Eating Meat: Ethics and Epidemiology

People make dietary choices are based on a number of factors: nutrition, taste, availability, convenience, food allergies, religious standards, ethics, economics, and whatever they think is going to help them become skinny/jacked/”toned”/swole/a big old ball of sexy.

As I’ve previously discussed, I have eaten omnivorous and vegetarian/vegan diets, and almost everything in between.   Over the years, my understanding of nutrition and ethics has evolved…as has my ability to interpret studies with accuracy and to detect bias in anecdotal and empirical reporting.  Hyperbolic headlines and splashy stories no longer move my dietary choices like an imbalanced pendulum.

Over the past few months, a few sources of particular note have come my way, and they’ve got me thinking quite a bit.  I wanted to share those with yall and open up some discussion.

While I have never found anything immoral or unethical about consuming animal products, the cruelty of factory farming – insofar as I knew – did not sit well with me.  Hunting, fishing, (humane) trapping, and the like? I’m all about it. (Plus, there’s just something about a guy that hunts…)   The horrors that reportedly were the norm in CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) across the country? Not so much.

Well, then I finally a blog called “The Art of Agriculture.”  The author, M.K. Jones, studied agriculture at Virginia Tech and works in the industry, and she does not shy away from tough topics. Reading about what she has seen and learned from working in agriculture has caused me to question many previously-held beliefs regarding the facts of factory farming, and the ethical ramifications.  Some of her most insightful/challenging pieces include:

  • The Truth About Animal Slaughter (the business of “harvesting” animal foods may be ugly, but it should not cause undue suffering…and as it turns out, perhaps that’s more the exception than the rule)
  • Confessions of a Recovered Vegetarian <– If you only read one of these, make it this one! (her differentiation between animal rights and animal welfare was very helpful)
  • Dairy Farm FAQ’s (dairy farming is often touted as one of the cruelest of the agriculture industry, so it was interesting to see a perspective from the other side)

Of course, the question of eating meat – or animal foods in general – has two prongs.  Ethics aside, the debate over the healthfulness of eating meat is one that has raged for decades. When I first read The China Study in high school, I quickly became convinced that veganism was a panacea for any and all physical illness.  But as I matured, so did my understanding of research, and I began looking at other sources.  Turns out that if you look hard enough, you can find a study to support just about any kind of dietary regime.

One of my favorite health bloggers, Dr. Guyanet, recently ran a 9-part series on the health merits of eating or abstaining from meat.  He analysed a huge number of RCTs (randomized controlled trials – pretty much the gold standard in research) and epidemiological studies, and summarized the implications with his trademark astuteness and impartiality.

The results are not entirely conclusive, of course – the science of nutrition is still in its infancy relative to most other areas of study – but they may surprise you.

I realize that all this may be boring if you’re not fascinated by these kinds of questions.  At the same time, if you’re reading this, you must be at least somewhat interested in health (unless you’re just here to hear me ramble about my quarter-life crisis…in which case, I’ll meet you back here on Friday).  So for those who have want to have a big old nerd fest, let’s get to discussing!

How much thought do you put into what you put into your mouth each day?

Did you find any of the above articles particularly compelling or challenging?

What is your stance on eating meat (in terms of ethics, health…taste…)?

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