Is Meat-Eating Murder?

Is Meat-Eating Murder?
iStock/Vladimir Vladimirov

Surely meat eaters have their reasons for choosing to eat animals—most humans do it—but how often do meat-eaters consider the number of animals they’re expected to eat in a lifetime? It’s a startling number: 7,000.

According to the Vegetarian Calculator, an online tool that breaks down your burgers into some visceral stats, those 7,000 animals roughly calculate to 11 cows, 27 pigs, 2,400 chickens, 80 turkeys, 30 sheep, and 4,500 fish—per person. The tool bases meat consumption on USDA data from 2008, which found the average American ate approximately three hamburgers a week.

When we talk about eating animals, we most often refer to them by their ready-to-be-eaten names: filets, steaks, chops, cutlets, nuggets, burgers. While meat eaters defend their actions for any number of reasons—from taste to (perceived) protein—only a small few of them have actually taken to killing and dismembering their dinner.

That act of hunting, killing, and processing an animal before eating it, though, which is still practiced in some tribal communities around the world, connects eater to eaten in important ways we’ve lost in modern culture. There’s respect, for one. The entire animal is used and honored. And a wild-caught animal isn’t forced to live a horrific life surrounded by cement and steel and the echoes of her suffering neighbors. But most cultures, with the exception of tribes like the Inuit, supplement their predominantly plant-based diet with meat, rather than make it the center of their diet. They eat meat when plant sources run dry. They smoke, dry, and cure it for long journeys. They don’t microwave Hot Pockets or round up spare change to buy a .99 cheeseburger.


Eating meat and any animal products for that matter (eggs, dairy, gelatin, etc.), is also a big Debbie Downer for the planet. We apply the same irreverence to the consequences of what we’re eating as to who we’re eating in the first place.  The Vegetarian Calculator tallies up your CO2 as well as the number of animals eaten, and that corresponds to a number of studies that have found raising livestock to be severely problematic in reducing carbon emissions. The impact of climate change directly affects humans — even taking the lives of people like those ravaged by recent hurricanes. The world’s climate crises can be directly linked to livestock production. It’s also predicted to lead to food shortages, nutrient-deficient crops, and the spread of numerous diseases, all which will likely take the lives of countless individuals.

Eating animals an inefficient way of eating when you measure calories in (raising the animal) versus calories out (the steak on your plate), regardless of our feelings about the inherent rights to the animal being eaten; it’s reckless for our friends, family, and future generations.

But that’s the way the vast majority of humans today consume all of their food, especially meat. We merely drop meat into shopping carts or cue up in burger joint lines oblivious or willfully ignorant of where that burger came from, and what consequences it has for others. If that’s not murder, then what exactly does meat-eating amount to?

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Strides in technology from meaty plant-based foods to food tech “growing” meat without the animal attached to it, are poised to solve a lot of problems. From providing healthier and cleaner protein sources that are better for the planet to that gnawing ethical dilemma. Does eating meat make you a murderer? With these advances, it looks like it doesn’t have to.


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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.