Can it be ethical to eat animals? Or to eat foods such as honey, eggs, salmon roe, or milk derived from animal-based life forms? I think we would need to compare it to the ethical consequences of eating a plant-based diet.
A case can be made that more animals are actually killed in clearing land for agriculture than are eaten by people who include animals in their diets. See article.
Animals are Sentient. Could Plants be Too?
One argument for not eating animals is that they’re sentient. They form communities. They’re aware of their surroundings.
But there’s growing evidence that plants and fungi, in their natural state, may have some degree of sentience and awareness of the environment too. Trees and mushrooms, for example, respond to their environment and form communities. They communicate through chemical signals.
Do Plants “Want” to be Eaten?
There’s no evidence’ that plants or fungi “like” being eaten or want to be. They’ve in fact developed elaborate defenses against animals, including natural insecticides which poison the insects trying to prey on them. Cacti develop spikes to keep large animals from eating them.
One type of tree, the acacia, broadcasts a signal to other trees telling them to increase their internal toxins to kill of herds of antelope that are preying on them.
So plants clearly want to live. What makes it ethical to kill them? The main reason we tend to view them as inferior to animals, and having fewer “rights” than animals, appears to be because they don’t protest when we pick and eat them. But it’s clear that they want to live, not end up in someone’s salad. The reality is that we view them as inferior because they can’t run away.
Factory Farm Animals are Mistreated
I completely agree with people who refuse to eat meat from animals confined to factory farms. The animals on those farms are confined to tiny spaces, often never see sunshine, and are treated with thoughtlessness and cruelty. They live miserable lives, often from birth to death.
Buying Ethically Grown Food Products
A more ethical approach, to my mind, would be to only buy meat from small family where the animals:
- are treated with loving care;
- live idyllic lives, protected from the predators who were a constant threat to their ancestors who lived in the wild;
- have access to fresh air and exercise
- have access to veterinary care when needed;
- are living much longer and better lives on the farm than they would in the wild, in most cases;
- are slaughtered as painlessly as possible.
Ruminants and Climate Change
Ruminants like cows are frequently blamed for “driving climate change.” What’s often overlooked is that industrial agriculture is a major driver of climate problems. And there are solutions which don’t require cutting back on meat consumption. See article.
One other consideration for me is that to get the same nutrition we get from eating a steak, we’d have to eat several times the number of calories if we were eating plant-based foods. This would also increase our carbohydrates, which have been shown to be pro-aging.
If people want to eat vegan diets, I wish them well. I was vegan for almost three years myself, and I understand the reasons people might be drawn to that choice.
My own experience with being vegan was a downhill slide. It started out well, probably because I was getting some autophagy because of the relative lack of protein. After that, my health started sliding off a cliff.
Three years of eating a vegan diet left me sick and fat and mentally foggy, with mood and memory problems and a low libido. Adding meat, eggs, fish and dairy back into my diet helped me recover my health.
Animal foods can be pro-aging for two reasons.
One is that they contain luceine, which activates mTOR, the growth pathway, and turns of AMPK, the longevity pathway. This suggests that it’s not wise to eat nothing but meat, unless we’re doing a lot of fasting (which also activates AMP)K.
Another issue is that red meat contains the amino acid methionine, which is associated with various health problems and which some research suggests accelerates aging.
One solution to this is to avoid red meat.
Another is to take collagen peptides or gelatin powder (or pure glycine) along with meals that have animal protein because the glycine it prevents the methionine in animal proteins from doing harm to the body. Our ancestors who ate nose-to-tail may have been better off in this sense than people who avoid collagen but do eat meat today.