Eating Animals Ethically on the Paleo Diet

Pastured Cows (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

For many people, the benefits of the Paleo diet are clear: great nourishment, deep culinary satisfaction, freedom from the blood sugar roller-coaster, and the ability to shrink down to optimum body weight without ever having to go hungry.

For some, however, the idea of a diet based around animal products is a step too far.

One such person is Derek Sanders, lead singer of the punk band Mayday Parade, a recent convert to vegetarianism.  In an exclusive interview with the website This Dish Is Veg, he discussed the reason for his conversion:


TDIV: What inspired you to make the commitment?

Sanders: I had been thinking about it for awhile, I decided to eat less meat and that just turned into stopping entirely. I read this book called Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, I highly recommend it to everyone. Once you educate yourself on the factory farming process you can’t think about eating meat the same.”

Whilst I have empathy for his feeling towards animals – I too had to do some serious soul-searching when it became increasingly apparent to me that an omnivorious diet is the optimal one for a human being – I can’t help but wonder how we’ve got to the point in our society where “eating animals” automatically means “eating factory-farmed animals”.

This certainly doesn’t need to be the case.  In her recent book Sexy Healthy Happy,  real foods advocate Nancy Deville makes the point very strongly:

“I discourage eating factory produced animal products. Factory animals are tortured in concentration camps called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) from birth until gruesome slaughter. Whether you eat a fast-food burger or a steak from a five-star restaurant, you are likely eating a tortured animal.”

She goes on to suggest buying animal products from local farms  and suppliers who guarantee that their animals are pastured rather than confined.

Surely no-one but a sadist would choose to eat a “tortured animal” if there were another option.  For many of us, this realisation is a real turning point in our dietary lives, and it’s undoubtedly a major motivating factor for many converts to vegetarianism or veganism.   It can also be what puts many of us off the idea of the Paleo diet.

It’s important to realise, however, that when it comes to the Paleo diet, there is no need to eschew nutritious animal foods in order to avoid supporting the nefarious practice of factory farming.  It’s more than possible to eat animals that are raised in clean, humane environments; environments suited to their biology and temperament.

Farmyard Hen (photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

Eat hens that are free to hunt and peck in open farmyards where they can eat weeds and worms and bugs to their hearts’ content; eat pastured cows who are able to feast on fast-growing green grass in sunny meadows; eat fish that swim free in clean waters – and you will be eating a happy animal.

In fact, not only will you be eating an animal that had a good life of its own, before becoming a meal that fully enhances yours, you’ll also be eating an animal that provides you with optimum nutrition.  Most importantly, it will be nutrition that far outstrips that which can possibly be provided by either factory-produced animal, or indeed vegan, diets.

(In July of last year, Sally Fallon, president of the Weston A Price Foundation, outlined the benefits of eating pastured animals in an oral testimony to the USDA Dietary Guidelines Committee.  You can read it in full here.)

If, on the other hand, your objection to eating animals is a moral one – killing of any living, sentient creature is wrong - it’s worth considering the following observation from the Weston A Price Foundation:

“By some estimates, at least 300 animals per acre—including mice, rats, moles, groundhogs and birds—are killed for the production of vegetable and grain foods, often in gruesome ways. Only one animal per acre is killed for the production of grass-fed beef and no animal is killed for the production of grass-fed milk until the end of the life of the dairy cow.” Read the full article here.

Joseph Campbell (Wikipedia)

In other words – there’s no getting away from the fact that our very existence is founded upon the consumption of animals.  This is why so many so-called “primitive” cultures treated their animals with such reverence.  They recognised that the animal was giving of itself in order that the human could thrive.  As the famous anthropologist and mythologist Joseph Campbell observed in his book The Power of Myth, “one of the problems of mythology is reconciling the mind to this brutal precondition of all life, which lives by the killing and eating of lives. The essence of life is this eating of itself!”

When it comes to eating animals on the paleo diet, it’s clear that we always have the power of choice.  It’s possible to support factory farming, or we can support local farmers, and eat animals that have been treated well.  Isn’t it wonderful to know that doing the latter also provides us with the win-win scenario of an ethical choice and optimum nutrition?

Perhaps Gandhi said it most elegantly of all: ““The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its
animals are treated.”

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Brian Cormack Carr is a professional life and career coach and advocate of a real foods diet.
His home on the web is where you will find more articles, a free newsletter, and information about his online career-creation programme You can follow Brian on Twitter: @cormackcarr


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6 Responses to Eating Animals Ethically on the Paleo Diet

  1. Paul R August 17, 2011 at 2:15 pm

    Though I’m an enthusiastic consumer of home reared animals, I have to disagree strongly with the contention that only 1 animal per acre is killed by eating grass fed (beef). Feed paddocks are traversed by vehicles and implements nearly as often as crop paddocks, and grass fed animals are typically fed hay or cut feeds during the winter. It is this use of machinery etc that kills the 300 animals per acre referred to on the vegetarian side, making collateral damage on both sides of the fence pretty similar. From fly sprays to driving cars to walking on worms, there is carnage around us all the time.

  2. Lila Solnick August 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    Thanks for the post Paul, You are absolutely correct. I think we had forgotten that aspect of raising grass fed animals. Hay grown for the winter would definitely cause the deaths of the smaller creatures living in those fields.
    Basically, living on Earth requires the death of other creatures, no matter how you look at it. But that is life.

  3. Nancy Deville August 19, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    I really like this piece on eating animals, Brian. It flowed really well and was filled with interesting stuff. Thank you for quoting from my book too. Loving animals doesn’t change human physiology. I don’t support the vegan diet because it doesn’t support the human body. I’m out to slay this dragon before it does more damage to more people.

  4. Brian Cormack Carr August 19, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    Thanks for the comment Nancy. I enjoyed writing it, and found your book an invaluable resource. Your point that human physiology hasn’t changed much since the days of our remote ancestors really resonates, as does your point that a healthy life is all about building up more than we break down. Thank goodness for nutrient-dense animal foods - and lots of wonderful veggies too! True abundance.

  5. Rachel S August 23, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for the article, Brian. The information on collateral damage during plant-based agricultural production should give vegetarians pause, though as a small farmer, I can attest that, yes, hay production for grass-fed livestock is quite damaging to small wildlife as well.

    I recently wrote an article on this same subject that might be of interest to your readers, especially the ones who don’t really understand what factory farming entails, beyond the fact that it’s somehow “bad”. Fair warning, though- the post is quite graphic.

  6. Brian Cormack Carr August 23, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Rachel, thanks for the input and for sharing this information.

    I’m actually working on a second article which touches on the importance of buying local pasture-raised produce - I’ll be sure to draw readers’ attention to your article within that!