A better way to die?

Photo by Nathan Myhrvold

Photo by Nathan Myhrvold

Warning: This post is not for the squeamish or faint of heart.  If you qualify, stop reading and go rummage through the archives.

Since the incident I’ll describe below happened, I’ve had this post rattling around in my brain.  All it took to make me backburner the other one I’ve been working on was a vegan I overheard today prattling on about the cruelty of slaughtering animals for food.  These people are clueless.  They somehow believe the natural world is a kind, safe place where animals lie about enjoying nature and drift off to sleep when it’s time for them to die.

Early last summer I was on the tee of the 8th hole of a golf course I play often with ball teed up and driver in hand.  As I addressed the ball and started into my mind-clearing routine a hellacious cacophony broke out all around me.  I stepped back from the ball and looked up to see a cloud of crows cawing at the tops of their crowy lungs while dive bombing the tree right next to the tee box.  I peered into the branches of the beautiful Jacaranda to see if I could see what set all these crows off because whatever it was, was in that tree.

Walking up closer and searching between the branches, I finally saw the cause.  Sitting on a branch deep within the tree was a big hawk.  He was gripping a limb with one talon and had the other clamped onto a small crow.  The crow – probably a juvenile – was much the worse for wear.  From my long ER experience, I could tell that it had obviously had at least one lung , if not both, pierced by the hawks talon’s.  It’s chest was heaving as it struggled to breath in the characteristic and pitiful way chests do without working lungs.  It’s not a pleasant way to die. In the ER you would put a chest tube in a patient in this condition, an option not available to the dying crow.  This scenario with the screeching crows diving impotently at the tree while the hawk perched impassively, squeezing the last bits of life from the dying bird, impressed upon me once again the cruelty of life in the wild.  Tennyson had it right, “Nature, [is indeed] red in tooth and claw.” As I watched, it dawned on me that each diving crow was destined for a similar gruesome fate.  Even the hawk itself would ultimately come to a bad end when it either got injured or got too old to hunt.

There are few easy deaths in the natural world. I hearkened back to my days as a young engineer when I worked for a company that designed and built waste-water, pollution-control systems for various industrial concerns.  A number of the company’s clients were slaughterhouses located primarily in central Arkansas.  My job was to get the overview of the facility, learn where the waste water was generated, find where it was discharged, and look for a space to put a mini treatment plant.  Our company would design the treatment plant, then I would oversee its installation.  In the course of my time on the job, I spent a fair amount of time in a number of slaughterhouses. I didn’t know what to expect the first time I went to one.  I had visions of its being some kind of nightmarish charnel house from an Hieronymus Bosch painting with squealing animals trying to escape and blood running knee deep.  The reality was anything but.

The slaughter process was orderly and the animals being led in – actually they walked in without being led – calmly trudged to their ends in single file through the narrow chutes. They didn’t wail or bellow; they didn’t try to escape; no one was standing above them driving them with cattle prods.  It was…orderly.  That’s the best word to describe it.

Once the animals were stunned, they dropped instantly.  Workers attached the unconscious beasts to a hoist that lifted them and started them on their way to becoming the meat we buy in the supermarket. I spent countless hours in these facilities, and never saw the cruel treatment of any animals.  About the worst that would happen would be that a steer would get turned around in the entry area and cause a little momentary chaos until it got straightened back around.  From what I’ve read, some slaughterhouses have problems with animals slipping and falling, which creates havoc, but I never saw it happen in the ones I was involved with.  And, remember, this was back in the days before Temple Grandin and her methods – now in widespread use – for making slaughterhouses even more humane. And it was before people learned that meat from unfrightened animals is better and worth more than that from frightened ones, which now provides packing house operators with a financial incentive to keep the animals calm.  I haven’t been in a slaughterhouse for over 30 years, so I can’t attest to how they operate now.  But what I witnessed back then wasn’t all that bad.

For those of you who don’t know, Temple Grandin is a professor at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado who has achieved international fame for her designs of slaughterhouses and animal holding facilities that ensure humane ends for the animals that provide us food.  Dr. Grandin is autistic with a highly developed visual sense.  She is able to see things as cows and other animals see them, which she often does by getting on her hands and knees and crawling along the same pathways the animals do.  She realized long ago that items that would cause no concern to a human – say, a discarded can or paper cup or light shimmering off a puddle- could put a cow into a blind panic.  By taking these visual cues from the animals’ perspective, Dr. Grandin’s designs – now in use the world over – keep animals as serene as possible all the way through the leading-to-slaughter process.

How serene is that?  About as serene as an animal can be in the presence of humans. When animals (ourselves included) are stressed, they release cortisol, a hormone that looms large in the fight or flight response.  This cortisol can be measured and used as an indicator of stress.  Cattle are minimally tamed animals.  They are by nature skittish.  They don’t take well to being handled and, in fact, don’t really like to have people around. Dr. Grandin has taken cortisol samples from animals just standing around the farm with people within view and discovered that they have a slightly elevated cortisol levels.  When she tests animals in properly designed slaughterhouses right as they reach the final station, she finds that they have similar cortisol levels as animals standing in the barnyard with humans present.  In other words, a little stress, but not a lot.

I can pretty much assure anyone that these animals meet their deaths in today’s slaughterhouses with orders of magnitude less stress than they would were they living in the wild and being preyed upon by large carnivores.  In fact, had they been living in the wild, they wouldn’t exist today.  They would have been relegated to the long list of animals that have become extinct.

Let’s consider cattle.  Cows are large, fairly placid, relatively slow, and exceptionally stupid.  They are also uncommonly good to eat.  All these facts taken together make it clear why cattle are still with us.  (It also reminds me of a great and very true statement I heard once but can’t remember where: ‘If you want to preserve the American bald eagle, all you’ve got to do is make ’em good to eat, and before long, you’ll be overrun with them.’)  And not just a few specimens in zoos, but by the millions roaming pastures the world over.  Cattle, unlike Covenant of the Wild other wild animals, allowed themselves to be domesticated.  Humans complied and domesticated them.  A covenant arose between humans and cattle in which we provided for them and they for us.  We kept them safe and allowed them to breed and survive as a species; they provided us with meat in return.  It’s been a great bargain for all sides.  Although any individual steer trudging off to slaughter may not see it this way, the covenant has been a godsend for the breed, which has grown and prospered.  There is a wonderful book titled The Covenant of the Wild detailing this animal-man symbiotic relationship that should be on everyone’s bookshelf, especially anyone’s who doesn’t feel right about eating meat or who is being relentlessly hounded by vegetarian friends or family. Although it’s never pleasant to think of animals being put to death so that we can eat them, it is reassuring to know that it is done as stresslessly as possible.  If done right, with almost no stress at all.  If, however, the PETA folks had their way, these animals would be turned away from the slaughterhouse doors and sent to live out their days peacefully on lush pastures somewhere.

If this vegan fantasy came to pass, what would happen to these cattle?  Would their deaths be more or less stressful than at the hands of their human handlers? You probably know the answer, but let’s take a look.  And, remember, not for the squeamish.

Photo by Nathan Myhrvold

Photo by Nathan Myhrvold

Photographer, polymath and former Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold wrote a piece for Edge about a photographic safari he took in Africa.  He tells of several lions attacking a Cape Buffalo

In order to catch a buffalo a lion must jump on the buffalo’s back, and to do that they need to get past the horns.  Once on the back, the lion hangs on for dear life, a bit like a cowboy riding a bull. The goal is to get the buffalo to stumble. If there is more than one lion hunting this is the point when they will start to pile on. Often the buffalo just shrugs the lions off, and that is that. However if the buffalo falls down, things get much more serious. Some cats kill instantly with a bite that dislocates cervical vertebrae, severing the spinal cord – for example, cougars in the US. This is not the case for lions, they are stranglers or suffocators. They either bite the underside of the neck to collapse the trachea. Or they put their entire mouth over the prey animal’s nose. Either way it is a relatively slow suffocation that kills the animal. This can take 30 minutes, or even an hour for a buffalo because they can’t get enough pressure on the huge buffalo neck to close it all the way, or can’t get a good seal on the nose. This is not the quick merciful picture that one sees in nature documentaries.

Lions don’t wait to kill the animal before starting the process of eating it – as soon as the buffalo stops thrashing, lions start to eat. This is much harder than it sounds however, because the hide is very thick.

Were cattle to be roaming the wild, this is the fate that would ultimately befall each one.  I wonder what the cortisol levels were in the buffalo pictured?

A couple of years ago The Times did a piece on the growing number of elephants killed by lions.  The BBC sent a film crew to video an attack, and a writer from the paper tagged along.  His report makes for gruesome reading.

But as a mother and an adolescent, aged between 8 and 10 years old, come through, slightly detached from the rest of a herd, two of the lionesses are instantly awake, on their feet and moving in. Pandemonium ensues. The elephants trumpet with panic as they crash through the undergrowth. One of the lionesses jumps on the young elephant’s back and another grabs its haunches. The hind-leg tendons are severed and the animal crashes to the ground. The rest of the lions pile in. The mother thunders off into the bush, apparently realising that there is nothing she can do to protect her child from this onslaught. The hunt, from the moment the lionesses spotted their victim until they felled it, lasted just 30 seconds.

The elephant takes a further 30 minutes to expire. The death agony is not pretty. The lions chew through tough hide and clamp their jaws round the elephant’s trunk in an attempt to stop it breathing. The sound of the animal’s gargling, wheezing and hissing is sickening and the lions provide a chilling accompaniment of low, contented growling. It is a hellish scene… There are scuffles as members of the pride jostle for position on the carcass. When they eventually can feast no more they pull away, their faces covered in blood, gore-stained up to their haunches. Panting with the exertion of gorging themselves, they lick each other’s faces and flop down, exhausted.

Any guesses as to the cortisol level of this elephant as it gargled, wheezed and hissed it’s life away?

My overall sense of this piece is that the author somehow feels that this is a freakish incident.  It’s not.  This type of killing goes on moment by moment, repeated countless times per day, all over the world.  It makes better press when lions kill elephants, but it is no more gruesome than a hawk killing a squirrel or a weasel nailing a mouse.  Predators prey on prey.  Every cute little fox you may see from your car window has hundreds of kills to its credit, everyone of them as unpleasant for the victim as the above scene was for the elephant. It’s just the way nature operates.

If the above word pictures aren’t enough to show how brutal a typical meal can be for those on the menu, take a look at this YouTube of a few lions sharing a wart hog for lunch.  And remember, this isn’t a freak happenstance, it’s a second by second occurrence the world over.  This same fate has befallen millions of animals in just the time it has taken you to read this far in this post.  The true nature of Nature isn’t what you see on Sesame Street.

Do you think this warthog might be releasing some cortisol during it’s last moments?

Now, let’s switch back to domestic animals.  Take a look at the final seconds in the lives of some cattle.

This video – though admittedly an ad for a stun gun – squares with my own experience in slaughterhouses.

I ask you, now, given the choice, which fate would you prefer were you destined to be on the menu?  That of the wart hog in the video above or that of these cattle?

You can’t pick None of the above.  At least not if you are an animal destined for the table of either us or lions.  If cattle are to continue as cattle as we know them, then they get the easy death by stun gun.  If they are released into the wild, they would suffer a much, much worse fate.

Death is almost never pleasant in nature.  We can and do make it as painless as possible for the animals that provide us our sustenance.

Please don’t send me videos of animals being mistreated in slaughterhouses because I’ve probably seen them all.  Based on my own experiences, these videos are not the norm.  And, although the animals in them are indeed suffering, their suffering doesn’t compare to that of the warthog being eaten alive.  And the warthog’s being eaten alive isn’t a freak occurrence or a contrived occurrence to make political points – it is a part of the everyday ebb and flow of the natural world.

Those of us who eat meat owe it to the animals we consume to do everything in our power to make their lives pleasant and their deaths painless.  Thanks to the efforts of Temple Grandin and others – not to mention the financial incentives to provide better quality meat – we can do this.  Given the choice, I think domestic animals would quickly throw their lot in with us rather than be left to the tender mercies of nature, which would be the choice made for them if vegan activists were in charge.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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123 thoughts on “A better way to die?

  1. Dr. Mike

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said on this issue in such a well thought out logical manner.
    As a hunter and for many years and having grown up working on farms this is just the reality of life.
    I’m afraid with the growing problem of Americans feeling instead of thinking you will receive some backlash and even hate on this issue, without those folks even coming close to grasping the wonderful learning experience before them.

    Keep up tackling the hard but necessary topics.

    Aaron

  2. Thank you for this post. I’ve read about Temple Grandin before; she’s amazing and has done some pretty inspiring work.

    Even though I’m a card-carrying carnivore, I have often felt bad to think an animal had to die for me to eat. And even though I knew that life in the wild promises an extremely painful death and that this cannot be compared to the quick death that comes in a slaughterhouse, I never totally internalized it. Now I have, and feel much better about it.

  3. As a former vegan and animal rights supporter now turned meat-eater – and still squeamish enough that I did not read the entire post or watch the videos – perhaps I can shed some light here. The dichotomy you set up between “humane” slaughter and violent deaths in nature is a false one. If people were to, say, stop eating beef, that doesn’t mean that cows are going to be turned loose into the wild and become prey for lions. The savageness of nature is no excuse for our own. Your post is just the old “animals do it too” routine. Lions – domestic cats too, I believe – will kill a female’s cubs so that the female will come into heat and he can mate with her; however, I don’t recall anyone ever arguing that therefore it’s OK for humans to do the same. Various species of animals often kill their own kind, a sort of murder one might say. I doubt that justifies anything humans do.

    As a current meat-eater – I became convinced, in part by people like Dr. Eades, that meat is essential to health – I can justify my carnivory based on its necessity. But that doesn’t make me happy about it. It’s a cruel world, seemingly intrinsically cruel in the sense that, e.g. in the case of meat, there’s little to be done about it. (There may be cloned, vat-grown meat in the future.)

    “Given the choice, I think domestic animals would quickly throw their lot in with us rather than be left to the tender mercies of nature, which would be the choice made for them if vegan activists were in charge.”

    I think that the animals would say, “A pox on both houses.”

    I’m sure they would. That’s how I feel about Republicans and Democrats, but I have to live under one or the other.

  4. The lions attacking the elephant was featured in a Planet Earth Miniseries episode. It was absolutely amazing footage that was indeed chilling. The lions chased the young elephant as it strayed. It was running full out and this pride of like 30 lions were harassing it and taking turns jumping on it’s back until they finally got purchase and then, down it went. This was all filmed with low light night vision cameras, in black and white. Like I said, amazing.

    At the end of the program, they have a talk with the filmmakers about the most amazing things they shot during the episode. They were absolutely haunted by the lion attack on the elephant. And these are folks who had been out in the wild for the better part of 5 years, tracking animals, many of whom eat other animals.

    At any rate, wholly agree with the post, probably 98%. Some animals are a little better at killing things is a less brutal manner than the lions are… in some ways, the lions have evolved into jerks… but maybe they like the stress hormone taste… cougars snap necks cleanly… not to say that the chase and take down of a cougar aren’t stressful to the goat they are killing, but the strangulation of lions is on the extreme end of the red in tooth and claw…

    The Planet Earth series had a lot of hunting animals and their segments on predators hunting, killing and eating other animals frequently made it into the featured spot at the end. The snow leopard hunting, the wild dogs (really amazing), the jumping white shark and the lions on the elephants. Well worth watching, especially in HD.

  5. I was fascinated by this picture from the Photo Essay By Nathan Myhrvold:

    http://www.edge.org/3rd_culture/myhrvold_lions07/images/buffalo%20after%2024%20hours.jpg

    We see that the skull of this cape buffalo is still intact 24 hours after carcass has been stripped clean by the lions and various scavengers. The brain is ready to be eaten by an advantageous scavenger if only the skull could be opened.

    I can think of only one scavenger able to do this….Homo erectus

  6. Very compelling information, not that I was concerned about the animals. I’m so ashamed! But since you brought up vegans, I wanted to ask you a question.

    I have an acquaintance that I see regularly, but we don’t really have time to talk. I’ve watched her go from fit to looking downright gaunt, especially in the face. I did recently talk to her and she said she’s been vegan for several months now and is trying to convert her family because she feels so wonderful and has so much energy. I don’t think she’s lying, so where does the energy come from? Is it from her body using her own muscle for energy, thus the gaunt appearance? Where does it stop when most of the muscle is wasted away?

    I think all of her energy is psychosomatic. You can’t waste all your muscle mass and feel great at the same time. Not unless you’ve got a lot of psychic energy invested in the process.

  7. I am an unapologetic carnivore–I have no quarrel with the food chain, other than a natural desire to avoid the bottom rung myself. However, I think Douglas Adams was on to something when he created a breed of talking, suicidal cattle in one of his novels (Restaurant at the End of the Universe, I think). The despondent bovines would beg to be transformed into someone’s dinner.

  8. Great post, doc. And it’s not just docile, slow animals that meet this fate in nature. Ever see the video, on the web a few months ago, showing a leopard attacking and killing a crocodile?! The big cat actually goes into shallow water, jumps on the croc, wrestles furiously with it, drags it out of the water, and then pins the croc on its back before suffocating it. One of the most amazing things I ever saw. What a bad-ass animal.

  9. Great post. I maintain that if we are somehow prohibited from killing, due to our superior knowledge (or whatever) we must also impose that standard on all wildlife. After all, we have the technology to create vegetarian lion (predator) kibble, and we can tax people to get money to dump huge quantities of it in the mountain, savannahs, rain forests, wherever there are predators.

    Of course, following that to its conclusion means we would be completely overrun by herbivores who would eat not only all of our vegetarian food supply, but all the predator kibble raw materials as well. And as soon as humans are wiped out by starvation, well, those morally decrepit predator species will be right back killing again.

  10. As a practicing pagan, I would have to remind vegans that plants are very intelligent and capable of far more in the way of consciousness than we give them credit for. I would go as far as to say that plants have souls. Who is to say that being rudely plucked from the earth, cut up, and eaten in a salad isn’t just as horrible a death to the carrot as an elephant being eaten alive by a lion? And who is to say a carrot doesn’t reincarnate?

    And isn’t a vegan doing a lot more actual killing soul-for-soul than a low carber? Especially when you take into consideration the wild animals whose habitats are being destroyed by all those fields of soybeans and the degradation to the land by plant-based agribusiness.

    Unless you want to commit suicide instantly, you will be taking a life.

  11. or as Ed.Wilson said “Never forget, nature is a battlefield”

    We could also eat oodles more insects which would almost please everyone aside from vegans !

  12. Great post, Doc. I can’t help but think that people who are uncomfortable with the death of animals for our sustenance gives us insight into their own lack of self-worth. They are well-intentioned but those intentions pave the way to hell, literally. BTW, I hope you were able to refocus for your tee shot and smack it good after the hawk attack.

  13. Dear Dr. Eades,

    I’ve been waiting for you to write on this so I can send you this link. I found it some time ago at the Weston Price Foundation’s website.

    http://www.westonaprice.org/healthissues/ethicsmeat.html

    As you know, we’ve gradually gotten farther and farther away from an up close look at how all food is grown, including livestock, as most people used to live on a farm. Also, the percentage of people who hunt has gone down dramatically. Our newspaper, The Oregonian, had an article about a year ago that was about the lack of young people learning this skill. (The story included a picture of a very young girl out on her first hunt with her grandfather and a picture of a quail she had bagged. This being Portland there were some outraged letters to the editor, natch.).

    Our 4 year old son’s curiousity about animals has led to some interesting conversations about what is “meat” and about what eats what. He seems to understand that humans are “meat” too and that the lion that eats the zebra would be just as happy eating a person. :)

    Anyway, you’ve probably wandered into the big stinky with this subject. I’m looking forward to comments.

    Sincerely,

    Gwen

  14. No real comment here, just a thanks for the post. I’d much rather a pneumatically driven bolt through the brain than the fate of that warthog, or hell, the fate of countless human beings in disaster situations around the world.

    Me, too.

  15. Great post!

    I’ve watched my fare share of nature documentaries about the hunter becoming the hunted, so to speak. However, i’ve never heard the sounds the animals make during a scrimmage, probably because the TV networks do not wish to air it, understandbly. The warthog was still yelling even as it was being eaten alive. Gruesome! It reminds me of being tickled as a kid. Sometimes no matter how hard i shouted to demand the person to stop, they kept tickling……At least, the “tickler” eventually stopped tickling. The same was, and is not true for the warthog and other animals in the wild.

  16. Have you seen the BBC series Planet Earth, which my nieces call planet death? It clearly demonstrates that every creature, and even some plants, must kill to survive. I tell my vegetarian friends….look….I don’t enjoy the fact that in this world most creatures have to kill and rip apart and eat other creatures to survive. It does seem barbaric. But I didn’t design it. You have to ask ‘God’ or ‘nature’ why?

  17. ‘If you want to preserve the American bald eagle, all you’ve got to do is make ‘em good to eat, and before long, you’ll be overrun with them.’

    That sounds like something Walter Williams would write. He has explained in more than one essay that animals such as pigs, cows and chickens aren’t in danger of extinction because 1) we value them and 2) we own them.

    Merely valuing them isn’t sufficient. Poachers (or paleolithic hunters) will hunt a valued species to extinction if they get the chance. But toss in a bit of ownership, and the incentives change so that preservation is balanced against consumption.

    In other words, it wouldn’t do Tyson any good in the long term to kill all the chickens in the world today, even if they could sell them.

    As for the PETA wackos, my comedian friend Tim Slagle (he of the bit about teaching your kids to understand taxes on Halloween) put it nicely: “They’re real brave when they throw fake blood on some woman wearing a fur coat. I’d have a bit more respect for them if they ever tried that with some biker dude wearing a leather jacket.”

  18. If you don’t like slaughter houses, you can buy locally raised beef that is grassfed, and killed and processed right on the farm. One of my co-workers and her husband have a small farm and we buy meat from them. They are right there when the animals are slaughtered.
    A good life, then one bad moment. I hope I’m so lucky.

  19. Very good piece! (I also saw your previous post commended highly by Dr. Davis on The Heartscan Blog) I’ve often wondered if people realized that the only reason we have cattle, sheep, goats, etc., is because they provide us food. If they did not, they would cease to exist. The species, or “Evolution”, must have long ago made the calculation (not at a conscious level, of course) that it was to their advantage to become domestic prey. We are “domesticated” by them as much as they by us. Jared Diamond has provided a really great discussion about this.

    And forgive me for commenting on the prior post on the Paleolithic Diet, but I want to share an idea I had long ago as a student in physical anthropology. (If I had been able to continue, it might have become a research topic for me.) Counter intuitively, it seems to me that reproductive “fitness” in the Darwinian sense, may not be the same as health . I wonder if humans gained a reproductive advantage from agriculture, but lost in longterm level of individual health. If people who ate more grains began to reproduce at earlier ages–which is more than hinted at by the decreasing age of menarche even into modern times that is associated with greater caloric intake (higher insulin level?)–they could be expected to have more descendants than hunting peoples. Births are also typically more widely spaced in traditional hunter-gatherer groups as well, so fewer, maybe many fewer, children over the life of a mother. It would not take many generations for agriculturists to outnumber any neighboring peoples who “stayed Paleo”, even though individuals in the agricultural group may have suffered deleterious effects on health, compared to the hunters, that could be expected to begin to show up toward the end of the reproductive years, after they had already left their more numerous descendants. This idea may not have merit, but seems plausible.

    Back to domestication–perhaps humans have been domesticated by grains? Think about it. We have become their dispersers, their caretakers, even their servants, all over the world.

    I think your idea has much merit.

    And I do think we humans may well have been domesticated by grains. Maybe we’re closer to being Children of the Corn than we think.

  20. I feel that we are so far removed from the process of obtaining our food that our collective perspective on the experience is skewed.

    Hi highly recommend all of Dr. Grandin’s books. It opens up whole new worlds to understanding people, autism, and animals.

  21. The attitude of PETAns and the like is a nice variant of what Jaynes calls the “Mind Projection Fallacy”, which occurs when people take what is a purely subjective mental construct and give it the status of objective reality. The PETAns have their own version of how they want reality to be, presumably informed by their interactions with domestic puppies and bunnies. They then project this as being the reality of how nature really is.

    Come to think of it, with a few suitable substitutions, that describes the statinators as well.

    Thinking about evolution, it seems inevitable that death is generally slow and “cruel”. Organisms evolve to survive. For a water buffalo, dropping dead at the first touch of a lion is not a good survival strategy; indeed, as you note, most of the time the water buffalo gets away. The longer that water buffalo can survive with a lion’s mouth clamped on its nose, the better chance it has of possibly escaping to breed another day. In that sense, I doubt the water buffalo views the prolonged struggle as a bad thing. And it benefits the lions as well, since if kills were too easy, they’d kill off all the available prey animals and die out; or be forced into cultivating and eating grass seeds . . .

  22. Excellent post!

    I’d love to read comments from anyone familiar with the current practices of raising and slaughtering animals, as I’d like to know what has changed — for better or worse — in the last 30 years. From what I understand, government subsidies and regulations aren’t doing us or the livestock any favors, e.g. in promoting feeding of corn, killing smaller farms, paying for the cleanup of animals confined in nasty conditions, closing slaughterhouses, etc.

    Readers? I’m interested, too. Please chime in.

  23. Thanks for the post–though I confess the most interesting part to me was your background (engineering). I have commented to my wife on the flow logical reasoning in your books; now I now why.
    Regards,
    Another Arkansas Engineer

    Here’s to Arkansas engineers. I was an engineer in California, Alabama and Arkansas. In fact, it was an engineering job that brought me to Arkansas.

  24. Richard Dawkins wrote this poignant and chilling paragraph, which everyone would do well to remember:

    “The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”
    — Richard Dawkins, “God’s Utility Function,” published in Scientific American (November, 1995), p. 85

  25. I read Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle when I was an adolescent and it certainly is one of the reasons that I became a vegetarian at 13 (and stayed that way until 73 when I became a carnivore). Your post is, as always, brilliant and logically presented. I just finished eating pork loin chops; they were tender and delicious.

    If it were my job to create the world, we certainly would not slaughter animals nor use them for food. But I’ve found after years of experimentation that meat is the best food for my health if not my conscience.

    Marly

    I’m glad you rejoined us carnivores. Welcome back.

  26. Thank you for this one. Although I eat meat, I sometimes wish it weren’t so. I have had a hard time with the killing aspect. There are farms near my house; in fact I can see the cows from here. They may not be the brightest but if you go up to them and call, they will come running like happy dogs. These cows definitely have a nice stress free life.

    I happen to live in a beautiful area with lots of wildlife. Many a time I’ve watched mischievous baby rabbits from my back porch, who have wandered away, and their mothers spending hours trying to coral them into the night, only to find them the next day having succumbed to one of the many hawks.

    I once photograhed a family of swans at a nearby pond. Witnessing the diligence of both parents raising the chicks was truly amazing. First so tiny and fuzzy, all 8 of them, the weakest only able to catch a ride on moms back, looking like a beautiful majestic float – being taught how to swim, how to feed and finally to approach land, all the while with dad never leaving their side. The parents were at it all day, seldom resting, day after day, for months. Many of the weeks I visited, I found 1 less chick, probably taken by snapping turtles. Out of the 8, only 2 survived to become juveniles. I always expected to see some sign of suffering by the parents after loosing their young to such violent means and in spite of all their hard work, but I never did. They just carried on as though all was perfectly normal… and it was.

  27. Bravo!

    I always wondered what PETA-types thought would happen to livestock animals if we were to stop eating them altogether. We turn them loose into the woods?

    I’ll be checking out that book, and more info about Temple Grandin – what an interesting woman.

    Temple Grandin is more than interesting. She is amazing. Look up some of her talks on YouTube, and you’ll see what I mean.

  28. Doctor Eades, I can’t thank you enough for this post. Excellently written. PETA people are in such denial of reality that I’ve stopped arguing with them over these issues.

    You make some great points on species preservation and I agree that I can’t find too much fault myself with the slaughterhouse end of the food supply. I think there are problems but those are basically of speed, danger to the worker, and contamination issues — not animal welfare.

    I have a lot more issue with how many of the animals spend the rest of their lives rather than these last moments — but that’s largely a government-created problem caused by grain subsidies and the ridiculous USDA decree that poultry are vegetarians.

    I’ve read Temple Grandin’s book Animals in Translation, which is an excellent window into animal perception for anyone interested in how animals think.

  29. Hi,
    This is my first comment, and i have to say I completely agree. I know many vegetarians who go around imposing their views on everyone, but really if you were out in the wilderness a large predator wouldn’t mind feasting on you. They’re not going to stop just to thank you for being a vegetarian.

    And this is a little off topic, but all this talk of cows got me thinking about milk, but really it can be applied to any carb/fat combo. I know you don’t really do the dairy thing in your daily diet, but I love milk and have been wanting some ever since I started a low carb lifestyle. My question is,since I don’t have any negative reactions to dairy, would whole milk or skim be better. I know that there’s no reason to avoid fats(trust me I don’t, I love those macadamia nuts and my butter!), but with 11g of sugar per serving, wouldn’t it be better to be taking in less fat just because instead of being burned as fuel the sugar will spike insulin and cause it to be stored in he tissue? So with this reasoning I just assume it would be better taking in overall fewer calories when taking such a sugar hit. This really applies to any situation I guess where fat and carbs are ingested together(like I love butter, but if I decided to indulge in some bread should I avoid slathering butter on it because of the insulin spike) or does the extra fat have a dampening effect n insulin? I’m just very confused. I guess what I’m asking is if sometimes low fat is the better choice, but not for the commonly believed reasons?

    Thanks and keep up the amazing blog!
    Mike

    I haven’t drunk milk in years, and it has absolutely no appeal for me. But if I were to drink it, I would go for whole milk and not skim. It’s tastier and I don’t think the fat/sugar combo is going to cause any harm as long as you don’t drink enough to really run your daily carbs way up.

  30. I think the problem with vegans and others adverse to meat is that they are nutritionally ignorant, often willfully so (perhaps because they are suffering from a mild psychotic/thought disorder induced by starvation/malnutrition?)
    From the perspective of the vegan, human slaughter houses are not less cruel than predation in the wild, because predators are obligate carnivores and truly have no other option. Humans, goes vegan reasoning, eat meat and animals for pleasure therefore any method of humans acquiring meat is by default unnecessary and akin to cruelty (or, some extremists might say murder).

    Of course this argument (if you can even call it an argument since it is so irrational) melts away when one considers the fact that humans are primarily carnivorous animals and meat/animal consumption is necessary to maintain health. This is where vegan thought disorder comes into play, and they start making up nonsense about how humans are vegetarian animals that happen to be capable of eating meat. At this point the discussion evaporates into futility, much like trying to get a schizophrenic to understand the FBI really isn’t after them. They will make things up, deny facts, do pretty much anything to justify their irrational belief that humans don’t need to eat animals.

  31. If domestic animals could speak they would certainly prefer to live their biological natural life, out there in the wild, “left to the tender mercies of nature”. Or do you believe they, or any of us, would prefer to have a completely artificial just for the “benefit” of later having a “pleasant” death in some fancy high-tech slaughterhouse? Nature wasn’t designed this way and it is unfortunate the we created all these unnatural situations by leaving our paleolithic lifestyles and starting agriculture. Although we must recognize that humans are carnivorous and that we must eat animal protein for optimal health, I currently avoid commercial meats and prefer fish caught in the sea, despite of them dying under the tender mercies of our human fish nets. Fortunately I’m portuguese and we have plenty of great fish around here, namely wonderful grilled sardines in the summer. I also avoid all plant produced fish, which are usually sold in the large supermarkets, as they are not given a fair opportunity to live their natural lives, as Nature intended to. One last idea: my doctor once suggested that “dying is just an unpleasant moment that we forget very quickly” or that “it is just a different day that ends a bit sooner than we planned”. What if this is really true? Regards and thaks for your wonderful blog.

  32. Dr Mike, intresting post! I got a bit woozy watching a lion peace, but all better now!

    I was always fascinated with Japanese culture and Japanese women. Bear with me, there is a point to this comment. Recently I met a wonderful girl. We dated for about , oh 3 hours before decided to stay friends. Later I met her grand-grandfahter whos name is Satukiro, and who is almost 90 years young. Satukiro and i became good friends. I recently found out that Satukiro is still sexually active, ok not for squirmish minds like you say. His grand-grand daughter told me that the whole family is at odds because his gfriend is much younger than him, she is only 60! And Satukiro eats nothing but fish, rice and tofu made food. Here is his secret to long and healthy life: Eat small. Never eat on a run! Prey before each meal. Work hard, but do it for a purpoise. Always live with a purpose. And above all, never bitch about your life misfortunates and be kind as often as possible. Listen if I was 90 and sexually active, there is a purpose right there!

    I have always been intrested in research about centerians. I am sure you were too. I found out that although food is a big part of their life, it is a not a major part. Peruvina diet is much more different than Okinavians for example. Some eat almost 50 percent of cals from fat, whereas some almost 70 % from carbs. But all of them eat indigenous food and eat only enouph to live not to stuff psychological voids!

    So health life lile Life is very complicated and multifaceted! Satukiro attributed his longevity to tofu. He said he knows more than 100 recepis from this miracle food. How can tofu be a miracle food for so many Japanese when many experts warn us on deadly nature of it? I know Japanese have been eating tofu for centeries, but evolutionary speaking centuries is nothing compared to millions without it.

    Dr Mike have you done any posts on tofu and what is your opinion about it? Have you ever eaten it?

    I’ve eaten tofu, I don’t like it (except in miso soup), and I don’t think it’s particularly healthful. And I don’t think I’ve ever posted on it. Put it in the search function to see.

  33. I totally agree with minimal stress slaughter. If you’re cooking lobster, the most humane way I’ve seen is to give them a bath in Cognac, they go completely limp and give no indication of stress when plunged into boiling water. My preferred method however is put them in warm water and bring it up to a boil. They just go to sleep and I can drink the Cognac myself.

  34. I think this might be your finest post. I have always had ethical concerns regarding eating animals. The videos of slaughterhouses gone wrong don’t make it any better. Reality was always there I just never realized it. Even the worst incidents I have seen on slaughterhouse films do not compare to what could only be called a homicidal death that animals suffer in the wild. Hunting looks even more humane. Death is not something any of us like to to dwell upon. Every living thing on this planet will die. If a species can thrive because of its relationship with another species and if killing is as humane as possible then that is best for all involved. I will not feel guilty eating a steak knowing the cow it came from either would have suffered a death more cruel or more likely would not have been born in the first place. I think most fool themselves into thinking that animals in the wild, like humans today, die of natural causes. The truth is that they suffer the fate in the wild of being killed by predators or dying of starvation and the like. If this post gets out, PETA’s funding is really going to dry up.

  35. Dear Dr. Mike,

    Great post!! I agree with your point of view. I spent quite a bit of time on my
    grandparents’ farm when I was a kid (up into my teen years). The animals were
    treated decently and had only one rough day during their short lives. I was also
    taught to make a strong distinction between meat animals and production
    animals such as milk cows, et al, and, of course, pet animals. It made the emotional
    reactions much easier to manage.

    Most life forms on this planet seem to live off other life forms; a lousy system,
    frankly, but I wasn’t invited to the planning commission.

    Maybe the Indian idea of thanking the spirit of the animal for giving up its body
    has some merit. Worth a try.

  36. In the documentery Winged Migration, you see a scene in a grain field, where a ground nesting bird is sitting placidly on her nest. Then the camera pans back, and you see, in the distance, a big harvesting machine in the distance. It slowly comes closer, and closer until it is almost on top of the bird, then they cut to another scene, but you get the picture.
    In agriculture, many ground nesting birds and small animals are killed, by machinery, and pesticides. There is no free lunch. If you’re going to eat, something has to die.

  37. “[American Voters] are large, fairly placid, relatively slow, and exceptionally stupid.”

    Excellent point, Dr. Eades.

  38. I think I remember Homer Simpson once saying to Lisa, “If God didn’t want us to eat animals, then He shouldn’t have made them out of meat.”

  39. This is precisely why I’ll tell any vegetarians who get on my case about eating meat that I’m a carnivore for ethical reasons.

    I’m not a hunter but I did have occasion a few years ago to put down a baby fawn that had been hit by a car. It had at least two broken legs, other injuries and was screaming in the ditch. I drew my Evil Handgun to put it out of its misery. Having never shot a living creature before I was horribly afraid I wouldn’t get it in one shot (especially since all I had was hollow point defense ammo), but the alternative was to leave it to be eaten alive by coyotes. Thankfully the shot turned out to be a good one.

  40. Just to complicate things – I just finished reading a great book, “Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home” by Rupert Sheldrake. Turns out lots of animals have abilities that we can’t yet explain, that we call psychic. I’m reasonably certain that most cattle going to the slaughter know that they are going to die. The remarkable thing is that they still go calmly in spite of this knowledge. (I wrote a little more about the book on my blog, if anyone wants to read about what I found interesting. Of course you can check out reviews at Amazon too. Sheldrake’s website is http://www.sheldrake.org)

    I feel better about being human (oddly enough) knowing that we kill animals far more humanely than lower animals do. Of course, if lions and other predators had those pneumatic guns, maybe they would use them too.

  41. Erik – I euthanize crustaceans in the freezer prior to steaming. 30 minutes or so puts them gently to sleep, permanently. This also works nicely for ailing aquarium fish and other poikilotherms.

  42. I work with a lovely woman from India. The area she is from practices veganism as a religion. I think the belief is that any animals you eat in your human life, will eat you in the afterlife. How tragic!

    I have made some passing comments about how grains and sugar are bad for your heath and she did listen, but thought I was crazy… although she is only 26 years old and already has an ulcer and is always talking about her high blood pressure, which her doctor told her was from stress!

    Well, she recently made a trip back to India to visit her sick mother in law. You of course, know why the mother in law was ill – type II diabetes and she’d had a stroke. My coworker mentioned that her mother in law lived right next door to a hospital. I said something like, “Wow, well she is lucky to be so close!” . Then, to my amazement, my coworker told me that where she is from in India, there is a hospital on every block – everyone lives right next door to the hospital!!!

  43. I think the way animals die may come more humanely than many humans suffering from some disease for who knows how long. I’ve read a couple good books mainly around predator prey relationships between wolves and caribou/moose or such, it’s all pretty fascinating and can definitely give a good perspective of the challenges of the predator and the “death talk” that they have with their prey.

    Barry Lopez – Of Wolves and Men
    and Never Cry Wolf both come to mind.

    I actually think the ‘Kosher Killing’ would equate to the most ‘humane’ way to kill an animal outside of hunting it, even though it abdicates no stunning.

    I’ve also always held the idea, that if you kill and eat something (animal/plant/w.e) you become responsible for ensuring it’s (species) survival. That covenant you mentioned

  44. [quote]Tom Naughton
    As for the PETA wackos, my comedian friend Tim Slagle (he of the bit about teaching your kids to understand taxes on Halloween) put it nicely: “They’re real brave when they throw fake blood on some woman wearing a fur coat. I’d have a bit more respect for them if they ever tried that with some biker dude wearing a leather jacket.”[/quote] Along this same vein, I have often wondered why I have NEVER heard of PETA protesting the glue traps for mice. Now those things are essentially a Medieval torture device. The mouse cannot pull free so is left to starve or chew its legs off. Certainly NOT an ethical treatment, even if mice are an undesirable animal in the house.

    On Mike’s comment/question about milk, I solved my love of milk and eating low carb by converting to half and half. Check the nutrition labels on both, half and half has fewer carbs than whole milk, PLUS it has all the wonderful butter fat in it! Before WWII their “egg and butter” money was a way for many farm wives to have a little extra money for the house. I know my grandmother did it. After my uncle, and later me, had milked the cow, the milk not saved for drinking was diluted with some water. That helped separate the cream from the milk. After setting all day or overnight, the milk, at the bottom of the tank was let out. There being a sight glass near the bottom of the funnel like bottom of the tank so you could see the cream when all the milk was about out. The cream was saved and taken up to town and sold. The watered milk went into the “slop” for the pigs.

    I was down at the farm one winter when my uncle butchered a pig. Now unless you spend the time with them to get them used to you touching them, which most farmers do not have, domestic animals still have the wild instinct that being held is NOT GOOD! So of course the pig squealed when he grabbed a rear leg and tied a rope to it. The rope held the pig as he tried to pull away from it but it also made him a stationary target. That allowed my uncle to dispatch him quickly with a single shot in the brain. On a board I read, one of the posters told how he butchers his pigs. He had made a habit of being in the pen when he fed them so they thought nothing of him touching them when they ate. So when the time came he fed them as usual but then straddled them with a VERY sharp big knife. A quick pass under the throat and they dropped without a sound. Quick and quiet.

  45. I’m at odds even commenting here… as part of me feels like this an “onion-type” blog. Really, not much of what any of your commentators have to say doesn’t appear “contrived”. The 73 year old ex”vegetarian”? The phrase “if this gets out PETA’s funds will dry up”… The person who claimed vegans know so little about nutrition – yet goes on to tell us in her (who?) “expert” opinion that meat is “essential”…. Sorry, but it all seems so made-up… There is absolutely no objectivity or counter arguments in these comments. 37 out of 37 people agree with you – How convenient! Well, as number 38 – I suppose it might be time to shed a bit of light on a few points.

    First, you stated in your blog that “peta people” would be happy with freeing cows and all sorts of farmed animals – and that those animals would all meet a more horrible fate than at a slaughterhouse. I know for certain, that animals who were freed from the misery of being held captive as commodities would be cared for on sanctuaries, non-profit orgs. and individuals who had such compassion to do such. They would not just be set free by the thousands to destroy crops/vegetation… etc. That would not be the goal of Animal Rights – you are very misinformed if you think such.

    First, I’d like to see the end of the artificial insemination & breeding. That would eliminate billions of cows and pigs within the first 6 to 9 months time… Chickens live fine on their own, surely there are many of us (Vegans) who would gladly place them on acreage we owned…

    And I don’t see how killing/eating more cows and pigs does anything to help the warthog? Just because it’s common in nature has nothing to do with civilized – “evolving” man.

    Factory farmed animals of course live miserable lives – there is not enough land to raise animals the way you and your ilk view as “humane”. In the meantime, 99% of all “food animals” are being grown like sneakers — and the barns/feedlots they pass through leave unforgivable damage to the environment.

    And someone mentioned that there are more souls lost in harvesting vegetables… Perhaps, but this is not avoidable harm. Further, 95% of soy is grown to feed livestock – hence eating animals still claims more lives than not.

    Everything about animal agriculture is being questioned… The gluttonous use of resources that could feed 6 – 10 times more people, deforestation – water waste and abuses… personal health concerns and yes, even the poor animals who are give “a better way to die” – when ironically 10 billion of them – don’t have to die at all!

    My view is they didn’t have to be born at all just to be killed. Animal agriculture is not sustainable – it is not healthy… and it certainly isn’t as free of harm as we can (easily) make it be.

    I’m glad to have you as a commenter. Opposing viewpoints are always welcome. But, I think the idea that people would donate to support giant sanctuaries for domestic animals to live out their lives on is totally unrealistic.

    You have obviously never taken the time to learn nutrition, other than the vegan variety. Meat is probably the perfect food – it’s the food we evolved to eat. When humans switched from hunting to agriculture, health went to hell in a handbasket. A trained anthropologist or archeologist can glance at a set of human remains and tell in a moment if they are from pre or post agricultural man.

    The idea that animals should not be used as food is an ideological one that probably won’t find much support among the readers of this blog, but the idea that meat is not a healthful food – probably the most healthful food – simply isn’t in accordance with human biochemistry and physiology.

  46. Another excellent, well-reasoned post, Dr Eades. I am wondering if you might in the future devote a post to the unnecessarily inhumane conditions multiple millions of industrially raised chickens and pigs in this country suffer each year? I believe I’d choose virtually any conditions or suffering in the wild (even that warthog’s–he was at least a free creature until the end) before I’d pick the wretched existence of the aforementioned. One doesn’t have to be a bleeding heart to acknowledge all creatures should have access to fresh air, sunshine and room to walk–to say, to live in some approximation of their natures’. We do it for our pets because it’s obvious they are in many ways not so different from us. They definitely are capable of suffering emotionally. Same for the unfortunate animals raised in the factories. It’s great to support your local farmer who does raises his or her chickens and pigs humanely but laws to improve the sorry lot of animals raised on the factory ‘farm’ are long overdue. And creatures raised in that type of environment are less healthy for human consumption while producing tons of by-product waste that foul air and watersheds. Like nearly everyone who frequents this blog I certainly do like my meat. It’s just not right the way so many of them get treated getting to our plate.

    I agree with you 100 percent. I have posted several times on the evils of factory farming.

  47. Animals don’t have rights. Therefore the only consideration that should be made when talking about the treatment of animals is “How does it affect humans?” In the case of cattle for food, it affects the quality of meat and thus should be handled in a manner that ensures the quality of meat (aka the satisfaction of humans). The animal’s welfare or “feelings” are obviously never considered, and properly so. The last time I tried to have a cup of tea with a bear, it certainly didn’t consider my welfare.

    People who advocate for animal rights have no conception of what of a right is properly defined. Here is some help:

    A “right” is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context. There is only one fundamental right (all the others are its consequences or corollaries): a man’s right to his own life…- Ayn Rand

    Obviously, an animal doesn’t have the faculty to understand this and therefore cannot respect rights and therefore has no rights.

  48. I’m a full-blown low-carb, high-fat paleo life-style meat-eater. That said, I know that grain feed stock yard cows (as well as other grain fed animals meant for consumption) live an uncomfortable, short life (6-7 months average). The grains they are fed are entirely unnatural and unhealthy to their systems (just as they are to humans) and do not lead to a pleasant existence. I wish this part of our industrial food machine was less uncomfortable to animals raised as food, even if it meant a 5-10% increase in end-product cost.

  49. Yet another extraordinary post, Dr. Eades.

    It brings to mind the recent attack of the “domesticated” chimpanzee on the fifty-something woman in Connecticut. The animal, not so distant from us, maimed the woman with a viciousness which we cannot even comprehend. As she cowered in her car, it literally ripped her face off and gouged out both her eyes.

    This from a “cute, tame” chimp that had appeared in innumerable TV commercials alongside celebrities.

    You should go to the PETA site and read the reporting on this incident and the comments. The comments, almost to a one, are of the ‘Poor Travis, RIP’ variety. Tavis was the chimp that had to be destroyed. Unbelievable!

  50. +1 on Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” regarding the near global success of oxen due to domestication.

    I used to be a chef and preparation of some lobster dishes require cutting up the lobster alive. This one makes most people – even some pros – squeamish. Personally, I thought it seemed more humane given that the first stroke of the knife seems to go right through the braincase, vs dropping the whole animal in boiling water as they are typically cooked.

    People eat mollusks pretty much still alive in many cases – oysters especially. They have to be alive just before they are opened and put on the plate. Honestly we are much closer to those lions that anyone wants to admit.

    I recall watching a nature show not too long ago where they documented a pod of orca separating a baby humpback whale (which was much larger than them)from its mother and then proceeding to batter it to death over the course of hours. After all that, they removed the mandible and ate only the tongue before swimming away. Welcome to the planet.

  51. Good post Doc, I think you’ve covered the stress-from-dying part well (though I’m a little worried about the guy who stuns the animals all day long). But isn’t there a remaining inhumane part that takes place on the feedlots prior to the slaughterhouse where cows are exposed to unnatural conditions (no grass) and fed a super-high carb grain diet to get that “marbling” (read: obese) effect? Or do you suppose a grain-based diet is less detrimental for cattle than humans because their natural diet is carbs in the form of grass?

    It seems like there could actually be some alignment between animal rights folks and those of us who just want to eat meat from healthy cows.

  52. As a kid, two or three times I was allowed to raise ducks and/or chickens. Back then, I could never eat an animal I’d raised, because I’d made a pet of it, although I’ve been an unabashed meat eater all my life. If I ever raise livestock of any kind again, I will of course refrain from making pets of them.

    I’ve seen some material (including photos) on the Internet which indicate that in China, at least, they believe that “torture equals taste,” and I gather that in their open-air meat markets, there is very little concern for humanely killing their food animals (including dogs and cats).

    In fact, they seemed to deliberately make the animals suffer, believing that their meat would taste better! The narrative and pictures I saw indicated that they would literally skin the animals alive.

    And in contrast to our U.S. slaughterhouses, the dogs knew what was up and acted afraid and whimpered while awaiting their turn to become food.

    It “might be nice” if there were another way for humans to flourish other than by using animals for food, but (for me, at least) there is too much evidence that we are born to eat meat.

  53. Jeann was right in an earlier comment. My parents live in wheat country and countless small lives – rodents, birds and insects – are killed in the growing and harvesting of wheat. So the vegans’ bread and pasta is definitely not “guilt free”. That’s beside the point that plants are alive, too.

    Also, most land on this earth is not arable. That means the land must be irrigated. Irrigation kills fish and pollutes the water table through run-off. An Earth full of vegans would be an ecological nightmare.

    If vegans were morally honest, they would eat nothing but carrion and fruits and nuts that drop off of wild trees naturally. This way, absolutely no lives are affected.

  54. “Given the choice, I think domestic animals would quickly throw their lot in with us rather than be left to the tender mercies of nature, which would be the choice made for them if vegan activists were in charge.”

    This is a self serving and erroneous conclusion, Eades. Most species would probably prefer to live out the lives that nature selected for them. The original cattle, aurochs, were hunted to extinction not by lions, but by humans. When humans raise animals for food they are cut down in their prime (or even youth – i.e. for veal, lamb) not as nature intended in old age. Standing in a feed lot may be more “comfortable” than peacefully ranging though out Europe, Asia, and Africa munching grass just a jail may be more “comfortable” than the existence of disadvantaged humans. In the real world, Eades, species choose freedom and a natural life.

    Brilliant comment, G. Let’s me know how little you understood the post.

  55. Excellent post Dr. Eades,

    I have worked in the beef industry in both New Zealand and the United States. In the latter country I was just a couple of doors down from Dr. Grandin so I know her and her work very well. She is a wonderful advocate for the animals. Her research is primarily financed by the beef industry (whom she has saved the countless millions of dollars) with lower stressed animals almost being a by-product of this industry gain.

    As an aside, I spent my entire life in the beef industry in New Zealand, then in my late 20’s came to the US. On my first visit to a feedlot I could scarcely believe this was the same species I was so familiar with. Gone were the sleek coated, muscular and mobile individuals that roamed the pastures downunder. They were replaced by barrel-shaped, grossly obese individuals- both the cattle and the ranchers.

    – PC

  56. How neat that you mention Temple Grandin, Doc. My wife and I both worked with people with autism in our twenties and my wife actually had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Grandin at a conference in my home province of Nova Scotia (I, sadly, was working that day.)

    You bring up so many salient points, as usual, on this topic. I’m a former vegetarian turned low carber. I am damned glad that I started to listen to my intuition as well as you, Richard Feinman, Gary Taubes et al before it was too late. I, like so many vegetarians, thought that my diet was some sort of nutritional state-of-grace that magically removed suffering from the world and would make me immune to the ravages of disease. Switch to me sitting in my doctor’s office four years ago at age 35 with high cholesterol, blood pressure, triglycerides and weighing in at 250 lbs on my 5′ 10″ frame. So much for that state of grace!

    I’ve often told the story of how amazed I am when I have some adult look me in the eye and tell me that the movie ‘Babe’ influenced their decision to become a vegetarian! (Just mentioned it on a low carb forum, in fact.) Having once been a part of that mind set I realize just how powerful a tool anthropomorphism is for the radical animal rights types. Good critical thinking is in shorter supply than ever, I’m afraid. These days I usually just turn away from said vegan/Babe lover and share my recipe for roast pork and sauerkraut with somebody! ; )

  57. Hmm. Good post. I don’t have any problem with eating meat. I grew up on a farm and I now spend my days retired roaming around the globe in my sailboat and doing a lot of fishing for food. I have a lot of blood on my hands. What puts me off in your post is mixing the interesting information with a meaness of spirit that has to attack some group or another for being nothing more than ignorant of your point of view. I don’t think your blog goes very far in educating the vegans out there because it is downright offense toward those people. But then maybe I should not bring up this point. Maybe you were abused by a vegan in your past. I would love to read your insights on nutrition or any other subject if I didn’t have to share your disrespect for whatever group of humans you think deserve it. I just think life is short enough now to smile kindly on my fellow man. Even the foolish and the arrogant.

    Militant vegans are ALWAYS on the attack. I was just mounting a defense.

    Cheers

  58. I can’t agree with the antibiotics and hormones they use on the cows though. Or the grains they stuff them with.

    I was previously a vegetarian, then pescetarian before I began low-carb (sort of phased myself in). I won’t go into why I switched or why I went veg in the first place, but I feel good. Kind of wierd sometimes, but good. I noticed more energy, most of all. Vegetarians survive, yes, but meat-eaters thrive.

    And what do you feel about that book, Food Matters, by Mark Bittman? How does the cookbook-with-morals thing go for you? I only skimmed through it (no time for a read), and saw that he advocates something like a Mediterranean-ish style? “Vegan until sundown”, but with a lot of fat. Whatever suits him, I guess, but I really didn’t care for his preaching about American meat-eating habits killing the planet. As if the millions of newly-wealthy Chinese families who’ve more then doubled their meat consumption in the past years aren’t affecting the world either.

    Anyway, I was curious about your opinion.

    I can’t really comment because I haven’t read the book.

  59. If it kills the cattle, why is it called a “stun gun?”
    Not long ago in this area, we had a scandal where people were reporting that some cattle, not completely killed after stunning, were being processed. It turned out that they were going to fast to speed up production.
    In spite of being a meat eater, that really got to me.

    A stun gun doesn’t kill the cattle, it stuns them. The cattle are unconscious but still alive as they are moved down the processing line. The first thing done after the cattle are stunned is to hang them head down and cut their throats. The heart continues to beat and pump the blood from the body, which is what brings about death. Kosher slaughter omits the stunning step and starts off with the cutting of the throat. Sorry for the grisly details, but you asked.

  60. @Bea Elliot: Animal products may not be nutritionally necessary, but it certainly makes it a LOT easier to get complete nutrition. See http://www.beyondveg.com/ for detailed discussions on this point and anthropological evidence for the evolutionary human diet.

    I actually agree with your point about farming soy/corn/wheat for feeding animals. Animals like cattle are very inefficient converting these to edible calories (birds, on the other hand, convert grains very efficiently). So farming these to fatten up cows etc. does seem a waste.

    However, humans are similarly inefficient at dealing with these foods, none of which would have been significant food sources in the setting of human evolution (corn is a mutant strain of the grass teosinte which requires cultivation; wheat and soybeans are toxic in their raw state). Greens were readily available, but have very low caloric density. It would take something like 6 kg (!) of raw collards to get to 2000 kcal. Fruit is much higher, but only available seasonally (and probably scarce during ice ages). Wild tubers are in the middle, but likely have some seasonality and require significant effort to obtain (think digging up 2 kg/person of wild yams with bare hands or a stick).

    So let’s take corn/soy/wheat out of the sustainability question. Current farming practices for these foods are definitely non-sustainable. They also require significant industrial processing to feed the population at large, also probably non-sustainable. And there’s increasing science supporting the idea that these foods lay at the root of “diseases of civilization”. Optimal human health presumably requires foods we evolved to eat, probably in more or less whole form. This implies some subset of meat, fruit, root veggies, and greens. What is the sustainable strategy to supply these foods to the population?

    I don’t have the answer, but I suspect it will be to leverage nature’s efficiencies rather than fighting against them. A reader in a previous post noted that the American grasslands once sustained 100 million bison. This system was self-sustaining, with no human intervention. Any human intervention should be in terms of amplifying the efficiency of existing natural cycles, a la Joel Salatin, to supply more food per acre.

  61. Bea Elliot’s view is not uncommon, but I do think it’s a romantic view with blinders on both sides, not at all based in reality. I’m always amazed at how little “animal protectors” know about animals.

    “Chickens live fine on their own”. Um, no, they don’t, not without human protection. At night chciekns are pretty defenseless unless they are locked up in a well-planned and fortified coop or protective housing. Fences in many locations need significant underground wires fencing buried to deter digging animals. Roosting in low trees isn’t enough defense in So California, either, where “backyard” chickens are regularly on the menu for coyotes that roam freely around rural and suburban neighbors at dusk and dawn. I buy our family’s eggs from local “rural-suburban” families who keep small flocks of “backyard” chickens. They regularly lose chickens to predators, sometimes even entire flocks. Chickens need *significant* protection from coyotes, birds of prey, raccoons, etc. Raccoons will dismember and consume birds alive, right through a wire cage or fence – I know several people who have lost pet birds and chickens this way. Eaten alive is not a pleasant way to go.

    “I know for certain, that animals who were freed from the misery of being held captive as commodities would be cared for on sanctuaries, non-profit orgs. and individuals who had such compassion to do such. ”

    And I’ll bet many of those “sanctuaries” would look a lot like factory-farms in the end, because even without artificial insemination, that’s a lot of animals animals living a looooong time. With even higher numbers, I doubt the money would be there to do it right. It’s a pie-in-the-sky dream to think about all those agricultural animals “protected” in private sanctuaries, a dream that could quickly become a “nightmare” for disillusioned protectors. Currently, sanctuaries for injured or tame wild animals (that can’t be released back into the wild) have a difficult enough time; I shudder to think of how sanctuaries would manage, since the current sanctuaries are already scrambling for funds. If PETA is involved, you can bet they’ll be “putting down” a lot of animals, as they already do to significant numbers of animals they “rescue”.

    For the record, I am NOT in favor of “factory farm” models of agricultural livestock, and make efforts to avoid such products. I make great effort to source my animal-based foods direct from ranchers and producers who do not mistreat or raise animals in concentrated, stressful conditions. I also seek out “pastured” animals who are NOT fed soy and grain, which neutralizes the argument that so much grain acreage is needed to feed livestock (those bison I eat consume grass, which I cannot eat. Well-maintained, rotated pasture with reasonable numbers of animals grazing (not over-grazing) is not an environmental hazard, in fact when managed properly, enhances as it maintains a biodynamic cycle of renewal for the soil and ecosystem (that is very important!). Tilled soil for crops is by far worse for the environment than properly grazed grasslands. *Solar radiation creates grass eaten by bison and other large ruminants, which turns into high quality protein. A near perfect system (the imperfect part is my bison source is several states away so the meat needs to be transported).

  62. We live at the end of a long dirt road, and every summer, I must kill at least 10-12 ground squirrels with my car. I don’t try to kill them; most of them run right under my car at the last minute, trying to get back to the other side of the road where they have a den.

    I’ve steeled myself not to swerve because of the high shoulders on either side of the road (don’t want to kill myself) but every time it happens, I hate it. It makes me cry.

    In thinking about this, I realized that my angst is rooted in the feeling that somehow, I’m responsible for each little death.

    I think the luxury of that thought comes from living outside of the blood and gore of the natural food chain. If I lived in a time where I had to kill to eat, I would hope that I felt a reverence for the gift of the food being provided by any animal I killed, but I don’t think I would feel “responsible”. It would be a necessary task, just like buying meat from a local rancher. If you want to eat, you have to pay the price.

    I think the angst that most feel about this subject has more to do with the suffering part. Death, once it comes, relieves the suffering. It’s the same with people in the hospital, dying from cancer or heart congestion or some other health issue. Death is relief for that individual.

    The problem, I believe, is that some have come to the conclusion that they are outside of and “above” Nature’s food chain. The reality is that we are not. My killing of a ground squirrel provides easy food for a coyote or a hawk, and the cycle goes on.

  63. @Mike G: “In the real world, Eades, species choose freedom and a natural life.”

    In the real world, species “choose” whatever path most effectively propagates their genes. For cattle, this is domestication. The short life-span matters little from a genetic standpoint. You’re anthropomorphizing anyway. “Freedom” is a human concept. I heartily doubt any cow would run away from a farm for long, trading readily available food and protection from predators for “freedom”. For that matter, I doubt many humans would take this course. I assume you are prepared to live off the land in order to shrug off the shackles imposed by society. Be sure to let us know how that works out for you. You can scratch your message on tree bark and float it down a stream. I’m sure somebody will find it and post it online for you.

  64. @PaulB: Good quote. We don’t realize how precarious our situation is. No power for a week, oil, food, etc… we’ve built such a vast interconnected web to support our basic needs.

    And since we are talking about the inanity of veganism, I have to share a story.

    Recently I worked in a touristy shop and we sold fudge. A couple of rather unhealthy looking vegans came in and asked to look at the ingredients. Fair enough. But then want wanted to know if I knew if the mono and di-glycerides were derived from plant or animal origin. REALLY!?! From a humane standpoint, which I’m sure was their primary focus, as mentioned by a previous poster, all those grains they are eating have an animal toll as well. From a nutritional standpoint, as I’m sure they also believe it’s healthier, they’re asking about the origin of chemicals in our highly processed and sugar-laden FUDGE. .

    I grew up in my family on the typical fat-avoiding diet early in life, then did vegetarianism in college because I was under the delusion that it was healthier (low-fat mentality easily leads to this), and now I’m a complete convert because of the reality of our biological history.

    Idealism is fine, but it has to spring from reality.

  65. Have you read Tim Ferriss’s latest post on nutrition? I think this post goes hand in hand—perfect timing… Although, there are lots of angry vegans over there. Nothing against them, but when they start saying things like meat isn’t the healthful choice, it boggles my mind how they can think that somehow we “evolved” to consume only vege’s and high carb foods we never ate while evolving. As if somehow we are much different from the humans we were 100k years ago…

  66. Dr. Eades:

    Thank you for this insightful post. It brings to mind three thoughts that I often have about the life and death of other animals, and human interactions with them.

    First, nature works just fine all by itself. It has since forever. We’re unaware of its daily cruelty until we see or hear about it. Yet, somehow we’re the cruel ones when we do anything that is even half as violent or objectionable as what happens repeatedly in nature every day.

    Second, humans are an animal that is part of nature, no matter how much we try to separate ourselves from the natural world. Whether we live in a hut, a cave or a brick ranch style home, we are just as natural as any other creature on the earth. Our interactions with other animals, wild and domestic are just part of our human animal behavior.

    Third, we sometimes get repulsed by the idea that what was once a fluffy, furry and beautiful animal, is now wrapped in “food service film” and sitting there on the styrofoam tray in the refrigerators at the grocery store. It’s all part of our proclivity as humans to accept as real some of the unrealistic aspects of our lives, and then reorient our thinking, reasoning and behavior to be equally unrealistic. A woman I know can’t eat anything with legs on it, but she can prepare and eat chicken legs from the “family pack” because they don’t look like legs.

    If we start to grow and raise our own food, we’ll have a healthier diet, and we’ll gain a more realistic appreciation for our role as part of nature. And, we’ll see that our “knife and fork” hunter/gatherer role isn’t nearly as objectionable as some of the behavior of the “tooth and nail” gang that we share the earth with.

    Clair

  67. Mike, the commenter about drinking milk, there is a company called Carb Countdown. They sell their milk products all over big supermarkets, such as Pathmark and Shoprite. They sell 3 varieties of milk. One is regular fat milk, second low fat and third is chocolate milk. All of them have under 5 carbs per glass and one only has 3 grams. They all taste very good. The fat version taste better in my opinion. I love it. I was raised on milk and cottage cheese.

    Bee Eliot, out of all foods on earth only Meat has complete protein profile in it, that is all 12 essential amino acids! So given the fact that we humans do need essential amino acids and all 12, meat is a perfect food from that point of view weather you like it or not! I too hate to see any animal suffer, but that doesnt mean that corn is superior to meat nutritionally. And if you show me one fat man in a hunting and gathering society even living today, I will go on a world crusade to save all domesticated animals from humans. But I will show and find you tons of Fat and unhealthy vegetarians who are not healthy living in a world without meat. And many vegetqarians are idiots. I at least respect vegetarians who do some research before embarking on this jouney. They combine rice with beans or this or that., Because rice has one form of amino acid and beans another, so combining them makes it a more complete food. But some vegs have no idea about it.

  68. Just a very quick response to Mike G. yes, the animals in the wild are especially vulnurable when old and sick, but just as many or more are killed young……turtles lay hundreds of eggs so a few can survive, as a very obvious example. I consider myself an animal lover, but I am also a meat lover…I wish PETA would put it’s energies into regulating human treatment to stock animals, instead of the fight to make meat eaters look evil! Also, I think my dog would love to live free too…at least she runs any chance she gets…yet, she was rescued from a pound just days before she would have been put down..I’d like to run away from many of my restrictions too, come to think of it :)

  69. I think the PETA folks have watched far too many Disney films. Anthropormorphizing animals (or insects for that matter) causes irrational emotional responses that lead to irrational policies and decisions. Of course we should treat animals as best we can, not with abuse or torture, but to claim that a quick death is the ultimate cruelty is just silly. This notion that animals just “peacefully” roam about and are having a great time out in the wild, like they’re strolling along thinking what a great day it is, is absurd. And animals are not the benign beings we have been led to believe that they are (esp. in the wake of the latest chimpanzee attack). My sister and I and our children once went for a stroll down a country road on a lovely spring day. It was picturesque. The grass was green, the birds were chirping, and there on a hill was a goat, peacefully grazing next to a red barn and a charming white fence. Awwww. As we approached, the goat sped toward us, attached to a chain and a large tire rim. Apparently it had been staked to the ground, but the goat had pulled it loose. The goat was about 6 feet from us when he came to a screeching halt, causing the wheel at the end of the chain to swing out at us about knee height, nearly taking out our kneecaps. And it was no accident. He did it again and again, causing us to scatter and run, but he pinned us to the side of the road with his antics (turning and shooting goat poop at us) and weaponry. My sister was screaming toward the house, “You’re goat is loose!!” but no one came to our rescue. We were reduced to flagging down passing cars and pleading with them to drive slowly and shield us until we could get far up the road. The goat didn’t give up for nearly a quarter of a mile. I guess he just got tired. Our children never wanted to go to a petting zoo after that!

  70. Are you trying to defend meat-eating from vegans? You can’t. The ecosystem, for them, is something to be put on display or on DVD so that they can be spared the pain and responsibility of being a part of it. There is room in the vegan food chain for plants and humans, period. Everything else must be assigned to sanctuaries and preserves.

  71. Very well put and a nice addition to the more commonly written about reasons for why we should eat meat. Thanks for a new angle I can use with my clients!

  72. Years ago (25+ possibly) I clipped out a newspaper article with a fascinating title: “Happy Pigs Make Better Porkchops.” The title and article took on something of an existential meaning for me, along the lines that society sedates us (through various mechanisms which might also include soporific inducing foods or cerebrally gelatinizing television) so that we are quite oblivious to the fact that we are marching or be driven happily to our own deaths, whether that be physically, mentally, or spiritually. If sugar is the culprit, then what is the role of “sugar” or “high fructose corn syrup” in our society except to turn people into happy fat sedated pigs, unwittingly being marched to slaughter for ease of economic profit.

    I think long ago as well I read an article possibly in Scientific American that dogs and man co-domesticated each other.

    And lastly, in Yellowstone a group of us watched a coyote attempt to close in on a buffalo calf that had become separated from the adults. Of course everyone (a mile of cars and people) rooted for the calf, who was indeed rescued by two adult buffalo who swam back across a stream to intervene (I don’t know if the calf had failed to cross with them or been left behind while they foraged across stream), but the wildlife biologist leading our group indicated his young daughter might have said something like, “Oh, the poor coyote was hungry and just looking for a meal and didn’t get one,” because he had taught her about the naturalness of predator-prey relationships.

  73. Everyone writing comments here is domesticated and living in captivity. None of us, even the vegans, longs to be cast into the wilderness — or even green pastures — without clothes, tools, or shelter so that we may live out our natural lives. Yes, cows like warm barns and hay in the manger.

  74. I have read Temple Grandin’s book, Animals in Translation and do understand what you are writing about in this article. I know the purpose is to show the animals are not being mistreated on the way to slaughter or during the slaughter process.

    I still have concerns about the way feedlot – industrial animals are mistreated when force fed corn and other food stuffs that they are not meant to eat? I think this is very much abuse, I know I’m off topic and yes I did get your point of the article. I stopped eating meat for 12 years, NOT because I‘m a big animal lover (though I am) and couldn’t eat anything with a heart or eyes. I didn’t eat meat because it tasted so bad to me. I gave up when I started gagging on beef.

    Last year I started learning about low carb. The first thing I learned was how meat is good for us and tastes good – IF it’s 100% grass-fed, especially beef. Feedlot industrial meat is not healthy for us or the animals. I wish we could only raise grass-fed. That would be perfect to blend Temple Grandin’s work with the work of Jo Robinson.

    Have you done any articles about the health benefits of grass-fed meat?

    I’ve mentioned it many times, but I don’t know if I’ve done an actual post devoted to grass-fed beef or not. Enter the term into the search function and check.

  75. I believe this line from Twain’s “Letters From The Earth” applies quite well to vegans: ‘He (or she) can seldom take a plain fact and get any but a wrong meaning out of it. He cannot help this; it is the way the confusion he calls his mind is constructed’.

  76. Anna made some very valid points. After reading her comment, the only thing I would add is that properly-rotated cattle or bison eating grass actually *add* an inch of topsoil to the earth each year. (This is because grass grows down as well as up. When a cow eats off the top shoot, the plant sheds an equal amount of roots.) Compare that to large monocultures of grain, where nearly 6 inches of topsoil a year is eroded. So, it’s actually possible to have a system that not only produces meat humanely, but does so in a way that *adds* to the environment rather than detracting from it.

    Excellent point!

  77. Hi Dr E,
    Exhausted after having people over who stayed for hours. Excellent post. I thought I’d add a Buddhist perspective because, like nutrition, the common received wisdom about Buddhism is generally wrong.
    Just three points:
    1) As stated in comments above, lots of insects and other small animals die when harvesting plant crops. That’s why the Buddha instituted the Monsoon Retreat for monks and nuns, so that they would be confined and not go out in the fields and accidentally cause a large number of animals to die by treading on them.
    2) Are Buddhist monks and nuns vegetarian or non-vegetarian? The Dalai Lama says “neither”. That is because monks and nuns in traditional Buddhist societies rely upon the generosity of others. If someone serves them meat, they are obliged to eat it, for not to would be an insult or form of criticism of the benefactor.
    3) When I asked one Tibetan monk why in Tibet, a very Buddhist society, they ate so much meat, he gave the reply, “If we didn’t, we would have died! Vegetables just didn’t grow there.”
    So, extrapolating, PETA is really obnoxious for a number of reasons, not the least of which being their lack of respect for meat eaters and general lack of tolerance for anything else other than themselves.
    Am too tired to pursue this argument any further and must hie me away to bed.
    Just another perspective,
    Michael Richards

    Thanks for the ‘other’ perspective. I had no idea Tibetan monks were meat eaters.

  78. “add is that properly-rotated cattle or bison eating grass actually *add* an inch of topsoil to the earth each year.”

    Food Renegade:
    I am not sure if it is as much as an inch each year, but still it is an addition rather than a subtraction.

    And do note that the final residue of the decomposition of those shed roots is *humus*, made up largely of *carbon*. So another benefit of more sustainable grass farming is that it “sequesters” large amounts of carbon in the soil rather than releases it to the atmosphere.(Excessive soil tillage, typical of so much contemporary agriculture, exposes humus to oxygen, which bonds to its carbon content. The resulting carbon dioxide not only contributes to greenhouse gases, but robs the soil of fertility and decreases its quality.)

  79. Here’s a thought: PETA needs to put their money where their mouth is. All PETAns should be sent on a Survivorman-like quest. Four weeks living off the land, vegan style, showing us all the natural superiority of veganism. It should be easy, right? Lots of vegetation available in any forest or jungle you care to name. They could turn it in to a reality show, make some cash to set up one of those chicken sanctuaries.

    Brilliant idea! Any TV producers out there among the readers? It would make a great show: See if PETA ideology holds up to the reality of survival in the wild.

  80. As an old country boy I can only echo most of this thread. From an early age I knew the cute lickle lambsies were the source of the sunday dinner.

    Later I went through my Gerald Durrell (My Family And Other Animals) period: you have absolutely no idea how much murder is perpetrated in a pond!

    Some other data points: watch a stop motion film of plants and you will believe they are actually only very slow animals.

    It may be sad on an intellectual basis that something has to die for something else to live, but that’s the plan. Even eating nuts and seeds = abortion.

    Last but not least I reserve my fury for the eejits who think releasing mink from farms into the wild is a good idea. The amount of slaughter they perpetrate, and often here on rare species, might make them think twice if they ever thought at all.

  81. Dirt, the erosion of civilisation (author just got the MacAuther grant) would not support your 1 inch of new soil a year, and loss of 6 inches a year. Perhaps in special circumstances and for a short period.

  82. The two Michaels, Eades and Richards, are so interesting. Last year, I attended a dinner prepared by a Tibetan monk. When I commented to him that the Dalai Lama is not a vegetarian, he practically hissed at me. I was simply repeating a New Yorker story about his visit to New York several years ago. There was a great deal of scrambling by the monks there for the honor of preparing the meals for His Holiness. When the DL ordered a steak from room service, there was great disappointment. He had tried being vegetarian (eating a mostly dairy diet) and became ill from it so his doctor insisted that he eat meat.

    Bea Elliott says that the comments of the 73-year-old ex-vegetarian seem contrived. I’m the old carnivore she’s speaking about and she’s as confused about my stance as she is about optimal nutrition.

  83. Thanks for sharing that you have a technical back ground. I have found that for me, the most helpful writers have some engineering training. I find that they fit how my brain works. I suspect that this is a hard wired trait.

    Probably so.

  84. Related to the subject of soil, I highly recommend Amy Stewart’s The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of the Earthworm, a great book that often comes to mind now. Great vacation travel book; packable, lightweight, fascinating and lots of info about worms you never knew or thought about before. Used copies are dirt cheap (ha-ha!) on Amazon, but be sure to go through the proteinpower.com Amazon portal…. :-)

    Thanks for the reminder, Anna. I appreciate it.

  85. Thanks for the clarification about stunning, and the process.
    That makes a lot of sense.
    Still seems like a better death than being eaten alive.

    I would imagine most anyway would be better than being eaten alive.

  86. Bad grammar early in the morning! Sorry.
    Michael Richards

    No problem. I am did engineering myself, too. I took it to mean that I am an engineer and did it in the past, too. Sort of an all purpose sentence. :-)

  87. Excellent post as always. As someone who spent 7 years as a kid growing up in rural Virginia (Tobacco field on one side, beef cattle pasture on the other) my experiences are similiar.

    PETA thing I remember all too well as we had neighbors in Virginia that were ex-hippies and vegan (lethal combo if there ever was one). They did have a friendly tame neutered bull I recall playing with as a kid. I also recall my dad always joking with my mom about how wonderful he’d probably taste since he was so well fed and spoiled 😉

    in an unrelated, but very funny note. Have you seen the blog “this is why you’re fat”?

    http://thisiswhyyourefat.com/

    It’s pretty much exactly what it says it is. A delightful blog of the horrid things that pass for food in this country. Though truth be told, from time to time they have some lo-carbs treats in there. Mmm hot dogs wrapped in hamburger, wrapped again in bacon :d~~

    I figure you might get a kick out of some of these monstrosities.

    Thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen the site. A good source if I ever want to ‘borrow’ an image of gross food for a slide or post.

  88. I am not a vegetarian by any means. I am, however, familiar with their ways of thinking.

    I noticed a few logical issues with the basic arguments presented here.

    The idea that killing animals humanely is better than them being slaughtered gruesomely in nature is a false dichotomy. Millions of animals are specifically raised for slaughter each year – animals that, as the post admits, would not even have been born had it not been for the demand for their flesh. I think most thinking vegetarians choose not to eat animal products in order to reduce the total amount of suffering, not to fulfill some childish, romantic notion they have about nature. The millions of cattle bred each year would not have been slaughtered in ANY manner were there no demand for meat (they would not have been born). So, it’s not a matter of us doing it vs nature. I also think most animals, given a preference, would choose to not be born rather than being raised in a factory and sent to slaughter at a young age.

    Second, lions must eat meat to survive. They have little choice, or even a decision making process that allows them to evaluate why they do what they do. Humans differ greatly in the respect. We don’t need to eat meat to survive (optimal health aside). We can see the repercussions of our actions and behave logically rather than based on pure instinct alone. The basic vegetarian premise is that animals suffer when we use them for food and their suffering is unnecessary for human survival.

    Last, when a group of lions slaughter an animal, they leave very little behind. What is left, other scavengers make use of. Nature is pretty clean about leaving little waste behind in that respect. Modern factory farming techniques, on the other hand, produce great deals of waste. For example, much of the water supply in NC is polluted due to the number of hog farms there.

  89. vadim,

    You wrote: “out of all foods on earth only Meat has complete protein profile in it, that is all 12 essential amino acids”

    That’s not true. First, humans only require 9 amino acids to come from food to form “complete” protein. Second, there are many non-meat sources of “complete” protein. One completely vegetarian source is quinoa. Then there are dairy products and eggs.

    Last, meat products are often considered lacking in nutrients as well. Magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, fiber. That doesn’t mean that the only food you should eat is meat. It just means that humans are omnivores and get nutrition from a variety of sources.

    Meat is loaded with zinc. It’s one of the best sources.

  90. Dr Mike,

    I think you’re familiar with the book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. In that book he bought a calf on the market and followed it from growth to slaughter. He observed what you did. They led his calf to slaughter and it was calm.

    Pollan correctly (in my mind) credited philosopher Daniel Dennett about the meaning of ‘suffering’. This is where people make the mistake of trying to fit the morals and ethics we have evolved as humans to other species (anthropomorphizing). Dennett makes the point that ‘suffering’ is only possible in a mind like we humans have that can think about the future. In a mind that can only think in the here and now, suffering does not exist, suffering is a mental state unique to humans due to our ability to reason.

    I am familiar with Michael Pollen’s book, and I do agree with Dennett’s ideas on suffering.

  91. i dunno about this non-suffering stuff. If I step on my dog’s tail, or actually, on my dog (she’s a pug, it’d be hard to step on just her tail!), it’s pretty clear she not very happy about it.

  92. More thoughts on a TV show: make it a “Survivor” type competition. Have two teams, Gatherers (the PETAns) vs. Hunters. Each should be furnished with some reasonable tools and training for food collection and general survival. Conduct contests of physical and mental prowess, etc.

    Actually, it would even be interesting (and probably a lot cheaper) to do the contest aspect without “Survivor” bit. Just lock up the two teams and control their food, only plant products for one and animal products for the other.

    Tom Naughton, are you reading this? :-)

  93. @Dave —

    I am reading, and I like it.

    We watch Survivorman and Man vs. Wild with our little girls. The upside is that we enjoy the shows as much as they do. The downside is that my girls now have opinions about which bugs taste best, and those opinions are based on first-hand experience.

    My wife and I both prefer Man vs. Wild for a few reasons, one of which is their attitude towards hunting. Every single time Survivorman ends up trapping an animal for food, he turns toward the camera and assures us that he really doesn’t like killing anything, but it’s a survival situation, blah-blah-blah.

    Bear Grylls (the man in Man vs. Wild, also former special forces) will just dispatch an animal with a quick knife thrust and eat it raw if need be. No apologies.

  94. ” industrial animals are mistreated when force fed corn and other food stuffs that they are not meant to eat?”
    Have you ever heard of “FORCING” a child to eat ice cream or candy?? Not likely to happen in ordinary conditions. So let me assure you that cows LIKE to eat corn! It is like candy to them. Ditto for pigs and chickens. I suspect that sheep also like corn but I always would put oats in my pocket to get a pet ewe to come to me out in the pasture. One summer I was down at my grandmothers long enough that I had three ewes, all probably hand feed as lambs, that would come eat oats out of my hand. And like kids and ice cream, cake or pie, farmers have to be careful with grains or the animals would easily over eat and get sick or die.

    Many feed lots will feed silage, chopped corn (the whole plant above the ground) put in a sealed storage container (upright, called silos, but often in a “trench” or concrete bunker) to ferment. To that, shelled corn and hay are added. Silage smells so good that you almost could try eating it yourself. :) If you put out corn/silage and fresh hay at the same time, the silage will get eaten FIRST! Not “forcing” necessary.

  95. PETA denies the fact that we too are carnivores. We hunted our food for millions of years. We then adopted animal husbandry so to continue our meat eating ways. They act as though we have just become murderous savages that have all of a sudden developed this crazy taste for animal flesh. Eating meat has been a part of our culture for millions of years. These people are historical revisionists at best, and lost in their own religious dogma at worst. If you ever watch nature shows you will see how gentle and kind lions can be to their cubs. Same thing with a domestic cat. They can be extremely sweet. These animals are not savages to attack and kill their prey, and, neither are we.

    We have devised ways to humanely treat those animals that we have domesticated under animal husbandry, because there is no point in mistreating an animal. Hunters, whether they be the big cats or a human with a spear or a gun, don’t mistreat the animals they kill. They only come into contact with them at the moment of the necessary killing they engage in. And, despite what PETA says, it is necessary for humans to continue to hunt animals, to keep their populations under control. In many places the natural predators of animals like deer are not present in sufficient quantities to keep their populations under control. Wildlife management regulates hunting for this very reason. They are managing the populations of these animals. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, that is the humane thing to do. We as modern carnivores have a responsibility to animals and to nature in general, but, that does not mean we should throw the entire food chain in the gutter. Nature designed the food chain. We are animals that are a part of it, not above it nor below it, just part of it.

  96. @Tom – curious to know which bugs are the tastiest. Could come in handy if my steaks and bacon ever get “institutionalized” by loving PETAns. 😉

  97. Let’s Cheap Shot the PETA people one more go. This, a thought based on reading “A Problem From Hell” recently:
    Consider:
    Cambodia: 1975-78 (850K – 2Mil dead)
    Iran-Iraq border: 1980-1988 (500K dead)
    Iraqi Kurdistan: 1988 (50-100K dead)
    Bosnia: 1990-1995 (can’t find a good number, but pretty large + 20-45K rapes)
    Rwanda: 1994 (500K – 1Mil+)
    Kosovo: 1998 (10K dead, up to 500K missing and presumed so by the US government)

    While I am sure the numbers of beef cows, pork hogs and meat chickens far exceed these genocide numbers, one must surely assume that we should care for our own species before we worry about another and that while there have been a series of ongoing slaughters of humans around the globe (from 1975, you have no more than 2 years to 1998 where a slaughter was not ongoing, plus Darfur from 2003-2006, and god knows what else in Africa, North Korea, Burma/Myanmar and more), how can we wage a media and covert terrorist war against meat eating and animal product use, while our fellow men and women are being massacred for being born in the wrong village, worshipping the wrong way, or wanting basic freedoms rather than kneeling under the boot of strongmen?

    I seriously wonder about these people. When we end man on man genocide, then we can move down the hierarchy of needs.

  98. Maxx claims “The millions of cattle bred each year would not have been slaughtered in ANY manner were there no demand for meat (they would not have been born). ”

    This is incorrect. Even feedlot cattle are raised primarily on natural pasture, except in the last few weeks. Now, Nature abhors a vacuum – if cattle weren’t eating that grass, other animals would fill that ecological niche (unless you destroy the natural habitat by turning it into a soy or grain factory), probably another large ruminant such as bison or caribou. And how would they die? If humans didn’t eat them they would die as shown in Dr. Eades’ excellent post, eaten alive by predators or, if they’re really unlucky, starving to death in the winter.

    So you see, carnivorous humans eating humanely produced (non-CAFO) meat actually cause less suffering and ecosystem degradation than vegans, and the higher percent of meat in the diet, the more suffering they prevent (and the less “personal” greenhouse gasses they produce too…)

    Now, how about that nonsense about how animals would, if given the choice rather not exist at all if they knew they’d be killed for food? That’s like saying NO animals would choose life, because that is also the fate of most wild animals and has been for billions of years. I think people who make that claim are just projecting their own weakness and self-destructive tendencies.

  99. Replying to ML Davis regarding genocide and violence in man, it may be much less now than it was in paleolithic times.

    Below is an excellent video on TED of Stephen Pinker talking about the myth of violence increasing, and that violence is markedly down since hunter-gatherer times.

    Stephen Pinker is one of my favorite authors, especially “How the Mind Works”. He was a professor at MIT and now at Harvard. He’s a proponent of evolutionary psychology which I find enlightening.

    Here’s the TED video, very eye opening.

    http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/steven_pinker_on_the_myth_of_violence.html

  100. @Dave

    My five-year-old assures me that ants are spicy in a pleasant sort of way. Fortunately she’s old enough to understand concepts like black widows and venom, and she has promised she will never, ever try to eat a spider.

  101. When people find out I’m a vegetarian, my reply is always, “Yes, but I don’t lecture.”

    I’ve had great success on this Protein Power diet. I eat a lot of eggs, cheese, and whey powder. I’ve given up pasta, bread, and rice just like everyone else here. We are not so different. I keep recommending the book to my friends and family who ask me how I’m losing weight. They all eat meat so I tell them it will be easier for them.

    I’m glad you’ve done so well. Keep it up.

  102. My daughter (who is 24) has said that apart from their lies, the thing that bothers her most about PETA is that so many of their ads involve naked women. It’s bad to eat meat, but it’s okay to objectify women in order to hammer home their message.

    I guess it’s different strokes for different folks. The only thing I find bearable about PETA is their use of naked women. :-)

  103. re: Steve and ML Davis on violence in hunter/gatherer societies, they were often fat-deprived and hunted other humans for the fat and bone marrow. Lots of evidence of cannibalism the world over.

  104. Mr. Author,

    You don’t like tofu? I recommend you to reconsider. You don’t need to be a vegetarian to like tofu (like me). Tofu is best fried – I can see why you wouldn’t like it if you’ve only had it as a naked ingredient in other dishes.

    Take the tofu, cut it into appropriate sized blocks, and dredge in flour and then water alternately a few times (I do this to ensure a thick, all-around skin so none of the tofu itself touches the oil and burns). The flour should preferably have some salt mixed in.
    Then heat up a pot of peanut oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit – I do recommend peanut oil specifically both for its stability and the taste it produces when used in frying. Fry until it’s lite golden brown. Then eat with some soy sauce and that Asian chili sauce (the one that is slightly chunky and you can see the pepper seeds in it – sometimes labeled as sambal oelek). A good asian peanut sauce is also good with it.

    You might also want to try breading it with a tempura batter, made from panko breadcrumbs.

    It’s not particularly flavorful, but the crisp fried skin with the jelly-like inside is a wonderful texture together. You do NOT need to be a vegetarian to enjoy fried tofu – I wouldn’t be suprised if we meat-eaters appreciate it more than vegetarians.

    I don’t like tofu for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t particularly enjoy the taste or the consistency of it. Second, contrary to what you may have read or heard, soy isn’t all that healthful. So why should I force myself to eat something I don’t like if it’s bad for me?

  105. I just heard a strange and repeated bird call and there on the patio was a sparrowhawk standing on top of a starling. Now normally hawks are fast and efficient killers, they have a notch in the beak to engage and snap the spinal cord so their prey dies quickly and they can fly off with it. Unfortunately this guy had the starling upside down in his talons and couldn’t reach around to despatch it without getting stabbed in the belly by the starling’s pointy beak. He couldn’t let go without losing it. Total impasse. I shot off some photos through the window and the hawk looked at me kinda like a Wise Guy who’d been arrested “What’chya gonna do eh?” I thought I’d open the door and either get some better shots or break the impasse, and eventually the hawk flew off still carrying the irate starling so I don’t know how it ended. Now I know where my tame blackbird went. Sad? Well there are hundreds of starling in the village, and thousands in winter, many dozens of blackbirds but only one (or at most two) pairs of hawks. The hawks probably eat a couple of birds a day. The birds probably eat a few hundred insects a day each. Yet the populations don’t change much. The Wheel Of Life turns.

  106. Thanks for an excellent discussion. A side issue of this whole PETA/veganism issue is this:

    I listened to a speaker at our Mensa group some years ago who opposed not just using animals for food or clothing, but also for medical research. I asked her if she were to be diagnosed with type one diabetes, would she use insulin, which was developed through animal experiments and which at the time was produced from animal sources only. She said no. I asked if she were prepared to die as a result of that decision, because of course that is what would happen to her. She said she was prepared to die.

    What bothers me most is that this woman, and people like her, are prepared not just to sacrifice their own lives, but the life of many others, including my young son, who at the time was eight years old and had been a type one diabetic for three years.

    This isn’t a moral choice. It’s an immoral choice.

    I wouldn’t be so sure the women you wrote of would have been so willing do die had the situation actually been staring her in the face instead of being hypothetical. I’ve seen many people do about faces when the Grim Reaper was tapping them on the shoulder. I doubt she would have been so willing to sacrifice her life had it really been on the line.

  107. Someone asked about dairy way back up there. There’s a real simple way to get around the lactose problem: try fermented milk. The Weston A. Price Foundation folks claim that that’s how most, if not all, traditional dairy-consuming groups take their milk, and I find it very easy to believe, seeing as how refrigerators are a recent invention.

    I acquired some kefir grains locally and want to try piima at some point. And there’s always the time-honored yogurt. I really don’t buy the idea that plain yogurt has a lot of sugar in it, considering that the lactobacteria would have eaten up most, if not all, of the lactose and converted it to lactic acid. If you make it at home and let it ferment long enough there’s virtually none, at least according to the Specific Carbohydrate folks. (Also low-carb, with a focus on healing GI ills.)

    I also see dairy as a way to make up for the loss of fat intake accompanying the extinction of most of the large food animals we as a species used to hunt. Properly grass-fed ruminant animals are not very fatty, at least until they get a good bit older.

    As for the post itself, yep. You know what, though? I wouldn’t call the killing that goes on in nature, “cruel.” Cruelty, to me, is an act that goes beyond the pale of what is normally expected in any given situation. Wild herd animals expect to be hunted.

    There are bad things going on in slaughterhouses now, but I blame industrial animal husbandry, not meat-eating. Not only cattle but also human beings are being unnecessarily hurt. Mother Jones magazine ran an interesting article about the latter.

    And vegetarian chickens? Lord. Where do they come up with this stuff? Did everybody miss the Foghorn Leghorn cartoon where he’s trying to eat the caterpillar?

  108. 1.We do not need to kill animals to survive.or be healthy
    2.The stun gun does not always work..
    3.There are no lions in New Brunswick..I’m pretty sure..so the cows will most likely not die from a bite to the neck
    4. Eating meat causes cancer and heart disease..any body watch the news..?
    5. Vegans are not all “Gaunt”..the ones that are eat chips and potatoes..
    6. Animals kill animals out of necessity..they can’t grow their own food..

    A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.

    Leo Tolstoy

    “One of the first conditions of happiness is that the link between Man and Nature shall not be broken.”

    Leo Tolstoy

  109. Do ‘free range’ cattle get sent to these same slaughterhouses? Is there less stress in a free range cow than there would be in one raised in a stall (or however the big generic cattle farmers raise their cattle)?

    Thanks,
    Carol

    Most people who go to the trouble to raise free-range or grass-fed cattle take a little more care with them. I would assume most go to local, smaller slaughterhouses.

  110. I’m not going to address the ethics issue here because it’s much to large a topic, I’ll just simply respond to #1 and #4 which are basically related.

    1. & 4. You obviously aren’t an avid reader of this blog if you think that eating meat causes cancer and heart disease. In fact, showing the opposite is the whole POINT of this blog. Watching mass media is probably the worst way to get information about a healthy diet.

  111. @John:

    Morals are human choices, made from the comfort of warm living rooms near well-stocked refrigerators. The value of “morally-correct” choices is created in the mind of the person making the choice. If you are getting an emotional payoff from being a vegan and sparing lives of cows and chickens, more power to you. You will find, however, that most of the readers of this and similar blogs are concerned with more object value creation when making their decisions, e.g. how does what I know about human metabolism translate into choices about food which maximize my health?

    If you feel that the news is a good source of relevant information, perhaps you should read Dr. Eades’ recent post on (the lack of) critical thinking and functional literacy in Western society.

  112. I am a life long meat eater & have had the self doubt if it is the right thing to do. My wife & I started buying grain fed meat from the local butchers a number of years ago & I have recently been studying wildlife conservation, of which hunting is a large part.
    Unless the older animals are periodically weeded out they will use up more of the resources, thus causing the younger animals numbers to decline. Survival of the fittest…
    When the fall comes I will go out & harvest animals of my own, with respect for what they give to me & in turn I will give something back to the species
    S.

  113. If you think humans have evolved into a species that should be primarily vegetarian, check your teeth. If you still have canines and molars set up for tearing and chewing meat, your body is still omnivorous and set up for meat eating. If, however, you have developed large flat teeth like a horse, congratulations, you have evolved into a vegetarian.
    Dr. Mike-I love your blog. I am a scientist and have recently gone low carb, mostly because all the science I have seen presented makes so much sense that I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. I work in the animal health industry, which makes my moral and ethical dilemmas about animal rights more immediate, and I live in the Midwest (cattle country) where animal rights activists do NOT thrive. There are no easy answers, but I agree that I would prefer the stun gun to the lion!! In terms of how dissociated we as a society are from our food, I was reading a low carb recipe that called for a few Tablespoons of orange juice, and thought “but what would I do with the rest of the carton?” It took a few minutes for it to hit me that orange juice comes from oranges, not just from cartons at the grocery store. And I like to think that Midwesterners are MORE cognizant of where their food comes from. My only excuse is that, as a Midwesterner, we don’t see much in the way of citrus trees around here :)

    Don’t worry. I may have had the same first thought, and I have an orange tree in my backyard.

  114. I always shock the globa warmi… er.. the “climate change” folks who wail about polar bears going hungry. I love polar bears too, but when I suggest flying up sheep and dropping them off for the bears … somehow, the climate change people always get really offended and seem to think that it’s a bad idea.

    I also feed the mourning doves outside the window specifically to feed the hawks — and have actually had the pleasure of seeing our local redtail catch one for lunch once.

    Sadly, so many people are so completely removed from Nature, they have no idea about reality. It IS red in tooth and claw — and we are a superior species in trying to ease the deaths of the animals in our care.

  115. So many things in this post, where to start? Sorry my comments are so long.
    Background, I teach Ecology and Comparative Anatomy and Physiology to Wildlife Management students.
    1. Many animals have huge mortality rates while young – look at how many babies are produced, given that only 2 and a bit need to grow up to replace their parents in the population. That is 2 over the life of the parents, not 2 each breeding season. I watch ducks and geese here – by fall most have only 1-3 babies surviving, the rest have gone to snapping turtles, pike, raccoons, etc. Migrating birds have heavy migratory mortality, but its still better than staying here for the winter – again they need to have enough babies to offset this loss. Fish lay dozens to millions of eggs – what happens to them? If this interests posters, then read any College/University level Ecology textbook’s sections on population ecology.
    2. Happy life in the wild? – apart from being eaten by predators, animals get all sorts of parasites – endoparasites like tapeworms, hookworms, liver and lung flukes, ectoparasites like fleas, lice and ticks. I saw a photo of a fawn once (at an Entomological conference) whose head was totally covered with ticks – it was dying from blood loss. Not to mention diseases. Predator/prey studies show that for larger carnivores most prey are dangerous, they can hurt and kill the predator. Most wolves have internal injuries, a healthy moose kick can break wolf ribs easily. So most successful hunts take the young, the old, the stupid and the sick. Read David L. Mech’s work on wolves for an example. We put a lot of effort into keeping our domestic animals healthy. And health inspectors are supposed to pull out any diseased carcasses that do make it to the slaughterhouse.
    Plus, if herbivores have no predators they will eat all the vegetation and end up starving in huge numbers while the plants recover – well documented in moose (Isle Royale) and snowshoe hares and lemmings – its easier to see in harsher environments.
    3. We are not carnivores, we are omnivores. If you look at dentition our teeth look like a raccoon’s. We, like raccoons, are really good at eating a huge variety of food. And eating whatever is available. Our teeth do not look like a cat’s (a true carnivore) or a cow’s (even cows get some meat, any insect on their grass gets eaten and digested). We do resemble canids and wolves, but they will also eat plant material. Our teeth are also similar to pig’s, who will also eat meat when available. Our teeth do not look like grinding teeth that can cope with hard plant material like grains. Our intestines are longer than true carnivore intestines, but a lot shorter than herbivore intestines, they look like those of animals who eat a lot of meat and some plant material. And no place to digest cellulose (no rumen or caecum). This is typical of most primates, not all, but those that eat a lot of plant material have guts that do not look like ours either. So the typical low-carb diet fits our digestive systems nicely.
    4. For my home province, 6% of Quebec (Canada) is arable land, 94% is not. Of that 6%, 3% can be farmed in terms of plowing, the other 3% has soil that is too shallow or rocky – good for pasture and hay. From this we have developed a large dairy industry, good use of poor land. Our topsoil went south during the last ice age.
    5. Most of my students are also into the alternate PETA – that is the People for the Eating of Tasty Animals.

    I’m on board with everything you write except for #3. But I’m going to address my views on that subject in a long post myself instead of in the comments section.