Meat is a staple part of most diets around the world – in fact, it is often the centerpiece of traditional meals and celebrations. Today, many people are making the switch to vegetarianism or veganism for various reasons.
One of the most fundamental motives is that certain people believe it is cruel to eat another sentient being. But looking back at human history – is it? Find out more here.
Today, the industrialized meat industry is cruel as animals are treated inhumanely while they are still alive. However, science shows that eating animals was crucial for human evolution and still has benefits today. Whether you believe it is cruel to eat animals, even if it is sourced ethically, depends on your personal values.
We will look at both sides of the issue and weigh the supporting evidence for each argument. Read on to gather more information to form your own knowledge-based stance on whether it is cruel to eat animals or not.
Were Animals Put on Earth for Us to Use?
We all learnt about the circle of life as children growing up. The ant eats the grass, the spider eats the ant, the bird eats the spider and so on… and as far as our modern evolution is concerned, people have all used animals to help improve their quality of life.
For example, the Inuits could not have survived the winters without thick fur from the caribou to keep them warm. They would also eat the meat and use the horns to make bowls and more.
Here are some common arguments as to why eating meat is not only not cruel, but that doing so creates balance in the world.
We Would Not Have Evolved into Homo Sapiens Without Animals
While there is nothing wrong with a vegetarian or vegan diet – science has proven to us that humans could have never become such highly evolved beings without including meat in our diets.
Not only are our bodies designed to process meat, but without this calorie-dense protein-fueled food, earlier humans, known as Australopithecus were able to boost their overall nutrition levels and survive for much longer than they would have by only eating fruits and veggies.
In fact, just chewing root vegetables to get enough calories in, took a serious toll on earlier man who would need to go through 15 million “chewing cycles” a year to get their food down.
Eating meat requires up to 46% less effort and you get more calories out of it. This meant that people finally could start spending less time on finding or eating food, and more time on developing another calorie-consuming activity – like thinking and developing their brains.
Harvard University evolutionary biologists Katherine Zink and Daniel Lieberman who developed this research stated:
“Whatever selection pressures favored these shifts,” the researchers wrote, “they would not have been possible without increased meat consumption combined with food processing technology.”
The Circle of Life
If eating animals is cruel, does that make it cruel when they eat one another? Of course, not; it's all part of the food web and the natural circle of life. The continuation of life depends on some animals being eaten for the survival of others.
It’s not the nicest thought, but it’s how the natural world continues to function and maintains its balance. If you’ve got any pet cats at home, you will know that even if you feed them (a meat-based diet), their predatorial instincts are often strong and they still want to hunt.
As humans, we sit at the top of the food chain. But our digestive systems are far from elite – they’re normal. We definitely can’t be categorized as carnivores, and the closest thing that the design of our gut resembles is that of an ape. So, a diet high in fruit and veg with the occasional bit of meat suits us.
If We Didn’t Eat Animals, The Food Web Would Be Unbalanced
Another popular argument is that if we didn't eat animals, they would continue to reproduce and run rampant over the land. Their numbers would reach unsustainable numbers, and there wouldn't be enough food for all of them, causing them to slowly starve to death.
A lot of people who support this argument are smaller, ethical farmers, who let their animals roam the land and feed them healthy foods during their lives. They treat their animals humanely during life and use the least painless method of killing when the time comes.
This may not have been a concern if we evolved without eating meat. But the livestock we have bred, including cattle, sheep etc. are here now and their population needs to be controlled.
Vegetarians Have it All Wrong
Some people believe that plants also experience biochemical responses so that they feel fear and pain. If this is true, then it is just as cruel to eat plants as animals? Why should animals be elevated to a status above plants?
There is a great deal wrong with this belief and we go into the countless detail here: Is It Cruel to Eat Vegetables?
Is Meat Murder?
There are many different forms of vegetarianism, each with its own set of restrictions. Veganism is the purest form of vegetarianism because not only do they not eat meat, but they don't eat any animal products, including:
Vegans feel that eating animal byproducts is cruel because it’s forcing the animal to produce for human consumption and usually done so under duress.
Most people who engage in some form of vegetarianism do so because they are anti-animal cruelty. They are aware that livestock generally has an uncomfortable and even painful life. The animals are not treated with respect.
Suffering While Living on Farms
English philosopher and social reformer, Jeremy Bentham said, “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?’. The answer is that yes, animals can suffer and often do at the hands of humans."
Factory farming has mainstreamed the practices of:
These practices are not for the animals' benefit, nor are they for those that actually eat the animals. They are practices done in the name of profit only without a thought of the fear and pain another sentient being may feel.
Animals are Confined to Small Spaces
In factory farms, animals that were meant to roam and flex their muscles or wings are warehoused in extremely tiny cages on the farm. Often, they are stuffed together with other animals. Sometimes they die, and no one removes the carcass from the cage.
This not only spreads disease but creates trauma and stress that the animals experience during their short lives.
This doesn’t just happen on the farm. When animals are transported to slaughterhouses, they are packed into even tighter spaces on trucks for hours or days at a time.
Factory Farms Use Antibiotics in Excess
To prevent disease from spreading, and because factory farmers cannot provide care to individuals or groups of animals, they put antibiotics in all of the feed or water so that even animals who have healthy immune systems ingest them.
Rather than preventing illness to the entire population, the healthier animals’ immune systems can be weakened from the overuse of antibiotics. When new strains of bacteria emerge, their immune systems cannot fight them, perpetuating the spread of disease.
Just like the proteins, vitamins and minerals found in meat – the antibiotics are also passed on to the humans who eat it, which impacts human health as well.
Hormones Increase Size but Cause Health Problems in Animals
Growth hormones are regularly given to animals to increase their size and speed up meat production.
However, often animals become so big that they have difficulty moving and sometimes can't even support their weight, causing broken legs, which are never treated. This is not a pleasant or even appropriate way for any living being to have to experience life.
Animals Are Slaughtered in Inhuman Ways
When animals arrive at the slaughterhouse, they are already sick, hurt, fatigued, stressed and traumatized. Then they are forced off the truck into the stench of death. Many of them fight the handlers and try in desperation to fight their way back onto the truck.
Next, they are corralled through narrow tunnels towards the slaughter area. Animals, still alive and terrified, are hung upside down on metal hooks that cut through their skin. They are kept like this until the time of slaughter.
In addition to this horrible massacre, they are often: hit, kicked, shoved and thrown by the workers. These innocent animals who have done no wrong are treated so cruelly during their short lives with no one to care for or protect them.
There is no question that eating animals is cruel in the system that we have today. The way that livestock is treated before being killed for food is inhumane and downright horrifying.
However, we cannot refute that eating animals has been an important part of human evolution. We wouldn’t be here today without including meat into our diets. If this is still something you want to do, the best thing is to source from ethical, small farmers who take pride in how they treat their animals.
Many leaders across the world, have shown us that we should teach that we should treat animals with kindness and compassion.
Indian freedom leader Mohandas Gandhi is attributed with once saying, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”