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Having Your Meat and Eating It, Too?

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cowsI do not have a problem recognizing that we are at the top of the food chain – I think that it is no more wrong for us to eat meat than it is for lions or wolves to do so. Of course lions and wolves do not have consciences or ethics that tell them eating meat is wrong, like we do; but perhaps it is not so simple, or even so ideal, for us to deny our animalistic carnivorous natures.

Lions and wolves also do not have the ability to find alternate protein sources, like we do. Yet it is not absolutely clear that these are better for us, or for the planet. Proponents of the paleo diet insist that legumes, including beans and nuts, are full of toxic lectins; paleo message boards and blogs are filled with former vegans claiming that they were at death’s door until they started eating meat again.

Soy can provide us with all of the essential amino acids, but some think that its high phytoestrogen content mitigates its nutritional value. Fish is a terrific source of protein, but our current appetite for it has brought the world’s fisheries to the brink of collapse and severely disturbed the oceans’ ecosystems. And of course dairy and eggs can provide protein – but the animals raised to provide us with dairy and eggs are not treated any better than those raised to provide us with meat.

Although I do not have a problem with the idea of eating meat, I do have a problem with torturing animals to make it cheaper for us to do it – so I pay more to buy meat from animals that have been “humanely and ethically” raised right up until the moment they are slaughtered so I can eat them. I buy from and I think of this as the truer cost of eating meat; industrially produced meat might cost fewer dollars when I am purchasing it, but I will pay for it in other ways – my health, my conscience, and the state of the environment.

Since the meat I buy is so very expensive, I definitely eat less of it than I otherwise might. Hopefully this ends up being better for my body, the animals I end up eating, and the planet, although it is certainly not better for my wallet. In eating this way I can practice curbing my primal carnivorous nature without completely denying it. But I know that this option is not available to everyone for financial reasons, and that is the crux of the problem we face.

With great power comes great responsibility, right? For better or worse, humans are the lords and stewards of this planet and the animals that inhabit it. While I do think it is within our rights to eat them, I do not think it is not within our rights to treat them cruelly just to save a few bucks.

Image: Robert Joppa, from KOL Foods

Diana Gitig About the Author: Diana Gitig received her Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Genetics from Cornell University’s Graduate School of Medical Sciences in 2001. Since then she is a freelance science writer. Diana is based in New York. Follow on Twitter @dmgitig.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 19 Comments

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  1. 1. carolcarre 11:18 am 05/2/2012

    Being a person who consumes meat means that you consume more resources per calorie/gram of protein. While this would be meaningless in a world with a much smaller human population, it becomes more problematic when we have excessive (by my standards) population, and are really beyond our carrying capacity for carnivory.

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  2. 2. Tucker M 12:11 pm 05/2/2012

    carolcarre, I don’t think there are any fundamental resource issues involved in feeding the world’s population. It’s true that there are huge issues feeding everyone, but those issues are more related to poverty, warfare, territorialism, despotism, etc. So I’m not sure the resource argument really works, as a reason not to eat meat.
    You could make the same argument about truffles; there simply aren’t enough of them for everybody to have them, so we shouldn’t eat them. An egalitarian approach to be sure, but still.

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  3. 3. marclevesque 12:41 pm 05/2/2012

    “Fish is a terrific source of protein, but our current appetite for it has brought the world’s fisheries to the brink of collapse and severely disturbed the oceans’ ecosystems.”

    Could you expand on what you mean by “current appetite” leading to “brink of collapse and severely disturbed the oceans’ ecosystems” because it does not seem to follow. And talking of paleo diets why not mention the health aspects of insect proteins and fats.

    “And of course dairy and eggs can provide protein – but the animals raised to provide us with dairy and eggs are not treated any better than those raised to provide us with meat”

    Not all providers are in the same basket, it depends among other things, like you say, on if animals have been humanely and ethically raised right up until the moment they are slaughtered –but why do you only speak of kosher alternatives, why not other religious and non-religious alternatives, and why do you link to those two specific kosher companies ?

    It makes me wonder if this article is simply an ad for “Kolfoods” and “Grow and behold”.

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  4. 4. naya8 1:13 pm 05/2/2012

    Very good article Diana. I agree with you. I stoped eating meat for tow years, then I returned to eat again because my bodey “asked for it” . Homo sapiens reahed what we are today because of eating meat. and I am convinced that our brain became so intelegent because of eating cooked meat.

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  5. 5. ThereIsNogod 1:46 pm 05/2/2012

    Noting that this is a blog and therefore NOT necessarily a science based article…
    I find it baffling how people will go on about the ethical treatment of animals “…right up until the moment they are slaughtered so I can eat them.”
    then suddenly turn a blind eye and support “religiously” slaughtered animals.
    Do you understand how theses animals are slaughtered? They are slit open and allowed to bleed to death!
    I too eat meat and I too buy free-range animals (I hunt too) BUT I will not support the torture of an animal in the name of any god.
    Get real! You are simply advertising for your faith.

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  6. 6. DNLee 1:53 pm 05/2/2012

    I’m an omivore all day. I don’t have a problem with eating meat, BUT I whole-heartedly believe that people’s meat consumption is very high, perhaps too high.

    People didn’t always eat this much meat – for various reasons: too expensive $, opportunity to get it was occasional. Plus, the nutritional guidelines clearly note we don’t need that much for out health. By paying more for meat (which has been humanely raised, thus more expensive for farmers/rancher, meaning fewer units) results in folks eating a little less meat per capita. And I’d like to think there are some positive benefits for the person, the animals, and the planet.

    Bon appetit, in moderation!

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  7. 7. dmgitig 2:58 pm 05/2/2012

    marclevesque, your comments are fair. I only linked to these sites because I wrote in first person and this is where I buy. I didn’t at all intend to claim that they treat animals better than other sources because they are kosher, because I don’t think that that is the case.

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  8. 8. geojellyroll 4:28 pm 05/2/2012

    I’m a vegetarian for a variety of reasons. However, I recognize that humans are omnivores. Meat is part of our natural diet.

    Until the past few decades most humans had a far higher chance of dying of starvation, disease, etc. than meat induced illnesses. I, however, don’t want ‘to make it’ to 40 (already past that) but want to be active and healthy at 85 . My wife and I are in our late 50′s, take no medications and have healthy vital signs…probably due largely to a vegetarian diet and exercise.

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  9. 9. geojellyroll 4:33 pm 05/2/2012

    Thereisnogod: “I find it baffling how people will go on about the ethical treatment of animals “…right up until the moment they are slaughtered so I can eat them.”
    then suddenly turn a blind eye and support “religiously” slaughtered animals.”

    Agreed. Same with tolerating ignorant practices that come out of the mythololgy of native Americans.

    Ignorance and cruelty are ignorance and cruelty regardless of any cultural veneer to justify them.

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  10. 10. marclevesque 5:46 pm 05/2/2012


    Thanks for your reply.

    It appears I subscribe to the same principles as you do when I buy food.

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  11. 11. jerryd 9:40 pm 05/2/2012

    So therisnogod how do you kill animals? To quote That 70′s show, They aren’t going to shoot themselves!!

    Cutting their throat is a humane way because it almost instantly knocks them out once there is no blood pressure to the brain.

    Nor does meat have to take too much resources. Many animals can be fed just grass including cattle also goats, sheep and many others fed off the land.

    As for fish in Fl we are over run with them. Only a few commercial fish are low in saltwater. Freshwater though you can near walk across them in a lot of places and free for the taking within reason.

    Just for fun I’m going to try fishing for food banks to help get quality protein to our poor.

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  12. 12. Panimerus 3:35 am 05/3/2012

    Off-topic, but I suddenly realised that there should be a “report spam”-button in here.

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  13. 13. farmetarian 10:39 am 05/3/2012

    Great article! You may be interested in joining the movement of eating only animals that were raised on true FARMS, not factories. Learn more about living and eating cruelty free here:

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  14. 14. Bora Zivkovic 4:12 pm 05/3/2012

    Sorry for the delay… spam comments now removed.

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  15. 15. Dr. Strangelove 1:25 am 05/4/2012


    Grazing animals are not environmentally friendly. There are more cattle, pigs, lambs than humans by weight. If not raised in pens, they will occupy large tracts of land. Most of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest is due to grazing cattle.

    And the cruel treatment of livestock is not in their raising but in their slaughtering. Cows are electrocuted then their throat is slit open. You can see their body in violent convulsion as they bleed to death slowly. Live chickens are hang by their neck in a conveyor then their heads are pulled off from their bodies by this efficient machine.

    If animals could talk, they would tell you, we don’t mind living in a pen with free food as long as you don’t slaughter us like animals. Oh well, they’re animals and they can’t talk.

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  16. 16. naya8 2:00 pm 05/4/2012

    @Dr. Strangelove: Once I used to thing like you said: ” the cruel treatment of livestock is not in their raising but in their slaughtering” but then I realized that these animals that we used to eat through evolution, are not conscious enough to realize that they are going to slaughter them. The most cruel thing is to slaughter any organism that is conscious for that act.It will not matter after death if these animals are hang by their neck or bleed for death.The thing that mater for them is to be raised under good conditions and natural environment that only human could give them these conditions for they could not live without his paternality.If I have to choose between slaughtering animals and eating their meat or weakining my brain and body, you know what I will choose.

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  17. 17. bucketofsquid 5:23 pm 05/4/2012

    If you don’t like how farm/factory animals are treated try watching the life of wild animals. When the cute little fox rips chunks out of the still living bunny you will notice that the bunny sounds much like a small child screaming. I’ll stick to eating well fed, if inhumanely killed, beef.

    I still have occasional nightmares about my 2 bunnies dying and how they screamed. Do the cows scream when they die at the packing plant? I doubt it or everyone would have videos or be talking about it.

    Humans are animals and part of nature. Everything we do is natural. When overcrowded we react much like rats do under the same conditions. Stop thinking that you are divinely superior to the animals. That gives you a much more realistic perspective of life and omnivorism. Even plants react to known dangers. I am a member of the Society for the Ethic Treatment of Plants. We have gathered some interesting studies done by others on the behavior of plants under threatening conditions. Some plants scream in ultra sonic frequencies when harmed. They just can’t fight back or run away.

    Unless you eat rocks you are harming something. That is the natural way. We should all eat what keeps us healthy. Various ancestries adapted to different foods and what is good for some is bad for others. A one size fits all nutrition plan is a good way to kill off a lot of people.

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  18. 18. Dr. Strangelove 1:02 am 05/7/2012


    Your logic dictates that if prisoners are unaware that they will be eventually killed, it’s humane to pull their heads off or electrocuted them and bleed them to death, as long as they have nice prison cells.

    BTW you don’t choose between slaughtering animals and weakening your brain. They are not mutually exclusive, unless your slaughtering of animals made your brain weak.

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  19. 19. ThereIsNogod 7:12 pm 05/7/2012

    Lots of great thought here. While I disagree with some of the original content, it has certainly generated very good thought in the comments.

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