Category Archives: Dialogues between members

Should we believe in the Christian God? A Debate

Thursday 22 August, 5:30pm
Lecture theatre HSB2, the University of Auckland city campus

This event is hosted by the Evangelical Union.

doesgodexist

Two of our RSS members, a Rationalist and a Christian, will debate whether we should believe in God.

Peter Harrison is a council member of the NZ Association of Rationalists & Humanists, member of the Reason and Science Society and Coordinator of the Secular Education Network, appearing on Radio Rhema promoting the idea that we should not prescribe religion to children. Peter will argue against the proposition that the Christian God has any more reality than the imaginings of human minds.

Zachary Ardern is a masters student in biology. He has a BA/BSc & PGDipSci, is currently the secretary of the Reason and Science Society, and former president of the Evangelical Union. Zachary will argue that there are good reasons to believe in the Christian God.

What is wrong with Intelligent Design?

Tuesday 28th May, 6pm, Arts 1 room 315

One of our members will present a reply or follow on discussion from Bradley Monton’s earlier presentation.

“What is wrong with Intelligent Design” will explore the history of the movement to demonstrate that the reality of Intelligent Design is, what the biological arguments are and why it should not be included in the public (or even private) science education system below the Tertiary level.

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Considerations AGAINST same sex marriage

On the 18th Sept we hosted a debate on legalizing same-sex marriage.

Here is one RSS member’s considerations against.

“If marriage is important, an understanding implicit in State recognition, we need to be clear about what it is. Those who believe that all relationship types should be equal in the eyes of the law ought to promote not same-sex marriage, but rather the abolition or privatization of marriage. Some will say that the current move is just a first step to a wider reinvention of the institution, while it is also claimed that the proposed shift could only strengthen marriage in NZ – but these cannot both be true. I suggest that marriage is rationally limited to male-female pairs, and that no compelling alternative view of marriage is on offer in the public debate.

“Marriage is a pre-political institution that arises across the world in a range of slightly different forms as a result of the biological realities involved in producing children. In NZ it is shaped by norms of monogamy, fidelity, and love, as a result of the universal intrinsic link to children and our culture’s belief in the equality of the partners. Only a pair from the opposite sex can share life together fully (socially, economically, physically) in a union that can result in children. Extending marriage fails to recognise why the institution currently has the form it does. In jettisoning the biological family unit as its basis, along with biblical statements which reinforce the relevant norms for many in NZ, we are left floating in a relativistic soup.

“The primary public good of marriage is families, including children; it is a good for children to be raised by their biological parents where possible and the State may appropriately choose to provide benefits to the kind of union where that can occur. But there are ancillary goods too, which helps to explain the legitimate inclusion of many couples without children. It is a good to have models of the kind of union that in many cases produces the primary good. It is good for society for members of the opposite sex to share life together fully, with commitment. The government is not interested in the fertility of individual couples but does have an interest in promoting opposite-sex parenting as the ideal. Not recognising the value and form of this institution shaped around children’s wellbeing would be a failure by the State.

“The proposed law discriminates against a number of relationship forms; 15 are listed in Schedule 2 of the Bill. Having divorced marriage from both biology and biblical norms, justifying the particularly contours seems left to tradition or accidents of history – poor bases for law. It also has the potential to discriminate against those whose religious beliefs do not allow recognition of unions between people of the same sex as a ‘marriage’, as explained in the legal opinion of Ian Bassett, available online. Some support the Bill on the basis that society has changed, and that democracy requires the shift, even if there are inconsistencies. If you believe that, let your MP know that you want this issue put to a national referendum, and let the debate play out in public.”
 

Considerations FOR same sex marriage

On the 18th Sept we hosted a debate on legalizing same-sex marriage. 

Here is one RSS member’s considerations FOR. 

“Marriage has been a traditional social institution in multiple forms predating reliable recorded history and our current limited definition by a considerable period of time.  Some of these traditions included marriages of same sex couples which were overwritten by a limited Judaeo-Christian derived definition conceived in a period of extreme homophobia.  That tradition should now be overwritten by an egalitarian one that recognises a relationship on its own merits.  The truth is that marriage was a legal contract used for commercial gain and/or power consolidation between the upper classes.  It progressed into an expression of love that provides legal rights for those in it; it is simply time that it progresses further.

“Gay marriage equality parallels that of the struggle of interracial couples in USA in the 1960’s.  Many of the arguments against selectively extending this right to include interracial couples are the same, including it being unnatural and children are worse off in interracial families.  All are based on a combination of irrational fear, logical fallacies, appeals to tradition and empty claims about the public good.  The data does not back any of these arguments, if it did the opponents to gay marriage would be able to produce independent studies supporting their point but just the opposite is true. The legal option obtained by opponents to the current bill has been thoroughly debunked.  There is no risk that ANY individual or Church will be forced to recognise or hold same sex unions, just as they are not forced to hold or recognise interfaith or racial unions now.

“The average gay relationship is identical in every way to the average straight relationship with the sole exception that the couple cannot have heterosexual sex, so cannot produce children.  If we are going to legislate policy on the bases of what type of sexual acts a couple preforms in the privacy of their own bedroom we are on very shaky ground. Additionally many straight relationships do not produce offspring, either by choice or by infertility problems; if this was to be the reasoning then these relationships should be excluded from marriage as well.  Furthermore, gay couples have the same desire to be parents and do so via the same means as many couples with an infertility barrier.  There has been no evidence that they are unfit parents. If marriage between loving couples provides the best environment for children then we should not be punishing those with gay parents.

“Same sex couples share their lives as completely with each other as straight couples do and with that comes the need for legal protection. Civil unions were a step forward but they are not a copy/paste of all the rights and privileges of marriage nor are they recognised globally.  Even if they were, “separate but equal” is not a message we want to send.  Due to all of this it is in the public good to be egalitarian unless we can find an objective reason why we should not.  Harm is caused by discrimination while there has been no evidence presented of actual harm in extending marriage to be inclusive of gay couples.”

Same-sex Marriage Debate – For and Against

We will be holding a group discussion on whether to legalise gay marriage. Speaking against the law change will be Zachary while supporting gay marriage will be Joshua. The discussion will be moderated by Talia.

Each side will give a 10 minute opening statement and 10 minutes of questions for the opposing side. There will then be a general group discussion or question time until 7:00.

This event will take place at 5:00 in room 206-209 of the Arts 1 building on Tuesday 18th September.

All welcome!

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UPDATE: You can view the debate here:


The Last Supper

It is finally the last week of posts so Kevin and Blair are going to provide closing statements and a little bit extra for those newly interested in the topics covered. On a side note both Kevin and Blair are curious as to whether there are been any recent Veal purchases or any enrolments into Vegan Academy. Most importantly Kevin and Blair wish to recognise that core to this discussion is thinking critically about our lifestyle choices and how they affect our health, the environment, and other beings (like carrots says Miles).

Kevin’s closing statement (Vegetarian/Vegan)

In the past four weeks both Blair and I have discussed some of the issues surrounding diet and meat consumption. From the Vegetarian/Vegan perspective I have tried to get across that:

1)      Vegetarian/Vegan diets are healthy, and contrary to popular belief they are neither difficult nor risky.

2)      Meat based agriculture has a significant impact on the environment through contribution of greenhouse gasses and contamination of local ecosystems with hormones, antibiotics, and viruses which would otherwise have not occurred naturally. Also meatless agriculture has much more potential to alleviate hunger and malnutrition throughout the world.

3)      People have it in them to treat animals with the dignity and respect they deserve, but whilst we eat meat we further contribute toward a food system that disregards real suffering.

From these points it seems if we as consumers suffer no significant hardships from a meatless diet and if there are large benefits to ourselves, others, and the environment, then we might find ourselves obliged to become Vegetarians or Vegans.

Diet is such an intimate part of our lives as it constitutes not only our nutritional intake but also our culture and social interactions. But it also has a profound effect on the rest of the world and as such our food choices will not always be simply a personal decision independent of other factors. Again, thinking like this is not new as there are many restrictions on how we satisfy other basic needs that we have (think sex).

New or ‘wholesome’ nutrition understands this and as such recommendations extend beyond what is immediately healthy for the individual and help build a framework that is healthy, culturally and socially acceptable, and of course sustainable. Meatless diets are not only compatible with this framework but I would argue that they are what wholesome nutrition should set to attain.

But Kevin! Is it really culturally appropriate for everyone to abstain from meat? I would say yes. With a few exceptions (inuits being one), most cultures around the world include substantial portions of plant foods in their cuisine and as such plant based dishes can provide culturally and socially appropriate sustenance. Furthermore whilst taking meat out might be a small disruption toward some cultural practices (such as removing turkey from Christmas dinner), culture transcends meat and can be expressed just as well without it. This is evident in the many vegetarians and vegans that still hold their culture dear without meat being a part of it.

The following is a list of interesting sources for anyone who wants to know more about Vegetarian and Vegan diets, or just diet in general:

Amato, P.R., & Partridge, S.A. (1989). The New Vegetarians: promoting health and protecting life. New York: Plenum Press. (The detailed findings of a large scale study of vegetarians/vegans, easy and interesting read).

Hursthouse, R. (2000). Ethics, humans and other animals: an introduction with readings. London: Routledge. (good overall look at treatment of animals)

Lappe, F.M. (1982). Diet for a small planet: tenth anniversary edition. Now York: Ballantine books. (An older book that is still very relevant today).

Leitzmann, C. (2005). Wholesome nutrition: a suitable diet for the new nutrition science project. Public Health Nutrition: 8(6A), 753-759.

Mason, J., Singer, P. (2006). The ethics of what we eat. Melbourne: Text Publishing. (Has been published many times under similar names, very extensive and up to date, provides an interesting narrative style of academic writing).

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. (Good for detailed nutritional information).

Nestle, M. (2006). What to Eat. North Point Press: New York. (Anything by Nestle is interesting, she writes allot about food politics, this book brings diet and food choices into the wider context).

Ost, D. E. (1986). The Case Against Animal Rights. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 24(3). (Interesting counter argument against Regan’s animal rights approach).

Regan, T. (1988). The case for animal rights. London: Routledge. (A rights based approach).

Sanders, T. (1988). Growth and development of British vegan children. In American Journal of Cinical Nutrition, 48. 822-5. (Just an interesting article that looks at raising vegan children).

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

Website for PETA: http://www.peta.org/

Website for Vegetarian Society New Zealand: http://www.vegetarian.org.nz/content/

Movie: ‘Earthlings’ (documentary on animal abuses in our food choices and beyond).

This list is by no means exhaustive, there are many more interesting sources of information out there that are sure to provide information and more.

Blair’s closing statement (Pro-meat/Primal)

So we have discussed plant or meat based diets with respect to the health, sustainability, and ethics of each. I have tried to show that:

  1. A meat based diet is not unhealthy as many would claim; in fact meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. So much so that one could survive (and live well) on a diet of only meat.
  2. Animal products (such as meat) can be sourced sustainably, particularly free range or pastured animals. And that pastured land has a much higher level of biodiversity than a mono-culture grain crops.
  3. It is morally permissible to eat meat and in doing so we accept our place within nature, and do not attempt to live outside of it to enforce our mastery over nature.

Some people make a choice to move towards a vegetarian or vegan diet based on sustainability, ethics, and their love of animals or simply to pull hot hippy chicks (Robb Wolfe outlines this stage of his life in the Paleo solution diet). They then attempt to justify the health of this diet and the evils of meat by finding ways to claim that meat is unhealthy.  From here we get claims against the saturated fat, increases in cancer or that meat leaches calcium from the bones leading to osteoporosis in meat based diets. This last one has been proven wrong so many times it has now been dubbed the vampire myth as it never dies. So many of these claims are misconceptions had half truths thrown around constantly to undermine the place of meat in the diet, when instead they should be looking at their own diets which can be extremely unhealthy unless care and attention are taken.

This kind of argument (conclusion followed by searching for evidence) is reminiscent of religious thinking. Richard Nikoley of free the animal points out that the vegan diet (in particular raw foodies) have all the underpinnings of religion. The guilt, sin and shame (from having eaten animals) which can be saved or absolved with a life of abstinence (from meat) and struggle with a restrictive diet. Don’t allow yourselves to be sucked into this kind of backwards and extremist logic.

Those last two paragraph will have seems rather harsh on vegetarians and vegans but I meant for it to be aimed at particular corners of the vegetarian/vegan camp and not across the board. A vegetarian or vegan diet can, with great care and attention be healthy (or at least resemble health). But claims for health should only be made after an examination of all the choices and evidence on diet and health alone. Considerations of sustainability and ethics should not drive someone to say their diet it healthy. If you make your choice of diet based on sustainability and/or ethics that’s fine, but don’t then spout off about meat leaching calcium from bones and other anti meat myths to justify yourself.

Given my own research an omnivorous diet or meat, vegetables, fruit, huts and seeds (but no grains) appears to be the optimal human diet. This diet is backed up by science as a healthy modern diet. It is easy to follow and gives people amply vitamins, minerals and energy. For more information on primal/paleo eating and lifestyle here are my top 5 sources (alphabetical order):

Freetheanimal.com

Good calories bad calories By Gary Taubes

Marksdailyapple.com

The paleo solution diet by Robb Wolfe

The primal blueprint by Mark Sisson

That wraps it up nicely. For everyone who continued to read and put off their exam study, we appreciate it and hope that you will continue to keep and eye out for future dialogues. Hopefully the RSS will be starting another conversation with an equally interesting topic mid July. Hope you have all passed your exams.

Kevin and Blair

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.

The Final Re’Veal’ – Ethical Considerations

So far Kevin and Blair have covered health and sustainability, but like most things (star wars being an exception) they have saved the best for last. This week, they put on their moral hats and address whether there are any ethical considerations associated with diet. So prepare yourself to read the ultimate ethical showdown between vegetables and veal.

Question 3: Are there ethical considerations around choosing a meat based diet? If so what are they?

Kevin’s Repsonse (the Vegan/Vegetarian)

Whilst there are many ethical considerations surrounding diet (we have touched on some in the previous post), out of sake of interest and limited word space I have decided to take the tofu-bull by the horns and simply address considerations around eating animals. This section will skim over the applied ethical arguments that accompany animal liberation pieces, it will also contend with common intuitive counter arguments that seemingly hold weight.

Singer and Regan both make the accusation of speciesism toward our treatment of animals. Singer (1999) invokes the principle of “equal considerations of interests” by acknowledging suffering without preference to what abilities or features a being possesses, but we would have to measure suffering in a meaningful way. Singer highlights the case of the man and the mouse both with cancer, stating that the man suffers more as he is more aware of what is going on than the mouse. This will be discussed further in the post.

Regan (1999) states that there is a fundamental wrong in the way we treat animals, the system that allows us to think of and use animals as OUR resources is this wrong. Regan argues against using the capacity to suffer and asks us to recognise the inherent value of beings regardless of species. This inherent value requires us to recognise and fulfil rights.

Basically, the element doing the work here is expanding our sphere of concern toward other beings that we know experience pain and anxiety. Beings which as stated in the documentary Earthlings are strong, intelligent, industrious, capable of growth and adaptation, seeking comfort and freedom from pain and suffering. The rest of the work (appealing to pain and suffering and fulfilling rights) is something which we do within our spheres already.

Hursthouse (1999) uses a virtue ethics approach; she asks whether we can be honest and deny animal suffering? Can it be anything but callousness to just shrug it off? Can we deny the cruelty in modern farming practices? The answer to these questions is no and Hurthouse urges us to employ temperance over greed and self indulgence.

Authors such as Ost (1986) have argued against Regan’s rights model by stating that it can be problematic to recognise animal rights given that they would be moral patients (worth moral consideration but with no moral responsibility) rather than moral agents (who have moral worth and responsibility). This becomes a problem when the agent’s life is threatened by a patient. But to recognise animals as moral patients would not be a new feature of our moral landscape as we currently hold children and otherwise incapacitated people to be moral patients without the same concerns.

In a previous post someone commented by stating that anyone serious about being a vegetarian must also not eat vegetables since they are alive and will feel direct injury and stress. This at first seems like a silly argument but reveals an important part of eating ethically. Of course a carrot won’t feel the pain and anxiety that a human or a pig feels (I can address multiple realisability next week if anyone is interested). But neither will a mouse feel the immense spectrum of complex emotions that a human feels. For many it becomes a safeguard to think of animals as ‘like us’ and prescribe our thoughts and feelings onto them, but this anthropomorphism is dangerous and can even be considered offensive.

Last week Thomas Pogge visited the University of Auckland to talk on the harmful effects of the global order. He made a point that future decision making should not be made based on reducing harms, but rather based on justice. Sure, no one from a hundred years ago could have imagined or predicted the gross exploitation of animals today, but it is no longer sufficient to praise innovations in rearing that are less harmful, or we might just find that we fall into the same justifications that Pogge cited for nineteenth century slavery (“that slaves are enjoying great lives now that we don’t whip them”). Instead we should take Pogge’s advice and ask what is just and how we can create a just system of food production.

As a last point, I urge any readers to remember that there may be ethical forms of animal agriculture; in fact many third party organisations endorse the more animal friendly products. But the animal products you buy in the supermarket or restaurants may not meet those standards. Don’t ask ‘if’ animals can be reared without suffering; ask ‘are’ they reared without suffering and in a way that fits with your conceptions of justice. If the answer is no then vote with your food basket and avoid supporting animal cruelty and injustice.

References:

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

Regan, T. (1999). The Case for Animal Rights. In R. Hursthouse (Ed.) Humans and Other Animals (pp. 211-221).Oxford: The Open University.

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.

Ost, D. E. (1986). The Case Against Animal Rights. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 24(3).

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

The way in which I try to live my life is based on evolutionary thinking. When I consider the best way to live my life I look back at how my ancestors would have lived, not just my Neolithic ancestors but the paleolithic ancestors as well (hence the paleo diet).  When we think in this way we must accept that we are animals ourselves, living within the environment, not outside it, and not exerting some warped sense of mastery over it. I accept that I am an animal; I look at my current physiology and how evolution that has formed this. Given this outlook I can explain the ethics of why I eat meat.

When considering whether to eat meat or not we often encounter the utilitarian argument that animals can suffer so we should seek to minimise this; or that animals are experiencing subjects of life (Tom Regan). This argument seems reasonable, but what about the millions of animals that die every day not at the hands of humans, but at the hands (claws, teeth etc.) of other animals? The death of these animals often involves far more suffering than the methods most humans use. Should we not also seek to minimise this killing? We cannot do this, and it would be arrogant to suggest that we should. We do not sit outside of nature, we are a part of it, and we are animals.

Another common argument is that of virtue ethics, that we should have a proper “attitude of respect towards nature”. The idea is that we flourish if we live in awe of nature, and so we should seek to minimise our effect on the world. I see the vegetarian/vegan response to this as being backwards. For the most part their diet consists contains large quantities of grains. These are grown as mono culture crops, on fields where all other plants and animals have been removed. This to me is not respect of nature; it is an attempt at mastery or control over it. My diet on the other hand contains pastured meat. While a pastured field has much lower biodiversity than the bush that once stood in its place, the pasture still has more (biodiversity) than the field of grain.

So if we are to think of ourselves as animals and as part of nature does that mean that we can kill without regard for the suffering of other animals? The answer to this is emphatically no. We can feel empathy for our fellow animals and we should seek to minimise their suffering, and give them the most natural life possible. The animals we farm should have room to roam, a natural diet to eat, and the suffering in their life and their death should be minimised. (Note – meat prepared in this way is also tastier and more nutritious).  We should be connected to what we eat, feel bad for killing it, and show respect to those that we eat. To do this is to accept out place with in nature and to cultivate the proper attitude of awe and respect towards nature.

So what about a moral obligation to eat meat, is there ever a time when we must eat meat? I can think of a few situations where someone with a respect for life and nature should feel obligated to eat meat. One would be hunting or fishing for sport (I personally do not like the notion of killing simply for the sport of it), where animals are hunted for sport, their meat should be utilised (all parts of animals should be utilised such as organ meats). In this way the death of the animal takes on meaning, it has been used as sustenance for someone (or something). Another related situation would be in pest control. I have shot, cleaned and eaten rabbits in an effort to keep numbers down on a farm. I felt obligated to make use of the meat so that it did not go to waste.

The third situation is a much more controversial one which I do not have the space to give full credit. Veal has been considered taboo for many years now since people realised than many veal calves were kept in cruel and confined conditions. There are now several different veal options available, with varying ethical considerations.

Veal is most often produced from male dairy calves which have no use in the dairy industry, and are less productive to the meat industry. So there exists a problem – 50% of all calves born in the dairy industry are considered without use. The options I consider the best and most ethical when dealing with these calves is either too kill them within the first 2-3 days to allow the mothers to be milked for industry, or to allow the calf to life for longer on mother’s milk an pasture before being killed for meat (sometimes labelled as calf, not veal). There are other options such as grain and substitute milk feeding, but I consider these and inferior options. If the calves are not used for meat they would be shot, or otherwise disposed of by the farmer and their meat would go to waste. I would suggest that we are morally obligated to make use of this meat so that the death of the calf is not meaningless.

References:

No references sorry, my thoughts and feelings are sufficient for me and I hope they can fuel your own thoughts.

Acknowledgements

A big thank you goes to Mathew Goode, who despite being a vegan was gracious enough to help me in preparing my response. Without his help my response might have been little better than “man like meat”.

This is the last of the structured questions which Kevin and Blair will be answering. During the next two weeks (13th/20th June) they will be providing answers or more detailed discussion on points that came from the first three posts. So be sure to leave comments/complaints/questions in the comments section or on the Reason and Science Society’s Facebook wall.

Good luck with exam study.

A meaty issue – Sustainabilty

It has been a week since the first meaty post that focused on dietary aspects of including or excluding meat. Now Blair and Kevin set their sights on the sustainability of their diets. So take a few minutes to enjoy an interesting read that covers the environment, global justice, and maybe dragons (but probably not).

Question two: Is a plant or meat based diet more or less sustainable?

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

The big question posed to meat eaters is that if the same area of land growing crops can feed more people than if it were growing animals to feed them why should we continue to eat meat in a growing world? Added to this is the assumption that growing crops would be more sustainable and better for the environment than raising animals.

I would say that it is a mistake to say that our world does not have enough land to feed everyone with meat, in fact I would say that there are too many people to thrive on this world if they don’t have access to meat.

Note – I will be steering clear of things like fertiliser use, chemical sprays etc which are equally an issue in both crop and animal growing. We should not try to compare the best with the worst of each.

So is the growing of crops better for the environment?  Obviously many modern farming methods are terrible for the environment, but grain based agriculture is exceptionally bad; this is largely due to the mono-culture system of growing which attempts to eliminate the normal life cycle of the plants and land. Annual crops such as grains (including corn) and soy kill vast areas of land, millions of animals, native plants and insects which are vital to the life cycle of the area. The vegetarian’s soy burger may not have an animal in it, but the land and machinery used to produce that soy is greased with the blood of thousands.

There are many great examples of sustainable farming and aquaculture.  Possibly the most sustainable form of meat production I can think of is mussel farming. The most sustainable system of this involves laying down ropes in the sea, seeding them with mussels; these then grow by filter feeding and are harvested when they reach an appropriate size. This process can also be performed alongside less sustainable aquaculture to increase water quality. A similar example is the practice of growing carp and shrimp in rice paddies to improve water quality, health of the rice, and to produce meat for the farmer.

One excellent example of sustainable aquaculture is the Veta la Palma fish farm. This farm was converted from a dairy farm to produce native sea life (plants and shrimp) which then feed the sea bass they wish to produce. Along with sea bass the farm is now home to 250 different species of birds (up from 50) many of which are endangered. These birds take approximately 20% of the annual yield, yet the farmer says “But that just shows the whole system is working.” This farm does not take advantage of the environment; in fact it has improved on it.

Desertification is often blamed on over grazing, yet this is not always the case. In fact Allen Savory has created a process for reversing desertification by increasing livestock levels by 400% and managing them via holistic planned grazing. This system has been used to turn barren fields into open grasslands with rivers, water plants and fish. The process of grazing stimulated the growth of grasses, while trampling breaks up the soil and the animals leave behind fertiliser for the grasses. This system works naturally to grow lush sustainable fields for many grazing animals to supply many people with sustainable meat.

Obviously sustainably produced meat will cost more, it is cheaper (but worse for the environment) to use fish meal or corn to feed the animals, and is much more expensive to care for the health of the animals and the environment. However you can eat sustainable meat knowing that it was not produced at the expense of the environment. Meat should not be cheap, it takes a lot of hard work to produce good meat which lived a good life, consumers have to pay for this, and appreciate it.

Referencing

1)      The vegetarian myth by Lierre Keith

2)      Sustainable impact of mussel farming in the Adriatic Sea (Mediterranean Sea): evidence from biochemical, microbial and meiofaunal indicators, R. Danovaro, C. Gambi, G. M. Luna and S. Mirto, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 49, Issue 4, August 2004, Pages 325-333

3)      Integrated Carp Farming in Asian Country, V. R. P. Sinha, Regional Lead Centre in India Fishwater Aquaculture Research and Training Centre of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research Dhauli, Bhubaneswar, NETWORK OF AQUACUTURE CENTRES IN ASIA, Bangkok, Thailand, September 1985

4)      Veta la Palma fish farm- http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1902751,00.html#ixzz1NiNslrtj

5)      Grassroots Restoration: Holistic Management for Villages, by Sam Bingham

Kevin’s response (the Vegan/vegetarian)

The issue of sustainability is becoming more and more concerning as the world’s population grows. The United Nations has recently reported that the world’s population, expected to be 9 billion by 2050, will keep growing, passing over 10 billion by 2100. The food systems currently in place will not be adequate to sustain such a population, nor has it shown to be adequate now.

Let’s start with simple comparisons:

Lappe (1982) compares input of edible protein against output. She states that for every sixteen pounds of grain that is fed to a cow, we get one pound of beef. The sixteen pounds of grains have twenty-one times more calories, eight times more protein, and only three times more fat.

Amato and Partridge (1989) state that it takes fifteen times as much water to produce a pound of beef protein than it does to create a pound of soy protein, Mason and Singer (2006) also note the US beef industry’s claim that to produce a one-thousand pound steer it ‘only’ takes 792,000 gallons of water (not a typo, it’s nearly three million litres).

As for fossil Fuel consumption, Lappe (1982) shows that for one calorie of protein you need two calories of fossil fuel for soybeans, three and a half for corn/wheat, and an amazing seventy-eight for feedlot beef. But interestingly enough grass fed cattle only required ten calories of fossil fuels.

So what does this mean, sure some of these figures are nearly thirty years old, but Mason and Singer (2006) state that these days it takes around thirteen pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. Whilst there may have been ‘some’ improvement in efficiency, these figures still illustrate the absurdity that is a food system that uses far more energy than it produces. Lappe (1982) nicknamed this system ‘the great protein sink’ after its ability to consume more protein than it produces.

But why is this a problem, sure you have to spend money to make money, and if it isn’t doing harm then what’s the downside? The problem is that developed countries are now exhausting their own crop supplies as fodder and are turning to the developing world. Countries such Brazil are tearing down rainforest in order to create large soy plantations that go toward feeding cattle in the U.S.A (Mason and Singer, 2006). New Zealand isn’t above the mess either, recently Greenpeace marked out Fonterra as an environmental criminal for it’s importing of palm kernel from Indonesia, a country which according to Greenpeace has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world (Greenpeace, 2011). Fonterra claims that it only makes up 1% of the cows diet (Fonterra, 2011), but once upon a time this was 0%, and as the dairy and beef industry in New Zealand becomes more intensive it will continue to rise.

Furthermore, from a humanitarian perspective, the meat industry is taking food away from the malnourished throughout the world. When Lappe wrote her book, the U.S.A alone was producing enough edible crops per year to provide each person in the world with one cup of edible grain per day (Lappe, 1982). But it’s only one country; imagine in a world without feedlots how much food we would be able to produce, or how much rainforest we would not need to fell. Imagine a world where hunger was a problem of past generations because food is produced efficiently and distributed to everyone rather than wasted and distributed to the few.

Other concerns which hold weight but weren’t sexy enough to be included in detail are the faeces problem that intensive animal rearing creates (which isn’t treated like human waste and often pollutes the environment), ‘endocrine disruption’ in ecosystems situated around feedlots, over fishing, the even more disastrous aquaculture scheme (which in the case of salmon requires three to four times as much fishmeal to produce), the $200 hamburger, and the excessive use of antibiotics in intensive animal operations.

I’ll end with another quote by Mason and Singer (2006) who state

“no matter how efficient intensive pork, beef, chicken, egg and milk production become, in the narrow sense of producing more meat, eggs or milk for each pound of grain we feed the animals, raising animals on grain remains wasteful” (pg.210).

 References:

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

Greenpeace. (2011). Industrial Climate Crimes. Retrieved from http://www.greenpeace.org/new-zealand/en/campaigns/climate-change/stop-fonterra/

Fonterra. (2011). Palm Kernel Expeller. Retrieved from http://www.fonterra.com/wps/wcm/connect/fonterracom/fonterra.com/home/palm+kernel+expeller

Lappe, F.M. (1982). Diet for a small planet: tenth anniversary edition. Now York: Ballantine books.

Mason, J., Singer, P. (2006). The ethics of what we eat. Melbourne: Text Publishing.

Unfortunately that is it for this week. If you take anything from this, both Blair and Kevin wish to stress that we all need to critically consider the sustainability of our diets as the issues addressed here are a small fraction of many. Next Monday (6th) they will address ethical considerations; whether there are any and what they might be.

Feel free to leave comments or troll the comments section since both Blair and Kevin will be providing answers to most (or some) criticism in the final two posts on the 13th and 20th of June.

To meat or not to meat?

Both Kevin and Blair are people who take an active role in knowing about and deciding what they put on their plate, together they have researched their diets and have written on the health, sustainability, and ethical aspects of meat based and meatless diets. This week’s post is concerned with the health implications of including/excluding meat from your diet. So take five minutes between studies and feed your mind with something a bit more interesting than your statistics 101 assignment.

Question: Is inclusion/exclusion of meat healthy?

Kevin’s response (the Vegan/vegetarian/awesome)

To begin with, lets just put it out there, being a vegetarian or vegan isn’t unhealthy. But much literature and popular thought in the past has been contrary to this statement.

According to Messina, Mangels, and Messina (2004), the dominance of government sponsored nutritional guidelines has promoted meat based diets over vegetarian diets without sound nutritional justification. Marion Nestle (2006) explains in her books the problematic nature of organisations such as the USDA who regularly release and update nutritional guidelines in the USA, this being secondary to their main goal of promoting sales of American food commodities. Anyone who thinks this is an American problem, try visiting the websites for New Zealand beef and lamb or the New Zealand seafood industry. The links below will take you to Iron Bryon (a mascot directed toward children to promote ‘New Zealand’ beef and lamb) and a guide for pregnant women, which promotes seafood consumption despite doctor’s recommendations to restrict eating seafood due to concerns of methyl mercury and neural tube defects.

BUT! There are some legitimate concerns for the health of those that restrict their intake of animal products, especially for vegans. In a paper by Sanders (1988) the two issues of Bulk and B12 were addressed. Bulk is a problem faced by those that eat more fruits and vegetables, whilst avoiding energy dense animal products. This means that overall they may often not meet their daily energy requirements. Whilst this is beneficial for many adults today who consume energy in excess, for children and pregnant women who have increased energy requirements it can be problematic.

According to M., M. and M. (2004), vitamin B12 is synthesised by bacteria, fungi and algae. It is present in animal products because animals ingest micro-organisms producing/containing B12. Most B12 is lost through the excretion of bile in the intestines, but because the body is so good at reabsorbing it, generally B12 deficiency isn’t an immediate problem for vegans unless they cannot reabsorb it. Whilst vegans generally won’t have levels of B12 as high and omnivores, this is not a problem. Many vegans can receive B12 from partially washed vegetables, uncooked nori, or through dietary supplements.

But these are not problems for the many people that still eat dairy and eggs, and overall Vegetarian/vegan diets are more than adequate when it comes to all other micronutrients. Concerns do exist for the bio-availability of Zinc and Iron from plant foods, but this can be solved with smart eating. Vitamin D can also be a concern for Vegans who don’t get enough sun, but fortunately many common vegan foods are fortified with vitamin D.

Moving on, are there any health benefits to excluding meat from your diet? M., M. and M. (2004) and Nestle (2006) both state that Vegetarians tend to be healthier and suffer lower rates of lifestyle diseases that plague developed countries, but there can be confusion about how much of this is artefact since many vegans tend to also live healthier lives in general.

But this isn’t all of the truth. To put it in general sweeping yet referenced statements, Vegetarians/Vegans consume less saturated fats, cholesterol and protein than non-vegetarians. Vegetarians/Vegans do consume more polyunsaturated fats, complex carbohydrates, fibre, beta-carotene, and vitamins C and E (M., M., and M., 2004). M., M., and M. also state that vegetarians have lower rates of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, gallstones, kidney disease, and colon disease. Other evidence has also indicated reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis, gout, dementia, constipation, tooth decay, and duodenal ulcers.

To conclude, let’s just remember that vegetarian/vegan diets aren’t nutritionally radical. The pitfalls that have been mentioned are only found among the most careless vegan diets and so for many practicing vegetarians/vegans they aren’t problems at all. Some people have come to me saying that their special dietary requirements cannot allow them to stop eating meat. But, for the most part, investigation and dietary planning can be used effectively to ensure adequate nutrition for those with nutritional disorders and for those with increased nutritional needs.

I’ll finish with a quote by M., M. and M. (2004):

“It is clear that vegetarian eating patterns adhere more closely (than omnivorous) to guidelines for optimal diet and are similar to diets of populations with reduced chronic disease risk.” (Page. 45).

 References and Links:

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.

Nestle, M. (2006). What to Eat. North Point Press: New York.

Sanders, T. (1988). Growth and development of British vegan children. In American Journal of Cinical Nutrition, 48. 822-5.

Link to Iron Bryon: http://www.beeflambnz.co.nz/index.pl?page=kids&m=73

Link to seafood and pregnancy: http://www.greatestmeal.co.nz/seafoodandpregnancy

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

To be clear from the beginning when I talk about a meat based diet, I do not mean a diet of only meat, like the Inuit (not that their diet is unhealthy). What I mean is a diet with an average of one serving of animal protein per meal, that what I try for daily, and that is what I will from here on call a ‘meat based diet’.

When we think about what makes up a healthy diet, we cannot just look at the conditions we find ourselves in today; we must look back though evolution to see the diet which we have evolved to eat. Anthropologists looking at modern hunter gatherers (whose diets should closely reflect those of the past) found that they eat between 45 and 65 percent of their energy requirements as animal products. This increase in dietary fat (and cooking) 2 million years ago is what could have allowed us to grow our large brains. It is well known that meat is an excellent (the best?) source of protein in the diet. Humans can also obtain all their necessary vitamins and minerals from meat (the Inuit have done so for thousands of years). Use any online calculator and compare the nutrient density of liver with that of fruit and for half a cup of liver; you would have to eat 2 kilos of some fruit to reach the same level of nutrients.

So, what if we didn’t eat meat? We can look into the diet of vegetarians and find nutrient deficiencies, such as B12 deficiency requiring supplementation. The diet of vegetarians is often low in protein, and the protein they do receive comes from poor sources such as legumes (containing phytates which remove nutrients), grains (containing gluten) and soy (containing isoflavones, which effect hormones). It is a difficult and inefficient to be healthy without meat.

Despite how obviously good meat is for us, we find ourselves constantly bombarded with messages of how meat is bad for us. It’s full of toxins; it will give you cancer or heart disease etc. Let’s start with liver since it has been mentioned.

“Isn’t liver full of toxins, it’s the bodies filter for those things isn’t it?” Well, no it isn’t. A more correct metaphor would be that it is the body’s chemical processing plant. The liver processes toxins to make then inert, then removes them from the body (usually via the kidneys i.e. in the urine), it doesn’t hold onto the toxins. A study in 2004 compared levels of Arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, mercury and zinc in beef organs and muscles. The results showed similar levels (all very low) in all tissues, not a build-up in the liver.

Since Ancel Keys in the 50’s everyone has had the erroneous belief that dietary fat along with cholesterol, and in particular saturated fat, makes us fat and give us heart disease. While there is not time to go depth on this issue here (for further reading see Good calories, bad calories by Gary Taubes), what can be said is that the Framingham heart study one of the longest-running, most comprehensive and most highly cited observational studies analysed the relationship between saturated fat intake, serum cholesterol and heart attack risk and found no significant relationship between saturated fat intake and blood cholesterol or heart attack risk, or total mortality.

Referencing:

  1. Plant-animal subsistence ratios and macronutrient energy estimations in worldwide hunter-gatherer diets, Loren Cordain, Janette Brand Miller, S Boyd Eaton, Neil Mann, Susanne HA Holt and John D Speth, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 71, No. 3, 682-692, March 2000
  2. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science and Technology – What’s cooking?The evolutionary role of cookery, Feb 19th 2009. (Also see- Catching fire: How cooking made us human.)
  3. Distribution of Some Trace and Macrominerals in Beef, Mutton and Poultry, Irfana Mariam, Shehlav Iqbal and Saeed Ahmadnagra, International journal of agriculture and biology, 1560–8530/2004/06–5–816–820
  4. Good calories, bad calories, Gary Taubes, 2008

Congratulations to everyone who finished. Our next post will be Monday the 30th of May and will address sustainability concerns with our food choices.

Feel free to leave comments or troll the comments section since both Blair and Kevin will be providing answers to most (or some) criticism in the final two posts on the 13th and 20th of June.