Week 4: ‘Counterstrike’

After writing on the topics of Health, Sustainability, and Ethics; Blair and Kevin have a chance to respond to some of the concerns that were bought up in the comments and criticisms of previous weeks. This means that there isn’t a specified topic but rather a series of interesting takes on unanswered questions, including speciesism, evolution, surviving vs. thriving, and vitamin B12. Keep an eye out for more questions that need asked and be sure to make some noise in the comments so that Blair and Kevin have content to address.

Rebuttal

Blair’s Response (Pro meat/Paleo/Primal)

Firstly an issue was raised with my assumption that the diet of modern hunter gatherers reflects the diet of early humans over the past 2 million years (on Facebook). This is a fair point to bring up, as we cannot know specifics about past diets (in evolutionary time), and we cannot know how well modern hunter gatherers reflect this. However given the state of time travel technologies at present, modern hunter gatherer populations will have to suffice as a reasonable approximation.

Another related issue wasthat wording “evolved to eat” sounded somewhat teleological (In a comment on the post). What I meant was the diet which produced a selective pressure and drove evolution (even that wordings not very good, but let’s not get bogged down on that). He suggest that we do experiments on modern humans to find what makes a healthy diet (reasonable), and that historical conditions are less important (depends what you call historical). He suggests that using evolution to suggest a diet is like using past fashion trends to choose what to wear. This is ridiculous as evolution has shaped our physiology in the ways that we use a process food, to disregard this would be to disregard important hypothesis generating processes.

A related suggestion is that if a sci-fi algae food pill was made then the diets of the past would be irrelevant. This is simply not true. The current mainstream suggested diet contains a lot of grains (and therefor a lot of carbs), if the algae pill is modelled after this several questions arise. Do we include the same level of anti-nutrients as found in grains? No that would be stupid. Should we include the same amount of fibre since they say it’s good for the heart? Is it really good for the heart? What’s the mechanism? Could that be an artefact of the data? (I would say defiantly). Should it include 300 grams of carbs per day as suggested currently? Research shows that’s probably too much, research independently done on modern hunter gatherers (a diet based on evolution?) and modern humans with physiologies shaped by evolution. My point is that evolution has shaped our physiology; this is what we must think about, not today’s cheap, grain heavy diet.

That took a lot of words; I’ll be brief from here on.

Kevin suggested that B12 needs could be met partially by unwashed vegetables, but it is often an unwise suggestion to eat unwashed vegetables due to chemical sprays (both conventional and organic) and possible contamination by unwanted bacteria. This levels many still requiring supplementations which is less than ideal. Wild animals don’t require supplements, why should we? – Primal/paleopropaganda.

In his second post Kevin showed that a grain based diet is more sustainable than a meat based diet even when the meat is pastured. There’s no contending that, it’s much more efficient to grow grains than meat, BUT a big question remains “Is more better?” Well more protein, carbs and fat from grains than meat, it sounds good. But the grain also has vastly more anti-nutrients than meat. A serving of grain will be produced on less land than a serving of meat – that does not mean that it’s better for you. The serving of grains contains too many crabs for most people, too many anti nutrients and not enough protein when compared to the meat. Sure you can survive on this grain diet, but you can thrive (be very health, useful and enjoy life) on meat.Also meat and dairy can be more sustainable on marginal lands see – http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071008130203.htm

Lastly I will bring up the again the issue of feeding the world. It is often touted that there is not enough land to feed the world with meat, particularly in the future due to increasing populations. While true, people are looking at this the wrong way around. There are too many people for the land to support on a healthy (meat containing) diet. If an environment does not contain enough food for the species it supports we do not say there is not enough land, we say there are too many animals. (I mean environments unaffected by humans, and areas where humans have reduced the normal range).

Kevin’s Repsonse (the Vegan/Vegetarian)

The issue of surviving and thriving came up in the first week. From a purely nutritional angle, M., M., and M. Show that vegetarians don’t consume much less protein, in order of omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan the values are 16%, 14%, and 12% of total diet, so really the difference isn’t that great. Amato and Partridge (1989) note that studies comparing the self reported health status of health vegetarians and other vegetarians show that their positive health claims are not simply placebo.

But from a social perspective we find that for many people being a vegetarian/vegan can become a form of thriving. For example Amato and Partridge (1989) note that some vegetarians find their lifestyle choice helps them grow and achieve their full potential, some people even became vegetarian as a as an exercise in discipline, using diet to help in other areas of their lives. Just to note, Husrthouse (1996) stated clearly that vegetarianism is not a virtue, this is grammatical though since vegetarianism is a practice and not a character trait. However Hursthouse does describe virtues that are associated with ethical vegetarianism (honesty, compassion, and temperance). From all of this we can understand that Vegetarianism/Veganism can help some people flourish and thrive.

In week three Blair showed us his animalistic side by reminding us that we are still animals and as such we can’t just transcend our nature. It is interesting that this was bought up, since there are many animals that are not carnivorous. I would suggest that whilst humans are able to digest meat, to abstain from it would not be to remove oneself from nature.

But even if it was more ‘natural’ for us to eat meat, we would have to confront how ‘unnatural’ animal agriculture has become. Think of the life which some animals lead, cramped in cages and extremely limited in their movement (some never feeling natural earth below their feet), or the use of hormones and antibiotics which facilitate such an existent. There is little left that is natural in many sectors of modern animal agriculture.

But even for areas of animal agriculture that are still natural, we have to remember that just because something is, doesn’t mean it ought to be. This distinction made by Hume (cites IEP, 2011) can help us understand that we are animals, and animals can be raised for food in a manner that is not cruel. But that no ‘ought’ statements can come from this.

Some people in the last post questioned the relevance of speciesism; stating that when you compare discrimination of species with racism and sexism you devalue the latter two. The claim that speciesism is different is a common retort, and in some ways I agree. Racism and Sexism are both examples where there is very little difference, if any, between the groups involved. Speciesism on the other hand involves groups of beings with a diverse range of features that make mediation a much larger project. But at the heart of all are the same values that would not allow us to discriminate based on morally arbitrary facts such as skin colour, sex, or species.

Singer (1999) argues that there are morally relevant differences between humans and other animals that can allow for differences in treatment, but species itself isn’t one of these differences. Furthermore the differences that we do count as relevant don’t allow us to treat animals with the malice that we see on the modern farm.

With regards to the specific point that we should be solving our own human problems before we focus on animals, Singer(1990) states that there is no incompatibility between helping people and animals and that the many people that do good to others can easily make the change to less cruel diets without taking their focus from human wellbeing.

From all of this, the main point I’d like to make is that Vegetarian/Vegan Diets aren’t at all incompatible with the values expressed in the criticisms or values that we all hold in general. As you may have observed in the previous posts both sides criticise the newer industrialised model of farming and monocultures, both sides agree that animals are a concern and that arbitrary discrimination is bad. It is not a huge difference of values, merely a difference in how they are acted upon.

References:

Amato, P.R., & Partridge, S.A. (1989). The New Vegetarians: promoting health and protecting life. New York: Plenum Press.

Hursthouse, R. (2006). Applying Virtue Ethics to our Treatment of the Other Animals. In J. Welchman (Ed.) The Practice of Virtue: Classic and Contemporary Readings of Virtue Ethics (pp.136-154). Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co.

Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. (2011). Evolutionary Ethics. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/evol-eth/#SH1d.

Messina, V., Mangels, R., and Messina, M. (2004). The Dietician’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications (2nd ed.). Jones and Bartlett Publishers: Boston.

Singer, P. (1990). Animal Liberation. New York: New York Review of Books.

Singer, P. (1999). Equality for Animals? In R. Hursthouse (Ed.) Humans and Other Animals (pp. 211-221).Oxford: The Open University.

With one more week to go, be sure to ask any questions or make any points before it is too late. Discussion on the facebook page is usually quite intense through the week so be sure to check us out. Remember if no body posts anything, then it just gives  Kevin more chance to talk about his sappy feelings and Blair more chance to talk about eating animals, rather than any interesting intillectual material.

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Posted on June 13, 2011, in Dialogues between members, Environment, Ethics, opinion, Vegetarianism. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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