Thinking about eating

At high school we had a course called ‘Car­ing’ (Ver­zorg­ing). One of the few things that I still remem­ber from that, is a movie with a woman who was jump­ing rope and singing: “Know what you eat, kno-o-ow what you ea-eat!” (This was in Dutch, where the words ‘know’ and ‘eat’ actu­al­ly rhyme) After this you would see peo­ple eat­ing a piz­za for exam­ple, and the movie tracked how many calo­ries they were eating.

For most peo­ple, eat­ing con­scious­ly only refers to health, and has noth­ing to do with moral choic­es. That is the rea­son why meat and ani­mal prod­ucts are con­sumed with­out think­ing. Since I have become veg­an it is hard for me to see how this is pos­si­ble, but on the oth­er hand I have also lived as a veg­e­tar­i­an for years and before that as a meat eater. So I will ask the ques­tion to the non-veg­an read­er: Why do you eat meat or ani­mal products?


Melanie Joy men­tions three N’s that peo­ple use as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion: It is nor­mal, nat­ur­al, and nec­es­sary. The first N is also the weak­est, because we can think of enough bad things that are or were nor­mal for some peo­ple: female cir­cum­ci­sion, racism, smok­ing, etcetera. The fact that it is nor­mal for you to eat meat at this moment, does not give any judge­ment about whether it’s right or wrong.

The sec­ond point has more sub­stance: Peo­ple have evolved on an ani­mal diet, so it is indeed nat­ur­al. Most peo­ple have even devel­oped a tol­er­ance to cow’s milk. Here we encounter the is / ought prob­lem of David Hume; see this BBC ani­ma­tion. Hume says you can not use the fact that peo­ple eat meat to judge whether this is good or bad. There is a dif­fer­ence between how the world is and how the world should be. We can make dif­fer­ent choic­es than our ances­tors and broad­en the moral cir­cle like I wrote earlier.


We come to the third point, ‘nec­es­sary’. Good news: in the afflu­ent West­ern world, eat­ing ani­mal prod­ucts is absolute­ly unnec­es­sary for a healthy and long life. Veg­an­ism is actu­al­ly health­i­er because you ingest less bad fats. And the nutri­ents that you would sup­pos­ed­ly ‘miss’ are very easy to find else­where. I will men­tion a few exam­ples: Pro­tein is present in vir­tu­al­ly every­thing you eat, but espe­cial­ly in legumes. Dark green leafy veg­eta­bles like spinach and sprouts are burst­ing with iron, cal­ci­um and vit­a­min C. The sub­stances that cause some fish to be so good for you, omega 3 fat­ty acids, are also found in things like flaxseed and wal­nuts, and in the algae where the fish get it.

It’s good to think about whether it is jus­ti­fi­able to eat meat and ani­mal prod­ucts. I think that because of the three N’s, people’s ideals about love and care for cre­ation get switched off the moment they enter the super­mar­ket. I’ve made the deci­sion, I’m eat­ing great food and I do it with a clean con­science. I rec­om­mend it to everyone!


  • Melanie Joy, Why we love dogs, eat pigs and wear cows 
  • Floris van den Berg, De vrolijke veganist
  • Calf pic­ture: Galia ^