Whole Foods CEO Sparks Conversation on Meat Consumption

Whole Foods Co-founder and CEO John Mackey participated in a debate on April 10 with students on the ethics of meat consumption. About 212 people attended the debate, which was open to the public.

Mackey, along with The Good Food Institute Co-founder and CEO Bruce Friedrich, argued that eating meat is unhealthy and touted the benefits of veganism. The pair debated against Mackenzie Aime (18C) and Isaac Goldman (20C), students in Emory’s Eating Ethics course during spring 2016 and 2017 semesters respectively, who argued that eating meat is ethical and healthy.

Goldman began the debate by arguing that evolution has naturally conditioned humans to eat meat.

“Meat has helped us evolve over time … allowed our brains to develop and allowed us to create the scientific inventions that we never thought could be possible,” Goldman said. “Depriving us of that meat, I think, is unethical.”

Aime said people arbitrarily favor treatment toward some animal species but consume others. She asked how people could own some animal species as pets while fighting the idea of species-based discrimination.

Because “meat is an integral part of [other communities’] cultural foodway,” the anti-meat argument dismisses social and cultural norms in other societies, Aime said. “To say it is unethical to eat meat … is inherently imperialistic because it imposes cultural values and social norms on other communities from a white westernized standpoint.”

In response, Mackey focused on the health benefits of veganism while Friedrich presented the ethical value in a non-meat diet.

The risk of premature death increases by 13 percent for every additional serving of unprocessed red meat and by 20 percent for processed red meat, according to Mackey.

“It’s just linear. The more meat we eat, the greater the risk becomes for cancer, heart disease and diabetes,” Mackey said.

Friedrich said that growing animals for meat consumption results in caloric waste when compared to a plant-based diet. He explained that for every calorie of chicken that a human consumes, it took nine calories to raise the chicken.

“Every time we choose to eat meat we’re essentially throwing away eight to 25 calories for every calorie we’re consuming,” Friedrich said. “For this reason alone, eating meat is unethical.”

Friedrich concluded his argument by emphasizing the moral dilemma between meat consumption and diet that does not include meat.

“Every single time we sit down to eat, we’re making a choice about who we are in the world,” Friedrich said. “Are we somebody who wants to tromp all over the world in combat boots or are we somebody who believes in walking gently on the Earth? Do we care about animal protection or do we oppose animal protection?”

Edward Munk (18C), who attended the event, said that although Mackey and Friedrich clearly presented the moral and health issues associated with meat consumption, he did not change his initial stance on meat-based diets.

“I think it’s ethical to not eat meat … it’s very clear that eating meat is unhealthy. It’s directly correlated to heart disease [and other negative health risks],” Munk said. “But, meat tastes good, so I’m inclined to still eat it.”

Emory Healthcare Outreach Liaison of Employer Health Solutions Krystyna Rastorguieva said that she always saw veganism “as an obvious choice … [that was] well established in evidence and research.”  

Rastorguieva added that she felt was proud Emory organized the debate.

“It showed dedication,” Rastorguieva said. “[It was amazing] just to see how many people were engaged in this conversation. It’s great that it was organized, it was great to see the turnout and to see the curiosity from the crowd.”

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