A Meat-Eater’s Counter – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

A You might be forgiven sometimes for thinking that vegetarians are somehow superior human beings. In today’s climate of New Age spiritualism, animal rights, and Mother Earth naturalism, confirmed meat-eaters must necessarily be categorised as selfish, environmentally-irresponsible, spiritually-deprived gluttons, whose dietary desire is akin to cannibalism. Each lamb chop, carving of roast beef, or chicken drumstick, signifies a brutal execution of a sentient animal, to whose suffering we remain callously indifferent. Here, I would like to offer some arguments to counter the more extreme claims of the bean-sprout crowd.

B Vegetarians’ first justification is that eating meat is cruel to animals. But when pondering cruelty, it may pay to reflect on how animals fare in the wild. I was recently watching a documentary concerning herbivores on the African plains — where the parasite and insect-tormented herds lead lives of hair-raising and nerve-jittering bolts and dashes as they are constantly stalked by a range of predators. Now, compare this to the animals munching grass in our domestic pastures. Our four-legged friends, watered, well-fed, and attended to when sick, have an essentially stress-free and easy existence.

C But, the vegetarians claim, our slaughterhouses deal out brutal deaths. Brutal? Let us reflect again on that documentary. At one point, it showed an injured zebra, an animal which was quickly spotted by a pack of hyenas. The rest was a display of such cruelty and barbarity that it would make vegetarians think twice before intoning the mantra that ‘nature is good’. Yet being viciously torn to pieces by snapping jaws is more or less the inevitable end of most animals in the wild. It is simply a fact that they do not expire peacefully — they face, instead, brutalising and painful exits. If not becoming another animal’s dinner, they starve to death, or are victims of floods, droughts, and other merciless acts of nature. Compared to this, the relatively quick and clean death that we humans deliver to our cud-chewing cousins must be considered a privileged way to go.

D So, eating meat is not ‘cruel’ — at least, not compared to the natural world, and in fact can even allow the animals in question a certain quality of life that they would almost certainly never enjoy in the wild. But the vegetarians counter that, we, the human species, have a higher awareness, and should avail ourselves of other forms of food, rather than causing the deaths of living creatures. Yet it is worth realising that for tens of thousands of years our species did not have this luxury of choice. Killing animals was essential in staying alive. It is only very recently (in terms of human history), that society has reached a stage of affluence whereby a sufficiently high amount of non-animal nutrition can be obtained, and then only by a privileged and small percentage of the world’s population. Thus, the argument from moral high ground is, at best, an arbitrary one.

E But then the vegetarians come out with their next core claim to superiority — that their diet is healthier. Eating meat is going to have such nasty consequences for the heart, lungs, kidneys, and immune system that we will end up in an early grave. One can agree that this may be true for people who eat too much meat, but is it true for those who eat meat in proportion with an otherwise balanced diet? So many dubious facts and figures are produced to ‘prove’ the vegetarians’ viewpoint that I would recommend a quick read of a well-known book entitled, ‘How to lie with statistics’. This emphasises two foundations for statistical validity: gaining truly representative samples, and eliminating outside variables, both of which the green-eaters ignore.

F It is the second point I would like to look at. The lean and fit, health-conscious vegetarian doing his daily yoga and nightly guitar-strumming will certainly live much longer, on average, than the meat-eating, chain-smoking, beer-swilling, donut-chomping couch potatoes of this world, but not necessarily due (or in any way related) to the former’s abstinence from meat. It is not hard to deduce that those cigarettes, beer, donuts, and sedentary lifestyle are almost certainly responsible for the meat-eater’s diminished life expectancy. For a true comparison, one must compare lean and fit, health-conscious vegetarians with lean and fit, health-conscious non-vegetarians, the latter of whom mix moderate amounts of meat in their diet.

G And this is the point. It is almost impossible in this complex, mixed, and multi-faceted modern society to find enough people who can constitute a truly representative sample, while eliminating the many outside variables. Any assertion that statistics ‘prove’ vegetarians live longer must note that these vegetarians have already made (compared to the average sofa sprouts) a very rigorous and disciplined health-enhancing lifestyle change, which is probably accompanied with many other similar choices, all of which are almost certainly the real cause of any statistical trends. Factor these into the equation, and so far there is no convincing statistical evidence that vegetarianism is better for the health.

Questions 14-19
Reading Passage Two has seven paragraphs, A-G. Choose the correct heading for Paragraphs B-G from the list of headings.

List of Headings
i Animals attack
ii Needless killing countered
iii Better people?
iv A need for statistics
v The real cause of longer lives
vi Untrustworthy numbers
vii Cruel killing countered
viii Comparing lives
ix Quick efficient killing
x The real cause of early deaths

Example Answer Paragraph A iii

14. Paragraph B
15. Paragraph C
16. Paragraph D
17. Paragraph E
18. Paragraph F
19. Paragraph G

Questions 20-23
Complete the table. Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Domestic animalsWild animals
Life is(20)………………….threatened by numerous (21)……………………
Death is(22)……………….brutalising and painful
Theyhave some (23)………………are unlikely to have this easy existence

Questions 24-26
Complete the table. Choose NO MORE THAN TWO WORDS from the passage for each term.

Find two interesting terms used in the text to refer to

One termAnother term
Vegetariansbean-sprout crowd(24)……………………
Sheep and cattle(25)…………………cud-chewing cousins
Lazy peoplecouch potatoes(26)…………………