If you eat vegan or vegetarian, the same few poorly reasoned arguments crop up incessantly from omnivorous friends, coworkers, and family members. I think it’s important to debunk these myths, in order to clear the way for more meaningful debate about healthy, sustainable, and ethical food choices.
We’ve already addressed the misperception that humans need meat for protein. Another fallacy commonly asserted as fact by non-vegetarians is that eating meat is ‘natural.’ This broad and unexamined opinion is often used to summarily (and conveniently) dismiss the whole topic. However, it’s a premise that can’t withstand any kind of reasonable scrutiny.
Refrigerators Are Unnatural
First of all, I think it’s important to point out that huge swaths of modern life in developed nations involve ‘unnatural’ things: shoes, cell phones, toothbrushes, computers, prosthetic limbs, buttons, silverware, cars…
None of these things occur in nature, yet we embrace them without complaint — because they make life better.
Cavemen didn’t have access to text messaging, or dentistry; does that make in undesirable or ‘unnatural’ for me to text, or get a filling? Paleolithic humanity lacked the option of working from home via wireless internet; should I reject this option, then, as ‘unnatural?’ Since flushing toilets aren’t ‘natural,’ shall I then opt for the outhouse or cat-hole?
Those who argue for the ‘natural’-ness of meat in the human diet need to recognize the selectiveness with which they pick and choose their enthusiasm for ‘natural’ things.
Factory farming – using animals who can’t sexually reproduce; animals who never go outside; animals confined so tightly that they can’t turn around or move; animals never allowed to nurse their young; grass-eating animals fed ground-up other animals; chickens unable to stand up without breaking leg bones, due to orchestrated obesity; food animals pumped full of antibiotics, arsenic, and synthetic hormones; animals stuffed in tiny cages and stacked on top of each other in warehouses that produce more toxic waste than small cities — the diet most American omnivores embrace represents the most unnatural ‘food’ system ever created by humankind. Justifying the standard American diet with the ‘natural’-ness argument requires absolutely (often deliberately) inconsistent reasoning.
Sometimes when people assert that eating meat is natural, they mean ‘humans have always done it.’ By that yardstick rape, murder, incest, and child abuse are ‘natural.’ Public urination is ‘natural.’ Lying is ‘natural.’ Do we then embrace these things as good and just and right?
No Hocus-Pocus in that Hambone
Folks who argue for the ‘natural’-ness of human meat-eating often assume that there are nutrients humans need that we can only find in meat. Vitamin B12 is the big thing to watch if you follow a vegan diet, but even that is available in non-animal-based foods. Soy milk, almond milk, cereal, nutritional yeast, and other fortified vegan foods contain B12; and it’s very easy to supplement B12 from vegan sources.
B12 doesn’t come from meat; it comes from bacteria. By supplementing, you just skip the part where you run it through an animal before eating it — thereby also skipping the cholesterol and fat, without compromising on nutrition. Vitamin B12 is also available in eggs and dairy products. So vegans and ovo-lacto vegetarians — who never eat a bite of meat — still have plenty of options for meeting all their nutritional needs, including B12. There is no magic meat ingredient.