Bad news for Thanksgiving

Our bowling teams determined that it is NOT morally permissible to eat meat. So bring on the tofurkey this year. On the brighter side, there ARE natural rights; so that is something to be thankful for!

Author: Huenemann

Curious about the ways humans use their minds and hearts to distract themselves from the meaninglessness of life.

3 thoughts on “Bad news for Thanksgiving”

  1. Did you guys consider the moral implications of the possibility that a diet rich in animal products is the healthiest diet? I’ve been researching diet and nutrition for about a year now, and I’ve become fascinated with questions at the interface of health and ethics. Let me explain my reasoning, and I’d love to hear some critiques of my logic.

    Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a vegetarian diet leads to a greater risk of getting diabetes and obesity (unorthodox, I know). If this is true then ethical vegetarians are essentially trumping their own interests, as well as those of their children – by potentially increasing their risk of contracting these conditions – in favor of the interests of non-human animals. We then would be forced into the question, What’s less immoral, subjecting a non-human animal to excruciating pain (and potentially poor living conditions, depending on where you buy your meat) or giving your children potentially life-threatening diseases and decreasing their well-being and happiness? And, of course, the calculus gets even harder when we ponder what the pain/suffering potential is for given species, and how different species might tip the scales to a more plant-based-diet argument than others (sardines probably don’t feel as much pain as gorillas, right?).

    So what. Obviously a vegetarian diet is healthy, right? I doubt many will agree with me, but carbohydrates (the bulk of the vegetarian diet) are uniquely fattening. They are fattening (unlike dietary animal fat and protein) because they induce a pancreatic insulin response. Insulin is the hormone of fat deposition and storage, and excessive amounts of it cause us to gain weight and increase our likelihood of contracting type 2 diabetes. The science journalist and historian Gary Taubes argues most succinctly on this point (and his book on the history of diet science – Good Calories, Bad Calories – is a gripping read). Excessive insulin also fosters cancer-tumor growth, and is why some oncologists believe that the reduction of cancer rates requires a reduction of carbohydrate intake – especially sugars, natural or otherwise.

    The difficulty of the philosophy, even given my assumptions, leads me to posit that the best way to go about this discourse is to let the science of nutrition precede the philosophy of ethics. I’m not trying to downgrade philosophy, but IF the science shows, unambiguously, that carbohydrates (taken to excess) are disease-causing agents, the entire ethical basis for vegetarianism seems to be in jeopardy. (If you remove animal products from your diet, you, almost by necessity, increase carbohydrate consumption.)

    On another note, all of this is why I’m excited about possible advances in genetic engineering. If we can engineer organisms without nervous systems, we can eliminate suffering and procure healthy meat – If we can make the chicken breast without the chicken, we’ve solved the problem. I posted a link to a lecture by Taubes below.


  2. I first need to point out that you’re going about this all wrong. Arguments don’t work. That’s why we bowl.

    But setting that aside. Let’s assume consequentialism is true, so we’re aiming to bring about the best consequences. And let’s suppose you’re right that a strictly vegetarian diet makes diabetes more likely. You begin by saying that a meat-rich diet may be healthiest for humans – really? Even healthier than a diet that is a mix of the “right” vegetables and cereals with a bit of meat now and then? I’ve just always assumed that this mixed diet would be best for us because it’s the diet we’ve evolved with, but I could easily be wrong. We’re omnivores, right?

    If the mixed diet is best for us, or even if it merely avoids the sort of health risks you mention, then we certainly could reduce our consumption of meat, reduce animal suffering, and actually have more food generally available, which seem good consequences.

    If it turns out we really are carnivores, we’d have to ask, I guess, whether the health risks we incur by compromising our diet with grains and vegetables really are on par with the sorts of direct suffering we cause to animals through factory farming. (Seems to me “no”.) But in any case, it’s not clear that concerns for human health trump all other moral concerns. Imagine what we’d say if it turned out (warning, weird idea coming) that the very healthiest human diet consisted of baby fat. Eww. We’d probably all agree to let our health be suboptimal rather than start farming babies. Similarly, vegetarianism would not necessarily lose its basis if it turned out that it wasn’t the very healthiest human diet.

    I think you are right that if we could engineer animals to feel little more than what corn plants feel, then we wouldn’t have to worry about their welfare. It’s a creepy idea, but I think that’s only because of all the distopian sci-fi movies we’ve seen.


  3. Oh, nice. Bowling does seem like a great way to arbitrate.

    What most people call a balanced diet (or mixed diet) consists of grains, fruits, veggies, meat and dairy; the food guide pyramid. The point of a great deal of nutrition science is that a balanced diet, as defined, isn’t the healthiest diet, and it isn’t what we evolved to eat. Prior to ten thousand years ago (the agriculture revolution), our ancestors hunted animals and gathered pants – that’s all there was. In evolutionary terms, ten thousand years is not that long, and osteological evidence suggests that when people first started farming crops, their health suffered greatly. While our bodies may have evolved a little bit to the consumption of refined grains, there is a body of evidence suggesting that these foods are causing problems. This body of evidence is part of endocrinology, the study of our hormone systems. Refined grains cause blood sugar spikes (because they are immediately converted into glucose after consumption) and subsequently cause elevated blood insulin levels. Chronically elevated levels of blood insulin are not only associated with diabetes and obesity, but also with the cancers of endocrine organs – which are most of them. The other side of this is that the hypothesis that a low-fat-diet is a healthy diet has now effectively failed the test of time. Not only have researchers been unable to show that dietary fat makes you fat (or raises cholesterol), they’ve also been unable to show that “healthy” grains and cereals reduce heart disease. In fact, a look at the history shows that these “advances” were more political than scientific. Sorry about the long foray into nutrition, I know it’s not what this blog is devoted to.

    So the logic, If a balanced diet is optimal, or avoids the above problems….relies on a pretty big IF. If anything, we should be wary of the fact that, since George McGovern’s 1977 Dietary Guidelines for Americans were issued (calling for reduced fat consumption and increased carbohydrate consumption – a more balanced diet, that is), diabetes, overweight, and cancer have all increased greatly.

    I like your ‘baby fat’ counterargument, it does make me second guess my reasoning. I guess my assumption (and it is an assumption) about human and animal sentience is that humans are susceptible to a greater range of suffering than most animals. So, if this assumption is granted, then under a consequentialist perspective it would follow that the interests of humans usually trump those of animals. Right? I guess I’m grappling with how one would weigh the consequences under a consequentialist perspective – we could potentially be in a predicament where we have to choose either to give our own children moderately suffering-inducing conditions on one hand, or force extreme suffering upon non-human animals on the other. All of this is nebulous, of course, for the science isn’t cut-and-dry in the first place.


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