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“Eating animals is natural—animals eat animals, it’s part of the circle of life, and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”“eating animals is natural—animals eat animals, it’s part of the circle of life, and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”“eating animals is natural—animals eat animals, it’s part of the circle of life, and we are apex predators on top of the food chain.”all-objections anatomy-objections ethics-objections nature-objections objections [toc label="talking points"]in objecting to veganism and animal rights, some invoke a series of statements centering around the idea that eating animals and their secretions is natural. these statements often include a reference to the circle of life, apex predation, the fact that animals eat other animals, and the assertion that humans are on top of the food chain—all in an attempt to prove that the eating of animal flesh, chickens' eggs, and cow's milk by humans is as natural as the laws of physics.here we show that these declarations are not germane to the case for veganism. but even if they were, they are still defeated by taking a closer look at the assertions, which we do.
assertions as to what is natural are not pertinent to the validity of veganism.simply put, the case for veganism is that it’s wrong to cause unnecessary harm to animals. eating products made from animals harms animals, and because we don't need animal products to be healthy, the harm is unnecessary. the issues of harm and necessity are covered in our article "an introduction to veganism."so even if the practice of eating animals were natural, even if it were somehow part of some nebulous circle of life, even if we were apex predators on top of the food chain, and even though animals do eat other animals—all that still does not justify causing unnecessary harm to others.
naturalness says nothing about rightness.the occurrence of a behavior in the natural world says nothing about the morality of the behavior. rape, defined as forced sexual intercourse, is not unusual in other species. amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish, and mammals engage in the practice.((palmer, craig t. “rape in nonhuman animal species: definitions, evidence, and implications.” journal of sex research26, no. 3 (august 1989): 355–74. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224498909551520 )) infanticide is committed by dolphins, lions, and baboons.((thompson, helen. “why some mammals kill babies of their own kind.” smithsonian, november 13, 2014. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-some-mammals-kill-babies-own-kind-180953318/ )) we would not say these behaviors are moral, but we could not deny that they are natural in the sense that they occur in nature.
animals that eat other animals do not have a choice.the animals that eat other animals do not have a choice. if they are obligate carnivores, then they must eat animals for nutrition. if they are omnivores, then they are eating what is available to survive.most humans reading this, on the other hand, have available a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes. and humans do not need to eat animals for nutrition, as shown in this post. the fact that in some rare situational circumstances a human might need to eat an animal for survival does not justify eating an animal when it is not necessary.
our natural abilities suggest we are not natural predators, much less apex predators.we may be apex predators in the sense that we are not eaten by other species, but this is a consequence of our not living in a more natural environment, such as the wilderness, as well as our ability to use our mental faculties to avoid being eaten. it is not because of physical strength or agility, as is the case with general predators or apex predators, such as the african wild dog, the lion, or the tiger.natural predators, apex or not, have physical characteristics that allow them to seize and kill their prey, rip and tear their prey's flesh, and then eat the raw flesh. humans are not so good at this. although we have developed tools that overcome our physical limitations, we don't have what it takes to do this unaided. also, we insist on cooking the flesh we eat, which no other species of flesh eater does.
our physiology and anatomy suggest that flesh is not a natural food for humans.a comparative review of the physiology and anatomy of animals reveals that humans match closely with herbivores, not omnivores or carnivores. we cover this topic in more depth in our post in response to the assertion that "humans are natural omnivores—we digest meat, have canine teeth, and have front-facing eyes."as that post demonstrates, the length of our intestines, the structure of our teeth, nails, jaw, mouth opening, and facial muscles, our digestive enzymes, our stomach acidity, our ability to detoxify vitamin a, and our urine concentration all point toward humans being herbivorous.((mills, milton r. “the comparative anatomy of eating.” vegsource interactive inc 26 (1996). https://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/the-comparative-anatomy-of-eating ))
there is nothing natural about how we get our meat, dairy, and eggs.selective breeding has resulted in farmed animals that produce far more flesh, far more eggs, and far more milk than their forebears would produce in a natural environment.dairy cows produce more than three times the amount of milk they did several decades ago, which burdens them and results in their development of unnaturally large udders.((blayney, don p. the changing landscape of us milk production. us department of agriculture, economic research service, 2002. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/47162/17864_sb978_1_.pdf?v=41056 ))an egg-laying hen produces more than 300 eggs per year, but the jungle fowl from which they were bred lay four to six eggs in a year.((cheng, h.-w. “breeding of tomorrow’s chickens to improve well-being.” poultry science 89, no. 4 (april 1, 2010): 805–13. https://doi.org/10.3382/ps.2009-00361 )) also, laying hens are bred to lay large eggs, which they are not evolved for; this stresses their reproductive system and causes such problems as osteoporosis, bone breakage, and uterus prolapse.((jamieson, alastair. “large eggs cause pain and stress to hens, shoppers are told,” march 11, 2009, sec. finance. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/newsbysector/retailandconsumer/4971966/large-eggs-cause-pain-and-stress-to-hens-shoppers-are-told.html ))the modern broiler chicken is unnaturally large and has been bred to grow at an unnaturally fast rate and have large breasts. this selective breeding causes numerous afflictions: leg disorders; skeletal, developmental, and degenerative diseases; heart and lung problems; breathing difficulty; and premature death.((stevenson, peter. “leg and heart problems in broiler chickens.” compassion in world farming, january 2003. https://www.ciwf.org.uk/media/3818898/leg-and-heart-problems-in-broilers-for-judicial-review.pdf ))farmed animals are far from natural—they could not survive in a natural environment. in our contrived animal agriculture system, the concepts of "natural," "circle of life," "apex predation," and "food chain" simply don't apply. and because of this, the fact that animals in the wild eat other animals in the wild is also irrelevant.
we shouldn't base our morality on animal behavior.we humans have moral agency, meaning we can judge the consequences of our actions. this implies a degree of responsibility, or duty, to do what is right. nonhuman animals seem to lack the ability to fully contemplate the moral consequences of their actions.((regan, tom. the case for animal rights. university of california press, 2004. 152-154 ))but even if they could, that does not mean we should model our morality on the behaviors of other species. instead, we should use our moral agency to make ethical decisions, not invoke nebulous and impertinent concepts of what is natural to justify behaviors that unnecessarily harm others.
“We give farmed animals their lives, protect them, and give their lives meaning, for which they should be grateful.”“we give farmed animals their lives, protect them, and give their lives meaning, for which they should be grateful.”“we give farmed animals their lives, protect them, and give their lives meaning, for which they should be grateful.”all-objections anatomy-objections objections [toc label="talking points"]this objection to animal rights and veganism maintains that we are doing farmed animals a favor by giving them life and protecting them from natural predators and the elements.furthermore, it says they should be grateful that we magnanimously allow them to become food on our plates so that their lives are not meaningless.
we would not bring anyone into existence knowing they would live an abbreviated life full of suffering.ask yourself if you would bring someone into the world if you knew they would be separated from you soon after birth and that their life would be full of suffering. we are breeding farmed animals into a life of confinement, crowding, mutilation, cruel treatment, and separation from their families. then we violently slaughter them after allowing them to live only a small fraction of their natural life spans. this is the tragic fate of virtually all animals who are exploited for meat, dairy, and egg products, even if those products carry a humane label or certification.
the protections are not for them—they are for us.we shouldn't pretend that the protections we provide for farmed animals are for the benefit of the animals. we protect animals from predators and from the elements because we want to eat them and their secretions ourselves, not because we are concerned for their well-being. it would seem they have more need to be protected from humans than by humans.
the idea that we give their lives meaning is an absurd spin on the meaning of life.it's not as if the wisdom of viktor frankl((frankl and winslade, man’s search for meaning. beacon press, 2006 )) were illuminating our collective psyche here. the suffering we force these innocent animals to endure cannot be rationalized away by invoking platitudes about the meaning of life.as tom regan says, animals "have a life of their own that is of importance to them, apart from their utility to us. they are not only in the world, they are aware of it and also of what happens to them. and what happens to them matters to them."((“weeac - world event to end animal cruelty.” weeac® - international world events ending animal cruelty. accessed january 5, 2019. http://www.weeac.com/animal-rights--by-tom-regan.html ))
gratitude is the last thing a farmed animal would feel.anyone considering the lives of farmed animals objectively, free from the fog of our cultural norms, would not think they should be grateful to us for the miserable existence we force upon them just because we like to eat their flesh and secretions. it's nonsensical to suggest that the oppressed should be grateful to their oppressors.
“Our brains evolved from eating animals.” To Do“our brains evolved from eating animals.” to do“our brains evolved from eating animals.” to doall-objections anatomy-objections objections
“Humans are natural omnivores—we digest meat, have canine teeth, and have front-facing eyes.”“humans are natural omnivores—we digest meat, have canine teeth, and have front-facing eyes.”“humans are natural omnivores—we digest meat, have canine teeth, and have front-facing eyes.”all-objections anatomy-objections health-objections nature-objections objections [toc label="talking points"]those objecting to veganism often bring up one or more in a series of related complaints: that a vegan diet is not natural, that humans are omnivores and can digest meat, or that canine teeth and front-facing eyes are indications we are predators and not prey.these protests are adequately dismissed with the first point below, which explains why they are not pertinent to the validity of veganism and therefore cannot diminish the case for veganism.although no further exploration of these claims is necessary once their lack of pertinence is demonstrated, we expound on these claims in case you're interested. it turns out that even if the objections were pertinent, they'd be nevertheless weak.
the case for veganism does not depend on humans being natural herbivores or having specific physical traits.vegan diets are beyond sufficient for human health. even if humans were natural omnivores and our teeth and eye locations supported that assertion, the science is clear that a strictly herbivorous vegan diet is not only adequate but also beneficial to our health.this is confirmed by harvard medical school, mayo clinic, cleveland clinic, kaiser permanente, newyork-presbyterian, the academy of nutrition and dietetics operating in the united states, the dietitians of canada, the british dietetic association, the dietitians association of australia, and others.((see http://justiceforanimals.org/objections/quote-we-need-animal-products-to-be-healthy/ for statements and citations ))these prominent organizations and others could only have made statements declaring the adequacy and salubriousness of a vegan diet if science supported such statements. cleveland clinic even explicitly states, "there really are no disadvantages to a herbivorous diet!"((“understanding vegetarianism & heart health.” cleveland clinic, december 2013. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/understanding-vegetarianism-heart-health ))the case for veganism has nothing to do with this issue. simply put, the case for veganism is that it's ethically wrong to cause unnecessary harm to animals. because it's not necessary to eat animal products for nutrition, any claims that we are natural herbivores are rendered meaningless.
the evidence is strong that we lean toward being herbivorous.the fact that humans are behavioral omnivores and are able to get nutrition from both plants and animals says nothing about what is natural or optimum.our anatomy and physiology suggest that we are more herbivorous than omnivorous. a number of notable people have observed that anatomical and physiological traits of humans closely match herbivores'.dr. mills's the comparative anatomy of eating((mills, milton r. “the comparative anatomy of eating.” vegsource interactive inc 26 (1996). https://www.scribd.com/doc/94656/the-comparative-anatomy-of-eating )) shows we more closely match herbivores in eighteen traits, as summarized below.
- small intestine
- carnivore: 3–6 times body length
- omnivore: 4–6 times body length
- herbivore: 10–12+ times body length
- human: 10–11 times body length
- carnivore: simple, short, and smooth
- omnivore: simple, short, and smooth
- herbivore: long, complex; may be sacculated
- human: long, sacculated
- small intestine
- carnivore: short and pointed
- omnivore: short and pointed
- herbivore: broad, flat, and spade shaped
- human: broad, flat, and spade shaped
- carnivore: long, sharp, and curved
- omnivore: long, sharp, and curved
- herbivore: dull and short or long (for defense) or none
- human: short and blunted
- carnivore: sharp, jagged, and blade shaped
- omnivore: sharp blades or flattened
- herbivore: flat with cusps vs. complex surface
- human: flat with nodular cusps
- carnivore: no digestive enzymes
- omnivore: no digestive enzymes
- herbivore: carbohydrate-digesting enzymes
- human: carbohydrate-digesting enzymes
- stomach type
- carnivore: simple
- omnivore: simple
- herbivore: simple or with multiple chambers
- human: simple
- stomach acidity with food in stomach
- carnivore: ≤ ph 1
- omnivore: ≤ ph 1
- herbivore: ph 4–5
- human: ph 4–5
- stomach type
- carnivore: none; swallows food whole
- omnivore: swallows food whole or simple crushing
- herbivore: extensive chewing necessary
- human: extensive chewing necessary
- carnivore: sharp claws
- omnivore: sharp claws
- herbivore: flat nails or blunt hooves
- human: flat nails
- carnivore: angle not expanded
- omnivore: angle not expanded
- herbivore: expanded angle
- human: expanded angle
- joint location
- carnivore: on the same plane as molar teeth
- omnivore: on the same plane as molar teeth
- herbivore: above the plane of the molars
- human: above the plane of the molars
- carnivore: shearing; minimal side-to-side motion
- omnivore: shearing; minimal side-to-side motion
- herbivore: no shearing; good side-to-side, front-to-back motion
- human: no shearing; good side-to-side, front-to-back motion
- major muscles
- carnivore: temporalis
- omnivore: temporalis
- herbivore: masseter and pterygoids
- human: masseter and pterygoids
- mouth opening vs. head size
- carnivore: large
- omnivore: large
- herbivore: small
- human: small
- facial muscles
- carnivore: reduced to allow wide mouth gape
- omnivore: reduced
- herbivore: well developed
- human: well developed
- carnivore: can detoxify vitamin a
- omnivore: can detoxify vitamin a
- herbivore: cannot detoxify vitamin a
- human: cannot detoxify vitamin a
- carnivore: extremely concentrated urine
- omnivore: extremely concentrated urine
- herbivore: moderately concentrated urine
- human: moderately concentrated urine