Madelyn Kumar

A debate on Wednesday pitted meat eaters against vegetarians in a culinary showdown for the ages at Linsly-Chittenden Hall.

John Mackey, co-founder and CEO of Whole Foods, and Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, debated Xavier Sottile ’19 and Adam Krok ’19 of the Yale Debate Association on the topic of whether eating meat is healthy and ethical.

During the debate, organized by the Yale Effective Altruists and the Yale Animal Welfare Alliance, Mackey presented a case against eating meat for health reasons. He presented various studies that show meat consumption leads to increased risk of cancer, mortality, heart diseases and diabetes. Arguing alongside Mackey, Friedrich presented the case that eating meat is unethical in light of concerns relating to global poverty, climate change and animal cruelty. On the other side, Sottile and Krok argued that eating meat is neither inherently unhealthy nor unethical.

“All major studies show an increase in disease and death from low-carbohydrate diets,” Mackey said. “No studies of high-carbohydrate diets show similar effects.”

Mackey argued that the increase in obesity across the world and in the United States can be attributed to the rapid increase in per capita meat consumption. He also presented examples of people whose health improved dramatically after participating in a total health immersion program in which participants were paid to live on a completely vegetarian diet for a given period of time.

Raising farm animals for meat consumption is a vastly inefficient use of grain, Friedrich said, adding that humans would benefit more if they consumed grain directly. Additionally, he stressed that slaughterhouses and transport facilities that ship animal feed pollute the environment. According to Friedrich, animal agriculture is one of the most significant contributors to climate change.

Friedrich also argued that farm animals should be treated ethically, just like domestic animals. More than 95 percent of modern farms would face animal cruelty charges if the farm animals were dogs or cats. Animals are humans’ evolutionary cousins and individuals in their own right, Friedrich said.

In response, Sottile argued that meat can be eaten healthily. He said it is difficult to isolate a single variable when comparing different individuals: Just because obesity and meat consumption rates have both increased, he said, does not prove there is a causal link between the two. Sottile also contended that the proposition under discussion presented a case for eating less meat, not entirely forgoing meat.

Moreover, Sottile said, many of the benefits attributed to vegetarianism are not directly related to vegetarianism, but rather to the fact that vegetarians tend to be wealthier, have healthier habits and care more about their health than nonvegetarians. Sottile argued that meats have nutritional value that is less likely to be found in nonanimal foods. Instead of excluding all meat from their diet, Sottile argued that people should find a healthy middle ground.

Krok defended the position that people can consume meat while still being careful to minimize animal suffering. Krok accepted that animals deserve equal consideration when it comes to pain and pleasure, but argued that the only ethical duty humans have is to eat meat that is humanely raised. He argued that living on a farm is the best existence animals could ever have, since they are well-fed and free from attacks by predators. To have lived a brief but happy life is at least no worse than never existing at all, he said.

Krok added that if all animals are created equal, veganism should also be considered unethical because pesticides and rodenticides used in raising crops kill numerous small animals. But intuitively, it is generally not believed that animals are equal to humans, because anyone would choose to save a man over a cow, Krok said.

After the debaters finished presenting their arguments, they participated in a Q&A session with audience members.

“It was really great that they brought those speakers here, and that they were even raising the question of whether eating meat is ethical,” said Grace Aaronson ’21. “That’s a really important topic — it’s very relevant, especially regarding climate change.”

As a vegan, Aaronson said she agreed completely with the proposition argument, but added that if she were not vegan, she likely would not have been convinced. She also noted that she was hoping the debaters would distinguish between vegetarianism and veganism, but that instead they lumped meat and dairy products together. Overall, Aaronson said, she didn’t think there was a clear winner.

Joshua Monrad ’20, co-president of the Yale Effective Altruists, said his organization was interested in co-hosting the event because the question of whether meat should be consumed is relevant to its goals.

“Effective Altruism is at its core about improving the state of the world as much as possible and given the severity and scale of factory farming in the US and the world, that makes this a pretty obvious case for Effective Altruists to work on,” Monrad said.

In an interview with the News after the debate, Krok said that despite arguing on the opposition side, he does not have a strong opinion on the topic. He agreed with the proposition that modern factory farming causes an extraordinary amount of animal suffering and that people have some obligation to help animals.

“Your power determines the market and you actually are part of a process even though you don’t know the end results,” Krok said.

But he added that he disagrees with some animal rights activists who equate human suffering with animal suffering, saying he stands by the claim that there is a humane way to eat meat.

The Yale Debate Association was founded in 1908.

Eui Young Kim | euiyoung.kim@yale.edu