A question: do you think people should be allowed to kill animals for pleasure?

If you belong to the majority of the population, your answer would be: “No, of course not. Not for pleasure.” You’re thinking about bullfights, trophy hunting, or barbaric traditions with animals in other countries.

When I tell you that in this case you are probably also against the killing of animals for food, I assume that already you might be feeling feel a certain resistance. Possibly you may be aware of some defense mechanisms, and you may entertain certain thoughts about the writer of this piece. Still, I hope you read on.

Food, you say, is not just about pleasure. Food is necessary.

Yes, food certainly is necessary. But meat is not. Both scientific research as well as the practice of millions of vegetarians and vegans around the globe, have shown that Homo sapiens can perfectly do without meat – or any animal products. Anyone who still believes that they are necessary for health, should have his ears checked, or works in the meat sector.


One of the reasons why our society generally condemns the killing of animals for bullfighting or trophy hunting, but not the killing of animals for food, probably has a lot to do with fact that most of us are not involved in the former but we are in the latter. It doesn’t matter to most of us if bullfights and bullfighters are morally frowned upon or even outlawed – it doesn’t affect us because we’re not participating. It’s easy, in other words, to be against them. Eating meat, on the other hand, is something that most of us do any day. We are steakholders (pun intended).

Your steak, your pork chops, your chicken nugget, your sausages… there’s a lot at stake here. Your habits get in the way, and they prevent you from thinking straight about what you eat. However rationally and objectively you think you are considering all of this, the meat you love so much works a bit like alcohol: it has an inebriating effect on your reasoning powers. As a professor of mine once said: “One quick way to drive people furious and incapable of reasonable thought is to start a conversation about their habit of eating meat.”

Maybe that’s not the case for you. But still. Maybe you say the killing of animals is fine because in nature animals kill each other too (as if we are as limited in our choices as other animals are).

Maybe you say that we have always eaten animals (as if that is a moral argument).

Maybe you would suggest that animals can be killed because they have no idea of their own identity or their future (as if all people have that).

Maybe you argue that many people would lose their job if we massively stopped eating meat (as if the economy always has to have the final word).

Maybe you believe that our first concern should go be with human suffering (as if not eating meat would take away part of your attention or compassion for people).

Maybe you only eat “humane meat” (as if such a thing exists).

Maybe you say that nobody should tell you what to eat (as if in this you are not influenced by your parents, your culture, your housemates, advertisements, or the offer and discounts in your supermarket).

During the first half of my life, I loved to eat meat, and ate lots of it. From experience I know that quitting meat is not easy for most people – especially men. But I do believe that as a society we are moving in that direction. Our ethics evolve. Yesterday we did things that we don’t approve of today. Today we maintain practises that will be frowned upon tomorrow. This is the way it will go with killing animals for food. Till the day comes when psychologists and sociologists will try to explain in long papers how we could ever do to animals what we are doing today, for gustatory pleasure. They will wonder how it was possible at all that decent people, who sought to improve the world, who had the cognitive and moral apparatus to choose and to do the good – and who often did that – could just ignore who was on their dinner plate, and how he or she got there.


Because we want to keep eating meat, we refuse to seriously think about our steak, we avoid the confrontation and we make sure that the link between meat and the animal behind it is as vague as possible. I dare ask you to finally start taking animals seriously, and to begin to see animals as one of the many oppressed groups that we can still find in our society today. With more than 65 billion victims a year (sea animals not included), it is a very large group that deserves our attention and our compassion.

I dare to ask you to finally start to think about our relationship to farmed animals, in the same way as you think about other important issues: with your head instead of with your stomach.

8 thoughts on “Steakholders

  1. “Anyone who still believes that they are necessary for health, should have his ears checked, or works in the meat sector.”

    I assume we are just speaking to vegans here again, but such comments aren’t going to convince anybody that eats meat. And they are problematic in another regard, while there is pretty good evidence that vegetarian diets work for all stages of life (semi-vegetarian, etc as well) the evidence for vegan diets (large, strong studies) is largely absent and many doctors are pretty skeptical about it (many widely used nutrition textbooks aren’t too keen on it as well). Now, you can call them “steakholders”, ignorant of whatever…..but without studies to refer its largely hot air and people are going to believe their doctors over someone telling them things that goes against some or their core beliefs……and when they start to doubt part of what someone says the rest is typically ignored. Push too hard, get too aggressive with what can be supported…..and the only people that are going to listen are vegans.

    1. i vaguely remember a recent mass study on plant based diets, but im not sure about it and im not in the mood for searching, lets pretend for arguments sake there is none.

      i agree that people will believe their doctors and old nutrition books and it is both infuriating and sad. doctors are people, they of course are also “steakholders” and (anecdote) i’ve made horrible experiences with capable doctors critizing my vegan diet without any proper knowledge of nutrition.

      i dont think there will be any rational, (close to) non-biased doctor who really claims that you need milk and eggs nutritionwise (same with meat, but we were talking vegan vegetarian). there is no nutrient in milk and eggs that is exclusive to them and both have been critized healthwise (milk hormones, eggs raising cholesterol [might be bs]).

      1. Sorry, but I just have to ask, did anybody note the obvious issue with this style of argument? Namely, that much of what we do in developed nations for pleasure harms animals or the environment in some way….so how do we justify any of it? Beyond that its a bit of a trick question, it relies on equivocation. The question will be interpreted as a matter of intent, that is, the vast majority will think its wrong to kill animals with the intent of gaining pleasure from it. But people don’t eat meat because they gain pleasure from the killing of the animal, instead the resulting product. Just as people don’t fly in planes with the intent on polluting and harming wildlife, but that is the result.

        1. “Just as people don’t fly in planes with the intent on polluting and harming wildlife, but that is the result.”

          The problem with this comparison is that there is an alternative to meat that tastes just as well and is equally (or more) healthy and cheaper (seitan, soy, combination of vegetables). the airplane, however, does not have an equal alternative. you could go buy ship or car, but that takes about 20 times as long.

        2. That was just one example out of many, but even in the case of flying much of it is done for pleasure (e.g., going on vocation) and not due to any actual need. And there is an alternative, not so much with the flying, but people could do other things for pleasure like spend time locally. Also, in the case of meat, I think you’re exaggerating the sorts of alternatives that exist. There are many meat products that have no direct alternative and the alternatives that do exist, mostly the more processed products, aren’t equal in taste, nutritional value and typically cost more. Personally I find the taste to be pretty poor, the few mock meats that I find tasty are of animal products that I didn’t like much in the first place. So there are alternatives in the sense that there are other things people can eat to met their nutritional needs, but there aren’t direct one-to-one alternatives in terms of taste and desirability which is the aspect that is relevant to my point.

          As far as the evidence for purely plant-based diets, if you remember what study you had in mind I’d like to know. Personally when my wife got pregnant I reviewed the evidence and afterwards I was no longer comfortable with purely plant-based diets, at least in the context of pregnancy and raising children. But I welcome any new information. But my point here was that when vegans say things that conflict with what many medical professionals say, well people are going to believe the medical professionals and will tend to disregard anything else vegans say. This poses a bit of a tricky problem, mostly for those that insist on promoting purely plant-based diets and making nasty comments to those that may be skeptical of such.

  2. Well said. Maybe people who are not in a rational way to think their relationship with meat as recent died animals should read too Zoopolis by S. Donaldson and W. Kymlicka ?! So, thanks for your article Tobias, wich it probably helps people to stop their addiction with meat. But meat is not a drug indeed. We can change easlier our habits, more than we think at start.
    Try people, please. You’ll see it is very fine.

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