Eating Animals: Is It Time We Evolved?

childlike curiosity
Creative Commons License photo credit: robert.molinarius

“We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err.”
Henry Beston

Is it time to stop eating animals? Is meat really necessary in a world where so many other options exist? Is the practice of eating meat something that is outdated, old fashioned and perhaps a little bit primitive? In this post I want to share some thoughts I have been having lately about eating meat and whether or not it is time we evolved.

A new angle to look at

The quote at the start of this post is from a book called The Outermost House by Henry Beston. Henry was a nature writer who produced this masterpiece while living in solitude on Cape Cod. There on the windy beach he found a new appreciation for the natural world and, in my opinion, wrote one of the most inspiring and opinion-shifting passages about our relationship with animals. Here is the full quote:

We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

What I love about this quote is that it very subtly challenges our ideas about animals by arguing that they are not below us but are in fact other nationalities existing within our own. This concept is an interesting one because it brings up new ideas about eating meat. The documentary Earthlings explains this further by asking us why we consider racism and sexism to be negative traits but species-ism to be perfectly okay. On a logical front it doesn’t seem to make sense because discrimination against animals has the exact same patterns, motives and behaviors as the characteristics that we, as a society, most abhor.

Is it time we evolved?

Creative Commons License photo credit: Michael W. May

The world “evolve” keeps coming in to my mind when I think about eating meat because it seems as though the more reading I do about meat the less I feel drawn to it. As you probably know by now I am an aspiring vegetarian. I still eat meat once a week but for the most part I avoid it. Inwardly it feels as if I am evolving a little bit from who I used to be – an overweight meat lover who stayed comfortable in the thought that the killing was out of sight and out of mind. But in a world where we are now all so conscious about global warming, disease and ethics I feel as though meat eating just doesn’t fit anymore. Some questions I have been asking myself lately:

  • Is it healthy?
    After reading a few studies about the fact that vegetarians live longer and are less likely to develop cancer or heart disease I started to wonder whether meat was as healthy as we had always been told. Sure, meat has proteins and lots of vitamins but so do the variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and other foods that are available. And these don’t seem to come with the health consequences.
  • Is it ethical?
    Growing up I was always told that killing animals, hurting things, etc. were unacceptable but the idea of meat eating was never challenged. This is probably because my parents wanted me to have meat while I was growing and developing but now that I am on my own I wonder whether it is time to challenge the status quo. I would never kill an animal so why do I consider it okay to have someone else do it for me?
  • Is it logical to ignore an animal’s suffering?
    I have a cat and a dog and I love them like children. They have mood swings, get happy when I come home and cry out when they get hurt. I do not believe that their emotional responses are as developed as a human being’s is but I am 100% certain that they posses them. They are not like plants or rocks. They have a very active and emotional brain. And, from what I have been told, pigs are a lot smarter than dogs. They run away when they see the knife coming. So how can I justify eating pork and bacon when it comes from an animal that thinks and feels with greater capacity than my cat and dog?
  • Is it socially responsible?
    Scientists have stated that the meat industry does more damage to the environment than any other industry or problem. Cattle emit enormous amounts of methane gas, they have to be fed and fattened up and that food needs to be grown and manufactured. Then we slaughter the cow and refrigerate it, truck it around the country or fly it overseas. The sheer amount of energy and pollution that goes into making one steak is staggering. And in a world where hunger and food prices are becoming a serious problem (never mind the global warming) it seems as though meat has become socially irresponsible.

These are the thoughts I have been having lately about meat eating. I am going to try and reduce the amount of meat I eat because I feel like it is something that I need to be doing. I do like the taste of meat and I understand why we eat it. But, it feels like it is time to perhaps move on.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on the idea of evolving away from eating meat? Do you think it is something that has potential or do you think that meat should always be a part of our society and culture? If you can’t stand the idea of giving up meat, even though you might concede there are downfalls, why do you think that is? I would be really interested to hear all of your ideas on this topic as it is something that I have been quite interested in for a while now.

17 thoughts on “Eating Animals: Is It Time We Evolved?

  1. Human evolution itself was based on the consumption of animal protein. Human development of brain to gut ratio is unlike that of a cow. A cow has four stomachs to process something low in calories like grass. There’s a reason from a biological standpoint that VERY few species of vegetation offer a complete amino acid profile. Quinoa is the only one that comes to mind.

    Any study that you’ve seen probably doesn’t take into account the control study’s diet. No doubt the current Western diet has a lot to blame for our obesity problems, however “eating meat” shouldn’t be the culprit.

    Removing health from the equation, I agree with you on the other factors though. The food industry has effectively ignored the sentiments and feelings of animals. Although their final destination is the dinner table, an animal happier throughout its lifestime will yield a higher quality final product. They deserve much more respect and in turn it’s a (relatively) win-win situation for animals and humans.

  2. Great comment Eugene! Both sides argued nicely.

    Do you think that human evolution is just a biological one? For example, if we eat meat we may continue to grow stronger and bigger and so on but is there another type of ethical evolution that needs to take place also?

  3. I think it is hypocritical to insist on free range farming , annimals roaming free outside etc. when they end up the same- whack!head off and onto our tables.I eat meat and love animals at the same time- wow, that also sounds hypocritical…Tough one.

  4. In response to the first post – very few types of vegetation contain a complete amino acid profile but most are only lacking one or two essential amino acids. Methionine is lacking in legumes and lysine is lacking in cereals. There is no reason that these essential amino acids need to be consumed together for all the proteins in the body to function properly. As long as one eats a mixed plant diet they will be completly fine as far as amino acids are concerned.

  5. The majority of people who eat meat in the U.S. have no idea where it comes from and no respect for the animal that gave its life. I agree that Americans should strongly consider reducing the amount of meat in their diet, but I think it is much more important to cultivate awareness and appreciation for what one puts into his/her body. I think this applies to everything we eat, not just meat products.

    The evolution you talked about is a good idea, but has no meaning behind it if it is not in conjunction with a higher level of consciousness when it comes to our consumption. Although it is a paradox, I do not think it makes you a hypocrite to say that you love animals but at the same time consider it valuable to have meat as part of your diet. In fact, what I am saying is that it is only appropriate to consider eating meat once you take time to appreciate the animal that gave its life.

  6. The majority of people in the U.S. have no idea where their meat comes from and no respect for the animal that was killed. I agree that American should strongly consider reducing the amount of meat in their diets, but I think it is much more important to cultivate an awareness for what one puts into his/ her body.

    I like your idea of ethical evolution, but I do not think it holds any weight unless it is taken in conjunction with a higher consciousness about our consumption. Although it is a paradox, I do not think it makes you a hypocrite to say that you love animals but also consider meat a valuable part of your diet. In fact, what I am saying is that it is only appropriate to consider eating meat once one has taken some time to actively appreciate the animal that gave it’s life.

  7. I went vegetarian 20 years ago because I believed it was better for my health and for the environment (obviously for the animals). I got fatter and fatter and sicker and sicker, resolutely refusing to consider it could be my vegetarian diet. (And I was the ‘healthy’ sort of vegetarian, not the sort who just doesn’t eat mean but eats lots of junk.)
    I found a weight loss program that allowed my body to heal and re-balance, which included meat, but NO grains (even whole) and no sugars (even natural). I eventually adopted a diet re: The Primal Blueprint
    To be honest, the thought of eating meat still grosses me out. I tell people I’m no longer a vegetarian, but I am a hypocrite. However, I lost 85 lb. and feel fantastic, so I can no longer believe that we are not meant to eat meat. We are hunter/gatherers. We did not start eating grains and beans and soy in any great quantity (only infrequently, in small amounts and/or for survival situations) because the energy expenditure vs. the caloric benefit was just to high.
    We started getting fat and unhealthy not just as we moved less (though undoubtedly that is a factor) but when we began to eat flour, corn and soy in large amounts.
    Anyone who can be healthy and eat that way, more power to you. I wish I could. I prefer vegetarian. But holding at a healthy place and weight for me means I will continue to eat meat.
    I do however go out of my way to look for organic farms that treat their animals well while they are alive.

  8. Some people are different, I agree. I know a lot of Tibetans just cannot eat vegetables without getting sick because they have eaten meat for so long in parts of Tibet where plants didn’t grow.

    Good on you for trying though.

  9. Let me start off by thanking the author for a great post. I was a vegetarian for 7 years, and have now been a vegan for 2. I feel better about my carbon use, the amount of damage I’m causing to the world, and the amount of suffering I am causing to animals. Going veg can seem like a large step for some people, but I would like to say that it gets easier and easier with time. I honestly do not miss meat or dairy now, although I do lament the price of vegan ice creams! 🙂

    Another thing I would like to mention though, is that all vegetarians and vegans should be watching their intake levels of vitamin B12. This is something found usually only in meat, and it is required for the body, but many many foods are B12 fortified these days (cereals, milks, food bars, etc). It’s just something for people to watch out for.

    Also if anyone reading this has questions or concerns, please browse through the many helpful veggie/vegan forums out there on the internet. Those can also be good places to network and share thoughts.

    Good day!

  10. Hello daily minders,

    I’m beginning to think that the universe is out to get me, and this is why:

    Early this week, my local PBS station aired “KING CORN”…and you are probably wondering what corn has to do with this subject?! Well, for my husband and I was an eye opener about many things this documentary is about, especially our meat consumption. I’ve been trying to lower our meat intake to twice a week for a long while now (not very successfully) I’ve been doing it for healthy reasons, but after watching “king Corn”, I’ve more than one reason. The most important decision my hubby and I had made this week is to try our best to lower our meat intake to one serving a week if not zero! and only buy local, and grass fed animal meat.

    Here I am now readying your article about meat, as well as everybody’s comments and thinking that I must be in the right track!

    All I can say to everybody out there is to take two hours of your weekend, and watch “King Corn” online…and then we’ll talk about it!

  11. All animals are intelligent and emotional beings. If you watch calves running and playing with their mothers, they behave just like young Labrador Retrievers. Mother cows pine for their calves after they are separated and sold to other farms. If I am not willing to kill a living animal by my own hand for nourishment, and I am not, then I imagine I am not meant to eat animals. Imagine trading places; I can’t imagine the horror and sadness of me and/or my family being hunted as food let alone being raised, led to slaughter and killed in a slaughterhouse for the purpose of food for others. I believe animals are included as “others” in the Golden Rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Being on a vegetarian diet, and especially after eating fruits and vegetables, I notice a pronounced sense of well being, contented happiness and compassion for others.
    Be well.

  12. I have been both veg and vegan..

    Wanna talk “evolution?” It is proven we evolved to be the humans we are because a) our ancestors started eating meat, and, b) later started cooking food. Given this science, the puritanical rant from the veg community is absurd. We are who we are BECAUSE our ancestors ate meat. Period. If you choose not to, I respect that fully, but to cop holier-than-thou attitude is naive and immature.

    There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with eating meat. How we raise animals and how we eat meat in industrial nations has become grotesque, and I oppose it. Hunting, which we are hard-wired to do since a few million years ago, is far more natural than cutting down millions of acres of ecosystems to farm them.

    The “cruelty-free diet” is an ideological farce. If it weren’t for destroyed ecosystems-turned-farms (which kills or displaces millions of animals, birds and insects), lots of fossil fuel and highly mechanized farm management (which has killed our soils, and rural America and its economies), veg’s would starve to death in temperate climate winters. And none that I’ve met have the guts to admit it.

    And that’s of no consequence to me. When the tractors have stopped and the trucks can’t move food from California, Florida, Mexico, South America, etc. to the wintry parts of North America, I will be here, with meat on my table, and willing to feed you.

  13. I suggest researching both sides of not eating meat. There are many articles online that show positive results of not eating meat, but the further I have researched I’ve found more testimonials and theories that in my opinion prove otherwise. … One question I had to ask myself: Do I enjoy eating meat? … What bothers me about eating meat is the thought of animals being treated like s**t due to industrial farming.

  14. There are many necessary amino acids found in meat that are difficult to find in other foods. For most people if you are deciding to become a vegetarian you can’t just simply remove meat from your current diet and get required nutrients. If you decide to remove meat from your diet you should research proper diets. My sister removed meat from her diet with no research about how to go about it and she actually started losing hair!

  15. Is it really fair to call off the eating of animals as evolution. I could hastily make the claim that it would be the devolution of human kind.

    As for vegetarians living longer, I believe people live longer if they eat healthy and minimize their intake. Humans need to eat more vegetables, but not rule-out meat.

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