As an ardent environmentalist, I have inevitably encountered a number of social media accounts and people who run such accounts that are dedicated to “converting” others to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle much like their own. Such accounts tend to make claims along the lines of “You cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist”, “veganism is the future”, “meat is immoral”, and”meat is unsustainable.” These ideas and the logic behind them, however, are inherently flawed. In this post, I will address some of the more common arguments made by (militant) vegans or animal right’s activists.
The first argument I will refute: “Children naturally love animals, therefore we are not meant to eat or harm them in any way.” This is an unsound claim to begin with due to the gross generalization of children’s feelings towards animals. Albeit I loved animals as a young child, it is needless to say that not every child has. Many children have a fear of certain animals, or allergies that prevent them from forming bonds towards animals. Children are also prone to mistreating animals (think of a child pulling the cat’s tail, kicking a turtle, etc). Animal mistreatment by children is largely due to simple curiosity (primarily for children ages one through six, or children with delayed mental developement) and a lack of basic morality. This curiosity is typically normal. A young child may not be able to differentiate between a sentient animal and a toy meant for his or her amusement, and may not know how to properly interact with the animal due to their young age. This goes hand-in-hand with a lack of morality, as it is physically impossible to be born with cultural concepts of “right” or “wrong”, and “good” or “bad.” This is why it is necessary to teach a child how to interact with a pet, and to explain that certain things may hurt the pet. Any parent could tell you that bonds are something a child has to form. That is, acquire over time based on interaction. This is true of their bonds with animals. Some people, child or not, form them. Some do not. All in all, some people are not particularly close with other species. This rules out that altruism is an instinct of ours. But is rather a common characteristic often regarded with positivity.
Another common argument is that “Other primates are herbivorous, so humans must naturally be herbivores as well.” While it is true that the majority of other animals in our order consume little to no meat, it is not incontrovertible evidence that meat consumption is unnatural for humans. There is, of course, growing evidence that the modern civilized human’s diet is causing his or her own demise. But there are multiple reasons why, and meat alone is far from being the “unnatural” aspect of our diet. There is an entire history, our history, proving the initial statement to be untrue. In fact, about 50,000 years worth of history, when our species had come into it’s more modern form. It is not only true that Homo sapiens had consumed meat from the beginning, but that earlier human species had as well. Not only this, but that meat consumption may have very well been the catalyst for our distinct intelligence. Anthropologist Leslie Aiello is one of many who has gone into detail on this meat-powering-brain concept. It is also worth noting that there has never been an indigenous human population sustained by plant matter alone, whereas predominately “carnist” populations have thrived, such as the Inuit tribe of North America.
Then there is the claim that meat consumption is ecologically harmful. For the most part, this is true. I specify that this is “for the most part” because the world is dominated by industrial societies, and their means of acquiring meat is damaging to the environment. However, an industrial lifestyle is not the only possible lifestyle, nor the only one currently in existence (much to the surprise, and often dismay, of many civilized persons). There happens to be approximately 150 million tribal people worldwide, though the level of their industrialization varies from tribe to tribe. Despite civilization’s imperious attempts at reaching every bit of surface of the Earth, non-industrialized tribes such as the Awa-Guaja of Brazil, the Batak of the Philippines, and the Whichi of Argentina and Bolivia (and others), have prevailed….for now. Meat consumption has been a necessary part of each and every one of these tribes’ success. Success through time, and success against civilization. Whereas a hunter-gatherer society can survive indefinitely until an outside force (read: civilization) disturbs it, an industrial society is inherently unsustainable. And yet, veganism is a product of industrial society. Not something that can fix it or help the Earth in long-term. I’ve often mentioned to people that if veganism is ultimately our natural diet, then going out into any bit of nearby wilderness should be able to sustain them without their use of hunting (which, as vegans, they would hesitate doing anyway). However, there is no pristine land that produces carrots, apples, watermelon, corn, potato, onion, cabbage, etc. without human intervention. Because it is unnatural. It is unnatural to create ships and bring a plant all the way from one hemisphere to the other just for a certain plant at a certain time of the year. Most civilized people would be lucky if they could recognize five wild edibles in a nearby wilderness, such has become of our traditional education. And while most regions of the Earth are (or were, pre-industry) plentiful in edible plants, animals have always been present to supplement our diet for where plants were lacking. Many plants are also toxic, whereas virtually every animal is edible. Raw meat, contrary to popular belief, is not necessarily harmful, whereas many raw plants can be. However, our existence in the presence of other animal species has been (or was, at some point. And certainly could be still, with our effort) mutually beneficial. They do not simply exist for our consumption, by any means. We, also, exist for theirs. Whether we like it or not, we can be a species vulnerable to predation, though it is typically uncommon. And these events should not result in the death ( or our “punishment”) of the predator. After all that we have done to our fellow animal species, we should be able to accept a predation on one of our own with at least some amount of dignity. And rather than cramming our deceased with a multitude of chemicals, it would be much more logical to let our own decompose naturally, to the benefit of other species and the planet as a whole. Take some, give some.
Disclaimer: I do not oppose the concept of a meatless diet. I’d rather one be vegan than support the meat industry, but I vehemently disagree that meat consumption is unnatural, or that veganism is the cure for Earth’s ailments. Even such ideas as vertical farming will not prove to be revolutionary. I will likely discuss such ideas at a later point in time. Aside from this, I’d like to make it clear that I do not use “culture” and “civilization” interchangeably as many people often do. Uncivilized communities actually tend to be much richer in ancestral culture, understandably, than their civilized neighbors. “Uncivilized” is also certainly not meant to imply primitivism or regression. A “civilization”, far from being a synonym to a highly intelligent and functional society that many dictionaries equate it with, is more akin to a culture with a foundation on sedentary lifestyle, resulting in the presence of cities, and hence, industrial societies. It might take some time for the average civilized reader to feel comfortable with this revised, albeit etymologically correct definition (for who wants to consider a culture they’ve been apart of for so long to be highly flawed and lacking?), but know that it is not an insult towards less developed nations to be “uncivilized”, because chances are, there is a thriving and articulate culture still in place.