in cities, leaving the responsibility for sourcing its food to a small minority, in order that the majority have the freedom to pursue technologically facilitated pursuits such as the life of the mind that we all enjoy here on this site so much. This entails a morally problematic bargain…if we want to keep eating, we must transform our whole world to supply us in a new way than before – such presumption means that, we, of all animals, have an obligation to do it as ethically as possible, but unless we elect to commit species suicide, we cannot opt out of it. We can no longer all go out and pick up whatever we find and live on it – if we were forced or chose to go back to such a lifestyle, it would limit our world population to something on the order of 10-100 million or so.

    The bargain, such as it is, was made by our ancestors, and we certainly enjoy its fruits. The biggest moral problem lies in the question, by what authority do we as a species claim the right to transform and subdue nature, including every other species on earth, so that we can live in this new, civilised way? I do not have any way of answering this except to say that here I find myself, trying to make the best of this bargain that I have inherited from my ancestors. I would hazard a guess that this bargain may be behind the continued attractiveness of gods for our species – it is much more comforting to think a god gave us this dominion over nature, rather than that we seized it for ourselves.

    Nevertheless, I do not think you can separate one part of the bargain – the eating of meat – from all of the rest – the growing of mono-crops, the destruction of habitat and biodiversity, the relentless war against “pests” mainly of the insect kind, the genetic transformation of the food, transport, shelter and pet species that we have orchestrated over the past few thousands of years. Keeping today’s farms as mixed as possible – mixing livestock, crops, horticulture, bees, healthy soil bacteria, and with wildlife corridors built in, whether on a large or small scale, is the best hope we have of preserving biodiversity, which in turn will preserve us and hopefully lots of species with us.

    Re – intensive farming of meat – yes, I agree, it is directly and gratuitously cruel to animals. But I would also say that all intensive farming, including of grain, pulses, veg, and fruit, damages the biosphere and is therefore indirectly cruel to animals, including insects. I also wonder, how you would stop it – if factory meat farms were suddenly without customers the immediate result would be a huge cull, and the creation of a very messy mountain of waste. Gradual changes in the market are taking place, and over time this may transform the conditions of animals in a slower, more measured way. But the biggest enemy of the mixed farm is the increasing demand for cheap food.

    It seems to me that valuing food according to its “biodiversity preservation” score – presuming that could be easily judged – would be a better direction at which to aim a food-related ethical system.

    Anyway, Ritchie, this is not necessarily definitive, but a work in progress…so take it in that spirit – I’m still working a lot of this out.

  • Chet

    I already pointed out that the meat in steak tartare still has to be disinfected

    You must be using a strange recipe, then. “Disinfected”? Unless you’re ascribing incredible antiseptic properties to vinaigrette “disinfection” isn’t really part of steak tartare.

    I suppose the little dab of wasabi in sushi is there as a disinfectant as well, right? Why, no need to even wash your hands!

  • Alex Weaver

    Alex: >So, you’re equating yourself and 8.00*10^-6 ounces of fish meat?

    Ah, yes, yet another sterling example of innumeracy and meaningless comparison. This is what passes for “reason” amongst proselytizing v*g*ns. (I qualified that so that Fargus can consider himself excluded)

    I’m neither a vegan nor innumerate, but if I’ve ever seen one comment from you on this entire site that wasn’t flat-out trolling of the sort you’ve been engaging in here, it’s slipped my mind. You come in here with a chip on each shoulder and a wadded-up Soldier of Fortune mag between your ears, prepared to learn less than nothing, spitting verbal abuse left and right and doing violence to intellectual honesty with reckless disregard for facts, your opponents “enemies”‘ actual positions, and the actual meanings of terms like “logical” and “emotional” (hint: they don’t mean “us” and “them”). Your actual positions are basically a cartoon caricature of “conservative” “thought”, you have yet to post anything which I can recall that contributed light as well as heat to a discussion, and I’m tired of it. I’d be surprised if anyone here wasn’t.

    In fairness, you’re right that comparing you to the proportion of a pound of fish that your pulled-out-of-the-air numbers would indicate two quarts of water as supporting was erroneous, though. Fish meat is useful.

  • Alex Weaver

    (…why does the <s> tag perform as expected in the preview but not the actual comment post?)

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    I think you’re being disingenuous, Ritchie. I stated why I draw my ethical boundaries where I do. I assign humans different legal and moral rights and responsibilities.

    With respect, you are simply rephrasing my question rather than answering it. I could just ask ‘Why do you assign animals different legal and moral rights and responsibilities’? Obviously we cannot expect animals to understand (much less take on) duties or responsibilities, but does that mean we should afford them different ethical consideration? If animals can suffer or enjoy life as much as a human can (and I am not stating this as a proven fact, though I strongly suspect it to be the case) then shouldn’t that alone mean we should take their pain and their killings as seriously as we do our own?

    Once we get past the “humans aren’t omnivores” and “eating meat is bad for you” BS, it really comes down to individual ethical decisions.

    This is a misrepresentation of my views. I have not made either of the above assertions. I have said that the human body copes better at digesting vegetables than meat, and that meat is unnecessary for an optimally healthy diet. That is not quite the same thing. I have also made the point that this is rather tangental since we should draw no ethical conclusions from nature. Nature works as best it can – it is not concerned with being good.

    My (admittedly snarky) example re. plant communication is that your moral bright line is just as arbitrary as you seem to think mine is.

    This, I will grant, is actually rather an interesting point, and one I pondered over for quite a while before answering. You may ultimately prove to be right here, but you haven’t proved it quite yet. I do at least have a morally relevant reason for drawing the line I do – that plants do not suffer in the way animals can. What is the distinction you make? Saying you attribute them different legal and moral rights and responsibilities is still not explaining WHY you do so.

    Google “plants communicate” if you really care about the article (I don’t like to put links in comments); it’s the first one to pop up.

    Very interesting indeed. But I don’t see why this should affect the value we place on the life of a plant. If you are implying that plants feel pain, you have fallen short here.

    I’m curious how you know what quality of life animals are appreciating. How did they communicate this to you?

    Again, good point, but I don’t think a flawless one. Though they cannot verbally communicate with us, animals display behaviour associated with their mental state. Anyone who has ever kept a pet will tell you it displayed signs of excitement, boredom, inquisitiveness, fear, etc. It is true that this is not concrete proof that the animals were really feeling such things, but again consider that we do not really have concrete proof that other humans feel such things either. I cannot experience anyone else’s feelings. The only person I know for a fact genuinely experiences emotions is myself – everyone and everything else around me could merely be acting as if they did, whether they be human or animal. The fact that humans can communicate with me verbally is just another level of outward behaviour which may, for all I know, be fake rather then genuine. I know this is getting a bit philosophical here, but my point is that I have as much reason to believe animals feel emotions as I do that other humans do.

  • Ritchie

    Scotlyn,

    You ask some interesting questions – and apologies for my lack of skill in embedding your quotes here. I know they are not flippant questions, and I am finding this a most interesting thread, as it is helping me to greatly clarify my own thoughts.

    No, it’s a pleasure discussing this with people willing to approach the subject maturely. I know I’m coming across as a holier-than-thou eco-warrior, but honestly value hearing what people on the other side of this have to say. And here’s a tip about imbedding – on a new line write the word blockquote inside these pointy parentheses , then on the line underneath, paste the text you want to copy from a previous post, then on the line underneath simply put /blockquote in the same parentheses. I just learned that today too. :)

    Yes, I do draw a distinction between killing and eating people and killing and eating animals. Mainly because I am a human person, and therefore, I have a visceral commitment to the survival of my species, and more particularly my children – I do not claim that this is a moral commitment – it is, I think, a very overwhelming biological one – the body that I find myself inhabiting happens to be human.

    What would you think about a person who used similar logic to justify racism? It may be an unfair comparison (I am aware it is an unflattering one), but I can’t really boil your argument here down to much more than, ‘I am not one of THEM. I am one of us. We are different (superior??) and therefore we should treat ourselves better than we treat them’. Is this argument really more reasonable when applied to species rather than race?

    I am against causing suffering to any creature, and that includes plants, which I am certain have an awareness of their own integrity and can sense when they have been damaged. Plants may react more slowly than animals, but they also have ways to fight for their survival and against their destruction.

    Apparently that’s true. But do we have reason to think this is a sentient reaction rather than a purely chemical one?

    This entails a morally problematic bargain…if we want to keep eating, we must transform our whole world to supply us in a new way than before – such presumption means that, we, of all animals, have an obligation to do it as ethically as possible, but unless we elect to commit species suicide, we cannot opt out of it.

    I whole-heartedly agree. I feel we are morally obliged to act as morally as we can simply because we are able to recognise the concept of morality. Yet eating meat seems to me to be less moral than vegetarianism.

    Nevertheless, I do not think you can separate one part of the bargain – the eating of meat – from all of the rest

    You seem to be taking this as a brute fact, but why can’t you? Vegetarians do.

    Keeping today’s farms as mixed as possible – mixing livestock, crops, horticulture, bees, healthy soil bacteria, and with wildlife corridors built in, whether on a large or small scale, is the best hope we have of preserving biodiversity, which in turn will preserve us and hopefully lots of species with us.

    I am not saying animals cannot play a part, but why do they have to be killed to eat? If they are an important farming resource (fertilizer, etc), then can’t we just keep some animals and just not kill them?

    I also wonder, how you would stop it – if factory meat farms were suddenly without customers the immediate result would be a huge cull, and the creation of a very messy mountain of waste.

    We I don’t think everyone on the planet will turn vegetarian overnight. That’ll never happen. But a slow conversion to vegetarianism would allow the meat industry to ‘wind down’ without a massive surplus. This scenario I think is more likely – just like a slow conversion to atheism. Such hopes may be naive, but hey, gotta keep dreaming, right?

    But the biggest enemy of the mixed farm is the increasing demand for cheap food.

    Bang on! And in an ever-growing human population, surely that means we have to consume less meat? Otherwise the demand will continue to grow.

    Anyway, Ritchie, this is not necessarily definitive, but a work in progress…so take it in that spirit – I’m still working a lot of this out.

    Right back atcha. :)

  • Ritchie

    Chet,

    You must be using a strange recipe, then. “Disinfected”? Unless you’re ascribing incredible antiseptic properties to vinaigrette “disinfection” isn’t really part of steak tartare.

    I was actually referring to the alcohol which the meat is marinated in – typically wine I believe, though lime juice is popular for the Mexican version apparently.

    I suppose the little dab of wasabi in sushi is there as a disinfectant as well, right? Why, no need to even wash your hands!

    This one I will grant you. I know of no ‘disinfection’ process in the production of sushi. But isn’t fish the exception here rather than the rule? Besides, are you claiming it is right to eat sushi simply on the basis that we can?

  • dan burbank

    ildi,
    this grows tiresome so last time. Everything exists on a spectrum. Lets use the 2 most popular pets of humans. Dogs, though carnivore, they can survive on a plant only diet if they had to. Cats, also carnivores, but they are called an obligate carnivore. It can only survive via meat consumption. DUH, a spectrum.

    You can find examples of the spectrum in all of the animal kingdom. Do I really need to draw out a picture for you or are you simply being an obtuse troll?

    Bub buy.

  • Julia
    I suppose the little dab of wasabi in sushi is there as a disinfectant as well, right? Why, no need to even wash your hands!

    This one I will grant you. I know of no ‘disinfection’ process in the production of sushi. But isn’t fish the exception here rather than the rule? Besides, are you claiming it is right to eat sushi simply on the basis that we can?

    I believe soy sauce has antimicrobial properties.

  • http://comfortfoodvegan.blogspot.com natalie

    Thank you for this post.

  • Danikajaye

    In the moral argument that eating meat is cruel to the animal it seems to be taken as granted that death= cruelty. I would challenge everybody to consider this some more. The definition of cruel is “-Disposed to inflict pain or suffering. -Causing suffering or grief; painful.”

    From my own experience I have noticed that there is often a delay between the moment of sustaining an injury and feeling pain- in particularly in the event of serious bodily damage (I was crushed by a large lump of steel). Through my limited biological knowledge of the human body I believe that the body has mechanisms to shut out pain for periods of time. If I am so presumptious to believe that these same mechanisms exist in animals then it would be possible that if an animal is killed quickly enough (for example a bullet to the brain resulting in instantaneous brain death) that the animal may not experience pain or suffering at all. I would then ask that if at the point of death the animal experienced no pain and no suffering is the animals death really cruel? Is death in and of itself cruel or is it the pain and suffering before the moment of death what makes it cruel?

    We as humans are preoccupied by our own mortality and many humans fear death. Killing another human is considered wrong- maybe because of this fear of our own mortality? We consider murdering wrong due to our ability to experience empathy and that we consider the infliction of pain and suffering as wrong (but as I said is there necessarily suffering in ALL instances of death?). In the human instance death is a tragic occurance for us as we have highly developed emotional attachments and social structure and the death of an individual also causes pain in the form of grief and disrupted social structure to those that knew the deceased. We feel that murder is also a deprivation of liberty as the deceased person did not CHOOSE to die and we have robbed them of further life. This is the human experience of death.

    Is it necessarily right for us to then apply all the human emotions and experiences surrounding death to animals? Do all animals have social structures and the ability to feel grief and feel a sense of loss for individuals? Are animals as afraid of death as we are? They certainly have a survival instinct but I would argue that this could be very different from fearing death in the same way humans do. Suppose that animals do not fear death in the same way we do and they are killed quickly then is there anything particularly “cruel” about their death? Even if animals do grieve individuals then is it cruel if a whole herd is killed quickly? If they did not experience any pain in death and there is nobody left to greive them are the deaths devoid of pain and suffering? Are they then still to be considered cruel?

  • ildi

    Ritchie, you say:

    Traditionally the answer was that humans had a soul, were made in the image of God and elevated above mere animals. But surely we atheists can see this as arrogant nonsense? We are animals. So why should we not care about the suffering of other species?

    Just because we don’t have souls and we’re all animals doesn’t mean there isn’t a hierarchy. I think there is evidence to support the contention that we are qualitatively different from other animals; an evolutionary step function, if you will.

    You put all animals from insects to humans all on the same level, it appears. (Though I suspect when you worry about the pain and suffering and quality of life of “animals” you really aren’t agonizing about flies or roaches.)

    If you are implying that plants feel pain, you have fallen short here.

    No, actually, I brought up plant communication because communication is really the best way to try to gauge the level of sentience, don’t you think? I posit that we’ve jumped to another evolutionary level as evidenced by how we demonstrate our ability to be self-reflective, to think about (and record) the past, and so learn from it, and to ponder the future, including the ability to know that we will die.

    If animals can suffer or enjoy life as much as a human can (and I am not stating this as a proven fact, though I strongly suspect it to be the case) then shouldn’t that alone mean we should take their pain and their killings as seriously as we do our own?

    Just because you suspect it to be the case doesn’t make it so. Again, are you discussing shrimp or oysters or chickens here? Why or why not?

    Do you think bees suffer or have their quality of life diminished because they are raised for honey? Or a cow (not on a factory farm, but Joe local farmer) suffers if it is raised for milk production? If you raised a chicken that lived its life out in the epitome of clucky luxury and comfort and you snapped its neck before it knew what hit it, would you still consider that unethical? (Just separating out the concepts of animal suffering and animal consumption. As I was getting ready to post, I saw that Danikajaye commented on this in detail.)

    What would you think about a person who used similar logic to justify racism?

    I would call such a person a seriously ignorant asshat; race is a social not a biological construct.

    But do we have reason to think this is a sentient reaction rather than a purely chemical one?

    I don’t know what you mean by this. All reactions are essentially chemical. Maybe you should define how you’re using the word sentient?

    Yet eating meat seems to me to be less moral than vegetarianism.

    So, no meat eating for you!

  • ildi

    Oh, and the steak tartare recipes I’ve come across don’t marinate the meat in anything. The diced beef tenderloin is folded in with a variously-seasoned olive oil emulsion, depending on the recipe, and served immediately.

  • Ritchie

    Danikajaye -

    I would then ask that if at the point of death the animal experienced no pain and no suffering is the animals death really cruel? Is death in and of itself cruel or is it the pain and suffering before the moment of death what makes it cruel?

    An excellent point. I certainly do agree that there is a direct correlation between the amount of suffering an action causes and its ethical reprehensibility. So the more suffering an action causes, the more immoral it is. So is a painless killing still immoral?

    I would agrue that it still is because you are denying that animal life and therefore the potential to enjoy it. An animal killed today has been robbed of the chance to enjoy its life tomorrow. I appreciate this is not the same as inflicting suffering on the animal directly, but I think it still holds morally.

    Perhaps an example would help – imagine you save a person’s life (or indeed, an animal’s). They have been knocked unconscious and fallen into deep water, but you bravely dive in and pull them out. I imagine you would describe this as a morally good deed, but why, exactly? If they had been knocked unconscious, it is not as if they would have felt pain before they died, so you have not saved them from suffering. What you have done though is preserved their potential to enjoy life tomorrow. And if that, in itself, is morally good, then surely actively denying a being that potential is morally bad? It seems to me that if you argue giving an animal a painless death is morally acceptable, then you are saying that saving an animal’s life carries no ethical merit.

    How can it be morally good to save an animal’s life, and yet also morally acceptable to end it?

    You may be wondering if we should extend this consideration to plants too. But I would argue not. It is not clear to me that plants can enjoy life in the way animals do. That is not to say that they don’t of course, merely that we have no reason to think they do. As far as we know (well, as far as I know, at least), plants feels no pain, are not really conscious, and cannot be happy. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how they possibly could. And I think this gives us grounds to be less concerned (though perhaps not totally unconcerned) with the death of a plant.

  • Ritchie

    ildi -

    Just because we don’t have souls and we’re all animals doesn’t mean there isn’t a hierarchy. I think there is evidence to support the contention that we are qualitatively different from other animals; an evolutionary step function, if you will.

    ‘Different’, yes. ‘Superior’… that’s more tricky. Actually I do value the life of a human over that of a cow or pig. If I had to choose between a human and pig, I would choose the pig. However, this is a far cry from the ethical questions that eating meat poses. We are not facing a ‘them-or-us’ dilemna. The question is whether we can justify killing the animal simply for our own pleasure (the pleasure of eating it). What is worth more: the animal’s life or our own enjoyment?

    You put all animals from insects to humans all on the same level, it appears. (Though I suspect when you worry about the pain and suffering and quality of life of “animals” you really aren’t agonizing about flies or roaches.)

    I think the hierarchy I place animals on ethically correlates to their potential to enjoy life (see my above post to Danikajaye). I suppose you are right about the flies and roaches, but we don’t really cull their numbers for reasons of pure enjoyment. A house infested with flies or roaches is unavoidably a health hazzard. We kill them out of concern for our own welfare. We kill pigs because we like to eat them.

    No, actually, I brought up plant communication because communication is really the best way to try to gauge the level of sentience, don’t you think?

    Not in this case. The article you led me to describes communication between plants which are physically linked in a network. I might compare this to a human body in a coma: the cells of the body are still functioning and the overall body is still alive, though it lacks consciousness or intelligence. If you cut a person in a coma, the wound will still clot and heal, but this is a mere cellular response, and not a sign that the person is sentient. The plants warning each other through the network that one of them has been damaged strikes me as comparable to the cells of the body warning each other that the body has been damaged and requires a response.

    Just because you suspect it to be the case doesn’t make it so.

    True, but it does give me reason to act as if it were true until me suspicion is shown to be wrong.

    Do you think bees suffer or have their quality of life diminished because they are raised for honey? Or a cow (not on a factory farm, but Joe local farmer) suffers if it is raised for milk production?

    Such animals may suffer in the course of such treatment, but I do not think these examples are ethically wrong. Exploiting an animal is not necessarily wrong if they seem perfectly happy to go along with it. I think see nothing wrong with a dog who loves the attention of performing. I do see something very wrong with an animal that is cruelly forced to perform the exact same actions if it does not seem to want to. The difference is the happiness of the dog. And if a cow seems perfectly happy to provide milk, then I see nothing wrong there.

    If you raised a chicken that lived its life out in the epitome of clucky luxury and comfort and you snapped its neck before it knew what hit it, would you still consider that unethical?

    Lol at ‘clucky luxury’, but yes I would. See above post to Danikajaye.

    I would call such a person a seriously ignorant asshat; race is a social not a biological construct.

    I don’t think that’s true. Race IS a biological construct. Let me quote from Richard Dawkins’ The Ancestor’s Tale (the grasshopper’s tale): “‘Race’ is not a clearly defined word. ‘Species’, as we have seen, is different. There really is an agreed way to decide whether two animals belong in the same species: can they interbreed?… Presumably species, on their way to becoming sufficiently seperate to be incapable of interbreeding, usually pass through an intermediate stage of being seperate races. Seperate races might be regarded as seperate species in the making, except that there is no necessary expectation that the making will continue to its end – to speciation’.

    Again, there are no morals to be drawn from evolution. You cannot use this to argue that interracial marriage is ‘wrong’. But what he is saying is that if an animal population splits in two (the division can be arbitrary, but geographical distance is generally a good one, I think) and there is no gene flow between them, then the two groups will drift apart genetically and gradually become seperate races. At this point, the drift can continue and the two races become seperate species, or the two races can interbreed again, and re-establish gene flow (as has happened in the case of we humans).

    All reactions are essentially chemical. Maybe you should define how you’re using the word sentient?

    I think I may have touched on this above with the comatose body example. But I suppose what I mean by sentience is ‘lacking conscious perception of the outside world’. The distinction between the comatose human and a conscious human is sentience – consciousness. And if plants merely react as a comatose body does, that does not imply sentience.

  • Chet

    I was actually referring to the alcohol which the meat is marinated in

    Steak tartare the way you make it probably would kill you. Properly prepared the meat is not marinated, but sliced, pressed, and served fresh with vinaigrette.

    But isn’t fish the exception here rather than the rule? Besides, are you claiming it is right to eat sushi simply on the basis that we can?

    Exception to what rule? No, I’m not saying that it’s right just because we can; it’s just a counterexample to your general claim that meats must be altered before they can be consumed. In fact, both beef and fish can be eaten completely raw – because, properly prepared, these substances are completely sterile. The organism’s immune system sees to it.

    But, for a moment I’ll grant your point. I never eat raw pork, of course. But consider this: it takes 5 minutes in a hot pan to produce pork in a form safe to eat. But it took Meso-American farmers generations to transform teosinte into a form (partially) digestible by humans – maize. If your argument is that meat has to be changed in order to be rendered digestible, well, that’s certainly an argument that could be made for every single vegetable and grain; they all exist as a result of human alteration of heritable traits. Genetic engineering, if you will.

    Isn’t that something vegetarianism has to reckon with? That, as a diet, it can only exist as a result of permanent and severe changes to the genomes of dozens of plant species?

    Hey, whatever. I’m all for doing what people need to eat. But people who believe it is their moral calling to minimize their impact on the biosphere need to grapple with the fact that their vegetable-based diet has had an incalculable effect on the genetics of many, many organisms.

  • Ritchie

    Chet -

    If your argument is that meat has to be changed in order to be rendered digestible, well, that’s certainly an argument that could be made for every single vegetable and grain; they all exist as a result of human alteration of heritable traits. Genetic engineering, if you will.

    Good point. I am willing to concede I’ve been rather hasty here. However, in my defence I don’t think this really alters the ethics of vegetarianism. I made such statements in reaction to previous assertions that, ‘We are omnivores, therefore we should eat meat’, which I think is a non-sequitur. I am not in fact arguing that meat should be avoided because it has to be cooked to make it digestable. I am saying that the fact that we can digest meat does not necessarily mean we should.

    Isn’t that something vegetarianism has to reckon with? That, as a diet, it can only exist as a result of permanent and severe changes to the genomes of dozens of plant species?

    I don’t see why. Unless you first show that it is morally wrong to eat things which have been subject to permanent and severe changes to their genomes, which I do not think is an argument that anyone is making.

    But people who believe it is their moral calling to minimize their impact on the biosphere need to grapple with the fact that their vegetable-based diet has had an incalculable effect on the genetics of many, many organisms.

    Again, this is true. But what is wrong with that? The argument put forward in the original article above, which talks about the environmental impact of the meat industry is not stating that our food has been altered genetically. The environmental issues seem to me to be focussed on the damage the meat industry is doing to the planet.

  • Chet

    However, in my defence I don’t think this really alters the ethics of vegetarianism. I made such statements in reaction to previous assertions that, ‘We are omnivores, therefore we should eat meat’, which I think is a non-sequitur.

    Fair enough. I think all arguments based on what we can eat are non-sequitur; much like saying “anything we can do with our hands must be allowed.” Well, we can kill with our hands, as well.

    So, let’s abandon those arguments. It’s no use saying that vegetarianism is “better” because it’s “easier for the body to do”. For one thing, that isn’t true. And even if it were it’s irrelevant. We shouldn’t do everything we evolved to be able to do. Moral choice means abstaining from certain actions (or not abstaining) – if the universe or our bodies simply physically prohibited every immoral action morality would really have no meaning.

    Unless you first show that it is morally wrong to eat things which have been subject to permanent and severe changes to their genomes, which I do not think is an argument that anyone is making.

    That’s not what I’m saying at all. Look, earlier vegetarianism was defended by looking at its effect on the planet, and on living things. Meat causes pollution. (Why is pollution wrong? Because of its effects on the environment.) Meat changes land-use (and causes irreversible effects to biosystems.) Etc etc.

    Well, vegetarianism has those costs, too. Human agriculture has left an indelible mark on the world of living organisms. As much as the consumption of meat. So there’s no argument that vegetarianism is superior because it costs less to the rest of the biome – that’s not true at all. Plant-eating has irreversible costs to the ecosystem.

    But what is wrong with that?

    Nothing, in my view. It’s just one of the ways in which vegetarianism can’t be distinguished from meat-eating omnivorism in terms of ecosystem costs.

    The environmental issues seem to me to be focussed on the damage the meat industry is doing to the planet.

    Irreversible changes driven solely by human action to the genomes of countless plant and animal species certainly counts as “damage”. So it can hardly be said that meat-eating causes more damage that not eating. Either way, the ecosystem costs of human nutrition are incalculable. Therefore there’s no particular argument in favor of vegetarianism aside from personal preference or personal dietary requirements.

    Which is, you know, what we meat-eaters have been saying all along.

  • Chet

    “than not eating meat.” Sorry.

  • Ritchie

    Chet,

    Either way, the ecosystem costs of human nutrition are incalculable. Therefore there’s no particular argument in favor of vegetarianism aside from personal preference or personal dietary requirements.

    That’s not true. According to Wageningen University, animal faeces is a major cause of acid rain (the main cause in Holland and Belgium), according to the United Nations, the world’s 17 major fisheries are on the point of environmental collapse because of over-fishing, according to University of California, on irrigated land, 1lb of vegetables uses 25 gallons, while 1lb of beef uses 5,214 gallons, and according to SAFE, farmed animals rank second in causing global warming. Reason – methane from prolific farting and belching (I kid ye not). Now the fact is that if everyone in the world went vegetarian, we would need half the amount of farmland we currently use, and if we all went vegan, we would need a quarter of that amount. Which is amazing condsidering rainforests are still being felled at an alarming rate, deserts are still growing due to over-grazing, the list goes on. Then factor in the extra carbon released from transporting all the meat about (or more accurately, transporting the food to feed the animals while they grow). Does growing crops contribute to these problems too? I’m sure they do. But we could slash these ever-threatening global problems by a huge amount just by going veggie (or vegan).

    Then couple this with the ethical questions of whether it is acceptable to kill another animal for food in the first place. I am still yet to hear a sound reason why we should consider killing an animal for food morally sound when we would deny the same is true for killing a human.

    On the other hand, what arguments are there in favour of eating meat? We like it?

  • ildi

    I am still yet to hear a sound reason I like why we should consider killing an animal for food morally sound when we would deny the same is true for killing a human.

    There, fixed that for you.

    I was going to respond seriously to your points Ritchie, but when I saw this I realized I was wasting my time.

    Again, my ultimate point is that I totally support your right not to eat meat because it makes you feel icky to think about killing things so you’ve arbitrarily decided to draw the line at things that can’t locomote; I assume you support my right to come to a different conclusion and continue to eat meat that has been humanely raised and killed.

  • ildi

    BTW, I recommend visiting Greg Laden’s Blog if you’re interested in reading lively discussions on the topic of race as a social vs. biological construct. In particular, his posts titled The Scientific, Political, Social, and Pedagogical Context for the claim that “Race does not exist.” (November 29, 2008), and Insisting that “races are real” is a self fulfilling and overt racist act. So stop it now, please. (February 3, 2009) have long comment threads.

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    I am still yet to hear a sound reason I like why we should consider killing an animal for food morally sound when we would deny the same is true for killing a human.

    There, fixed that for you.

    I see. You think I’m being a fundamentalist snob? I do realise I’m apparently making myself specatacularly unpopular on here, but in fairness you still haven’t yet given me a reason WHY you draw the ethical boundaries you do. You have stated you think the line between killing an animal and a plant is as arbitrary as the line between killing an animal and a human, but you have not shown this yet. I have given you what I think is a morally relevant reason to distinguish between killing animals and killing plants. And until you explain why my distinction is a false one, or give me an equally relevant reason why we should distinguish between killing humans and animals for food, then you have not shown the two to be arbitrary.

    Again, my ultimate point is that I totally support your right not to eat meat because it makes you feel icky to think about killing things so you’ve arbitrarily decided to draw the line at things that can’t locomote

    I object to the word ‘arbitrarily’. And I do not give ethical consideration to living things on the basis of whether they can locomote. I give it based on whether they can suffer or enjoy life.

    I assume you support my right to come to a different conclusion and continue to eat meat that has been humanely raised and killed.

    Actually I do. And I would like to hear your reasoning behind it.

  • ildi

    I’ve already told you in gory detail my reasoning; you just don’t like it. I’ll say it one last time: I believe there is evidence to support the contention that there is a qualitatative difference between humans and animals in terms of sentience level (and corresponding ability to suffer or enjoy life.) One area where there is evidence for this is animal communication studies. You don’t think plants can suffer and enjoy life – I think they may (we don’t know), but if they do, the difference is as qualitative as that between animals and humans. Of course, this is a really a continuum; if your cutoff is suffering/quality of life, do you seriously worry about a shrimp’s or oyster’s or anchovy’s quality of life? Conversely, I think that there is enough data to show that dolphins are pretty sophisticated sentient creatures, so I fully support banning eating them and banning the type of fishing that makes it easy for dolphins to be caught up in nets. (I think this comes up in tuna fishing?)

    I really can’t get any clearer than this. You may not think this is a good reason; your comfort level seems to be that since you “feel pretty sure” that animals can suffer and enjoy life at the same level as humans, you’re not willing to risk it. You also present the strawman of “people shouldn’t eat meat just because they like it”, totally ignoring the realities of food supplies in most of the world. Subsistence agriculture means lot of people die of starvation when the crops fail or rodents get at the stored grain supply, or the myriad other things that can go wrong. Often a quick and ready supply of meat (e.g. at the end of winter when food stores have been exhausted) is what gets people through until things start growing again.

    You seem to present a slightly cartoonish view of how the world works – the only reason you have the luxury of a totally vegetarian diet is because of factory farming methods that are very harsh on the environment. Subsistence farming is not all that it is cracked up to be, and the quality of life of most animals in the wild is pretty harsh, brutish and short.

  • Chet

    hat’s not true. According to Wageningen University, animal faeces is a major cause of acid rain (the main cause in Holland and Belgium), according to the United Nations, the world’s 17 major fisheries are on the point of environmental collapse because of over-fishing, according to University of California, on irrigated land, 1lb of vegetables uses 25 gallons, while 1lb of beef uses 5,214 gallons, and according to SAFE, farmed animals rank second in causing global warming. Reason – methane from prolific farting and belching (I kid ye not).

    Sure, I’m aware that if you define “damage” in a narrowly-enough way, you can stack the deck against animal consumption. Of course, this:

    ” farmed animals rank second in causing global warming. Reason – methane from prolific farting and belching” is just stupid; there’s no reason to believe that a total cessation of meat-eating would substantially decrease the world’s population of ruminants. (What would happen to all the cattle currently being raised? Why, they would continue to belch and fart for the rest of their suddenly-extended lives.) Wild bison fart and belch, as well.

    And, of course, the Wageningen University completely ignores the genomic damage caused by centuries of human agriculture, which I have just pointed out. Either way, regardless of what you choose to eat, your effects on the ecosystem are simply incalculable. Frankly, if minimizing your effects on the rest of the ecosystem is your predominant moral concern, the only thing you should eat is the barrel of a gun. Regardless of your diet your continued existence comes at the cost of a daily holocaust of death for other organisms.

    Then couple this with the ethical questions of whether it is acceptable to kill another animal for food in the first place. I am still yet to hear a sound reason why we should consider killing an animal for food morally sound when we would deny the same is true for killing a human.

    Because we are humans. I think I’ve told you that three times, now. If you find that insufficient – by all means, continue to be a vegetarian. I’ll even throw some gardenburgers on the grill the next time you’re over. But pretty much nothing you’ve said makes a compelling secular, moral case for vegetarianism – and I find vegetarian dishes incredibly bland.

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    I’ve already told you in gory detail my reasoning; you just don’t like it.

    That’s an unfair accusation. I do not simply dismiss other people’s points because I don’t like them.

    I’ll say it one last time: I believe there is evidence to support the contention that there is a qualitatative difference between humans and animals in terms of sentience level (and corresponding ability to suffer or enjoy life.)

    What is this evidence?

    One area where there is evidence for this is animal communication studies.

    Okay, but again, what is this evidence? I’d sincerely be interested in reading about studies which suggest animals are less sentient than human beings. Really, I would.

    You don’t think plants can suffer and enjoy life – I think they may (we don’t know), but if they do, the difference is as qualitative as that between animals and humans.

    Firstly, that’s still rather a big ‘if’. Secondly, if they can suffer and enjoy life, then the difference would still not automatically be as qualitative as that between animals and humans. Surely it would depend on the EXTENT to which they can feel such things?

    Of course, this is a really a continuum; if your cutoff is suffering/quality of life, do you seriously worry about a shrimp’s or oyster’s or anchovy’s quality of life?

    Well I might not lose sleep over it, but I wouldn’t kill a shrimp or oyster just for fun either. (Actually, thinking about it, I’m not sure how concerned I should be over an oyster. It doesn’t really seem to be that they can be said to suffer.)

    Conversely, I think that there is enough data to show that dolphins are pretty sophisticated sentient creatures, so I fully support banning eating them

    This makes me wonder if your definition of sentient is different to mine. Are you equating it more to intelligence? If so, are you aware that pigs are one of the most intelligent of animals? In several intelligence tests they surpass even chimpanzees. See http://mammals.suite101.com/article.cfm/the_intelligent_pig for more details.

    Subsistence agriculture means lot of people die of starvation when the crops fail or rodents get at the stored grain supply, or the myriad other things that can go wrong. Often a quick and ready supply of meat (e.g. at the end of winter when food stores have been exhausted) is what gets people through until things start growing again.

    Is this the case for you? Would you really have any trouble whatsoever in finding food 365 days a year without meat?

    the only reason you have the luxury of a totally vegetarian diet is because of factory farming methods that are very harsh on the environment.

    Surely that exactly why we should limit the damaging effect our diet has on the environment as much as possible?

  • Ritchie

    Chet,

    Sure, I’m aware that if you define “damage” in a narrowly-enough way, you can stack the deck against animal consumption.

    Is that really what you think I’m doing?

    there’s no reason to believe that a total cessation of meat-eating would substantially decrease the world’s population of ruminants. (What would happen to all the cattle currently being raised? Why, they would continue to belch and fart for the rest of their suddenly-extended lives.)

    I can’t really see how you can say that. Surely the whole point of intensive-rearing farms is high concentrations of animals in a small area. To quote from wikipedia: “In 1967, there were one million pig farms in America; as of 2002, there were 114,000,[24] with 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) killed each year on factory farms as of 2002, according to the U.S. National Pork Producers Council.[22] According to the Worldwatch Institute, 74 percent of the world’s poultry, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs are produced this way.” That’s a lot of animals.

    Second, you ask what we would do with the animals being raised. I think an overnight conversion to vegetarianism by the entire human race is unlikely. Far more likely is a slow conversion to vegetarianism, with demand for meat gradually shrinking. Therefore animals would still be slaughtered, but not replaced by others.

    Either way, regardless of what you choose to eat, your effects on the ecosystem are simply incalculable. Frankly, if minimizing your effects on the rest of the ecosystem is your predominant moral concern, the only thing you should eat is the barrel of a gun.

    Now you’re just being defeatist. I agree that even a vegetarian diet has a detrimental effect on the environment. But that’s not a reason to just not bother trying to reduce the damage it causes. Surely it is MORE reason to do so?

    Because we are humans.

    What do you mean by this? Do you mean there is something about a human being which inherantly DESERVES better ethical treatment than other animals? If so, what?

    Or do you mean that it is morally acceptable to give more ethical consideration to your own species? If so, why not also to your own race, nationality or gender?

  • ildi

    Is this the case for you? Would you really have any trouble whatsoever in finding food 365 days a year without meat?

    Yes, yes I would. Food fit for humans, that is.

    Do you mean there is something about a human being which inherantly DESERVES better ethical treatment than other animals? If so, what?

    Top of the heap, man! Plus, we build way cooler stuff.

    NOT eating prey would be unethical.

  • John Nernoff

    Vegetarianism is an noble, ethical goal for some, but not all. Yes, we could feed millions more with a veggie diet. But for what eventual goal? Millions and billions more people in a world already swimming with pollution and species extinction for desperate and ridiculous reasons as obtaining bush meat and aphrodisiacs. So we can feed the extra millions. What’s next? Yet more billions with the same problems? Let’s face it, we just cannot convert every molecule of the earth to human beings. It has to stop somewhere. Why not now and let other entities have their moral share of the earth?

  • John Gathercole

    Hey there fellow vegetarians. Instead of getting caught up in animal vs. human arguments, why not focus on the difference between the way we treat pigs and the way we treat cats and dogs? Pigs are smarter than dogs, but a factory farm that raised and slaughtered dogs would be illegal. Why is that?

  • Julia

    Hey there fellow vegetarians. Instead of getting caught up in animal vs. human arguments, why not focus on the difference between the way we treat pigs and the way we treat cats and dogs? Pigs are smarter than dogs, but a factory farm that raised and slaughtered dogs would be illegal. Why is that?

    Well my first thought was that perhaps it’s because dogs are “cuter”… but they I remembered rabbits and their marginal place in (western) society. So ‘cuteness’ may be a factor, but not an over-riding one.

    Also, I don’t think it would be illegal to slaughter dogs for meat in either the USA or Canada, as long as the meat was inspected prior to selling. Unpopular certainly, but not illegal (except in CA?) as far as I know. (btw, this doesn’t mean I’m advocating for it.)

  • Chet

    Is that really what you think I’m doing?

    You personally, as well as the University you referred to. Not necessarily on purpose, but it’s instructive which kinds of damage are included and which are ignored. The truth is that we have a very limited ability to see the effects of our actions beyond the immediate scope, and the lines we draw in terms of what effects we’ll look at and what effects we’ll ignore are pretty much just a function of what we want the answer to the question to be.

    Sorry, but that’s why I don’t find things like the Wageningen University very compelling. (Also I guess I’m just supposed to take it as a given that animal feces on the ground cause acid rain in the sky, and that the only animals that poop are the ones raised by humans.)

    Surely the whole point of intensive-rearing farms is high concentrations of animals in a small area.

    What does concentration have to do with it? It’s the same atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if the methane is produced here or there; it’s a greenhouse gas no matter where it’s produced. What I’m wondering, and what you don’t seem to address, is why we should consider the methane produced by livestock to be “extra” methane; those cattle would produce it just as well in the wild as on a field.

    Now you’re just being defeatist.

    No, I’m just taking your logic to the ultimate conclusion. If supporting your life isn’t worth the death of a cow, why is it worth the slaughter of millions of creatures throughout your life? Why is it worth the deaths-by-starvation of all the decay organisms waiting to consume your corpse?

    If it’s selfish of me to privilege the human species, why isn’t it even more selfish of you to privilege yourself?

    Do you mean there is something about a human being which inherantly DESERVES better ethical treatment than other animals? If so, what?

    I am one. That’s why humans deserve better ethical treatment from me – because I’m a human. I’m not a cow, nor a pig, nor a chicken; therefore those organisms aren’t afforded the same consideration by me.

    I don’t think there’s anything necessarily special about humans, exactly – though, like any organism, we have our unique adaptations and niche – I just am one. That privileges the human species in terms of my ethical obligations.

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    Yes, yes I would. Food fit for humans, that is.

    Very witty, I’m sure.

    Top of the heap, man! Plus, we build way cooler stuff.

    NOT eating prey would be unethical.

    The first two statements are irrelevant and the third is frankly ridiculous.

    Now let me make an accusation of my own: I don’t think you are being objective. I think you don’t want to think of yourself as behaving unethically, and yet you also don’t want to stop eating meat. You just LIKE eating meat, which is fair enough. I liked it when I ate it.

    But here’s the thing – you are allowing your personal bias to sway your objectivity. You are irrationally choosing to believe what you WANT to believe. You are concluding eating meat is ethical, not on the basis of objective rationalizing, but on the basis that you don’t want to stop doing it. It is really no different to a person choosing to believe in God because they simply want to believe in Him – except that their belief does not lead directly to the deaths of thousands of animals of course.

  • Ritchie

    John Nernoff,

    Yes, we could feed millions more with a veggie diet. But for what eventual goal? Millions and billions more people in a world already swimming with pollution and species extinction for desperate and ridiculous reasons as obtaining bush meat and aphrodisiacs. So we can feed the extra millions. What’s next? Yet more billions with the same problems?

    That’s like saying, ‘Why bother developing a cure for this disease? A new one will just come along later.’ I’m sorry to sound melodramatic, but the planet is getting closer to crisis point every day, and it is largely due to people who simply don’t want to know. They don’t want to change their habits and so don’t want to belive anything bad is happening, or just invent some excuse as to why their contribution would make no difference. The human population is expanding at an exponential rate and the planet simply can’t take the strain of feeding many more people. Cutting meat from our diet would greatly reduce the strain our diet puts on the Earth.

    Let’s face it, we just cannot convert every molecule of the earth to human beings. It has to stop somewhere. Why not now and let other entities have their moral share of the earth?

    That’s an odd accusation to make at the vegetarians. Most of the Earth’s last remaining wild habitats such as rainforests are being converted into farmland for meat. Eliminate the demand for meat and we can leave these natural habitats alone – at least for the time being.

  • Ritchie

    Chet,

    You personally, as well as the University you referred to. Not necessarily on purpose, but it’s instructive which kinds of damage are included and which are ignored.

    I’m sorry but I think you are dodging the issue. I do take your point that I am not addressing the environmental damage intensive crop farming does. I am not trying to imply that intensive crop farming is ecologically perfect. But it is an improvement.

    Over half the crops we grow go towards feeding livestock. Eliminate livestock and that frees up over half the crops we produce, which means we don’t need to go around destroying rainforests and natural habitat for more farmland (for the time being, at least). The waste that is produced in the production of meat would simply disappear. It would not be replaced with waste from crop farming. The problems of overfishing would disappear overnight if we just stopped doing it – they would hardly be replaced with other problems. Then there is the extra transportation – again more pollution which would simply disappear if we all converted to vegetarianism.

    We already produce enough crops to give everyone on the planet a healthy vegetarian diet, so the pollution, waste and environmental strain the meat industry puts on the planet is EXTRA pollution, waste and strain. In other words, pollution, waste and strain that would simply disappear and NOT be replaced with a worldwide conversion to vegetarianism.

    What I’m wondering, and what you don’t seem to address, is why we should consider the methane produced by livestock to be “extra” methane; those cattle would produce it just as well in the wild as on a field.

    The cattle wouldn’t be in the field. They wouldn’t be there. We keep a very tight hold over exactly how many livestock animals we have. As the demand for meat falls, then hopefully the animals would be taken off to slaughter and simply not replaced. Eventually the intensive-rearing farms empty of animals, and that’s a lot of animals gone that used to produce a lot of waste in the form of dung, excess chemicals, gases, etc.

    If supporting your life isn’t worth the death of a cow, why is it worth the slaughter of millions of creatures throughout your life?

    The death of a cow does not support my life! Eating meat does nothing to sustain our lives which vegetarian food cannot do instead. The only reason to eat meat is pleasure – we ENJOY eating meat. If we NEEDED to eat meat for some reason then that would be a different matter entirely. But we don’t.

    Why is it worth the deaths-by-starvation of all the decay organisms waiting to consume your corpse?

    You are taking this argument to a ridiculous extreme. You can hardly accuse me of killing those organisms through starvation by refusing to feed them with my own dead body. Firstly because I WILL feed decay organisms with my dead body one day. By feeding the ones today I am starving the ones that would have fed on me in the future. Secondly, such a process requires me to give my life, which is an extreme sacrifice. Giving up meat requires no such thing. You do not need to give up your life, nor do you diminish your life in any way. All you give up is whatever preferential pleasure you might (and I do stress ‘might) get from tucking into a meat curry instead of a vegetable one, or a meat feast pizza instead of a mushroom and sweetcorn pizza. That dietry preference, if it exists, really does cost lives.

    I am one. That’s why humans deserve better ethical treatment from me – because I’m a human. I’m not a cow, nor a pig, nor a chicken; therefore those organisms aren’t afforded the same consideration by me.

    That’s an incomplete argument. I could very easily say, ‘White people deserve better ethical treatment from me because I am one’, or ‘Men deserve better ethical treatment from me because I am one.’ Let me be clear, I do not hold these views. But if I did, you could rightly accuse me of bigotry (racism in the first case and sexism in the second). That is because there is nothing about the distinctions between caucasians as opposed to any other race, or men as opposed to women, which justifies a difference in ethical treatment. If you want to show that humans really deserve more ethical consideration from us, then the fact that we personally belong to that species is insufficient.

  • roscomac

    I’d like to thank everyone who has taken the time to post comments here. I enjoy coming here and reading people’s arguments and doing my best to consider them objectively. Although it has been difficult, I have enjoyed having my beliefs (sometimes successfully) challenged over the years. That is how I was able to stop believing in a god and stop consuming animal products. Having as open a mind as I have been able to achieve has allowed me to grow. While reading the arguments and counter-arguments posted in this thread, I have had the opportunity to see clearly which points are more persuasive and which are more desperate. So again, thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Just to add my thoughts on why killing an otherwise humanely raised food animal could be ethical.There is no evidence that a chicken or a cow has any expectation of future existence. Does a chicken for example ever say (metaphorically)to itself “Gee I hope I get a bigger share of the corn tomorrow…” ? Do its relatives miss it? This level of self awareness may be found in Apes, Dolphins, Elephants (I don’t know , just speculating)but if it is absent in the animals we typically farm and they just live in the moment” as it were, I see no ethical dilemma in humane killing.

  • John Nernoff

    My point was the overpopulation problem not vegetarianism. To each his own in moderation. Ancient customs and religious dicta started the habit of banging out more babies than can reasonably survive. The “pro-life” at all costs Bush is gone. The church is waning. Now is the time to start cutting back on untrammeled human proliferation.

  • Ritchie

    roscomac,

    That’s good to hear. I was beginning to get the feeling we were just shouting into the wind on here. :)

    Steve Bowen,

    I see. Does that mean you think we should extend ethical consideration to creatures based on their ability to anticipate the future? Do you think that makes more sense than doing it based on how much they can feel suffering?

    John Nernoff,

    Oh, I see. In that case, yes I totally agree. I think it wasn’t so long ago at all (the last decade or two) that the global human population reached 6 billion, and it is up to 6.8 billion already. And of course the rate of increase is exponential, so the bigger the population, the faster it will increase. Scary stuff. I say we sit the younger generation down in front of Captain Planet until they love it as much as we did!

  • Chet

    I’m sorry but I think you are dodging the issue.

    I think you are. We’re just going to have to accept that no progress can be made between us on the “damage” issue, since the question is fundamentally one of how one describes “damage”, and how one assigns damage to livestock vs. vegetable farming.

    On to the moral argument, which I continue to find underwhelming:

    The death of a cow does not support my life!

    I didn’t say that it did.

    The only reason to eat meat is pleasure – we ENJOY eating meat.

    Nutrition is the other reason – if meat was not nutritious you wouldn’t need to structure a vegetarian diet to replace it.

    Secondly, such a process requires me to give my life, which is an extreme sacrifice

    Extreme in what way? More extreme than the organisms you’re requiring give up their lives to nourish you?

    Only if you privilege yourself over all other organisms. Isn’t that exactly the selfishness you’ve accused me of? I mean, heck, I privilege humans over other organisms, but there’s 6 billion of them, and I don’t put myself over them. But you, you put yourself as superior to all other living beings. How is that not, like, 6 billion times more immoral than what I’m doing?

    That dietry preference, if it exists, really does cost lives.

    Your dietary preference also costs lives. I’m having a hard time seeing how you can act like your life is so much more important than the lives of those other living things, the ones you eat, and then deny that you’ve constructed a hierarchy of species importance.

    I mean, you actually are doing what you deny – creating a species hierarchy of worth, where you have plants, mushrooms, insects, maybe fish, all on one level (all the things that have to be killed to feed you) and then everything more advanced than that all on a second level, mammals, lizards, maybe fish, birds, and humans.

    Well, look, I only have two levels of hierarchy, too: humans and everything else. Everything else can potentially be killed if I desire to feed on it. Humans cannot.

    I fail to see how your hierarchy is any more moral than mine, since they have exactly the same amount of levels. And given what a small portion of the Earth’s biomass metazoan life truly is, it’s impossible to say that your top-level contains more individuals than mine. It would be like arguing whose patch of the beach has more grains of sand.

    I could very easily say, ‘White people deserve better ethical treatment from me because I am one’, or ‘Men deserve better ethical treatment from me because I am one.’

    You could very easily say that, since there’s no meaningful difference to you between women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, and beasts of the field. All the same to you.

    Me, I would repudiate those views, because they’re inconsistent with my special and privileged obligations to humanity. Women are the same species as me. Blacks and Hispanics are the same species to me. Gay men and women are the same species as me.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I see. Does that mean you think we should extend ethical consideration to creatures based on their ability to anticipate the future? Do you think that makes more sense than doing it based on how much they can feel suffering?

    I think we should extend ethical consideration to all things. What I said was if a humanely raised animal has no expectation of life beyond “now”, and it is slaughtered painlessly I do not see it as an un-ethical act.

  • Ritchie

    Chet,

    Nutrition is the other reason – if meat was not nutritious you wouldn’t need to structure a vegetarian diet to replace it.

    There is nothing nutritional that you get from meat that you cannot get from other sources. However, it is true that animal protein is different to plant protein. Animal protein contains all the amino acids necessary to keep us healthy, while plant protein only contain some of them (in varying degrees depending on the specific scource). Therefore it is (slightly) more important for a vegetarian to eat a wide variety of foods to get the full complemtent of amino acids. On the other hand, this is hardly a difficult task, and eating a balanced diet is something anyone who really cares about their health should be doing anyway, regardless of whether or not they eat meat. Also, meat brings considerable health risks – particularly increased fat and cholesterol, not to mention the various illnesses (most notably, bowel cancer and Alzheimer’s disease) linked with a high-meat diet. So in the long run, we could argue that meat is actually quite nutritionally detrimental.

    I privilege humans over other organisms, but there’s 6 billion of them, and I don’t put myself over them. But you, you put yourself as superior to all other living beings.

    I don’t really understand this. What makes you think I am putting myself above other people? That seems an absurd suggestion to make. I am EQUATING animal suffering to human suffering. Surely I am putting humans on a par with animals (not toally, but in this one important respect). What makes you think I see myself as more important that other people?

    Your dietary preference also costs lives.

    Yes, but fewer than if I ate meat.

    I’m having a hard time seeing how you can act like your life is so much more important than the lives of those other living things, the ones you eat, and then deny that you’ve constructed a hierarchy of species importance.

    I am not acting as though my life is so much more important. Someone (I think it may have been you actually) made the entirely valid point that we have to eat SOMETHING, and that something will inevitably be organic matter. There is no getting around that. That is just a brute fact. Nor do I deny I have created the hierarchy you succintly point out, with plants, fungi and bacteria on one level and animals including humans (and fish, incidentally) on another. I agree this is exactly what I have done. I have made this hierarchy to divide those beings who suffer, feel pain and enjoy life (or do as far as we can tell) from those beings who don’t.

    Why have I done this? Well it seems to me that ethics is about recognising that others have feeling, hopes, dreams, emotions, fears, etc. Ethics is about respecting those qualities in others – minimizing the suffering and maximizing the enjoyment (or potential for enjoyment) of those around you. My hierarchy therefore separates those beings who deserve our ethical consideration (because they have the capacity for suffering, pain, enjoyment, etc.) from those who do not. I would not worry about causing a rock pain, because it seems to me a rock cannot feel pain. I would not worry about causing a tree pain because it seems trees don’t feel pain. I would worry about causing a dog pain, but it seems they do.

    Your hierarchy I find hard to understand, simply dividing humans from everything else. What is the reason you have made this split? Why here? It seems your split is simply between ‘things that can be freely killed’ and ‘things that cannot’. But why can everything be freely killed apart from humans? What is the REASON these things can be freely killed if humans cannot?

    I fail to see how your hierarchy is any more moral than mine, since they have exactly the same amount of levels.

    The number of levels has nothing to do with the morality of the split. I would describe my hierarchy as moral because I am making it for moral reasons. The distinction it makes is a morally relevant one. Yours? Well I don’t know the reason. Perhaps you have a morally relevant reason for making the split where you do. In which case my hierarchy would not be more relevant. But if this is the case, you have not explained to me what this morally relevant reason is. The reasoning that we belong to this particular group is totally arbitrary.

    You could very easily say that, since there’s no meaningful difference to you between women, blacks, Hispanics, gays, and beasts of the field. All the same to you.

    Well, I wouldn’t say there were no differences at all, but yes I would say they all deserve our moral respect, since they can all feel, suffer and enjoy.

    Me, I would repudiate those views, because they’re inconsistent with my special and privileged obligations to humanity. Women are the same species as me. Blacks and Hispanics are the same species to me. Gay men and women are the same species as me.

    Perhaps I should have worked down the food chain rather than up… Why do you draw the line at species? Why not mammals? Why not say ‘we should not eat mammals because we ARE mammals, but other mammals are fine to eat’? Or vertebrates. Why not say ‘We should not eat vertebrate animals because we ARE vertebrate animals, but others are fine to eat’?

  • Ritchie

    Steve Bowen,

    I think we should extend ethical consideration to all things. What I said was if a humanely raised animal has no expectation of life beyond “now”, and it is slaughtered painlessly I do not see it as an un-ethical act.

    Okay. That’s a fair point. I see your logic.

    The distinction you are making is between beings who have an expectation of the future and those who don’t. Killing (painlessly) is therefore only morally wrong if you kill those beings with an expectation of the future, correct? Because you are somehow robbing them of that potential future?

    If this is indeed your argument, I’m not sure it holds. As tasteless an example as it is, babies do not have an expectation of the future (at least, no more so than an intelligent animal), nor do people with extreme brain damage that has left them in a permanent state of mental infancy. But I suspect you would still decry killing them as morally wrong?

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    babies do not have an expectation of the future (at least, no more so than an intelligent animal), nor do people with extreme brain damage that has left them in a permanent state of mental infancy.

    True, but the people responsible for them do.

  • Ritchie

    Steve Bowen,

    Okay. What about if I kept a pig as a pet. Would it be morally wrong to kill it because I was responsible for it?

  • Scotlyn

    @John Nernoff:

    My point was the overpopulation problem not vegetarianism. To each his own in moderation. Ancient customs and religious dicta started the habit of banging out more babies than can reasonably survive. The “pro-life” at all costs Bush is gone. The church is waning. Now is the time to start cutting back on untrammeled human proliferation.

    It is important to realise that our expanding population has two sources, and the fertility rate is of waning importance compared to huge changes in our global death rates. Fertility everywhere has fallen drastically, but particularly in developed countries, but our inconsiderate modern refusal to die young knows no bounds! Estimates based on current trends have our population levelling out at about 12 billion in about 2050 and then beginning to fall again (because birth rates will have fallen below death rates). I agree with your point, though. Most animal populations faced with an increase in food supply, increase their numbers. In our case “freeing up” farmland will not give that farmland back to the wild, rather it would more likely give us the means for increasing our numbers

    @ Ritchie:

    What would you think about a person who used similar logic to justify racism? It may be an unfair comparison (I am aware it is an unflattering one), but I can’t really boil your argument here down to much more than, ‘I am not one of THEM. I am one of us. We are different (superior??) and therefore we should treat ourselves better than we treat them’. Is this argument really more reasonable when applied to species rather than race?

    and

    I am not saying animals cannot play a part, but why do they have to be killed to eat? If they are an important farming resource (fertilizer, etc), then can’t we just keep some animals and just not kill them?

    Ritchie, I’m late getting back to the table because the sun has been shining and I have been practicing a form of artificial selection commonly known as weeding :) Working is good for thinking, and as I said, still working this out. I really don’t think the race thing has any relevance to this discussion, because there is only one human race. Although we appear to be good at inventing ways of including and excluding others on the basis of superficial characteristics, and that has real effects on people, it does not in any way help an argument about what distinguishes humans from animals. The point I was trying to make, and it may, at least to start with, not be a moral, a logical or a reasonable one – is simply that I am human. Therefore I think like a human. And I have a strong biological urge to favour humans over others. This is a fact. If I choose to over-ride this biological urge, of course I can. But no matter how hard I try to imagine the thoughts and feelings of other creatures, I cannot do more than project the desires and fears of my own species, because the act of imagination will take place inside a human head. This does not in any way imply that humans are superior. Only that we are, inescapably, us.
    Getting on to your second point, it is somewhat linked in. What I think escapes most people is the extent to which farming is not a natural activity. When we abandoned a hunting and gathering lifestyle, we became the second evolutionary force. We added artificial selection to the process of natural selection that had operated for billions of years. I am not talking about the “arms race” type of selection by which a predator/prey pair change in response to one another, or a pollinator/flower pair. I am saying, we undertook a wholesale “selection” of our environment. We selectively bred all of the cultivars that make up the bulk of our current diets, and created environments in which they could flourish. We selected against a whole host of other organisms that we named “pests” “vermin” or “weeds.” We cleared forests, diverted rivers and streams, transformed whole ecosystems. This process is inherent in the human construct I call the City/Farm complex. There cannot be a city without a farm. A farm has no reason to be without a city. You ask why the farm cannot have animals raised on it for their manures, without killing them. Think about the contrast with animals in the wild. In the wild, the vast majority of animals born, never grow to maturity. Eggs, and animal young are the favourite foods of most predators. Once an animal is on the farm at all, it is in an artificial environment. The farmer is preventing it from being exposed to predators, diseases, and other hazards it would encounter in the wild. Therefore, with neither natural threats, nor threats from humans (who are now allowing it to live until it dies of old age), its numbers may grow exponentially, which threatens our crops – which we are also artificially preserving from any natural threat. Therefore, sooner or later, we are faced with a choice of limiting births (separating males from females, neutering operations, hormonal birth control?), or culling. I know you are approaching this moral dilemma from a different angle, but one of my values would be “if you kill it, you gotta eat it.” Killing animals you don’t intend to eat seems to me to be even more immoral.
    There is a wrongness here somewhere, but I think the wrongness is in the entirety of the human vs. biosphere relationship. Standing in a supermarket aisle, I can see that the vegetarian choice provides a simple way of addressing a complex question. Which products I buy will most conform with my values as to how we should care for the planet. But on my farm, I look my animals in the face, care for them, feed them, fight off any threats against them, and select which ones will breed, and which ones will be humanely killed and eaten. I fight the wrongness in my own way, by opposing, as you do, large scale factory farming of animals, but also against mono-cropping of grains and the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. We each make our best choices from where we sit.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    okay. What about if I kept a pig as a pet. Would it be morally wrong to kill it because I was responsible for it?

    I’m tempted to say that you”re just being silly now. But… No, given the assumption about animal expectation. If you want to kill it that’s fine.

  • ildi

    Now let me make an accusation of my own: I don’t think you are being objective. I think you don’t want to think of yourself as behaving unethically, and yet you also don’t want to stop eating meat.

    Can you get ANY more condescending, Ritchie? You think it hasn’t been clear from your ad nauseum repetitions of the same question that you only accept your ethical conclusions and no one else’s? (Hence the comparisons that were made to religion.) You think you’re the only one who thinks about what our responsibilities are as humans if we take the godly special dispensation out of the picture? (Frigging arrogant asshat.)

    The first two statements are irrelevant and the third is frankly ridiculous.

    The first two statements are a snarky summary of why I think it is ethical to eat animals. How are they irrelevant?

    Ridiculous? Let’s take deer, then. We have killed off most of their natural predators, they’re breeding like flies (the suburbs and exurbs are perfect habitats for them), and they die if you try to move them from their local habitat. If we don’t cull the herd the deer population suffers from starvation and illness – where’s the quality of life and lack of suffering there? Once you’ve killed them, how ethical is it to waste their precious protein?

    I think you are just as unethical as you seem to think Chet (for example) and I are. You’re the other side of the “god gave us dominion over the earth” coin. You’re so busy claiming to be just one of the other animals, you’ve gone the other extreme. And yet you don’t see the irony in the very fact that we can even ask each other this question, or, for that matter, know that there is a question to ask, is the prime example for why I draw an ethical difference between humans and animals. You pretend that your ethical high horse is that you don’t cause pain and suffering by not killing animals for food, but refuse to see how you’re causing as much (if not more) pain and suffering by abdicating your responsibilities as one of the major predators on the planet.

    You are irrationally choosing to believe what you WANT to believe. You are concluding eating meat is ethical, not on the basis of objective rationalizing, but on the basis that you don’t want to stop doing it.

    You are irrationally choosing to believe what you WANT to believe. You are concluding eating meat is unethical, not on the basis of objective rationalizing, but on the basis that you don’t want to stop doing it eating animal protein reminds you too much of your own flesh, and that creeps you out.

    Good summary of our opinions of each other, eh?

    I’m trying to envision what your “utopia” would look like. Really, the best way to make sure we didn’t cause animals pain and suffering would be to kill all humans off, no? I mean, we take up their ecosystems, we take up their food sources, we use up their water supply to grow our own food sources…

  • Ritchie

    Scotlyn,

    Ritchie, I’m late getting back to the table because the sun has been shining and I have been practicing a form of artificial selection commonly known as weeding :)

    Lol, and there was me thinking farmers just made hay while the sun shines!

    I really don’t think the race thing has any relevance to this discussion, because there is only one human race. Although we appear to be good at inventing ways of including and excluding others on the basis of superficial characteristics, and that has real effects on people, it does not in any way help an argument about what distinguishes humans from animals.

    My choosing racism here was perhaps ill-advised because it carries very offensive overtones. I simply mentioned it as an example of a distinction which carries no moral relevance.

    The point I was trying to make, and it may, at least to start with, not be a moral, a logical or a reasonable one – is simply that I am human. Therefore I think like a human. And I have a strong biological urge to favour humans over others. This is a fact… This does not in any way imply that humans are superior. Only that we are, inescapably, us.

    That’s reasonable enough. As an observation of course, it is perfectly true, but I don’t see that it carries, in and of itself, any justification for giving species other than humans ethical consideration.

    What I think escapes most people is the extent to which farming is not a natural activity… There is a wrongness here somewhere, but I think the wrongness is in the entirety of the human vs. biosphere relationship.

    Now that is a very interesting point, and perhaps one I hadn’t fully considered. And if you are right then perhaps we humans face a knottier ethical tangle when it comes to farming than we realise.

    sooner or later, we are faced with a choice of limiting births (separating males from females, neutering operations, hormonal birth control?), or culling. I know you are approaching this moral dilemma from a different angle, but one of my values would be “if you kill it, you gotta eat it.” Killing animals you don’t intend to eat seems to me to be even more immoral.

    Again, a very good point. And one that leaves me a little stumped, frankly. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where I stand on the issue of culling. I suppose I consider it ethically acceptable to kill vermin because it is done for practical reasons, notably health ones. And if such practical concerns can justify killing vermin, then I suppose they can justify killing larger animals too. And having done so, then yes I suppose eating the meat would seem practical and ethically permissable.

    However, one small matter I would like to raise – is this reality of the meat industry? Are we simply culling the numbers of cows, pigs, etc., and then disposing of the meat in a practical way by consuming it? Because I would imagine not. I imagine the industry is driven by demand for the meat itself. In fact have we not pumped up livestock populations enormously simply in order to keep up with demand?

    If an animal has to be killed, then I suppose I don’t really have an issue with eating it. But to me it seems we cross an ethical line when we kill an animal simply IN ORDER to eat it. So perhaps it is not the action of killing the animal per se which is morally wrong, but the intentions behind it.

    We each make our best choices from where we sit.

    Yes, I think we do. I personally am highly unlikely to encounter livestock animals in my day to day life except at the supermarket. And if I buy meat, then I imagine I am fuelling a demand for an industry which has crossed a line I do not think should be crossed. But I suppose that does not mean I would oppose eating meat in all circumstances.

  • Ritchie

    Steve Bowen,

    I’m tempted to say that you”re just being silly now. But… No, given the assumption about animal expectation. If you want to kill it that’s fine.

    I know these thought experiments can sound a little odd, but I’m just playing around with the variable of expectation of the future.

    Going back a step, you said it would be unethical to kill a baby or person with severe brain damage because the people responsible for them have an expectation of their future. Does this mean you think a creature’s life can be given exemption-from-being-morally-killed status by another creature’s expectations of its future?

    That sounds long-winded. Let me try to clarify: I have expectations of my future – therefore it is wrong to kill me. A baby has no expectations of its future, but I have expectations of its future – therefore it is wrong to kill it.

    Now imagine both myself and my next-door-neighbour keep pet pigs. I am just as fond of my next-door-neighbour’s pig as I am of mine. I have expectations for the future of my neighbour’s pig just as I have expectations of the pig of my own. However, my neighbour decided to kill his pig. Is it morally wrong of him to do so just because I have expectations of that pig’s future?

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    Can you get ANY more condescending, Ritchie?

    I’m sure I could if I tried.

    (Frigging arrogant asshat.)

    A fine refutation of my accusation. Clearly I stand corrected. You are obviously being perfectly cool, rational and objective. How silly of me to have thought otherwise.

    You think it hasn’t been clear from your ad nauseum repetitions of the same question that you only accept your ethical conclusions and no one else’s?

    I am fully aware that I’ve been asking the same question over and over again, but that is because you have not addressed it. You have indeed made some good points, but none directly tell me the morally relevant difference between killing an animal for food and killing a human for food.

    You have outlined your moral perameters on the issue of killing animals, but this does not tell me why you draw the lines where you do. You have stated that animals have different legal and moral rights and responsibilities, but again this does not tell me WHY they should. You also said you believed there to be evidence that suggests qualitative differences in humans and animals in terms of sentience, but you have failed to provide any references to this evidence. I also assume you agree with Chet’s assertion that we are justified in giving ethical preference to our own species, but again, neither you nor they have stated WHY. To simply prefer ‘us’ to ‘them’ is a form of bigotry unless accompanied by a sound, morally relevant reason for the distinction.

    You came closest to answering my question when you suggested that the moral distinction I draw between animals and plants was as arbitrary as the line you draw between humans and animals. But this assertion is incomplete. I do in fact have a morally relevant reason to draw the line where I do – animals can suffer and so we should be concerned about their suffering. You need to give me a reason at least as good as mine for drawing the distinction you do for our choices to be arbitrary or merely a matter or preference.

    So despite your protestations that you HAVE answered my question and that is me that is not listening or not accepting it because I don’t like it (not to mention throwing personal insults into the mix), you really haven’t given me a direct answer.

    The first two statements are a snarky summary of why I think it is ethical to eat animals. How are they irrelevant?

    To state we are at the top of the food chain is to state a fact. We are. But this fact alone carries no moral directive. We are not OBLIGED to eat everything below us on the food chain. Similarly, we do not give out moral consideration to beings based on how cool the things they can build are.

    If we don’t cull the herd the deer population suffers from starvation and illness – where’s the quality of life and lack of suffering there? Once you’ve killed them, how ethical is it to waste their precious protein?

    Now this is a very good point. Scotlyn raised it earlier on today. See my above reply to them.

    I feel I should also point out though that this STILL does not answer my question.

    And yet you don’t see the irony in the very fact that we can even ask each other this question, or, for that matter, know that there is a question to ask, is the prime example for why I draw an ethical difference between humans and animals.

    The fact that we are intelligent enough to recognise morality gives us moral duties and obligations, not a free reign to do whatever the Hell we want.

    You pretend that your ethical high horse is that you don’t cause pain and suffering by not killing animals for food, but refuse to see how you’re causing as much (if not more) pain and suffering by abdicating your responsibilities as one of the major predators on the planet.

    I have a DUTY to eat animals? An OBLIGATION? I’d love to hear you try to make this one fly. Leaving aside for the time being the absolutely laughable assertion that my abdication of such a responsibility causes as much, if not more pain and suffering (but feel free to address that too if you like), why am I actively OBLIGED to kill?

    Good summary of our opinions of each other, eh?

    I’m sure you think so. I don’t. I have been vegetarian for less than two years. Before then I had never had a problem with eating meat. I never really gave it much thought. I decided to stop when I sat down and really thought through the environmental, health and ethical implications of the meat industry. I imagined it would be a great sacrifice, so I was a little reluctant to take the plunge at first. Happily I was wrong, and I hardly miss meat at all. Why would I suddenly develop an irrational aversion to something I had previously been doing for the better part of thirty years?

    Really, the best way to make sure we didn’t cause animals pain and suffering would be to kill all humans off, no? I mean, we take up their ecosystems, we take up their food sources, we use up their water supply to grow our own food sources…

    That may be true. But contrary to your distorted depication of my views, I do not view animals as more important than humans. I would not wish the human race extinct simply because of the ecological damage we do.

  • ildi

    You’re an arrogant asshat, Ritchie, because you assume that people continue to eat meat because they just love it so much even though they secretly know that its unethical.

    I have a DUTY to eat animals? An OBLIGATION?

    Well, not you personally, we’ll excuse you because you think it’s unethical. But, yes, we’ve killed off a lot of their natural predators, so it’s our duty to take on the job.

    You still haven’t answered the question why it’s unethical to kill and eat animals just because they have the potential to suffer.

    I decided to stop when I sat down and really thought through the environmental, health and ethical implications of the meat industry.

    Good reason for changing your meat consumption, but it doesn’t really answer why eating meat is unethical.

  • http://alitheiapsis.wordpress.com/ Aly

    Animal farming is one of the major causes of infectious diseases. Zoonotic diseases (infections spread from animals to humans) are almost always the result of meat or dairy farming (or, in some areas, hunting for meat.)

    (This is from Neuroskeptic’s post at the very beginning of the thread)

    I have to agree. I always get a slight twinge of schadenfreude when, in Biology class, we discuss all the diseases spread by meat. Being an ovo-lacto vegetarian, I consider it one fewer thing on my mind that I don’t have to worry about catching various parasitic diseases.

  • Scotlyn

    Ritchie,

    To state we are at the top of the food chain is to state a fact.

    Ritchie – I’ve been arguing that we are not just at the top of the food chain, in the same way as, perhaps, the shark or the lion are in their respective ecosystems. I’m arguing that we have absolutely rearranged the food chain from top to bottom in order to accomodate our new (30,000 – 10,000 year old) urban lifestyle. If we cannot abandon our lifestyle, then it may not be possible (without GREAT intellectual and moral effort) to cease our predations on the biosphere as a whole. These are the important statements I have made which haven’t been addressed – “we made our food, and our food made us” and “we became the second evolutionary force.”

    Ritchie, I do agree that if some people take and promote the vegetarian option, this may drive down the demand for intensively-reared, grain-fed meat – and this is undoubtedly a good thing. However, I don’t think that it can practically be put forward as a universal option. I would like to point out that many farm animals do not eat grain, or food that would be otherwise suitable for humans.

    On my farm, sheep eat grass, either freshly growing, or saved in the form of hay or silage. We cannot eat grass, so raising sheep can be seen as an organic way of transforming inedible grass into a form that a human can eat. The pigs on my farm are fed on waste food that has been rejected by humans – largely the unsellable fruit and veg from my local supermarket, together with leavings from my table. Again, this is not taking food out of anyone’s mouth, it is preventing waste food from actually being wasted, and effectively turns waste back into food. Both animals’ guts process their own wastes and extrude them in a form that is uniquely acceptable to the soil bacteria in my garden, and again, hands me back useful food in the form of vegetables and fruit.

    Gotta run, I’ll come back to this in a bit

  • Chris

    I do think it’s unethical to eat meat, at least that from creatures with a central nervous system. At the same time, I’m not a vegetarian and I do eat meat. Now I don’t eat a steak every day, but I also don’t eat any fast food nor drink any soda (not for any ethical reason, they’re just gross and make you fat). At the same time I don’t think it’s fair to ridicule people for being vegetarian or vegan. I know, being a meat eater myself, such diets often seem crazy or impractical, and often the actions of groups like Peta, the Animal Militia and others make the whole idea seem extremist (and sometimes dangerous) to those of us who do eat meat. There’s a lot of tribalism around eating meat and people who break from that are often kept out of groups for no good reason other than they have a better ethical standard than most. I’m not talking just about at friendly summer cook outs, but also in work environments. I work for a large company and there’s this one woman who is vegetarian and she’s often blamed for making office parties and such a hassle since “just because of her” they must have vegetarian foods prepared (in addition to the meat products, of course). Sadly, many of the views I’ve seen in the comments here reflect that mentality of tribal exclusion I’ve felt myself when working at a dominantly Christian employer while being an atheist (my boss would hand out bibles to customers). It’s the unwillingness to even look at the reasons for such a decision, the thoughts behind it, a lack of wanting to understand, willful ignorance if you will, that is replaced with simple FoxNews style quotes like “look at our teeth”. It leads to a form of discrimination that I simply don’t understand other than simple tribalism. I think the vegetarians commenting here (and everywhere) should be applauded for doing something I myself cannot currently bring myself to (who knows, maybe one day). I’m struggling with quitting smoking currently. I suppose the real reason I wrote all this is to show the vegetarians here that not all meat eaters think you’re crazy. You’re doing good not only with your diets but by helping others to understand why they should do so also. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I respect you all for it.

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    You’re an arrogant asshat, Ritchie, because you assume that people continue to eat meat because they just love it so much even though they secretly know that its unethical.

    No, not all meat-eaters necessarily, just you. This is based on your inability to provide an answer to a question I have asked you umpteen times. You merely dogge it, ignore it, or give answers which are irrelevant or incomplete and then claim you have answered it. Other meat-eaters may well have excellent reasons for making the choices they make. I don’t know – I haven’t asked them all.

    Secondly, that’s not quite the accusation I made. You really do like to distort what I say, don’t you? I accused you of letting your personal desire to eat meat interfere with your objectivity on this issue. This is not the same as deliberately acting in a way you secretly know is unethical.

    Thirdly, I made this accusation partly because I believe it, and partly because I wanted to see how you would react. You yourself have speculated on my motives for being a vegetarian – that it makes me feel icky to kill things that can’t locomote, and that eating animal flesh creeps me out because it reminds me of my own flesh. Yet it is arrogant of ME to speculate on YOUR motives for eating meat? I find this hypocritcal.

    But, yes, we’ve killed off a lot of their natural predators, so it’s our duty to take on the job.

    That would make a lot more sense if the driving force behind the meat industry really was the disposal of waste after necessary cullings. Then I could understand it. But I really don’t think this is the case. I think livestock populations have been deliberately inflated over the years to keep up with the demand for meat. In other words, the meat industry is not simply trying to keep livestock numbers in check, it is deliberately breeding large numbers of these animals for the express purpose of killing them. Is it the duty of human beings to do this?

    You still haven’t answered the question why it’s unethical to kill and eat animals just because they have the potential to suffer.

    Haven’t I? Very well, let me do so now: I think it is unethical to kill animals because they can enjoy life, so killing them today is denying them the opportunity to enjoy life tomorrow. I wouldn’t say the fact that they have the potential to suffer is directly relevant here – more their potential to enjoy life. This is a potential we are denying them by killing them. And I believe it is ethical to minimizing the suffering and maximizing the potential enjoyment of others.

  • Ritchie

    Scotlyn,

    These are the important statements I have made which haven’t been addressed – “we made our food, and our food made us” and “we became the second evolutionary force.”

    I haven’t argued with these statements because I agree with them. However I don’t think we are totally at the mercy of the situation we have created here. We are a secondary evolutionary force for domesticated (is that the word I really want for livestock?) animals. We may have set up the farming system we currently employ, but is it really so fragile than significant changes will bring it crashing down?

    I do agree that if some people take and promote the vegetarian option, this may drive down the demand for intensively-reared, grain-fed meat – and this is undoubtedly a good thing. However, I don’t think that it can practically be put forward as a universal option.

    Really? What do you imagine would happen if it were?

    On my farm, sheep eat grass, either freshly growing, or saved in the form of hay or silage. We cannot eat grass, so raising sheep can be seen as an organic way of transforming inedible grass into a form that a human can eat.

    I take the point that animals are a very efficient way of disposing of matter we humans find indigestable. But could your sheep not also been seen as simply disposing of your inedible grass rather than converting it?

  • Ritchie

    Chris,

    I do think it’s unethical to eat meat, at least that from creatures with a central nervous system. At the same time, I’m not a vegetarian and I do eat meat.

    That’s cool. I totally respect that.

    I work for a large company and there’s this one woman who is vegetarian and she’s often blamed for making office parties and such a hassle since “just because of her” they must have vegetarian foods prepared (in addition to the meat products, of course

    This one drives me up the wall! Even some restaurants have either very few or no vegetarian options. WHY? Surely a meat-eater can still eat a vegetarian dinner? It’s not like meat-eaters are in any way restricted from eating food without meat. Yet kick up a stink and I will be accused of ‘enforcing’ vegeatrianism on others. If the vegetarian lady did not work at your company, would EVERY SINGLE dish really include meat?

    To be fair, I shouldn’t really moan too much. I do live in a big city and it’s not really that difficult for a veggie to eat out these days. Even so, the mentality of ‘if there’s no meat, it’s not a meal’ does make me want to scream and break things.

    I think the vegetarians commenting here (and everywhere) should be applauded for doing something I myself cannot currently bring myself to (who knows, maybe one day). I’m struggling with quitting smoking currently.

    God, I know how that feels! I’ve just done a short city fun-run, and my lungs were cursing me every step of the way. Still, I’m sure I’ll just wake up with the willpower to just stop tomorrow…

  • ildi

    I think it is unethical to kill animals because they can enjoy life, so killing them today is denying them the opportunity to enjoy life tomorrow.

    THIS is it? This is the great ethical insight that I’ve been avoiding to satisfy my lust for meat? You’ve got to be kidding me. Not good enough, Ritchie. I am not convinced based on your unsupported assertion, and it compares poorly to the arguments people have given you why it’s ethical to eat meat. (And, no, calling them dodges, irrelevant or incomplete doesn’t make them so.)

  • Scotlyn

    Hi Ritchie: I hadn’t finished, but you’ve answered, so here goes:

    We are a secondary evolutionary force for domesticated (is that the word I really want for livestock?) animals. We may have set up the farming system we currently employ, but is it really so fragile than significant changes will bring it crashing down?

    No, we are not only the second evolutionary force for domesticated animals. We have transformed the whole world – the effects of our farming/cities can be felt in the wildest of forests, oceans, and rivers, in the atmosphere, in rainfall patterns, and many other places. Farming, as it is largely practiced now – mono-cropping, pesticides, artificial fertilizers, irrigation – is actually incredibly fragile – as is the civilisation that currently depends on it.

    Systems that are diverse have more built-in resiliance than systems that are not. We have taken wild ecosystems with thousands or hundreds of thousands of interacting elements and (over a few thousand years) reduced them to artificial ecosystems with only tens of interacting elements that are allowed to interact solely on the basis of their usefulness to us. This not only amounts to wholesale destruction of hundreds and thousands of species with whom we share (or have shared) the planet, it is also, ultimately suicidal. We are no longer as resilient as we were in the face of threats, some of which we have created, such as climate instability, or peak oil.

    I think we agree that there is a wrongness here somewhere, and that ethical choices must be carefully considered in order to address it.

    I take the point that animals are a very efficient way of disposing of matter we humans find indigestable. But could your sheep not also been seen as simply disposing of your inedible grass rather than converting it?

    The honest and practical answer here is that if my sheep were not available to be eaten (apart from those that are kept for breeding), they would not be here. But nor would a farm growing vegetables, or grains, because no technology would render this land fit for such a purpose.

    But the point I was making was that it is not true to say that all farm animals eat foods that would otherwise be fit for humans. Going back to your second question, I don’t think vegetarianism as a universal option is practical, because there will always be people, like myself, who live in places where raising animals makes a much better use of the available land than raising vegetables, grains or fruit. There will always be places where the climate renders meat sources of foods much more available throughout the winter than vegetable ones. Also, a healthy vegetarian diet does require grains and pulses, and grains particularly are not so easy to grow – they are especially not easy to grow and process in any quantity without using the highly mechanised, pesticide and petrochemical fertilizer heavy methods that are destroying our earth. Such foods should certainly not be fed to animals(and MOST CERTAINLY not converted into fuels!). As I said to you before, the existence of some vegetarians, perhaps of lots of vegetarians, may indeed help to adjust markets in a positive way so that this doesn’t happen.

    But given that we agree there is a wrongness to be addressed through our food choices, but disagree as to whether universal vegetarianism is the answer, let me make some other suggestions for actions that urban dwellers could take, whether in addition to making a vegetarian choice, or not, that would address our urgent need for more biodiversity.

    1. Grow something, even if only in a pot. Every green thing that grows is a help to biodiversity. Trees help to stabilise soils and rainfall patterns, flowers provide food for bees and butterflies.
    2. Grow something edible, even if only in a pot – appreciate where your food comes from. And if you are a vegetarian, and therefore have a diet that relies on grains and pulses, grow some wheat or barley or oats in your pot with a view to making a meal with them – see what is involved in bringing these difficult foods to the table.
    3. Consider bee-keeping as a hobby. A bee box takes up only a couple of square feet, and just now urban bees are doing a lot better than rural ones – urban areas are full of parks and gardens with flowers that bloom throughout the year, and have a lower pesticide load than rural areas, where large fields dedicated to one crop also amount to “feast or famine” conditions for bees.
    4. If you have a lawn, don’t mow it – a closely cropped lawn might as well be a desert for bees and butterflies. Let it get to dandelion height and tell your neighbours you’re going “bee-friendly.” Or dig some of it up and plant flowers or veg or a tree.
    4. Go for organic (its promotion of soil biodiversity is the best argument for organic foods, in my book) or locally grown options where you can. If you can, either through buying choices, or through lobbying, or talking to the farmers you know, encourage farming practices such as crop rotation (which enriches soils and minimises pesticide requirements), no-till farming (this method, which is currently being researched, protects the soil from erosion by not using plows, leaving crop residues on the land, and growing winter green cover in order to avoid exposing bare soils to wind and water), water recycling and minimal irrigation (undersoil root-watering systems, for example, use a lot less water than air-bourne water droplet irrigation).
    5. Encourage the promotion of wildlife refuges to be built into farmland, by encouraging hedges, and the setaside of continuous wildlife corridors along the margins.
    6. Encourage your meat-eating friends to choose grass-fed herbivores and free range poultry and pork. And, remember poultry and pork are both more efficient in terms of water use than beef, and they have much smaller loads of the methanogenic bacteria that cause climate-injuring burps.
    7. Encourage/promote open-source food technology research. Genetic modification and other food innovations, even if useful, will do us no good if they are protected by intellectual property laws.

    And, Ritchie, I hope you will agree to differ with me on this, while sharing the goal of examining the sources of our food with an ethical eye.

  • ildi

    Great nuanced post, Scotlyn. I would say that you left out the elephant in the room, though: overpopulation. I’d add:

    8. Don’t assume having children is the default position.

    After all, Ritchie, think of all those selfish breeders who let their personal desire to have babies interfere with their objectivitiy on the issue… no more babies! (ummm, errr…) Anyway, less people would make it much easier for Bambi and Thumper live out their carefree lives in the forest (well, until they die of starvation due to overbreeding and lack of natural predators, that is…)

  • Scotlyn

    Ildi,
    I’ve been enjoying your ripostes, without replying to them, but the “elephant in the room” needs an answer.

    Great nuanced post, Scotlyn. I would say that you left out the elephant in the room, though: overpopulation. I’d add:

    8. Don’t assume having children is the default position.

    After all, Ritchie, think of all those selfish breeders who let their personal desire to have babies interfere with their objectivitiy on the issue… no more babies! (ummm, errr…) Anyway, less people would make it much easier for Bambi and Thumper live out their carefree lives in the forest (well, until they die of starvation due to overbreeding and lack of natural predators, that is…)

    In fact I did get into this a bit in a previous comment, but I wish to question the assumption that the cause of overpopulation is too many babies. Think about it. You’re having an all day, all night party (can I come ;) ?) and at the start of the day people come in dribs and drabs and leave in dribs and drabs. But all of a sudden a whole heap of people turn up, and then nobody leaves. Even if only one or two more people turn up every now and again for the rest of the evening, your place is jammed. You either have to close the door to anyone new, or you have to convince someone already there to leave.

    This is by way of illustrating the fact that human fertility everywhere on earth has already dropped – drastically – over the past 50 years or so. Unfortunately the drop in fertility rates has been more than matched by – in some cases – a doubling in life expectancy, which has led to even more drastic decreases in human death rates. Our birth rates continue to fall, and eventually will fall below the death rate, unless the death rate continues to fall further do to more medical or technological innovations that extend our lives further.

    In any case, it is hard to see how much further fertility rates could fall, especially in developed countries, certainly not without punitive policies such as the ones China has adopted. Of course, supposing it were possible to so legislate, and we banned giving birth to children altogether for 20 years or so, until a whole bunch of us older folk decided to leave the party, but this would leave us missing a whole generation, which is something I doubt even people who are happy to opt out of children of their own would like to contemplate.

    I’m just throwing this in to be devil’s advocate, but it annoys me that the ideas of “overpopulation” and “stop having babies” are so inextricably linked in people’s minds. Population has two contributing factors, one is addition and one is subtraction. If you look at the figures you’d have to agree that addition is taking place much less than ever, but so is subtraction. A solution may lie at either the entrance to or the exit from the party, but both need to get equal airtime.

    And of course other solutions may be made for us – natural disasters, famines, wars, diseases may all present themselves at the “exit” door…

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Going back a step, you said it would be unethical to kill a baby or person with severe brain damage because the people responsible for them have an expectation of their future. Does this mean you think a creature’s life can be given exemption-from-being-morally-killed status by another creature’s expectations of its future?

    We’re conflating two different arguments here, which is not to say they don’t/won’t intersect but one of them isn’t my point. Please ignore (just for now) the moral equivalency of killing a human vs other species because I recognise the inherent species bias we have. A true story…When a child my mother had a pet rabbit which she gave as a present to a local boy she liked. The next day at school he passed on his parents thanks for the rabbit, adding that it tasted delicious. Obviously my mother was upset, but she wasn’t over sentimental about animals as food (the family kept pigs and chickens and ate the meat). What was important about this particular rabbit was her emotional attachment to it as a pet (and I guess, mixed up with the emotions about the boy). We can all get teary eyed and Walt Disney-esqe over pets; anthropomorphising comes very naturally to us. However that doesn’t mean they experience or anticipate the world the way that we do and despite our distress we cannot assume theirs..

  • ildi

    Scotlyn:

    In fact I did get into this a bit in a previous comment

    Sorry I skipped over this; I scanned back (this is getting to be a long thread) and didn’t find it – could you point me to the comment number?

    I got sidetracked when I realized that Ritchie wasn’t arguing in good faith when he started to make comments like this:

    You are concluding eating meat is ethical, not on the basis of objective rationalizing, but on the basis that you don’t want to stop doing it.

    especially when you had stated in a previous comment

    I know they are not flippant questions, and I am finding this a most interesting thread, as it is helping me to greatly clarify my own thoughts.

    Anyway,

    …but I wish to question the assumption that the cause of overpopulation is too many babies.

    Well, it’s hard to get away from the basic concept that babies = population, therefore too many babies = overpopulation. But, you’re right, there are other factors to consider, not just life expectancy, but infant mortality, and the lag time between menarche and babymaking.

    According wikipedia web page List of countries and territories by fertility rate, world fertility rate went from 2.80 in 2000 to 2.61 in 2008. I don’t know if this comes out to be a significant difference in the decrease or not, but in any event, it is still above replacement level.

    Unicef has some interesting reports on its web page; one depressing table estimates under 5 mortality rate in 2006 to be anywhere from 270 per thousand in Sierra Leone to Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Singapore and Sweden all tying for lowest at 3 per one thousand. So, I’m sure there’s some algorithm for comparing Sierra Leone with its current population of 4.8 million, a fertility rate of six children, a U5MR of 270 and a life expectancy of 40.6 to, say, Finland with a current population of 5.1 million, a fertility rate of 1.7, a U5MR of 4 and a life expectancy of 78.7. It sure does seem, on the face of it, that a high U5MR and low life expectancy would outweigh fertility rates.

    Then, there’s the whole politically-charged parochial issue of how population is spread out. Japan, for example, is worried about a decreasing birth rate and and increasing population age, but a lot of that could be solved with less draconian immigration laws.

    I think we’re hosed, basically. If it’s not going to be some stupid pandemic like the swine flu, it will be massive flooding along the coastlines due to global warming…

    Given all that, I still stand by my original statement…

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    THIS is it? This is the great ethical insight that I’ve been avoiding to satisfy my lust for meat? You’ve got to be kidding me.

    I am not kidding. But I didn’t pose this as a great ethical insight. I posed it as a direct and relevant answer to the question you asked. I realise the concept may be unfamiliar to you…

    I am not convinced based on your unsupported assertion, and it compares poorly to the arguments people have given you why it’s ethical to eat meat.

    That is your opinion and you are welcome to it. You seem to be under the impression I am here to evangelise and convert people. I assure you this is not the case. I am simply responding to the claim that an ethical case cannot be made for vegetarianism, because it seems to me it can. I hope I’ve demonstrated that here.

    (And, no, calling them dodges, irrelevant or incomplete doesn’t make them so.)

    True. The responses you have given to my question are not dodges, irrelevant or incomplete just because I say so. They are dodges, irrelevant and incomplete because of the fact that they either dodge my question, are irrelevant to my question or are incomplete arguments.

    Saying they are NOT these things doesn’t make it so either.

    Oh, and…

    I got sidetracked when I realized that Ritchie wasn’t arguing in good faith when he started to make comments like this:

    You are concluding eating meat is ethical, not on the basis of objective rationalizing, but on the basis that you don’t want to stop doing it.

    especially when you had stated in a previous comment

    I know they are not flippant questions, and I am finding this a most interesting thread, as it is helping me to greatly clarify my own thoughts.

    Anyway,

    For crying out loud, you really are a child, aren’t you? I was accusing YOU of not being objective. No-one else. Just YOU!! And I concluded this, not on the basis that ‘no meat eater could ever possibly have a good reason to do so’, but on the basis that you seem utterly incapable of providing me with one.

    What’s more, the fact that I’ve already clarified for you this leads me to believe you are now simply trying to stir trouble between myself and Scotlyn by making it sound like I am accusing them of not being objective either. I mean you were hardly on the moral high ground when it came to debating maturely anyway, but man, how much further are you willing to sink? Don’t you have ANY self-respect?

  • Ritchie

    Scotlyn,

    Ritchie, I hope you will agree to differ with me on this, while sharing the goal of examining the sources of our food with an ethical eye.

    Well it’s striking me that we agree on far more than we differ, to be honest (was that senence grammatical? I’m sure you get the point anyway…). I like your list of seven suggestion (eight actually, as the are two Point 4′s), however (and this is really paining me to say) I would actually say ildi has a point (once you scape off the woefully vacuous sarcasm that he presumably thinks is clever). Granted, there is more to the overpopulation issue than just the birthrate. Natural lifespan, firtility rates and general day-to-day health also play a part. The problem as I see it is that populations increase exponentially – the more couples there are, the more the population rises by, since there are more fertile couples. Once a population passes a tipping point into a safety zone, then there is little to stop it absolutely sky-rocketing unless we consciously decide to hold ourselves in check when it comes to reproducing.

  • Ritchie

    Steve Bowen,

    I was actually reading a book of thought experiments, and one came very close to the story of your mother’s rabbit actually. There once was a woman, a loving wife and mother, who owned a dog. One day the dog got run over. Much as she loved the animal, and sad as she was that it was dead, she was also an extremely practical woman, so she took the dog and cooked it for her family for dinner. She realised what she was doing was unusual, and that most people might condemn her actions as wrong. But She just considered such views to be pointlessly sentimental. Ignoring for the moment the morality of eating meat at all, was she wrong to do what she did?

    Of course, the point of philosophy is to ask questions, not answer them, but I found this an interesting case to ponder for a while, and my conclusion was that no, she did not really do anything wrong. Or at least if she was, I can’t identify why.

  • Scotlyn

    Ildi

    According wikipedia web page List of countries and territories by fertility rate, world fertility rate went from 2.80 in 2000 to 2.61 in 2008. I don’t know if this comes out to be a significant difference in the decrease or not, but in any event, it is still above replacement level.

    Yes, this is true – on Wikipedia you can also compare the world crude birth rate which is around 40/1000 to the world crude death rate of around 20/1000 and see that we are still birthing more people than are dying. But around a 100 years ago, these figures would have been something like 80-100 births/thousand, and 75-85 deaths/thousand. Both figures have come down drastically in that one hundred years, but the death rate has decreased far more drastically than the birth rate. Here in Ireland, the fertility rate was at African levels (5 or 6 per woman) only 100 years ago, and has fallen to around 1.8 in just one hundred years. (If people were still dying at the old rate, Ireland would be even more underpopulated than it currently is.) This picture is replicated everywhere in Europe, also in the wealthier Asian countries, and even in the US, although its fertility rate is still closer to the world rate at 2.1, and much higher than that of any European country.

    It is well documented that fertility rates fall when living standards rise and birth control methods are accessible – the quickest way to bring down fertility rates in the African, Asian and South American countries where it is still high, is to help raise their standard of living. After that, you can try to impose a legislated fertility regime, with severe sanctions, as China has. But note that China still has a fertility rate of 1.7 births per woman figure, which is higher than the low fertility rates acheived in almost every country in Europe, none of which impose punitive sanctions on fertile couples, and still much higher (ironically) than the rate of 1 birth per woman achieved, without sanctions, by Taiwan.

    There was a thread on this blog a while ago to address the question of whether longer (or eternal) life would be a good thing. I think it is important to address the fact that every gain in life expectancy we achieve, has to be accompanied by a corresponding reduction in the number of babies born. Say that the replacement birth rate is 35/1000 at current death rates. Say we achieve an average extra 10 years of life expectancy. What would the new replacement birth rate have to be? Can it ever go below zero? (perhaps someone more facile with figures can help with this). I could be wrong here, but my intuitive maths tells me if people are hanging around for an extra half generation or so (say 10 years) then only half of the next generation can afford to be born, if we want our numbers to remain stable.

    My distaste for the science in search of further longevity gains lies in this. I wouldn’t like to be part of a world full of old folks and with no room for young folks to be born any more. Eternal life holds no lure for me. When its time for me to step out and make room for someone else to take their turn – I intend to.

  • Scotlyn

    Ildi – I forgot to say the comment where I first addressed population (briefly) was the top of #176.

    PS And, Ildi, here is an interesting fing….Ritchie has apparently made you out to be a “he,” while I’ve been making you out to be a “she.” Would it trouble you to reveal which of us is correct? (Just curious, you know?)

  • ildi

    Don’t you have ANY self-respect?

    Thanks for asking, but I’ve got plenty.

    First of all, I assumed you realized that I was agreeing with the comments of many posters here; that my opinion that humans have made an evolutionary quantum leap as a species is what makes us different from other animals/plants/bacteria, etc. piggybacked on statements by many others, including Chet (this is just a sampling, btw, because I ended up with over three pages of quotes when I went back through the thread):

    If you think that eating a plant means no animals died for your food, you’re deluding yourself.

    Danikajaye:

    I have seen animals slaughtered and I have also seen “natural” death and the latter is incredible painful, horrible and completely inhumane.

    Scotlyn:

    I would subscribe to the view that if there is no soul, there is nothing to distinguish us from other animals. But there is one thing that naturally gives us a human-centred outlook, and that is simply that we are human. We are not other animals. Therefore, we cannot guess at how they would like us to treat them, apart from projecting our own desires and fears upon them. I do believe that we owe them, as we owe others of our own species, every possible effort to minimise their real and potential suffering and maximise their real and potential pleasure (see I was listening at other posts) insofar as we can guess what that consists in, and qualified by the knowledge that whatever we decide, it will be a guess. I believe the same goes for insects, plants and bacteria. None of this, in my view, contradicts ethical animal husbandry and meat-eating, if the animals are allowed to live lives that approximate to happy animal lives and their deaths are as quick and as painless as can be arranged

    More Scotlyn:

    Plants may react more slowly than animals, but they also have ways to fight for their survival and against their destruction. They lack an animal nervous system, but do have a circulation system which includes the circulation of hormone-like signalling chemicals, and they share with animals a physiologically generated DC electrical field, separate to the nervous system, whose biological properties for generating whole body awareness and integrity is currently under study.

    And Steve Bowen:

    I think we should extend ethical consideration to all things. What I said was if a humanely raised animal has no expectation of life beyond “now”, and it is slaughtered painlessly I do not see it as an un-ethical act.

    These opinions are as valid, as complete and as relevant as your opinion that anything with a nervous system has a right to die not by human hands.

    Oh, and

    You seem to be under the impression I am here to evangelise and convert people. I assure you this is not the case. I am simply responding to the claim that an ethical case cannot be made for vegetarianism, because it seems to me it can. I hope I’ve demonstrated that here.

    is just not true, sweetie. You are claiming that no ethical case can be made for eating meat.

  • ildi

    Scotlyn:

    My distaste for the science in search of further longevity gains lies in this. I wouldn’t like to be part of a world full of old folks and with no room for young folks to be born any more. Eternal life holds no lure for me. When its time for me to step out and make room for someone else to take their turn – I intend to.

    I have to agree with you on this one.

    I think a key ingredient in getting a handle on population (if it’s not too late already) is educating women, so they have other options besides babymaking.

    ildi (Ildiko) is a common female Hungarian name. Ildiko was Attila’s last wife; he died on his wedding night of a nosebleed and too much alcohol. (Can you imagine being the 13-year-old bride and trying to ‘splain the next day that you did not assassinate him?) It means female warrior in Sumerian. LOL!

  • barnetto

    @Ritchie, answering the thought experiment because I like thought experiments.

    If the dog is already dead then no further suffering and harm could occur if it were eaten. It could even be fairly nourishing.

    By that logic, I could do the same if my brother were run over by a car tomorrow. I could have his organs donated and then eat what remains.

    But there is a certain ick factor associated with eating either my brother or my dog. This can be viewed through the work of Jon Haidt and his five moral mechanisms: care/harm, fairness, loyalty/ingroup, authority, and purity/sanctity. When we speak on purely rational terms generally the only thing we are concerned with are care/harm and fairness. If you haven’t already read Haidt’s work, (social) conservatives tend to use all five mechanisms of morality, while liberals tend to use mostly the two I mentioned (and that’s why they talk past each other). I can’t defend eating my dog or eating my brother if I only rely on the first two mechanisms of morality.

    If I bring loyalty/ingroup and purity/sanctity into the moral equation, I can to some extent explain why I wouldn’t eat my dog or my brother. I don’t want to be ostracised by my fellow humans (ingroup) and my upbringing (purity) tells me that eating my brother would be disrespectful to his memory. Given our shared history and affection for each other, I couldn’t just treat him like any other item I normally consume.

  • Scotlyn

    Ildi, ha, I knew you for a sister!

    Barnetto:

    But there is a certain ick factor associated with eating either my brother or my dog

    Wasn’t there a recent sociological experiment that examined the “ick factor” (for lack of a better technical term) and how it affected people’s moral judgments? I seem to remember reading this somewhere.

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    Firstly, apologies for referring to you as ‘he’ not ‘she’. How sexist of me. My bad.

    I assumed you realized that I was agreeing with the comments of many posters here; that my opinion that humans have made an evolutionary quantum leap as a species is what makes us different from other animals/plants/bacteria, etc.

    I was not asking what makes us different from other life forms. I was asking for the morally relevant difference between eating animal meat and cannibalism.

    As for the quotes which you seem to think answer the question:

    If you think that eating a plant means no animals died for your food, you’re deluding yourself.

    does not answer my question. It is pointing out that animals die in the process of farming vegetable foods. Which is true, but does not point out a morally relevant distinction between eating animal meat and cannibalism. Why not eat humans and point out that a non-cannibalistic diet would still involve the death of other creatures?

    I have seen animals slaughtered and I have also seen “natural” death and the latter is incredible painful, horrible and completely inhumane.

    again does not answer my question. It is making the point that humane slaughter by humans may often be faster and more painless than a ‘natural’ death. Which again is true, but does not point to a morally relevant distinction between eating meat and cannibalism. Why not kill a person to ‘save’ them from a potential ‘natural’ death?

    I would subscribe to the view that if there is no soul, there is nothing to distinguish us from other animals. But there is one thing that naturally gives us a human-centred outlook, and that is simply that we are human. We are not other animals. Therefore, we cannot guess at how they would like us to treat them, apart from projecting our own desires and fears upon them. I do believe that we owe them, as we owe others of our own species, every possible effort to minimise their real and potential suffering and maximise their real and potential pleasure (see I was listening at other posts) insofar as we can guess what that consists in, and qualified by the knowledge that whatever we decide, it will be a guess. I believe the same goes for insects, plants and bacteria. None of this, in my view, contradicts ethical animal husbandry and meat-eating, if the animals are allowed to live lives that approximate to happy animal lives and their deaths are as quick and as painless as can be arranged

    is pointing out that we cannot know for absolute certain to what extent or even whether animals really suffer. This is a reasonable point, but this overlooks the point that animals do try to avoid pain and death. It would be a very surreal argument that animals don’t mind dying, or don’t really feel suffering. They have central nervous systems and pain receptors, so it is reasonable tto assume they can suffer. What’s more, if the point is that we can’t be CERTAIN that animals suffer, it also needs pointing out that we can’t be certain other people suffer. I can’t get inside anyone else’s head. I can’t feel what they feel. The only being I can be sure feels and suffers is myself. If I ate a person, I could be no more certain whether or not they suffered before death than whether the pig I eat suffered.

    Plants may react more slowly than animals, but they also have ways to fight for their survival and against their destruction. They lack an animal nervous system, but do have a circulation system which includes the circulation of hormone-like signalling chemicals, and they share with animals a physiologically generated DC electrical field, separate to the nervous system, whose biological properties for generating whole body awareness and integrity is currently under study.

    is pointing out that plants react to outside stimuli. However, such reactions do not necessarily imply sentience, which is required to feel suffering. A human body in a coma will still react like a living organism – a cut will clot and scab, for example. So this also is not drawing a distinction between eating animal meat and cannibalism.

    I think we should extend ethical consideration to all things. What I said was if a humanely raised animal has no expectation of life beyond “now”, and it is slaughtered painlessly I do not see it as an un-ethical act.

    This does actually come pretty close to answering my question. The answer being that humans have an ‘expectation of life beyond now’ which should be respected. This is at least a reason to draw a line with humans on one side and animals on the other. But noticce not all humans would be on the ‘human’ side of the line. Babies and severely mentally impaired people might well fit into the ‘animal’ group in that they do not have expectations of life beyond now. And if they can be granted ethical consideration by other people having expectations for them, why can’t we grant expectations to animals?

    Fancy going back to your 3 page list and trying again?

    is just not true, sweetie. You are claiming that no ethical case can be made for eating meat.

    Thanks for telling me what case I am making, sweetheart. I really made no such claim. I have always assumed meat-eaters may have had reasons which were just as ethical for their dietry choices as I do for mine. I was just curious to know what they were.

    Here’s a tip – if you’re going to twist peoples’ words, don’t do it right back at them. They’ll generally know that they’re being misrepresented.

  • Ritchie

    barnetto,

    Cool. I might have to read up on that. Though in my head’s it’s also ringing a bell in relation to The Pig That Wants To Be Eaten – a thought experiment based on a brief but morally fascinating scene from Douglas Adams’ Restaurant At The End Of The Universe.

    I suppose it touches on whether your brother would consider it disrespectful to be eaten, and whether it would even make a moral difference then. Of course, humans have the upper hand in this respect, since they can make us aware of their wishes.

  • ildi

    Well, Ritchie, I think the useful life span of our conversation is coming to an end, don’t you? How about we put it out of its misery and roast it over an open pit?

    Let’s see if we can agree on the following:

    I have objectively thought through why I think it is ethical to kill animals for food (and not humans), my thoughts on this have been enhanced and clarified by comments on this thread, and I have concluded that I am behaving in an ethical fashion by eating meat that is humanely raised and killed.

    You accept in theory that there could be ethical reasons for eating meat and yet not be a cannibal, but none of the arguments presented in this thread have convinced you.

    Conversely, you accept that your reasoning that it is unethical to kill animals because they can enjoy life is not a convincing one for everybody.

  • Ritchie

    ildi,

    Yes, that’s pretty much the size of it.

    If you claim you have arrived at your conclusions objectively, then I supoose I’ll just have to take your word for it, despite your inability to articulate your reasoning. I think I have amply demonstrated that an ethical case for vegetarianism can, in fact, be made, and indeed holds water. I do not expect everyone to agree with my reasoning on the topic, and I hope that is a sentiment you share about yours.

    I too can feel my enthusiasm for this thread losing momentum, so let’s both quit while only thus far behind.

  • Scotlyn

    Ildi/Ritchie,
    I also enjoyed this thread and the participation of you both. No more to add, just now, but thanks and keep on keeping on with the working it out…

  • ildi

    (sigh)

    I suspect you’re a very detail-oriented person, Ritchie, which is why you seem to have a little trouble seeing the forest for the trees. You’re asking very good questions about the trees, you’re just in the wrong forest.

    Ok, here goes. I’m only repeating this exercise because one thing I am never accused of is being inarticulate, and I’m assuming you’re being sincere. BTW, in case you’re thinking you’ve had no impact here, I must say that as a result of these cogitations I really have to reconsider how careless I’ve been lately in evaluating the sources of my meat, eggs and dairy products. (I blame the economy!)

    First of all, the core issue/question I am addressing is this: where do we draw the line between us/them in terms of food supply? You (quite rightly) state that once the arguments of “humans have a soul” and “God gave us dominion over the earth” are taken off the table, a thoughtful, ethical person has to sit down and come up with an answer to this question, and a justification for their answer.

    Ok. We both agree that we gotta eat. In lieu of a soul, you’re drawing the line at us/them at “does the animal have a nervous system?” You’re drawing the line here because having a nervous system indicates the ability to feel pain and pleasure. You extrapolate feeling pain/pleasure as the equivalence of experiencing suffering/enjoyment. I posit that the experiencing suffering/enjoyment assumes a level of self-awareness that feeling pain/pleasure do not.

    I draw the line at the brain rather than the nervous system. Not just the fact of having a brain, but the type of brain we have. We have a developed forebrain unlike any other creature. Our frontal lobes and cerebral cortex are unique. This uniqueness is evidenced by our seemingly unique ability to communicate about, predict and control our environment.

    We can both consider the other’s “bright line” arbitrary. Many of the comments (which I will not repeat) address other places in the hierarchy where this bright line could be drawn. I consider your line to be arbitrary because nervous system complexity varies so much along the continuum from insects to humans. You could say “a nervous system is a nervous system, a brain is a brain.” You prefer to take the conservative approach that since we don’t know to if animals (especially mammals) experience suffering/enjoyment (NOT the same as feeling pain/pleasure) or if they feel it to the same extent as humans, it is more ethical to lump them in the “us” category.

    I think we both agree that it is unethical to raise/kill for food anything that falls in the “us” category. I think you often conflate the answers to “what is the ethical way to treat ‘us’” with “why am I not including animals in the ‘us’?”

    Once you meet the first step of being “us” (in mine and some other commenters’ case “the human species”) you get “us” treatment. You can be a baby, have brain damage, be a color or gender variation, and you have a right not to be murdered by other humans. (Actually, we are very strict with animals about this, too; we just tend give them sentencing without a trial.) You especially won’t be killed for food. Respect for “us” is probably what keeps “us” from eating “us” once we’re dead. Cannibals traditionally ate their enemies, not their young or old or handicapped. Conversely, we often make special exceptions for who gets to be “us” – pets are a good example. I couldn’t kill and eat my dogs because I have elevated them to members of my family. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t eat dog meat. (Urban legend has it that I already have!)

    If something falls into the category of “them”, then there are other ethical decisions to make. This can generally fall under the category of reducing harm. People have discussed the harm caused by mono-crop plantations and factory farming, and the ethics of raising an animal humanely for food. I think this is where the discussion goes to cross-purposes, because you respond to these comments still working under your assumption of animals as “us”, when the points being made have moved to the next step of putting animals under the category of “them”.

    Is that better?

  • Ritchie

    ildi.

    Is that better?

    Frankly, yes. Much better. A rather good summary of our discussion this far, that is both quite perceptive and, dare I say, articulate. You got one or two of my points ever-so slightly off, but (as my Dad would say) close enough for jazz.

    You have also, importantly, directly addressed my question – that the distinguishing characteristic of humans which justifies our special treatment of ourselves (at least in your opinion) is to be found in our developed brains and our ability to perceive and manipulate the world around us. This, though we’re wrapping up, would be a more solid foundation on which we could build a debate – discussing whether the brain or the central nervous system, and thus intelligence or suffering was more relevant for deserving the status as one of ‘us’. But my enthusiasm is winding down, so perhaps that can be left as a discussion for another day.

    I’ll happily admit I think I’ve learned a few things here too. The issue of culling is a good one, for example. If it is necessary to curb the population of certain animals (and a case could certainly be made that it is not, but that isn’t MY case), then I don’t suppose I can class the act of disposing of the bodies by eating them wrong. I don’t consider then morally praiseworthy either – it would hardly be a waste of meat if we did not eat them, as the bodies would inevitably by eaten, decompose and return all their nutrients to the eco-system eventually. But I suppose in this case eating meat would indeed be morally neutral for me.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts. And that goes for everyone I’ve spoken with here.

  • Jerryd

    I would like to recommend a new book on the topic of this post that I think interested people will find informative regarding the topics Rob Schneider discussed: “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer’s approach is original, informative and hard-hitting in ways I’ve not seen before. You will learn a lot reading this book, some very disturbing and some hopeful. It will make you think about the very foundation of your moral perspective, whether you are vegetarian or omnivore, religious or atheist. We can bury our heads in the sand and hope the problems of factory farming disappear. Or we can educate ourselves and try to find rational, effective solutions for the catastrophic problems it causes.

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  • http://peterhelsen.tumblr.com Peter

    I’m getting fed up with calling vegetarism a religion. It’s common sense. I’m a rationalist, agnost, anti-creationist.

    I’m getting fed up with people using false arguments against simple facts, and for the time bein I stick to one.

    1. On this moment, producing meat = spoiling food.

    You can come up with a million little exceptions (like some grounds are only suitable for animals.. ) It’s all the same ‘smoking is not bad because my aunt smokes and is over a 100 years old.

    What I mean is : all those exceptions are probably true, but of such a small scale in comparing what we are doing…

    (other accepted FACT : producing meat is more harmfull than all the transport in the world)

    Please do your homework yourself, or stay comfortably numb, starve some people, and explain your kids later on why you ate meat when all the evidence was out there.

    (yes indeed : because your aunt was 100y old…)

    I liked meat a lot. I wanted to have reasons to keep on eat it, but HELAS I’m rational!

    It’s eating meat that is emotional I’m afraid.

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