Chuck Carroll

What's Natural About Eating Meat in Modern Society?

Published: 2024-03-04
Updated: 2024-03-08

The most common criticisms I've heard about eating meat is that 1) how we treat animals in factory farms is inhumane, 2) it's incredibly inefficient in terms of resources, and 3) it's destructive to the land and the larger environment. In contrast, a common argument against plant-based diet I'll hear is usually something like "a vegan/vegetarian diet is so unnatural" (second only to "Where do you get your protein!?"). I'm curious what exactly is "natural" about eating conventional meat in the modern world, specifically factory farmed meat which is what the majority of people are eating.

The meat you buy at your local grocery store is pumped full of artificial hormones to maximize profits of the meat processing company. Chickens, for example, are shot up with growth hormones so that they grow far larger than they would naturally. Cows produce 10x milk than they naturally would. Turkeys become so big that they can't even stand up.

A factory farm environment contains horrific scenes and can traumatizing, which is why you'll never be allowed to tour one of these facilities. Ears are pierced and tagged. Animals are branded with a hot iron. Tails are cut to prevent gnawing caused by anxiety. Mothers separated from their offspring shortly after birth. Instead of cattle and pigs being subjected to this, consider how awful it would be for a human. It's common practice for livestock like cows and pigs to be given antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

And because they're crammed together into small confined spaces and in disgustingly unsanitary conditions, such as laying in their own urine and excrement, these animals are prone to all sorts of diseases. Outbreaks are so common that they're routinely given antibiotics so product doesn't go bad. The danger here is that over time they grow antibiotic resistance so that stronger antibiotics must be use, increasing the risk of producing viruses that can effect humans. In nature, animals would not be exposed to such high levels of disease and antibiotics.

Consider all of these growth hormones, pharmaceuticals, and antibiotics that are given to livestock to keep them "healthy". We then we eat these animals.

Look at the life of a typical factory-farmed cow. They receive food, medication, and hormones from one set of machines, then get milked by another set of machines several times per day. The cow takes in the raw material and their udders produce the commodity of milk.

Animals whose flesh is the commodity are taken to a slaughterhouse where they're both mechanically and physically picked a part by humans. Then the remains want to want to sell is then packaged, labeled, frozen, loaded on a truck, then shipped hundreds of miles on a semi-truck to your local grocery story. What's natural about that?

I'm much less critical of slaughtering an animal oneself. If more people were forced to slaughter their own meat and come face to face with the reality of where their food comes from, there would likely be more vegetarians in the world. I'm also less critical of hunting (though shooting a deer with a hunting rifle, one could also bring up the "what's natural" question again).

I all this being said, I do acknowledge that hunting and eating animals has been a part of much of human history and important to the evolutionary development of our species. I am an animal with hundreds of thousands of years of evolutionary programming that includes a survival instinct to consume other animals in order to stay alive and increase the chances that my genes can proliferate. However, what most people don't realize about the role consuming meat in our evolutionary development is that we weren't eating meat as frequently as we are in the modern world. We were primarily grazing and gathering, not eating meat on a daily basis, much less for every meal as we are now (at least in the Western world). We live in a world of abundance and even excess in much of the world.

Undoubtedly, these concerns will trigger emotional reactions in some, possibly due to feeling their lifestyle is being "attacked", or because a meat ingredient is an essential part of a traditional family meal, their culture, or simply their favorite food. These reactions are almost as though their religious beliefs are being challenged. However, if we want to have a sane and sober discussion, we must detach these feelings from the issue, else it lead us to an arrogant and inaccurate disconnect with reality. I don't care what you eat, and for the record I cannot call myself a vegan or a vegetarian - I rarely consume meat, but when I do it's seafood. Just consider that the modern meat industry is far from what we should consider "natural". I think it's very likely that future societies will look back at our current society as being backwards in regards to the waste of resources and the suffering created through factory farming.

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