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Should We Eat Animals?

Nov 29, 2007
When I was about 6, I asked my parents where meat came from. When they told me it was from animals that had been killed, I immediately decided to stop eating meat. I mainly stuck with that resolution through my childhood and teen years, with occasional transgressions, usually involving hot dogs at ball games or cookouts. Presently, my diet is probably 99% vegetarian (though not vegan), the other 1% mainly fish and organic turkey or chicken. Yet, over the years I have gone back and forth and in circles considering the ethical and nutritional implications of being a vegetarian.

There are many ways to view this issue. One of the main arguments in favor of a carnivorous, or omnivorous diet is that hunting and meat eating are a basic part of the natural order. The opposing argument is that humans have the power to rise to a higher ethical standard. To this, the meat eater often responds that we have to kill even to eat vegetables, to which the vegetarian will usually say that plants are of a lower order and do not have the same capacity to feel pain (though some even argue this point).

The nutritional side of the debate is no less convoluted. Vegetarian activists insist that meat eaters do not live as long, and have higher incidences of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. These are highly disputed points. Some meat eaters have taken the organic route, believing that many health problems associated with meat are actually the result of the conditions found at factory farms and all the questionable additives used, such as hormones and antibiotics.

To cloud the issue even more, the vegetarian camp is deeply divided on the issue of consuming animal products such as eggs, milk and other dairy products. Vegans, taking the basic vegetarian position one step further, believe that consuming any animal products is unhealthy. Many also take an ethical stand, pointing out the conditions suffered by animals who supply humans with their milk and eggs. This, we must note, is not an argument against animal products per se, only against the mainstream model that is currently used. Organic and free range alternatives are now widely available. It is, however, often questionable whether some of these alternatives are really as benign as they would have us believe. A certain portion of vegans actually take the hard line stance that it is wrong in principle to "exploit" animals for their food products, even if they are not harmed in the process. While I sometimes waffle on the bigger questions, I can say that I do not agree with this position, so long as the animals are well cared for.

One argument that I find fairly persuasive, coming from the carnivore side, is that when we look at eating habits historically, vegetarianism is quite rare and veganism almost unknown. I am talking now about what can be verified; some hypothesize an idyllic remote past when humans were vegetarians. Many traditional cultures did not consume large quantities of meat or animal products, but it is difficult to find a strictly vegetarian society, apart from certain religious subcultures in places like India. And in these cases, animal products were not taboo. In India, the sacredness of cows is not considered an injunction against milk products.

The ethical implications of a meat vs. vegetable diet is something everyone simply (or perhaps not so simply) has to work out for themselves. To some extent, this is also true of the health aspect. In both instances, however, I think we can safely conclude that the current model of treating and eating animals is highly unsatisfactory and inhumane. There are also many questionable implications to our health in consuming animals and animal products that originate in modern mass-production facilities or factory farms. My own conclusion, from the nutritional standpoint, is that if you choose to consume animals and/or animal products, is best to stick to high quality (usually meaning organic) products and in smaller quantities than is typical for modern American or Western diets. I think this decision alone, while not resolving the more complex moral questions, is a marked improvement over the status quo of the modern diet.
About the Author
Larry Christopher writes on a variety of topics, including cultural issues, health and nutrition and metaphysics. More information and resources pertaining to health and diet can be found at http://www.naturalhealthchoices.info
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