What’s wrong with eating insects, when we already eat prawns and lobsters, which belong to the same phylum? (A phylum is the biggest grouping of living things.)

If we farm sweet little piggies and fatten them for slaughter for us to eat, what’s wrong with farming sweet little lion cubs, and bringing them up in captivity in a friendly, trusting way so that some rich Americans can give us a lot of money for shooting them? Should we farm and eat elephants? If it takes 7 kg of grain to provide 1 kg of meat from cattle, why don’t we stop cattle farming and give the grain directly to humans? Can humans, including children, remain healthy on a purely vegan diet?

Most of the new green ideology is destructive nonsense, but I often sympathise with it in our attitudes towards other animals. I agree that some animal farming is brutally cruel – just plain evil. I agree that animal farming as it is now practised does not make optimal use of resources.

Of course, I disagree that modern farming endangers the climate in any way. That’s nonsense, and I am behind the protesting farmers in Europe and America who are demonstrating against absurd restrictions on commercial farming in the name of combating the non-existent problem of manmade climate change. (The authorities are against farting cows, fertilisers and that sort of thing.) Some of the greens say we should start eating insects on a commercial scale, in restaurants, for example, instead of eating cows and pigs and chicken. I have some sympathy for this view.

Others say we should move to “lab-grown meat”, which is meat cultivated from animal cells but without needing animals to be killed. I don’t know anything about the biology of this but again, I think it not a bad idea.

I believed that the great moral question of the 21st Century would be our treatment of animals. I was wrong. Instead, the prevailing moral questions in the West, right now at any rate, are about transgenderism and Diversity, Inclusivity and Equity (DIE) and other such ephemeral nonsense. I hear a lot about animal rights and vegetarianism in the woke media, but experience little of it in real life.

I still struggle to get a good salad in restaurants and can hardly ever get a vegetarian samosa. Apologies for repeating myself, but I gave up eating meat, including poultry, in January 1970, after seeing the gratuitous killing of a magnificent and trusting wild animal. I didn’t do so for health reasons. I am not sure about meat eating and good nutrition. I have a poor sense of taste and food is unimportant to me, and so giving up meat was easy. Obviously, I didn’t do so to combat climate change, and anyway the great alarm then was the coming ice age. I did it purely as a gesture of solidarity with the animals we abuse. I was conscious from the beginning of my self-righteous hypocrisy, since I still ate fish and eggs.

Only a few certainties

Fifty-four years later, I am as confused as ever over animal rights, and what we should or should not be eating. I have only a few certainties. One is that the battery farming of chickens should be banned outright. It is an abomination. These lively, pretty and clever animals, in their short, hellish lives in a battery farm, know nothing but pain, fear, filth, suffering, humiliation and loneliness in overcrowded concentration camps. I’d ban them outright.

Oh, but then the price of protein for poor people would increase! Let it. Give monetary compensation to poor people to allow them to afford more decent and probably healthier protein. (I only eat free-range eggs, but I wonder how free those hens really are.) A long time ago I got a job as a labourer on a pig farm in England to test my vegetarianism. It confirmed it, and I came away with a greatly enhanced respect for pigs. I’d ban the worst types of factory farming of pigs, which would not include the farm I worked for.

This brings me to the question of pig farming versus lion farming. In the marketplace of my local mall, there are often stands protesting against the rearing of lions to be killed by trophy hunters. They show pictures of lion cubs and tell heart-rending tales of cubs being torn away from their mothers, who wail for them behind steel cages. These always make me want to cry. Why don’t we feel the same about piglets? On this farm, I not only helped the farmer to clear the muck from the pens but to slice the testicles off baby pigs. (The testicles, looking like small purple grapes, were thrown onto the muddy concrete floor and the mother would often eat them.)

Why is it wrong to farm lions but not wrong to farm pigs? Pigs are more intelligent than lions. They are clean, dignified animals with a fine social sense when they are free, in sunlight and the wild, rather than cooped up in dark, dirty, concrete cells.

Why should we not eat insects on a wide, commercial scale in the same way that we eat prawns, lobsters and crayfish, which all belong to the same group of animals? This is Phylum Arthropoda, which consists of animals with segmented bodies, external skeletons and passive respiration (without lungs), such as insects, spiders, centipedes and crustacea. It is by an enormous margin the most populous and successful phylum of multicellular animals. (Single-celled life forms, especially bacteria, are much more ancient and on a different scale of population altogether, consisting of over 99.9% of all living things.)

Very nutritious

The most successful class of arthropods are insects. (The most populous sub-class are beetles, which are therefore the most populous type of animal on Earth.) Insects breed and grow extremely quickly, and apparently are very nutritious. It would be much quicker and cheaper to grow a kg of insect meat than a kg of pig, cow or even chicken meat. So why don’t we do it? After all, fisherman breed maggots for bait, so why don’t they farm them for restaurants. If you look at the prawn on your plate, you will see it looks remarkably like a scorpion (and is closely related to one). So why don’t we farm scorpions and serve them up as hors d’oeuvres in restaurants? Fried perhaps? Or maybe prepared in a light batter?

In one of those TV reality programmes, the Fear Factor, I seem to remember, one of the tests they had to pass was to eat a bowl of large boiled spiders. I should have probably fainted at the prospect, and certainly dropped out of the contest then and there. Why does this so horrify me when I can easily munch through crayfish and lobsters? I don’t know. Pure irrationalism.

There’s a feeling, which I share, that we shouldn’t eat animals with over a certain level of intelligence. Elephants are highly intelligent, more so than any great ape apart from ourselves, and so we shouldn’t eat them. But we are not consistent. Whales are perhaps as intelligent as elephants, perhaps more so, but we used to eat them, and I think they still do so in Japan. I have mentioned pigs, which are very intelligent but which we eat cheerfully – well, some of us at any rate.

Culture and religion play a big part in our choice of what to eat. In Africa, it is part of our culture to eat mopane worms, a cheap and excellent form of protein. This would horrify Europeans, some of whom are quite happy to eat snails. Why? For no particular reason, just culture. I believe it took a long while to persuade central Africans to eat fish. I remember my mother in the 1950s telling me with horror that the Japanese ate raw fish (my father was a marine man and was often entertained by visiting Japanese ships).

Today sushi is commonplace in the West. Religions have elaborate prohibitions against certain foods. Jews, followed by Muslims, banned the eating of pig. I first thought this was for hygienic reasons, but apparently pork carries no more dangerous parasites than beef or lamb. I think it just became a badge of identity and solidarity: we’re the sort of people who don’t eat pork. I have to admit that my vegetarianism is becoming the same: look at me everybody, I don’t eat meat (but don’t ask me too many questions about why I do eat fish and eggs).

Diet and health

Class also plays a big part in dietary options. Wherever I go in the West, including England and South Africa, I see a big difference in the food eaten by the bourgeoisie and the workers. The working class are big meat-eaters, shun salads and don’t bother too much about their health. Academics, professionals, corporate executives and artists are quite likely to be vegetarians of one sort or another, and spend a lot of time worrying about diet and health.

There is a standard economic reason for not eating meat, one which I have often used myself: it takes 7 kg of grain to feed an ox to produce 1 kg of meat, so why not just use the 7 kg to feed humans directly? There are two objections to this argument. The first one is about grass-fed cattle. It is said that the most important crop in Britain is grass, which grows wild and widely, which cannot be eaten by humans but which can feed cattle and sheep, producing very good beef and lamb. Ban grain-fed livestock and only allow grass-fed?

The more difficult question is whether grain and other vegetable matter can completely replace animal protein in a healthy human diet. I’m not sure but I think probably not for adults and almost certainly not for children. Our evolution suggests we need animal protein.

There are three types of chimpanzee: the common chimp, the bonobo or pygmy chimp (a minor population), and hominids. Modern humans, Homo sapiens, are the last remaining hominid. About five million years ago, the climate changed in East Africa and the jungle gave way to savannah. A group of common chimps, our forebears, left the trees and tried to survive on the ground. It was by a miracle that we did survive. We were horribly unprepared, and faced lions and other deadly enemies, much stronger and faster than us.

We became bipedal (walking on two legs), our arms became puny, our legs became long, and we developed our strange talent for long distance running. But this would not have been enough without our teamwork and brainpower. We had to get a bigger, better brain, and we did. But this was only possible when our jaws got smaller. Our guts got much shorter at the same time, and these changes were only possible through meat-eating and fire. Meat is easier to digest than vegetation, and fire pre-digested our food. This allowed much easier chewing and digestion to get an increasing amount of protein to feed our expanding brains. The evidence is overwhelming that we owe our existence as a species to meat-eating. How does this affect the morality of meat-eating today?

No gross shortage

There is no gross shortage of food in the world today. World food crops are improving all the time, thanks to better agricultural science and rising CO2. The problem is getting all this food to everybody cheaply and hygienically. These are questions of management and efficiency, and not morality.

On the moral side, there are many ways we can make meat-eating more humane and cause less suffering to animals. Ban factory farming. Kill crayfish and lobsters quickly before throwing them into boiling water. Kill fish quickly, too, without letting them writhe and suffocate for a long time on the quay. Ban whale hunting. Treat pigs with more respect and kindness.

Not a very dramatic solution to the problems of the morality of meat, I’m afraid, but I’ve spent the last 54 years without coming up with a better one.

[Image: Jared Davidson from Freerange Stock]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Andrew Kenny is a writer, an engineer and a classical liberal.