Talk about Newsnight

Ethical Man - Justin Rowlatt

I wish I had killed him

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 22 Dec 06, 04:33 PM

justin_turkey_203.jpgLast week I travelled up to Norfolk to meet my Christmas lunch in person for the first and last time.

I have followed Ned the Newsnight turkey’s progress from a lustrous chick into a magnificent one and a half stone stag. Now it was time for me to kill him.

I eat meat almost every day but I have never actually killed an animal. As Ethical Man I reckoned that it was time to take full responsibility for my food. An ethical man should be able to stomach dispatching his own supper or should decline to dine upon it, shouldn’t he?

But having said that, killing Ned wasn’t something I was looking forward to. My mother-in-law’s partner Dave was so upset after he killed two turkeys in a garden shed in York fifteen or so years ago that he’s been a vegetarian ever since.

I was consoled by the fact that Ned has had a good life. In fact he’s about as ethical a bird as you are ever likely to eat. But, when the time came, I couldn’t bring myself to wring his neck.

turkey_farmer_203.jpgWringing a turkey’s neck takes a fair bit of skill. You hang the bird by its feet, take a firm grip on its neck and then twist it slightly while pulling firmly down. Tony, the most experienced turkey slaughterer on the farm, assured me that - when done correctly - the neck is broken in a second.

So why didn’t I do it? I accept that morality shouldn’t be size-based but a living, gobbling turkey is a surprisingly bulky beast and Ned’s size was certainly off-putting. The clincher, though, was that I was worried that, in my inexpert hands, Ned might suffer unnecessarily.

So it was Tony who saw to our Ned. He flapped frantically for a minute or so after Tony had done his work, then twitched his last. It was a distressing sight but Ned did not appear to feel any pain.

As soon as his body was still Tony and I started to pluck him. The feathers come off much more easily in the moments after the bird has been killed. Ned’s body was surprisingly warm.

Then, a couple of days ago Ned turned up on my doorstep. He was in a white cardboard box and looked smaller than I remembered him. He’s in the fridge now.

turkey_meat_203.jpgI am confident that Ned will be delicious on Christmas day. I am looking forward to stuffing him, seasoning him and popping him in the oven. His giblets will make a rich gravy.

And, if you are wondering, I am not upset by having played such an intimate role in his death. If anything, I think I should have mustered the courage to kill him myself. In truth, I bottled out and I shouldn’t have done.

Because, let’s be honest about this: carnivores can’t afford to be squeamish. Turkeys like Ned have to die if we are going to get our Christmas dinners.

Anyway, I’ll have all of January to reflect on the ethics of what I eat because I’m becoming vegan. The idea is to explore how diet affects our impact on the environment.

I’ve been a meat eater all my life and I still think that this will be my toughest ethical challenge to date, even though I now have a good few tempting vegan treats to choose from

One consolation is that, according to a doctor I saw last week, I can expect to come out of the experience healthier. After a thorough check-up he said that cutting out animal fats would be good for me.

We’ll see.

Comments  Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 06:51 PM on 22 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

Congratulations on not falling for the 'ah poor little ba lamb' train of PC education. But why are you trying vegan ?

Stand in front of a mirror - open mouth - observe teeth. Those are OMNIVORE teeth; your body is designed to run on meat and veg - maybe not as much meat as we now consume but leave it out of your diet and you have to jump through hoops to get all the nutrition you need - as an ethical man I trust you will not cop out and take suplements ? Also I trust you will not impose this on your daughter - she needs all the nutrients that only come in meat (or you have to feed her supplements....)

So how will that affect the environment - if you use supplements you need another factory to supply them & under recent EU legislation the supplements have to be tested - and that will include animal testing if a new supplement is made.

And if you don't - well ok we'll cut down on the amount of grass grown (for feeding livestock) but will require lots of pulses - a lot of which don't grow native so you'll incur lots of food miles as well.

And last time I looked plastics (as replacements for animal skins) are still made from petro-chemicals - more nasty refineries.

Stick with meat - just correct your diet to the right balance and right number of calories and you'll be as healthy as your level of exercise dictates. Oh and while your at it - you can't balance your diet over a day - a week or two is the best you can do !

  • 2.
  • At 05:06 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • TM wrote:

I'm a life long vegetarian from a highly medical family who works as an engineer in the oil industry. A particularly scientific world...

This is absolute drivel and is typical of some meat eaters arrogance!!

You need to have your facts correct before you make such comments

If you're going to argue a case at the very least you should examine the alternative point of view

I won't bother refuting each point - anyone who has interest can verify these issues and believe or disbelieve them

  • 3.
  • At 06:27 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

I don't normally bother getting into arguments with people who a) call me names and b) can't be bothered to refute me - it indicates either arrogance (I'm right; you're wrong !) or idleness ; not something I accept from some one who claims to be an engineer - 'cos I'm one also - in the Process Control industry.

However - your teeth are designed/evolved as omnivores teeth; surely you are not going to dispute this ?

There are proteins which the human (and especially the juvenile human) needs that do not occur in non-animal products; including the latest fad omega 3 oils. Hence the need for supplements.

The EU now requires all products intended for human consumption to be tested - including live animal testing. Since supplements have to be made then this will require a 'manufactory'.

The UK climate does not allow you to grow all the pulses required to attempt a balanced non-animal protein diet; the ones that don't grow here (rice, assorted lentils, various beans) have to be imported. Alternatively you could go into green house/poly tunnel and fertilisers.

I believe at the current time food miles are considered as bad for the environment; as is growing exotic plants.

The replacement of animal skin products by 'artificial' replacements again requires production - plastics are of course a product of the petro chem industry - a segment of industry that is high on the pet hate list of most greens.

Given that we have omnivores' teeth; it follows that we have omnivores' digestion; hence we are designed (/evolved) to run on meat and veg; the and is definitely NOT an or (and de Morgan will haunt you if you try that particular transform).

Despite all the attempts of the diet industry to disprove basic physics; if energy in = energy out then you can not put on weight. If you come from a medical background then you should know that a varied diet is a requirement; thus it is impossible to correctly balance a diet over one day - what ever our politicians may say.

As to my opening comment - well the first couple of dozen vegetarians/vegans I met were ignorant townies who really had never made the connection between lambs gambolling in the fields and the meat they ate. And gave up meat because they could not stomach the goings on in the abattoirs (well done Ethical Man - you had the courage to face up to being an omnivore...)

SO which of the following have I not addressed ?

This is absolute drivel and is typical of some meat eaters arrogance!!

You need to have your facts correct before you make such comments

and please put forth your argument; be it spiritual or scientific; and you never know - IF you can make your case I may even become vegan myself. BUT do not be so arrogant as to write other people off with out putting your case; then I can (and will) examine the other point of view; however I still have no idea why you would wish to give up meat !

  • 4.
  • At 06:39 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Tracey Goodwin wrote:

The human body is not designed to eat meat. Carnivores' teeth (tiger, dog) are pointy with gaps between them to avoid trapping rotten meat. Are yours like that? Ours are EXACTLY the same as a horse's. Horses have canine teeth the same shape as ours. A carnivore's intestines, particularly the colon, are short and smooth to get rid of the meat before it can rot. A horse's intestines are v long with diverticuli in order to absorb nutrients from vegetation - and our intestines (proportionately) are 50% longer again than a horse's. Get your basic biology straight. Vegetarians live longer than meat eaters, vegans live even longer, with vastly reduced rates of cancer (esp bowel cancer), heart disease and arthritis (meat is acid producing which attacks the joints). The longest living tribes are those who have always been vegan. The human body has been perfectly set up to be vegan. Personally, becoming vegan (from vegetarian) has cleared up my irritable bowel completely and given me boundless energy for daily gym & riding. I have a suberb, muscular size eight figure and beautiful shiny waist length hair. Just get on google & see how vegan is also the only sound choice for the environment, and how shamefully wasteful it is to eat corpses.

  • 5.
  • At 06:41 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Marie wrote:

You say;
'It was a distressing sight but Ned did not appear to feel any pain'.

I don't think us humans have any proof that this is the case. Therefore, we may have to conclude that animals could or perhaps do feel pain. I have long thought it arrogant of us to assume we have rights over animals and that we can use and abuse them as we wish. Animals are intelligent sentinent beings and have as much right to live their lives without unnecessary preditors.

  • 6.
  • At 07:42 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Charley wrote:

A few responses to comments posted so far:

"Also I trust you will not impose this on your daughter - she needs all the nutrients that only come in meat"

All which nutrients? The only nutrient that cannot reliably be found in plant-based foods is vitamin B12, which is made by bacteria, so whether you eat B12 fortified foods or animal foods you are eating B12 from the same origins.

"However - your teeth are designed/evolved as omnivores teeth"

Debatable, but in any case it doesn't matter. We're not cavemen any more and in this country we have a wide range of foods available to us and since it is possible to live healthily on a plant-based diet we are able to make choices based on reasoning rather than some kind of primitive instinct to chase down an animal and rip its flesh off with our teeth, or whatever the 'natural' thing to do would be.

"There are proteins which the human needs that do not occur in non-animal products; including the latest fad omega 3 oils."

All the amino acids necessary for a human diet can be found in plant foods. As for omega 3 fatty acids, the best example of a plant source is linseed, which contains twice as much omega 3 as oily fish.

"well ok we'll cut down on the amount of grass grown (for feeding livestock)"

Grass isn't the issue. It's the fact that we feed 34% of the world's grain to animals (much of which is grown in other continents and imported, so there goes your food miles argument), when we could be using it to feed humans. As the earth's population continues to grow, we will most likely be faced with the choice of either feeding the world's animals or feeding its people - and we won't be able to do both if populations (including those of developing countries trying to copy westerners) keep demanding meat as their staple food.

  • 7.
  • At 09:08 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Ric wrote:

I thought you were vegan for a month?

  • 8.
  • At 10:51 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • Kaz wrote:

There are a great many resources for vegans these days - from the Vegan Society's excellent web pages on nutrition to LiveJournal's vegan cooking community (you should see the archive of recommended cookbooks and cooking websites they've created), so it's really not so difficult to find reliable information and rather fabulous food.

What I found difficult when I went vegan 9 years ago, after 9 years of vegetarianism, was label-reading. I suddenly became aware that there was an awful lot of stuff in my food that I wasn't happy to see there. It took several months to adjust to the point where label-reading became automatic and easy - nowadays I cannot imagine not wanting to know what food I'm putting into my body.

The other thing you may well run into is the sort of real life ranting demonstrated in the first comment. You may be saved by saying that you're going vegan for a month as an experiment, but should you decide to go vegan for real, you will find a great deal of hostility out there. Food's an incredibly emotive thing, bound up with culture, religion, shared family history, and even self-esteem - a lot of people will take it as a rebuke or a rejection, and will spend a great deal of time making snide comments and generally making you feel unwelcome, regardless of how polite and friendly you are. I find that feeding them good food and smiling a lot whenever I want to point out that they're being unbearably rude does work over the long term. If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, then you are ahead of the game, my son.

A healthy vegan diet has plenty going for it: it recently compared favourably to the ADA's guidelines for diabetics in a 22-week study; it's recognised as stacking the odds against cancers, heart disease, and high blood pressure; the USDA's own research shows that, while vegan women lose bone density at the same rate as their vegetarian and omnivore peers, they build greater bone density faster when placed on weight-bearing exercise regimens; and, of course, as the University of Chicago's research shows, it is the single biggest way of cutting your carbon footprint. Sadly, though, as a metastudy on the effects of veganism on longevity pointed out, the advantages conferred on length of life by a vegan diet begin to decline after the age of 90...

  • 9.
  • At 11:11 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • James Coils wrote:

Hemp contains every essential fatty acid the human body requires. I'm a 17 and a half stone Vegan of 18 years, bigger than Mike Tyson at his heaviest. There's no problem being a Vegan other than non-Vegans telling you how bad for you being a Vegan is!

  • 10.
  • At 11:15 PM on 23 Dec 2006,
  • CK Yoe, London wrote:

When I read the title sentence of this blog (‘I wish I had killed him’), I thought it was the pious yearning of an irate animal rights person about the blog’s author. Imagine my disappointment when I realised it was just a wishy-washy sentiment by a so-called ‘ethical man’ who ‘didn’t have the stomach’ to kill Ned, the Newsnight turkey, whose progress he had followed, ‘from a lustrous chick into a magnificent one and a half stone stag’, as he put it.

So what exactly is ethical about this self-styled ‘ethical man’ Justin Rowlatt, the blog’s author? Well, he’s ‘consoled by the fact that Ned [the turkey] has had a good life’ – so, that makes it alright then. Let’s see now – I’d say Mr Justin Bleedin’ Rowlatt has had a darn good life himself, even better than poor Ned. So why shouldn’t I ‘hang him by his feet, take a firm grip on his neck and then twist it slightly while pulling firmly down’? Apart from the fact he’s probably too much of a handful for pint-sized me, no reason at all. After all, ‘morality shouldn’t be size-based’, as Mr Bleedin’ Rowlatt himself put it. And I can console myself that – ‘when done correctly – the neck is broken in a second’, though why that should bother me at all one way or the other, I honestly don’t know.

What I do know, is that I’m disgusted by his statement that he’s ‘becoming vegan’. I have nothing but utter contempt for any carnivore who thinks that ‘becoming vegan’ will earn him any kudos, when he’s shown no remorse whatsoever for having been directly responsible for the deaths of all those animals he’s eaten in his lifetime – even if he didn’t have the guts to kill them personally. As he puts it, all he’s concerned about is his own skin – according to his doctor, he ‘can expect to come out of the experience healthier’. So there we have it, straight out of his fundament, self-preservation is his only interest in becoming vegan.

Well, no wishy-washy title ‘I wish I had killed him’ for me. If I had my way, the title of my blog would have been: ‘I’m glad I killed Ethical Man Mr Justin Bleedin’ Rowlatt’. Quite literally, as far as bleedin' goes.

  • 11.
  • At 12:38 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Alan Brack wrote:

I was wondering, will this going vegan extend to leather and other animal products? Will you be changing shoes, trying out the alternative plastic style, does anything you own have leather seats? My father recently became a vegan, but is a 'dietary vegan'. Personally, I believe the moral issues are slightly blurred with this distinction, so it will be interesting to see you explore this.

  • 12.
  • At 12:40 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

Post 4 :Tracey Goodwin
I never said we are carnivores; I said omnivores; unlike most grass eaters our teeth do not grow (where as horse teeth do); horses do NOT have canine teeth; the canine tooth is the sharp round pointy one designed for ripping - named (by observation) after our canine friends who most definitely are carnivores.

Post 6 : Charley : Vitamin B12 is just that a vitamin - proteins are completely different; it is a long time since I read up on this so I do not remember exactly which ones; though there are proteins involved in the building of bone and muscle that are only sourced from animals.
Grass by the way is a cereal (or grain) - or more correctly grains are grasses. Under the current economic structure it is extremely unlikely that grain would be diverted to feed humans - though dare I suggest that that is a totally different problem - as well as being complicated in that sheep for instance, can feed off poverty grasses; and the ranges they use are not suited for even subsistence grain farming (Karoo; central Australia and similar arid/semi arid areas).

Post 8 : Kaz : I am sorry if you think that my original post was a rant; if my challenging your assumptions/beliefs/opinions is a rant then so be it; guilty as charged. And by the way - when a vegetarian friend comes to eat we put on vegetarian food; no rants; no moans; just an interest in how to avoid the standard (to me) boring quantities of vegetable matter it's necessary to eat !

I continue to try and learn; I original did research for this back in the 70's when I was staying in a house; most of whom were vegetarian/vegan (and yes about 2/3rds were vegetarian because they had discovered that meat came from abattoirs)and I thank all of you who are trying to explain to me; in non emotive terms, why anyone who is an omnivore should consider being either vegetarian or even vegan.

Thank you Ethical man for allowing this to go on - by the way does anyone understand what post 10 is all about?

  • 13.
  • At 10:23 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

Just a question - what is ethical about being a vegan?
I'm a meat eater and I consider myself to be a fairly ethical and moral person. Being vegan doesn't take you onto a higher ethical plane!

  • 14.
  • At 10:34 AM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

Why is it that vegetarians/vegans are the most irritating food fadists about? When catering for them, it is all about them, with little thought for anyone else.
I only like a few vegatables, but on the other hand am very fond of meat - can we meet in the middle somewhere? What do you think!!!!

  • 15.
  • At 04:10 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Matthew wrote:

Post 10 / CK Yoe - not sure what that's all about, seems to be militant without any specific direction.

Fair play to Ethical Man for at least being involved in his food production, I reckon if everyone who ate meat had to kill it... we'd eat a lot less meat - reducing the impact of the little (and not so little) blighters in the first place.

Please let us know how dinner goes tomorrow!

  • 16.
  • At 05:09 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Greg wrote:

Post 13/14 Tim - "Why is it that vegetarians/vegans are the most irritating food fadists about?" Being vegetarian / vegan is not exactly a fad - it a life choice and in many cultures it has been around for 1000's of years. As for being “irritating” - I never lecture anyone on eating meat and yet most meat eaters I come across feel they have to lecture me - It always seems like they have so guilty conscious to be honest.
Also the food industry undoubtedly causes suffering to animals even in our country, so I would say that its hard to argue that you are more ethical if you eat meat.

  • 17.
  • At 08:27 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Dee wrote:

Dear Ethical Man

Why do turkeys like Ned have to die if you are going to get your Chrismas dinner? Are there no alternatives? Would you have been sitting with an empty plate had Ned not had his neck broken? I don't think so.

There are many foods around that don't involve the slaughter of sentient animals and it's only because we have it drummed into us that we must eat meat, that many of us cannot see that there IS another way.

Your graphic description of the killing should in itself make people think a bit more about the food on their plate and how it looked before it was neatly packaged.

  • 18.
  • At 08:31 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

Post 16 : Greg : sorry Fad (definition from Pocket Oxford dictionary) noun 1) craze 2) peculiar notion.
OK - our bodies ARE omnivorous (sorry Charley that is NOT debatable)so to NOT eat the way we are evolved is a 'peculiar notion'
Greg : yes it is a choice (some people chose not to vote; take drugs; speed; etc) and prior to the western anthropomorphic view of animal pain was mainly a choice taken on religious grounds ; as for being irritating - yes as your lifestyle choice is forced on me if we wish to socialize.
So far several pro- vegan/vegetarian comments have been lobbed into this blog; one complained that merely questioning why was a rant; none have done the rest of us the courtesy of replying to the various questions asked - how on earth are they going to influence anyone if they don't engage in open debate - hence Greg; the complaint about being "the most irritating food fadists about?"
Come on guys; tell us why it is more ethical/moral not to eat meat & please don't start on the 'poor little lambkins' route - that is just about YOUR emotional reaction; not reasoned debate !

  • 19.
  • At 09:59 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Charley wrote:

"Vitamin B12 is just that a vitamin - proteins are completely different; it is a long time since I read up on this so I do not remember exactly which ones; though there are proteins involved in the building of bone and muscle that are only sourced from animals."

What I meant to say is that it is possible to obtain everything that our bodies need (proteins, vitamins, the lot) from plant sources, apart from a reliable source of B12. What you may be thinking of with proteins is that meat contains all 8 essential amino acids in the same substance, whereas most plants don't contain all 8 at once in the same plant (apart from soya), but they can all be found in one plant or another. So to obtain all 8 from plant sources it is necessary to eat a range of protein-containing plants (and often all 8 occur in 'traditional' combinations of proteins such as beans on toast or rice and lentils), but there are no amino acids that are found only in animals and not in plants.

  • 20.
  • At 11:00 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Charley wrote:

"Why is it that vegetarians/vegans are the most irritating food fadists about? When catering for them, it is all about them, with little thought for anyone else."

I personally find that the hardest part of being vegan is being in social/food situations with omnivores because I don't like to annoy people or to be seen as a burden and will do what I can to avoid doing so, such as offering to bring a food contribution to people's houses or inviting people to meet at my house so that I can cook for them. I realise that I am in the minority and do not expect anyone to 'have' to cater for me if they do not wish to. I make my food choices for my own reasons and not because I wish to irritate other people, but unfortunately our personal choices do sometimes cause a reaction in other people, much as we would sometimes wish they didn't!.

The other hard part for many of us is dealing with people in social situations who go out of their way to be rude about our food choices when we are just trying our best to be polite and not trouble anyone and never even brought up the subject of food choices in the first place (that's not a comment directed at anyone on here btw!).

  • 21.
  • At 11:01 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • Charley wrote:

"Come on guys; tell us why it is more ethical/moral not to eat meat"

I realise that I should be doing better things with my time on Christmas eve than staring at the internet... but here's a summary of my personal reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle:

- it doesn't involve large-scale animal cruelty and suffering, either by keeping animals in poor conditions or producing and immediately killing vast numbers of animals which are useless to the industry such as male calves from dairy cows and male chickens from egg-laying breeds. The 'justification' often given for inflicting these kinds of conditions on animals is "we need to do this in order to meet the demand for meat". How about just demanding less meat?

- it doesn't involve regarding animals as mindless food-production machines rather than the sentient beings and in many cases intelligent creatures that they are

- it uses a lot less of the earth's resources in terms of water, crops, land for grazing, land for growing crops to feed animals

- it doesn't involve making certain species extinct through our insistence on continuing to eat them -

- it causes less pollution, such as greenhouse gases and water pollution caused by run-off from manure pits

- it doesn't involve consuming animal products containing antibiotics (such as or meat products containing certain parts of animals you'd probably rather not think about

- there is less risk of food poisoning, as most food poisoning is transmitted via animal products

- I find a vegan lifestyle to be a more peaceful way of living and one which shows more respect for the other forms of life on this planet which happen not to be humans, which I find to be a more pleasant way to live and one which I enjoy

- eating animal products and causing the abovementioned effects is not necessary in developed countries with a wide range of foods available. A well-planned vegan diet can be just as healthy as an omnivorous diet and in some cases even healthier. Instead of thinking 'why vegan?', I tried asking 'why not?'.

- the food's better! At least it is in my house. I find vegan food a lot more fun to cook and eat than meat-based meals. My mainly omnivore relatives are looking forward to the vegan Christmas dinner I will be cooking for them tomorrow, and will no doubt be glad not to be living on cold turkey, turkey sandwiches, turkey curry etc. for the next two weeks!

If anyone is interested, here's a few links to further information:

UK Vegan Society (discusses many aspects of veganism, including nutrition and health)

RSPCA reports, including some on farmed animals

British Nutrition Foundation page about protein (source of info for my previous post on the subject)§ionId=607&subSubSectionId=324&subSectionId=320&parentSection=299&which=1

Recent Vegan Society-produced booklet and references on the environmental impact of food production

And finally, why I won't be eating turkey tomorrow

Right, now back to Christmas... have a good one all!

  • 22.
  • At 11:02 PM on 24 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

Post 19 : Charley : Thank you; brain cells are definitely not what they used to be - too much meat - no ; probably too much alcohol in the past :-)

Yes the discussion was indeed about amino acids; and yes having stirred my memory (successfully ) this was the concern raised about a vegetarian/vegan diet for children; given it can be hard enough to get kids to eat a reasonable balanced diet when it includes meat - what on earth can you do if they don't like beans or lentils ? The discussion in the 70's also was limited by the unavailability of many now common food stuffs - however my comments about the ethics of using exotic plants still apply (I do endeavour to buy British produce though it is well reported that not all that says it's British is British..)

  • 23.
  • At 01:50 AM on 25 Dec 2006,
  • D Moss wrote:

Why on earth does it matter that our species evolved as omnivores? The only two arguments could be either:
-Meat-eating is in some sense intrinsically good because we were designed/evolved as meat-eaters. Or
-Meat-eating isn't ethically good per se, but it is a physical necessity and therefore MUST be undertaken, whatever the disadvantages (such as suffering caused to animals).

The first argument is obvious nonsense, there is clearly no possible reason why the fact that something is designed/evolved/natural/traditional, makes something either ethically necessary or permissible.

The second argument is simply scienticically false. There is no scientific dispute that nutritionally speaking almost all people can live without eating meat. If it transpires that a certain individual or group need to eat meat for health reasons in some unusual situation, then the matter is different; but such an argument would only work within such a situation, not as a general justification for meat-eating.

  • 24.
  • At 10:05 PM on 25 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

post 24 D Moss quote :
Why on earth does it matter that our species evolved as omnivores? The only two arguments could be either:
-Meat-eating is in some sense intrinsically good because we were designed/evolved as meat-eaters. Or
-Meat-eating isn't ethically good per se, but it is a physical necessity and therefore MUST be undertaken, whatever the disadvantages (such as suffering caused to animals).

end quote

Meat eating is neither good nor bad - it is something that happens; so for omnivores meat eating is a 'normal' activity. Your first question therefore is not actually a meaningful question. The other question would seem to be about whether or not eating meat is ethical since it may cause (unnecessary) suffering to animals.

However you may have a religious belief that proscribes meat eating on religious grounds - that moves this debate from these pages into a religious discussion - not one directly about morals or ethics; as the religious variety of the ethical question has some very different constraints - and you don't normally 'try a religion for a month' - but you may be under an obligation to proselytise.

OK; as far as I can understand the main ethical question revolves around meat eating and food animal suffering; with a secondary one resulting from the question about how efficient a food source meat really is; and whether it would be better to grow crops for direct consumption

I personally am not convinced by the concept that any use of animals is inherently cruel. I concede that 'factory' farms are disgusting and an affront to any so called civilized society; but the economic drive behind factory farming is caused by over population - not anything intrinsic in meat eating. I also believe that it is more important to sort out humanities problems regarding maltreatment of humans (the slave trade; the starving; the dictators of all flavours) before we can go too far down the anthropomorphic interpretation of animal suffering, call me a specist - but I put human condition above any other animal !

Since the current world order can not even begin to see the problem of eating peas grown in Zambia in the affluent west. Zambia is not particularly badly off; but children starve to death there - as do adults. And us lot; we sit round a table eating out of season peas - now that really is unethical ! So whether growing meat is a less efficient use of farm land is pretty academic;

But another question - how was the turkey ?

  • 25.
  • At 08:32 AM on 26 Dec 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

Pete (post 24) makes an excellent point about food miles travelled by some out of season (in the UK) veg and pulses. It does appear to me that many more non-native ingredients are appearing on our plates via the supermarket shoppers insatiable urge for 'something different' and even for the mundane all year round. Surely this in itself is unsustainable in itself as the increasing amount of planetary damage allegedly caused by aircraft movement.(But I don't want to get on to the subject of alleged climate change!;-)
So surely then it makes sense to eat what we have here in our own islands, making use of the vast array of produce, both animal and vegetable. Surely that is more 'ethical'

  • 26.
  • At 04:24 PM on 26 Dec 2006,
  • Elle wrote:

Consuming locally produced food is better for the environment.

Everything is connected to everything else; from how the animals feed is produced to the land they occupy. Western over production of food leads to over population of people which in turn leads to starvation of people.

I think the main thing to think about is to reject the industrialization of food production with both animals and plants.

Ethical man's taken responsibility of the death of that turkey, It would be great if all slaughtered animals lives were respected like Neds.

However there does seem to be a lot of defensive meat eaters around maybe they feel the tension between eating supermarket meat and their usual moral values so attack us veggies. I don't eat many animal products, only dairy sometimes. I consider this to be a personal preference. I don't care what other people do. I think people are too quick to try and make themselves right and everyone else wrong. There are also issues of personal identity, as a teenager my vegetarianism used to be important to my identity as a person but as i've got older i've realised that that people are vegetarians and meateaters for as many reasons as there are people and it is wrong to make assumptions about peoples characters from their diet.

  • 27.
  • At 06:02 PM on 26 Dec 2006,
  • Erik wrote:

I am mystified.If vegetarianism is so healthy why has there never been a government strategy to convert everybody to it?
Why also is Hitler the most famous vegetarian that springs to mind?(Please do not all reply what about Ghandi-I think Hitler wins marginally on visibility).

  • 28.
  • At 08:06 PM on 26 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

just spent an interesting time reading the associated blog 'When is a sprout not a sprout' (hey Ethical Man - how about just getting recipes in one & the discussion in the other ?)

Lots of comments in both about 'defensive meat eaters '
I actually think 'puzzled' is more to the point - most omnivores don't get the point; I must admit apart from the 'killing animals' argument I still don't get the point as such I would like to reverse the question instead of why vege/vegan ask why omnivore ?

I also spotted lots of reference to margarine - a wholly man made substance -originally subsidised as it was a by product from the petro-chem industry. Just checking everyone is aware of where their replacement for butter comes from - and according to all the cook books I've ever seen - and all the Indian cooks I've every swapped recipes with ghee is made from butter.

I'm left with the following thoughts :
Most of us have a dietary preference; & most of us are not particularly obnoxious regarding the reasons/perceived benefits of our choice - there are exceptions of course boring omnivores and stallinesque vegies.

Despite protestations to the contrary I have been unable to find any indication that vegie/vegan is in any way more ethical than omnivore; the vast majority of us just don't have the time (&/or the money) to eat ethically (local seasonal produce; grown sustainably - nb that is not the same as organic...)

The ethical answer may be to pressure our suppliers and legislators - just keep asking questions... ! After all look at the bacon problem - British bacon - probably the most humanely produced bacon in the world - consistently outsold in Britain by the cheaper Danish product - cheaper as they do not have the same high animal care standards our farmers have to use. The lesson I draw from that is that for most people ethical eating is as much a matter of affordability as of ethics...

  • 29.
  • At 05:13 PM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • Fred Warwick wrote:

Can anyone tell me where on earth you can get hold of vegan chocolate that tastes anything like the real thing?Even chocolate spread would make an interesting alternative to my morning jam.Every time I look at the labels in the supermarket I find some totally unexpected dairy product has suddenly been magicked in.

  • 30.
  • At 07:48 PM on 27 Dec 2006,
  • Coral Carter-Brown wrote:

As someone who has worked with teenagers suffering from annorexia,I should point out that a faddish dietary regime such as veganism can be the first sign of issues around food.We must never forget that young women are bombarded by images of beauty in magazines,and that veganism with its insidious political message of self-denial appeals to the "you must stoop to conquer" mentality which so typifies the annorexic's yearning for perfectionism.
I have met parents who were blind to their child's problems-even when major food groups had been dropped.
Surely anything is better than a young person's life being put at risk. Dairy produce is essential for the growth of healthy bones,and nothing can rival it as an economic and convenient source of calcium.I hope that vegans will bear this mind when delivering their Evangelical message.

  • 31.
  • At 06:35 PM on 28 Dec 2006,
  • Tracey Goodwin wrote:

For goodness sake, horses DO have canine teeth!! Go into a book shop, find a horse vet book & look at the diagram on teeth!!! (Not to be confused with horses' wolf teeth which are something completely different.) I got the quote below from a 2 second google search:-

Most male horses five years of age and older have four canine teeth in the interdental space located about an inch or two behind the incisors. Some mares (about 20%) have small canines or canine buds, usually on the lower jaw.

So there ya go, Pete. Check your facts before spouting.

  • 32.
  • At 12:01 AM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • pete wrote:

Hi Tracy
But they do grow - they have to 'cos eating all that cereal wears them down (well ok its the grit they get with the grass that does the most damage) - I go looking for photo's of horse canines; see if they are 'canine' type teeth & don't grow or are (misnamed?) herbivore teeth designed for either cropping or grinding....

Ethical debate :

The only point that I've seen here about ethics appears to be the contention that it is un-ethical to kill animals for food.
I personally do not subscribe to this; I believe that we should be good stewards; and that as part of nature we are ethically required to participate of earth's bounty - that includes killing other living organisms. We have an obligation to presume (at least human level)intelligence in Cetaceans and dolphins; but sheep; cows ? sorry despite all the emotive arguments to the contrary I do not accept the notion that it is somehow cruel; unusual or unethical to kill to eat.

Therein lies the problem - there are those who believe it's wrong; those who don't care; and those who believe it's right. I suspect that apart from civilised discussions; until acceptable evidence to the contrary is found that is the way it will stay. And because of the concern of the vegetarian/vegan position they will continue to (correctly !) try and persuade us omnivores to change - they wouldn't be ethical if they didn't ! (Nor would I be ethical if I didn't engage with them in debate)

Happy New Year !!

  • 33.
  • At 08:41 PM on 29 Dec 2006,
  • Henry George wrote:

You have much in common with my late father,Justin.He was in active combat during the war,but could hardly bring himself to kill a spider in later life without shaking.
He also underwent a short period of veganism in a prison camp(cabbages mostly).Cat meat was popular-it apparently made quite a good stew.I would not risk suggesting it as part of your local foraging agenda.

  • 34.
  • At 10:23 AM on 03 Jan 2007,
  • Jane wrote:

Fred, post 29: Green & Black's plain chocolate is vegan. All varieties are, I think, organic and the Maya Gold flavour is also fairtrade.

But the main ingredient has come an awfully long way to get to us. I don't know about you, but I find it incredibly difficult sometimes to weigh up these kind of competing ethical claims.

  • 35.
  • At 11:40 PM on 03 Jan 2007,
  • Maya Yamashita wrote:

Jane, I agree with you. I think sometimes it is more important to buy locally than buy organic... The whole thing boils down to the sustainability argument.

I'd rather buy something which is not necessarily organic but British from the local butchers/grocers than from Tescos who is making a bucket and a half importing organic goods from the other side of the world.


The charity org. Animal Aid in Kent (google it) sells boxes of delicious vegan chocolates (made no-dairy centres, under licence by a well-known UK chocolate manufacturer) apart from many other vegan food, drink and toiletries, all available on line or by mail order from the catalogue.

People eat far too much meat these days. Our omnivore teeth were there to cope with the bit of meat brought back to the tribe occasionally, often not enough in quantity to serve all members.

The news about farming I saw this week is that it,, too should cut down on emissions of gas contributing to the greenhouse effect. If other emerging nations followed the western path of farming enormous numbers of livestock, there would be no hope for the planet, what with the land needed to grow grain for animal consumption and methane production from the other end.

I was dismayed by some countryside dwellers'reaction against plastic tunnels used for soft fruit growing in the UK. Views, views, views are their only concern, in spite of a short season of exceptionally fresh food and a reduction in food haulage miles - although I suspect the loudest moans come from countryside visitors dwelling only at weekends. They should try looking out of my window on to the overground tube rail tracks with attendant cables, parapets and gantries. I expect they are all happy to use urban roads and the tube railway when it suits.

  • 37.
  • At 11:16 PM on 06 Jan 2007,
  • James wrote:

As a fat Vegan, I can assure you that Veganism is no more likely to lead to to anorexia, than swimming is likely to turn you into a fish.

  • 38.
  • At 09:04 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Tim wrote:

Erm... I eat meat because it tastes good. I don't really care much about the ethical grounds here. I know of many many people who feel the same way - regardless of how much they would hate visiting an abbatoir.

  • 39.
  • At 10:06 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • white wrote:

thanks for this discussion folks. some good points raised.

some bad ones too, and its more fun to talk about them.

teeth and guts aside, humans are facultative omnivores, which means that we have a choice (like so many things). obviously we can live on a vegan diet, but i have yet to see anyone prove we can live on meat alone. in fact, somebody mentioned meat rotting in the gut, which is preventable mostly by eating a lot of plants with your meat.

prior to domestication, many human cultures probably ate little to no meat in the summer and fall, but derived most of their calories from meat during the winter. as urban animals, our diet choices are no longer driven by availability, but rather by price and ethics. in the same way that a 'caveman' chooses the stress and risk of hunting when plant food is scarce, we can choose meat over expensive imported grain.

but of course its cruel to kill animals for food. a meat eater who denies that is sadly blind. its comparable to suggesting that we eat retarded babies because they arent as good as we are.

if you arent a vegetarian (im a pisco-lacto-ovo or something) its impossible to explain the difference in thought that comes with conversion. its not just that warm fuzzy feeling, which is all i get from choosing not to drive a car. theres an unconscious awareness activated somehow. animals-- including insects, birds, and mammals-- actually respond to it. i imagine there is some kind of predator smell that comes out of you when you eat meat.

why are food and religion so intertwined? perhaps because people who cant eat together are unlikely to form a close-knit social group. vegetarians embrace counterculture to some extent, because we dont just accept what is force-fed to us, namely cheap processed by-product wrapped in plastic and foil with sugar to hide the noxious taste.

meat-eating is not inherently wrong, but the meat available in my society (british columbia) is far more cruel and unhealthy than the plant matter. BSE/CJD seems like a good argument for vegetarianism. but i imagine its an emotional topic in england.

  • 40.
  • At 04:02 PM on 15 Jan 2007,
  • Dan wrote:

Couldn't resist commenting on the horse teeth. The clue is in the quote:

Most male horses...have...canine teeth
Some mares have small canines or canine buds

If there is a difference between the sexes then it has nothing to do with diet. I would suggest that sharp pointy teeth give a stallion an advantage when fighting for mates.
We, on the other hand, have the same teeth whether male or female and are quite obviously omnivores. I think one of the problems with understanding this comes from the stereotyped view of the caveman hunter. Our evolutionary ancestors would not have hunted for mammoth or whatever, they would have eaten eggs, shellfish, probably insects/grubs and maybe some scavenged meat from carnivore kills. Typical omnivore fare. Before we gained intelligence we were definitely not evolved to be hunters.

On the ethical side, I think that the worst type of meat to eat is fish. I am seriously considering giving up all seafood (even though I LOVE it) having found out the degree of destruction being wreaked on the seas. I think the fact that really brought it home was finding out that "Orange Roughy", a fish that has only recently appeared in our supermarkets, is a deep sea fish that grows extremely slowly and can live to 150 years. We've only been catching them for 30 years or so and they are already endangered with, as far as I can see, very little chance of recovery given how slowly they mature.

  • 41.
  • At 03:32 PM on 19 Jan 2007,
  • Julian wrote:

I just noted that there were several issues about veganism being discussed and wanted to hopefully shed some light:

1) We need to separate out the environmental impact of eating meat from the question of whether it is intrinsically wrong to eat meat. Whether eating meat is more environmentally damaging then leading a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is a factual question. To my knowledge, it is more environmentally damaging and some contributors have pointed to studies attesting to that. Whether eating meat is intrinsically wrong is a philosophical issue and I would thus point readers in the direction of the philosophical literature, of which there has been a great deal over the past 30 years. Two authors stand out: Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Singer espouses a utilitarian approach and Regan espouses a rights-based approach. Both come to the conclusion that it is intrinsically wrong to kill animals for food (although this is somewhat of a simplification of Singer's position). On the other hand, the philosophical establishment pretty much agrees with the conventional position, which is that it is not wrong to kill animals for food, but it is wrong to cause them unncessary suffering (i.e. the "animal welfare position"). If one takes this philosphical position it then becomes a factual question as to whether animals experience suffering in the farming process. The dominant source of our meat in the developed world comes from factory farms which indubitably creates an enormous amount of suffering for the animals involved. Even ardent animal rights critics such as Roger Scruton opposes factory farming as unethical. Hence, even if you do not swallow the arguments of the animal rights philosophers, you ought not to eat meat from factory farms

2) Two related questions people were discussing were: first, whether humans evolved to be meat eaters or not; and second whether it was necessary for our health to be meat eaters. On the first question, it is irrelevant to the ethical question of meat eating whether we evolved to be meat eaters or not. On the second question, there is a growing body of evidence that meat eating is not necessary for our health. In fact there is evidence to suggest that vegans and vegetarians are healthier than omnivores, athough it is unclear if this is due to not eating meat or other factors.

..Rather helpful information you have here. Grazie!

  • 43.
  • At 12:24 AM on 11 Mar 2007,
  • Rose wrote:

I can't face being a total vegetarian,but I have made it a rule to avoid all "cruel" food such as battery hens, goose liver and- worst of all- veal, which is produced by depriving young calves of all natural light.

  • 44.
  • At 11:49 AM on 24 Mar 2007,
  • Craig Pavel-Schum wrote:

It makes me cross when people say that vegetarianism is an unhealthy way to eat.I always start the day with a really good breakfast-several bowls of Q uaker oats,fruit ,the works.After that I feel fighting fit,and often I only need a big bowl of chunky vegetarian soup (perhaps with some French bread) in the evening.I have been following this diet for years and have never had a single day's sick leave.I really don't know why everyone doesn't try it.

  • 45.
  • At 10:23 AM on 30 Oct 2007,
  • bex wrote:

I've recently been diagnosed with a sclyciliate acid (not sure of spelling) intolerance? I have been a vegetarian BUT eating fish a couple of times a week. The rash was pretty bad and the only fruits low in these acids are bananas and peeled pears, few vegetables, no dried herbs and spices with the acceptance of a very small hand full, and no presevatives, but most meats (uncured), are low in these acids. So i have changed to a more omnivore diet! This has led me to believe, not everone can live on a Vegan or Vegetarian diet! Would you stay vegetarian? or Vegan if you had a very uncomfortable red dry uncontrollable itch spreading over your body?

This post is closed to new comments.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites