I posted an old essay of mine the other day with this preface:
I wrote this years back and have not looked at it since. A few week ago, I was approached by “Philosophical Vegan” (PV) who told me that when you search for veganism an philosophy on Google, my essay is one of the first search results. That’s pretty cool, unless, of course, the essay has problems. PV seems to think it has many, and that it may. You see, it was written pretty hastily and a long time ago, and I may well have refined my views since writing it. It was more of a psychological reaction to what I perceived was a pretty psychological position. Anyway, what I want to do is post my original article, with those caveats, and then post PV’s rebuttal to it, before writing a rejoinder to sum it all up.
I think this sort of thing is important. Doing philosophy, for me at least, is rather like the scientific method: you put your views out there to be challenged and attacked, and in so doing find out whether they are lacking. If they are, you adapt them accordingly. As time goes by, your views become more refined and more robust.
You can also discuss with him at his website. The first part to his response was posted yesterday and can be found here. Here is the second part to his response (I will post the third and final part tomorrow):
Which brings me to my next point:
1.C. Human Utility
Since publishing this article, hopefully it has become more apparent that animal products do not benefit humanity in the broader way you originally suggested.
It’s long been known that the saturated fats in land-animal meat and dairy promote heart disease.
Despite the best efforts of cholesterol skeptics and conspiracy theorists, this is and remains the scientific, governmental, and NGO consensus:
Skinless chicken is only recommended as a replacement for other meat (they don’t necessarily advise people to eat it), and only in limited amounts (whereas nobody credible says to limit your bean intake). Chicken is arguably a “lesser evil” in nutritional terms, but it still contains saturated fat.
Fish is different in that there are recommendations for moderate intake (twice a week) for the general population (although not for vegetarians), because it contains a more polyunsaturated fat profile, along with EPA and DHA which may reduce risk of heart disease.
So fish is an exception, being a meat that stands out as potentially having some meaningful utility.
Vegans can get omega 3 from nuts and seeds, and also get DHA/EPA from supplements made from algae, the original source where the fish got it to begin with (although evidence on the benefit of DHA/EPA is mixed, and it may not be useful for most people).
More recently, the World Health Organization came out with their report of the cancer risks of red and processed meat, with the certainty of processed meat being causative comparable to the confidence level in cigarettes.
http://www.who.int/features/qa/cancer-red-meat/en/ (WHO clarifies the number of cancers likely caused by red and processed meat. To put it in perspective here, it’s over 14% the prevalence of cancer caused by smoking: 85k vs 600k a year, respectively)
Chicken (not yet studied by WHO) and Fish are lesser evils for cancer risk, but may not be far behind as we establish better controls in epidemiological studies. These meats also contain high levels of problematic substances (like Methionine and Heme Iron, which seem to feed cancer and be directly carcinogenic respectively), along with substances metabolized by gut microbes in regular meat eaters that are pro-inflammatory and associated with heart disease and possibly elevated cancer risk as well, like TMAO — the mechanism of action is there.
And it gets worse if you cook the meat in a conventionally ‘delicious’ way. Grilling or frying at high temperatures inevitably produces HCAs in extremely high quantities (quantities which only occur in meat) by chemical reactions occurring with creatine, and grilling adds PCAs into the mix too — both known mutagens that damage DNA and can almost certainly cause cancer.
Apparently the Japanese had the right idea in eating raw, or low temperature pasteurized fish. However, even that is not ideal due to the factors I mentioned above, as well as environmental contaminants like heavy metals and marine toxins.
When it comes to nutrition, eating animals is unnecessary, and that’s scientific consensus:
“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”
The bottom line is that we do not need meat to meet our nutritional needs, and with the possible exception of a limited amount fish, it’s just increasing health risk without any benefit over plant foods.
But do we need it for food security? No. There are undeveloped countries that for lack of other industries and modern agriculture need animal agriculture and fishery right now (like herding nomads, and many coastal regions throughout Africa). I don’t dispute that. However, in the developed world we have plenty of other food to eat available year-round.
Our process of making animal products is nothing short of wasteful and destructive, with feeding several times the amount of food to animals than would be needed to feed humans directly, using antibiotics in large amounts creating antibiotic resistant “superbugs”, and as you already mentioned immense waste of water resources. Fishing is a little different, but it has its own problems, too.
For the sake of our food security into the future we have to stop eating meat. The developing world will take some time (and need some help) to catch up, but we can’t use their situation as an excuse to continue behavior that is totally unnecessary for us when we have the resources not to.
In no sense do we, as inhabitants of the first world, need or benefit from animal products in our diets, or on our bodies. There are some good arguments to be made for the utility of animal testing for life saving medical treatments (that’s another discussion), but that’s already an exemption widely held by vegans: when it comes to necessity and human life, it is no longer “possible and practicable” to avoid animal products.
Taste and convenience, I’m sure you know, are not really utilities of eating meat on a social scale, because as society adopts and embraces more vegan foods, both are naturally accommodated (which we’re already seeing: look at Ben and Jerry’s new non-dairy Ice cream line, Beyond Meat, Gardein, even store brands of vegan options). There is nothing inherently in meat that makes it any more delicious to human beings than something a talented chef can prepare from vegan means. The issue is one of a short lived transitional inconvenience: people who go vegan do not typically crave meat all of their lives, but stop wanting it or even usually become averse to it in short order, much like an ex-smoker.