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The Nutrition Vacuum that Filters Out Ethics and Ecology

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The Nutrition Vacuum that Filters Out Ethics and Ecology

From Free From Harm
April 2013

No one can or should claim to live cruelty-free. Going vegan is the least we can do for animals, not the most and it is not perfection. We don’t need to be experts in nutrition or environmental science to understand why going vegan is the right thing to do.

After reading a string of comments on LinkedIn today, I now realize why I don’t get that involved in nutrition debates. What I have found is that die hard nutrition people are focused on nutrition only and make arguments in an ecological and ethical vacuum, that is, without considering how food choices impact animals and the planet. Every argument for eating animal products is supported with studies that are allegedly superior and point to the alleged lack of studies or the lack of credible studies claiming that a plant-based diet is nutritionally-sound. The citing of studies and claims on both sides could go on and on, as it often does. There is no end. And that’s what frustrates me so.

I appreciate those plant-based nutritionists, like Ginny Messina and Jack Norris, who look at the best studies they can find and simply translate for us laymen what they reveal. I recently asked Ginny Messina if she has ever discovered a credible source that claims that there is actually something in meat, dairy and eggs that is essential to our health and cannot be found in plant foods or plant-based supplements. Her answer was no, but she has been actively looking for them.

And yet I continually find people justifying their continued consumption of animal products (who often admit that they would love to find alternatives) on the basis of necessity. Without yogurt or without cheese or without meat they would just become malnourished or ill.

Now I realize that some will continue to praise raw milk as a magic elixir or grass-fed beef for its cultivation of grasslands, but it seems to me that when we have other options, we are morally obligated to make food choices that do the least harm. Our choices are quite literally a matter of life and death for some 9 billion animals in the US every year. There is no greater moral decision we face than the act of sitting down to eat a meal. We can quite easily make choices that withdraw our financial support of the slaughterhouses where these 9 billion animals are sent.

Some issues are less directly within our control. While we can abstain from eating animals, we do require plant foods and wildlife will be harmed, displaced and killed in the process of growing cops, but the acreage needed to grow plants is a fraction of what is required to raise animals.

So my point is that we should adopt what author and educator Zoe Weil calls the MOGO principle or Most Good, Least Harm; or what philosopher Gary Francione calls moral realism. We cannot and should not, however, as social psychologist Melanie Joy points out, be held to some impossible standard of perfection.

No one can or should claim to live cruelty-free. Going vegan is the least we can do for animals, not the most and it is not perfection. We don’t need to be experts in nutrition or environmental science to understand why going vegan is the right thing to do. We just need to reconnect with our most fundamental nature: the empathic self that we were born with and held on to as children, until we’re taught not to care.