~ Where the Sun Will Never Set on Our liberty ~
What is ethical eating?
There is a segment among the vegetarian and vegan communities that contend that eating meat is morally wrong, and eating vegetables is not only more ethical, but more environmentally friendly as well. Not all vegetarians and vegans hold this view of course, but those that do believe themselves morally superior to those that don’t. They have essentially turned a diet into an ideology, and an ideology into a quasi-religion.
To preface, I don’t have a problem with vegetarians or vegans. If someone prefers to eat only vegetables, that’s their prerogative. To each their own. However, I do take issue with those who turn it into an ethical argument. These are who this article is aimed at. This may seem like a strange topic to cover at first, but it does tie into environmentalism and climate change.
Ethical vegetarians and vegans will contend the same reasons for not eating animals are the same reasons for not eating humans, i.e. the meat is murder argument. So let’s consider this. Ethics is defined as “a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct.” When ascribing ethics to a diet it becomes a religion of sorts. This explains the religious zeal militant vegans and vegetarians have against meat eaters. So, that begs the question of what makes eating vegetables so ethical. What do they base it upon besides emotion and opinions? Lets first address the issue of killing animals for food.
Is meat murder?
The ethical eaters often confuse killing with murdering, but they are two separate things. Murder always involves killing, but killing does not always involve murder. The distinction is that murder involves malice, which is defined as “a desire to harm others or to see others suffer; extreme ill will or spite.” When humans kill animals for food, there’s no malice or ill will involved. Animals are killed for sustenance and more often in times past, clothing. Therefore, the meat equals murder argument is only a fallacy designed to demonize meat eaters. Incidentally, many of these same people who show such compassion for animals don’t show the same compassion for unborn babies, but that’s another topic altogether.
Another problem with equating killing animals with murder is that human life must, by necessity, become devalued and lowered to that of animals. This is because animals are a lower life form, and can never be anything more than that. They can’t sympathize, emphasize, or show compassion and mercy. They have no moral sense of right and wrong, only instinct. Unlike humans they can’t philosophize and question the nature of reality or ponder the meaning of life. They have no inner desire for a greater purpose or the need to worship a higher being. They have no hopes, dreams or aspirations, but humans do. These are but a few of the vast differences between humans and animals. So the meat is murder argument turns humans into animals, stripping away everything that makes us unique and special, including our ability to ponder topics such as these.
With that in mind, if we run the meat is murder argument to its logical (or illogical) conclusion, shouldn’t it also be morally wrong for animals to eat other animals? If we are all equal then why are animals held to a different standard than humans? To acknowledge such a contradiction would be to admit that humans and animals are different.
Plants don’t like to be eaten either
Rather one eats meat or vegetables for sustenance, the end result is the same. Something once living is eaten so that something else might live. Such is the cycle of life. And, as it turns out, plants don’t particularly liked to be eaten either. Experiments on the thale cress plant indicate that it knows when it’s being eaten, and releases a mild toxic to deter predators. And this defense mechanism isn’t unique to the thale cress.
Many plants we eat produce anti-nutrients which act as a protective mechanism, and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. They can also cause a host of other problems in the human body. Without going into too much detail, these anti-nutrients include phytic acid, lectins, oxalates, saponins, and phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens, which are found in flax and soy, mimic human estrogen. Not only do they cause birth control effects in insects, but they cause hormone imbalances in humans. Incidentally, most vegetarian dishes contain soy, which has been shown to lower testosterone in men. Soy is also one of the most genetically modified crops, with copious amounts of pesticides. So, with all that in mind, since plants don’t like to be eaten and they can’t run away like animals, the case could as easily be made that it’s less ethical to eat vegetables. Of course, I'm being facetious to make a point.
Is eating vegetables better for the environment?
Now we get to the crux of the matter. The second issue is the belief that ethical eating is better for the environment. To the contrary, agriculture also contributes greenhouse gases and pollution. For example, rice is the second largest crop in the world, but rice paddies are also a significant source of methane emissions. Then there are the fertilizers we use to grow crops, which contribute greatly to the increase of nitrous oxide in the environment. The runoff from fertilizers also pollute our lakes, rivers, and oceans. The pesticides used to ward off insects to increase crop yields also kills bees, which are important for pollination. Not to mention the negative health effects that pesticides have in humans. All this is to not demonize agriculture, but to make the point that everything humans do will have an impact on the environment. There’s no getting around that.
Not enough farmland to feed the world
There is another consideration. Vegetables alone may not be able to support a world population of seven billion people and counting. We have already cleared an area roughly the size of South America for crops. In order to clear more crop land would require cutting down rain forests, which destroy plant biodiversity, and destroy animal habitats, leading to extinctions.
To compound the issue, not all soil or climate is conducive for growing crops. The World Bank reported in 2010 that only 37.7 percent of the world’s total land area is considered agricultural land. Some climates are too cold, while other climates are too hot. Other factors include soil composition, rockiness, and altitude. Then there is urban development, which limits the amount of available farm land. All this is to say that meat helps to offset global food consumption.
Cows, public enemy number one
Since we’re on this topic, cows have been a big target because of their emissions of methane gas. Direct emissions from cattle represent 2 percent of total U.S. greenhouse emissions. Globally that number increases to 6% when feed production and land usage are factored in. However, there are important considerations that are ignored when it comes to cattle and methane emissions. Cattle that are grain-fed produce fewer emissions than those that are grass-fed. Cattle intended for slaughter typically spend two-thirds of their life grazing, which helps with things like erosion, and the rest is spent grain-fed, which reduce methane emissions. Also, as beef production has gotten more efficient, so too has carbon emissions from cattle declined.
But is methane emissions from cattle really a problem? Contrary to popular belief, methane, like carbon dioxide, is not a poisonous gas. Methane is a natural non-toxic gas that comes from the earth, animals, even humans. Methane is touted as a concern because it absorbs the sun’s heat with even more efficiency than carbon dioxide. However, atmospheric water already absorbs the heat that methane could, and the same heat cannot be absorbed twice. Moreover, the amount of methane that makes up our atmosphere is infinitesimally small, only 0.00017 percent. There’s actually three times more helium in the atmosphere than methane. Plus, methane dissipates after 12 years. In the end there is no evidence that methane or carbon dioxide emissions have replaced the natural forces that are responsible for climate change thought earth’s history.
If anyone thinks that methane from cattle is still a problem, there are viable alternatives to beef without the need to go meatless. The other red meat, ostriches, only have one stomach so their emissions of methane are considerably lower. As an added bonus, their meat is low in fat and cholesterol and high in protein and iron.
To summarize, eating vegetables are no more ethical than eating meat. Nor is it more environmentally friendly to eat vegetables. Rather our food comes from animals or vegetables they both equally have an impact on the environment. But advances in technology are making both more environmentally friendly. And finally, the methane emitted from cows and the danger it poses is largely over-exaggerated. So don’t feel guilty about eating a juicy hamburger once in a while, or if you prefer, an ostrich burger. Bon appetite!