Should All Humanists Be Vegan?

I’m not vegan, but I am food non-conforming veg-curious.

peta-600x315That was my tweet from April that caused PETA to reach out to me via Twitter and start an interesting conversation about the struggle I’ve been having with my food choices.

It wasn’t long thereafter, that someone reached out from PETA’s Celebrity Relations division, asking to send me a gift to “help with the journey.”
Would it be a still-beating chicken heart showing me what an asshole I’ve been for the first 37 years of my life? Or is PETA’s reputation misunderstood in the public?

I wanted these questions answered, but I also knew it was time for me to make a change, and either make a conscious decision about what I eat, or have the science to back up why I’m not making changes.

So, on June 12th, the Dogma Debate podcast will feature controversial activist group, PETA. Ben Williamson, the Senior International Media Director for PETA is based near my new studio in Los Angeles. So it only makes sense to have this discussion face to face.

For many of you wondering “Why PETA?” “Why not [insert your personal favorite organization here] who’s much better?!”

My answer? PETA reached out. No others did. I expressed vegan interest on Twitter and didn’t mention a single organization. PETA found me and engaged in respectful dialogue. That’s “why PETA.”

Now let’s move on.

When I posted this on social media, you erupted with claims of PETA being a terrorist organization, and even vegans and vegetarians flocked to my pages to compare them to ISIS. Yes, ISIS.

Claims of PETA “murdering” animals and kidnapping pets flooded my messages. I heard from many of you on vegan vs. vegetarianism, and several fights broke out (shocker), but a lot of you provided scientific evidence either for or against going vegan: to the tune of nearly 700 comments.

For those of you who were productive: I personally thank you. It helped a great deal. And you just may hear your name on the show if your comment is used.

So I’ve taken many of your claims, along with anti-PETA audio clips and videos, and prepared them for PETA directly. With just the two of us in studio, you’ll hear what happens when I play these clips and ask for a response.

In a crazy twist back to humanism, this all started with a private conversation I had in Texas with one of my favorite preachers to debate, Eric Hernandez.

We both attended a live event, and were hanging out afterward, discussing the atheist vs. preacher dynamic. We were talking about some of the tough questions our opposition asks, and he told me about one question that often gets to him—which incidentally, was a question I asked him on one of our encounters…

“How can a Christian be eternally happy in Heaven, knowing people are being tortured in Hell?”

He said he didn’t really have an answer to that, when it hit me. I decided to help him out with one.

I said “You could always say: ‘Humans have a unique way of blocking negativity from our minds, just like we can enjoy a vacation, or the birth of our child, knowing that people are suffering somewhere everyday.’”

And after a brief pause, I continued…

“Just like we can enjoy steak, chicken, and bacon, knowing that many of those animals are tortured, live horrible lives in tight cages, and are slaughtered in painful ways. We put it out of our minds, and go on with our happiness, ordering that #4 from the drive through, and we somehow enjoy it.”

The truth is, if I believed a heaven existed, and someone asked me that question, that’d probably be my answer.

Of course, he joked about me being a great apologist some day, and we laughed it off, but I have no doubt that if you ask him that question today, you’ll get a similar answer. Because it works.

At that moment, I realized I had a dogma that I wanted to attack head on.

I spend many hours per week calling preachers, pastors, conservatives and liberals out on their dogmatic views, and holding my head up high for keeping sanity in the world.

And yet, many nights after the show, I hop on my motorcycle and go eat some animal that I know was poorly treated and had a horrific impact on our environment.

What the hell am I doing? Am I really as logical as I’d like to think? Am I a hypocrite?

I believe I am. And here’s why…

I sold my V8 Pick-Up Truck in Texas, and bought a clean-engine motorcycle and a Prius to reduce my “carbon footprint.” Meanwhile…

According to Cowspiracy and other peer-reviewed fact checkers cited below:

Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation exhaust combined.

Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Methane from livestock is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2, and has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2.

Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.

Emissions for agriculture is projected to increase 80% by 2050.

So by getting a Prius and feeling better about myself, haven’t I just said the atheist equivalent of “I’ll pray for you” to the Earth, and patted my righteous self on the back?

By continuing to frequent fast-food establishments, restaurants, and BBQ joints, or cooking pork chops, ribs, and chicken on the grill at home, I’ve been doing way more harm than driving a V8 could do in a hundred years.

So, I sat out to discover if going vegan truly is the most environmental and ethical way to move forward in my life. And if PETA really is the anti-scientific terrorist organization many of my listeners have claimed they are.

I started my research with evolution.

Did humans evolve eating meat?

PETA says no, paleontologists say yes. On June 12th, you’ll hear me share an article with PETA on the evolution of humans, with evidence showing how meat-eating may have actually been responsible for our ability to obtain speech, and advance even faster.

But does it matter? Even if we did evolve eating meat, does it mean we should continue… especially under the grotesque corporate circumstances in which animals are kept and slaughtered?

Is going strictly vegan the healthiest thing for a human? PETA says yes. And they may be right. But it appears that the data and sample sizes may be too small to confirm that just yet.

Veganism as an ideology has only been around since the early 1980’s, so we don’t really have a lot of life-long subjects to study. There are a handful, but not enough to confirm that veganism is the best way to go.

I’m not sure that a strict vegan diet can supply all the vitamins needed for a healthy lifestyle.

PETA disagrees, and demonstrates this on their website by citing specific examples, including long-living vegan tribes, and even body builders, proving that cow-killing isn’t necessary to build muscle.

In fact, Vegetarianism has been around for over 2,500 years. Say what you want about the beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists, but as strict vegetarians, they’re some of the longest living, and healthiest people in America. Look it up.

While PETA still believes many animals are harmed in the making of vegetarian meals (and recommend that you go full vegan), they do understand that becoming vegetarian causes less harm, and is a step in the right direction.

One thing is for sure. Americans eat way too much red meat. And it’s killing us.

The National Institutes for Health reports…

“A research team led by Dr. Frank Hu of the Harvard School of Public Health studied over 120,000 people, in the largest sample size on record. During this 30+ year study, almost 24,000 participants died, including about 5,900 from cardiovascular disease and about 9,500 from cancer. Those who consumed the highest levels of both unprocessed and processed red meat had the highest risk of all-cause-mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease… The researchers estimated that substituting 1 serving per day of other foods—like fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy and whole grains—for red meat could lower the risk of mortality by 7% to 19%.”

Not to mention, several studies now show that eating red meat has been linked to making many diseases, such as various types of cancer, much worse.

PETA is a very cut and dry-type organization. No meat, period. Dieticians don’t seem to agree on this 100%.

Some say to reduce meat, some say fish proteins are the perfect replacement for red meat, and others actually say a very small amount of red meat now and then can be good for you—even psychologically, citing neurogenesis and brain health as beneficiaries of moderate red meat intake.

But absolutely none of them say we should be eating the 207 pounds per person each year that we did in 2007, according to an NPR report. (Which I recommend you read at the link below for many other interesting facts about meat consumption.)

So what if we raise our own meat, or only buy grass-fed beef, or free-range chicken? Doesn’t that solve the problem?

If making yourself feel better about your morals is the goal, then sure. As long as you’re like me, and stop thinking about it when the meat hits your squeaky cart in the grocery store.

But PETA points out that even if the chicken or cow or pig you’re eating was “ethically raised,” it was more than likely taken to the same big slaughter houses that we see those horrific hidden videos from. Not only is there no way to verify the claims on the packages, but the way animals are slaughtered is just inhumane and unethical.

Most local farmers don’t slaughter their own animals. They take them to major slaughterhouses to do the dirty work.

PETA’s point is: animals are not ours to eat. Period.

Maybe they’re right.

And since you’ve made it this far, before I wrap up, I’m happy to inform you that no, PETA did not send me a still-beating chicken heart. They were very kind, and shared factual information, a wonderful vegan cookbook, a clever t-shirt, and a few more gifts to spark vegan ideas in a veg-curious person like myself.

But I’ll leave you with this…

As a humanist, likely a person who acknowledges the facts of evolution, isn’t it a little hard to walk down the meat isle of the grocery store, and see chunks of bodies you’re related to, wrapped in plastic for you to put in your mouth?

It’s hard for me. And it’s becoming disgusting.

I know my ancestors did it; but they did a lot of things I don’t do today. And I know wild animals do it, but again, we are different in a lot of ways.

Is it time to make a change? Is it time for me to stop being dogmatic about my meat, and listen to the data?

Maybe PETA is on to something.

But with Vegans and Vegetarians having a 70%-84% failure rate (meaning eventually returning to some type of meat-eating) is PETA’s stance too extreme? Are their tactics too overboard?

Or do we all need to stop and listen to what they have to say, and stop having our Heaven while we cause Hell for our animal kin?

I’m still on my journey, and I think I know where I’ve landed… for now.

I’ll announce it on June 12th with PETA in studio on episode #315 of Dogma Debate.

My question for you is, when does your journey of honesty begin?

 

 

Cowspiracy Animal Agriculture Statistics: http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/

National Institutes for Health: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/risk-red-meat

NPR – A Nation of Meat Eaters: How It All Adds Up: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters

PETA: http://www.peta.org

 

About David Smalley