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 ^