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By Shannon Horan February 15, 2012

The Evolution of Diet: The Ethics of Eating Meat

Illustrated by MICHELLE STEBEN


Author’s Note: This article contains all the pro-vegetarian/vegan things I wanted to say in my Integrative Seminar presentation on the Evolution of Diet but couldn’t because then my presentation would have been too long, too preachy, my research sources biased in one direction, and so on. If you sat down with me over coffee, though, and asked me what I thought about people eating meat, this is what I'd say. If you would like the more academic version of my point of view, with counter-arguments, complete references, etc., I can post it after I’ve presented my Integrative Seminar!

What do Paul McCartney, Tobey Maguire, Alec Baldwin, Natalie Portman, Pamela Anderson, The Dalai Lama, Bill Clinton, one million five-hundred and fifty thousand Canadians and seven point three million Americans all have in common? None of them consume meat products. Why? Because meat is detrimental to your health, promotes cruelty towards animals and is destructive to our environment.

It is widely assumed that eating meat is natural; beings higher up in the food chain eat those that are inferior. Humans are known to eat a wide and strange variety of animals, such as snails, cow brain, raw baby octopus, Balut (a fertilized egg with a nearly formed chick inside that's boiled and eaten, egg and all), Casu Marzu (cheese that also serves as a home to live insect larvae), Hakarl (shark innards that have been fermented for up to four months), stuffed camel and deep fried buffalo testicles. Humans have even eaten poisonous puffer fish, for which chefs have to undergo close to three years of training in order to be legally allowed to prepare it.

In the wild, carnivores only eat prey that is close to home and obviously don't possess the ability to grow their own crops. Our twentieth-century consumer society has ushered in a time where anyone can go to a local grocery store, pick up a selection of meat products, stick it in their home freezer and eat it at anytime that is convenient for them. However, we have not always had this luxury, and while we may have grown accustomed to eating meat whenever we choose, the human body has not. Carnivores have certain faculties that humans do not, including claws to tear away dead flesh, intestinal tracts that are three times the length of their body for greater digestion of decaying meat, as well as a strong hydrochloric stomach acid to digest their prey.

Humans, on the other hand, have no claws or sharp front teeth, but instead have opposable thumbs that come in handy when planting crops and are equipped with flat rear molars to grind grains and vegetables. Our intestinal tracts are ten to twelve times our body length, and our stomach acid is twenty times weaker than that of any meat-eater. Furthermore, humans have well-developed salivary glands, necessary to pre-digest grains and fruits, which most meat-eaters lack.

In other words, there is very little that is natural about us eating meat, especially in the quantities we eat it today. There is also certainly nothing natural about the way we rapidly produce meat, using harmful chemicals and toxins, all the while promoting cruelty to animals. Over thirty billion animals are killed by the American meat industry every year in horrific and disturbing ways, a deed that would be considered illegal if it were to be done to cats or dogs. Let us begin with chickens, which are raised in filthy, ammonia-laden sheds that are extremely overcrowded. These birds are placed in such small cages with so many other chickens that they cannot even turn around. They're given many hormones, antibiotics and drugs in order to prevent illness, causing them to grow to unnatural sizes at an alarming rate. As a result of their unnatural proportions, they become crippled under their own weight and often suffer from organ failure. These birds are also prone to respiratory diseases, weakened immune systems, as well as bronchitis. Furthermore, it isn’t uncommon for their feet grow around the wire-bottom cages they're placed in so that to be removed fromtheir prisons, they have to have their legs cut off. After roughly six weeks of growth time, which is less time than a chicken would naturally be considered fully grown, the chickens are shipped off to slaughter houses and violently hung upside-down before machines slit their throats. The chickens are then dragged through scalding-hot water, often while they are still conscious. Chickens are also fed with poison arsenic, which promotes their unnatural growth and is also said to be cancerous for humans by the National Institute of Health. All these hormones and drugs end up in the food you're eating, and chicken meat has been ranked as the number one food you should never eat because it contains so much bacterial contamination.

Now let's move on to another popular meat: beef. Beef cattle are raised on extremely crowded feed lots and forced to endure painful surgical procedures, including castration, branding and dehorning, all done with no pain relief whatsoever. Cows often die of dehydration, over-heating, pneumonia or exhaustion on their long trips to slaughterhouses. The cows on feed lots can barely move and are inches deep in their own feces and mud. Many farmers inject their cows with synthetic growth hormones, which in turn end up in products such as milk and beef. Even dairy cows live a hard life; their babies are often taken away at a very young age to be made into veal. The mothers are slaughtered about four years later, otherwise known as the time it takes for their milk to run out. After this, they are used as beef for hamburgers or used for the enzyme rennet in their stomachs that make cheese.

How much do you love bacon? Love it enough not to mind that pigs have the ends of their teeth cut off with wire cutters, are castrated, have their tails chopped off and have bits of flesh removed from their ears, all without aesthetic? Pigs used to produce bacon are artificially impregnated many times over the course of their short lives and live in confined spaces barely large enough for their own bodies. All the filth of feces and urine that these pigs live in foster both disease and bacteria that attack these drug-induced, genetically bred creatures. Four-hundred and twenty thousand pigs arrive crippled to slaughter houses each year, another million die on the journey there. These animals are not given a humane death; instead, they are thrown into boiling water tanks meant to soften their skin and remove their hair, all the while still alive and conscious.

According to Donald Broom, animal welfare adviser to the British Government, "anatomically, physiologically and biologically, the pain system in fish is virtually the same as in birds and mammals". Keeping this in mind, one can imagine how much it must hurt them when they are dragged from the ocean depths in large nets (that destroy the natural aquatic environment and kill other animals such as dolphins in the process) only to suffer from excruciating decompression that ruptures their swim-bladders, pops out their eyes and causes their stomachs to be propelled through their mouths. They are tossed onto ship decks where they either slowly die of suffocation or are crushed by a mound of other fish. The way we kill these animals in order to eat them is in no way humane. A tiger will stalk his prey from a tree and pounce at the right moment, whereas a human will open their refrigerator and fry their hormone and chemical ridden-meat in a pan.

Meat provides too few health benefits to be eaten to the extent that many people eat it today. Do you really need to have meat with every meal? It has been proven that the vast majority of the nutrients needed by the human body can be found in fruits, vegetables and grains. Meat is completely devoid of fiber and complex carbohydrates; instead, it is filled with saturated fat and cholesterol. According to Dr. T. Colin Campbell, nutritional researcher at Cornell University and director of the largest epidemiological study in history, "vegetarians have a lower risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and numerous forms of cancer". Eating just one can of tuna a week puts you thirty percent over the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) cutoff for safe mercury levels. Mercury is known to cause severe health problems, including but not limited to brain damage, memory loss and birth defects. In 2003 a report done by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) said that vegetarians had stronger bones than meat-eaters and were less likely to develop osteoporosis. Healthy vegetarian protein sources include oatmeal, whole grains, beans, peanut butter, brown rice, peas, lentils, tofu, soy milk, nuts, seeds and veggie burgers or veggie dogs.

If you won't give up meat to end cruelty or for your own health, then consider meat's effect on the environment. The meat industry causes more global warming (through emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) than all the cars, trucks, planes and ships in the world combined. Farm animals produce over one hundred and thirty times more excrement than the entire population of people living in the US. This waste ends up in our rivers and lakes; in fact, factory farms pollute water resources more than all other industrial sources combines. Not only do these industries pollute our earth to the extreme, but we use up our valuable resources to breed these animals. More than half of the daily water supply in the US is used to raise cattle, chickens and pigs. A vegetarian diet requires three hundred gallons of water per day, a small amount in comparison to the four thousand gallons of water used to make up a meat-eater's diet.

Next time you decide to eat a hot dog (let's not even discuss what kind of meat is in those things, because trust me, you don't want to know) or have a second helping of bacon, remember all pain and suffering that animal went through; remember all the chemicals and toxins you're about to ingest; remember how disastrous it is for your health; and remember how with every bite of meat you take, you're also destroying the environment.

 Want to learn more? There are many documentaries and books are the subject of living a vegan diet. A very informative documentary on the conditions of factory farming and where your meat comes from is Food Inc. You can also order a free vegetarian started kit from PETA.com.

About the author

Shannon Debest is a second year student in Liberal Arts.

About the illustrator

Michelle Steben is a graduating student of Illustration and Design. She enjoys drawing digitally as it is her preferred medium but will sometime use inking pens and color pencils in her work. Since she was young her choice in career has always been in the animation industry, doing character design and animating has always been in her interest. Creating a web comic, illustrating for children books and T-shirt designing have also intrigued her as well. Michelle draws most of her inspiration from many of the cartoon and live-action shows she watches. Other inspirations come from the music she listens to and the people she surrounds herself with. She also adores animals, cats being her favorite, which are often a huge part of her work.


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    April 27, 2012

    Hi, I have a few points to say about the topic.
    First of all, I’d like to say that I agree that there are very compelling environmental, economic, ethical and perhaps health-related reasons to adopt a vegetarian diet. With that out of the way, I just couldn’t help but notice some particularly questionable details that you’ve provided.

    You mentioned that meat products aren’t part of the average diet of Homo Sapiens, and I honestly find this absurd and ultimately misleading. Meat has always been a very important part of human diet ever since Homo Habilis and perhaps even before. In fact, a study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition estimates that the average paleolithic hunter-gatherer received 45-65% of their calories from meat and fish—a much higher percentage than even today’s Western diets. If there’s anything unnatural about our diet, it definitely has to be the exuberant amount of grains that we consume today, as we didn’t start consuming them en masse until the advent of the agricultural revolution. Also, coordinated hunting most likely stimulated brain development of early hominids by forcing us to plan, socialize, and coordinate with other tribal members to ensure a successful hunt; while the protein provided by the kills would’ve given us the resources to sustain a massive (by animal standards) brain mass.

    Secondly, humans do not have the characteristic sharp claws and pointy canines that other carnivores have because we evolved to utilize tools to hunt and tenderize the meat that we eat. I find it especially appalling that you made it seem like we’ve evolved opposable thumbs to grasp gardening tools, when, in reality, we developed them to be able to fashion stone tools for hunting and—occasionally—cracking seeds. It’s absurd to think that such an appendage would’ve been naturally selected for for 3+ millions of years just to allow us to use planting tools starting from the agricultural revolution, which dates to no more than 10,000 years ago—a fraction of time compared to our evolution. Moreover, cooking was invented approximately 1.6 million years ago, and this definitely helped us digest the meat that we consume, thus we were ingesting meat that were certainly easier to digest than raw meat.

    Whether one is an omnivore or a vegan or anything in between, no one can deny the considerable influence that meat eating had on our evolution. I am not here to try to convince anyone to not eat grains because they’re “unnatural,” because a lot of them are obviously quite good for you. I’m not here to convince anyone to eat more meat just because our ancestors consumed quite a lot of them. My only point is that I find it frustrating to see an article that is riddled with seemingly deliberate scientific inaccuracies just to fit a political message. Because of this, this article comes off as totally desperate and propagandistic to me.

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    June 22, 2013

    Very nice and informative article shared on diet. According to me eating flesh of animals, to satisfy the hunger and thirst, is really absurd. Their are many nice vegetarian things to eat in this world, why deserving to destroy it.

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