For now, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool paleo/primal dude. In my very very brief days as a veggie, this was my only reason, even knowing that it wasn't the healthiest diet:
We don't need to kill animals to live
Meaning that you can be vegetarian and be totally happy and fairly healthy, and prevent the slaughter of hundreds of animals. Cavemen became apex predators by using their big ol' brains to make tools. Future man can use their big ol' brains to become extremely compassionate. Unless animals enjoy being raised for food and killed well before their natural lifespans are up, compassion is a pretty logical argument.
For now, I'm approximately paleo, because of health issues that I'm desperately trying to address. But I could totally be vegetarian in the future, because preventing suffering to me is as big of an issue as optimal health. I tend to derive a good amount of pleasure from things not directly related to self-advancement, such as the happiness of others (including animals).
I can't shake the train of logic that led me to my very very brief vegetarian period. Do you see any big holes in this way of thinking? Paleo makes 100% sense to me as an "optimal" diet, but is has anyone else grappled with optimality vs morality? From the animal's viewpoint, even organic pasturing is pretty unpaleo. I mean, at least give 'em a chance for a fair fight!
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It depends on what you base your morals on. I totally understand my vegan friends who don't like the idea of an animal suffering for them. But does that make eating meat immoral?
We then have to ask: are morals dependent on the avoidance of pain and suffering? And humans are gradually becoming more enlightened and moral over the years by reducing this through modern philosophies like veganism? And that causing suffering is wrong independent of human opinion because animals have natural rights?
I personally don't believe this. I would say that is not what morals are based on, that morals and rights are a manmade system create to improve human welfare. Of course it draws on inborn human senses like empathy, but that's not what those qualities were evolved for and it's a bit of an accident that, for example, we feel such things for kittens (they have superficial resemblance to human offspring, we feel no such things for baby scorpions for example).
So I'm not an ethical naturalist and find it a bit laughable when AR-ists claim meat eating is "evil", but that still doesn't throw out veganism. Perhaps we could argue it would improve human welfare by cultivating such desirable qualities as empathy. Some of the most convincing pro-vegan stuff I've read has studies showing that workers in slaughterhouses are more likely to commit murder. Let's say that humanity invents a perfect food that can be grown in a lab without any deaths...that might be a good step for humanity, but I don't think it's a necessary one.
As a vegan I thought vegetarianism was laughable. I found it more reprehensible to enslave cattle and murder their male babies than to shoot a deer in the wood anyway. But since then I've realized many vegetarians come at this from a religious or sentimental viewpoint that is very personal. So I think there is a good reason to develop better veg*n nutrition and to work on applying paleo principles to those diets to improve them. Because some people just don't want to eat meat.
Either way, it was not possible for me to be healthy as a vegan and I doubt I would do well as a vegetarian since I don't do well with eggs or dairy anyway. I felt very sick on both diets. And I know others that had the same problem. Let them eat meat annoys a lot of people, but it's a good site that exposes these issues and also provides a bit of a warzone for these type of arguments. There are lots of interviews with former vegans who did poorly on that diet. The most famous in the paleo community is Lierre Keith who wrote The Vegetarian Myth, which is worth reading.
Animal rights is a niche philosophy with a very dedicated following and not much opposition since the basic premises (painism and utilitarianism) are not taken seriously by many philosophers. One useful anti-AR book I own is The Animals Issue by Peter Carruthers, though I've heard good things about Tibor R. Machan. AR books are very easy to find, Peter Singer is the best known, but Francione is trendy these days. Singer falls apart if you reject utilitarianism and Francione doesn't make much sense outside of painism and natural rights.
As for a fair fight, the irony is that the death in a slaughterhouse is way nicer than anything that happens in nature. I think one of the experiences that left me jaded about animals was working at a raptor rehab program. Feeding chicks to the hawks was immensely unpleasant because they died such agonizing deaths. I also saw animals brought into the center that had been partially disemboweled by cats and other horrors that I'd prefer not to mention. We are the nicest predator that I know of.
Edit: So I've established that I think that morals are a human invention, subjective, and that animals cannot be part of a moral system because they are amoral beings. What they do cannot be good or evil. They are incapable of acts we have invented and termed evil for the benefit of humans such as murder or rape. They are also incapable of being murdered or raped. We can be nice to them out of compassion and empathy, but I do not believe meat= murder.
Now we are wondering if animals can be happy? It depends on what you think happiness is. If you mean the existential happiness that comes from things like freedom, I don't think there is any evidence from biology that animals are capable of that. If you mean happiness as a chemical state of well-being, there has been ample research on that.
As a "nice" person I like to get my food from cows that are treated well and as a consequence enjoy this "happiness." But I don't believe it's immoral to eat factory farmed meat either. Not nice? Maybe. But I'm hesitating to call people who eat at Jack in the Box evil which I would be if animals were the moral equivalent of people. But trust me, there are plenty of animal rightests who do believe that animals = people in moral equivalence. Let Them Eat Meat has plenty of quotes and posts from them. They believe that people who eat meat should be jailed, which is at least logical to me. When I read The Face on Your Plate I was turned off because the author said he eats meat while traveling. If meat is murder, that's just not ever acceptable.
I think that Kamal if your compassion and religious intuition tell you take eating meat is wrong, you should look into veganism. If that's your priority, so be it. I would suggest looking into vegan nutritionists like Jack Norris or Virginia Messina who have a lot of experience with how to adjust veganism to get the best out of it. They don't pretend it's the perfect diet, but it's worth it for them to eat the way they feel is moral. I would not go the sad way of our former paleo pal CastleGrok, who became a fruitarian, which is totally unsupported by science. Morally, if you think ag animals can be raped, vegetarianism is not an option, only veganism is. Even veganism is imperfect though because even plant agriculture usually involves animal inputs in the form of things like fertilizer. ARist are trying to develop "veganic" agriculture, but its in its infancy.
Where I take offense at vegans is when they try to codify their feeling about animals into laws.
Unless you are a big fan of dumping oil-based chemical fertilizers on your vegetarian foods you are going to be buying organic stuff. Having worked on an organic farm I can attest that we fed all the tomatoes, lettuce, melons and what not fish guts because that's what helps them grow. Bone meal, blood meal, worm castings are also quite common. As long as there is agriculture and we aren't just foraging wild plants, you are going to need inputs from the bodies of animals. It's just the way nature works.
Compassion isn't a logical argument, it's a compassionate one.
Compassion is a result of the human evolution of empathy, which is essential for us to work and live together as a cooperative species. Like any adaptation, if taken too far it can become a flaw and a hindrance to the continued survival of the species.
It seems very unnatural to me to "opt-out" of the food chain. Nature intends survival by competition - without this life becomes weak and fragile.
I think that anthropologically, there's pretty much no debate that hunting has had a huge and formative influence on us. Hunting, killing and eating animals is a large part of what we evolved to do.
Having the opportunity, as a hunter and an angler (living in an area that while largely ruined by the bloody farmers is still a lot closer to wilderness than most), to kill and eat my own game quite a bit I have to say that hunting and fishing and cooking what you bag is wonderful. The actual hunting and fishing is blissful (although frequently cold, wet, and uncomfortable, not to mention requiring you to get up hours before sunrise sometimes), and the game delicious. The actual killing? The process isn't fun, and always accompanied by remorse as well as satisfaction. I'm still trying to analyze this bit.
We're omnivores, and can survive on a wide range of suboptimal diets better than pure carnivores, which is why humans do better than cats on a pure vegan diet (and can live long enough to promote said philosophy and breed while going without meat). But tolerated is not optimal, and frankly veganism seems to me to be committing a major fundamental error that invalidates their entire project by denying the reality of what human beings are. My hunting and fishing (which is carried out with strict attention to fair chase and efficient, humane killing) is no more morally wrong than what the local coyotes do; it's what I was evolved to do, I love it, and attempts to get me to stop on grounds of silly, Disney-informed, unnatural personal morality will be met with derision and mockery. You might as well try to convince me that my cats' predation is wrong and immoral (and they are sleek, happy, and healthy, and enjoy leaving carnage strewn across the doorstep like you would not believe).
The world is made of food. It sucks to be food. Everybody is food. In my view, the best way of coming to terms with this is to suck up your fear, denial, and queasiness about these facts and learn to enjoy it. If you're near a body of fishable water, you can score complete rod and tackle kits at Wal-Mart for peanuts and The Dummies' Guide to Fishing is a great place to start. Go for it, and get some insight into the reality of what it is to be alive and your evolutionary heritage as a predator.
But factory-farming? There I think that the vegans have some valid points.
We don't need to kill animals to live
needs some clarification.
Define "need" and define "to live."
Let's talk about cats. Cats are naturally carnivorous. Can you keep them alive for a very long time on a vegetarian diet of processed cat foods? Yes. Will they thrive on it? Individual cats will do okay and die of "old age." But as a group, they will have all kinds of health problems that they NEVER would have developed in the wild, on a meat-based diet. Cancer, diabetes, even depression....
Do cats need meat to live? I would say yes.
Humans are omnivorous. Some individual humans can do just fine on vegan or vegetarian diets (although I must say that personally, I don't know any vegans who really thrive). But as a group, can humans live without eating animals?
Yes. We can survive for very long periods. But it WILL make many of us sick. Auto-immune diseases, inflammatory conditions, cancers, etc.
It makes no more sense to say that
Humans should live without eating other animals because we don't need to in order to live.
than it does to say that
We should feed our cats vegetarian food because they can survive without meat.
I think feeding your cat vegetarian food is cruel and ignorant (mostly ignorant).
To me, it is not at all compassionate for humans to try to live without eating meat. It is both ignorant and arrogant.
It's ignorant because a meat-less diet doesn't actually save the planet or kill fewer animals or improve your health.
It's arrogant because it is a worldview that says "we humans do not have to live in accordance with the laws of physics, chemistry, and evolution. We are different. We are superior. We are so clever that we can choose to live in a manner completely alien to the history of our species, without understanding how eco-systems function in an intricate balance of predator and prey, nitrogen cycles, food and waste, life and death, determined by millions of years of evolution."
I agree with vegans and vegetarians that we should be compassionate, that we should care about the environment and animals and our health. I disagree with them that not eating animals contributes positively to any of these things.
The biggest hole would be the presupposition that morality=not killing animals. Says who and on what grounds? You can call it "evolved morality" all you want but that doesn't make it so. You don't need to do a lot of things to live but it doesn't make you a better person for not doing those things. Again, they animals should be afforded any ethical considerations or should be valued by any metric besides their utility to humans is an unsubstantiated assertion.
Just to add a little spark to the discussion here. Besides animal rights, utilitarians should also take into account the improvement of human health, the decrease in suffering and pain of unnecessary diseases that a paleo inspired life causes.
Paleo saves and improves lives. Now let's say our whole society lives a paleo lifestyle. How would that improvement in health and happiness weigh against the eating of meat? How would the all the money that diseases of civilisation cost be beneficial for other, morally important topics?
And not to forget that less healthy individuals and more stressed individuals live in a kind of 'survival-mode', that decreases the energy that goes to the frontal cortex of our brain. A stressed and unhealthy society is a society that is more dependent on the 'reptilian-brain'. This means that the typically 'human' traits such as empathy, kindness, generosity, compassion, creativity, ... are by-passed or less ready available.
How would a society benefit from its individuals being healthy and performing mentally on a 'higher' level?
(needless to say that I'm all for raising animals in the best conditions, and that the butchering should be as quick and painfree as possible, even if in nature and our past, that was not always the case.)
I'd also add that we have to consider that, from a utilitarian standpoint, if we didn't breed them for food, many of these animals would simply not exist. They wouldn't be able to survive in the wild. This might seem a bit abstract, but if we can raise animals such that they might place a positive value on their lives, then breeding them may be a moral good, even if we eventually kill them. It also seems relevant that agriculture requires destruction of the natural environment on a large scale, along with the killing of animals. I haven't done much research into this, but I've read some things suggesting that pasturing animals can be a part of a sustainable ecosystem. I totally buy the argument for pastured meat, minimizing unneccessary suffering, etc. But it seems pretty plausible to me that the most humane option is to eat pastured meats and wild, sustainably caught seafood.
I thought I'd just add that I do think we should take vegetarian/vegan arguments seriously as we should take the issue of animal welfare seriously. Yes, a lot of vegans are preachy and sanctimonious, but that doesn't make their arguments wrong. I suspect their arguments ultimately fail, but I'm certainly grateful for the work they've done in bringing food into the ethical and political sphere.
Anyway, I'm continuously impressed by how most members of this community exemplify the ideals of epistemological humility and openness to new ideas. This is, in my experience, fairly unique among communities centered on a set of beliefs.
So yeah, y'all are awesome :-)
Thank you everybody for your answers and comments! Truthfully, some of the question intent was misinterpreted. I am not arguing for a vegan diet healthwise and I am not proposing decision rules based on animal rights. For the near and possibly distant future, I will enjoy meat, marrow, and other sundry animal products.
Quite simply, I was trying to gauge whether paleo folks have ever weighed paleo health benefits against (possible) hesitations in eating a lot of meat. The animal rights field, sentience, etc, does not seem cut and dry, and conventional wisdom on either side seems to make people defensive of their existing views.
When you eat paleo, you eat a lot of fat. Thus, EFA amounts and ratios are extra important. Similarly, if you eat paleo, you eat a lot of meat. Thus, the process of obtaining that meat and the opportunity cost of eating the meat (i.e. what would things be like for you, others, and the animal if you did not eat it) is worth considering. Again, thanks to everyone for providing some depth to this issue.
I don't think this is the right place for this discussion.
This site is called Paleo-Hacks... not 'Discuss the merits of one or another way of eating'.
It's for people that want do discuss or find out more about the paleo / primal / stone-age way of eating and exercise.
I believe that it will be a very long time before we fully understand or the detailed workings of nutrition and human biology (if ever). That's why this way of eating is so appealing to me, it's easy to get it broadly right without knowing all the details.
As far as I know humans have been eating meat for thousands of years, and our ancestors for millions. There are probably all kinds of side benefits to eating meat that we can't measure at the moment. So yes we can live without it, on the other hand people can live on bread and rice as well. It's a slippery slope which quickly takes you out of paleo / primal territory.
As far as the ethics go, one of my values in life is to treat all life on earth with respect and to minimize suffering. But humans are part of the ecosystem. When we hunt and kill an animal it's not a moral issue, the same way as when a wolf, tiger or polar-bear (the only modern animal to actively hunt humans) is not bad or evil for eating humans. In turn we will die and become food for worms and plants. Its the way life works one big cycle of energy passed from one species of life to the next.
I'm a paleo girl... I'm a compassionate person. I know the farms my food comes from- I know the quality of life and death ALL the living things on it had (plants included). If avoiding eating certain families of species is based on an ethical choice, it either leads to an arbitrary qualification for what life deserves protection and what doesn't (has a face, nurtures its young, cries out audibly when in pain) or ...it leads to the requirement that one subsist without causing death to anything, which means you starve and die.
For us to live, something else has to die. Selecting food is not a question of "life or death?" -- it's a question of "death in harmony with nature or death outside of natural balances?".
Plants think, remember, and feel pain. Yes- that includes your Spinach (and insects as someone pointer out earlier). Why is it that people seem to only have compassion for things with a face!
Interesting read: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10598926
Also Broccoli has a nervous system that is not far off from our own. Again- Feels pain.
I also have a question about this concept of "evolved compassion". Are you suggesting that Grock was not compassionate? What evidence do you have to support this? Also would you likewise say that Native Americans and all other hunter gatherer tribes that exist in the world are not compassionate since they eat meat? Last I checked many of those tribes revered and worshiped animals- and eat them.
I don't think we yet know how to be totally vegetarian and totally healthy. I don't think we know everything in meat that we need and I don't think we know how to replicate it outside of meat. I could fairly easily see someone eating fish and small animals and being very healthy, just skip the big animals. I see that as doable. THe only other option might be, and I don't know if this would work or not, to eat lots of insects as your 'meat.' This is an interesting concept though. Could insects be a healthy substitute for meat? Hmmm.. -Eva
have you ever chased a cow? even with rudimentary tools they don't put up much of a fight lol.
Now some animals would be much harder to kill.
And it's not morality, i wouldn't say a black bear is immoral because it kills a rabit? idk to survive.
The human body does not "Require" meat, but meat is what allowed the primates who ate it to evolve and spend less time chewing. The same is true with the advent of fire and cooking. I would never be a vegitarian, but that's because, in my opinion, i would be willing to kill an animal myself to eat it. My survival, fitness, and health come before another animal's.
Ditto on chickens and hawks. We keep chickens at our home for eggs, and I recently came to realize there is NO SUCH THING as ethical vegetarianism, period. If you eat eggs or milk or yogurt, you are responsible, over the course of your life, for the deaths of thousands of animals, even if you avoid the meaty bits. Why? Because animals only produce eggs and milk for short periods of time. Then, they need to be culled. Folks who raise hens for egg production kill the males. The law of the farm is that animals either produce or are eaten or culled, because there is no way a farmer can afford to keep a productive animal as a domestic pet for the remaining 12-22 years of its productive life.
You can be vegan, and life a life without animal death, but then you will probably (unless you are very lucky) develop some serious health problems at some point along your life, the consequence of an insidious damage that may be difficult to fix.
We slaughtered two roosters two weeks ago. It was the first time in my life I had ever killed a living thing and let me tell you, it was a deeply traumatic experience. One of the roosters was my favorite of all of our animals. I loved him to death. But they were crowing at 5 in the morning and I feared I was risking the survival of my entire flock. (We live in a suburban area, and chickens are in a very gray zone.) So it was kill two or risk having to cull 12. (Not keeping chickens really isn't an option if I want eggs – I cannot tolerate even pastured eggs from other farms because they have wheat/corn/soy in their feed, and often the feed is conventional.)
After my first killing cut, I start crying. I felt that I had crossed some line, that I was somehow killing a part of myself, of my compassion and empathy, in order to be able to take another life. I tried to give them the swiftest, cleanest deaths possible (but as an amateur, I failed utterly at that). Then, once it was done, my task was to make sure I could use every single last scrap of meat and bone and fat. I had never in my life been so committed to wasting nothing. Peace came when I finally opened up those chickens. Their livers were this deep, deep, glistening purple. Vibrant and healthier than anything I've ever seen in my life. And that fat inside these chickens was orange – the color of the yolks the hens lay. I realized I could not possibly eat a healthier animal than one I had raised myself, and all of that pain was replaced by gratitude. I was grateful to these chickens. We had cared for them, that them room several acres, and gave them happy, healthy, if abbreviated, lives. Post-veganism, I am so sick now that for me, ever single piece of food I put in my mouth really is a matter of my own survival. I learned the hard way that I cannot live without meat. In raising my own meat (which I think we should all do if given the chance!) I learned that it's possible for me to have a deep compassion for animals, to cry every time I kill one, to say grace like I mean it for the first time in my life, yet to still know, unequivocally, that I did the right thing.
We also, around that same time, lost two hens to hawks. And I can attest that they had just as much right to them as I did; I'm not sure there is a higher order than the right to survive. Chickens, also, are carnivores who like their grass/lettuce on the side. You should see them tear apart all that insect life, and go wild over canned salmon. They are killers, too. And when we are dead, and the worms chew on our eyeballs, maybe we'll be chicken food.
I say a prayer before eating meat, and try to slow down for a minute to recognized the consciousness that ultimately ceased to exist in order to power my body.
This is the one I chose. It does not touch directly on the above idea but the state of gratitude I hope to induce is usually created
Brahmarpanam Brahma Havir Brahmagnau Brahmana Hutam Brahmaiva Tena Ghantavyam Brahmakarma Samadhinaâ (Translation: The act of offering is Brahman. The offering itself is Brahman. The offering is done by Brahman in the sacred fire which is Brahman. He alone attains Brahman who, in all actions, is fully absorbed in Brahman.)
The question Kamal poses is a good one.
I'm unconvinced that we have evidence to show that paleo diets (or vegan diets for that matter) are optimal for humans. I do believe, however, we have evidence that humans can thrive on both, though in neither case do we have really great randomized-controlled trials or carefully conducted longitudinal studies to look at.
The question for me, as an ethical vegan, is whether we can justify the harm done to animals that a paleo diet involves. Assuming for a second that there are are benefits to a paleo diet over a vegan one, we might want to know how great these benefits are, and indeed if we're going to fail to flourish on a vegan diet.
I believe it is wrong to harm animals for reasons of pleasure, taste, entertainment, or convenience. (I'm happy to justify this claim if anyone's interested.) Because we can survive and indeed thrive on vegan diets, I'm not sure what good reason could be given for eating paleo. It can't be a claim related to survival (at least not outside of the wild). So, I think eating paleo is unjustifiable.