Monday, May 09, 2005

A response to Jason

Jason wrote me:

Please consider these serious questions.

1. If everyone in the world became vegetarians, what do you think would happen to animal populations? Rise? Stay the same? Or Decrease?

2. What effect would this have on a countries economy?

3. Why don't humans have the right to eat meat, morally speaking?

4. Cutting out meat would be a huge cut in the food supply. Considering the world became vegetarian. Is there enough sources of other foods to feed billions of people everyday for the rest of time?

5. If you had a friend who ate meat, who has listened to your views regarding vegetarianism and why it should be practiced, and he still decided to eat meat. Would you lose respect for him and consider him a lesser person for it? Or would you respect his decision and his views?

6. When you are a vegetarian, are you losing out on nutrients from meat that you can't get from another sources?

7. Are humans Carnivores? Omnivores? Or Herbivores?

I have my own opinion of what I think the answers are and why. But I am interested in hearing your answers. Mostly because you know more about the topic than I do, and you've probably come across similar questions/comments before.

Jason, I will consider your questions as serious and answer them accordingly.

1. If everyone in the world became vegetarians, then there would be far fewer farm animals on earth - in fact, practically none. Since the whole human population isn't going to go veggie overnight, gradually fewer of these animals would be bred and therefore slaughtered. If the whole population did switch at once, well, I guess we'd all get to eat steak one last time. The question that you are perhaps asking is, "would that mean we'd have to kill off all the animals - or let them roam free?" I don't know exactly what would happen, but I do know that even if we slaughtered every farm animal today, at least billions more wouldn't have to be raised and tortured tomorrow.

In my opinion, the "life" these animals live isn't a life at all, and so therefore is not worth living - moreover, a farm animal's life is so completely unnatural it might be insulting to even call it a "life." Think of breeding and growing humans in a little cell for your amusement and pleasure. Are these humans actually living?

2. This is a bigger question than I can answer, but as I've said before, I believe that economic issues should take a backseat to (in my opinion, the more important) issues of peace and ecology. Canada is a net exporter of both meat and grain, where the US is a net importer of those items. Most developing nations are net exporters of grains (due to global economic structures). Accompanying a global vegetarian movement would be, I suspect, an ideological shift toward eating locally and eating organic. Therefore, massive changes in global economics might occur. But most countries on earth have enough arable land to feed their own populations on a vegetarian diet, as you will see in answer 4.

3. One of the moral defenses of vegetarianism is the concept of animal rights, so let me first quote peta.org:

Animal rights means that animals deserve certain kinds of consideration—consideration of what is in their own best interests regardless of whether they are cute, useful to humans, or an endangered species and regardless of whether any human cares about them at all (just as a mentally-challenged human has rights even if he or she is not cute or useful or even if everyone dislikes him or her). It means recognizing that animals are not ours to use—for food, clothing, entertainment, or experimentation.

Animal rights means that animals, like humans, have interests that cannot be sacrificed or traded away just because it might benefit others. However, the rights position does not hold that rights are absolute; an animal’s rights, just like those of humans, must be limited, and rights can certainly conflict.

Animals (should) have the right to equal consideration of their interests. For instance, a dog most certainly has an interest in not having pain inflicted on him or her unnecessarily. We therefore are obliged to take that interest into consideration and respect the dog’s right not to have pain unnecessarily inflicted upon him or her. However, animals don’t always have the same rights as humans, because their interests are not always the same as ours and some rights would be irrelevant to animals’ lives. For instance, a dog doesn’t have an interest in voting and therefore doesn’t have the right to vote, since that right would be as meaningless to a dog as it is to a child.

The renowned humanitarian Albert Schweitzer, who accomplished so much for both humans and animals in his lifetime, would take time to stoop and move a worm from hot pavement to cool earth. Aware of the problems and responsibilities an expanded ethic brings with it, he said, "A man is really ethical only when he obeys the constraint laid on him to aid all life which he is able to help…He does not ask how far this or that life deserves sympathy…nor how far it is capable of feeling." (Animals, Nature and Albert Schweitzer by Ann Cottrell Free, p28.)

We can’t stop all suffering, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop any. In today’s world of virtually unlimited choices, there are usually "kinder, gentler" ways for most of us to feed, clothe, entertain, and educate ourselves than by killing animals.

That’s PETA’s position, and I agree with it, but let me extend it a bit. We know that the dog doesn’t want his tail stepped on because he cries out and runs away. This same understanding of animals’ emotions is the reason that the cow never sees the killing floor until the second he is murdered (that’s why the ramps to the slaughterhouses always go up). If the cow saw what was coming, he would try and act in his own best interest and run away. Hence, we are forcing these animals into positions of our own interest only, while ignoring and oppressing the cow’s. If you wouldn’t step on a dog’s tail, why would you force an animal into rotating blades?

There is the "issue" of whether animals actually feel pain. I laugh at this line of reasoning, because it seems pretty obvious that if you beat the cat, the cat quickly learns to stay away from you. This is classic pain response conditioning. Recent studies with elephants have shown that animals are far more capable of feeling emotions than we ever suspected, as portrayed in this book.

Some people, in (my opinion here) their attempts to appease their conscience, accuse animal rights folks of anthropomorphism – that is, projecting human characteristics and capabilities upon animals in an attempt to understand them better. They say that animals have no awareness, suffer no real pain, have no real emotions. I say, as does anyone who has ever spent time around animals, that these creatures do have emotions and awareness. We aren’t projecting "human" capabilities upon animals; we humans are animals and share many of the same capabilities as other animals.

Personally, I believe in freedom for all living things, and a return to a state where we are living in commune with nature, not in contempt for it. If we hold animals against their will and force them to do things they fear, then we are contradicting that ideology. Currently, we are not giving them any of their freedoms, while at the same time we are forcing them to live in conditions with are completely unnatural and, in fact, in contempt for their natural state of life.

People will sometimes say to me, "But what about all those people dying in wars (or starving in Africa or whatever), why don’t you care about them?" To those people I say: last time I checked, sympathy and caring weren’t finite quantities – I don’t have to choose one or the other. I don’t want evil to befall any living creature, but it just so happens that this cause (vegetarianism) is still "radical," and so I have to defend it.

And after all of this, I’m not sure we even need to establish a moral defence of vegetarianism. Why should you ever need to justify NOT killing something?

4. In fact, it could very easily be argued that eating meat contributes to global starvation, and here's why: farm animals eat grains (and recently, each other), so humans have to grow grains to feed to farm animals, which then are used as food.

Think of it as calories from grains to get calories from meat.

However, the energy in --> energy out process is vastly inefficient: to get 1 calorie out of a farm animal, you have to feed that animal 7 calories of grain. Put another way, we use 7 times the amount of food energy in raising farm animals than what the farm animals give us in return.

So the question is: why don't we just eat the grain in the first place? Good question.... why?

Thus, we can see that farmers in North America and around the world harvest grains and ship them here so that we can raise our cows and chickens; more bluntly, developing nations go hungry so that we can eat meat three times a day (it is a bit more complicated than this, but this is a factor).

And if you're wondering, "If we stopped eating meat then the world wouldn't have enough land to grow all this extra grain," remember, we wouldn't need extra grain, we'd actually need LESS grain, provided we stopped cycling it through animals.

This, I think, is one of the most compelling aspects of vegetarianism. So is the environmental aspect (which is huge), but you didn't ask me about that.

5. I think the argument for vegetarianism is air-tight. I believe that once someone knows the facts and figures, it doesn't make sense not to switch. And I also don't think "because it tastes good" is really a good enough reason to still eat meat: I used to eat more meat than anybody on earth, but I found that there is so much great food (better food, in fact) out there that doesn't contain animal products.

That said, I don't think the decision to go veggie should have anything to do with me; it is a life choice that should be made of its own merit. You should neither switch to veggie because I want you to nor resent me because I'm a vegetarian already.

6. When asking this question, you should also ask "what are the bad aspects of eating meat?" And there are plenty, as North American is finding out, with skyrocketing rates of obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, liver and kidney disease, etc.

This is an important concept - North Americans (and Europeans, and anybody with money) don't suffer from diseases of deficiency, they suffer from diseases of excess, like the ones I listed above.

When was the last time you saw anybody (included vegans) with scurvy, or protein deficiency (which isn't even a disease)? You never have - it is almost impossible to eat your 2500 daily calories and NOT get all the vitamins, nutrients, etc that you need.

So this is a stigma that needs to be washed away - vegetarians don't miss out on anything, no one in North America does. Jenny and I recently had our blood work done and we're perfect in every aspect.

Look at the Japanese - they were acclaimed as the healthiest people on earth until 20 years ago (when fast-food giants took over Japan), and their diet was vegetarian with a little fish thrown in.

The misconception is that vegetarians don't get enough protein, and that is simply false. The reality is that, if we eat low on the food chain (as health canada has been recommending for years), we get all the protein we need. In fact, the average North American gets about twice as much daily protein as he or she needs, and excess protein has strong links to cancer, digestive problems, osteoporosis, and kidney problems. Simply, humans aren't designed to metabolise protein. As far as protein for muscle building goes, Carl Lewis is a vegetarian, and so is Donovan Bailey (I think), and they don't seem to be lacking any muscle mass.

That said, if you are purely vegan, with no processed soy products at all, then the only thing you would need to worry about would be vitamin B12 and the amino acid Taurine. B12 stays in your system for years, as the body recycles it, and so if you were vegan for about 3 or 4 years you might need to start taking a monthly vitamin. Taurine is an amino acid that only comes from animal products, but it is not well understood at the present time. Some researchers think that the body has a way of manufacturing its own Taurine. In other animals, like dogs and cats, Taurine deficiency causes blindness. There is no known case of any life-long vegan ever suffering blindness due to lack of Taurine.

If you're wondering about calcium, other amino acids, iron, or whatever, I have the answer to all those, as well.

7. I strongly, strongly believe that humans are herbivores, and evolved that way. There are many physiological characteristics that indicate that we are not carnivores, and probably not even omnivores:

  • We cannot produce our own vitamin C, where carnivores can;
  • our bone and teeth density is far less than that of a carnivore's; our jaws are designed to move side-to-side to grind our food, where carnivores' aren't;
  • carnivores have a set of fangs for tearing meat and completely different rear teeth, where we have a tooth system congruent with that of a herbivore;
  • Our blood chemistry is similar to that of a herbivore's, and differs dramatically from a carnivores';
  • our intestinal tract is very long relative to our body size, which indicates we are herbivores - carnivores have relatively short intestines, which are designed to eject rotting meat quickly;
  • we have no effective way of dealing with cholesterol, where carnivores do (plants do not produce cholesterol, only animals do);
  • we have skin-surfaced sweat glands, which are possibly a cooling mechanism that evolved from the need to eject the heat generated from metabolising carbohydrates, carnivores (I think all carnivores) don't have sweat glands.
Simply put, if you lined us up next to a bunch of carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores, we'd look an awful lot like the herbivores and nothing at all like the carnivores.

Even one of the biggest, baddest, scariest animals on earth, the Grizzly Bear, is an omnivore, but he gets 90% of his calories from a vegetarian diet. This animal is almost vegetarian, and has a physiology dramatically different from us, and we consider it more of a carnivore than we are, yet we eat more meat that it does. Something's not right with this...

I can also see you thinking, "but we were hunter-gatherers, back in the day." True, we were, but how much meat eating did we actually do, and was it natural? Humans aren't designed as predators, so the amount of meat we ate during prehistoric times is likely very, very small. However, we got lucky enough to have opposable thumbs and a big enough brain to figure out how to make weapons. Even then, we killed one animal and ate what we could, because calories were scarce (now, we harvest a planet full of them and eat whatever we want). It is far more likely that humans ate animals simply out of the necessity of the scenario - because food was never guaranteed, humans needed to eat anything that gave them some energy.


So there's some answers for you. I hope that you will honestly read this and think about it.
I'm also interested in hearing what you think about all this information, which is readily available here....

www.peta.org
www.vegansociety.com
Essay by Bruce Friedrich
The Vegetarian Way (book)
The Dr. McDougall Wellness Center (he's a vegan doctor, and so very smart)

5 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

All very interesting. I mean that seriously. That is something I don't do often.

What is your take on the food chain that exists. I take from your comments that you believe humans are not at the top of this chain... I might agree. But you must agree that one does exist where animals eat other animals.

I don't know what I am asking here. Maybe if that chain is ethical or moral. Giving animals so many rights to a fair existance, doesn't it madden you also that tigers eat antelope? Like I said, I don't know where I am going with this, but please comment.

Here we go. If there are omnivores or herbivores that kill and eat "free range" animals, and that is okay, then is it okay for humans to kill and eat "free range" in an omnivoric (?) way? Is it the farming that is the big problem?

1:09 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

I am very satisfied with your answers. I asked them because I wanted to get a vegetarians answer to those questions.

I visited some of the sites you posted. The essay was interesting. I admit I can't pose an argument against vegetarianism. I see nothing wrong with it, and I see the benefits.
But this brings me back to question #5:

"If you had a friend who ate meat, who has listened to your views regarding vegetarianism and why it should be practiced, and he still decided to eat meat. Would you lose respect for him and consider him a lesser person for it? Or would you respect his decision and his views?"

Which you didn't really answer the way I had hoped. If someone obtained all of the information regarding the pro's of going vegetarian and still chose to eat meat because they think that it is good for them and there life style and not because it just "tastes good", could you still respect them and their choice?

Regarding question #7:

"Are humans Carnivores? Omnivores? Or Herbivores?"

I disagree that humans are herbivores. It is really the only thing that I disagree with from the vegetarian concept.
And I think that the vegetarian community is really stretching that one.
I strongly believe that we are omnivores. Our jaw may move side to side and be congruent to herbivores, but we have incisors. Which most (some may) herbivores don't. They are there to cut through tough food like meat. Cows, horses, hippo's, giraffe all only have molars and side to side moving jaws. Our jaws are more congruent with omnivores then herbivores. Dogs, cats, fox, monkey's, which are all omnivores, have similar jaws to humans where they have both incisors for cutting meat, and molars for grinding. You can't argue with millions of years of evolution. Humans evolved this way for a reason. But you are right when saying it is unnecessary today. We are no longer hunters and gatherers.

I would say that PETA poses a strong arguement towards switching to a vegetarian lifestyle. There are a lot of numbers and scientific investigation to support it. But you know as well as I do that people on the otherside of the spectrum can pose a strong arguement that eating meat is good for you in every sense, and they would also have the numbers and scientific support for there conclusions.
That being said the issue lies not in the health of the humans but the treatment of the animals. Which is the main goal of PETA right? The impact/pros on humans health when switching to vegetarian is only to help support the real reason for switching. And that is, "look at how the animals are being treated."
I'll end with this question:

If all of the animals lived there life to the end in a compounded area large enough for them to enjoy themselves, and then we used them for a source of food, would that be considered moral?

5:00 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Mike,

I wrote you a long, detailed response and my %#$*&^ computer crashed, so this one won't be as good.

It's en vogue to call the food chain the food web now, because we're all so interconnected.

As for the predator/prey relationship, this is just the circle of life, and I have no problem with it. When a lion hunts an antelope, that's natural. But I've never seen a lion rustle up a herd of antelope, put them in a pen, force them to breed, force them to feed, and then eat them at will.

As I said before, I don't believe we are carnivores, and certainly not hunters, so I don't see how hunting would have come naturally to us.

However, I've also said that if you are willing enough to hunt a wild boar with only the tools god gave you (your hands) and somehow kill it, then by all means eat it. This is also the circle of life, and I've got no problem with that.

Farming was the start of the downfall. There's nothing natural about it (nor with modern agriculture, but that's another topic). It's a giant experiment in imprisonment, cloning, and gorging. Even free range farming isn't free at all (although it is a huge step in the right direction). A big cage is still a cage, and these animals are still forced to do things (like give milk) that they wouldn't otherwise do.

5:58 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Did you just reference god?

6:51 AM  
Blogger Andrew said...

Jason, I'm glad you found my information helpful. I hope it is obvious that I believe this is the best choice for you, for the animals, and for the planet.

As for question #5:

I'm not sure what you want me to say to answer this question. As I said before, I think the argument for vegetarianism is foolproof. When I talk to people about it, and I give them the facts, and they don't switch, I (frankly) can't believe it. I have a hard time understanding how they would continue eating meat. Jenny then has to console me.

Regardless, there are plenty of ways to eat "healthy," as I already described. You can eat meat three times a day and be "healthy," until the heart disease or cancer or kidney/liver failure kicks in. Simply, in small doses, meat isn't good for you, but it's not too bad for you. In frequent doses, like every day, meat is not good for you. Despite the powerful lobbying by farming associations, both US and Canadian health organizations have been asking us to eat low on the food chain for years - because it's good for us. I had hoped that the information I had provided would convince you that there's nothing "good" about meat. In what way do you think that eating meat is good for you? I am interested in knowing.

Let me parallel this: you can snort a line of cocaine once every couple of weeks, and this won't really hurt you. There is nothing about cocaine that is natural to your system, but luckily for you, it is tolerable.

Finally, I think it's an important thing to remember that all of our lifestyle choices have more to do with just us. I, for one, will never be able to look at a hamburger (which conveniently doesn't resemble any living thing at all, eh?) without thinking about how the hamburger has affected the life of the cows that made it, the amount of grain grown to feed those cows, the people who had to grow that grain, the amount of water that was extracted from the ground and the send back to the system as pollution so those cows could drink and be clean, the amount of fossil fuel burned in transporting the cows to slaughter, operating the machinery, and transporting that hamburger to my table, and then, finally, what that meat - rotting in my colon - will do to me.

I can appreciate that no longer eating meat is a challenge if all you eat at home is meat. To this I would say, "switch, because your body will be thankful for it." As well, learning how to cook differently (in my case, learning to cook for the first time) is a fun and rewarding task. Switching to veggie could be done over time, or it could be done over night - however one decides to go for it.

If you are concerned about your baby's health, then you need not be. history and a powerful meat and dairy industry has us believing that we need meat and milk to be healthy. This is not true. In fact, for one quick example, recent research suggests that 30%-70% of all children are lactose-intolerant, and that by feeding them cow's milk, we are actually inducing in them small but chronic illness. I have tons of information about this as well. If Jenny and I ever have children, they will be vegetarian with very little dairy or egg.


As for #7.

Nothing about our physiology says "hunter" or "killer." We don't have retractable claws, or big canines. We can't run very fast, and I've already listed the more detailed aspects of our body which are truly herbivore. If we ate meat during prehistoric times, it was likely because we were scavengers.

I disagree with your assessment of tooth structures. A lot of herbivores have incisors. Indeed, most do. Our incisors don't have the same density of tooth that carnivores have, simply because they aren't designed to tear flesh and crack bone. Our incisors are similar in size and density to that of the lagomorphs (rabbits), although they don't grow forever. The animals you stated, like cows, are ruminants (or closely related theretoo), and even ruminants have incisors - they just don't have canine teeth. I believe the only animal in North America without incisors is the armadillo. You can find more about that here: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/topics/mammal_anatomy/kinds_of_teeth.html

In fact, an intriguing evolutionary theory states that our incisors were designed much more for the purposes of speech and communication than for eating (as the shape of our incisors are good for articulating speech).

Scientists have most often used the characteristics of the canine teeth to determine the tooth structure's primary function - and our canine teeth are nothing like those of a carnivore.

And you can't argue with evolution, which is why I listed all those other factors - evolutionary factors - that indicate we are herbivores. Why choose to pick out one item, which is very debatable, when all the other items are so clear?

On to your last question:

I would wonder how we would define "compounded area large enough..." Like I said before, a big cage is still a cage.

However, if this area was large enough such that when the animals roamed, they never saw the fence, and they lived out their natural lives and were never impacted by human kind, and then we ate them, then I wouldn't have a problem with this (other than that it's not good for us to eat meat). We weren't using the animal for our purposes or even killing it for food.

But this is a pretty outlandish idea. Why don't we just let them go free and eat chick peas, instead?

There you are... and once again, you haven't asked me about the environmental aspect, which is prehaps the most compelling argument I could make. Perhaps a topic for a different blog.

6:52 AM  

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