Eating Without Killing
Without Animal Cruelty
By: Douglas Dunn
Contributor To: Vegetarian Times
This brief explanation is intended as a
simple response to the question most
asked by friends, relatives and loved
ones: "Why did you become a vegetarian?"
Having grown up eating meat, the idea of
giving up the centerpiece of the dietary system seems incomprehensible.
So, whether the reasons offered are persuasive or not, at least perhaps they
will help others to understand that there is a solid framework of rational
decision-making that went into this determination.
The reasons fall into three main categories:
1-Health considerations (purely a matter of self-interest).
2-Environmental considerations (concern about other people and the milieu in
which we share the functioning of a civilized society).
3-Concerns about animal cruelty (concern with a broader interest in the
feelings of other sentient creatures).
The first consideration often begins with that of self-interest: the desire to live
a long and healthy life. And the eating of meat is not healthy for humans; it is
not even natural to those of our species!
The American diet, heavy with sweets, fats, additives and chemicals, bears
little resemblance to that which sustained either our earliest human ancestors
or the primate members of the animal kingdom such as gorillas, orangutans,
gibbons and chimpanzees which are most biologically similar to ourselves.
So what? We like our red meat, pizza, chocolates and fast foods. A meat and
fat-based diet has served generations of Americans. "If it ain't broke, don't fix
But why is it that, when biologists say we should be capable of living to ages
of 100 and up, that we die in our 50's, 60's and 70's and call it "old age." Its
To "fix it" we must make sure that we ingest all needed nutrients, while
avoiding the toxins and unhealthy substances that reduce physical vigor and
shorten our life spans.
Our bodies did not evolve for diets that require the killing of other sentient
beings. As with our closest biological relatives, our bodies were developed to
thrive on the fresh fruits, nuts, grains and vegetables that were abundant in
the primeval surroundings from which our species emerged. These are the
foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and other harmful substances.
Our dental structures, digestive systems and other physiological traits are
similar to those animals that eat produce, and are very different from
meat-eating species. This suggests that such foods are the ones, which are
natural for our bodies and which should be central to our dietary habits.
Imagine you're walking through a beautiful forest and stumble across the
day-old carcass of a cow. What's your reaction? Are you hungry? Or does
this sound gross? A real carnivore, like a wolf or leopard, would be licking his
chops -- he likes to eat his meat raw, including the raw guts, too.
If you think it's natural for humans to eat meat, put a three-year-old toddler in a
crib with an apple and a live chicken and watch which one he eats and which
one he plays with. If you give the same apple and chicken to a young cat of
equivalent maturity, it will play with the apple and eagerly kill and eat the
chicken, all by itself.
You still protest, "Whaddayamean a meat-based diet isn't natural? Meat is
central to the diet in almost every known civilization on earth." That is true.
But all human peoples trace their origins to the early humans that developed
in North Africa. At a time when the feeding and breeding grounds of that
region were changing from a lush tropical paradise into a harsh, scorching
desert, survival of our species demanded that we either retreat deeper into the
continent, as some species did, or diversify our diets.
Perhaps the first regular use of meat was revolting and unpleasant. But it
occurred around the same time as another milestone in human development:
control of fire. Our ancestors put the two together so they could survive. By
cooking the meat and adding spices and sauces and seasonings they could
disguise its revolting, unnatural flavor and learn to like it.
After eating it enough, people not only learned to like it, but they got addicted
to it. Eating meat kept our ancestors alive long enough to have offspring and
pass along their genes, but they paid a high price for it in shortened lifespan
and loss of physical strength compared with other primates who are almost
Eating meat is still an "acquired" taste -- it is not natural to us the way eating
fruits or vegetables is. Even today, we don't put mustard on apples or catsup
While we sometimes do eat fruits and grains in cooked or seasoned forms for
variation, we are quite comfortable eating fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts in
their fairly natural condition, but we still disguise our meat so it has very little
resemblance to the natural carcass that a true carnivore would savor.
Today we are no longer at the brink of survival. We no longer need meat. Like
many animals, such as elephants, hippopotami and the livestock that we use
for food, our bodies can produce plenty of bulk, strength and energy entirely
from plant sources.
Even the largest of man's closest relatives, gorillas and orangutans, have
plenty of body size, and its all strength, on a purely vegetarian diet.
Disease avoidance: Related to the issue of maintaining good health is, of
course, the issue of avoiding Diseases. Those who do not eat meat are not at
risk for contracting mad cow disease, transmitting hoof and mouth disease
and have far lower likelihood of coming down with an e-coli infection.
The interest in eating for health as a motivation for adopting vegetarian eating
habits often moves beyond this self-interest, to concern about protecting and
preserving the environmental habitat in which other people must also live and
work -- for the benefit not only of self, but for all of us.
Eating meat harms the environment and is economically wasteful. Meat is
expensive to produce. It uses land and water resources inefficiently, and still
is based on the use of vegetable food sources (grains fed to livestock) for the
vegetarian species consumed by humans, except that we obtain those
vegetable-based nutrients "second hand" diluted and filtered inefficiently
through the digestive systems of other creatures -- usually vegetarians such
as cows, pigs or poultry.
Humans who eat meat prefer to consume these vegetarian species which are
higher up (more efficient) on the food chain; humans only eat carnivore
species when desperate -- the meat's just no darn good.
The amount of grain used in one day to feed livestock for meat in the United
States alone would provide two loaves of bread every day for each person in
the entire world.
The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a person
who has to support a meat-eating habit is 3.25 acres.
The amount of land needed to produce a one-year food supply for a pure
vegetarian is 1/6 acre.
As cited by John Robbins in his book Diet for a New America, Lester Brown of
the Overseas Development Council has estimated that if Americans would
reduce their consumption of meat by only 10%, the amount of grain wasted on
animal feed that could be diverted for direct human consumption would be
sufficient to adequately feed every one of the 60 million people who die from
hunger each year.
Production of meat in developing countries trying to emulate the American
lifestyle is a major cause of deforestation as jungle habitats are replaced with
large ranches to raise livestock. Those who want to "save the rainforests"
should consider giving up meat.
Production of meat also wastes precious water resources for watering and
cleaning livestock animals and their equipment and facilities. Producing one
pound of meat requires about 2,500 gallons of water.
Amount of Water Used In Meat Production
Those who eat meat require more than twelve times as much water as is
needed for a pure vegetarian.
Concerns About Animal Cruelty
Ethical concerns often evolve beyond solely human considerations, to an
interest in respect for and concern about the feelings and interests of other
sentient creatures whose brains are imbued with some extent of
While it is difficult to say exactly what levels of intelligence or consciousness
or sentience that various other animals may have, it is clear that especially the
vertebrates definitely have some level of consciousness and emotion.
Vertebrate animals experience pain, fear, excitement and familial bonding, and
this is evidenced by many formal scientific studies as well as extensive
"anecdotal" personal experience.
It is also certain that they are biologically autonomous: while our existence
and habits may threaten other species and their habitats, their existence in no
way threatens ours or even infringes our personal space, except in the rare
instances when predatory animals may pursue humans as prey.
Thus, the killing of animals -- which is wholly unnecessary except to satisfy a
lust for artery-clogging animal fat -- is wanton and cruel as well as
Non-vertebrate animals may also experience some form of consciousness or
sentience, but this is more difficult to gauge and, in any case, it seems likely
that the further down the "org chart" of the animal kingdom one travels away
from the vertebrates, the less likely formal sentience, consciousness and
feelings as we know them may exist.
One comment often raised by non-vegetarians hints at possible hypocrisy of
vegetarians who claim that concerns about animal cruelty are even part of the
reason for their choice: "You claim that vegetarianism respects life, but you eat
plants. Plants are living creatures, too."
There are two issues raised by such a comment. One is the distinction
between "life" and "consciousness" in ascribing value to life, and the other is
the inherent error about biological issues incorporated in the comment.
First of all, making the point that plants have "life" and can therefore be
equated with the value of higher animals ignores the basis on which differing
valuations of life are ascribed.
It is not "life" itself, which is valuable, but the process of consciousness and
meaningful sentience prominent in humans and vertebrates and essentially
nonexistent in plants, bacteria, viruses or other simple life forms.
We recognize consciousness and highly-advanced mental abilities in
dolphins, chimpanzees and even household pets, which we do not recognize
in flies, cockroaches or algae.
While we may have valid reasons based on environmental considerations for
protecting other species to maintain ecological balances, we almost always
recognize that there is an inherent value in animals with greater sentience or
consciousness than those that lack it. And few would assert any
consciousness at all in plants.
Second, when we eat animals, we kill them. But when we eat fruits, nuts,
grains and many vegetables we don't have to kill the plant. On the contrary,
we help the plant reproduce by taking a part of it which was designed to be
attractive, to spread its seeds.
If we don't take the fruits or nuts or grains, the plant will drop them to the
ground and try to give the seeds a chance to grow. But it would prefer that
another creature help spread the seeds as far as possible.
It may be easier for some who are new to the vegetarian diet and lifestyle to
begin with a regimen that is easier to follow and gradually develop a more pure
form of vegetarian lifestyle.
Others find that the most effective way to get started is just to jump in all the
way and give up all eating of meat, poultry and fish altogether.
The key is to take action and do something, to improve your health, to
preserve the planet and to live in harmony with the other sentient creatures
that share our world with us.
By: Douglas Dunn