It turns out that most of us are—even though we all cheat just a little.
On June 7, 2012, the New York Times published a David Brooks article that caught my attention—The Moral Diet. But it turns out that the article had very little to do with food; that was just an analogy that David used to talk about Dan Ariely’s new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty.
The article was all about morality and doing the right thing. The good news is that most of us try to do the right thing. But, as David put it, we all tend to permit ourselves to cheat a little bit—kind of like dieting. I liked this example about the blind taxi passenger (from the article):
The author had one blind colleague and one sighted colleague take taxi rides. The drivers cheated the sighted colleague by taking long routes much more often than they cheated the blind one, even though she would have been easier to mislead. They would have felt guilty cheating a blind woman.
David went on to say, “You can buy a weight scale to get an objective measure of your diet. But you can’t buy a scale of virtues to put on the bathroom floor. And given our awesome capacities for rationalization and self-deception, most of us are going to measure ourselves leniently: I was honest with that blind passenger because I’m a wonderful person. I cheated the sighted one because she probably has too much money anyway.”
And that’s what got me thinking about the morality involved with what we choose to eat—morality that goes far beyond what our bathroom scales are telling us about the correctness of our diet. Just like the taxi driver, we all know that it is not good character for us to take advantage of the less fortunate. So consider what would happen if everyone knew about the moral responsibilities that go along with our choices of food.
The morality behind our food choices
The basic problem is a lack of knowledge. How much would the eating habits change in the western world if the answer to all of these “what if” questions was a unanimous YES?
- Land and world hunger? What if everyone knew that it takes twenty times as much land to feed someone the meat & dairy-based diet compared to the person who eats mostly plants? (3.25 acres for the meat-eater vs. 1/6 of an acre for the vegan) What if everyone knew that there’s only about one acre available for every human? What if everyone knew that if half of the world’s 7 billion people ate our western diet, that the other 3.5 billion people would starve to death?
- Water pollution and consumption. What if everyone knew that the 10 billion animals we raise for our dinner tables in the United States produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population? What if everyone knew how much that animal excrement was polluting our waters? What if everyone knew that our meat and dairy-based diets require about twenty times more water per calorie than does a plant-based diet? What if everyone knew that our selfish and wasteful way of eating in the West is the primary reason billions of people in the world do not have access to fresh water?
- Eating seafood and our biodiversity issues. What if everyone knew that we’ve already removed 90% of the predator fish in the oceans? What if everyone knew that at the current pace, virtually all fish will be extinct by 2048? What if everyone knew the horrible environmental consequences that lack of fish in the ocean would cause for future generations of all species of creatures—including humans?
I could go on and list another dozen or more “what ifs” that are riding on what we put at the end or our forks. But you get the point. There are so many things that the average person simply doesn’t know about the consequences of the way we eat. Knowing that we humans generally want to do the right thing—even though we all cheat a little…
What if everyone knew all of the above and then some?
What if “the big picture” about food were taught to children at home and in every year of formal public education across the land? What kind of behavior change could we expect to see? Oh we still might cheat just a little, but as David said in the article:
Most of us think we are pretty wonderful. We can cheat a little and still keep that “good person” identity. Most people won’t cheat so much that it makes it harder to feel good about themselves.
So, how would you like to eat a diet that ensured that you would be doing your part to save our trees, waters and farmlands, doing your part to feed the world’s hungry, to curb global warming, to conserve our dwindling supply of fossil fuels and doing your part to end the needless lifelong suffering of over 60 billion factory-farm animals a year?
And what’s in it for you? How about a clear conscience, vibrant health, a trim figure and not much chance of ever ending up in the old nursing home?
Here’s a link to the David Brooks article in the New York Times. The Moral Diet And here is an easy way you can help your family become much more knowledgeable about food—and the fact that what you eat affects far more than just your own health. As a bonus, that knowledge will help you become an even better person than you thought you were.
Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from Amazon.com
- The movie that’s changing the lives of millions: Forks Over Knives DVD
- Our book: Healthy Eating, Healthy World by yours truly & son
- An essential scientific resource: The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell
- Dr. McDougall’s new book, The Starch Solution, with lots of great recipes.
Want to find out how healthy your family is eating? Take our free 4Leaf Diagnostic Survey. It takes less than five minutes and you can score it yourself. After taking the survey, please give me your feedback as it will be helpful in the development of our future 4Leaf app for smartphones. Send feedback to email@example.com
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—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation