The Protein Myth
Reader Comments (20)


The vast majority of nutritional science in existence is entirely problematic, poorly done and the underlying complexity of what is optimal individual nutrition allows the likes of Ferriss et al, and the diet/supplement industry to thrive---but I have no quarrels with your major generalizations and good goals.

I'm convinced that the fundamental moral question/decision of eating animals is one that is not currently solveable on a large scale with scientific evidence. Food is not frontal cortex input. It is pleasure and culture and dopamine and ancient limbic survival. As long as there are tasty ways to eat animals (and lets not forget the little fuzzy wuzzies are also packed full of nutrition) and they are widely available to eat, they will be eaten by us.

The areas amenable to manipulation are culture and animal availability/affordability. Clearly not a simple short term task versus entrenched Western weaponized opposition. Generations of vegetarians will have to breed generations of future vegetarians while continuing to throw themselves at the barbed wire of feedlots. Then at some far away tipping point, the science will suddenly seem obvious as it becomes congruent with the predominant veg culture. And it will be the meat eaters shouting into the wind doing studies saying you live longer and will be more vigorous if you eat a more drumsticks.


What do you think will happen first....
Our first woman president?
Our first gay president?
Our first lesbian president?
Our first transgender president?
Our first vegan president?

Interesting to think about as a proxy for wide cultural acceptance


Additional diversity needed in the thought experiment...
Our first non-Christian president?
Our first disabled president?
Our first child-of-immigrants president?


Correction: physically disabled president ...
Plenty of evidence for mentally disabled presidents, inclusive of current.


We've already had a physically disabled US President. For 3 terms in fact. FDR.


Snitch - Up late, drinking, with time on your hands? 8^) Always fantastic to hear from you, of course. We should catch up; like men.

Of course, we've already had a world-historic milestone with Obama: our first Basketball-American president! That made me so happy. All the milestones on your list look great. I think all will happen, probably sooner than we expect.

Also, tasty animals are full of hormones, and antibiotics, and salmonella, and faeces. Oh yeah, and protein, which no one needs anymore of. Iron. (Blood's good for that.) But, anyway, the point is that global factory farming inflicts cruelty and suffering on a literally unimaginable scale - and of a type, that if you did it to your dog or cat (who are indistinguishable from pigs, cows, and chickens in cuteness, intelligence, and sociability), you'd be sent to prison, and everyone would applaud - and the impossibility of ignoring this forever, or pretending it isn't happening, is probably why veganism is the world's fastest growing social justice movement. The prefrontal cortex is precisely FOR overcoming our worst ancient limbic urges, like infanticide, genocide, and rape.

Love you, man.


Don - Ha! Indeed. (Ness, who has a disability, really liked that one.) Similar to how they slightly sanctimoniously erected a statue of a disabled person on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square - utterly oblivious to the one-eyed, one-armed man who has been looking down on it all for nearly 200 years from his column... Thinking of you and Karen.


Don, it could be all the lovely animals I eat but FDR did not register in my brain as physically disabled for some reason. Truly perplexing mind fart on my part.

Bossman, never too late to have some lieutenant vegans of your very own to help the crusade. Literally raise an army. Viva la vega-lucion!
Ya know some Pacific Island cannibals referred to human meat as "long pig"? I think I'd eat the vegans first-- all that clean living...

Glad you (and your frontal cortex) are well as can be; hope 2019 is another great year for you.


The conquering Vegan Army is a lovely image, but it shouldn't be necessary. Expansion of the sphere of moral compassion - to those outside our tribe, race, nation, gender, sexuality... species - has been a pretty inexorable feature of human progress for a long time. As well, and as above, I just don't think the spectacular inconsistency/hypocrisy/cognitive dissonance between how we love, pamper, and protect some animals, and torture, rape, enslave, and kill others, can hold forever. (But, right now, millions of puppies and kittens - wait, sorry, chicks, calves, lambs and piglets - are screaming in terrible pain and blind fear, and no one is coming to save them...)


Thin is the veneer of civilization. To expect moral consistency from the flawed creatures we are is a big ask. I think there's a similarity here to the myth of humans as rational actors There is no guarantee that past trajectories of human progress can continue. Of course we must hope and the best of us may at times succeed and the even more bestest will find a way to sustain and spread that success. But I also consider the possibility of our collective actions becoming more intolerant/less compassionate or even our best efforts allowing us to just tread water on these global issues deserving of compassion.

Plenty of unjustifiable fear and death to go around. Millions of doggies and kitties euthanized and no one came for them either...if we can't get the 100% objectively wasteful (because we don't eat them) murder of "privileged" household animals (potential "best friends a man could have" or "member of my family" or "furbaby") to zero, we are still impossibly far away from stopping livestock death and consumption on moral grounds.

So you'll never catch me betting against humanity's capacity for hypocrisy/inconsistency. There is capacity for great beauty and immeasurable grace as well. But those are not mutually exclusive. We are horribly small; we contain multitudes.


None of that's wrong (and it's beautifully expressed), except for the ole "Here's This Other Really Bad Thing Over Here, So I Don't Have To Sweat the First One" Fallacy. Aside from the form of the argument being flawed, so are the details: for every cat or dog euthanized in a shelter, 3,400 animals are confined and killed on farms ( There's only one animal-rights issue, or at least one which utterly dwarfs all others.

Anyway, I'm not real inclined to give humanity a pass for its wonderful contradictions and multitudes, not on this one. Not least because, in addition to the unconscionable holocaust of the animals, 1) killing and eating animals is killing the people who eat them; 2) it's *definitely* killing the planet; and 3) plant-based food is fucking awesome, and more so all the time. This is that rare one-sided issue.


Oh, yeah - and just one more comment! (after this one!) and we can get on the first page of most commented dispatches of all time! Counting on you here, old Snitchyphus Rex, ole bean. :)


To be clear, I am not proposing "do nothing because there are too many/worse problems" or any such "whataboutisms." My argument re: global animal and plant Holocaust (not just pets and livestock, but the entire living biome, inclusive of the human creatures) is we should sweat everything to a much higher degree; BUT we don't. I was taking issue with your thought that the hypocrisy can't hold with my example re:killed pets. Short-term hypocrisy absolutely can hold despite knowing it is intellectually and morally inconsistent. It can hold even knowing there is a high probability of long-term self- and collective harm.

The highest impact thing an individual could do to not make any of the global environmental problems worse is to not exist. (This is not to say we need suicide booths or death panels to cull the human herd or hard population quotas. I'm not such a sci-fi hack literalist.) What this purposefully inflammatory statement shows me is the existing systems and incentives underpinning modern human civilization are highly flawed. In order to exist currently, we collectively pollute, consume and destroy. Only some of us try to do better, with outliers aiming for zero impact. But the thing is, even if you hit zero impact for your entire lifespan, it doesn't even touch our collective debt.

All the stats in all the vox explainers in all the world may give us some of the scope of the problems, but they can not convince me whether things will get better for animals, for us, for the next generations of us.


I wonder how much of your belief that man can change, specifically around animal consumption, is because you were personally able to make that change (and likely know several others with similar success and lifestyle.)

"If I can do it, others can too" is also a logical and rhetorical trap. Together with a little bit of sampling bias, it creates expectations and assumptions on this topic that for others may not be as easily achievable or even desired.

You probably don't want to know what is stewing away in my Instapot right now... but it sure smells good to me.


I think all of that's right - re: expectations, and what's likely to happen - and, again, beautifully expressed. The evidence is certainly on your side. The one thing I think is wrong is "even if you hit zero impact for your entire lifespan, it doesn't even touch our collective debt." That's a bit like the, "I'm not voting Libertarian because they can't win because nobody votes Libertarian... because they can't win" argument. Yeah, actually, anyone can choose to change, which means everyone can choose to change - at which point everything changes. Is your prediction likely correct (at least in the short-term) that most people will continue doing evil, so the global problem will remain? Yeah. Is that an excuse for continuing to do evil yourself? No.

Sixteen freaking comments! Boo-yah!


Put another, better way: every vegan prevents 200 killings, and lives of horrific suffering, every year. (And 80 for vegetarians.) Those lives and deaths have *absolute* meaning and value - whatever proportion of 150 billion they are - and most especially if you happen to be one of them. Those 200 deaths (and wretched lives) are on you. You can forget the rest.

Anonymous Bastard

I wish numbers were enough. For many issues, data is not sufficient to motivate sustained change for the vast majority of people. This goes back to my original comments on culture and availability/affordability.

Furthermore, statistics (accurate as they may be) that only serve to raise feelings of guilt or can be interpreted as moral judgement (e.g. "eating meat = you're a bad person, so stop it" or "burning fossil fuels = killing polar bears, so stop it, etc. etc.) will not lead to personal change. Using those sorts of rhetorical cudgels are likely counterproductive to change. Perceived as an attack on the individual, the individual will naturally respond defensively. And lasting change can not come from such a mindset. I think interestingly, perhaps, since you're on the other side, these statistics are actually persuasive to vegans/vegetarians because they reinforce your "goodness."

An imperfect but illustrative analogue is cigarette smoking. The science for decades was ample and clear: cancer, emphysema, people knew cigarettes were "bad," each cigarette was burning 7 minutes of life etc. But those data weren't particularly effective on an individual level; not until population level factors changed, did individuals stop. It was not the innumerable studies or lack of awareness by individual smokers; it required many complex changes to culture (some simple and surprising, such as forcing people to go outside = subtle ostracizing and slight extra effort) to make it much less socially acceptable/attractive as well as eventually enough taxes were levied to make it more painful economically.

We can see it changing back actually with the exponential rise of younger people vaping instead of smoking cigarettes. The underlying science on nicotine and cancer etc. has obviously not changed, but cultural factors have made it attractive/acceptable again and the devices are widely available/affordable.

It would be interesting to me if there were an "animal welfare tax" levied on all meat. That's sorta of what 'organic,' 'cage-free,' 'grass-fed' etc. currently do, but it's not a tax, it only serves to increase profit margins of those companies. Unless it's a universal tax on all meat, it can't decrease consumption. It would be interesting to see what would happen if there was a place that legislatively banned meat and imposed fines. Would the Libertarian in you support this? (Doubt it.) These are highly unlikely, even with enough vegetarian-political power. Smoking legislation worked because there was a moral argument that second hand smoke harmed other humans who did not choose to smoke. It is harder to make the equivalent moral argument for meat consumption.

We see some glimmers of success but many limitations in the various soda tax experiments. It appears that as little as 1 penny per ounce may be enough to decrease consumption and affect consumer choice, but it can not be piecemeal with easy loopholes (e.g. just go to the next city over with no taxes etc.) or it's just a political stunt.

Ideally change can come by disciplined individual choice alone. But I think you fundamentally give an individual a lot more credit than I do here. To me, we don't live individually, kings of our own deserted islands. Increasingly interconnected (and subject to increasingly falsifiable social cues), we live and are highly influenced in innumerable ways by the people and society around us. It is the rare individual who see their diet in terms of "good" vs "evil." And it is the rare individual who can go against the prevailing culture.


Adding to that Anonymous Bastard's comments...

There are historically vegetarian cultures as well as a clearly viable and growing "modern" vegan/vegetarian culture. Is there any room for compromise with meat-eating culture or are they fundamentally incompatible? There are so many problems with framing it as a binary clash of cultures and I hope there is some third way (that I can't think of).

Individual desire to change may not even be necessary, if the systems in place make it very difficult to make the "bad choice" and/or to encourage "better choices." And now we wander into many impossible territories: "Who gets to decide what's best for me?" Individual choice vs collective/global good? Appropriately weighing short-term decisions vs long-term impacts?

I agree morally that doing something to reduce suffering, no matter how small, is better than doing nothing. It is a slippery slope however to pass summary judgement on another individual's level of "good' or "evil" based on a limited subset of their decisions/actions. None of us are Cassandra, capable of seeing futures; nor are we Anubis, capable of weighing hearts. [Patting self on back for that kids are big into mythology right now.]


Apologies for the repeats (and artificially padding the comments) not sure what I did there?!

This article was interesting to me for several reasons.
The thought I had re: clash of self-reported vegans increase, companies who are heavily invested in selling meat and sugar are seeking to "diversify" into vegan, motivated not by some high morality, but for that consumer dollar. Vegan nutritional science needs funding because it is currently mostly anecdotal. Perhaps by those very same companies. Capitalism encourages strange bedfellows.


Happy birthday, brother. (Please don't tell me how old you are. Last time Skeet was here, it was his birthday, and he told me which one – despite me begging him not to – and I'm still scarred...) Hope it's a great one for you.

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