Those who know me will know that I take ecological and environmental issues very seriously. I firmly believe that many of the arguments that I and others use against abortion (let’s try to avoid an argument) can also be used against eating meat, since it deprives a being of the potential to enjoy life. Yet this creates religious problems, since the Bible allows us to eat any meat that does not come from a living animal (a nice counter to those who claim the Bible does not teach animal welfare). The only good argument I have for eating meat is that we evolved to eat it, therefore it must have evolutionary advantages. Is this a good argument? Am I understanding evolution correctly? Are there better arguments I could use?
Our ability to cook meet (thanks to fire!) allows us to digest calorie dense meat that would otherwise have been unavailable to us. So in non-meat foraging days, people would pretty much have to be about nothing but food (acquiring it and eating it) all the time. But with meat, some of that pressure and constant time-expense was removed, and as I understand it, the new calorie abundance may have been instrumental for our bodies to have larger brains and mental capacity at our disposal. Suddenly we can “waste” time pursuing other pleasures, niceties, and improvements to lifestyle. So we probably owe much of what we now call “modern life” to our societal ability to take advantage of a wealth of calorie content foraged for us.
All of that is not to say one whit about the morality or theology behind the subject. Only about the apparent history of it. As you acknowledge, the bible as a whole is quite ambivalent (perhaps indifferent?) to the subject except perhaps indirectly. As in … if we are called to be less wasteful of the earth, and eating beef is more wasteful than some of my other options, I can probably make a case for eating less beef just on the strength of planet / neighbor stewardship. But that’s more of a “reducing this may be a good idea” than it is “doing this is a sin”. But if context begins to demand it be considered more than “just a good idea”, perhaps the time comes (or has come) where indulgence in things (when we have options, but just can’t be bothered to give something up that we like) may become a sin. I think I know some vegetarians close to me who might make a good case that those of us in affluent societies are there already.
I think the answer may vary depending on the environment. In arctic areas, meat and fat is essential to provide enough calories to survive in the cold and harsh conditions, yet in the Fertile Crescent, it was the development of agriculture and abundance calories from grains that permitted advance of civilization, though perhaps too recent to have affected evolution much.
I believe the best arguments make the case for not eating meat, and they are environmental, not evolutionary or animal cruelty based. Most of the developed world is not hunting and gathering or subsistence farming to get food. You are going to spend about the same amount of time in food prep eating vegetarian or eating omnivore. We buy the products of large agribusinesses and it is just a fact that far more waste and resources go into mass meat production and far more pollution comes out of it than mass production of vegetables. Especially beef. The arguments for eating mostly vegetarian with occasional small animals or fish are pretty compelling. I still eat meat, but try to cook with less and we try to eat vegetarian part-time, to make up for the fact that we need a pretty bad carbon-footprinting truck to get around the mountains where we live.
The question of eating meat in your personal life is not an evolutionary issue. The evolutionary choice here is between herbivore, carnivore, and omnivore, and each has their own advantages.
herbivore: Your food doesn’t run away. Nor is it as likely to accumulate toxins.
carnivore: You are less likely to be food. The same assets which enable you to overcome your prey also help you to defend yourself. Tends to require more intelligence than herbivores.
omnivore: Being able to get sustenance from either is a definite advantage when you face scarcity of one of your food sources. The intelligence required in this case varies a great deal, but I think an argument can be made that the need for intelligence in this category could sometimes be greater than the carnivore.
Is there an evolutionary advantage to being able to abort a fetus? Definitely! The more choices you have the better able you are to deal with unforeseen circumstances. Does this have any bearing on the morality of abortion? Not really. But like the question above, the real question isn’t the morality of abortion but the morality of taking away the choice of abortion in the first 20 weeks. The appropriate comparison is with forcing everyone to eat what you decide they should eat. Both of these are very wrong and no excuses are sufficient. Frankly it is comparable to rape where you take away a woman’s choice to have sex or not. Don’t women have the right to deny their eggs fertilization and thus deny them the potential to enjoy life as a human being?
A good case can be made for not eating beef at all, I know of no environmental defence for it.
I don’t eat meat or other animal products.
I’m looking at some older articles but hominids have been eating meat for millions of years and there seems to be some evidence to support that early meat eating from the genus homo helped provide an advantage when expanding in to new territories and in times of climate change. Here’s on article to get one started on the question:
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