BYU Professor Chris Foster on Animal Advocacy

Yesterday, BYU Professor Chris Foster gave an interview on KCPW’s The Public Square about animal advocacy and humane treatment. I think his arguments are very persuasive. Of course, I’ve never been a fan of the machismo and violence of the rodeo. And over the recent years, I’ve been moving my family more and more towards a plant-based diet. I’m not necessarily planning on a strictly vegan or vegetarian diet, if for no other reason that there are some meats and animal products which I really enjoy (sadly, my favorite meats tend to be the most highly processed, the various sausages). Any consideration of an outright ban is met with a fit from my palate. So instead, I’m simply seeing how many great meals I can make without meats, or with very small quantities of meat. I’ve found plenty of pasta, legume, or grain salads which are every bit as delicious as any meat entree. I’ve learned plenty of ways to get protein and the umami hit of meat without resorting to a cow (I’m not keen the texture of tofu, but there are plenty of ways to prepare great tempeh dishes!). I hear that many who go for a plant-based diet end up finding meat distasteful. If that happens, great. If not, we’ll continue to eat meat on occasion to satisfy those occasional carnivorous urges, but focus on plant sources of nutrients.

Concern for the treatment of animals is only one factor in my decision. The meat-based diet of modern U.S. society has been a key factor in the rise in obesity, heart disease, and various other ailments over the past few decades. Given the recent concern over food production and costs, it is worth noting that meat is a terribly inefficient source of energy; it takes many more times the amount of energy and land to produce a calorie of meat than to produce the same amount from plants. Many free-market advocates have made a big deal about the impact of increased biofuel production on food production, and their points are certainly not invalid. But long-term, the increasing emphasis on meat in diets throughout the world, and the increasing amount of resources needed to provide that meat, could be seen as a far greater threat to the world’s food supply than biofuels. Rather than encouraging developing nations to adopt the Western/U.S. style diet, we should probably be doing more to adopt diets more similar to theirs and to our ancestors. As Professor Foster pointed out, such diets would be much more consistent with the counsel of the Word of Wisdom than the hamburgers, hotdogs, steaks, roast beef, and other staples of the U.S. (and Mormon) diet today.


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25 Responses to “BYU Professor Chris Foster on Animal Advocacy”

  1. Thom Says:

    Thanks for the post; I have two quick comments.

    First, I don’t think that the rise in meat consumption has much, if anything, to do with obesity in the U.S. For all the flack the Atkins gets about heart disease, it’s generally pretty effective for weight loss, as is the South Beach Diet. Protein converts to fat much less easily than many types of carbohydrates, and protein digestion raises your base metabolism rate. (I’ve heard that eating a protein-rich breakfast, for example, raises your morning metabolism by 20%; I don’t have the science in front of me, though.) The real problem with obesity in America, in my only moderately-educated opinion, is super cheap food and a consumption culture. For better or worse, rising food and fuel costs may be bringing those to an end.

    Second, although some may be encouraging developing nations to adopt a more “Western Style” diet, I think that the correlation between increased prosperity and increased meat consumption has been around a lot longer than McDonalds.

  2. Thom Says:

    None of which is to say that your general point is wrong. Eating a lot of meat is personally and economically unhealthy, and often cruel.

  3. Aaron Orgill Says:

    It is the processed foods, empty calories and huge portions we eat that makes us fatties, not the consumption of meat. Can’t really argue with the doctrinal aspects of “eat meat sparingly”, although as a carnivore myself, I have no right to point fingers. My wife and I are trying to incorporate at least one vegetarian dinner a week, so I guess that’s at least a start. One suggestion: try some Indian food. Indian chefs can do things with veggies you wouldn’t think possible.

  4. Anna Says:

    I totally agree with what you say. I’m moving more and more towards a “flexitarian” diet. I can’t bring myself to completely give up meat but maybe someday. I also think as far as the food shortage, biofuel debate goes, one thing that would help that situation is if we weaned our culture off of so many processed foods that are full of the useless high fructose corn syrup.

  5. Jeremy Says:

    I worked on a dairy farm as a teenager. Those damn cows deserve all they get. I eat my steaks with a little more pleasure knowing one less animal of the bovine persuasion is walking the earth. Veal is even more satisfying!

    Sorry to be so harsh and unChrist-like but I’m scarred forever by my experiences with the cows and doubt I’d ever make much of a vegetarian. Good luck to you though! I agree with you about sausages. A good bratwurst is one of my favorite things to eat.

  6. WP Lyon Says:

    Jeremy, a good brat with kraut is not to be overlooked.

    I have always worked at killing animals I hunt with one disabling bullet to the spinal column or the brain stem. Buffalo steaks on the grill with fresh corn and tomatoes from the garden is the best and disuades me from ever becoming a vegetarian. Though I hate to think what KFC’s chickens have to go through to die to fill a bucket.

  7. WP Says:


    I love Buffalo. I took you up on your recommendation last year and tried it. I’ve only had it ground so far (way better than ground chuck beef) and will likely come to you begging to buy some some steaks or roasts one day.

  8. Jeremy Says:

    Ooops. That last comment was mine. I meant to address it to WP and got a little carried away. Sorry about that.

  9. WP Lyon Says:


    The steaks are very good if you can tolerate them a little pink inside. Because it is so lean they are too dry if you do them medium or well. The roasts need to be done moist, in a cooking bag or dutch oven. Buffalo is the only red meat heart bypass patients can eat with abandon as it is so low in cholesterol. Unfortunately, some of the meat packers when doing buffalo burger add beef fat to it which only adds cholesterol.

    Maybe we should get the smoker out, (wet smoke and steam), and do a roast or two and invite some liberal mormons and democrats over for a Sunday evening… anyone interested?

  10. chandelle Says:

    actually, meat eaters have three times the obesity rate of vegetarians and nine times that of vegans. saturated fat is one of the biggest culprits in obesity and meat is one of its primary sources. since most americans’ diet is comprised of about 30% meat, i think this is a significant issue. saturated fat is handled differently in the body than monounsaturated fats from healthy seeds, nuts and fruits like avocados and olives, which, as far as prevention is concerned, should be our primary sources of fat. many studies have indicated that a high meat intake contributes to obesity. meat consumption also stimulates an insulin reaction, which can contribute to body growth by hormonal response. it makes sense that a plant-based diet would encourage a healthy weight, because plant foods are generally low in fat, and it’s good fat at that, while animals foods are generally high in fat, and it’s usually bad fat.

    the only “diet” regimen that has been unequivocally demonstrated to help a high percentage of participants lose weight and keep it off long-term (more than five years) is a low-fat vegan diet. in every other regimen people gain the weight back or don’t lose much to begin with. 97% of dieters are right back to where they were within 5 years, or even fatter than they started. this number has not changed despite the fact that a few years ago, 50% of americans were about to try, were in the midst of trying, or had tried the atkins diet. atkins himself diet at over 250 pounds. most weight loss from the atkins diet plateaued after six months. the one thing atkins really accomplished was getting people away from refined grains. he made a major mistake in implicating all grains, including whole grains that have powerful preventive and health-promoting factors, and his elimination of fruit was completely ridiculous considering how potent a cancer-fighter and nutrient-provider whole fruit can be. its primary appeal was because it basically told people to eat all the same crap they’d been eating all along, minus refined carbs. that sounded wonderful to folks whose plates were mostly filled with meat anyway.

    initial weight loss on ANY diet is typical and has little to do with some scientific-sounding hogwash. every single other diet from atkins to shangri-la shares the same basic function of reducing total calories. the authors try to dress it up in fancy language but it’s really that simple.

    a very serious issue is that “diets” such as atkins do not focus on the overarching goal of disease prevention, and in fact they usually contribute to disease risk. atkins, for example, has been shown to increase the risk of colon cancer. one must consider the complete picture of health and not simply swimsuit season. “diets” don’t work except in the short term. the only truly effective change is a complete shift in lifestyle. what one eats should be a more powerful question than the total calories consumed, i.e., we should be eating nutrient-dense food, not empty food or fiber-less food. the fact that animal foods do not contain fiber is probably one of the most important issue in weight control (as well as disease). the lack of antioxidants, and in fact the presence of many oxidizing factors, in animal foods is also a serious question.

    regardless of whether meat is directly responsible for obesity (indeed, it’s only one part of the famous high-fat, high-sugar, low-fiber SAD), its impact on cancer risk and many other serious degenerative health problems is a worthy consideration. a plant-based diet reduces heart disease risk by about 85% and cancer risk by something like 60%. those are compelling numbers when one considers that these two diseases combined kill off about 90% of americans right now.

    blah blah blah…wrote a post in the comment box, derek, sorry about that. 🙂

  11. WP Lyon Says:

    Nah, Chandelle it is the french fries and sodas including diet cokes that are killing Americans. Did you see that the LA City Council has placed a moratorium on fast food dining establishments in south LA? Looks like government is going to put some folks on a diet.

  12. Derek Staffanson Says:

    Some good responses.

    Thom, you (and WP) are correct that our reliance on “cheap” and empty carbs and our consumption culture are huge factors in the obesity epidemic in our society. But the focus on meats in the conventional U.S. diet is another contributing factor, as Chandelle pointed out (and I do appreciate you sharing your expertise much better than I could have, Chandelle). And while it is indisputably true that meat consumption typically rises with prosperity throughout history, it is equally true that the U.S, its food industries, and its marketing industry have been the primary pushers in our era.

    (not that it matters, since I don’t think you ever read any comments anyway 😉 )

    Yep, Aaron, one vegetarian meal a week is a start (walk before you can run, and all that). And Indian cuisine is, from what I gather, a great source of vegetarian meals. Personally, I’m partial to East Mediterranean; there are wonderful Turkish and Persian vegetarian dishes!).

    Jeremy, I can see how cows deserve punishment for not conveniently going along with being used, manhandled, cooped up, and eventually killed. How inconsiderate of them;) Brats are okay; I’m partial to well-made Italian or Southern German Sausages (or even Balkan). I liek that a little goes a long way; just a couple of links will provide just enough seasoning to the pasta or stir-fry to feed several people without making meat the entire entree.

    WP, I agree that the way most animals grown (I’d hardly consider it “raised”) for meat in the industrial farms is barbaric, not only poultry but cows and pigs as well.

    I think a big potluck cookout would be great. You could do smoked buffalo, but if people like Chandelle would be interested in joining us, we could also see what sorts of great picnic vegetarian fare people can come up with. I’ve got a couple ideas in mind. Any others interested?

  13. Aaron Orgill Says:

    I am interested… although I’m neither liberal nor Democrat… but not a Republican either. I removed my name from the records of the party a couple of years ago.

  14. Chandelle Says:

    “Nah, Chandelle it is the french fries and sodas including diet cokes that are killing Americans.”

    It doesn’t have to be one or the other. French fries and soda are just one facet of a high-fat, high animal food, high sugar, high processed food, low fiber, low whole food, low antioxidant, low exercise American lifestyle.

    Derek, I’m always up for a potluck.

  15. jennifer Says:

    For a number of reasons, we have greatly reduced the amount of meat we eat in our house. I only buy red meat once or twice a year (gotta have the roast beef for the Yorkshire pudds at Christmas!!), and I cook chicken or turkey or fish maybe 2 times each week. We are not complete vegetarians (my sister and her family all are, my other sister and her family are vegan now, my brother eats more like my household).

    My favorite vegetarian foods include a Louisiana red beans and rice, garden veggies w/ pasta and cheese, various soups w/ bread, black beans w/ rice, various Mexican foods, veggie pizza, stirfried veggies w/ noodles or rice, quiche with spinach or tomatoes & zucchini, veggie lasagna, etc. We still eat plenty of dairy foods and eggs, and when we go to a party or family gathering I don’t tell the kids what to eat and not to eat. But we have all noticed feeling better when we switched. Plus the grocery bills went down. With the savings, I can splurge more in the produce dept. than I used to ( buying fresh pineapples, red peppers, tangerines, and other yummies)

    I have discussed this with a couple of neighbors, who always seem so shocked that people could live like that. What’s the big deal? I agree with Chandelle, that better health is not only about weight, but also about cholesterol, fiber, nutrients, fat, and calories.

  16. Jenni Says:

    Derek — have you ever tried Morningstar Farms meatless sausage links? Fry some of those up in a frying pan with olive oil (don’t microwave) — very yummy, almost too yummy, since I think meat substitutes are more processed than I like.

    There are also Tofurky kielbasa-style sausages that are pretty good.

    I’ve now been a vegetarian for almost 14 years. The few times I’ve tried a bite of meat over the years I’ve found that it just tastes kind of odd — it never tastes like I remember it

  17. Jeremy B. Says:

    I just found your blog today and this post caught my attention as we are trying to eliminate most animal products from our diet. I was converted after reading “Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrman. It is a must read for anyone who wants to lose weight, live longer, and be healthier or who is simply questioning the Great American Diet. The one thing I can’t give up, however, is the occasional slab of ribs or smoked pork shoulder as I grew up in Kansas City and barbecue sauce runs through my veins. That’s about the only meat we eat these days, though. In addition the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the Word of Wisdom made so much more sense to me after reading that book and understanding some of the science behind. I can now answer the question of “Do you follow the Word of Wisdom?” with more conviction than ever before.

  18. Aaron Orgill Says:

    From a cowboy friend’s pickup: “Eat Beef – The West Wasn’t Won on Salad”.

  19. Tara Says:

    I can’t believe some of the comments that have been posted above.
    The bottom line is–the Word of Wisdom says to “Eat meat sparingly, and only in times of winter or famine.” Period.

    Our church teaches heavily the importance of the creation of the earth and it’s beings in our doctrines, and that includes animals. Animals have spirits and are going to be resurrected. Countless church leaders and prophets have talked about it, and yes, that includes cows, pigs, chickens, and fish.
    It doesn’t matter how much you love meat. If you are following the Word of Wisdom, you will do what it says. Do you say that you can’t give up cigarettes because you love them too much? Then you aren’t following the WoW.

    Comments to the effect of “animals deserve it” then go on to talk about how much you love meat, are completely ignorant and should not be spoken from a church member, plain and simple. Church leaders have said that the love of God and the love of nature are one–true Christians love everything that God has created and do not think a cow deserves to die simply because “deserve all they can get.”

    Chandelle is right. Although many factors lead to obesity, our consumption of meat simply does not help. High consumption of meat leads to many, many health problems, including heart disease. What’s worse, being obese or dying from a heart attack?

    So many prophets and church leaders, including Joseph Smith, have spoken out against the needless killing of animals, stating that we should only eat them if it’s NECESSARY TO SAVE OUR LIVES. Many plant-based proteins, minerals, and vitamins are so much better for our bodies than meat-based ones, and these are available to us year round. In the 21st century, we do not need to eat meat to save our lives!

    I have to thank you for this post. This problem definitely needs more attention in our church.

  20. Jack Says:

    Hey, I just found this blog – thank you for writing. Just wanted to let you know that it’s not showing up correctly on the BlackBerry Browser (I have a Pearl). Anyway, I am now on the RSS feed on my home PC, so thanks!

  21. Sheet Plastic : Says:

    there are lots of cheap foods on the market that taste like crap but there are good quality ones too ”

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