THE BLOG
08/26/2013 11:34 am ET Updated Oct 25, 2013

Eating Animals: Compassion, Health and Planet

Most of us have seen the phrase "Meat Is Murder" on an animal rights sign at some point. And the majority of people roll their eyes, too threatened by the notion to contemplate its accusation. But according to Merriam-Webster, "murder" does have a definition beyond that of premeditated human killing: "to slaughter wantonly." Essentially, this would be a killing with innate cruelty, ruling out other forms such as mercy killing or (generally) warfare. Is the slaughter of animals innately cruel?

Contemporary industrial society simply has no nutritional need for animal flesh at all. Quite the opposite -- vegetarians have been shown to live longer than meat eaters and are estimated to be 12 percent less likely to die of any given cause. Doctors have been aware of the link between red meat and cardiovascular disease for a long time but are only recently coming to fully understand the benefits of a plant-based diet. More on that later.

Humans are not biologically herbivorous, but they are also not carnivorous. The species falls squarely in the omnivore category, making decisions about meat eating purely ethical ones. Almost any vegetarian or vegan who's said, "No, thank you," to animal flesh in public can recount a story of being bullied. The explanation is simple. Acting in an overtly ethical manner in front of a group making either an unethical or non-ethical decision is innately aggressive. You're not saying "no" to just food, but the lifestyle on display directly in front of you.

Animal slaughter is innately cruel in modern industrial society under any circumstances because it is an act of preference, not necessity. We kill animals not because we need their flesh but because we want it for our consumption, clothing, decoration or any other completely unnecessary reason. This is indefensible from an ethical standpoint because we know that the animals we kill, unlike plants, are sentient social creatures who experience pain and fear. In short: meat is murder.

There are myriad good reasons to make the decision for compassion, despite the pushback. The most obvious reason is empathy. Humans are social animals with unmatched higher reasoning abilities and murder doesn't sit well in the psyche. Unlike many fellow animals, humans can consciously choose to lessen the suffering of those around them. Our refusal to opt out of a food-chain mentality represents a denial of our own ability as a species to make decisions that are self-aware.

Another reason to drop animal consumption is our home. The process of animal slaughter causes more greenhouse gas emission than transportation, and is a leading cause of global climate change. Going vegetarian is a more environmentally conscious decision than even driving a hybrid car. While the effects of factory farming are a consensus observation, don't expect to see it mentioned often. Industry has a vested interest in not disseminating this information because of the astronomical money it makes from meat production. Remember Oprah?

That brings us to our health. Plant-based diets are the healthiest option, largely due to their positive effect on blood pressure and cholesterol. This is especially true for men, given they are at a higher risk of heart-related illnesses. A non-meat diet also wards off diabetes, reducing risk by 36 percent. Other more well-known benefits of plant-based diets include weight regulation, digestive health and even better sexual health.

Compassionate eating is among the most rewarding choices you can make for other animals, yourself and the planet. Start today.

Don't know where to being? Check out Vegan Outreach by dietician Jack Norris for everything you need to know!

For more by Chris Sosa, click here.

For more on diet and nutrition, click here.