Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

does eating meat lead to violent behavior?

A connection between meat eating and violent behavior? I’ll start by saying that as often as I’ve heard this kind of statement tossed around, I’ve always passed it off as unsubstantiated and unscientific. I’d be interested if anyone does have some medical/scientific information that would back it up, however. It does seem at least somewhat possible that the chemicals released as the animals go through the horror that is slaughter could remain in the muscles and organs, and thus be absorbed into and impact our systems, were we to eat those muscles and organs. (That is so gross to even think about.)

Then again, how likely is it that these chemicals would survive exposure to air, heat, and just plain time?

These are things I don’t know.

But the question has been asked, quite seriously, by my vegan friend Jesse, who I wrote about recently. The guy who went vegan in prison. I mentioned that he is thoughtful, didn’t I? I did. He is.

So I happened to get a letter from him last week. He asked whether there is a link between meat consumption and aggressive behavior. He has observed what appears to be a correlation among the people around him, as well as a remembered change in behavior by his ex-wife when she went on the Fatkins diet.

Correlation does not necessarily equate to causation, but it is still interesting to tease out what might be at the root of this. He even comes up with a couple of his own ideas, and says,

I happen to notice that those people who eat a lot of meat tend to be more violent. Meanwhile, vegans and vegetarians are more pacific. Is their temperament the result of their diets, or does their temperament influence the diets they choose? Perhaps compassionate people are more open to the idea of a vegan diet. I believe in some cases that could be true, but in my case I noticed that I’ve become less aggressive.

Personally, what has made me less angry and less reactive is bike commuting. However, I do remember when I first went vegan feeling more at peace than I ever had before. I think that it was the relief of moving away from the consumption of animal products, of not having to suppress ugly knowledge of my complicity anymore. That’s exhausting, and disruptive. Much easier to just align your life with your ethics.

At least that is how it worked for me, and I have a feeling that it is true of many of us. I also expect that as we learn about the exploitation of animals (and all the ways it comes into play, and thus all the ways we must research and educate ourselves so we can make informed decisions to avoid that exploitation), we also become sensitive to the myriad ways that our fellow humans are exploited. As we learn these things, don’t we continue to make the more compassionate choices? Does that lead us further and further along a pacific path?

I’m sure this doesn’t apply to all of us, but I don’t think Jesse is far off base in his observations. The root cause is what is not clear.

Jesse also asks if I know of a good vegan bodybuilding/weightlifting book. I forgot to mention yesterday that Jesse is always busy with vegan advocacy, so when he talks to these guys in prison who are convinced that they need to eat as much red meat as possible to get strong, he researches so he can go back to them with real information that refutes those assumptions.

I have a feeling that there are no books out there, yet, on this topic, but if anyone has ideas on a book that would do a good enough job for what he needs, let me know!


9 responses to “does eating meat lead to violent behavior?

  1. neva October 17, 2008 at 7:24 am

    This is one that always bothers me.

    There are studies that demonstrate that taking steroids ups aggressive and violent behavior, and in some cases animals are even given steroids directly, which comes through in their flesh. Even if they aren’t given steroids their animal (natural) hormones may act very much like steroids in the human body after we consume their muscle and fat tissues.

    However, there’s another explanation for someone getting cranky and mean on Atkins–the diet actually is destroying your internal organs, so someone on the diet is literally sick. We all know people who get impossible to be around when they have a cold, so imagine how they act when their livers and kidneys are being driven toward failure.

    But I think we also need to keep in mind that there might just be a wide range of levels of aggressiveness and violence among humans anyway. Some studies have shown that the most violent criminals often have less dense brain tissues in their frontal lobes, something that could result from an injury, a childhood illness, or even genetics. Sometimes people who have been around violence their whole lives, such as growing up in an abusive home, might on some level have learned that physical aggression is a way to solve conflicts. Or it could be a response on a far more basic level–the abused child could grow into an adult who understands that violence is wrong, but still has an instinct to respond in aggressive ways if he feels threatened.

    Because I have experienced both physical and verbal aggression from fellow vegetarians and vegans I have to say that just changing our diets isn’t enough. We also need to be mindful of our behaviors as well. A lot of vegan women have told me similar stories, where their vegan male partners shoved them or slapped them during an argument or even of sexual assault occurring in groups of activists. This is rare and by and large I think vegans are more peaceful and compassionate percentage-wise than the general population. But I do worry when I see vegans patting themselves on the back and declaring that eating salads has removed their aggressive impulses, or even exempts them from having to examine any sexist, racist, or culturalist views they may hold. I mostly see this play out via sexism–someone might feel that going vegan has elevated them to a level of perfection where they don’t need to keep a check on any of their behavior. Then they may treat women as objects, be dismissive of women’s ideas, or even physically hurt the women in their lives.

    So, in short, yes I think there are chemical reasons that a meat-heavy diet might make someone more aggressive, but that’s not the only thing going on and we can’t consider a vegan diet the solution to every problem out there.

  2. David October 17, 2008 at 8:22 am

    I’ve seen pacifist meat eaters and aggressive vegans. The default perception is that vegans are more peaceful and compassionate, and that might be true, but a counterpoint, at least for me, is the increased rage felt when you witness the way this society abuses animals. You note in your post that as you educate yourself you become more sensitive to the plights of humans around you who are similarly abused. I find that as I become more educated, I become increasingly agitated and less tolerant of the people around me. So i’m not sure waht the answer is, though it’s an interesting question. As for books on weightlifting, I don’t know of any, but there are many vegan athletes. I think there’s a site called veganathlete.


  3. greentangle October 17, 2008 at 8:41 am

    I think I remember seeing an article about a vegan bodybuilder in an old issue of Veg News. Don’t know if there are books, but I just did a quick Google and there are websites on the subject.

  4. Tracy October 17, 2008 at 12:59 pm

    Robert Cheeke is a vegan bodybuilder. You can find more info here:

    He’s also on Facebook.

  5. Deb October 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    neva, thanks for your thoughts. I hadn’t even thought about the induced starvation on the atkins diet, but that makes so much sense! I’m never sure with the issue of steroids if those are substances that withstand all that they’d need to withstand to impact people eating the muscles and organs later. I can’t remember reading anything on that topic. But the body destroying its own internal organs on the atkins diet is definitely something that would have to impact people. In the end, you’re right, what we eat isn’t the whole answer, even when it is a piece of the answer.

    David, I was thinking about that also as I wrote the post, and I seem to go through periods where I am more angry and then other times where it seems nothing gets under my skin. As I mentioned, it is the biking (30 miles/day roundtrip on my commute) that has done the most to make me less reactive, though meditation and yoga also help. And sometimes the rude drivers make me angry. There’s not really a magic pill, and I certainly see the peaceful meat eaters and aggressive vegans, but I also regularly hear people talk about their own experience with how their tendencies changed. Or changes they’ve witnessed in people they know well or observe regularly. I just don’t know how much (if any) is physiologically related to the ingestion of meat. I’ll have to see if any of those vegan athletes have books out. Websites are only as good as my patience for printing out articles to send!

    greentangle, thanks! I’ll have to look to see if I can find that issue and have it sent to Jesse. I’m sure he’d enjoy the magazine in general. There are a lot of websites, for sure, but it is less ideal for getting information to prisoners. I can print out articles and send them, but then I’m picking and choosing and might not be grabbing the articles that would be the most helpful for him, and he’s got something less durable to share. The problem is that I don’t think there are any books specifically on vegan weightlifting!

    Tracy, thanks! I have seen the site and heard him talk. Unfortunately prisoners have no ‘net access (at least not at any prison I’ve heard of, maybe some do) so I’m really in search of printed bound information for Jesse. Though Robert Cheeke might have suggestions on books. I’ll give his site another look to see if there are book recommendations.

  6. Neva October 18, 2008 at 8:12 am

    As far as hormones go, I’m not sure how much survives cooking, but I think when I worked at PCRM we looked at some study that measured people’s blood hormones after eating certain foods. I wish I could find it, because I’m doing this off of memory. It seems I remember that people would experience hormone spikes after eating a cheeseburger for example. What’s not clear is how much of that is from ingesting animal hormones and how much of that is their own body responding hormonally to a huge whopping load of fats, and in particular saturated fats.

    It does seem that in milk we are consuming animal hormones that can be absorbed by the body.

  7. Deb October 19, 2008 at 7:09 pm

    Neva, that helps me target the search more, in any case! keywords are king. thanks!

  8. James March 21, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I have found that since I have stopped eating meat, I’ve become less angry and aggressive. Before entering this diet, I did eat organic chicken and turkey. So I wasn’t ingesting any steroids, etc.

    It’s amazing how much lighter and better I feel.

  9. Hanni2741 August 3, 2014 at 8:49 pm

    I have been eating a lot of meat lately, and I feel like I can tear someone’s head off (no joke). Abeit, six year after yours, ere’s an excerpt from a Huffington Post article:

    Recent research by Arizona State University showed omnivores who went meatless felt better emotionally. Of the 39 people studied, one group kept to their omnivorous ways, a second group ate fish but no other source of animal protein, the third group ate no fish, no meat, no eggs. The first two groups reported no change in emotion or cognition. The plant-based party reported they felt more relaxed and focused than they did eating meat. I’m not saying all meat eaters are stupid. I’m saying there’s a real correlation between how eating meat and feeling anger affect the body.

    The Harvard School of Public Health examined 1,300 men in their 60s over the course of seven years and found the angriest guys were likelier to develop heart disease than those who could ride life’s highs and lows without losing it. In another study, the Harvard School of Public Health showed eating bacon, salami, sausage, hot dogs, any meat that’s been processed or cured or salted, jacks up your risk of heart disease by 42 percent and your risk of diabetes by 19 percent. Feeling anger poses a lot of the same health risks as eating meat does.

    Here’s the full deal

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