Sometimes I use these Comment of the Day posts to answer questions. Sometimes I use them to mock the dumb. Often, I use them to


Comment of the Day: Intelligent Debate on the Vegan/Omnivore Divide

Sometimes I use these Comment of the Day posts to answer questions. Sometimes I use them to mock the dumb. Often, I use them to give an elevated platform to those who just plain hate my guts for one reason or another--and can form that hatred into coherent, occasionally clever thoughts. But every once in a while, I get to use this space for reasoned and intelligent debate. The opportunity for this last use sadly comes up less frequently than I'd wish, but luckily, today just happens to be one of those days.

Earlier this week, I posted a piece about chef Tim Love and his love of meat. More specifically, it was about his five best reasons NOT to be a vegetarian, as told to the good folks over at CNN's Eatocracy blog, for their feature 5@5. Chef Love was reasonably straightforward and restrained in his reasoning--which is just no fun at all. So I then went and added 10 more reasons of my own relating to why meat is better than vegetables.

For example...

5) Here's a fun experiment: go out and buy some bacon. I mean, a lot of bacon. Now cook the bacon and eat the bacon until you reach a point where you finally feel as though you've had enough bacon. Wait a day. Now try the same game with broccoli.


8) The phrase "Everything's Better With Bacon," while a logical fallacy, is still more true than the phrase "Everything's Better With Turnips." It also looks better on a t-shirt.

And while such deliberate baiting obviously gave rise to the expected backlash from angry vegans and vegetarians (as well as cries of support from the omnivores in the crowd), it also (as I hoped it would) drew out a couple of well thought-out comments arguing opposing sides of the vegan/meat-eater divide. Here they are.

Arguing on behalf of cuddly animals everywhere, Herbivore:

"Here, in summary form, is the case for vegetarianism:

(1) It's better for you. About half of Americans die of heart disease, which is primarily due to their arteries being clogged by animal fat. Meat has also been linked to cancer, including colon cancer. It also contains high residual amounts of the pesticides sprayed on the crops the animal ate before it died---much higher rates, in fact, than the crops themselves contain. Meat also contains high levels of the potent antibiotics fed to animals so that they can be crowded into unsanitary conditions. Avoiding meat is just plain better for you.

(2) It's better for the planet. 80% of the U.S. corn crop is used to feed pigs and cows before they're slaughtered. All of the water, energy and pesticides used to grow those crops must be factored into the environmental cost of eating meat. It's been said that as much water goes into raising a steer until he's is ready for slaughter as it takes to float a navy destroyer. The negative environmental impacts of meat production also include the pollution of ground water, etc. as a result of concentrated animal feeding operations(aka factory farms).

(3) It's better for the animals. Humans have always applied morality to animals, we've just been selective about it. But true justice and morality are not selective. Animals are living, feeling beings. They absolutely suffer when slaughtered; don't kid yourselves. On what basis do you condone doing to a pig---a highly intelligent animal---that which you would never do to your dog? As has often been said, the real question is not can they think or can they reason, but can they suffer?

I see that several people invoke the "food chain" to excuse the killing of animals for food. Two points: First, do we really want to invoke "nature" as our moral guide? In such a world, couldn't a murderer or rapist be set free by presenting evidence that what he did occurs in nature? I don't think we want to go there. Second, there is nothing "natural" about modern food animal production, which relies on technology in the form of barbed wire, cages, trucks, conveyer belts, knives, boiling cauldrons and refrigeration. You cannot excuse as natural a process that is fundamentally technological. If you could, how would you distinguish morally between the use of atomic weapons and the devastation of a city in a hurricane or earthquake? Killing animals is the responsibility of those who do it, those who profit from it, and those who buy and consume the results.

Finally, a couple of words in direct response to the ironically named Chef Love. He falsely portrays the choice as that between a steak and "vegetables," including "squash." As the chef should know, vegetarians actually eat everything EXCEPT meat, poultry and fish. The number of tasty and satisfying vegetarian meals is endless, as evidenced by the vast array of vegetarian cookbooks and the exploits of chefs like Tal Ronnen, Annie Somerville, David Anderson and others. For day-to-day grub, Bean burritos, mushroom pizza, pasta with pesto sauce and even the good old PB&J are all vegetarian."

And, on behalf of the omnivores, Mantonat:

"Being a vegetarian for moral reasons is the equivelant of saying you are bi-pedal for moral reasons. There are predators and their are prey, just as their are two-legged and four-legged animals. One is not morally superior to another. As humans, we have evolved the ability to make a choice to eat meat or not, but to the herbivore, it doesn't matter who eats them. Being a vegetarian doesn't reduce the amount of suffering in the world. What reduces the amount of suffering is the practice of respectful animal husbandry. Livestock that is allowed to live a life free of suffering (which includes no overcrowding, a healthy diet, and protection against weather and illness) is much better off than than if they were in the wild, competing for limited resources, in constant fear of predators, and without veterinary care in the event of injury or illness. Humane practices have been developed that allow for slaughtering with little to no suffering, which is far better than the slow anguish of dying at the claws of a predator or from disease, injury or starvation. The best way to limit suffering in animals is to ensure that they are raised with care and respect, which means supporting businesses that put these concepts into practice rather than buying from industrial producers who don't treat the animal well while alive. If you have health issues that prevent you from eating meat or if you just don't like it, fine. But just remember that morality is a human concept evolved to allow humans to live together in large groups with relative harmony. It has no place in the food web. Treating animals well before we eat them is about compassion, not morality."

Both arguments present strong cases. Both are a little bit ridiculous. Both offer sensible solutions. So my question to all the rest of you out there is, where do you fall on this issue? Is your position a moral or an ethical one? Can you accept the "good meat from good producers" argument, are you more of a "if it's slower and dumber than me, it's lunch" food chain literalist, or can you simply not stomach at all the notion of anyone eating animals?

For a change, let's try to keep this civil and Socratic. That means no name-calling, no hyperbole and no punching below the belt. Speak your mind, and be ready to defend your position if called out.

Everyone ready?

Then let's get to it.

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