Vegetarianism

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sat Sep 19, 2009 7:45 pm

Neon Genesis wrote:This was a quote from a thread about abortion on the Friendly Atheist forums, but I think it's a good point in the vegetarian debate when we were debating if aborted fetuses could feel pain.
Does this mean that a vegetarian could eat an aborted child and it be okay?
i would rather people didn't eat human flesh, but it has nothing to do with when the ability to suffer begins. rather, it just seems like a bad idea for people to get accustomed to eating human flesh. you know, zombies and all.

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I am not designed to eat meat, thank you.

Post  Robert on Sun Sep 20, 2009 6:38 pm

Thank you, Doubtcasters, for producing a podcast about vegetarianism. It was nice to hear.

Why the controversy? Probably all of the things Fletch mentioned. Most of the audience eats meat and doesn't want to change. I can't really expect anyone who is atheist, agnostic, or humanist to automatically ascribe to vegetarianism. To me, atheism relies on rational analyses. Vegetarianism tends to require empathy plus rational analyses (unless it is based solely on health or environmental concerns). Humanism may involve some empathy, but the name itself reveals its focus on a single species.

Adding empathy into the mix doesn't mean rational analysis is prevented. Obviously folks can rationalize this and that about whether the common evolutionary history of animals supports our having empathy for other species or whether a particular theory of mind is prerequisite. Thus are inserted a multitude of means to deny or ignore what empathy might automatically arise when a person considers what their lifestyle subjects another animal to. I'll keep an ear open to the debate, but the default position I've come to is that if an individual animal has sense organs similar to mine, it can both appreciate the experience of being alive and suffer from having that life co-opted to serve another animal.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 20, 2009 7:03 pm

Robert wrote:the default position I've come to is that if an individual animal has sense organs similar to mine, it can both appreciate the experience of being alive and suffer from having that life co-opted to serve another animal.
Why is this the default position? How similar is "similar"?

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Robert on Sun Sep 20, 2009 10:55 pm

Jim wrote:
Robert wrote:the default position I've come to is that if an individual animal has sense organs similar to mine, it can both appreciate the experience of being alive and suffer from having that life co-opted to serve another animal.
Why is this the default position? How similar is "similar"?

It is my default position, which I have come to through examining my experiences with animals. For me, anything with neurons is similar enough to warrant consideration.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  NH Baritone on Sun Sep 20, 2009 11:11 pm

OK, let's face it. The Ethics of Eating varies around the globe; there's no universal way of approaching it. And no matter what culinary taboo you adhere to, there are cultures that would consider you a bit kooky for holding it.

For example, some people at times are cannibalistic. Some peoples eat primates ... and even apes like chimpanzees. Some Koreans consider dogs a delicacy. Orthodox Jews keep Kosher. Some Indians consider cows sacred and not eligible for consumption. Then there's Burger King, Wendy's, & McDonald's. Other cultures consider pigs the vilest creatures on the planet, while in the West, bacon has achieved near reverential status.

Your own personal choices are important to you, but more important to the rest of us is WHY you make your choices. What stops you from eating some things but allows other things? From where did you get the values that encouraged those choices? And finally, are you so confident that you have made the right choice that you advocate for others to follow your lead?

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  politas on Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:17 pm

I just don't understand how eating a dead animal is supposed to mean automatically that the animal must have suffered.

I don't consider eating animals to cause them suffering. I don't consider raising animals in a safe environment, protecting them and ensuring their genetic survival in exchange for being eaten constitutes a situation that causes suffering.

Certainly, there are some farming practices that do involve suffering and cruelty. I can be opposed to those methods and still consider the raising of animals for food to be morally acceptable. Most farming practices are centred around animal welfare, protecting them from harm, keeping them safe from stress and disease. These are sensible, rational goals for a farmer, since healthier animals provide more and higher-quality meat.

The chicken farming industry seems from my experience to have high incidents of cruelty, so I generally tend to avoid chicken, and only eat eggs from companies that do not produce cage eggs at all, to the best of my knowledge.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Robert on Sat Sep 26, 2009 12:21 am

politas wrote:I just don't understand how eating a dead animal is supposed to mean automatically that the animal must have suffered.

Because the animal died. Maybe if the animal died a natural death or was suffering so much that it welcomed death, then there's no suffering. Otherwise, at the very least, the animal suffers a loss of its life. That's pretty automatic. Or, I could be wrong and have missed out on years of killing people, since, after all, there's no suffering involved in it.


politas wrote:... I don't consider raising animals in a safe environment, protecting them and ensuring their genetic survival in exchange for being eaten constitutes a situation that causes suffering.

Hooray for my genes! I get to be birthed, fattened, killed, and eaten. And, special thanks to those humans who keep me safe (except from my most effective predator, humans).


politas wrote:... and only eat eggs from companies that do not produce cage eggs at all ...


But, if you're eating the eggs, how is the chicken's genetic survival ensured? That's a rhetorical question; I can guess your answer. Here's a nonrhetorical question: If eggs only come from female chickens and, let's say, 50% of all the chickens hatched are male and those chicks determined to be male are crowded into a container to be suffocated shortly after hatching, can you eat commercially produced eggs and be vegetarian?

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Aught3 on Sat Sep 26, 2009 12:29 am

I eat chicken. I hold chickens in complete contempt and can think of no better way to express it than by consuming their flesh.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Neon Genesis on Sat Sep 26, 2009 12:36 am

Robert wrote:

Because the animal died. Maybe if the animal died a natural death or was suffering so much that it welcomed death, then there's no suffering. Otherwise, at the very least, the animal suffers a loss of its life. That's pretty automatic. Or, I could be wrong and have missed out on years of killing people, since, after all, there's no suffering involved in it.

So if the animal died of natural causes instead of being killed by a human, would it acceptable for a vegetarian to eat it then if they only refuse to eat on the basis of causing suffering? After all, they died of natural causes, so it's not like you can cause it suffering if it no longer is able to suffer.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Robert on Sat Sep 26, 2009 1:00 am

Neon Genesis wrote:So if the animal died of natural causes instead of being killed by a human, would it acceptable for a vegetarian to eat it then if they only refuse to eat on the basis of causing suffering? After all, they died of natural causes, so it's not like you can cause it suffering if it no longer is able to suffer.

Exactly. That is why you see packs of vegetarians circling old animals. After all, meat is so important and tasty. It's like salt and fat mixed with texture. Yum!

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:39 am

Robert wrote:Because the animal died. Maybe if the animal died a natural death or was suffering so much that it welcomed death, then there's no suffering. Otherwise, at the very least, the animal suffers a loss of its life. That's pretty automatic. Or, I could be wrong and have missed out on years of killing people, since, after all, there's no suffering involved in it.
"suffering" a loss of life is an equivocation on suffering. that's not what utilitarians have in mind at all. they mean actually feeling something. it is easy to imagine all sorts of scenarios where things are killed without making them suffer.
killing people would cause others to suffer as, because someone was killed, others would fear for their safety and the safety of their loved ones. that would cause an extensive amount of suffering. it isn't merely the suffering of the individual being killed that's at stake. in fact, if making one individual suffer can reduce the suffering of many others, then, as a utilitarian, one should cause that individual to suffer.
as long as suffering is the basis of your ethics, this is going to be a problem. well, not a problem for the utilitarian, but for people for whom this is counter-intuitive.


Robert wrote:Hooray for my genes! I get to be birthed, fattened, killed, and eaten. And, special thanks to those humans who keep me safe (except from my most effective predator, humans).
so what? if they can feel happiness and suffering (and that's a big if!), then it's likely they were happy for their lives which were largely devoid of suffering. again, as long as you're relying upon the principle of utility to make moral judgments, there isn't a problem here.


Robert wrote:But, if you're eating the eggs, how is the chicken's genetic survival ensured? That's a rhetorical question; I can guess your answer. Here's a nonrhetorical question: If eggs only come from female chickens and, let's say, 50% of all the chickens hatched are male and those chicks determined to be male are crowded into a container to be suffocated shortly after hatching, can you eat commercially produced eggs and be vegetarian?
the idea that the survival of chickens is at stake seems silly. i'm willing to bet we have more chickens now than at any other point in history. that said, what does it matter if chickens survive morally?
and what is this about eggs hatching? the issue here is unhatched eggs. but it's worse than that. it's unlikely that newly hatched chicks suffer much from suffocating. when you weigh that against the pleasure and lack of suffering that people who eat eggs get from eating eggs, it is likely that pleasure wins out.


your problem might be with utilitarianism. if so, that's where you should direct your criticisms. as long as you stay in that framework, your concerns seem easily resolved.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:42 am

Robert wrote:Exactly. That is why you see packs of vegetarians circling old animals. After all, meat is so important and tasty. It's like salt and fat mixed with texture. Yum!
what? i'm guessing this is supposed to be sarcastic given the first line, but, if so, it fails as so many people do see meat as important and tasty.
is this serious or not?

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  politas on Sun Sep 27, 2009 12:07 am

Robert wrote:Because the animal died.
Sorry, I don't accept that death = suffering. Try again.
Robert wrote:Hooray for my genes! I get to be birthed, fattened, killed, and eaten. And, special thanks to those humans who keep me safe (except from my most effective predator, humans).
The animals furthest from danger of extinction are the animals we raise for food. They live healthier, safer lives than any animal living in the wild. They don't seem to particularly dislike their lives. Cows walk themselves up to the milking shed, allow themselves to be herded fairly calmly. Where's the suffering? Death, as I said, is not suffering.
Robert wrote:But, if you're eating the eggs, how is the chicken's genetic survival ensured? That's a rhetorical question; I can guess your answer.
It's an absurdly idiotic question, actually. A farmer who doesn't ensure genetic survival of the animals he farms is going to go out of business pretty quickly.
Robert wrote:Here's a nonrhetorical question: If eggs only come from female chickens and, let's say, 50% of all the chickens hatched are male and those chicks determined to be male are crowded into a container to be suffocated shortly after hatching
That's an interesting "if" you have there. Do you have any evidence that is what happens, rather than male chicks being raised to adulthood and then killed for their meat? This seems a more likely scenario. Farmers don't waste animals.
Robert wrote:, can you eat commercially produced eggs and be vegetarian?
I'm not a vegetarian, and see no benefit to being a vegetarian, so the question is irrelevant to me. I just don't understand the moral precepts of vegetarianism. Vegetarians seem to equate death with suffering, and base (part of) their morals from that. I don't agree.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  cleanwillie on Sun Sep 27, 2009 10:15 am

I actually became a pescetarian (not quite a vegetarian, I know, but close enough) for mainly emotional reasons. I saw a british show on tv in which they took a bunch of young people whose eating habits were very unhealthy (mostly fast food, never prepared any food themselves etc.) to live on an organic farm and grow their own food. I guess the point was to make these people, and the viewers at home, appreciate the fact that food doesn't just materialize out of thin air and end up in the freezer at the supermarket. Anyway there was a scene where they took a bunch of sheep that they had been feeding and taking care of to be butchered. As I watched the killing of these animals I started to feel really awful. I decided that if I can't even watch a lamb being butchered I really should't eat meat.

It seems that most people here defending the carnivorous position argue that they don't see the moral benefits of vegetarianism. They say they haven't found good enough reasons to become vegetarian. For me it's the other way around. Since becoming a pescetarian through a mostly emotional, rather than rational process, the reasoning has come only after I quit eating meat. So far I haven't found any rational arguments that would convince me to start eating meat again.

So in your view, is the vegetarian/pescetarian diet morally just as good or worse than the meat eating diet? And if it is worse, can you convince me to switch sides again? 'cause I really miss grilled chicked! Razz

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 27, 2009 10:46 am

cleanwillie wrote:I actually became a pescetarian (not quite a vegetarian, I know, but close enough) for mainly emotional reasons. I saw a british show on tv in which they took a bunch of young people whose eating habits were very unhealthy (mostly fast food, never prepared any food themselves etc.) to live on an organic farm and grow their own food. I guess the point was to make these people, and the viewers at home, appreciate the fact that food doesn't just materialize out of thin air and end up in the freezer at the supermarket. Anyway there was a scene where they took a bunch of sheep that they had been feeding and taking care of to be butchered. As I watched the killing of these animals I started to feel really awful. I decided that if I can't even watch a lamb being butchered I really should't eat meat.

It seems that most people here defending the carnivorous position argue that they don't see the moral benefits of vegetarianism. They say they haven't found good enough reasons to become vegetarian. For me it's the other way around. Since becoming a pescetarian through a mostly emotional, rather than rational process, the reasoning has come only after I quit eating meat. So far I haven't found any rational arguments that would convince me to start eating meat again.

So in your view, is the vegetarian/pescetarian diet morally just as good or worse than the meat eating diet? And if it is worse, can you convince me to switch sides again? 'cause I really miss grilled chicked! Razz
not all actions are moral. most of our actions are likely not moral. if you enjoy the color red, and for that reason you wear a red shirt, there seems to be no moral content associated with that at all. unless there is a successful argument as to why it is immoral to eat meat, i see it mostly like that. i wouldn't say that, in most cases, it is good or bad to eat meat. it's a non-moral action most of the time. as such, do as you prefer here. if it causes you pain to eat meat, don't do it. you're not doing anything "wrong" by not eating meat. here it just seems a matter of taste (harhar).

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  cleanwillie on Sun Sep 27, 2009 12:57 pm

Jim wrote:
not all actions are moral. most of our actions are likely not moral. if you enjoy the color red, and for that reason you wear a red shirt, there seems to be no moral content associated with that at all. unless there is a successful argument as to why it is immoral to eat meat, i see it mostly like that. i wouldn't say that, in most cases, it is good or bad to eat meat. it's a non-moral action most of the time. as such, do as you prefer here. if it causes you pain to eat meat, don't do it. you're not doing anything "wrong" by not eating meat. here it just seems a matter of taste (harhar).

I agree that obviously not all actions have anything to do with morality, but do you really consider the question of killing and eating animals to be morally just as non-problematic as the choice of one's shirt colour? I mean even if you think that the "the less suffering the better"-argument isn't valid, then what about the negative impact meat production has on the environment? Is that also a question that has nothing to do with morality?

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 27, 2009 2:08 pm

cleanwillie wrote:
Jim wrote:
not all actions are moral. most of our actions are likely not moral. if you enjoy the color red, and for that reason you wear a red shirt, there seems to be no moral content associated with that at all. unless there is a successful argument as to why it is immoral to eat meat, i see it mostly like that. i wouldn't say that, in most cases, it is good or bad to eat meat. it's a non-moral action most of the time. as such, do as you prefer here. if it causes you pain to eat meat, don't do it. you're not doing anything "wrong" by not eating meat. here it just seems a matter of taste (harhar).

I agree that obviously not all actions have anything to do with morality, but do you really consider the question of killing and eating animals to be morally just as non-problematic as the choice of one's shirt colour? I mean even if you think that the "the less suffering the better"-argument isn't valid, then what about the negative impact meat production has on the environment? Is that also a question that has nothing to do with morality?
first, there's the question of whether environmental concerns are moral or prudential, but, more importantly, there seems to be a problem here as it looks like you're suggesting that vegetarianism hinges upon some particular farming technique. that doesn't at all seem to be the case. so, while you might want to make an argument about moral obligations in relation to the environment, and that might rule out particular farming styles, that would say nothing about the question of eating meat itself.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  cleanwillie on Sun Sep 27, 2009 3:48 pm

Jim wrote:
first, there's the question of whether environmental concerns are moral or prudential, but, more importantly, there seems to be a problem here as it looks like you're suggesting that vegetarianism hinges upon some particular farming technique. that doesn't at all seem to be the case. so, while you might want to make an argument about moral obligations in relation to the environment, and that might rule out particular farming styles, that would say nothing about the question of eating meat itself.

My point about vegetarianism being better for the environment is based on the fact that the crops that are grown to feed livestock could be used directly to feed people. Now we have a situation where a huge amount of resources and energy is wasted, because we have cows etc. as a "middleman". For example a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization from 2006 says that approximately a fifth of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the livestock sector. Apparently it's even more than the transport sector. Here's some more nastiness:

livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, euthropication and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed.

http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html

And so on. You say that all this doesn't necessarily say anything about the question of eating meat itself. In a way I agree. It doesn't have anything to do with for example eating meat from an animal that you've hunted yourself. If all or most meat consumption by humans would be of this sort, obviously the link between meat eating and the above mentioned environmental problems would cease to exist. The fact is though, that it isn't. It's quite the opposite. This is why I think there's really no point in arguing for "meat eating itself", because such a thing hardly ever exists in the real world.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Sosa on Sun Sep 27, 2009 4:18 pm

As an individual, am I responsible for the suffering of the animal (if it did indeed suffer) if I eat it's flesh?

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:31 pm

cleanwillie wrote:My point about vegetarianism being better for the environment is based on the fact that the crops that are grown to feed livestock could be used directly to feed people. Now we have a situation where a huge amount of resources and energy is wasted, because we have cows etc. as a "middleman". For example a report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization from 2006 says that approximately a fifth of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the livestock sector. Apparently it's even more than the transport sector. Here's some more nastiness:

livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution, euthropication and the degeneration of coral reefs. The major polluting agents are animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops. Widespread overgrazing disturbs water cycles, reducing replenishment of above and below ground water resources. Significant amounts of water are withdrawn for the production of feed.

http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html
setting aside the question of whether this has anything to do with vegetarianism per se for the next part of your response, what concerns me about this kind of criticism is that it applies to a particular kind of farming and not farming in general. certainly, the use of many of these techniques is fairly new, yet livestock farming has been around for a very long time. so, at best this applies to a very particular kind of livestock farming and not livestock farming in general, and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with vegetarianism per se. also, i guess i'm skeptical about the issue that we could live on plant resources as well as animal products. certain fats are essential, and your body will never use vegetable protein as efficiently as it does animal protein. the obesity epidemic is directly tied to a loss of high quality protein, and there is a good deal of evidence that people can lose fat and build lean muscle merely by increasing their intake of high quality animal protein, the same results not being found in individuals who took in soy protein supplements. then there's also the problem of shipping in vegetable sources from other parts of the world in order for someone who doesn't eat meat just to get their essential nutrients.
how does all this balance out? i don't know. i don't think there is a good solution. it just turns out this is a complicated issue, and those who attempt to make it simple have an agenda beyond these issues.

And so on. You say that all this doesn't necessarily say anything about the question of eating meat itself. In a way I agree. It doesn't have anything to do with for example eating meat from an animal that you've hunted yourself. If all or most meat consumption by humans would be of this sort, obviously the link between meat eating and the above mentioned environmental problems would cease to exist. The fact is though, that it isn't. It's quite the opposite. This is why I think there's really no point in arguing for "meat eating itself", because such a thing hardly ever exists in the real world.
regardless of whether such things are common (and, going from my own experience growing up in a household that frequently ate deer and squirrel that were hunted, and this not being unusual for those around me, i suspect it's more common than you suggest), the reasons most commonly given for vegetarianism have to do with moral concerns about the animals themselves. if the concern is environmental, that might suggest any number of things that need to be changed, and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle might be one of those, but the argument needs to be made about that kind of concern and not about "the problem of eating meat."

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Sun Sep 27, 2009 6:34 pm

Sosa wrote:As an individual, am I responsible for the suffering of the animal (if it did indeed suffer) if I eat it's flesh?
if it were the case that animals suffered in some recognizable fashion, and if we could include other animals in the moral community in such a way that obligated us to limit animal suffering (those both being big ifs), then you would be complicit in the suffering of that animal if you actively benefited from it, one possible benefit being dinner.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  cleanwillie on Mon Sep 28, 2009 7:53 am

Jim wrote:
setting aside the question of whether this has anything to do with vegetarianism per se for the next part of your response, what concerns me about this kind of criticism is that it applies to a particular kind of farming and not farming in general. certainly, the use of many of these techniques is fairly new, yet livestock farming has been around for a very long time. so, at best this applies to a very particular kind of livestock farming and not livestock farming in general, and it certainly doesn't have anything to do with vegetarianism per se.


Well first of all, whatever your methods of livestock farming are, you'll have to pour a lot of resources into feeding the livestock. These resources could be used a lot more effectively for feeding people directly. Secondly, your argument that the problems for the environment I quoted from the FAO only applies to a certain kind of livestock farming, is in principle true. My point though is that the vast majority of meat production on this planet comes from this particular type of livestock farming that is indeed harmful for the environment. It might be a very particular kind of livestock farming, but it also happens to be the dominant one. If we only used the ancient and presumably more environment friendly ways of farming livestock, my guess is that you wouldn't get to eat meat nearly as often as you do today. And here is an important point.
The amount of meat that is consumed for example in the US is just ridiculous and cannot be sustained with any environmentally friendly method of livestock farming. So even if this isn't an argument for vegetarianism per se, I think it is a very strong argument for drastically reducing the consumption of meat.

Personally I don't believe things are black and white anyway, and that you should either be a strict vegetarian or eat meat every breakfast, lunch and dinner. There are intermediates and I do think there is definitely a good case to be made for eating less meat or even no meat at all.


Jim wrote:also, i guess i'm skeptical about the issue that we could live on plant resources as well as animal products. certain fats are essential, and your body will never use vegetable protein as efficiently as it does animal protein. the obesity epidemic is directly tied to a loss of high quality protein, and there is a good deal of evidence that people can lose fat and build lean muscle merely by increasing their intake of high quality animal protein, the same results not being found in individuals who took in soy protein supplements. then there's also the problem of shipping in vegetable sources from other parts of the world in order for someone who doesn't eat meat just to get their essential nutrients.
how does all this balance out? i don't know. i don't think there is a good solution. it just turns out this is a complicated issue, and those who attempt to make it simple have an agenda beyond these issues.

Well I haven't looked into this in particular, so all I can say is I'm doing just fine. I'm healthy and so is my girlfriend and a number of people I know who are vegetarians/pescetarians. But trying to pin the obesity epidemic on vegetarianism? Oh come on. What do you think the very, very overweight are eating? Carrots and tofu? And besides even if it were true that humans simply couldn't cope without eating meat, which I sincerely doubt, how about eating less meat? Certainly we wouldn't need to eat meat every day on almost every meal to get the protein we need, would we?

The problem with shipping goods from other parts of the world is no different when it comes to vegetables or for example brazilian beef. I don't see what this has to do with anything. Unless you are suggesting that meat isn't transported around, but veggies are, which of course isn't true at all.

Jim wrote:
And so on. You say that all this doesn't necessarily say anything about the question of eating meat itself. In a way I agree. It doesn't have anything to do with for example eating meat from an animal that you've hunted yourself. If all or most meat consumption by humans would be of this sort, obviously the link between meat eating and the above mentioned environmental problems would cease to exist. The fact is though, that it isn't. It's quite the opposite. This is why I think there's really no point in arguing for "meat eating itself", because such a thing hardly ever exists in the real world.
regardless of whether such things are common (and, going from my own experience growing up in a household that frequently ate deer and squirrel that were hunted, and this not being unusual for those around me, i suspect it's more common than you suggest), the reasons most commonly given for vegetarianism have to do with moral concerns about the animals themselves. if the concern is environmental, that might suggest any number of things that need to be changed, and adopting a vegetarian lifestyle might be one of those, but the argument needs to be made about that kind of concern and not about "the problem of eating meat."

I don't have the numbers, but I think it's safe to say that the percentage of meat that comes to peoples dinner tables from hunting is definitely a very small one compared to the industry that supports the meat eating habits of all the people living in cities, and most people living in the countryside also. I agree that the most commonly given reasons for a vegetarian diet probably have to do with moral concerns which we might have about the animals welfare and suffering. I don't agree though with the idea that when talking about vegetarianism we should only limit ourselves to "the problem of eating meat", which to you apparently doesn't seem to include the environmental aspect.

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Mon Sep 28, 2009 10:47 am

cleanwillie wrote:Well first of all, whatever your methods of livestock farming are, you'll have to pour a lot of resources into feeding the livestock. These resources could be used a lot more effectively for feeding people directly. Secondly, your argument that the problems for the environment I quoted from the FAO only applies to a certain kind of livestock farming, is in principle true. My point though is that the vast majority of meat production on this planet comes from this particular type of livestock farming that is indeed harmful for the environment. It might be a very particular kind of livestock farming, but it also happens to be the dominant one. If we only used the ancient and presumably more environment friendly ways of farming livestock, my guess is that you wouldn't get to eat meat nearly as often as you do today. And here is an important point.
The amount of meat that is consumed for example in the US is just ridiculous and cannot be sustained with any environmentally friendly method of livestock farming. So even if this isn't an argument for vegetarianism per se, I think it is a very strong argument for drastically reducing the consumption of meat.
there's so much that needs to be spelled out here, and none of it has to do with whether eating meat is moral per se. first, you need to clearly establish what the moral duty we have is in terms of the environment. that's the step you're missing here. you need to explicitly make your argument about how we should behave in relation to environmental concerns. after that, you need to show that the empirical claims you make, and there are many, are, in fact, the case. this is just a subject of hot debate, and the reason is pretty straightforward. understanding the causes of environmental change is difficult at best and entirely beyond our current means at worst. if you had both of those, then you would have, at most, an argument that we should change our farming techniques. but this is not the concern of people who think eating meat is immoral because of the ethical concerns having to do with the animals themselves. last, it might not be that changing our meat consumption is the best way to change our impact on the environment. it might be that forced sterilization of large segments of the population would be much more successful. of course, no one wants to talk about that, but i'd like to make the point here that the concerns you're raising just are not about vegetarianism. they're about something else, and the conclusions we could reach because of those concerns are varied. while it might be that farming techniques should change, it also might be that other changes would be needed. until all pieces are in place, including all the data as to how behavior impacts the environmental ethical concerns, limiting the discussion to vegetarianism seems just weird to me.

cleanwillie wrote:Well I haven't looked into this in particular, so all I can say is I'm doing just fine. I'm healthy and so is my girlfriend and a number of people I know who are vegetarians/pescetarians. But trying to pin the obesity epidemic on vegetarianism? Oh come on. What do you think the very, very overweight are eating? Carrots and tofu? And besides even if it were true that humans simply couldn't cope without eating meat, which I sincerely doubt, how about eating less meat? Certainly we wouldn't need to eat meat every day on almost every meal to get the protein we need, would we?
i never said anything like "vegetarianism causes obesity," and you trying to put that in my mouth is bullshit. i'll quote myself:
Jim wrote:the obesity epidemic is directly tied to a loss of high quality protein, and there is a good deal of evidence that people can lose fat and build lean muscle merely by increasing their intake of high quality animal protein, the same results not being found in individuals who took in soy protein supplements.
obese vegetarians are the minority, and i never suggested otherwise. i was talking about the absence of high quality protein in the diets of obese americans and the changes that occur when such is introduced. nowhere in anything i've written will you find anything like the claim you're trying to pin on me.
as far as you and your friends, i have no idea what level of health and fitness you guys have. what i do know is that lean muscle requires protein. that's just a fact of physiology. also, that there are essential fatty acids is just a fact of physiology. further, there's no such thing as an essential carb. your liver will make glucose from protein, but no amount of carbs will allow you to build and maintain lean muscle in their absence. it just turns out that animal protein is better for building and maintaining lean muscle than vegetable protein.
now, you can get fatty acids and protein from vegetable sources. i want to be absolutely clear that i'm not suggesting otherwise. it's just harder to get it in the quality we require, and it often isn't as efficient as that obtained from animal sources.
i think that stuff matters. i'm skeptical of any moral claim that would require one to forfeit their health. therefore, i think this stuff needs to be factored into our calculations. that was my point about this.

cleanwillie wrote:The problem with shipping goods from other parts of the world is no different when it comes to vegetables or for example brazilian beef. I don't see what this has to do with anything. Unless you are suggesting that meat isn't transported around, but veggies are, which of course isn't true at all.
again, i suggested nothing of the kind. i was making a point that merely moving to a meatless diet doesn't solve our problems as we're still having a dramatic environmental impact regardless of what we do. we need to be very clear about what we're doing. we need to be explicit about the differences that would occur if we limited our consumption of meat, and, again, that's only after we have a clear moral imperative in place that would require us limiting anything.

cleanwillie wrote:I don't agree though with the idea that when talking about vegetarianism we should only limit ourselves to "the problem of eating meat", which to you apparently doesn't seem to include the environmental aspect.
i don't know what to say, then. to me, these seem to be clearly distinct issues. whatever conclusions we might draw from some hypothetical imperative to do something about some aspect of the environment, it seems that lots of things would likely need to change, and picking out one and discussing it alone as if it were more relevant than everything else, or as if it had anything to do with vegetarianism, just strikes me as odd.

Jim

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  cleanwillie on Mon Sep 28, 2009 5:11 pm

Jim wrote:i never said anything like "vegetarianism causes obesity," and you trying to put that in my mouth is bullshit. i'll quote myself:
Jim wrote:the obesity epidemic is directly tied to a loss of high quality protein, and there is a good deal of evidence that people can lose fat and build lean muscle merely by increasing their intake of high quality animal protein, the same results not being found in individuals who took in soy protein supplements.

My bad. That was a really hasty and poor interpretation of what you wrote by me. Sorry about that.

Jim wrote:
cleanwillie wrote:The problem with shipping goods from other parts of the world is no different when it comes to vegetables or for example brazilian beef. I don't see what this has to do with anything. Unless you are suggesting that meat isn't transported around, but veggies are, which of course isn't true at all.
again, i suggested nothing of the kind. i was making a point that merely moving to a meatless diet doesn't solve our problems as we're still having a dramatic environmental impact regardless of what we do. we need to be very clear about what we're doing. we need to be explicit about the differences that would occur if we limited our consumption of meat, and, again, that's only after we have a clear moral imperative in place that would require us limiting anything.

I never claimed that moving to a meatless diet would solve all our problems, but reducing the consumption of meat, which should lead to reducing the production of meat, would have a positive impact on the environment, or more specifically climate change for example. Sure we'd still have a huge impact on the environment, but does it have to be all or nothing at all?

Jim wrote:
cleanwillie wrote:I don't agree though with the idea that when talking about vegetarianism we should only limit ourselves to "the problem of eating meat", which to you apparently doesn't seem to include the environmental aspect.
i don't know what to say, then. to me, these seem to be clearly distinct issues. whatever conclusions we might draw from some hypothetical imperative to do something about some aspect of the environment, it seems that lots of things would likely need to change, and picking out one and discussing it alone as if it were more relevant than everything else, or as if it had anything to do with vegetarianism, just strikes me as odd.

Let's put it this way: to me the "problem of eating meat" includes the environmental aspect as well. I do understand why you might consider it odd and want to keep them separate, but to me the situation where a fifth of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock farming really does have to do with "the problem of eating meat".

But as I said earlier, for me the decision to stop eating meat came mostly from an emotional reaction, and has more to do with the idea of wanting to minimize suffering than with the environmental issues we've been debating here. You brought up the health issue, and I'm sure if I found out that my health was seriously compromised because of my habit of not eating meat, I would start eating meat again, maybe not in the quantities I used to, but still.

cleanwillie

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Re: Vegetarianism

Post  Jim on Mon Sep 28, 2009 5:53 pm

looking at the fao article, it doesn't look like the problem even here is animal consumption per se. rather, as i thought, it's the practices related to farming. here are the suggested remedies:
Remedies

The report, which was produced with the support of the multi-institutional Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative, proposes explicitly to consider these environmental costs and suggests a number of ways of remedying the situation, including:

Land degradation – controlling access and removing obstacles to mobility on common pastures. Use of soil conservation methods and silvopastoralism, together with controlled livestock exclusion from sensitive areas; payment schemes for environmental services in livestock-based land use to help reduce and reverse land degradation.

Atmosphere and climate – increasing the efficiency of livestock production and feed crop agriculture. Improving animals’ diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, and setting up biogas plant initiatives to recycle manure.

Water – improving the efficiency of irrigation systems. Introducing full-cost pricing for water together with taxes to discourage large-scale livestock concentration close to cities.

These and related questions are the focus of discussions between FAO and its partners meeting to chart the way forward for livestock production at global consultations in Bangkok this week. These discussions also include the substantial public health risks related to the rapid livestock sector growth as, increasingly, animal diseases also affect humans; rapid livestock sector growth can also lead to the exclusion of smallholders from growing markets.
nowhere in there is vegetarianism mentioned. rather, they suggest changing farming techniques. even here, it seems, there is little impetus for considering vegetarianism.
one thing worth noting is the reason this report suggests we should be concerned with this issue is because the demand for meat is increasing.
With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
"increased prosperity," then, is the issue. as people gain wealth, they want higher quality food. that's why the consumption of meat is increasing: people are sick of going hungry, and they're gaining the ability to do something about that. assuming one doesn't want to stymie the growth of wealth, that sounds more like an overpopulation issue than anything else.

Jim

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