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The 10 Most Common Arguments against Vegetarianism or Veganism and My Response to Them: Part One
This is a short series I'm writing about the most common arguments meat eaters will level against veggies (I'll use the term 'veggie' from here on to describe vegetarians and vegans). Originally I was going to publish it as one page but when it kept getting bigger and bigger I figured it would make sense to break it down a little!
Firstly, a little about me. I went veggie 4 years ago. I studied ethics at University and for my masters I researched and wrote a 20,000 word dissertation on the subject of justice and animal rights. Before I began researching for this dissertation I was an avid meater, but in researching the subject and keeping an open mind I began to see my old ethical views as inconsistent, the lines of reasoning unsustainable.
I became a vegetarian almost overnight, and I became a vegan a few months later. Since then I have sought to keep up to date with the literature, and I have taken part in various discussions with other people on the subject, either in person or on related discussions on internet forums. I like to discuss these things! I used to love meat, and I guess I kind of hope that a meat eater will make me see the error of my ways!
However, I have noticed the same arguments come up again and again. Arguments such as 'we are omnivores so therefore it is natural and right to eat meat' or 'a lion will eat other animals so we can as well' or 'you eat plants which are alive so you are causing death anyway'... These arguments are generally badly thought out, and they offer a quick justification and ease the consciences of most people.
Of course most veggies will have considered these arguments and rejected them, but that doesn't stop people coming on to forums or comment articles, offering these arguments as though they've never been thought of before! So I decided I would write a brief article (as brief as I could make it!) about the most common arguments veggies will come up against, and why they should be rejected.
This article is mainly written for veggies who come up against these arguments regularly but I hope it will also be useful for meat eaters to read. After all, as one particular writer says 'It is important to look at things from other people's perspectives so we can better understand how wrong they are!'
1. The Protein Question
If you are a vegetarian or a vegan you will have been asked this question: Where do you get your protein? If I had a pound for every time I was asked this... Well, I'd like to say I'd be a millionaire, but more likely I'd be a hundredaire. Some people might also ask about calcium or iron perhaps. As a vegan you should be aware about the lack of vitamin D and vitamin B12 on a vegan diet. Sometimes the underlying suggestion is that since it is difficult to be nutritionally healthy on a veggie diet it is therefore unrealistic for most people. Some suggest it is risky, especially if they have children to feed, and some suggest that you'd have to be incredibly disciplined. Here I hope to point out why these concerns are unfounded.
Okay, so firstly, protein. Let me respond with a question: have you ever met a vegetarian with a protein deficiency? I certainly haven't. It is actually not hard at all to get enough protein on a veggie diet, in fact, you'll probably do it without even trying. For a start, every food has some protein in, even vegetables. Take a look at the nutrition on the packet of a loaf of bread - did you know that every slice of bread has between 2 and 3 grams or protein in it?
The recommended daily allowance for protein is 45 grams for women, 56 grams for men, and slightly more if you're trying to pack on the muscle (check out www.veganfitness.net, a forum for vegans discussing how they keep fit and healthy - there are even bodybuilders on there!). If, say, you have beans on toast for lunch that's 14-15 grams of protein right there. Some will say that you only get incomplete proteins on a veggie diet, but the truth is, as long as you eat a variety of foods, you will get enough.
Also, and this is a fact that gets ignored far too often, too much protein can actually be bad for you. Consider that next time you discuss the matter with your friend who insists that every meal should have meat in it!
The same can be said for calcium and iron, that is, they can be found in a lot more foods than you realise. Of course we all know that spinach is good for iron, but did you know that carrots are a really good source of calcium? It doesn't hurt to read up on veggie nutrition, and in doing so, you will be far more aware of what good nutrition is than most meat eaters.
Actually as it turns out, veggies in general are healthier than meat eaters. Of course we have to worry about getting the right nutrition, but then so do meat eaters, and I would say on balance that it is easier to get the right nutrition with a vegetarian diet than a meat eating one. After going veggie I actually lost a lot of weight (I was pretty overweight) and now I find it fairly easy to stay a healthy weight. I read recently that Adele has taken on a vegetarian diet to get in shape, and you can already tell the difference. Bill Clinton converted to a mostly vegan diet for the sake of his blood pressure a few years back - no meat and dairy products equals very little cholesterol. Did you know that Carl Lewis (that Olympic athlete with all the gold medals) was a vegan? Or that Mike Tyson, the world famous boker, is a vegan?
More seriously, excess meat consumption has been linked with various forms of cancer. Check out this BBC article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-12571576
One thing I would say though, if you are a vegan, is make sure you get enough vitamin D and B12. I know vegans who reckon they'll get all the vitamin D they need from the sun, and while it is true you can get vitamin D from the sun, if you live in England like I do then you won't be getting enough on that alone. I read that if you live in Manchester you would have to walk around topless all day to get enough vitamin D! Needless to say, this isn't particularly practical! Equally with vitamin B12 you must look into it - a lot of foods now are fortified with vitamins D and B12, such as soya milk, vegan margarine, and certain breakfast cereals, but it is still worth looking into taking some kind of supplement just in case.
How Bill Clinton lost weight and lowered his cholesterol on a vegan diet
2. The Natural Argument
This is perhaps the most common philosophical argument against vegetarianism or veganism you will come across. For example, some people might say that we are omnivores and that it is natural and therefore right for us to eat meat as part of our diet. Some might even say that meat is essential as part of a healthy balanced diet or question where we get our protein from (as above.)
The first thing to say is what do you actually mean when you say it's natural to eat meat? Is it really natural to eat meat at every meal, every day? In this instance it is probably helpful to look at our closest relatives in the evolutionary tree to see what they eat. So what do apes and monkeys eat? Well, they eat fruit, nuts, seeds, maybe some eggs, bugs, and sometimes a little meat. They certainly don't eat a portion of meat at every meal, every day! Meat is an extremely small part of their diet, if they eat it at all. In fact gorillas are vegetarian!
And is it really natural to drink milk from another animal? Animal husbandry has only been around for about 11,000 years and there are suggestions that 75% of the world's population are lactose intolerant.
There is some suggestion that humans are more like herbivores than they are omnivores or carnivores. Proper carnivores, like lions for example, can eat a predominantly meat based diet because they have the digestive systems to cope with it. A carnivore's stomach has 10 times the amount of hydrochloric acid than a humans or herbivores. Carnivore's don't need to cook meat like humans do. You might consider bears to be proper omnivores as they do eat a fair amount of meat along with a fair amount of non-meat food. Humans on the other hand, biologically and evolutionarily speaking, are pretty much herbivores who happen to be able to eat meat. It is useful to be able to eat meat in case we're starving and there is nothing else available, and this probably helped us survive as a species, but our natural diet is a far cry from what a lot of people consider natural today.
Most importantly though, is this philosophical point: Is doing what is natural the same as doing what is right? It is not a new suggestion. But if you were to take an objective look at the human race and human history you would probably paint a fairly bleak picture of what human nature is really like - war, genocide, racism, sexism, homophobia, the full emotional spectrum including not just happiness but anger, jealousy, revenge, lust... You can probably see where I'm going here. Is this really the nature we want to live up to? It should be clear that doing what is natural is not the same as doing what is right. The right thing to do is to rise above our human nature, our natural temptations and emotions, to become more rational ethical beings.