In Defense of Meat Eaters, Part 2: Animal and Human Well-Being

Yesterday, I debunked a few of the common, “evolution-based” arguments leveled against meat-eaters that might have the potential to stump anyone with only cursory knowledge of evolutionary science. By and large, these are arguments that appeal to our emotions. They invoke a peaceful, gentle pre-history of slender, humane early humans co-existing in perfect meatless harmony with the animal kingdom, an image that sounds great and makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Those sharp spears found at various dig sites, you ask? Why, those were just used to skewer hard-to-reach apples, or perhaps to gently separate two squirrels battling over an acorn. But the fossil record shows distinct markings on large ruminant bones that seem to indicate cuts, tools, and butchering – how do you explain those? Oh, those? See, early humans were so grossed out by animal carcasses that they couldn’t bear to actually touch them with bare hands. They developed tools so that they could move the offending meat out of their line of sight without actually putting hands to flesh. Pretty ingenious!

Jokes aside, the reality is that life for Grok wasn’t a Disney movie. Lots of animals died to ensure our species’ survival. Lots of plants, too, plus innumerable other organisms, unicellular and multicellular alike. The cycle of life, you see, is also a cycle of death. Plants get eaten by animals, animals poop out the waste, and that waste gets consumed by the living soil, and the enriched soil makes it possible for more plant life to flourish. Similar cycles occur in every imaginable environment with different organisms, but the basic story is the same: the constant interplay between life and death.

Death, then, clearly has a place in our world. But that sounds cold and heartless (damn our evolved sense of sympathy and empathy!) to most people. “Death”? I mean, it’s death. It’s gotta be bad, right? In fact, one of the weirdest problems people have is that death is necessary for survival, even though the act of killing an animal for food is somewhat unpleasant. Omelets require broken eggs, but cracking that shell turns a person’s stomach. So when a vegetarian utters something like “Meat is murder,”I can almost understand, just as I can understand why people might think low-carb diets are dangerous – because Conventional Wisdom continuously, constantly promotes these viewpoints. All animals raised for food suffer needlessly and cruelly, and no one can stick to low-carb diets long term and if they do, they’ll get heart disease and die. Those are the talking points, anyway.

So, what do you say to an ardent anti-meatist whose evolutionary arguments have been rebuffed and who comes at you with concerns about animal cruelty and human health? Read on.

Meat is murder.

I went over this already in my review of Lierre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth, but I’ll reiterate: life is death. Life springs from death, everywhere and always. You cannot live without something dying to make it all possible. Grain heavy vegan diets require the destruction of ecosystems and all their inhabitants; meat heavy Primal diets require the slaughter of a pig or a cow. If you’re going to exist in this world, you have to accept the fact that things will die. Oh, and things won’t just die; they’ll die to ensure your survival. You, me, all of us have blood on our hands. Your pets have blood on their paws. Those pigs rooting around in the dirt have blood on their hooves. When you have a knee-jerk reaction to the reality of death and try to escape it, either by eating a vegan diet or hurling insults at meat-eaters, you risk throwing off the delicate balance of life on this planet. When you remove death from the equation, life simply doesn’t work.

Now, there are right and wrong ways to produce meat. I won’t argue against that. In fact, I always maintain that the industrial CAFO system is unsustainable, produces unhealthy, unsuitable, antibiotic-laden meat with skewed O6/O3 ratios, and is damaging to the environment. Whereas a grass-fed, pastured farm produces healthy meat and usable manure that fertilizes the grass and helps replenish the soil, CAFOs produce mountains of sloppy manure (these animals aren’t eating their natural diet, so they poop endlessly). Whether we can support the entire world population on pastured animal products, I don’t know. I suspect not. There are better ways to farm, better ways to raise animals on their natural diets (moving animals off grains so that we can convert the croplands designated to feed them is a good start), but feeding six billion (and growing) is a tall order. The planet probably wasn’t meant to hold all of us. There are no easy answers to the environmental impact of meat, but they certainly don’t lie in the amber waves of grain and soybean farming.

Your average meat eater gets more diseases.

Superficially, this is the most effective rhetoric. It’s punchy and technically true, and it confirms most people’s suspicions of meat eaters. Meat is unhealthy; everyone knows it, right? Of course they get the most diseases, the most heart attacks, the most cancer. They can even cite mainstream studies that claim as much, studies that make the front page of every mainstream publication. The latest was the infamous red meat study that seemed to show the more a person consumed red meat, the greater their cancer, heart disease, and total mortality. It makes for a good headline, but it doesn’t mean much. For one thing, it shows correlation, not causation (establishing a causative mechanism would require controlled studies), and for another, it also showed similar connections between mortality and marriage status, smoking, high BMI, lower education, low physical activity levels, and low fruit and vegetable intake. How many of these meat eaters were also eating potatoes fried in rancid vegetable oil, swigging a jumbo Pepsi, and polishing off the meal with a bowl of ice cream? The stigma that meat is unhealthy is a potent, virulent one, and your average CAFO-meat-eating American is more likely to be the type that smokes, drinks heavily, never exercises, and lives in front of the television. If anything, these studies are strikes against the Standard American Diet and Lifestyle, which is technically omnivorous but completely and utterly different from the Primal Blueprint, which prides itself on promoting healthy, pastured, organic meat along with regular servings of fruits and vegetables, plus exercise of varying intensities. Throw a few modern Groks against your average vegan dieter (let alone someone following the SAD) and see how their health stacks up. We already know that the evil saturated fat found in animal products isn’t so evil after all, especially in the context of a low-carb Primal diet made of real foods.

We aren’t your average meat eaters.

Meat eaters don’t eat vegetables.

This one really riles me up. It operates under a totally false dichotomy: that meat eaters eat only meat. Just because a person eats a lot of meat doesn’t mean vegetation takes a backseat. I’d be willing to bet I eat more vegetables than most vegetarians out there, simply by making room and avoiding all those refined grains that form the basis for many vegetarian diets. You could conceivably remain a vegetarian and live off a diet of pancakes, fake meat, cereal, and pizza, while a plan as nutritionally-bereft as that one is impossible on a high-meat Primal diet.

And even if someone decided to go completely carnivore, so what? You can obtain all the essential nutrients that way, if you plan it well. I’d put a slab of organic, grass-fed beef liver, a heart steak, and a side of lamb brains up against a bowl of couscous and lima beans any day.

Between yesterday’s post and this one, see how long that took? It’s tough giving a quick two or three sentence rebuttal to a quip like that. You can’t link to posts or studies in real-time conversation. Try doing that the next time you find yourself accosted by vegans at a cocktail party. It probably won’t work on them, but you might convince a couple eavesdroppers.

To sum up

There’s a whole lot we don’t know, but what we do know is this: the human animal was designed to eat meat. It fuels our cells, our brains, and it builds our musculature. We designed tools to assist us in the procuring and processing of meat, and we still get that instinctual, savage urge to consume it. Meat tastes good. It provides essential nutrients and vitamins. And, contrary to popular belief, meat and meat alone is not responsible for cancer, heart disease, and a whole host of other ailments. Meat, when properly sourced, is a crucial element in the human diet. Despite the specious arguments about saturated fat and frugivores and chimps and murder, we know that meat is a good, healthy thing for the individual. And in the end, you’ve got to look out for your health and personal well-being. I refuse to sacrifice my health and happiness just so man can “evolve” past meat.

At least that’s my take on it.

What other arguments have you heard from anti-meatists? Let it all out in the comment boards.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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