Tuesday, December 30, 2008

a polite and respectful dialogue between omnivores and vegans

Well, one can hope.

The comments section in the "vegan cupcakes are stalking me" post was getting too long, and I think that my self-indulgent use of hyperbole was probably not helping my arguments any, so I'm going to give it all a take 2 here, play nice, and address the arguments that MediaMer put forward. It would be easy to just shrug and say "well, we can agree to disagree" but there's not much else to post about now except how much supermarket produce sucks and how I am counting the hours until I can buy real vegetables again (approximately 12, if they can pick anything tomorrow morning) which frankly isn't that interesting so we might as well tackle this.

First, for Adrienne - I have tasted the vegan cupcakes, they are not good - very bland and sweet - and sugar is WAY worse for you than meat, I'm pretty sure even the most mainstream medical professionals would agree on that.

On to why I don't think veganism is a good idea:

MediaMer wrote: B12: Agreed, this is a vitamin you would need to supplement on a vegan diet. But you know what, docs recommend that we all take a daily multi-vitamin. And since that applies to omnivores and vegans alike, it's hard to use it as a case for eating meat.

Does it not strike you as kind of wrong, in a very fundamental sense, that everyone's diet should be so insufficient for basic health that we need to supplement with pills? To me, that says more that the diets most people eat are deficient, vegan diets a bit more so. That doesn't equate to "so we should all go vegan". What we SHOULD do is look at WHY our diets are deficient. I'm pretty sure that the main reason is the way food is produced - industrial, efficiency-based rather than quality-based agriculture and manufacturing. Our soils have been steadily depleted since industrial agriculture began, stripped of minerals. The plants that grow in those soils, and the animals that eat those plants, are themselves deficient and unable to either take up soil nutrients that aren't there, or create the vitamins and nutrients from those nutrients. Moreover, use of chemical fertilizers instead of compost and manure removes bacteria from the soil that the plants need, and that humans and animals require for our own guts to work at their peak efficiency. More on industrial agriculture, evils thereof, later.

2. Complete protein: How about Quinoa? Buckwheat? Amaranth? Beans & rice? It's naive to assert that you can only find complete protein in animal products.

While it's true that certain grains and legumes can, either on their own or in combination, provide the right ratio of essential amino acids, it's not all about the protein. You have to consider what goes along with the protein, and how those things interact. Let's do a side-by-side comparison of quinoa vs. chicken leg - and bear in mind that the only nutrient data I have to work with is the USDA nutrient database, which is no doubt based on industrially farmed foods, not organic for the quinoa or pastured for the chicken. I think it's safe to assume that mineral content and some vitamin content (for ex. vit E in the quinoa, and A in the chicken) would be higher if that were the case.

1 cup quinoa (185 g) contains: 222 calories, 8 g protein, 3.5 g fat, 39 g carbohydrate of which 5g are fibre and 32g are pure starch. It also contains 31 mg calcium (2% RDA) and 2.76 mg iron (15% female RDA). Vitamin-wise, we're looking at no vitamin C, D, B5, B12 or K; vit B1 (13% RDA), B2 (14%), B3 (3%), B6 (11%), folate (20%), vitA (<1%), vitE (23%).

1 cup chicken leg (140 g) contains: 325 calories, 36g protein, 18 g fat, 0 g carbohydrate. It also contains 17 mg calcium, 1.86 mg iron. Vitamin-wise, we have no vit C; B1(6% RDA), B2(17%), B3(53%), B5 (16%), B6 (35%), folate (2.5%), choline (20%), betaine (7.4 mg, no RDA exists), B12 (18%), A (5%), E (5%), K (7%).

While quinoa has more minerals than the chicken, bear in mind that chickens contain bones that can and should be boiled into broth using a mild acidifying agent to leach calcium. Bone broth has very high levels of calcium. Additionally, the iron in chicken is heme iron, which is a lot more bioavailable than non-heme iron, although the bioavailability of non-heme iron can be enhanced with the ingestion of citrus fruits at the same time, you would still not get the benefit of all the iron in plant sources. Also (and most vegans would know this and take advantage of it) grains contain phytates that block germination until neutralized; they also block mineral absorption in the intestines. In order to neutralize phytates grains need to be soaked in a mildly acidic solution or sprouted, otherwise the minerals in them and any food ingested at the same time are not readily available to the body.

Aside from the minerals, the chicken provides more of everything except starch. Protein-wise, assuming that the average person needs about a gram of protein per kg body weight (give or take, depending on activity level), an average 68 kg person would have fulfilled more than half their entire day's requirement for protein with that one cup of chicken, plus they'd be much further ahead in most of the vitamins. The person eating the quinoa would still need an additional 60 g of protein - more than 7 cups of quinoa.

And what about that starch? Humans don't really need it. Back in the good old days when we were all hunter-gatherers, we didn't get a lot of starch in our diets. We were lean, and by most estimations far healthier than we are today. Of course, we didn't have fun antibiotics and life was a good deal more hazardous, but by all acounts hunter-gatherers had it good, health-wise. The addition of a large proportion of starch in our diets resulted in more body fat, but not better health. Unfortunately that resulted in a lot more people, generally, which kind of got us stuck with agriculture. And wealth disparity, and all sorts of other crap. But that's a whole 'nother topic.

Meats are the most nutrient-dense way of getting protein and fat. If you rely on grain or legume sources for protein, you will get a lot of surplus starch and not quite enough vitamins (and possibly minerals, although this is more likely a problem with depleted soil and not inherent to grains and legumes.) Eating meat leaves more room for vegetables, and all their myriad and lovely healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Also I would like to point out that most omnivores eat WAAAAYYY too much meat. A couple eggs and a small serving of meat is plenty per day. You do not need bacon and eggs for breakfast, a ham sandwich for lunch and a 12 oz steak for dinner. If you eat enough meat-based protein, but not too much, and fill the rest of your daily food needs with vegetables and fruits, you are rockin', health-wise.

Saturated fat: Major medical organizations (CDC, AHA, WHO, for starters) have repeatedly shown that consumption of saturated fats can contribute to prostate and breast cancers, dangerous cholesterol levels, and increased risks of cardiovascular disease and stroke. I'm not quoting the Wisalla Times; we're talking Harvard University studies. We should all be reducing our intake of these types of fats. Yes, vegan sources stem from tropical oils. But the carbon footprint of supplying coconut oil in the quantise that folks would healthily be consuming is FAR less than the environmental impact of factory farming.

And I'm not talking about factory farming. Couldn't agree with you more, factory farming is bad bad bad AND evil. Also, those highly esteemed Harvard University studies are based on - yup - factory-farmed meat. Which, in addition to being bad for the environment, is also bad for YOU. The omega 3:6 ratio of factory-farmed beef is completely off (something like 1:10 instead of 1:2) and the sheer amount of saturated fat in factory-farmed beef is just way overboard. Also, consider that fats concentrate environmental toxins and hormones and whatnot, and it's easy to see how the fats of animals that are pumped full of crap are not a healthy thing to consume. That having been said, I know of NO studies that look at saturated fat consumption while also controlling for not only carbohydrate intake but also individual tolerance for carbohydrates, which varies considerably, and the whole cholesterol thing is a big bag of modern-medicine-mighta-messed-it-up-ness.

When you spoke of "running screaming from the problems of animal welfare," were you categorizing my efforts or just expressing your frustration with the vegan community as a whole? I fail to see how discussing the merits of a vegan lifestyle is equated with running for the hills. If I eschew animal products in support of my beliefs of animal rights that makes me ignorant? If I engage in a discussion on your opposing beliefs that's sticking my head in the sand? Surely, you can't be suggesting that the only way to support animal welfare is by eating them!

I was more frustrated with the vegan community as a whole. And, perhaps I am misunderstanding, but I am under the impression that vegans are opposed to animal husbandry altogether. If the vegan community were to prevail in this, thousands of species, subspecies and breeds would disappear - and there is a growing understanding among many ethical philosophers that while individual interests apply to animals, species and population interests may also apply too, and to make it worse, these are species and breeds that WE created. It's just not right to let them fade out of existence because we changed our morality. But basically, what I object to is the notion that a life that ends with getting eaten by a human is not worth living, and that it's wrong to create it in the first place.

I know there are vegans who believe we are not, biologically, omnivores, and if you believe that then there's no amount of science and logic that will sway you so you might as well bail out now. But if you accept that we ARE omnivores, and veganism is an ethical choice, then why? I don't think anyone is going to argue that a bear is acting unethically by munching on baby deer. By our standards, their slaughter methods are frequently cruel, but they have to eat. They have a right, by virtue of their biology, to eat other animals. Why wouldn't humans? Are we so different? We have empathy, to be sure - but we also have the capacity to provide quick and pain-free deaths and lives free of suffering. To be honest, I think the queasiness that vegans - actually, most Westerners - feel in saying "I have the right to take life and eat it" stems from a notion that unlike the rest of God's creation, we are not only imperfect, and outside of nature, but deservedly so. Unlike the innocent and perfect bear, we know too much of mortality to cause it without inflicting irreparable harm on our souls, and since we can demonstrably live without eating meat, we SHOULD.

It's a nice, easy solution. We feel sorry for the animals, we don't think we have a right to kill them by virtue of our own fear of death, so we stop eating them. There are only 2 problems with that. First, when we stop eating them (or using their wool or eggs) there ceases to be a reason for their existence, and I still maintain that existence is preferable to nonexistance. Secondly, there is ample evidence that *we* suffer without meat, health-wise. Too much starch, too few nutrients.

There's also something about veganism that strikes me as just wrong on a deeper level. I think it's the notion that it's better to remove ourselves completely from our 'natural' place in the food chain than it is to repair our relationship with that food chain. Of course, our place hasn't been natural for 10,000 years. During that time we've been taking our natural habitat and transforming it into agricultural land, farming it intensively, and trading health for reproductive ability (higher body fat % due to starch intake = less space between babies). We've outgrown the capacity of the planet to support us in our natural habitat. But going to an all-plant diet is not going to fix that, and especially not if we take animals out of the equation entirely, because sustainable intensive agriculture isn't possible without the fertilizer that they can provide. Moreover, there is SO much land that's grazeable but not arable. Rotational grazing leaves grassland healthier than no grazing, and can even restore badly eroded areas. And, it can be a sustainable source of protein, from an area that left alone would be barren. We don't HAVE to be a destructive force. I think one of the saddest legacies of industrialization is that there are now several generations of humans who have a deep-seated belief that they are, no matter what they do, a heavy burden on the earth.

Furthermore, how to you define welfare? The state of well-being, happiness, contentment? Killing a living being does not make great strides in fostering these qualities of life. You suggest that raising animals humanely is "far from the worst fate an organism can expect." But how is killing humane? [...]It's illogical to suggest that my actions would represent great morality - simply because there are worse things I could have done, like locked her up in a cage the entire time she was alive. But that's exactly what you're suggesting. Because we give cows fresh air, it's represents model ethical behavior to then slaughter them? What?You assertion that "not existing would be considerably worse" is bizarre. I'm not doing a chicken a favour by letting it roam around in a field and then slaughtering it. That doesn't make me a humanitarian. I'm not saving it from the fate of non-existence. I'm killing it. Again, you're not saving an animal by killing it. You're killing an animal by killing it.

It's not about death, it's about life. Death follows life. Nothing follows nothing. If you knew that you were going to die, say in an automobile accident, when you were 40, would you prefer just not to go through the bother of living? If you were 20? 10? Life is always worth it, no matter how it ends, and death is pretty darned inevitable, whether you're a cow or a human. But those two years or so of living contentedly munching up grass, hanging out with your cow friends, they have meaning, in the grand scheme of things. Just because it ends doesn't mean it isn't worth it. Even Peter Singer, when interviewed by Michael Pollan, admitted that it may well be preferable for domestic animals to live their happy little lives and be eaten than not exist at all. Peter Singer! What more do you want???? Oh, no death, right. Um, good luck with that.

Maybe it would be helpful if you stopped looking at the world as linear, and changed your view to be more circular. Every living thing on the planet absolutely DEPENDS on death. Death is not this huge, evil, dark force, it's part of being. Life morphs into death morphs into life. We're the only species that gets all worked up about it. I'm not advocating a *casual* attitude towards death, mind you - but a respectful, grateful, unfearful one.

And you can wax poetic about the millenia-old tradition of killing as long as you like, but at the end of the day it doesn't make you Mother Theresa - it makes you suited for a career in marketing. Slavery is an ancient institution, too. Let's bring that back! Oh, and miscegenation! And let's not forget women's suffrage. They couldn't vote until 1920 in the States, right? So the wisdom of precedence *must* indicate that our old ways of thinking were clearly superior and morally correct.

It wasn't so much the wisdom of precedence as much as the "we made this bed and we should lie in it." Interestingly, all the other examples of practices you cite have to do with human-human interactions. (I'm assuming, too that you meant anti-miscegenation... because I have quite happily indulged in miscegenation. The result is very cute, and totally legal, I assure you.)

What I'm talking about is human-animal interactions. These are fundamentally different; to suggest otherwise is anthropomorphism. We have a responsibility to these animals that we created; it's a completely different problem. You can't discredit an argument of ongoing responsibility simply by bringing up past injustices that are completely unrelated. That's like going to your bank and saying that they should forgive your loan because some Swiss bank with the same parent company took deposits from the Nazis.

Look, I appreciate the fact that you condone eating locally grown meat in moderate amounts. While I disagree, I can see your point of view from an environmental and health standpoint. Yet, it's a system that's lacks the scalability required to feed the current population of our planet. You can't feed 6.6 BILLION people by raising chickens and cows in your backyard. While that model of animal agriculture may have supported the small towns of our past, and may keep a business like Polyface Farms alive, it's killing the planet of our future. The water and land requirements of growing enough grain to feed animals will always outweigh the resources required to just grow grains and vegetables.

So, you must have missed the part about Polyface Farms where it's producing more food per acre - by weight - than the most efficient industrial monocropping, be it grains or vegetables. And, a good portion of that food is healthy protein and fat, which reduces the overall amount of food that people need. It's very management-intensive, and requires a lot of skill, something we've been carefully breeding out of farmers. But it IS scalable, just not in the way you've been conditioned to think. There wouldn't be vast Polyface farms covering the land, there would be vast NUMBERS of Polyface farms. It would be more expensive, and it would take a LOT more manpower. (On the other side of things, we can call that "employment".) But, it would also take less fuel, produce more healthful food, and preserve instead of eroding our soil. (Polyface doesn't produce just meat, it produces loads of veg too.) With the political will (which frankly I'm not optimistic about) it could certainly be done.

And, most importantly, ANIMALS SHOULD NOT EAT GRAINS. Except chickens, and then not nearly as much as are typically stuffed into the poor things. The Polyface animals eat hardly any grain, they eat grass. Again, you're confusing the argument against meat with the argument against factory farming. NOT the same thing.

In the end, I don't believe that 6 billion people can be fed for very much longer on grains and vegetables, the way we're doing it. It takes vast inputs of chemical fertilizers, and that style of agriculture just can't last. The Polyface style - starting with grass, and animals, and their manure - IS sustainable, for most of our current farmland. In other areas, different things will work. Urban agriculture. We have a small lot, but we could easily raise chickens enough for much of our meat and egg needs (our landlords used to get most of their eggs from a mere 5 chickens in the back yard, which could support more.) Goats, in managed grazing on marginal land. Reindeer ranching in the far north. Small self-sufficient holdings instead of cash crops. How much land is wasted on corn production? Tobacco? But however you look at it, small-scale agriculture is the only way to sustainable feed the planet, and small-scale agriculture NEEDS animals in some way.

I am tired, this post is too long, and if you made it this far, you're a champ, vegan or no. And I'm sure, too, that neither of us is trotting out anything NEW in the argument and we're both bashing our heads against some proverbial brick walls. But that's what the internet is for, right?


Blogger Susan said...

I'm not sure who MediaMer is, but I give her full props for holding onto her beliefs etc. I just happen to take the omnivore's view on things. I'm not nearly as virtuous as Sarah when it comes to sourcing my food, but I do know this: my body just works better when it's had meat. It needs the concentrated source of protein and minerals to keep up with what I do to it (nurse a toddler, run a small business, and maintain a high level of athletic exercise).

My level of caloric output for sports is probably nowhere near as demanding as that of an early hunter-gatherer woman, so I fail to see how you can possibly suggest that the human body is biologically designed to exist without meat. The way we source our food nowadays is the problem, not the intake of meat itself. And if I had more time and better intentions, I'd definitely be following in Sarah's footsteps and trying to get local, sustainably-produced meats. In the meantime, I just offer my moral support.

11:06 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

After thinking about this thread for 24 hours or so, I've come to another realization:

Veganism and vegetarians employ two different threads of logic to make their point: science and ethics. When one fails (e.g. somebody points out the nutritional deficiencies of a vegan diet) they turn to ethics to make the omnivores feel guilty. The problem with vegan ethics is that it anthropomorphizes animals. It's nice to treat animals well, but it's not the same as being a humanitarian. As Sarah said in her post, we don't look down upon the bears when they gobble up fresh tasty flesh, we consider it part of their diet and we bemoan them coming after our garbage. So how come vegans get all antsy when I want to eat what's right for me, nutritionally speaking?

Vegans are guilty of conveniently forgetting the fact that whether they like it or not, they ARE part of a food chain, relatively near the top. We didn't get to the place as a society where people have the luxury of eating specialized diets by eating specialized diets: we got there by eating whatever was nearby and good for our bodies. And in most places, that means eating meat.

And then there's the problem with vegan science or statistics. I love that study that says vegans are such-and-such less percent less likely to die of heart disease. Know what that means? It means that of the past 20 years, there have been such-and-such fewer vegans who died of heart disease than non-vegans. But considering veganism has only recently become a mainstream choice, the sample is skewed. There are just fewer vegans. It's not like veganism is something that gets counted on a census, so how do they know how many % of vegans will die of heart disease in order to compare it to the regular population? You can't. Those studies are bunk.

I hope I'm not going to insult our vegan visitors here, but I'd like to just ask how come I rarely see vegans in elite sport? Or doing heavy lifting? Veganism is a lifestyle choice of the sedentary. How many farmers or back-country dwellers are vegans? A heckofalot fewer, I'm guessing... because those lifestyles which require the maintenance of strong muscles and bones are going to be eating meat, because that's what their bodies need. If you want to be an athlete or strong worker, you need to either eat meat, or eat supplements - which are a huge factory industry all on their own which makes me shudder.

5:27 PM  
Blogger MediaMer said...

Well, at least we can agree that supermarket produce sucks. So we've got that going for us in the fight for civility. And, since we are championing all that is well-mannered, I must say that while I couldn't disagree more with your moral and logical constructs - it's been enjoyable to hear a thoughtful response on the issues.

Alas, back to the disagreement:

"You can't discredit an argument of ongoing responsibility simply by bringing up past injustices that are completely unrelated. That's like going to your bank and saying that they should forgive your loan because some Swiss bank with the same parent company took deposits from the Nazis."

I agree, the bank teller would give me a funny stare, indeed. But that's a crappy, inaccurate simile (I'm sorry - you're clearly smart, so I don't mean that feedback to be inflammatory). To be clear, I'm discrediting the argument that our past involvement in the domestication and slaughter of animals should be continued AND viewed as morally and ethically sound based on the fact that we've carried on this way for centuries. I'm discrediting the argument that two wrongs make a right. I'm disagreeing with your assertion that it's wrong to change course just because 'that's the way we've always done it.'

"I don't think anyone is going to argue that a bear is acting unethically by munching on baby deer. By our standards, their slaughter methods are frequently cruel, but they have to eat. They have a right, by virtue of their biology, to eat other animals."

Animals in the wild also kill within the same species. "Why wouldn't humans?" Because we've established a moral code that prohibits murdering other humans. "Are we so different?" YES.

Yes, we're different. Human civilizations come equipped with different, agreed upon, moral, civil and ethical rules. Surely, we don't use 'animal instincts' as license to hump each other in public or pee on the sidewalk. I think it's moral schizophrenia to say we shouldn't kill other humans, or our pets, but it's OK to kill a cow, chicken, or pig (even when there are other food sources available). I think it's inconsistent and suspiciously convenient for those that wish to economically benefit from animal production. Gary Francione (a legal scholar and professor at Rutgers) put it best: "We attempt to justify our exploitation of animals by resting on our supposed 'superiority.' And when our supposed 'superiority' gets in the way of what we want to do, we suddenly portray ourselves as nothing more than another species of wild animal, as entitled as foxes to eat chickens."

But, if you wanted to FORCE a comparison, let's not fail to recognize that some animals are vegetarian. Some can exist without eating meat - and humans are one of them. While I recognize that the point is up for debate, I'm sure you don't need me to list off happy, healthy celebrities who eschew animal products.

[As an aside, Susan: Seriously? You believe the world's major medical organizations have published false statistical results on the health benefits of vegetarian and vegan diets? You suggest the outcomes of all these studies are fundamentally skewed because there are fewer vegetarians/vegans in the world? Please know mathematicians can run valid statistical tests using 'sample' groups. I've double checked with the Stat PhD who raised me - sadly, an omnivore, but I trust her math knowledge, nonetheless.

Still, I think we'd all agree that there are fewer vegetarians/vegans in the world. Which is precisely why you'd find fewer of them in the already limited subset of Olympic athletes. If you're concerned that it can't be done because of nutritional deficiencies, maybe Carl Lewis would be a good biography to start with. Back to the discussion at hand...]

"Even Peter Singer, when interviewed by Michael Pollan, admitted that it may well be preferable for domestic animals to live their happy little lives and be eaten than not exist at all. Peter Singer! What more do you want???? Oh, no death, right. Um, good luck with that."

I could ask for *much* more then Peter Singer's support in the fight for animal welfare. He's a highly controversial figure, and not a spokesman (certainly not one I've elected) for the vegan movement. I'd encourage you read a few critiques of his work. His arguments as to who qualifies as a "person" present a scary slippery slope that, perhaps, only proponents of eugenics would be quick to embrace.

Far more importantly though, there's a fundamental flaw in your understanding of my comments: I, by no means, have argued against death. I agree that the bulk of humanity could benefit from taking a circular, rather then linear, view of the world around us. Death is so universal, admittedly unavoidable, and I applaud your sentiments that we look towards that part of life with respect, gratitude, and courage. But - we're not talking about death. We're talking about killing. And there's a WORLD of difference between those two words.

"But basically, what I object to is the notion that a life that ends with getting eaten by a human is not worth living, and that it's wrong to create it in the first place."

I object to killing. I oppose needlessly taking the life of another sentient being. I believe my karma will show me the affects of my own actions in due time, and that the payback associated with slaughter is something I wish to avoid (Buddhism! The ultimate in circular thinking!). But by no means am I suggesting that the life of an animal is less worthy because I chose not to kill it. I'm not devaluing the life of an animal by saying "pass the vegetables." If, in the end, that means less cows and chickens are born that's OK with me. I'm surprised to hear you internalize that as a form of animal cruelty.

I also believe that we should all strive to adopt pets from shelters rather than buy them from breeders and puppy mills. And while that does mean that less dogs and cats will be born and that maybe future generations won't get to experience pure bred Golden Retrievers, it's not a puppy holocaust. I think the rights of the pound puppies who are alive and suffering TODAY take precedence over the lives of future pure bred Bichon Frises who HAVE YET TO BE BORN.

The same concept holds true for my belief of animal rights. The desire to see cows saved from slaughter TODAY outweighs my compassion for the yet to be born cows of the FUTURE. Your argument seems to switch that emphasis by valuing lives that haven't even come into existence (future herds of cattle, for instance) *over* the lives of chickens who are being slaughtered in the here and now.

I disagree with the notion that we can provide "a pain-free death" for animals that we slaughter, and I fundamentally object to the idea that because we can kill a cow quickly with relatively little fuss on the animal's part it gives us a license to breed, enslave, and kill other sentient beings by the millions. If you want to support sunny, happy herds and then use their remains once they pass from natural causes (or unfortunately die in tractor accidents in their 40's) then we can talk. But, in my reality there's a BIG difference between those two scenarios. (And I'm not saying I support the latter - but I think the comparison is illustrative, nonetheless).

All this being said, my biggest objection to omnivores is actually the one area in which we seem to agree (go figure!): people today are not well enough aware nor thoughtful as to where their food comes from. If the world had glass slaughterhouses I think we'd have FAR more vegans. And of course, nothing would please me more. But, I'd respect the educated omnivores that would remain. Clearly, you'd be in the second group. Thanks for taking the time to explain your point of view.


9:46 AM  
Blogger spughy said...

I'm going to try to keep this short (ha ha!) and constrained to the 20 minutes I have before I have to cook the wings of happy pastured chickens that are marinating in my fridge.

First - I'm sorry, I didn't realize you were Buddhist, MediaMer, and I fully acknowledge that there are more considerations than health as far as what you eat is concerned. If you believe that taking lives imperils your own soul, then of course you shouldn't.

That, for me, is about the only valid argument for being vegan, and frankly doesn't cover the egg thing. (We have chickens in our back yard that wander around dropping eggs all over the place. I really don't get why vegans don't eat unfertilized eggs. Perfectly good source of protein, chickens have zero attachment to them, they are just one big cell that's not ever going to grow into anything except stinky. Please, if you can explain that one, I'd be grateful.)

Anyway, on the bears vs. humans thing. You said that bears kill other bears, which is true - but they very rarely EAT them afterwards. (Same for most other species; there are few real cannibals.) So bear killing bear is certainly analagous to our murder, and we have a different way, as a species, of dealing with that. But killing for food is different, bears have the right to kill because they require meat to survive. (Although, technically, they don't. A bear can live on a vegetarian diet too. It's not particularly healthy for them, but they can do it.) Let's just say, they require meat for optimum health, and they have every right to optimum health. So, why don't we?

I won't dispute that you CAN live without animal products. Where we seem to disagree is that you can be perfectly healthy without them. I don't think you can. I think we need a certain degree of nutrient density in our food that you just can't get wholly from plant sources.

The killing thing IS ethically problematic, to be sure, and to be completely honest I think more omnivores SHOULD really delve into the ethics of it more deeply. Glass slaughterhouses, as you say, would certainly make for more vegetarians. But ethical squeamishness about killing doesn't make the need for it go away. (Interestingly, if you read the book "The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved" which I highly recommend, there is a section in there about vegans who had exactly this dilemma - health vs. ethics - which they solved by eating roadkill.)

Personally, I am ok with killing humanely. I've done it, I've looked animals in they eye as I have taken their lives, and I KNOW that there is virtually no pain associated with a swiftly severed jugular for a chicken, or a bullet to the head for a larger animal. There's no drama, there's no accusing stare, it's just one minute alive, the next second, not. I don't believe in an afterlife or karma, so I'm afraid I can't take those arguments seriously. What I do know is that all our lives are connected to and supported by deaths of all kinds, and I see no real ethical difference in benefiting from death vs. causing it.

Actually, as I've said before on the blog, I think that if you couldn't - like, really couldn't - kill an animal, you shouldn't eat meat. And... I'm out of time.

5:54 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

I'm sure there are some elite athletes out there who are vegans. No argument. However, being vegan or vegetarian presents specific, known difficulties in getting sufficient nutrients to build the muscle and bone structure required for high performance in sport or work. I think this illustrates the fact that "optimal health" is not just about not dying from heart disease, but about achieving a desired level of physical condition and function. What each person desires is an individual choice, but I would argue that most elite athletes prefer to eat meat as part of their diet in pursuit of optimal health. And I think that sets a big example for non-elites.

And yes, I think that plenty of universities, world health organizations and government-funded studies come out with highly skewed statistical results. It all depends on the personal agendas of the researchers - you can interpret research and survey results pretty darn broadly. For every research study that upholds your personal hobbyhorse, you can easily find another equally well-structured research study that contradicts it. I think the tobacco industry has clearly demonstrated that, much to my disgust. It's got nothing to do with math knowledge and everything to do with the art of persuasion, sadly.

There are plenty of sticky issues to consider in MediaMer's response. Whether animals are sentient beings is one such issue. If I wish to eat meat and claim that animals are sentient and therefore killing them is not a moral outrage, then I can't justifiably turn around and treat my cat as a member of my family... or can I? And does that mean I should have to be okay with eating cat meat, or more particularly my own cat's dead flesh? That's an argument that OTHER vegans have made to me at one time.

Quite frankly, the answer is that I don't believe animals are sentient beings in the same way humans are. And if I thought that cat flesh would be tasty and nutritious, then yes - I would eat my dead cat. Lucky for me (but not them) I happen to have friends who have tasted cat meat while travelling and they have assured me it is decidedly UNtasty to a North American palate, so I will refrain from that experience, just like I have no desire to taste durian fruit.

Perhaps what it comes down to is two simple fundamental differences: A) whether or not animals are sentient beings, and B) if they are sentient, is it still wrong to kill and eat them?

I'm not sure either of those questions have definitive answers.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Anna said...

OK OK I can't resist any longer. I've enjoyed the banter from my office chair long enough. Simply put, I like meat, I eat meat, and I will continue to eat meat, no matter what sort of arguments vegans throw at me, because I like meat and it makes me feel good - especially when it's been -35 here in the Yukon for about a month now.
I don't believe in karma or that by killing animals - wild or domestic - I am doing wrong. These are my beliefs. The neat thing about beliefs is that you believe them, you don't prove them, and you are okay with that, because they are your beliefs. It becomes not okay when you try to force or coerce someone else into adopting your beliefs. I prefer to live the way I do, and if someone wants to eat quinoa while I tackle a pork chop, that is their choice.
As MediaMer brought up Bhuddism, I can only comment that your interpretation of Buddhism is a belief you have a right to, and I have a right to mine.
There's no right or wrong to this argument. Food has become such a hot-button issue that crosses lines into religion and politics, which is ironic, given that at the tables of my ancestors, discussions of religion or politics would have been forbidden at the table.
But as with my beliefs I hold about religion, and to some extent politics, I'm not changing my mind no matter whether you base your argument on science or ethics. I simply disagree. I will keep eating meat. In fact, I have a lovely, free range, local chicken waiting for me in the oven at home, complimented by some local potatoes from my cold cellar, and local kale from my freezer. And, to get political for a minute, living (as I do) north of 60, where it took a serious amount of energy for me to produce a crop of quinoa that yielded a whole cup (yep - one cup) of edible product this past summer, I'm betting that in the grand scheme of things, the world is better off with me eating the chicken, moose, turkey, goat and pig that I have tucked away for winter - all from within 200 miles of my house - than it would be if I scurried down to the supermarket and hauled home sacks of quinoa and various other grains grown on the backs of some hungry labourers in some underdeveloped nation, and then flown the 10,000 odd miles to get to my happy home. It defies logic (and sustainable, local eating principles) to ship grainy things to my home, when I can hunt and obtain meaty (and potato-like) things locally.
And, at the end of the day, I bet I know more about my food (meat or veg) than most vegans do.

5:08 PM  
Blogger spughy said...

Yay Anna! That was awesome.

I can't believe you only got a cup of quinoa out of your patch. I guess we have no real idea of the scale of grain farming. Was it tasty though?

8:44 AM  
Blogger MediaMer said...

Spughy, Sue, Anna - Though I'm too tired to craft a substantive response, I had to say a big thanks for the fun in reading your comments. Even though we'd clearly be eating different dishes, I feel like we *could* all sit down at the same table together :-)

Many thanks for your honest thoughts.

5:39 PM  
Blogger spughy said...

Wow an internet debate that started snarky and turned civil... probably a first. We should all get a reward.

MediaMer, you'd be welcome at my table :) I'd even make you vegan food. I make an awesome curried squash and coconut soup.

Next week I'm in Whitehorse and I'm reading Raj Patel's book "Stuffed and Starved" at the moment so I feel a post on the priviledge of food choices coming on...

2:15 PM  
Blogger JC said...

wow, awesome thread! yes, I read the whole thing..
love meat too.....
I read it because I don't really get the vegan thing.
I was close to vegetarian for about 15 years and I tell you, since I started eating meat my hormones have been happy. I feel so good all the time whereas before I felt normal but I didn't get a rush from food. And I've noticed this from a lot of real food eaters, we get a rush from food!
Food is exciting for us I think because not only does it taste good but it is also providing us with the fat we need to keep those hormones going.
I call it the "steak high", which I swear I get every time I eat a steak and to a lesser degree at many other meals.
For that alone, I can never give up meat.

8:46 AM  

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