The New York Times Magazine feature, The Ethicist, asked carnivorous readers to respond to the question, is it ethical to eat meat?
They observed that the vegan and vegetarian viewpoints were dominating this issue and they wanted to give the meat eaters a chance to voice their opinions. Some of my readers suggested I respond.
Here is the essay I submitted. Let me know what you think!
Human dominance over animals sparks an ethical dilemma for many, regarding whether or not we should consume animals for food. The answer may be found emerging from the evolutionary record.
Eat the way evolution advises us to
In nature, animals instinctively eat the way their anatomy and physiology directs them to.
Cows graze on grass and forage. They have evolved multiple stomachs which allows them to properly break down that food so it may become available to them for making the vital nutrients they need.
Their teeth are flat to accommodate their food supply. Their digestive systems have evolved to create proteins and fats out of the carbohydrates they eat.
This machinery if you will, has allowed cows to survive on grass.
Predators such as lions and tigers will not hesitate to kill another mammal for food when it needs to eat. This carnivorous fare is essential to their survival. Their teeth and digestive systems have evolved to accommodate this food supply.
The best health advice I see in the nutrition world is to eat what you are.
Humans need animal fats, muscle, tendon and organ tissue.
We need to eat the way evolution advises us to eat.
Paleolithic, mesolithic and neolithic people ate meat.
Over 40,000 years ago when the first behaviorally modern humans came onto the scene, (as seen in the fossil record as bone and stone tools, cave paintings, artwork and burials), there was no question.
Animals were clearly used for food along with plant foods that were gathered.
Meat has all the nutrients necessary for brain growth and development
There are many scholarly anthropological papers written about the evolutionary growth of the human brain. It is a fact that the growth of the human brain was based on the availability of appropriate nutrients in the diet.
The availability specifically of long chain fatty acids such as DTA, DHA and AA were necessary for this growth.
These long chain fatty acids are found in animal foods such as meat, fish and eggs.
It is hypothesized that as the predecessors to homo-sapians were able to hunt successfully, the size of the brain grew and along with it, other advanced evolutionary features such as bipedalism also evolved.
The availability of these nutrients allowed the brain to nearly triple in size – from 375-550cc at the time of Australopithecus, to 500-800cc in Homo habilis, 775-1225cc in Homo erectus, and 1350cc in modern humans (Homo sapiens).
According to Leslie Aiello, in her book “An Introduction to Human Evolutionary Anatomy” (Academic Press, 1990), in evolutionary terms, big human brains — with enormous energy requirements — are inversely proportional to gut size.
Interestingly, it has been documented that as agriculturalism emerged, about 10,000 years ago and humans started to eat grains, the size of the brain became smaller.
The addition of grains to the diet decreased the amount of meat eaten and the nutrients specific to meat. (source)
The switch to agriculture is hypothesized to have provided a failsafe supply of food, accompanied by meat when it was available. As human populations grew and competition for meat became more fierce, agriculture seemed to be a good way to assure some food when the hunt was poor.
More meat – greater intelligence
This brings us to the crux of the matter.
It is clear from many Paleolithic studies, that meat eating humans increased their brain size and with it the intelligence to control their environment on the backs (or bodies) of animals.
In the circle of life, we see animals eating animals because there is a clear need for food.
Humans evolved following this same pattern. The last 10,000 years of agriculture is much shorter a time period than the adaptation to meat eating, which occurred previously – that allowed our brains to develop and expand human consciousness.
In order to be fully nourished, we need to eat the way evolution advises us to eat.
Therefore, it is ethically correct to follow our nature and eat meat.
My own criticism of this essay is that it really doesn’t answer the ethical question posed. I knew that someone with degrees in ethics or philosophy would probably be the winner and the runners up as well. See the final essays here.
The winning essay is extremely well written and worth reading, entitled, Give Thanks For Meat, as are all the runner up essays.
There was an interesting panel of judges: Mark Bittman, Jonathan Safran Foer, Andrew Light, Michael Pollan and Peter Singer.
This panel of men stirred up a bit of controversy as Marion Nestle is a very well known nutritionist and
could should have been a judge. I think she would have fit in with the men very well.
What so you think about this debate? Are you a carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, locavore, anyvore? Let me know!
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