Note: this is one of my oldest posts, written when I was 19. My philosophy about food ethics has evolved considerably over the past decade – for instance, I no longer believe that the most “compassionate” diet is necessarily one devoid of any animal products, since the animals we’ve domesticated arguably have much to gain through their symbiotic relationship with humans – but in any case, most of what I wrote below still resonates deeply with me, and I’m quite proud of my past self to have realized many of these things at a relatively young age.
I’m sure you’ve all seen the recent story about this man who has eaten nothing but raw meat for the past 5 years. Chances are, you reacted in disgust, recoiling at the mere thought of eating the raw flesh of an animal (despite the fact that you have, in fact, eaten sushi on numerous occasions). I have to admit, some of the pictures definitely made my stomach turn a little bit.
I wasn’t surprised by the comments on the various news articles, calling him vile, disgusting, and mentally ill, and calling his diet a ‘weird food addiction.’ But I was surprised that even in Paleo circles, his story elicited a similarly negative reaction. I would’ve expected ancestrally-minded people to be a little more open-minded, and I don’t want to call out anyone specifically, but some of the comments were unbelievably ignorant.
I just want to bring a little perspective to the situation. The first complaint is that eating raw meat is ‘disgusting.’ I hope it’s pretty obvious to everyone that this reaction is only because we aren’t used to the idea. If you grew up in a completely vegan society, you would think that eating any meat at all is ‘disgusting,’ but because we’re so used to it, nobody bats an eye at the thought of eating a cooked chicken breast. As Americans we tend to find the idea of eating bugs revolting, even though billions of people around the world eat bugs regularly without a second thought. And if we weren’t used to consuming dairy, the thought of drinking the warm liquid from a squishy pink appendage dangerously close to the rear end of a cow would probably not be that appealing.
My point is that there’s nothing inherently ‘disgusting’ or ‘vile’ about eating raw meat; we just aren’t used to it.
The second complaint is that he seems ‘extreme.’ Well, yes. But many people consider even a ‘full Paleo’ diet to be restrictive, and subsets such as GAPS even more so. And of all people, those following a Paleo diet should understand that sometimes, we need to be extreme to solve our health issues. We don’t really have a choice. Many of the news sites covering this man’s story conveniently leave out the reason for his raw carnivorous diet, but the fact is, he can’t eat any other foods without getting sick. If raw meat was the only thing you could eat without vomiting, what would you do?
And finally, the point I really wanted to address – the idea that because he slaughters the animals himself and eats their meat raw, he is somehow dangerous, malicious, mentally ill, cruel, brutish, or barbaric.
Let’s think about compassion towards animals for a second. The most compassionate diet would be one where you eat no animal products at all, no mass-produced products that cause pollution that could endanger wildlife, and no mass-farmed products that end up causing the death of many small creatures during harvest. So basically, you eat plants that you either grew yourself or purchased from a small organic farmer. (Whether such a diet is even possible depends on whether B12 supplements can be made without harming animals. Anyone know? I couldn’t find much info on how B12 supplements are made.)
The next step would be adding some animal products, but not meat. The animals don’t have to die to give you milk or eggs, so that would be the next level of animal compassion. This probably seems painfully obvious. Everyone knows that vegans are the most compassionate and vegetarians are next, right?
But here’s where it gets fuzzy. After vegetarianism, what’s the next step in animal compassion? (Hint: it’s not the vegetarian reluctantly accepting a slice of dry chicken breast or tuna at their parents’ concerned urging.)
I think it would look surprisingly similar to what the raw meat guy is doing.
Granted, the quantity of meat in his diet makes it not ideal from a compassion standpoint. But the method, which people seem to be so offended by, is spot on.
If you’re going to take that ‘compassionate vegetarian’ diet we had earlier and add some meat to it, you want to do it in the most humane, respectful way possible. How do you ensure that the animal is killed humanely? The same way you ensure that anything else in your life is done correctly – you do it yourself, or you directly supervise the person doing it.
And how do you show respect for that animal, and make sure that no more animals need to die than necessary to meet your needs? You eat all of it. Everything. Organs, blood, connective tissue, meat, and everything in between. And that’s exactly what this man is doing.
Contrast that with what the majority of Americans do. First, many of us are in denial about the fact that what we’re eating actually used to be a living, breathing creature. You can tell because people get offended and uncomfortable when their meat looks too much like the animal it came from. Few people buy whole fish, because guess what? They look like fish! And think about how many fewer Thanksgiving turkeys Food Lion would sell if they still had the heads attached.
Second, most of us don’t care how the animal was killed. We certainly don’t care enough to find out how it was done, much less do anything about it. In fact, we’d really just rather not know. Yet somehow, in our society, that is more acceptable than killing the animal yourself.
And finally, we don’t want anything to do with the ‘odd bits’ of the animal. We would much rather have ten cows die for us so we can eat nothing but ribeye steaks and ground sirloin, than have one cow die for us and be forced to eat the organ meats and other ‘lesser’ parts. But just think about how different the reaction to this man’s story would be if he only ate raw liver and raw muscle meat that he purchased from the meat counter at Whole Foods. I almost guarantee that people would be far more accepting, despite the fact that at least three times (my guess) as many animals would have to die to feed him. How does that make sense?
Like I said, I wasn’t surprised in the least to see the negative backlash in the comments of the news sites. As a society, we are spoiled, selfish, and deluded when it comes to consuming animals, and sensationalist and judgmental towards people who are significantly different from the societal norm. But even in the ancestral community, this is clearly something we all need to work on. I remember reading a post by Liz on a similar topic, and feeling sad that I was so detached from the source of my food. I’ve certainly come a long way – I used to be squeamish about eating even ‘normal’ cuts of meat, and now I eat tongue and liver, make bone broth, and almost always buy my meat from the farmers’ market. But I still have a long way to go.