Recently I came across an article defending the consumption of meat. In this response, I attempt to refute each of the seven reasons the author gave in support of her refusal to give up meat. I’ll let you be the judge of whether the refutations were successful. The original article is a quick read; I suggest reading it first before continuing.
- “I want the good kind of iron.”
The premise for this first point is true: only meat and fish contain heme iron (what the author refers to as “good” iron). Nonheme iron, found in vegetables, is not as efficiently absorbed by the body as heme iron. But once heme or nonheme iron are absorbed by the body, they are used in the same way — this is why I found it rather odd that the author was (somewhat misleadingly) presenting the differences between heme and nonheme iron as “good” and “bad” . The case is simply that nonheme iron is absorbed less effectively, which I assume to be the author’s trouble. Slower absorption can mean inadequate intake. However, studies have shown that iron deficiency is not more common among vegetarians than meat eaters.
Soybeans, lentils, spinach, and tofu are all good sources of iron. Vitamin C also boosts absorption of iron, and many high-iron vegetables also contain Vitamin C, or are often prepared in conjunction with Vitamin C rich foods. If you’re still worried about lack of iron in a meat free diet, there are supplements available. No animals need to be killed in order for you to get your adequate iron intake.
This point comes as an obvious appeal to emotion. There’s not much to say here. Yes, vegetarians and vegans do not eat ribs. Yes, ribs taste good. But putting ribs on some kind of pedestal of ultimate taste only goes to show that the author has not been exposed to some of the many tasty foods that do not contain dead animals. Not to mention, there are so many substitutes for meat, growing day by day
3. “Vitamin B12 only comes from animals.”
True. Luckily, B12 supplements do exist, and they provide more than the recommended daily value of B12, and they do it without killing animals! B12 is of crucial importance to the body. We all must find ways to obtain it, but if there is a way that does not harm other beings, why would we not choose that way? Since an equally viable alternative to the obtention of B12 exists, just as with iron, I found both points that the author made regarding these (in which she suggests that meat is necessary to obtain them) to be invalid.
4. “Eating meat made us smarter.”
I don’t feel the need to debate the basis for this claim. Let’s roll with it. Assuming meat made our ancestors smarter, what is the justification for its present consumption? If there is evidence that meat (in its current form of production and consumption) continues to make us smarter, I haven’t seen it. I sense the presence of the fallacy of appealing to tradition. The circumstances of human lifestyles have changed greatly since paleolithic times. Livestock are now factory farmed and do not roam free, as they did when they were hunted by our ancestors, who chose to hunt them because they did not have other options to feed themselves (as we do).
Lastly, the evolutionary evidence for the intelligence boost meat provided cited by the author — that our guts shrank — is already in effect. That is, if eating meat shrank our guts which made us smarter, we already reap the benefits of having a smaller gut, with or without meat consumption. Consuming meat in modern times does not follow logically, as there is no evidence for meat’s current ability to increase intelligence. There is also no evidence for a decrease in intelligence caused by a meat-free diet. And even if there was evidence, we would have to measure the tradeoff of increased intelligence (in the very long term, with the known detrimental effects of meat on health: obesity, heart disease, etc.)
5. “I don’t want to feel left out on holidays.”
Unlike the author, I have had the dual experiences of attending these events both as a meat-eater and as a non-meat-eater. From personal experience, I haven’t felt left out on holidays (or any occasion) just because I don’t eat meat. Claiming that “these fond memories wouldn’t exist without meat” is easy to say because it’s unfalsifiable. Anything that can’t be proven wrong is not an appeal to logic. Of my own experience, I could easily say “these fond memories wouldn’t exist with meat”.
I don’t see eating meat, or the lack thereof, as contributing to any of my friendships or memories. It is simply a small detail in the larger picture. If your friends are truly that, they should be respectful of the great decision you’ve made and be willing to make the small accommodations needed. Maybe they’ll consider dropping meat too.
6. “You can still be an ethical meat-eater.”
No. No. No. This statement encompasses what is wrong with the whole article: a constant, futile search for any sort of justification or rationalization for the consumption of meat.
Before I continue I’d like to address the idea of “more humane” products. The author briefly mentions making conscious choices in her meat consumption by purchasing foods with labels like “grass fed” and “free range”. While these represent an improvement in the conditions livestock are raised in, it’s important to recognize these labels are often misleading. They give consumers an easy solution that serves to repress their fears about animal treatment. Improving conditions are good, but they still result in killing. And there’s nothing ethical or humane about killing.
It’s not a surprise that the author begins the elaboration of this point with “I love animals.” I wrote about this a while back. It is simply not possible to love animals and eat them. Love requires some kind of demonstration, and the easiest way to demonstrate love is to not kill what you love when there is no need to kill it. I don’t care if you protest Sea World, donate to PETA, or run a sanctuary: if you claim to love animals yet eat them, you’re a hypocrite.
Then there’s the second statement: “But I’m not willing to sacrifice my happiness for theirs.” This make two false assumptions: the first is that not eating meat is a sacrifice. The second is that not eating meat only increases the happiness of animals. The environment and your health will also benefit from your move to a meat-free diet.
My interest peaked when I read that “some evidence shows that vegetarians kill more animals than meat-eaters.” But this moment was fleeting. I was not swayed by the presented evidence: tractors kill small animals to make space for fields of kale and whole grains. This is unfortunate, but there is no way that this proves that vegetarians kill more animals than meat eaters.
Let’s start with the fact that kale and whole grains are not consumed exclusively by vegetarians: meat eaters also eat these foods. Since there are a lot more meat-eaters than vegetarians, meat-eaters likely kill more animals this way. Also, the process of clearing fields using tractors kills animals, yes, but it only does it once: it is not a repetitive process like the slaughter of livestock. I find it hard to believe that more animals are killed in a one time process than one that goes on indefinitely (measuring under any time span). Lastly, let’s not forget that livestock need to be fed too: they are usually fed soy and corn in a (terribly inefficient) process which requires fields to be cleared, undoubtedly killing rabbits and mice as well.
7. “Our digestive tract makes us omnivorous.”
The fact that we are omnivores does not mean that we should consume both meat and vegetables, it just means that we can. Being omnivorous gave humans the best chance of survival. Now that we can survive without the consumption of animals, or even animal products in general, as millions of vegetarians and vegans do, being omnivorous loses relevance.
Indeed, it’s not possible to support vegetarianism on the basis of human anatomy and physiology. But the same basis does not support consumption of meat either.
I’m tired of seeing work that contributes to a culture of misinformation. Challenge your own beliefs and dogma. Be a free thinker. The resources are there.
When you do research for yourself, you can cross out each of these points, and more, one by one. The conclusion you’ll reach isn’t pretty: the two fundamental reasons people eat meat are because it’s easy and because it tastes good.
But that wouldn’t make for an interesting argument, would it?