A Philosopher's Blog

Debating Meat I: Meat Matters

Posted in Ethics by Michael LaBossiere on February 3, 2010
Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...
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When the issue of the ethics of eating meat comes up, people often regard the matter as being primarily of academic concern. Or, far worse, a matter than only really matters to those who hug (and perhaps eat) trees. However, the ethics of meat does matter on a much broader scale.

Since the subject is rather substantial, I have decided to devote a short series of blog posts on this matter. I’ll begin with making the case as to why meat matters. I will, of course, endeavor to do so without begging any questions for or against meat.

One obvious way to motivate the concern is to point out that what we do to animals would be regarded as rather evil if it were done to human beings. A little dialogue should illustrate this point nicely.

Bill: “Hi Sally. Wow, that sandwich you’re eating smells great! And are those new shoes and a new leather jacket?”

Sally: “Why yes.”

Bill: “Can I have a bite?”

Sally: “Sure.”

Bill: “Yum! What is it?”

Sally: “One of my neighbors. They crossed me for the last time, so I had to kill them. I didn’t want the meat to go to waste, so I barbecued them using my mother’s secret BBQ sauce. Of course, the secret is she buys it at the supermarket.”

Bill: “Gaaaah….I don’t believe it!”

Sally: “No, really. I just bought the sauce right off the shelf.”

Bill: “Not that…I can’t believe that you are eating human meat!”

Sally: “Well, you did, too. Plus, you eat meat all the time. Hmm, I probably shouldn’t tell you that I made my coat and shoes out of their skins. Waste not, want not…as my mom used to say.”

Bill: “I’m going to be sick…”

Sally: “Oh, you silly goose. Of course I didn’t skin and cook my neighbors! This is just a pulled pork sandwich and the boots and shoes are cow leather!”

Bill: “Oh, that is okay!”

Sally: “But why?”

On the face of it, things that are wicked and evil to do to humans should also be wicked and evil to do to animals. As such, we should not just assume that eating animals is okay-anymore than we should assume that killing and eating humans is okay. There might be relevant differences between humans and animals that justify the difference in treatment, but this is something that must be argued rather than merely assumed. At the very least, the possibility that we are doing great evil is something that should give us pause-if only between bites.

A second reason that shows why meat matters is based in religion. Interestingly enough, Christian thinkers such as St. Augustine and St. Aquinas took the issue of killing animals very seriously. After all, killing is supposed to be a sin and animals can obviously be killed. While, as we will see, Augustine and Aquinas concluded that eating meat was both theologically and morally acceptable, they did show that it is an issue well worth considering. There are, of course, religions that take a rather strict theological and ethical position about meat and killing animals. As such, this makes the matter worth considering. Naturally enough, religion and ethics are distinct, but it is possible to make inferences from the one normative domain to the other (provided that the proper steps are taken).

A third reason is based in practical concerns. The raising of meat for food is rather resource intensive and it generally takes several pounds of feed/grain to produce a pound of meat. Given the limited resources of our planet, this does raise both a practical and a related moral concern about eating meat (or at least certain types of meat). Another practical concern is the matter of health. While there is some debate about the details, it is well established that meat intensive diets are less healthy when compared to diets that are less meat intensive. Since how we treat our bodies can be taken as a moral concern, this also provides moral grounds as to why meat matters.

In this post I have just sketched out some reasons why the issue matters. In my next post on the subject I will start examining the morality of meat.

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30 Responses

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  1. A.K.A.Alias said, on February 3, 2010 at 10:02 am

    Nothing against meat. I’m just going to be pissed if other posts pop up at ‘Republican’ when I can’t seem to get anything but a test pattern through.

    • A.K.A.Alias said, on February 3, 2010 at 11:37 am

      Sorry. The problem was apparently a link rejection. The posts are up now. I feel much better now. Like a vegetarian who’s just had his usually incredibly satisfying daily bowel movement.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on February 3, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Soon we will be growing our meat in Petri dishes–dilemma solved. Many of these thorny moral issues have a technological solution.

  3. magus71 said, on February 4, 2010 at 2:46 am

    A healthy diet is an ethical diet. True vegetarianism isn’t healthy.

    “The raising of meat for food is rather resource intensive and it generally takes several pounds of feed/grain to produce a pound of meat. Given the limited resources of our planet, this does raise both a practical and a related moral concern about eating meat (or at least certain types of meat).”

    No it doesn’t. More energy is retrieved from meat by people so they eat less. Fat had 9 calories per gram, carbohydrates have 7. Also, carb heavy diets make you hungrier, so you eat even more. And, do you know how many animals are killed by farm combines during a harvest? Millions and millions.

    “While there is some debate about the details, it is well established that meat intensive diets are less healthy when compared to diets that are less meat intensive”

    I don’t believe it’s well established at all. 20 years ago it was well established that margerine was better for you than butter. Than they figured out that trans-fats are the most horrible thing we regularly put into our bodies.

    Try eating only potatoes for a year. Your body will fall apart. You’ll be able to poke hols in your skin with your own fingers. Than, eat only Porter House steaks for a year. You’ll be in perfect health.

    Diet is another example of how theoretical science has failed us. If I hear another fat, old looking 35 year old scienntist tell me a grain-heavy diet is the best diet, I’ll scream. Meanwhile, I’ll keep eating lots of meat and scoring in the 100th percentile on all Army phycial fitness tests.

    • magus71 said, on February 4, 2010 at 1:14 pm

      Then of course, we have those that are against genetically engineered crops. Millions have starved in Africa for this.

    • dynamomelano said, on March 15, 2010 at 10:09 pm

      You are very wrong. The only hydrocarbon, note that I did not say carbohydrate, that provides 7 kilocalories per gram is alcohol (ethanol). Carbohydrates provide 4, just like protein. Basic biochem.

  4. T. J. Babson said, on February 4, 2010 at 8:23 am

    “And, do you know how many animals are killed by farm combines during a harvest? Millions and millions.”

    Excellent point. Size of the animal should not matter.

  5. magus71 said, on February 6, 2010 at 2:41 am

    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,584922,00.html

    So, no link between saturated fats and heart disease.

    Also, no link between ingested cholestrol and heart disease.

    This myth started whn scientists found that arterial plaque was made of cholesterol, so assumed that we shouldn’t eat it.

    Linear thinking got us in trouble; we turned to sugar, which is far worse than fat.

    • A.K.A.Alias said, on February 6, 2010 at 5:00 pm

      Hold on there. ‘So, no link between saturated fats and heart disease.’ That’s not exactly what the headline says.Reading selectively much? Here’s what I read in the last 4 paragraphs of the article. 1 No statement that saturated fat and heart disease aren’t linked. Only that they’ve found no difference ‘between the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.’ I’d want to know if enough people following vegan diets were included in the study. Their intake of satfats is generally much lower than the average American. 2 These were epidemiological studies with ” inherent limitations, like depending on people’s recollection of their eating habits.” Recollection and accurate reporting of same.Uh. Was that a six ounce burger or a three ounce burger I had at the beerfest? 3 Study didn’t deal with effects of satfat intake on “different age groups.” And didn’t take into account what difference replacing sat fat with polyunsatfat might make. Either you only read the headline and the first 20 lines or you only read the headline. Nothing in the last 4 paragraphs contradicts what Dr. Eckels says in paragraphs 4-10. Unless you have studies to prove otherwise.And. I doubt that sugar in moderation ‘is worse than fat’. The real problem lies in ‘so assumed that we shouldn’t eat it”. Who made that assumption? Put the word ‘we’ after ‘so? The gullible public looking for a simple answer? So put ‘food producers’ between ‘so’ and ‘assume’? People focused on making some bucks off of a gullible public? No doctor I ever went to ever said satfat in moderation would harm me. Nothing in this new study changes any of that.Eckels a past AHA president cautioned against “over interpreting” the results. The writer of the headline should take his advice.How about this version? Study Fails to Prove/Disprove Link Between Saturated Fat, Heart Disease

      • magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 4:07 am

        AKA,

        “Study Fails to Prove/Disprove Link Between Saturated Fat, Heart Disease”

        You don’t have to disprove a link–there’s never been one.

        Diet is the last thing you want to get into an argument with me about.

        This study isn’t new. There are many like it. No study has shown a link between cholesterol and sat fat intake and heart disease.

        Admittedly, studies on diet are usually poorly done and difficult to control.

        If you want, I could mimic you and post 50 links to studies that show cholesterol intake has little effect on blood cholesterol.

        I suggest you read Gary Taubes’ book: Good Calories, Bad Calories. Actually, I’m going to print here, for your education, his entire article on the subject; it turned the heads of many a fat hater. Also, I’ll post to his article: Do we really know what makes us healthy?

        Both of the following articles are considered the gold standard for the arument that fat doesn’t matter, in fact–it’s good for you.

        Here’s: What if it’s all been a big fat lie?

        http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html?pagewanted=1

        And:

        http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9501E1DF163EF933A0575AC0A9619C8B63

        Here’s another great article:

        http://www.westonaprice.org/Myths-of-Vegetarianism.html

        There’s lots more. I merely posted the most recent article. And sugar IS far worse than fat. High blood sugar IS linked to cancer, heart disease, dementia, arthritis and other nasties. Through a process called glycation, (what happens when sugar browns and cooked substance when heated) the hormonal processes are disrupted. The sticky sugar binds with proteins, thus confusing various receptors. Result: you age.

        This is my diet:

        I don’t worry about meat. The only meat I try to avoid are highly processed, like bologna and hotdogs. I avoid quickly digested carbs like sugar in liquid forms, such as soda and fruit juice. Oh yeah, fruit juice. Making kids fat since 1975. I eat carbohydrates, the kind that nature makes or are at least slowly digested, such as a bowl of grapenuts. We can live with zero carbs. It would be uncomfortable for a few weeks, but we can do it. We can’t live without fat or protein. But, I admit carbs are better for intense exercise such as sprinting or weightlifting–better for the immediate energy needed to do these things. But you need fat and protein to recover and improve. The simple answer is to limit the amount of carbs to what is needed for energy.

      • magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 4:14 pm

        Ummm. Did YOU read the whole article?

        “Overall, Krauss and his colleagues found, there was no difference in the risks of heart disease and stroke between people with the lowest and highest intakes of saturated fat.”

        What more would you like?

    • dynamomelano said, on March 15, 2010 at 10:15 pm

      There is no value for dietary cholesterol. The body is able to produce all the cholesterol it needs for cell membrane integrity, hormone production, etc. Basic phys.

      Also, I suggest you check http://www.dietandcancerreport.org/

        • dynamomelano said, on March 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

          Magus, you need to read more carefully.

          First, the article you linked to is a summary to the original scientific article. There is no mention of the etiology of their low cholesterol. It most likely has to be a kind of clinical or metabolic dysfunction, definitely not due to “meat deficiency”.

          Second, the writer of the article incorrectly paraphrased the original article here: “These type of products contain an excess of low density lipoprotein – LDL or bad cholesterol – which causes blockages in the arteries and leads to heart disease.”

          There is no dietary source of LDL, all LDL is produced in the gut or the liver, after eating.

          Third, this type of studies is done to establish correlations between variables, not causal relationships. And there is no mention of the diets in the cohort.

  6. magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 6:47 am

    I’ve got a comment stuck in the sifter. I link-bombed it.

  7. magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 8:46 am

    Here’s Gary Taubes’ article: Do We Really Know What Makes Us Healthy?

    http://crab.rutgers.edu/~mbravo/prospective.pdf

  8. magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 8:47 am

    And, his ground-breaking–or myth breaking–article:

    What If It Were All a Big Fat Lie?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/07/magazine/what-if-it-s-all-been-a-big-fat-lie.html?pagewanted=4

  9. magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 8:49 am

    And, an excellent article written by Doctor Stephen Byrnes of the Weston Price Foundation.

    Myths of Vegetarianism:]

    http://www.westonaprice.org/Myths-of-Vegetarianism.html

    There’s tons more.

    • Collin said, on February 7, 2010 at 5:57 pm

      I suppose I’m poisoning the well here, but Dr. Byrnes doesn’t pass the smell test when he’s listed as a naturopath. Hippy philosophy is not science (and yes, hippies can be meat advocates – see “raw food diet” advocates).

      I think the key point is LEAN proteins are healthy. Anyone can find “studies” that confirm/deny a conclusion. What matters is the scientific consensus and the actual plausibility behind the claim.

      One more point: don’t trust a website (Westonaprice.org, for instance) that publishes the work of homeopaths. Naturopathy and Homeopathy are two of the most ridiculous forms of quackery. I’m actually surprised you linked from there, Magus.

      What’s next? Will you be quoting health articles from that Mecca of quackery, The Huffington Post.

      • magus71 said, on February 8, 2010 at 2:27 am

        The doctor sites numerous studies. He doesn’t just throw stuff at us. I’m as suspicious of homopathy as anyone–but he’s backed by science. You just presented an ad-hominem on Byrnes. Can you disprove what he says?

        I swear people are afraid of this. Next to Christianity, nothing seems to rile some people more than saying meat is good for you. The people with the poorest health in the wold eat the least meat: Indian Hindus. I’m not just quoting Dr. Byrnes; this is well known. They also having some of the lowest IQs in the world. People damage themselves when they don’t eat animal products.

        Did you read the other articles?

        “What matters is the scientific consensus and the actual plausibility behind the claim.”

        Concensus is not science.

        I could go on and on with links. I don’t have to cherry pick either.

        “I think the key point is LEAN proteins are healthy.”

        Your body needs fat.

        Bottom line: A healthy diet is a moral diet. Unless you’re eating people.

        I understand what Atkins wnt through now.

      • magus71 said, on February 8, 2010 at 2:32 am

        I’m seeing lots of opinions but no citations or even personal anecdotal experiences.

    • A.K.A.Alias said, on February 8, 2010 at 10:28 am

      Just curious. ‘Consensus in not science.’ You imply consensus among scientists somehow is less good than ‘The doctor [citing] numerous studies.’?How is scientific consensus less good than the possibly cherry-picked citations from ‘numerous studies’.

  10. magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 9:29 am

    And again: No to vegetarianism:

    http://www.acsh.org/healthissues/newsID.760/healthissue_detail.asp

    I could go on and on–but I’m reading a good book today.

  11. A.K.A.Alias said, on February 7, 2010 at 11:20 am

    I’m not going to take the time to read these articles and tons more. Not after your to put it kindly selective interpretation of the foxnews story.

    • magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 4:08 pm

      Scared?

      Surely you’ll feel it’s Fair and Balanced since one of them is a New York Times article. By the way–Gary Taubs may be the most influential writer on diet in the world. He may even force you to put down the tofu and grab a steak.

      • A.K.A.Alias said, on February 7, 2010 at 11:09 pm

        Nope. I’m afraid of being infected by the ole selective interpretation bug. BTW. When did you start putting so much trust in the main stream media?

      • A.K.A.Alias said, on February 7, 2010 at 11:35 pm

        Depends on who he influences. I’d really like to know why he’s a ‘science writer’ and not a real scientist. He says he didn’t write his book for money. I’ll take the money he made if he doesn’t want it. But he eschewed a less lucrative profession to write books. For free? BTW Don’t know where you got your selective interpretation or misinterpretation this time but I’m a carnivore.

    • magus71 said, on February 7, 2010 at 4:11 pm

      Yeah. A Fox News article aggregated from that Right Wing carnivore known as Reuters.


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