* We linked this post at Real Food Wednesday at Kelly the Kitchen Kop and Simple Lives Thursday at GNOWFGLINS and Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade *
This is a special post where I (Dude1) have the special privilege to interview Erik (Dude2) regarding a hot button topic. Hopefully, you find it interesting and please feel free to voice your own opinion in the comments section. Today's topic is the controversial subject of meat eating vs. vegetarianism.
Dude1: So let's talk meat. I know you have something on your mind that occasionally comes up and tends to drive you a little crazy.
Dude2: I read a rant last night about how people shouldn't eat meat and it got me thinking about what exactly is wrong with their argument.
Dude1: What was the reasoning of this particular person for why nobody should be eating meat?
Dude2: Their argument had two key points. First, they say that people don't eat other people, so why is eating other animals any different? Second, they say that meat animals are bad for the environment. I think that's pretty representative of most of these debates. Sometimes they throw in a nutritional angle, but that's easy to shut down if you specify humanely raised grass-fed meat.
Dude1: I don't understand the people don't eat other people argument. Obviously, nature doesn't work like that. Funny how lions don't eat other lions.
Dude2: Yeah, the first argument is a red herring. They are trying to cast the issue as one of superiority and "speciesism" (discrimination based on species...), when the truth of the matter is that it's an issue of ecological natural order. Some animals eat meat, and humans are in that group. It has nothing to do with some kind of power trip, it has to do with biology, nutrition, and digestive systems. Conflating that with the moral issues of human society is simply a distraction. Another issue I have with this argument is that it's trying to make an absolute moral distinction where there is none to be made. If breeding, killing and eating animals for sustenance is immoral, why does the same rule not apply to fruits, vegetables, fungi, and microbes? When you start talking at an ecosystem level, it is difficult to distinguish so-called "sentient" life from these other life forms -- their interrelationships are so complex that they develop a form of intelligence all their own, and it is certainly disrupted by tilling it under to grow domestic veggies.
As for the environmental part of the argument, this is a little more nuanced. I have to agree with them that the vast majority of meat animals currently being raised in industrial society have enormous bad impact on the environment. The grain that is raised to feed them, the antibiotic resistant pathogens that result from constant drugging, the air, soil, and water pollution that come from the concentrated herds are all detrimental. However, this is a problem of the practice of animal husbandry, not a problem with the existence of the animals. Animals raised correctly on pasture do not cause pollution, and they actually improve biodiversity and sequester carbon into the soil at the same time they promote healthier soil and plant life. They are healthy and do not require maintenance dosing of any drugs, and they generally live a life much like you would expect to see in a wild population. So, CAFO meat is indeed bad for the environment, but pastured meat is not.
Dude1: I often hear it being argued that if humans can survive on nothing but fruits, vegetables, and grains, then why should we be eating meat?
Dude2: Because it's good for us, and we like it! Humans are a part of nature, and our natural role includes the consumption of both meat and plant foods. Besides, the burden of proof is on the people making that kind of argument because they are proposing a radical lifestyle and nutritional change. The "why not" approach is not sufficient for them, but it is for me; i.e. we've always eaten meat, so why shouldn't we?
Dude1: But can you tell us why you think it might actually be important that humans eat meat?
Dude2: I'd say that it's important that at least a significant portion of humanity continues to eat meat. There are several reasons, but the two biggest are nutrition and ecology. While it's certainly possible to have a complete diet based entirely on plant foods, it is more difficult and expensive to do so. Access to meat greatly improves the likelihood of getting an appropriate amount of fats, protein, and other trace nutrients for the average person. Additionally, good quality meat animals can be raised easily on land that would not support the type of agriculture necessary for plant-based crops of the same nutritional value. On the ecological side of things, humanity is basically the only functional predator remaining in large areas of the world. While I agree that this is not a good thing, it does mean that we have the responsibility to play that role appropriately or face the degradation and likely extinction of many prey animals that have co-evolved with their predators. All life occurs in a cycle between birth, growth, death, and decay. Participating in that cycle is not immoral, and upsetting it would likely have dire consequences. If prey animals are not to be allowed to go extinct, then they must be part of a functioning predator prey cycle. If it is okay for "natural" predators to eat animals, but not for humans, then the argument is basically saying that humans exist outside of nature. I don't think that's the case, and I'm sure that the other side of this debate would agree. In fact, the argument I read last night seemed to be saying that because humans are part of nature they must not eat meat. My mouth was left hanging open on that one.
Dude1: That's where I see that some environmentalists go wrong. They define nature as the state of the earth without human interference. Therefore, they are implying that humans are not part of nature.
Dude2: I consider myself an environmentalist, in that I do as much as I can to leave the world in better condition that it was in when I found it. I believe that they share that goal, but in my opinion they seem to have a misunderstanding of ecology. Being part of nature means fulfilling your natural roles, and for humans that includes consumption of meat. Ironically, there are a lot of environmentalists that say there are too many people, then argue (possibly even correctly) that the only way to support more people is for everyone to be vegetarian. That seems like it would exacerbate the problem to me...
Dude1: Good point. But they may be talking about supporting existing humans that are starving to dealth across the world.
Dude2: They may be, but then if they make life supremely comfortable for everyone by providing a bountiful harvest (with or without meat), it is an absolute certainty that we would end up with even more people unless there is some serious education regarding the reasonable ecological role of the human. Besides, the lack of hooved animals is a prime contributor to the desertification of those arid areas where people are actually starving. Governments regulate the rangeland to limit "overgrazing" (which they have incorrectly defined), and the side effect is that the grasses and forbs that co-evolved with the ruminant animals are killed from lack of animal impact. That's a large part of what the holistic management book is about. Arid areas NEED meat animals in order to maintain their ecosystems.
Thanks for reading through Real Food Dudes first interview posting. We hope you got something out of it. We would also love to hear what you think about this issue.