Eating Meat

Yesterday, more than 150 million animals were slaughtered for human consumption. The same number will die today. This is a worldwide number, and it doesn’t include marine life.

It’s a veritable animal Holocaust, happening everyday, out of sight, out of mind. And I use the H-word advisably here, not in any original way. Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Jewish, Nobel Prize-winning author who in 1935 fled the growing Nazi threat in Warsaw for New York, referred to our daily massacre of animals as “an eternal Treblinka.”

It arises from something called speciesism, the notion that humankind enjoys a set of rights which all other living species do not. It’s applied unevenly of course, without any real logic. We kill and eat cows, chickens and pigs, but protect cats, dogs, horses and… great apes, that is select wild animals. Lest you immediately think the concept is truly wacko, I would remind you that, only 50 years ago, a large number of people believed that all members of another race enjoyed considerably fewer rights than did we white folks. If we track back 200 years we find that nearly everyone in the West believed this.

Back to great apes for a moment, as we consider the wacko-ness of speciesism. Are you entirely comfortable with the idea that we capture and imprison a mountain gorilla for our edification and viewing enjoyment? Me neither. The next question would be, why not? (Sure, zookeepers argue protection of an endangered species, but if that was the only reason we would put all our resources into protecting gorillas in place.)

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Back in 2006, Dr. Colin Campbell and his son Thomas published a book called The China Study, rightly subtitling it “The Most Comprehensive Study of Nutrition Ever Conducted.” Dr. Campbell is a Professor Emeritus from Cornell University, and The China Study was conducted through that University, Oxford, and The Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine in Beijing. The gist of the massive study’s findings might be summarized as diets with higher meat and dairy consumption correlate directly and significantly with higher rates of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, the so-called ‘diseases of affluence.’ Likewise with obesity, same sort of correlation.

The typical Chinese diet contains less fat, less protein, more fiber and iron, and much less animal foods than does the typical American diet. And the incidence of the most common killers in North America is far lower. Interestingly, the average Chinese citizen actually consumes more calories than does the average American, indicating that it’s not how much you eat, but what, plus how active you are.

What’s more, Dr. Campbell and his cohorts discovered that, if you were already afflicted with the diseases of affluence, a plant-based diet is in fact effective treatment of those diseases.

If you’re wondering why you haven’t heard more of this study, you might want to read Dr. Campbell’s chapters on “Why Haven’t You Heard This Before?” The experience he describes directly parallels the too-long successful campaign by the fossil fuels industry to obfuscate the climate change debate—essentially the meat, dairy and egg industries pay for research which contradicts The China Study, succeeding not in refuting the evidence presented, but in simply ‘muddying the waters,’ causing you to think there is no conclusive case to be made, either way.

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The Factory Farm: Old McDonald meets McDonald's
The Factory Farm: Old McDonald meets McDonald’s

I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the devastating ecological effects of the livestock and fishing industries worldwide, and how the big environmental organizations like Greenpeace, in their own selfish interests, avoid criticizing these industries. With the possible exception of our global abuse of fresh water resources, no single factor contributes as much to our environmental peril as do the farmed animal industries. You likely have only to think about habitat loss, factory cattle and hog farms, and the water-born runoff of pollutants to grasp the enormity of the destructive impact, including the industry’s contribution to climate change.

There is really no doubt about it, whether you come at it from a moral, health or environmental perspective, there is no good reason for our continued consumption of animal-based foods. There is, of course and however, one overriding explanation as to why we continue to eat meat: habit.

3 thoughts on “Eating Meat”

  1. Hi Ric! Hope all is well with you! I want to comment on your latest post. I eat meat. I like meat. But I cannot argue with anything you say. You are, of course, right. My only quibble might be with the very last word in your post: “habit.” Yes, but I would add that, again, I like it. Lots.
    But I’m writing because I thought you might be interested in this conversation that Sam Harris had with Uma Valeti of “Memphis Meats.” It’s from Sam’s podcast and it’s an interesting conversation (you can skip the first 20 minutes of the podcast, Sam’s “housekeeping” as he calls it). I wanted to buy shares in this company after listening to this! I thought then in eating Memphis Meats meat, I could continue to enjoy meat but without the Holocaust of the meat industry. The yuck factor wouldn’t personally bother me one bit.
    https://www.samharris.org/podcast/item/meat-without-murder
    Enjoy!
    Jen

    1. Hi Jen,

      Great to hear from you, as always. I’ll have a listen to this & get back to you. Certainly looks to be an interesting operation.

      Ric

    2. Hey Jen,

      Fascinating. Technology which addresses all the issues in a way that leaves us all still feeling a little unsettled. Although I suspect some of the issues may be bigger than he makes them seem, like taste, and the marbled thing on a steak.

      As to your other point about liking meat, I certainly get that. This may be just me going off somewhere, but I wonder whether we are not sort of wired to like meat, as we may be with things like sugar and fat, given what it must have meant to our ancestors. These things were hard to find back in the day when we were a lot more active and outside than we are now. They were a treat, cause for a celebratory meal. If that’s true, then I would still argue that leaving meat behind is part of an evolutionary process we all need to engage in, though I’m not an absolutist; cutting back makes as much sense to me as quitting.

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