Tag Archives: diet

Want to Summon Less Animal Suffering?

I've been thinking about Julia Galef's chart of how much of an animal's live an unit of food costs. Her summary of her approach:

If you’re bothered by the idea of killing animals for food, then going vegetarian might seem like an obvious response. But if you want your diet to kill as few animals as possible, then eschewing meat is actually quite an indirect, and sometimes even counterproductive, strategy. The question you should be asking yourself about any given food is not, “Is this food animal flesh?” The question you should be asking yourself is, “How many animal lives did this food cost?”

She ends up with this chart:

But as we know, from a hedonic utilitarian perspective, the moral cost of consuming animals is not measured in their deaths, but the net suffering in their lives - and lives are made of days.

I am not a hedonic utilitarian, but I think that for big-picture issues, utilitarianism is an important heuristic for figuring out what the right answer is, since at least it handles addition and multiplication better than our unaided moral intuitions.

So I looked up how long each of these animals typically lives, to estimate how many days of each animal's life you are responsible for when you consume 1,000 calories of that animal. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says that beef cattle are slaughtered at 36 months old (i.e. 1,096 days), and pork hogs at 6 months old (183 days). Wikipedia says that chickens raised for meat typically live about 6 weeks (42 days), and laying hens about 2 years (730 days), and that dairy cows live an average of four years (1,461 days) before dying or being culled and sold as beef.

Using those figures yields the following:

Days per 1000 Calories


Eggs now appear to be even worse than eating chicken flesh, since broiler chickens live very short lives compared to laying hens. Similarly, beef loses its advantage relative to pork, which comes from smaller but faster-maturing animals. Dairy still seems pretty okay, comparatively.

A few complicating factors need to be explored before this becomes a reliable guide, though.

First, not all animal suffering is of equal intensity. It may actually be net good for well-treated animals to exist. It is still not obvious that factory farmed animals would rather never have been born, or how to count their suffering.

Second, it is not obvious how to attribute responsibility for animals that are not themselves raised to feed humans. For example, Julia divided laying hens' yield in half to account for killed male chicks, but the chicks obviously live almost no time. If you double the yield back to what it would have been before this adjustment, eggs come out about the same as chicken. Similarly, if a dairy cow is killed for beef, it seems like this should lower milk drinkers' and cheese eaters' day counts, since beef eaters contribute to the viability of raising dairy cattle too.

Finally, there may be different elasticity for different animal products; because lowered demand leads to lowered prices, which increase demand, the industry might reduce production by less than a full chicken for each chicken you abstain from buying, and this rate may differ by animal.

What am I going to do? I like eggs a lot, and think they're cheap and pretty good for me, and I basically believe Katja Grace's argument that I shouldn't put in a lot of work to change my behavior on this, so I'm going to keep eating them, though I'll continue to preferentially buy free range eggs where available. I have a rationalization that laying hens don't suffer nearly as much as broilers, so I'll flinch a little bit each time I consider eating chicken. I was favoring eating beef over pork due to Julia's analysis, but I will stop doing that now that I know the two are pretty much equivalent in terms of animal-days.

[UPDATE: Brian Tomasik has an unsurprisingly somewhat more thoroughly worked out treatment of this line of thinking here.]

Cauliflower Bread, Twice Attempted

I like good bread. A lot. A loaf of crusty sourdough or baguette, with some nice butter (and if I'm feeling extra indulgent, radishes and salt) is one of the foods I most enjoy. But it reliably causes me to put on weight, which I'm trying not to do right now.

I asked my friends for a recipe for something like bread except that it doesn't cause me to eat a huge number of calories. (If I were underweight, I could fix it in a day. Just give me some top-quality baguettes and a few pounds of nice butter.) "Eat less bread" isn't an option because I am on the minimum-willpower diet, and stopping before I run out of bread and butter is a major willpower expenditure. More about my minimal-willpower diet in a future post.

My deeply appreciated correspondent Julia Galef provided a recipe which sounded promising, because it has more satiety-inducing fat and protein and fiber, and less other carbs:

My paleo-friendly breadstick recipe:

Blend, in a food processor:
1 cup plain quick oats
1/2 cup egg whites (I was aiming low-calorie, but you could try 2 eggs instead)
~1 cup steamed cauliflower florets
Onion powder, garlic powder, salt & pepper to taste
Enough water to make it just barely pourable
Pour into 9 x 13 baking dish that has been sprayed/brushed with oil. Bake at ~375 degrees for ~1.5 hours. The bottom should get browned and crunchy; the inside should be soft.

This is what I use for a pizza crust, but you could cut it into strips to make breadsticks. I suspect this will satisfy your "dippable breadlike" craving... but lemme know how it turns out! I invented this recipe and have never tried transferring it to another person, so it's possible there's some detail I'm neglecting.

So I preheated the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, I took a head of cauliflower:


And steamed it in the microwave:


I stuffed some florets into a 1-cup measure, using up about half the cauliflower:


And put all the ingredients into the food processor:


Then I blent it until smooth:


The recipe said to add water until just barely pourable. Since I was able to pour it out (very slowly) without adding water, I added none, and poured it into a pan:


I smoothed it out with a silicone spatula. Then, since I had more than half a head of cauliflower left, I made a second batch, using some baking powder instead of salt. This one came out smoother, as you may be able to see from this side by side comparison:


After they had spent about an hour in the oven's top rack, I checked on them, and they looked like this:



The one made with baking powder turned out fine, but the other one was burnt. I cut both up into squares (putting aside the ones that were a little too crispy), and served them at that night's dinner party, with olive oil. They had nearly the consistency of the flatbread served at Cosi, and my guests said they liked them.

As a second experiment, which I did not document with photographs, I figured that since the problem was that it got crispy all through too soon, and also since a single recipe uses only half a head of cauliflower, I would try to double the recipe and cook it under the same conditions. The bread turned out a little wet, but was otherwise liked. I think that the way to go is to use the original single recipe per pan, with the addition of baking powder, but check it and pull it out sooner.