The debunkers come in two classes. First, there are the public relations people for the beef, chicken, egg, and milk industries. They are thoroughly unconvincing. (www.whymilk.com, www.meatingplace.com, www.beefnutrition.com, www.beefboard.org, www.porkboard.org, www.aeb.org.)
Then there are the academic debunkers, who merit more serious consideration. There is no indication that they are being paid by producers of animal products to say what they say. Some of them are former vegans, even former fruitarians. Some are hyphenated vegans, such as occasional-egg-vegans or occasional-milk-vegans, or vegans-most-of-the-time. Some advocate temporary veganism as a good way to detoxify and strengthen the body. I refer you to the work of Anders Sandberg (www.aleph.se/Trans/Cultural/Philosophy/vegetarian.html), Tom Billings and Loren Cordain (www.beyondveg.com, www.beyondveg.com/billings-t/bio/billings-t-bio-1b.shtml, www.chetday.com/cordaininterview.htm), Joseph Mercola (www.mercola.com), The Weston A. Price Foundation, http://www.westonaprice.org, and Stephen Byrnes (www.mercola.com/2000/apr/2/vegetarian_myths.htm).
Reading the debunkers at first caused me to doubt whether it is healthy or feasible to be completely vegan. Now I believe that although the debunkers are right on many points, they are wrong in their ultimate conclusion: Contrary to their position, I contend that one can be vegan without adverse health effects. The fact that I have questioned the validity of my vegan case calls on me to come clean and tell you what I really think: To what degree do I believe humans can and should become vegan? I do not want my veganism to be another religion. It should not be absolutist or fundamentalist. It can be relative. If there are some nutrients not available from green foods, I should include a certain animal-based component in my hypothesis.
The debunkers claim that if we do not eat at least some animal-based foods at least occasionally, our health will fail, that eating animal products is not just a habit but also a necessity. They say that because we have eaten animal products for so many generations, our bodies have stopped synthesizing certain nutrients that are found only in animal-based foods.
They also say that eating animal-based foods is part of our very nature, and this is a consideration apart from the health issue per se.
So first let’s first take a look at those nutrients the debunkers say we can only get by eating animal products. (See the Chapter entitled A Plant-Based Diet—Health Considerations, p. 237.) Then I will talk about whether meat eating is a part of our nature.
The debunkers say we must eat meat to obtain sufficient vitamin B-12. Admittedly, we do not synthesize B-12. We must get it from some outside source. For this reason B-12 is referred to as “essential,” like the essential fatty acids. The debunkers say that the fact that we cannot synthesize B-12, indicates that our ancestors ate meat, fish, eggs, or insects, or all of the above, and therefore that we should too.
I am convinced that virtually all our ancestors ate meat, fish, eggs, and insects. However, I am also convinced that these are not the only sources of B-12. The bacteria found in dirt produce B-12. And that is where some of the animals we eat get their B-12. They don’t necessarily synthesize it any more than we do. One who eats unwashed veggies or who works in the soil and then ingests some soil through less than thorough washing of the hands, will be taking in B-12. Most people farmed until the last century. If you go back several thousand years, you will find that most humans were eating insects as an intentional part of their diet, as do all the primates, and insect flesh is rich in B-12. Most people eat insects today, although they do so unintentionally: Insects inhabit our fruits, vegetables, and grains. Grains would have more insect parts in them if the law did not require that they be fumigated to the extent they are. Canned, processed, or juiced fruits and vegetables are frequently made from fruit which has insects in them. The juice canners don’t stop the conveyor belt to pick out each tiny insect.
Nowadays an increasing number of foods are supplemented with B-12 such as Red Star nutritional yeast, rice milk and soy milk. My contention is this: Given our environmental situation and our huge numbers, it is less unnatural to get our B-12 through vegan supplementation of common foods than from meat grown in the squalor typical of commercial meat production. It is no more unnatural to fortify soy milk with B-12 than to fortify cow milk with vitamin D, or salt with iodine, or wheat flour with all the minerals removed in the milling process, or for Central Americans to eat lime with their corn tortillas
We can eat the meat of animals which eat bacteria from the soil, which survive in their intestines and produce B-12 or we can eat a B-12 supplement made from bacterial cultures. Why get B-12 indirectly from animal flesh when we can get it directly from bacteria? (See the Vitamin B-12 section of this book, p. 243. )
The debunkers claim that beta-carotene (pro-vitamin A), which is abundant in plant-based foods, each molecule of which breaks down into two molecules of vitamin A (retinol), does not always provide us with sufficient vitamin A, and that our bodies require preformed vitamin A, which is found only in meat, fish, egg yolks, and butterfat. They say that for children, particularly infants, diabetics, those with damaged livers, and those with poor thyroid function, actual vitamin A is required, and beta-carotene is insufficient. They say that for beta-carotene to be converted to vitamin A, substantial amounts of fat must reach the small intestine, where the conversion is made, and that a low-fat diet is incompatible with sufficient conversion of beta-carotene into vitamin A. (Sally Fallon, “Vitamin A Vagary,” http://www.westonaprice.org. Sally promotes the consumption of raw milk, http://www.realmilk.com.)
These claims are disputed. Of the 600 or so carotenoids found in plants, our bodies can convert 50 or so into vitamin A. The carotenoids are so abundant in vegetables, that even if one were inefficient in making the conversion into vitamin A, there would still be a surplus converted, more even than if one ate butter and egg yolk instead of red and yellow vegetables. An alcoholic with a damaged liver, who loads up on vitamin A-rich ice cream and butter, will have to work his damaged liver overtime to detoxify the by-products of protein digestion and any excess vitamin A. One can overdose on vitamin A. On the other hand, he can stuff himself with steamed carrots day after day quite safely. One cannot overdose on beta-carotene. The only downside of drinking too much carrot juice is that your skin will turn slightly orange. (Leo MA et al., “Metabolism of retinol and retinoic acid by human liver cytochrome P450IIC8,” Arch Biochem Biophys, 1989, Feb. 15, 269:1, 305-12.)
The debunkers are right when they say we should eat oil with red and yellow vegetables to aid in the conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A, but vegetable oils can fill this role as easily as animal fats. Infants do make the conversion less efficiently than adults, however, mother’s milk is rich in vitamin A, and so too are infant formulas. Even some of the debunkers admit that the transformation from betacarotine to vitamin A is marginally sufficient. (“The Safety of Beta-Carotene,” A. Bendich, Nutrition and Cancer, 1988, 11:4, 207-14.)
Further, the carotenoids do more for us than break down into vitamin A; they are powerful anti-oxidants. (Free Radical Biological Medicine, 1992 Oct, 13:4, 407-433.) They fight cancer, including cervical cancer, and you cannot say the same thing for vitamin A. (Palan PR; Mikhail MS; Basu J; Romney SL, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 1992 Dec, 167:6, 1899-1903.) Cooked vegetables yield more beta-carotene than raw vegetables, although cooking tends to destroy vitamin C. This is why one should eat some raw and some cooked vegetables. (Virginia Messina, “Is Fish Best for Vitamin A?” www.vegrd.vegan.com/pages/article.php?id=262.)
Likewise, the debunkers claim that we derive and can synthesize only insufficient levels of taurine when we eat only plant-based foods. Debunkers correctly point out that vegans have lower taurine levels in their urine. The flaw in the debunker argument is that there is no proof that it is necessary for one to have the high urinary taurine levels that meat eaters have. While it is true that taurine is not found in plant-based foods, it is equally true that nuts and legumes are rich in methionene and cysteine, which the human body can easily convert to taurine when vitamin B-6 is present. In this way we differ from cats, which must eat taurine directly and cannot synthesize it from other amino acids as we can. Note that insect flesh, a small amount of which is found in all grains and processed, juiced, or canned fruits and vegetables, and which we all eat, is rich in taurine. We are already getting plenty of taurine, so taurine deficiency is a non-issue.
The debunkers claim that the alpha-linolenic (ALA) Omega-3 fatty acids found in plant-based foods are insufficient. They say we must eat fish, meat, and eggs to obtain EPA and DHA.
The body easily converts Omega-3 ALA from flax, hemp, chia, and kukui into EPA. The body has more difficulty making DHA. The debunkers concede that the healthy human body can convert the ALA found in flax, hemp, chia, and dark leafy greens into needed EPA and DHA, but they claim that the amount which is converted is insufficient. They are correct when they say that EPA and DHA levels are lower in vegans, but they offer no proof that vegans must have the same high levels that fish eaters have. It is true that infants are not as efficient as adults in converting ALA into EPA and DHA, however, mother’s milk is rich in EPA and DHA. While infant formula in the United States traditionally has not contained EPA and DHA, there are now formulas on the market here which do. All should.
Free swimming, cold-water fish (not fish farmed fish), animal brains, and, to a lesser extent, animal organs are all rich in DHA and EPA. (See the Fish, EPA and DHA section of this book, p. 258.) However, there are non-animal based sources of DHA, such as red and brown algae, although unfortunately the major supplement producers which sell DHA made from algae have typically package it in a gelatin capsule. Many of the people who might think they should take a DHA supplement would be vegans, so why do the producers package it in a very non-vegan container? Because capitalists are sometimes stupid.
At long last NuTru, Inc. has come up with a DHA supplement in a vegan capsule, which is made from red and brown algae. (847-251-0513; www.nutru.com/omega.htm.) Even better, Flora and other companies now sell flax oil spiked with algal DHA (www.florahealth.com.)
The debunkers tell us we must eat fish because our ancestors ate fish, but they do not tell us where we are going to find fish these days that is not polluted and find it in the quantities necessary to fill world demand. Lake and river fish are small in number, and they tend to be polluted. To feed billions of fish eaters, fishers must fish the already over-fished oceans, which are polluted with PCBs, mercury, and dioxin.
Our ancient ancestors ate hunted meat, including organs and brains. The animals they ate fed on grasses, and so their meat had high levels of essential fatty acids. Commercial meat animals today are fed mostly grains, and so they contain lower levels of the essential fatty acids. Many ordinary meat eaters are deficient in essential fats.
The brains of deer and elk are rich in EPA and DHA. However, I advise you not to eat deer and elk brains, because spongiform brain disease is now common in deer and elk.
The debunkers fail to acknowledge that the meat ancient man ate is just not available in the supermarket. Competitive forces in the meat business drive out expensive range fed meats. We must pay attention to getting sufficient essential fatty acids, however, those who eats flax, hemp, kukui, chia, and a lot of green leafy vegetables will get sufficient amounts, particularly if they eat DHA enriched flax oil.
To complete the picture it is important to point out that some people cannot convert ALA into EPA and DHA well or at all. According to Udo Erasmus:
In certain populations and a few individuals, EPA and DHA can also overcome the effects of mutations that have destroyed the ability of their cells to convert LNA to EPA and DHA. Populations affected might include some West Coast North American native, Inuit, Oriental, Norwegian, and Welsh-Irish–people who traditionally lived along cold-water coasts and included fish as a staple in their diets. The number of people affected is likely to be less than 2% of the population, and certainly less than 10%, but the individuals affected would require a dietary source of EPA and DHA. (Fats That Heal, Fats that Kill, p. 259.)
Because it is not feasible to harvest enough unpolluted fish from our polluted seas to supply sufficient fish per person as the population explodes, those who need or want preformed EPA and DHA have to find another source of it. We should focus on developing large-scale methods of brewing red and brown algae. We would then enrich certain target foods with these nutrients. Supplementation to deliver DHA would be less unnatural than stripping the seas of fish and eating their polluted flesh. Bear in mind that those who eat fish oil risk getting too much of EPA, which is a strong blood thinner. (See the Fish, EPA and DHA section of this book, p. 258.)
Think of it another way: We someday may set forth in on a 1,000 year trip in a large space ship to the nearest habitable star system. There will be no room for cattle or fish tanks, but there will be room for algae tanks. We have so overpopulated the Earth, and the amounts of animal and chemical wastes that 6.6 billion humans and 15.0 billion factory farm animals throw into the commons is so huge, that we now must regard the Earth as something like a space ship, albeit a very big one. We should replace factory farm animals with algae tanks. (See the section of this book entitled Healthy Oils and Flax, p. 253.)
Milk is the animal-based food I most love to hate.
Milk production releases manure and chemical contamination into rivers and estuaries, turning them into sewers. Who would ever have thought that the Puget Sound Chinook salmon would be listed as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act? This time last century Chinook were as numerous as Douglas fir. In part, it is our milk drinking and ice cream eating that has caused their decline.
One of the debunkers admits that he is a former vegan who now consumes some milk products! If I were going to become a hyphenated vegan and eat some other food to obtain such nutrients as preformed DHA, preformed vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin B12, or taurine, I would probably eat chicken and chicken eggs raised organically in my backyard or insects, but certainly not milk. Except for supplemented vitamin D, milk supplies none of the above nutrients.
Most of the debunkers advocate what they call a paleo-diet, the diet humans evolved to eat. The first problem with the paleo-diet theory is that it focuses on the diet of Northern Europeans during the Ice Age and holds that up as the human ideal. Most humans evolved and lived in tropical areas where fruit, nuts, tubers, and greens were abundant.
The second problem is that unlike the meat industry, the dairy industry is not one which can claim million of years of precedent. Humans have been using milk only since the rise of agriculture beginning around 10,000 years ago, as we began to domesticate goats, cattle, buffalo, and finally horses. Even then, humans only utilized small amounts of milk and used it mostly to make butter and cheese. Only since refrigeration was developed has milk consumption skyrocketed. The fact that some of the debunkers advocate milk drinking means they are inconsistent in applying their paleo-diet logic.
Drinking the milk of another species, if you reflect on it, is a wierd thing do. The case against milk is absolute. No one should consume any milk products at all—except for mother’s milk.
I expect the day to come when milk is no longer federally subsidized and not served in schools. If we ever have universal health coverage, we will probably have full disclosure about which foods are unhealthy—in order to save health care dollars. I hope milk will be on the list of foodsd to avoid. (See the section of this book entitled Dairy Products, Osteoporosis, and Animal-Based Foods, p. 261.)
Debunkers say that our bodies adapted to eating animal products and that eating animal products is now instinctual with us. They correctly point out that for the last 12 million years all human cultures have eaten meat, fish, and eggs—plus nuts, fruits, vegetables, and tubers. Most debunkers forget to mention that until very recently most humans ate insects on a regular basis.
However, debunkers say little or nothing about the fact that modern commercial meat is filthy, diseased, and contaminated with chemicals. Few mention the negative environmental impacts of meat production and the ethical problems in raising and slaughtering animals raised commercially. Dr. Mercola says we should eat organic meat from free-range animals, but he admits we have to go to great lengths to buy such meat and that the cost is high. The debunkers can’t tell the typical mother and father where they can go to buy clean meat at an affordable price, and so they generally ignore such issues. Thus, they offer no solution that might apply generally to the great mass of humanity.
The debunkers say we should eat organic meat, but they ignore the economics of choice. A person of modest means, children particularly, when given the choice of a $1.59 Big Mac or a frozen chunk of organic meat, which still has to be thawed and cooked and made into a sandwich, and which costs three times the price at some health food store far across town will invariably choose the cheaper, ready-to-eat product. I do not know of a single fast food joint anywhere that cooks with organic, free-range beef, chicken, or pork. To advertise such a product would imply that the non-organic alternative is not wholesome. It is said of money that “the cheap drives out the good,” meaning paper money drives gold and silver coins out of circulation. The same is true of food. Most people will choose the cheaper product. Competitive forces are strong in the meat business, and these forces drive prices and quality ever lower.
Getting organic meat from free-range animals is not a feasible way to get the nutrition formerly supplied by meat 10,000 years ago, when our numbers were low and meat was clean. On the other hand, a wide variety of grains, nuts, vegetables, and fruits, plus flax, sufficient to feed all, can be grown in great abundance on a relatively small part of the earth’s surface, in environmentally conscious ways, and at reasonable prices. It is much easier to add essential nutrients to plant-based foods than to try to produce animal-based foods that otherwise might or might not contain them.
The debunkers suggest we eat hunted meat, but hunting is expensive when you add up the cost of guns, ammunition, clothing, permits, and travel. Hunting seasons are kept short to limit kills, lest species be driven to extinction. Kills are not assured. Most people don’t hunt at all. There are simply not enough animals for all to dine on hunted organic meat, although there could be a significant amount from a buffalo commons.
Further, the debunkers ignore crucial facts about hunted meat: Hunted animals often eat cultivated grains which have been treated with chemicals. They sometimes live in the pollution humans have left behind, which means that hunted meat is not necessarily organic.
Debunkers forget that things have changed, that we humans have changed things. There were a few million humans out hunting around 10,000 years ago. Where would today’s 6.6 billion humans go hunting? We humans have created a “great die-off.” There are more animal and plant species going extinct now than at any time since the great extinction 65 million years ago that killed off the dinosaurs. We are replacing the millions of wild species with billions of cattle, pigs, goats, and fowl.
Some of the debunkers acknowledge that modern meat production is cruel and even oppose it. They say we should eat hunted meat or meat that is raised in a less cruel way on old-fashioned, small-scale, integrated family farms, but they ignore the simple fact that such farms are rare and can no longer compete with factory farms. None proposes outlawing factory farming of animals. For the most part the debunkers downplay environmental issues and the suffering caused to animals.
As far as I can tell, the debunkers make no mention of supplementation as an option to eating animal products. Our salt is iodized. Commercial wheat is fortified with the thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, iron, and folic acid lost when we mill off the husk and germ. Milk is fortified with vitamin D. Orange juice is fortified with calcium citrate. No one considers this to be unnatural. I contend that supplementation for other essential nutrients such as DHA, and vitamin B-12, is less unnatural and less destructive to the environment than the commercial production of meat, fish, eggs, and milk products. Although the paleo-diet once was natural, it is now very unnatural.
The web site which debunkers Billings and Cordain have built up is enormous. Study it, but bear in mind that these scholars focus almost exclusively on health issues, the evolution of humans as meat eaters, and our physical adaptation to meat eating. They mostly avoid ethical, environmental, economic, and population issues.
The debunkers may be right when they say that our ancestors, for the last 12 million years, up until the agricultural revolution beginning around 10,000 years ago, ate a diet that was 30 to 50 percent meat, eggs, fish, and insects, with the balance being nuts, vegetables, and fruits. The debunkers are right when they say that our closest primate relatives are not strict vegetarians. Lemurs eat insects, eggs, and young birds. Gorillas eat ants, grubs, and snails. Chimps eat insects and worms and occasionally hunt monkeys. We are descended from a long line of meat eaters.
But this does not validate the debunkers’ case. They make a giant leap in logic: They say that because humans 10,000 years ago ate large amounts of lean, clean, organic meat that we should do the same today. They omit the fact that today it is impossible to obtain lean, clean, organic meat at any reasonable cost in quantities sufficient to feed 6.6 billion humans. They are fixated on returning to the diet of the past, a return that is no longer possible. We must now focus on finding nutritional alternatives, and the only alternative available is eating a plant-based diet, including flax, and supplementing plant-based foods with algae-based DHA and B-12.
In the section of this book entitled Diet: The Relevance of the Past to the Present, p. 29, I too focused on the diet of the past. However, my purpose in doing so was not to prove we should return to a diet of the past just because it is old, old things always being better. My purpose was to show that meat eating is not and never was required by the major world religions and that for thousands of years there has been an awareness of ethical and even environmental problems in eating meat. I admitted that the number of people and groups­—the Jains, Pythagoreans, Essenes, and Judeo-Christians—who ate a vegetarian diet was small.
I do not suggest that we return to any diet of the past. I suggest that we consciously move towards an entirely new green diet, one more appropriate given our conditions. I suggest we develop cheap supplements for any nutrients which are hard to get from plant-based foods and fortify our green foods with them.
I think debunkers are saying that we should not give up meat because to do so would somehow be contrary to our nature, and this is an argument separate from the nutritional need argument. Maybe they are saying that eating animal foods is such a wonderful experience, like music, that it would be terribly wrong to deprive people of it, that life would be culturally stunted and not worth living without the joy of experiencing the oily, crunchy, salty taste and texture of meat. They may be saying we have evolved into semi-carnivores.
Do we have a craving for meat because it contains the essential fats we need? If we regularly ate flax, hemp, and chia, would we still crave meat? Is it the taste itself we are addicted to, regardless of the need for essential fatty acids? Would it cause us psychic pain not to consume it?
I had a young legal client in March, 2005, who for some reason told me she was interested in Buddhism. I asked her if she were ready to become a vegetarian. “Oh, no,” she exclaimed with conviction. “I eat a steak almost every night, and there is no way I could give that up.” There was a lot of passion in her statement.
During the first 30 years of my life I ate animal-based foods on a regular basis without really thinking about whether I craved it. It was there; I ate it. During law school, I developed marginally high blood pressure, 120 over 90. I experienced referred angina pains in my left pectoral muscle and in my left shoulder. Dad had had heart problems beginning in his forties. So I cut down on meat, milk, and eggs. I took up yogic meditation. Several years later I started thinking about the environmental and ethical issues. I do have indistinct cravings for something I cannot identify. I find myself rummaging through the refrigerator and cupboard and eating nuts or toast dipped in flax oil and zatter and soy sauce or popcorn with flax oil and nutritional yeast on it. Have I redirected the old meat cravings which may be part of my nature as a semi-carnivore to a more healthy and ethical alternative?
What is wrong with being semi-carnivores? If we are, we are, and any theory I propose should assume we will eat some animal-products. Other animals kill other animals, so why can’t we kill other animals? Bacteria, fungi, worms, and buzzards will eat us all fairly quickly if we don’t defend ourselves, keep moving, and wash. In this world it is kill and be killed, because eventually the hunters or scavengers will dine on us. It is our inevitable fate that we are violent inhabitants of a violent world.
It is true that we are descended from a long line of omnivores. Our ancestors for millions of years were omnivores, eating a mix of meat, fish, eggs, insects, and vegetation. Millions of years of custom and bodily evolution—including evolution of the taste buds—are considerable forces to try to overcome. Meat eating is embedded in human culture, and people are very defensive about changing dietary habits. Our parents introduced us to beef, pork, chicken, fish, cheese, and eggs, and we developed a taste for them.
On an economic level producing and eating meat, milk, and eggs is deeply entrenched because it is profitable; it is a way to turn otherwise useless grassland, corn, and soy into foods which people pay a lot of money for, to turn “shit into shinola.” Those who profit from animal-based foods finance the campaigns of elected representatives who defend and subsidize these foods and sell them to us through clever marketing. The interlocking mechanisms supporting this moral flaw are so strong that it would be difficult for governments to say no to them. This moral flaw makes the destruction of many other species inevitable and our own destruction likely.
The best answer to the debunker argument that we have evolved into semi-carnivores is that there are many of us who thrive on a plant-based diet. I have done it now for over 25 years. Yes, I do put a B-12 vitamin under my tongue occasionally and let it dissolve, and it’s also in my rice milk and nutritional yeast. Yes, I do grind up flax seed and put it in my smoothies. I do pour flax oil on my rice and greens. Flax grows in profusion in my front yard and around the neighborhood where I have sown it, and I pop the pods into my mouth, each filled with a dozen little flax seeds, and chomp on them until they are a tasty mash and swallow them. Only in the last year have I experimented with DHA supplements, now that they are available in vegicaps and in Flora’s vegan DHA flax oil. I cannot identify any effect DHA has. Nor do I concern myself about getting sufficient preformed vitamin A, because I juice and drink so many carrots and eat so many other veggies that I get plenty of beta-carotene. I don’t worry about getting enough vitamin D because I jog nearly every morning of the year and get plenty of sun. It’s also in my rice milk.
But, I don’t eat any animal products at all, and according to the debunkers, I should be falling apart from malnutrition. I should be psychically or psychologically disturbed from meat deprivation. I should be dead.
But I am not dead. I am completely healthy. I have no cravings for animal-based foods. I am living proof that we are not carnivores by instinct. Unless I am hit by a bus, I will probably outlive my meat-eating friends by a decade. I will probably avoid degenerative diseases in my old age. If I am lucky I will die in my 90s while making love with my beloved wife.
We humans are adaptable when it comes to diet. We ate meat when it was necessary to do so to survive. Now we can stop eating meat so that other species can survive and ultimately so we can survive in a world worth living in. This may be difficult to accomplish, but it is theoretically not impossible, and it is already certain that some progress can be made in this direction.
We are no longer just another animal. We have taken over the planet by our very numbers. A species that has such power has a duty to complement that power with responsibility. We must be the guardians and stewards of other species. We humans transformed the world, so we have lost the right to say we should not adapt to the new world we have made. Even if we are semi-carnivorous by nature, we can and should change that nature.
What about those who are apparently addicted to meat and cannot give it up? What of those who do not know about flax, hemp, chia, or kukui—sources of the essential fatty acids? Flax and hemp grow in temperate zones while chia and kukui grow in the tropics. What of those whose health is failing and who cannot convert vegetable ALA essential fats into the all-important DHA, or who do not have access to algal sources of DHA or unaware of their need for DHA? What of those who cannot afford or are not ware of their need for B-12? (It is relatively inexpensive to make, and governments could subsidize cheap production of it.)
What of those who refuse to become vegans because they love animal products? I can sort of remember eating meat. I can’t remember ever having orgasms over eating it, but I did enjoy it. Others at the table would leave the tails of fried shrimp. For me that was the tastiest part, so I crunched and ate everyone else’s shrimp tails—just as today I filch everyone’s uneaten parsley. What of those who live in circumstances where they cannot supply all their nutritional needs through vegetables and supplementation? What is the next best thing they could do?
They could become “ethical environmentalist, organic, semi-carnivores, EEOScs. This hypothetical group would commit themselves to raising and killing animals in ways as painless as possible for the animals and as light as possible on the physical environment. They would raise chickens in their back yards and dine on the eggs and the occasional rooster. They would make a serious study of edible insects and get their meat as low as possible on the food chain. Everything these EEOSCs would eat would be grown or raise organically. My EEOSCs are “ethical.” To be ethical is to be organic, especially when it comes to meat. They would never eat commercial meat. They would only eat it if it came from an animal that lived a healthy and happy life and ate its customary and organic foods, such as grass. They would only eat the meat of animals that were calmly tranquilized out in a quiet field and which never woke up. They would say: These animals have given their lives to become our nutrition; we might as well treat them well while they are alive. Such meat would be more expensive, although backyard chickens and eggs would be mostly free. And a big part of being an EEOSC would be that you would not gorge on meat. You would treat it as dessert.
This would be a different track from mine but a great improvement over our present course of populating half the land area of the world with cattle and sheep, filling them with drugs, and polluting rivers and oceans with their waste. If there were such an EEOSC movement, I would support it.
Total consumption of meat would have to come down if we ate meat only in such a hypothetical way. Large areas not dedicated to grazing would be returned to the wild. Slaughterhouses and feedlots would be shut down. For meat to be organic, environmentally responsible, and humane to the animals, it would have to come from animals raised on small farms.
Even PETA has supported this approach. PETA negotiates with chicken vendors to house and execute their chickens in a relatively painless and relatively non-degrading way. PETA has offered a $1 million prize to the person who develops test tube meat that has no conciousness.
I ask again, if I am wrong, how am I wrong? I could be wrong if we are simply a morally flawed species. If we humans are incapable of thinking past our paychecks, if we cannot escape the grip of a mindless capitalism that knows only growth, if we cannot see past our landscaped yards treated twice yearly with atrazine laced Weed & Feed, if do not care about our destruction of the environment and the extinction of thousands of species and possibly our own—then yes, I could be wrong.
Are we a morally flawed species? Yes, absolutely. Are we incapable of overcoming our flaws? I think it depends on our will and commitment to follow the good. As the goddess said in the visitation under the arbor, it seems that we are becoming aware and enlightened at about the same rate our population is exploding, mindless capitalism is becoming more mindless, and weapons of mass destruction are becoming more computerized and deadly. As Churchill said about his fight with the Nazis, it is going to be a close run thing.
I cannot predict the outcome, but I am certainly not going to give up. Some progress is being made. Although we will not be completely successful, we will not be completely defeated. There are some fights worth fighting, even if the victory is not certain or immediate. Our diet is a big part of the problem, and so I will not quit advocating that we should change it.
I don’t believe we are innately evil. I disagree with the concept of original sin. Our inherent flaw is that we are suckers. We are easily deceived and misled, especially by profit-making schemes. We are conformists. We still are subject to a herd instinct. We want to be like others. We are afraid to stand alone. We have huge brains, but they are mostly blank computing space that is badly programmed. So we have been tricked into using our brains to construct complex rationalizations that justify the status quo and allow us to follow dictators, mindless capitalists, and saturated fat salesmen. We are not thinking critically.
What will happen if millions of people turn to a plant-based diet? Remember what I said earlier about the word “capital” deriving etymologically from the word “cattle.” (See the section of this book entitled Invasions of the Cowboys, a Paradigm of Domination, p. 43.) Cattle-ism was the first capitalism. The cattle herders attacked their vegetarian foes. Look what happened to the peaceful, relative vegetarians of Old Europe starting around 4300 B.C.E., the Pythagoreans of 6th Century B.C.E. Italy, the Essenes, John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, the Jerusalem Commune, James, and the Judeo-Christians. They were all wiped out by the meat eaters.
My theory as to why the cattleists are not attacking now is that we are making only a minor dent in their profits. The rule of law is stronger now than at any time since 4300 B.C.E., and it might offer us some protection. The cattle-ists sued Opra Winfrey and Howard Lyman and the “McLibel Two” instead of murdering them. But what would have happen if these vegetarians had convinced nearly everyone to give up beef and had destroyed the money making machine? We cannot be naive about this. When billions of dollars are at stake, hit men will be hired.
So what about your author? I am a strict vegetarian. When the doctor prescribes medicine available only in capsules, I open the capsules and pour the content into water or orange juice. I refuse flu vaccine grown in chicken eggs. The only non-vegan food I consume is an occasional insect eaten unintentionally. The greens I eat in my backyard have been washed by the rain, and I don’t always wash them again in chlorinated tap water (containing also trace amounts of lead, arsenic, and many other heavy metals added as a free bonus along with the fluoride). I have a mulberry bush, and from June to September I typically eat up to 30 mulberries each day. I love mulberries; so too do red ants. I do not wash mulberries before eating them, so I have unintentionally chomped on red ants. I confess that did not spit them out. Having killed them, I figured it would not upset the ant spirits if I crunched them up and swallowed them. FYI, they have a spicy flavor. Except for that, I’m really strict; I read every label, and if there is any particle of milk, whey, sugar, honey, eggs, fish oil, gelatin, or other animal product in it, I refuse to buy it or eat it. I am often asked why I abstain, and I welcome the opportunity to explain why. Most vegans confess that they occasionally lapse and eat some tasty meat item. I have not knowingly eaten meat even once since 1979 nor milk or eggs since 1981.
While I qualify as a strict vegetarian, I do not qualify as a strict vegan. I still sometimes wear a pair of pre-vegan days leather dress shoes made by Clarke. I have put new rubber soles on them more times than I can count. Replacing them was hard because vegan shoes usually come only in standard sizes, and I have wide, duck shaped feet. After a long search I found non-leather dress shoes at Big 5 Sports, and they actually fit. I have an old wool sweater from Morocco. I still wear it, but I will never buy another. I go down to Puget Sound and collect seaweed in garbage bags, which I put on my garden. It’s a great source of minerals, but it’s not vegan; there are lots of dead crustaceans in the mix. Those little critters died naturally, and I might as well apply their nutrients to my garden.
And what right do I have to write a book such as this? I have no medical degree. I thought about going to med school, but I chose law school instead. I came within one course of earning a B.S. in Psychology. I had to settle for a B.A. instead. That’s the closest I come to having a college science degree. I compensate for this deficiency by quoting from noted medical authorities.
Nor did I finish seminary. I am not a certified theologian. But my not being M.Div. or Th.D. and not being a seminary professor should not disqualify me from writing about theology. Once you understand the basics, you can study theology on your own. It’s not that complicated. As to objectivity, consider that theologians who teach at denominational colleges risk losing their jobs if they entertain the kind of issues I take up in this book. I on the other hand am independent.
Finally, I contend there is value in being generally educated as are we lawyers, instead of highly specialized. We are trained to synthesize facts from all sources and weigh them according to rules of evidence, to work out explanations for how things happened, never to misrepresent the law or the facts to judge or jury (or to the reader), to look critically at both sides of issues, to settle disputes if possible, and to propose laws to deal with problems.
Should a strict veganism be the goal for all? How realistic is it to encourage others to go all the way to the veganism I practice? Should I merely encourage them to move in that direction?
Howard Lyman, The Mad Cowboy and president of Earthsave, says that the amount of animal-based foods a human needs to eat is zero. The spiritual leader of the vegan movement, John Robbins, simply says we should “move towards a plant-based diet.” He does not say just how far we should move. Maybe he feels he would be scaring people off if he asked them to be strict vegans right away. Maybe knows it is impossible for people to become strict vegans immediately. Maybe he just wants to get them on the road that leads to veganism and let them decide at each stage of their journey just how far they will go. Robbins himself is a strict vegan and is deeply pained about how much our food animals suffer.
What about the hunter or fisher who eats what he catches? I have much less objection to hunting and fishing than to factory farming. The problem is that there is not enough game and fish available.
I feel no great problem with the person who rolls over logs and eats insects, although I choose not to do so myself. I support the efforts of those who believe it is acceptable to eat animals but work to improve the living conditions of animals and make more painless and less terrifying the ways they are slaughtered. This is a first step down the right path.
The question I ask is this: If I offer a modified version of veganism, what forms of modified veganism would be ethical or environmentally sound? What level of terror or pain would be acceptable for animals? Is it safer to build a tall ethical fence or a bright line rule and advocate a strict veganism?
Judaism builds fences around some laws: The orthodox keep the Sabbath more strictly than is actually required by the Torah so as to avoid even the possibility that they will violate the Law. We build ethical fences in modern law, and we refer to them as the bright line test. An example is the Miranda warning. Something less than reading the Miranda quotation word for word might give fair notice to the accused that he has the right to counsel and the right to remain silent. However, because it is complex to explain what lesser notice would be adequate, the Court has chosen to stick with a formula that gives more than adequate notice.
Should I hold myself to a strict standard but acknowledge that others will have to decide gradually just how far they want to go down the vegan road—just as I did thirty years ago? In the final analysis, I agree with Robbins that becoming vegan is a process. Getting started comes first. It is up to each individual to decide how far he will move in that direction.
Am I wrong about the rest of my thesis? On page 24 I said that it will not be possible to have a truly healthy and long-lived population or bring down health care costs, not possible to end hunger, not possible to bring about peace between humans or between nations, not possible to reign in population explosion, not possible to achieve an environmental balance, not possible to stop the extinction of hundreds of species per day, not possible to make peace between humans and the animal and plant kingdoms, and generally, not possible to make this a fully civilized world without moving to a vegan diet.
Am I wrong when I say you cannot call yourself an environmentalist without also being a vegan or at least trying to be one?
Am I wrong about my belief in democracy? I suggested that maybe human rights and natural law are mere fantasies that can never be achieved generally. That they are just ideas we apply or ignore as it suits our immediate needs in order to prevent the breakdown of an economic system that enriches us. That stealing and murder are not wrong in any absolute sense, that we have laws against stealing and murder only because we don’t want people stealing from us or murdering us.
Am I wrong to see it as immoral to kill animals for food? We all die; the only question is when and how. All species kill at least some other species. We are all “natural born killers.” Am I am wrong to suggest that humans should be held to a higher standard because we have taken over the earth and acquired godlike powers over the animals?
Am I wrong about the suffering of animals? Are their cries, as Aquinas suggested, just the noises that machines make when the right levers are pulled?
Am I wrong in my speculation that there is some connection between the suffering inflicted on factory farm animals and the general moral structure of our society? Maybe it is possible to brutalize animals and hire others to brutalize animals and at the same time raise up our children to be gentle and just to their fellow humans. Maybe we can wear two faces without splitting our personalities.
I continue to question all my assumptions, but I conclude that I am at least on the right track. Democracy, the rule of law, and a unified ethical system are not impossible goals. If they are not attainable, they are at least approachable. It is just as wrong for us to terrorize and torture animals as it is for us to terrorize and torture humans.
A healthy diet, a healthy and stable economy, a clean environment, the rule of law, high ethical standards, and the humane treatment of animals are all interrelated. The reason why we fail in so many of these areas may result from our omission of the way we treat animals from our ethical system.
I have concluded that the pain and terror we inflict on animals is morally significant. Peace among humans will not come until we make peace with other species and the natural environment in general.
I have concluded that even though we may have some need for nutrients that come mainly from animal-based foods, it is now feasible to fill each such need with nutrients from green foods and thus it becomes our responsibility as stewards of the planet to implement such supplementation.
I continue to be a practical idealist as I define it—not believing we will ever reach the ideal but that we can make real progress in that direction. I continue to believe there are things we can do to make ours a more civilized world and that leaving animals off our plates is one of those things.
I challenge you to try to eat a green diet and hold yourself to a higher standard. At each stage of your culinary evolution, you can decide whether you want to go further. Even for those who make the change, it will be gradual and maybe not complete. Nevertheless, I am confident that even if you become only a part-time or partial vegan, you will derive great spiritual and health benefits from such a change.
Veganism should not be an absolutist religion, which condemns and alienates, but an ethical movement which informs and educates and leads. People who are informed and educated about ethical issues tend to live by them.