The Moral Issues Related to Meat Eating

In speaking with others about Paleo I sometimes encounter people who have philosophical or moral concerns with killing animals, or eating meat, or the meat industry. I’ve heard more than one person say that regardless of the health issues involved, the moral issues related to eating the flesh of (formerly) living creatures is a more pressing concern for them.

And I think that’s ok. It’s ok to have those concerns. There are a lot of issues with the meat industry that I think people have legitimate reasons to be concerned about. Product safety, genetic modification, labeling, farming practices, feeding practices, government protectionism, price fixing, environmental impact, and many, many other issues are all perfectly good reasons to have questions and concerns about including meat in your diet. It’s ok to be concerned. It’s ok to have questions. It’s ok to have beliefs in what is right and wrong that you aren’t willing to compromise on easily or at all.

Sometimes people feel like in order to eat healthy they have to surrender their core philosophies. They may feel like it’s wrong to kill animals, but they feel like they have to do it anyway to survive. Sometimes people make other people feel like wimps or weaklings or losers if they think it’s wrong to eat meat. Sometimes people feel like they have to reject the way they felt or believed or lived before, which they thought was based on sound morals, in order to follow a new path that runs contrary to all their previous behaviors.

You don’t have to get caught up in all of that emotional flagellation. It seems to me like eating an appropriate amount of meat is an important part of being healthy. But if you have strong feelings that eating meat is a moral wrong, then don’t eat meat. It’s your life. I’m not going to tell you how to live. I’m just telling you how I live, and that you can do it to. You’re an adult. No positive obligations. Do what you think is right.

If you think that the political, or environmental, or economic aspects of the meat industry are a problem, then you can take steps in your own life to mitigate those issues. Avoid doing business with the companies you object to and support the producers whose practices you agree with. This can be challenging, and certainly you won’t be putting any major farming concerns out of business on your own. But if you can find a local butcher, and learn a little about who he does business with, you can go a long way towards buying meat that is at least “less” morally reprehensible. I actually feel pretty good about the people we buy meat from. They know me, I know them, they are very open about which farms they do business with and how those farms operate. There’s an open chain of communication and information all the way up and down. They’re still selling me slabs of animal flesh, I’m not deluded. But I feel fairly comfortable about the processes that led to that animal flesh coming to my table.

You have a right to your feelings. You have a right to your concerns. Many of them are fully legitimate. Some of them can be mitigated. Deciding to eat meat doesn’t make you a hypocrite or a villain or a fool. It’s just a decision. Some people are comfortable eating poultry or fish but not red meat. Fine. Some people still think vegetarianism is the proper path. Ok. Do your own research. Learn about nutrition. Decide what’s best for you.

But understand, it’s ok if you aren’t sold. It’s ok if you disagree with the way corporate farms operate, or you think farm subsidies are coercive, or you question whether major corporate entities should also be heavily involved in writing industry regulations, or you have concerns about sodium nitrite or the effects of hormone treatments or genetic manipulation of the food you eat. You can choose not to eat meat, or you can choose to be careful about the meat you do purchase and eat, or you can just keep on eating whatever gets passed to you in a bag through a window. That’s your choice as a free person.

For a lot of people, making these kinds of changes involves a process that brings a lot of really powerful emotions to the surface, and can often bring up painful family histories, or challenge long held relationships or beliefs. Giving up donuts is hard. Changing your morals, or the people you hang out with, or the things that you believe in, can all be infinitely harder. Try not to let that be the reason you don’t make healthy decisions. It’s ok to take your time, and get educated, and carefully consider each of these issues. It’s ok to only move forward when you’re ready, and only in a way that you’re comfortable with.

For me, Paleo is easy. I’ve always eaten meat. All I had to do was stop eating it between slices of bread. For some other people I’ve known, it brings very different challenges to the front. Each of us is on their own journey. You can’t compare your results to anyone else’s. It’s not about doing what I do or what worked for Robb Wolf. It’s about making conscious, objective, educated decisions about your future and your health. It’s about taking control of your own future. And if you have some questions you need answers for first, then by all means go get your answers.

It’s ok to think for yourself. It’s ok to be guided by your morals. It’s ok to do this the right way. In fact, I recommend it.

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