“I’m going to tell your audience something that not many farmers would ever admit. This happens on all farms. If you like eating avocados, for a farmer to grow avocados financially, especially biodynamically, where we’re enhancing the ecosystem and helping nature, we have to grow at least 20 to 40 acres of avocado, and we have to be able to sell those directly to our market, to our consumer.
“So here I am, farming 20 to 40 acres. That’s going to require me to kill at least 35 to 40,000 gophers to protect those trees. Humming birds, accidentally when I spray non-synthetically-derived organic spray, accidentally killing bees, accidentally killing ladybugs, and intentionally killing ground squirrels. So there are 50 to 100,000 deaths that happen just to grow avocados.
“And my point is that none of us are getting out of this without blood on our hands. It’s just at what point and how connected are you to the process, but that doesn’t excuse you from the reverence and the responsibility of life.”
~ Rich Roll, vegan farmer and influencer (clip & full video)
“A lot of animals are killed in all kinds of agriculture. I’ll never forget the first time I saw a combine harvester go through an organic soybean field and kill all the animals that had made that field their home. Among the many animals that died that day were baby bunnies that were skinned by the blades and were then eaten alive by hawks. The hawks followed the harvester through the field looking for an easy meal. I knew that the farmer had contracted his crop to an organic tofu company and that most of the people eating this food would be vegans and vegetarians. The irony of this situation was enough to stop me from going vegan for many years afterwards. I would frequently bring up this anecdote when I would argue with vegan friends. It still annoys me when my fellow vegans act as though their lifestyle is 100% cruelty free and that no animals die in the process of making their food. It speaks to an ignorance of the realities of rural life.”
~ Charlie Knoles, self-identified vegan, meditation teacher, B.S. in Environmental Biology
Which diet causes the most harm? And which the least? The least harm principle is central to veganism; as it is to some religions, from Seventh Day Adventism to Buddhism (ahimsa). Some vegans go so far as to suggest that this principle is more of a philosophy, worldview, and lifestyle than it is necessarily, primarily, and entirely a diet. Indeed, others go even further in treating it as a religion or as central to their religious or spiritual practice. For the sake of argument, we are going to use that definition. Veganism is about the consequences that the diet and everything else directly and indirectly causes or otherwise contributes to and is complicit in. So, we can’t know what is vegan merely by what kinds of foods a particular eating pattern includes or excludes. And hence we can’t know which diet is most ‘vegan’ in causing the least harm by isolating diet from all the rest.
The etymology of ‘diet’ connects the word back to the meaning of ‘lifestyle’ or ‘way of life’. For veganism, this implies empathy, compassion, loving-kindness, and moral concern; in relation to the larger living world. As a lifelong environmentalist, I take quite seriously the vegan ideal and critique. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, an animal-loving and tree-hugging sensitive male, not to mention having a streak of radical leftism. The political views of many vegans overlap with my own. Yet I’ve never been a vegan, although I briefly was vegetarian when younger, as my brothers (and their families) still are vegetarian. For whatever reason, the fair number of self-identified vegans I’ve known over the decades never swayed me to eliminate all animal foods and products, much less aspire to the broader vegan identity. Let me explain why.
Even limiting ourselves to a dietary ideology alone, we have to consider the broader context. Diets are supported, promoted, and made possible by the entire network of food system, agriculture, land management, resource usage, environmental practices, ecosystems, petrochemicals, transportation, industry, processing, packaging, economics, trade, markets, sellers, monied interests, lobbyist organizations, public policies, official dietary recommendations, institutionalized ideologies, funding of scientific research, etc. The majority of harms along with other costs are indirect and hidden and externalized onto others, sometimes privatized (e.g., poor rural housing next to chemical-sprayed farm fields) and at other times socialized (e.g., chemicals getting into the water supply to be cleaned up by a public water plant).
I’ve long been obsessed with externalized costs and the moral hazard that follows. This is a particular problem when ideology and money are mixed. Diet has been enmeshed in ideology for millennia (e.g., religious food laws) and the food system has long been central to most major economies, such as how the United States became so wealthy and profitable primarily through agriculture. Veganism magnifies this confluence. There is no other dietary ideology that is more dogmatic or more dependent on agriculture. So, to assess veganism in its mainstream form is to analyze how modern food production is shaped by and conforms to modern ideology; and how in turn it bolsters the ancient ideological impulse within food systems. It’s not only what diet does or does not cause the most harm but also how we perceive and understand harm or fail to do so.
“I’ve watched enough harvests to know that cutting a wheat field amounts to more decapitated bunnies under the combine than you would believe.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver
“As I was thinking about the vegan conclusion, I remembered my childhood on the farm and where our food comes from and how it is produced. Specifically, I remembered riding on farm equipment and seeing mice, gophers, and pheasants in the field that were injured or killed every time we worked the fields. Therefore, I realized that animals of the field are killed in large numbers annually to produce food for humans.”
~ Stephen L. Davis
“When I inquired about the lives lost on a mechanized farm, I realized what costs we pay at the supermarket. One Oregon farmer told me that half of the cottontail rabbits went into his combine when he cut a wheat field, that virtually all of the small mammals, ground birds, and reptiles were killed when he harvested his crops. Because most of these animals have been seen as expendable, or not seen at all, few scientific studies have been done measuring agriculture’s effects on their populations.”
~ Ted Kerasote
If veganism means the overall avoidance or lessening of the death, suffering, and exploitation particularly of animals and other sentient life (including humans), then it is rationally and morally plausible that an animal-based diet, including carnivore and maybe even lacto-ovo-vegetarianism, is potentially the most vegan diet around; assuming it is organically-grown and locally-sourced, sustainably-managed and regeneratively-farmed, pasture-raised and wild-caught. Besides hunting and gathering, pastoralism as a food system and way of life kills the fewest animals, fewer than agriculture by far. For every life taken by a meat-eater (e.g., a single pasture-raised chicken or cow) or egg-and-dairy-eater, a vegan might kill hundreds or thousands (coyotes, foxes, deer, rodents, snakes, birds, insects, spiders, etc). That isn’t even to include the vast spectrum of species and entire ecosystems annihilated in the original creation of farmland.
Over an entire year, a single human can on a carnivore diet or a single small family on an omnivore diet could survive on the meat, organs, fat, marrow, bone broth, etc from a single cow: 570lb beef at 605,000 cals, 280lb fat and bone, 32lb offal/carcass shrink (Dr. Zoe Harcombe PhD, Should We Be Vegan). That would allow for around a couple pounds of fatty beef and organ meats per day every day, 365 days per year (on days that I do strict carnivore and beef only, I typically eat about 2-3 lbs). Or one could eat two pigs instead, each producing upwards of 270lb pork, bacon, and pork belly; not to mention a ton of lard to use for cooking, including for plant foods. But if one prefers chicken (3.3lb each but with less fat and calories), that would mean the death of 228 animals, according to Dr. Harcombe; not that many people are likely to eat a chicken-exclusive diet. Of course, those on animal-based diets could get much of their diet from eggs and dairy as well, neither of which necessarily requires killing any animals.
Furthermore, whatever one’s choice of animal foods, all of it could be locally, sustainably, and regeneratively raised; even on open land with wildlife habitat and wildlife grazing. Compare that to the ecological devastation of industrial agriculture (and all of the industrial system that goes with it) that is a major force behind our present ongoing mass extinction. Farming directly kills 7.3 billion wild animals globally or 114 per hectare of cropland farmed, excluding the deaths of insects and spiders (from honeybee population collapse caused by insecticides to monarch butterfly population collapse caused by fencerow-to-fencerow farming), not to mention the wiping out of microbial life in the soil. But that isn’t even to take into account the even larger indirect death count from the entire industrial food system that vegans and vegetarians are dependent on (The Farming Truth Project, Hypoxic Dead Zones and Agriculture). To put it in full context:
“18.04 animals die in the production of 10,000 grams of plant-based protein. This is in comparison to only 3.68 deaths for 10,000 grams of animal-based protein. […] 18.35 animals die to produce 1,000 servings of plant-based food. This is in comparison to only 8.31 deaths for 1,000 servings of animal-based foods. […] Plant products kill 2.96 times more animals per calorie, 4.9 times more per gram of protein, and 2.21 times more per serving than animal products. Plant foods are over twice as deadly as animal foods. […] 114 animals die per hectare of crop land farmed versus only 46 animals dying per hectare of pastureland for livestock. […] a vegan kills 1.16 times more animals with the amount of servings realistically consumed compared with an omnivore” (The Farming Truth Project, Vegans Kill More Animals – Here’s Proof; also see: Introduction: Ways that Animals are Killed in Crop Production; & How Many Die For Your Food: Calculating the Death Toll of Crop Production vs. Livestock Production).
For even further context, a cow only needs about an acre of land for pasture (there are approximately 2.5 acres per hectare); 25-35 pigs can also be kept on a mere acre; and 50 chickens could be raised on an acre, such as putting them on the pasture after the cows to eat the maggots from the cow manure. That is all the land required for someone on a carnivore diet. A vegan, on the other hand, depends on two acres, almost a hectare (William Swanson, How Much Land Does It Take To Feed One Person – Online Calculator). If we calculate from the above data, two acres would kill about 88 animals every year. Yet on two acres of carnivory, one could easily raise enough food for an entire family with a relatively small number of animal deaths, especially if one of those acres was used to raise a dairy cow and egg-laying hens. So, even if a carnivore or omnivore also eats some other meat and animal foods besides beef, they would be hard put to kill as many animals as is the case on the vegan diet.
All in all, someone on a fully carnivore diet would kill the least of all, particularly as a carnivore diet is typically low-carb and so tends toward less hunger/cravings and hence less snacking. That would be even more true for meat from animals raised on pasture. Whether meat-eating or meat-abstaining, the death count is at least partly known and so false claims of unintentionality is no justifiable rationalization. There is no avoidance of moral culpability. This is not about being clever but about what is genuinely least harmful and most environmentally sustainable, as human and non-human health are intertwined. Rather than a pose of moral righteousness, our concern should be with what brings the greater overall good.
It’s no small point that the people with nutrient-dense animal foods are overall healthier, whereas the vegans require additional nutritional fortification and supplementation which would contribute further to their land usage, environmental externalized costs, and harm to life. If veganism was the healthiest and most sustainable diet, why has there never been a vegan society in all of human existence? Even in equatorial regions plant foods have limited growing seasons. The hunter-gatherer Hadza, for example, only have fruit and honey available a few months of the year. As another example, the Piraha living in the lush and abundant Amazon forest depend for their diet 90% on fish.
I did do a carnivore diet for a couple of months as an experiment, although I wasn’t strict about it. For a while now, I’ve been back on a diet that tends toward ketogenic, paleo, and traditional foods. My food sourcing is important to me with an emphasis on locally produced, seasonally available, organic, and pasture-raised. This means I regularly shop at the nearby farmers market. So, despite not being carnivore at present, I am heavily biased toward animal foods with plenty of meat and eggs, along with some dairy. The plant foods I eat are also almost entirely from the farmers market, in particular the fermented veggies I enjoy. That translates as eating a greater proportion of plant foods when available in the warm time of the year and more animal foods in winter. Not only is this diet extremely healthy but also highly ethical and environmentally sustainable.
Raising animals on pasture avoids all of the problems associated with industrial agriculture and factory farming. It is actually a net gain for local ecosystems, the biosphere, and the human species. The health of the soil actually improves with pasture and atmospheric carbon is captured — indeed, grasslands draw down more carbon than do farm fields or forests. Run-off, erosion, and pollution are also eliminated. On top of that, pasture provides habitat for wildlife, as opposed to mass farming and monoculture that destroys habitat and displaces wildlife, not to mention poisons, starves and slaughters immense numbers of wildlife. If you’re pro-life in the broadest sense, the last thing in the world you’d want to be is vegan, as it is inherently and inevitably dependent on industrial agriculture and mass transportation.
Vegan arguments against harm to animals don’t apply to a pasture-raised and wild-caught carnivore diet or any local animal-based diet combined with locally and seasonally available plant foods. (By the way, today was the beginning of wild mulberry season — delicious! I was knocked right out of ketosis and was glad for it. That is the reason plants evolved the highly addictive drug called sugar, so that we would eat their fruit and spread their seeds, not so that one day agriculture would make possible industrially-produced and health-destroying high fructose corn syrup.)
Veganism creates a similar disconnect as seen with right-wing ‘pro-lifers’ who oppose abortion. As I’ve pointed out, countries that ban abortions don’t decrease the rate of abortions and sometimes increase them. The main change is whether abortions are legal and safe or illegal and unsafe. But anti-abortionists refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of the policies they support. Similarly, vegans also refuse to accept responsibility for the deaths and destruction that their diet incurs. Whether one intentionally or unintentionally causes harm, the harm is equally real. This is how symbolic ideology that makes people feel good trumps practical concerns about what actually makes the world a better place.
“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’
“All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.”
~ Lierre Keith
“There is no place left for the buffalo to roam. There’s only corn, wheat, and soy. About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year. Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal. They count, and they died for your dinner, along with all the animals that have dwindled past the point of genetic feasibility.”
~ Lierre Keith
There is no reason the world’s population couldn’t live according to the meat-based diet I and many others follow; or else some other version of an animal-based diet such as the Paleo diet or the traditional Mediterranean diet, but also lacto-ovo-vegetarianism. Plant-based advocates ask for evidence that eating meat and other animal foods is sustainable. Are these people utterly disconnected from reality? Ruminants have been around for 50 million years. Chickens and other fowl descended from dinosaurs. And fish can be traced back 530 million years. Animals eating other animals has been going on for over 800 million years. Humans began eating meat, animal fat, and marrow 2.6 million years ago. The overall biomass hasn’t changed much over time. Also, cows don’t increase total atmospheric methane because the grasslands they graze on capture methane. It’s a freaking natural cycle! It’s been going on for as long as life has existed. Isn’t that long enough to prove sustainability?
Besides, very little of the arable land available can be used for farming plant foods. But most of it can be used for grazing. Also, grazing animals for food can be done alongside keeping the land open for wild animals as well. Keep in mind that, in North America, there once were more buffalo roaming the continent than there are now cows and the vast herds of buffalo were what kept the prairies healthy. Even in countries that don’t have good farmland, animals can always be raised locally on pasture or open land, from mountains and valleys to grasslands and deserts. There is no country in the world that lacks land for grazing. If not cows, then chicken, ostriches, pigs, goats, sheep, camels, or whatever else; not to mention traditional ways of raising fish in ponds (a major resource of the ancient Romans and early medieval Europeans).
Let’s put this in perspective, 90% of usable land in North America can only be used for wildlife and livestock, not farming. In other places (Africa, India, Australia, etc), it’s even higher at 95% of the usable land. A point of confusion is that some major global organizations, like the United Nations, only speak of animal farming in terms of pastures and meadows that are only two-thirds of the land in use (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Sustainable Food and Agriculture) and, in the United States, a little over one-third of total land is pasture (Dave Merrill & Lauren Leatherby, Here’s How America Uses Its Land). But none of this includes savannahs, shrublands, tundra, forests, wetlands, mountains, rough foothills, rocky islands, arid areas, and deserts where one can sometimes graze cattle but certainly graze animals other than cows; such as chickens, goats, pigs, camels, alpacas, etc with much of it falling under the category of ‘rangeland’ that by itself is half the earth’s land surface (World Wildlife Fund, New Data Shows Rangelands Make Up Half the World’s Land Surface – and Present a Severely Underutilized Opportunity to Address the Climate and Biodiversity Crises); along with hunting, trapping, and fishing of wild game.
Yet even when only including agricultural lands and ignoring non-agricultural lands and waters that could potentially be used for immense and sustainable food production, one study still found that, “The vegan diet, surprisingly, fed fewer people than two of the omnivore diets and both of the other vegetarian diets, suggesting food choices that make use of grazing and forage land as well as cropland could feed more people than those that completely eliminate animal-based food from our diets” (Kristen Satre Meyer, Which Diet Makes the Best Use of Farmland? You Might Be Surprised.). So, all of the animal-based diets were proven more environmentally sustainable than the strictly plant-exclusive diet. The study’s analysis did conclude that reducing meat was more sustainable for agricultural lands, the few percentages of all land. It was designed to be biased against animal foods, and yet the animal-based diets still showed their merit. Now add in the animal foods from half the earth’s land surface and all of the earth’s water.
Oceans, seas, lakes, ponds and rivers aside, there are so many kinds of lands and so many ways they could be implemented for local and global food production. Conventional industrial farming of bathing GMO monocrops in chemicals, with its erosion and pollution, is not going to be the future. As an odd example, think of the traditional pig farming on Okinawa, a small rocky island, where the pig pen was traditionally underneath the house where human waste and excrement was fed to the pigs — how does one describe that kind of efficient and effective land use? Not that it’s being suggested that Americans should follow this specific example, although it does demonstrate how animal foods can be increased in ways that can’t be as easily done with plant foods. We are surrounded by lands unused and underutilized. The amount of wasted land in the average suburb could be used to raise a large part of the foods needed for those living there. We Americans have come to take for granted how much land we not only waste but use destructively, such as the chemical-drenched ecological deserts of suburban yards and greenspaces. Many suburbs are built on farmland. Why are we so insane as to build housing on arable land? We should be emphasizing and incentivizing residential concentration, not sprawl.
What plant-based environmentalists ignore is that deforestation is rarely done for cattle grazing, particularly not deforestation of rainforests that have poor soil for grazing. The cause of that deforestation is primarily for other reasons, from logging to mining, but half of it is for croplands to produce palm oil and soy. Cows are only put on such poor soil as an afterthought when there is nothing else to do with the land. In the US, it’s interesting to note how no one is talking about the deforestation of farmland: “As forests have been cleared from farmland, a long-term decline in grazed forestland of 186 million acres has taken place since the start of the MLU series” (Daniel Bigelow, A Primer on Land Use in the United States). We could replant a lot of trees on farmland, and that would healthier for the soil and provide habitat for wildlife, but then it could only be used for grazing.
Government agencies in the United States (EPA, USDA, etc), fortunately, do categorize the other kinds of grazing lands: grassland pasture and range, including shrub and brushland; and forest land grazed (EPA, Definitions of Land Use Categories). For whatever reason, these vast tracts of non-agricultural lands never come up in terms of animal production within mainstream environmentalist arguments, critiques, and debates. Many of the present farmland in places like California couldn’t be used for agriculture at all, if not for the massive redistribution of water from elsewhere. Yet this otherwise dry landscape is perfectly fine for grazing that requires no irrigation.
Critics of an animal-based diet like to blame cattle for using excessive water, but the reality is 94% of the water used is from greenwater; i.e., rain that falls on the land where the cattle are kept; and that is factoring in factory-farmed animals that spend 80% of their lives on pasture (M. M. Mekonnen & A. Y. Hoekstra, The Green, Blue and Grey Water Footprint of Farm Animals and Animal Products). The point being that cattle are not the reason rivers and aquifers are being drained. If one wants to complain about water-intensive farming, the target of one’s ire should be favorite crops like cotton, rice, potatoes, onion, garlic, sugarcane, sugar beets, almonds, walnuts, avocados, olives, raisins, grapes, applies, apricots, cherries, peaches, nectarines, pears, plums, prunes, figs, kiwis, bananas, grapefruit, lemons, oranges, dates, jojoba, etc. Imagine a vegan environmentalist trying to avoid those environmentally unsustainable crops, along with other problematic crops such as soy, corn, and spinach (Quynh Nguyen, 5 Least Sustainable Vegan (Plant-Based) Foods).
The amount of land unused or underutilized for animal food production and procurement is immense. That is not the case for agricultural land that is already being pushed to its most extreme capacity. So, considering only 3% of land is permanent crops (Hannah Ritchie & Max Roser, Land Use), are we going to try to feed the global population with just a few percentages of the available land and ignore the rest? And are we going to ignore the 71% of the earth’s surface that is water and that produces fish and seafood? In ever more intensively farming, we are destroying what is left of the arable land and polluting the water. We’ve already lost most of the earth’s top soil, mostly over the past century; whereas regenerative pasture can actually increase top soil.
“Roughly sixty percent of insects in plant agricultural areas, in China, Europe, and North America, have disappeared. This includes all insects, not just insects that eat crops. Tilling, harvesting, and chemicals kill. Mono-crops, fields with a single kind of plant, don’t provide habitat to animals that need a variety of plant species to survive.
“Of the top five crops raised in the US for human uses, corn, soybeans, rice, wheat, and cotton… all are protected by destroying animal species endemic to the areas they grow in. Of these crops, 75% of corn is grown for either ethanol fuel, corn oils, and corn syrups. Human uses. 95% plus of soybeans are processed to extract oils for human uses, and the waste product after the oils are extracted is fed to livestock. Rice is almost exclusively human use. Most wheat is ground for flour. Cotton is grown for fibers to make cloth.
“Of crops grown exclusively for animal feeds, natural or improved pasture is actually one of the few crops that provide habitat for wild species. Alfalfa is a perennial crop so land is tilled far less often, and has such long roots that it needs very little supplemental watering.
“Can farmers grow crops without killing animals? With the present world population, the necessity for industrial scale agriculture, I don’t see how. But it is easy to see that plant agriculture kills far more animals per pound of nutrition than raising animals.”
~ Todd Elliot, former rancher, B.S. in Animal Science from Utah State University
Farmland, in the first place, is created by killing numerous species and destroying ecosystems and replacing them with an ecological desert; not to mention the need for constant killing of any wildlife that attempts to return to the land. “Land conversion from natural ecosystems to agriculture has historically been the largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions), linked to loss of biomass and carbon in biomass above and below ground. Today, land conversion to agriculture continues to be a major driver of biodiversity loss and land degradation” (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Sustainable Food and Agriculture). That is insanity! Industrial agriculture and factory farming makes no sense, except from a capitalist model of private profit and externalized/socialized costs. A local animal-based diet — if not carnivore or omnivore, then ovo-lacto-vegetarian — is the only way to feed the world’s population, maintain optimal health, avoid the greatest harm to animals, and ensure environmental sustainability.
Veganism didn’t exist prior to modern agriculture, industrialization, and mass transport. Grazing animals, on the other hand, has been the mainstay of the human diet for millions of years. There is no traditional diet that wasn’t centered on animal foods, the source of the most energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods, guaranteeing every essential and conditionally essential nutrient, many of which are missing or insufficient on a plant-exclusive diet. And when done low-carb as was typical of traditional societies, ketosis allows people to eat less food and go for longer periods of time without eating. Many people on animal-based diets do regular fasting (OMAD, intermittent, and extended). In ketosis, I easily skip meals or go several days without food and it doesn’t bother me. Since ketosis allows for smaller intake of food, that is an additional decreased impact on the environment.
The standard American diet (SAD) that is plant-based is neither healthy for the individual nor healthy for the environment. Keep in mind that almost all junk foods are vegan: potato chips, crackers, cookies, candy, pop, etc (the main ingredients being potatoes, wheat, corn, rice, sugar, and seed oils). This vegan junk food is mass farmed, mass produced, and mass shipped, not to mention mass subsidized. Even most healthier plant-based foods, including whole foods, that vegans rely upon are shipped from distant regions and countries with very little regulation for the health of environment and workers — think about the environmentally-unsustainable and water-wasting Californian agriculture that provides much of the produce for plant-based diets, particularly in winter. Veganism contributes to pollution and the need for heavily-subsidized infrastructure.
The human health aspect, though, is no small issue. Someone on an animal-based diet requires no supplements or fortified foods to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Vegans, on the other hand, have to carefully supplement to avoid serious health problems. All of those supplements and fortified foods are industrially-produced and that contributes to pollution and environmental degradation. On top of that, those who don’t include sufficient animal foods in their diet, even when they supplement, still tend to have metabolic diseases. Keep in mind that metabolic diseases are the single greatest healthcare cost. And the industrial production of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals is one of the largest sources of pollution and trash. Healthcare alone has a higher carbon footprint than animal farming.
What is ethical about any of this? Good intentions are not good enough. We can’t separate ourselves from the world we live in. It’s a fantasy that we can live apart from the natural cycle of life and death. Trying to force that fantasy upon the world, some might call that a nightmare. A diet is part of an ecosystem, all contained within a living biosphere. In pretending to be separate, we cause even more death and suffering. Mass extinction was always inherent to agriculture. “The end,” as Lierre Keith said, “was written into the beginning.” There is no avoiding this, as long as we continue down this path of exploitative civilization. We can embrace that ending, though, and seek a new beginning.
“Agriculture is the biggest mistake in human history,” as put by George Armelagos. And on the same note, Jared Diamond wrote that, “Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” So, are we doomed? Only if we choose to be. Agriculture as we know it can’t continue. Can it be done differently? Others have offered more optimistic answers.
If we hope to find another way before it’s too late, we must look for inspiration in the traditional food systems that still survive. And there most definitely is hope. We already know of ways to reverse the damage and rehabilitate the land. No doubt further understandings will be gained over time that will allow even greater results. But the key is that more animals, wild and domestic, will be needed to make possible this course of action. That is to say, in place of ecological deserts of monocultural farming, we need to return to the environmental norm of biodiversity within thriving ecosystems.
“The persistence of human life on this planet depends on soil ecosystems. Ultimately, I don’t care what diet you eat as long as it leads to the enrichment of organic matter in the earth and mycorrhizal networks. Show me the plant-based diet that does this. Without ruminants ecosystems will collapse. Tilling of the soil for mono-crop agriculture is the enemy (and releases massive amounts of carbon) not cows, Bison and other animals.”
~Dr. Paul Saladino
“If we took 75% of the world’s trashed rangeland, we could restore it from agriculture back to functioning prairies — with their animal cohorts — in under fifteen years. We could further sequester all of the carbon that has been released since the beginning of the industrial age. So I find that a hopeful thing because, frankly, we just have to get out of the way. Nature will do the work for us. This planet wants to be grassland and forest. It does not want to be an agricultural mono-crop.”
~ Lierre Keith
“Viewing this global scene, as I have been doing for many years, I will stake my life on it that humanity’s best hope lies in one simple idea that no scientist can sensibly argue against – that management in this 21st century should be holistic and no longer reductionist. And Holistic Management of course includes recognizing that only livestock with Holistic Planned Grazing (or better process when developed) can address global desertification, annual burning of billions of hectares of grasslands and savannas, and regenerate the world’s dying soils and soil life essential to addressing climate change. […]
“Reductionist management, without using livestock managed on the land in a way that addresses global desertification and climate change, will inevitably lead to the doomsday predictions of Wallace-Wells. Billions of people dead and hundreds of cities destroyed and worse in the relatively near future no matter how many hopeful measures we might take.”
~ Allan Savory
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Are animals killed in the process of farming vegan foods? Is it possible for a vegan to ensure that no animals were harmed in the production of their food without growing it themselves?
Dan Eady: “Intensive farming practices such as wheat cropping introduced to natural environments kills far more than just animals it destroys entire ecosystems. Many species of plant and animal life are wiped out or displaced as the cropping practice begins. This new environment is then usually favourable to a much smaller number and less diverse number of species. So animals such as rodents attempt to colonise the changed environment but are then killed through human control methods or inadvertently through the growth and harvest practices employed through human activity upon the crop.”
Tariq Hossenbux: “As many of the other answers state, billions of insects and animals are killed when crops are conventionally grown. Millions of snakes, groundhogs and other small creatures. Wheat farmers routinely poison mice, and pesticides kill countless insects.
“What is really interesting though is that using a field for cattle pasture land may actually result in less total animal deaths and also preserve the native plant life. Many migrating insects depends on particular weeds to eat, and crop farmers often use excessive amounts of herbicide wiping them out. This one of the reasons for the decline of Monarch Butterfly populations in North America.”
Dan Hunter: “Yes, animals get killed when you grow crops. Other answers have mentioned running animals over when plowing and mowing, but if you just think about the fact you are converting a natural environment into cropland you soon realize that a lot of animals just lost their homes. So not only does crop production kill animals, it often kills all the succeeding generations of animals on that land.
“To illustrate the idea think about american bison and barbed wire. Before the farmers got to the prairies there were herds of buffalo so large they could take days to pass through a location. Wherever they went they ate the grass and trampled what they didn’t eat. As soon as the first plow made it through the Cumberland gap and onto the prairies the buffalo was doomed. If the market hunters had not shot the buffalo into near extinction the farmers with their plows and wire fencing would have sealed their fate because the fencing to protect the crops would have meant no migration of the buffalo to fresh pasture and certain starvation for them.
‘You can also look up the fate of the prairie chicken and the black footed ferret. These were also destroyed by wheat farming. Many farms were created by draining wetlands. This means loss of habitat for animals like beaver, muskrats, ducks, geese, frogs, etc. It does not really matter if the farmers are large agribusiness or if the are small farm holders. The result is the same.”
Kamia Taylor: “All of the previous answers talk about what gets killed by tilling before that ground can be planted. But if we got back even further, massive amounts of native prairies, wetlands and forests are still being destroyed, along with every living thing that called that area home, from birds, amphibians, mammals, insects and more — all so that more corn, SOY (a vegan’s favorite go-to food) and grains can be planted there — not to mention rainforests being torn apart ruthlessly for the production of palm kernel and other oils, coffee, cacao.
“In addition, massive numbers of animals are being killed off (over 200 Tule Elk died just recently) so that water they would have had access to is diverted to support, as an example, almond farming for vegan almond milk. Most people have have never planted anything have no idea just how much water vegetables and fruits use to come to maturity.
“So not matter what you do, whether you are vegetarian or omnivorous, you ARE going to impact the rest of the planet negatively to feed yourself. The good new is that when you die, you can be cremated and become compost to feed the next generation.”
Belinda Mellor: “Besides the small animals, of which there are millions killed, there is also deforestation in order to grow crops such as coffee, tea, palm oil, bananas, sugar, coconuts… some of these have been devastating. For instance, as a family we considered spending a year on an island that had a fairly sizeable coconut industry, and were advised that we would need vitamin tablets, as getting fresh fruit and vegetables was difficult – everywhere had been stripped. That was historical destruction, but just today I read about the rescue of an orang-utan stranded in a tiny ‘island’ of forest cut off by palm oil planting. She was lucky, many of her kind have perished, killed by logging machinery. And don’t forget all the birds that are not just accidentally killed, but are culled for fear of them eating crops: in Australia it’s all-out war on some parrot species for that reason.”
* * *
Here is another argument comes up, but usually only shows up in brief comments. The following is a good response in explaining why the argument makes no sense: “No, the majority of this agriculture is for human consumption, not to feed livestock” (from the comments section of Karen Lindquist’s The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism). I’ll first share the comment to which the second comment is a response.
September 27, 2019 at 1:40 am
“Yeah, I agree. Agriculture is very destructive, and we should localize. However:
“Is not the majority of this agriculture to feed livestock? And how could we feed pigs and chickens without it? They aren’t ruminants.
“Think about what would happen if we kept our meat consumption the same, but released the 70.4% of cows, 98.3% of pigs, and 99.9% of chickens in the US that live on factory farms to open grasslands? How could we possibly do this without bulldozing every last tree?”
October 8, 2019 at 2:15 pm
“No, the majority of this agriculture is for human consumption, not to feed livestock. Livestock get the left-overs, the crop failures, and the stuff that didn’t grade to top-quality grade for use in every part of the term “human consumption” from being made into biofuel to vegetable oil to clothing. Animals also get the by-products that come from the conversion of these crops to various products for humans because the landfills would be overflowing if animals couldn’t take them, making that an environmental disaster in and of itself (as if landfills aren’t already an environmental disaster already), and because those animals turn those waste products into nutritional edible food. More here: https://www.ethicalomnivore.org/are-farm-animals-starving-the-planet-of-food-humans-cant-even-eat/
“Why would anyone be dumb enough to release a large number of animals that aren’t even adapted to live in such an environment? They’d die out very quickly, either from starvation because they don’t know how to forage on their own for food or they just can’t live in such an environment, or by predation. (It seems that you’ve never been on open grasslands before; trees on open grasslands are very rare. You only find trees in forests or savannahs.) The better solution to that problem you propose is via gradual phasing out of such systems and moving towards regenerative, well-managed pastured-based systems that produce and maintain the breeds and types of animals that are adapted to such a system. No “bulldozing every last tree” required. If you want a good example of what that kind of system looks like, look at operations like Polyface Farms and Brown Ranch in North Dakota. Great examples of stacked enterprises with a pasture-based system that is most certainly replicable, and FAR more efficient than any degenerative, monoculture CAFO operation.
“Think outside the box!!!! All isn’t as it appears.”
What Livestock Eat
The Farming Truth Project
* * *
Carnivore Is Vegan:
Bad Vegan Logic: Accidental Deaths vs Intentional Deaths – Carnivore is Vegan
A Carnivore Diet is More Vegan than a Vegan Diet – Carnivore is Vegan
Vegans Use Slave Cows to Make Fertilizer
Dairy is 2000 X’s More Ethical Than Almond Milk
Stir-Fry Genocide: Mushrooms Are Not Vegan
Field Deaths in Plant Agriculture
by Bob Fischer and Andy Lamey
There’s no such thing as a green vegan
by Mary Harrington
There’s no such thing as vegan food
by Claire Taylor
by Joanna Blythman
But are you truly vegan?
by Matthew Evans
Australia’s vegan lie revealed: How plant-based diets still result in hundreds of thousands of animal deaths a year
by Lauren Ferri
Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands
by Mike Archer
The Least Harm Principle May Require that Humans Consume a Diet Containing Large Herbivores, Not a Vegan Diet
by Stephen L. Davis
The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism
by Karin Lindquist
Are Farm Animals Starving the Planet of Food… Humans Can’t Even Eat?
by Karin Lindquist
Want an ethical diet? It’s not as simple as going vegan, says farmer Matthew Evans
from ABC News
The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability
Chapter 1: Why This Book?
by Lierre Keith
The Hidden Cost of Veganism – Lierre Keith #143
from ReWild Yourself
Lierre Keith & The Agripocalypse
by Lawrence Rosenberg
Any ‘planetary diet’ must also work for the poorest and most vulnerable
by Andrew Salter
Eating Local Meat is Actually More Sustainable than Veganism
from Heartland Fresh Family Farm
Why vegetarianism will not save the world
by Ian MacKenzie
If you care about the planet, eat more beef
by Danielle Smith
Ruminants are more important to the world than you might have thought!
by Troy Downing
Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher
Can vegetarians save the planet? Why campaigns to ban meat send the wrong message on climate change
by Erin Biba
EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust
Report urging less meat in global diet ‘lacks agricultural understanding’
War on burgers continues with false environmental impact claims
by Amanda Radke
Testimony before the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry U.S. Senate
by Frank Mitloehner
Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner
Don’t Blame Cows For Climate Change
by Sylvia Wright
Cattle and methane: More complicated than first meets the (rib) eye
by Stephan Lewandowsky and Asa Wahlquist
Beef’s ‘Sustainability’ Involves More Than Greenhouse Gases
by Jesse Bussard
Is Agriculture Feeding the World or Destroying It? Dr. Frank Mitloehner Discusses Ag, Climate Change
Environmental Hoofprint Matters — Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis
from Farm To Table Talk
Sustainable Dish Episode 83: The Truth About Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production with Frank Mitloehner
with Diana Rodgers
UN admits flaw in report on meat and climate change
by Alastair Jamieson
Can Dietary Changes Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
by Wyatt Bechtel
Scientist: Don’t blame cows for climate change
by Paul Armstrong
Climate change policy must distinguish (long-lived) carbon dioxide from (short-lived) methane–Oxford study
by Susan MacMillan
Alan Savory @ PV1 – The role of livestock in a new agriculture that can save city-based civilization
by Julia Winter
Effective Livestock Grazing And A Regenerative Future
by Allan Savory
Climate Change – Cause and Remedy
by Allan Savory
Climate Change Best Addressed Planting Trees, Or Regenerating Grasslands?
by Allan Savory
Fate Of City-Based Civilization In The Hands Of Farmers
by Allan Savory
How We Can Offer Hope For Our Grandchildren In A Floundering, Leaderless World
by Allan Savory
Hope For The Future – First Real Hope In Centuries.
by Allan Savory
Response To “Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming”
by Daniela Ibarra-Howell
Why Homo Sapiens Are A Keystone Predator In Rewilding Projects
by Caroline Grindrod
Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin
Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy
Climate, Food, Facts
from Animal Agriculture Alliance
The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond
Was agriculture the greatest blunder in human history?
by Darren Curnoe
Could Veganism Cause Extinctions?
by Patrice Ayme
It takes 21 litres of water to produce a small chocolate bar. How water-wise is your diet?
by Brad Ridoutt
Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet
Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health.
Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis
Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health
The Agricultural Mind
Last Edit and Revision: 8/19/22
17 thoughts on “Carnivore Is Vegan”
At this post…
…the blogger left this comment directed at me:
“Why do so many folks who feel as you seem to fail to acknowledge the unnecessary cruely in ending a sentient beings life for your eating pleasure. No matter how you slaughtered and butchered them, the animals you eat wanted to live before you killed, COOKED and ate them. And unless you’re eating the animal’s flesh raw (like a natural predator), you are processing it, so your arguments against your vegan brothers doesn’t hold water.”
I wrote a lengthy and detailed response. But not knowing if the blogger would allow it to be posted, I decided to leave it here:
The same is true, I would argue, to an even greater extent in the even more animals that are harmed, tortured, and slaughtered through the industrial agriculture. Yes, the slaughterhouses of factory farming is part of that system of suffering. Then again, veganism is also inseparable from it. Guess what is fully independent of the entire neoliberal carnival of blood and doom. That’s right, an animal-based diet from local, pasture-raised and wild-caught animals.
Still, no matter how we measure suffering and victimization, there is no escaping the cycle of life and death except through suicide. Death denial, in psychologically disconnecting us from the natural world, simply increases and perpetuates the unnecessary suffering we cause others in not facing this stark reality. But we can choose actions that cause less harm, the basis of my own lifestyle. We each must struggle as best we can to do what seems right to us. That is all that I know to do. No doubt I could be wrong about all kinds of things. Still, I try to be compassionate as best as I know how, under imperfect conditions.
Let me explain where I’m coming from. I grew up in a liberal church, Unity, that has a history of promoting vegetarianism since the late 1800s. And I live in a liberal college town, the location of my childhood home. Besides my brothers and their families, I’m surrounded by vegetarians and vegans. On a personal level, I’ve always been sensitive to suffering. I quit eating chicken for a period of time as a child when I learned where it came from, that an animal was killed. All of this contributed to why I tried vegetarianism as an adult.
I understand where you’re coming from. As I said, I’m a bleeding heart liberal and I mean that in an extreme sense. I’m a stereotypical pansy liberal and tree-hugger and proud of it, combined with heavy leanings toward radical leftism. I’m far more harshly critical and damning of this society than my brothers, maybe because they have kids and I have none. It’s hard for people to criticize a world into which they’ve forced their children into. That might be why I have some tendencies toward antinatalism and philosophical pessimism (if you want a fun experience, read Thomas Ligotti’s The Conspiracy Against the Human Race). My views, good or bad, come from hard-earned suffering and struggle.
Here is how I see it. Not having kids, not owning a car, not eating an industrial agricultural diet, etc — all of this makes my carbon, death, and suffering footprint far smaller than the vast majority of vegans and vegetarians… for whatever that is worth. At best, maybe the tiny fraction of a percentage of those on a plant-based diet living near the equator while growing and gathering their own food would be doing less harm and suffering than those on an animal-based diet eating eggs, dairy, and meat from local, pasture-raised animals. Maybe or maybe not. But certainly, there can’t be regenerative and sustainable farming or ecosystems without grazing ruminants, the natural balance that existed for millions of years before and during which hominids existed.
From my perspective, the argument against eating animal foods is similar to the argument against women’s rights. I judge by the results and not the intentions. Countries that ban abortions, on average, have higher rates of abortions than countries that don’t ban abortions (because full sex education, family planning centers, etc prevent a greater number of unwanted pregnancies in the first place and so prevent much of the need for abortions). It is irrelevant, to my mind, that the anti-choice activists have good intentions in wanting to save lives. Do they actually save lives? No.
Likewise, I strongly suggest that vegans aren’t actually saving lives, specifically in that more animals are killed for veganism than for local, pasture-raised and wild-caught omnivory or carnivory. All lives matter and all deaths count. Vegans don’t get a moral free pass for the harm their diet and lifestyle causes. And rationalizations that it is unintentional are unpersuasive. In knowing these facts about the deaths directly coming from veganism, the vegan can’t claim innocence. Their choice with its consequences is fully intentional. Knowing that, why would I choose a vegan diet when I believe it is worse all around? You are free to disagree with me, but understand I’m being completely sincere.
I’m morally-driven in my beliefs, values, and choices. I have a tendency toward moral righteousness that, fortunately (?), is balanced by a strong sense of self-doubt/questioning from decades of chronic depression. I have often wondered what is the point of continued life, for myself and for others, to such an extent that I’ve attempted suicide. Civilization seems like a shitty deal to me, a sad state of affairs that was driven home for me back in my early 20s by reading Paul Shepard and Derrick Jensen. For all the problems of other kinds of societies, the harm caused in hundreds of thousands of years by hunter-gatherers pales in comparison to the harm caused in the past few hundred years of modern agriculture and industry.
There is another layer to my experience as well. When I was vegetarian, I was severely depressed and the diet didn’t help my mental health in the slightest. I’ve noticed that my vegetarian brothers and their families also deal with a lot of mental health and neurocognitive issues: depression, anxiety, alcoholism, autism, OCD, learning disabilities, etc. To be fair, many on a Standard American Diet (SAD) share these same problems with many on plant-based diets.
But there is a far different experience for those who go on low-carb diets, especially ketogenic with nutrient-dense animal foods, such as how in clinical trials for the first time in history Dr. Terry Wahls reversed multiple sclerosis and Dr. Dale Bredesen reversed Alzheimer’s. That is on top of the numerous other medical conditions that diets like this have been effectively used in treatment, from epileptic seizures to mood disorders. Conditions such as autism are also showing great benefit. To be fair, one can do low-carb/keto while mostly or entirely eating plant foods, although it is challenging to do so while vegan… even so, not impossible.
I see this last point as key. We live in a society with increasing and worsening physical and mental health problems. It’s becoming a crisis comparable to climate change and, in both cases, they might bankrupt us over the coming generation or else simply cripple our ability to function as a society. If we have any hope of implementing changes that can turn around this dire state of affairs, including depopulation efforts or other avenues of softening the landing as we crash, the very minimal that will be required is a mentally balanced and neurocognitively healthy citizenry and leadership. These trying times demand the best of us, our full potential. We can’t afford any diet that will harm either environmental health or human health.
I hope we can agree on this much, even if we strongly disagree on how to accomplish it. If nothing else, you now understand my dietary choices and what motivates them. My reasons are not only moral but rational and evidence-based. I’ve carefully researched and thought through my options and their consequences. That said, I’m always learning and experimenting. I’m sure I’ll change my mind many times before I die, as I’ve changed my mind many times to get to the point where I am now. I’m always open to hearing the views of others.
I found it even more interesting that the same person left this next comment as well, also directed at me. This is how they defended veganism in its dependence on the highly destructive and harmful (for all species) industrial agriculture and neoliberal food system (this person didn’t even bother to try to deny or dismiss that destructiveness and harm):
“Humans aren’t sustainable as a species. I’ve always said that population control should be part of a vegan’s creed, if they have one. I don’t believe that early hunter-gatherers maintained a balanced population by choice. Their lives were short and brutish and their populations were only kept in check at first by predators and later by the lack of prey as they wiped everything out they liked to prey on and eat. That must be why they invented gods–so they could justify being here even after they’d driven so many other species to extinction…”
This commenter points to antinatalist inclinations, not just depopulation but elimination of the human species: “Humans aren’t sustainable as a species.” When I was severely depressed, I was drawn toward antinatalism. Many people on unhealthy diets, whether vegan diet or Standard American diet (SAD), tend to have high rates of mental illness and neurocognitive issues, including but far from limited to depression. But many who switch to low-carb, especially keto, find their mental health and neurocognitive problems go away or severely lessen.
This fascinates me. Our diets create our sense of identity and reality. The vegan diet, in particular, seems to create a state of doom and despair in many people. To my mind, that says a lot about the diet. It not only is unhealthy in a nutritional sense for it goes far beyond this in creating a dysfunctional mindset and worldview. It’s not a happy place to spend one’s life. The dualistic thinking (good vs evil) is commonly seen in certain mental/neurocognitive diseases, from depression to borderline personality disorder, and this can make one prone to dogmatism and judgmentality, not to mention projection.
I know this was true for me. And so I have immense sympathy. It was only when I went animal-based low-carb that my depression, along with my addictions, began to lessen. Finally, with keto, my mood and attitude about life entirely transformed. It’s like I’m a new person. I don’t feel as critical and, quite the opposite, have been feeling a greater desire for forgiveness. Even if we are doomed as a species, I’m finding that I don’t want to contribute to the suffering of others in attacking and judging them, an impulse that was hard for me to resist when I was on an unhealthy high-carb diet, including when I was vegetarian.
In contrast, I remain constantly amazed that, after decades of suffering and struggle, my depression entirely disappeared. All of that accomplished with diet and it for damn sure wasn’t vegan. This experience is so common in low-carb/keto diets, especially those that are animal-based and nutrient-dense. Those who try such diets regularly speak of this kind of thing and we now have enough research to know why this happens. The pattern is undeniable.
This has stood out to me since I’ve started following low-carb, keto, and carnivore Youtubers and noticed how so many of them seem high energy, happy, and optimistic with not a single one uttering antinatalistic inclinations. There also seems to be less ideological dogmatism in this crowd. They are more open simply to what works. They are driven more by curiosity and experimentation than by an overarching ideological agenda as is common with veganism.
I’m almost shocked by how many vegans and vegetarians who say they’d maintain their diet even if it was harming them. This religious-like hatred or ambivalence about the body and bodily existence is bizarre, such psychological disconnection demonstrating severe mental health issues. I’ve known vegans and vegetarians who admitted that they would rather let their child die than allow them to eat meat… I’m fucking not kidding! Some go even further and think that the entire human species should die or at the very least a large part of the population.
Such observations of dietary influence on human thought and behavior are hardly new. Earlier last century, Weston A. Price observed that there is no healthy traditional society that was vegetarian/vegan. And among the healthy traditional societies, there was always a heavy emphasis of animal foods with lots of fat-soluble vitamins. He pointed out that these people showed great health, both physically and mentally, not to mention in terms of moral character. They expressed pro-social behaviors. Antinatalism would have been a foreign mentality to healthy traditional societies.
Take the Piraha, for example, who laughed at Daniel Everett when he told them of his aunt’s suicide because suicide was simply so incomprehensible to them that they assumed he was joking. There has been no record of any Piraha committing suicide or even showing symptoms of depression. What is the Piraha diet? At least 70% fish, along with other animal foods, but only occasional plant foods in spite of surrounded by lush vegetation.
Never underestimate the power of food. We create the world we envision. And what we eat helps shape what we can imagine, along with how we think and act. The federal government has been promoting a plant-based diet for several generations now and indeed, as the data shows, Americans are eating more grains, vegetables, and fruits (while decreasing red meat and saturated fat). How has that worked out? We are now neither a healthier nor happier population.
Still, let me be clear. I’m not dismissing vegans because they show higher rates of depression and such. That would be hypocritical of me, considering I spent most of my life chronically depressed. We live in a shitty society and shitty diets is one small if important part of that. I remember what it felt like to feel shitty while on a shitty diet and feeling all the shittier because of the shitty society that blamed me for my experience of shittiness. I sympathize with anger, hatred, and judgment toward a world of suffering and those who make it worse. That is a perfectly rational response.
But how diets profoundly affect us is not an issue of rationality. We are living in a society that is highly rationalistic, moreso than any society in all of history. We aren’t deficient in rationality, per se. That isn’t the main problem we’re facing. The happy and healthy Piraha weren’t overly concerned about rationality and they didn’t rationally choose their diet based on rational evidence. No, they simply ate and lived according to how humans have been doing for hundreds of millennia. It really is that simple.
One other thing stood out to me in the first comment from this blogger that I shared above. He starts with, “Why do so many folks who feel as you seem to fail to acknowledge…” The underlying message is that he doesn’t understand why people disagree with them, why they have different views. It’s simply incomprehensible. But let me make a suggestion for why this is. And I would have explained it to him, if he had asked.
He doesn’t understand because he probably doesn’t want to understand. He apparently has made no effort to understand. That is similar to an experience I’ve had with other ideologues: race realists, climate change denialists, anti-choice advocates, religious fundies, etc. I’ve noticed that this society is full of lopsided debates. One side understands the other side, but not vice versa. The favor is not returned. There is no possibility of dialogue or mutual understanding. It’s not even really an issue of disagreement since one side doesn’t even know exactly what they’re disagreeing with.
When one simply knows one is right, one doesn’t need to understand other viewpoints, other possibilities. It’s a mindset that begins with judgment. And it’s a mindset, as I argue, that is made more likely through a shitty diet and other shitty conditions, such as high inequality (Ketih Payne, Kate Pickett & Richard Wilkinson), social disconnection (Johann Hari & Bruce Alexander), transgenerational/epigenetic trauma (Christine Kenneally & Resmaa Menakem), etc. Payne’s analysis is particularly relevant, as he shows how inequality increases aggressive conflict and divisiveness.
That doesn’t explain why so many of these debates are lopsided, though. In the case of diet, we can explain it by the difference between healthier and unhealthier diet. But as for the rest, we are all part of the same dysfunctional society. Why isn’t everyone affected the same way? Why is it that atheists know more about Christianity than Christians know about atheism? Why is it that women’s rights advocates know more about anti-choice arguments than women’s rights opponents know about pro-choice arguments? Likewise, even ignoring the affect of diet on mental health, why do low-carbers and carnies know more about vegan views than the vegans know about animal-based diets? Why is it so incomprehensible that moral positions can be taken on both sides?
It occurred to me why this divide between vegan and vegetarian diets one side and omnivore and carnivore diets on the other. Much of it is probably a difference of the type and demographics of those involved with each category of diets, those are attracted to such diets in the first place and those who stick with it over the long term. That is important since most people who start a vegan/vegetarian diet don’t stick to it consistently or permanently, with the majority returning to meat-eating. When you’re talking about vegan/vegetarian advocates, this is the minority of those who tried this diet and stuck with it often for decades, such that their lives have been dedicated to and invested in it. To listen to and understand opponents would be an existential threat to their entire lifestyle, mindset, and worldview. It’s a totalizing diet.
Most vegans/vegetarians adopted their diets when they were younger, often in high school or college. So the typical vocal advocate of such diets either still is quite young or has been on the diet for a very long time, maybe most of their life, likely their entire adult life. That isn’t the case on the opposite side. Most people only come to low-carb/keto and carnivore rather late in life, often in middle or older age and often long after having already tried numerous other diets. There are a lot more low-carbers, ketoists, and carnies who are former vegans and vegetarians than the other way around.
These people have been around the block. So, in most cases, if they once had been dietary ideologues, they’ve gotten over that attitude after all those decades of experimentation, failure, and changing of their minds. Even among the most popular low-carb/keto and carnivore dieters on social media, most of them have only been doing it for a few years and none of them that I follow have been doing it for decades. They often are older, many of them doctors who spent their careers having advocated plant-based diets and government guidelines. Then something happened to make them see this other viewpoint.
But they don’t tend to have the kind of identification with their diets as seen with vegans/vegetarians. If something caused them to have a new experience from some other dietary approach, if they came across entirely new evidence that challenged what they thought they knew, it would be much easier for them to switch to another diet without it being an existential crisis. Most of them have been on numerous diets before and so they are used to an open-minded approach to see what works. As such, listening to and understanding those adhering to entirely different diets is less likely to feel threatening. Many of them know what motivates vegans/vegetarians because they used to be on that diet themselves. There is an ease of familiarity, a generosity of spirit built on experience and sympathy.
Here is a thorough and educational summary of info about vegan and vegetarian diet:
I never understand the silence that posts like this so often receive. It has no likes and no comments by others, although one pingback from being linked to an article in another language. I consider this to be one of the most important pieces I’ve written, but it’s so disturbing to the status quo and conventional thought that few want to think about it.