Reflections on the “Don’t Eat Anything With a Face” Debate, Part 1: Overall Impressions and Lessons

Visit Us
Follow Me
This past Wednesday I participated in an Intelligence Squared US debate, “Don't Eat Anything With a Face.” Dr. Neal Barnard and Gene Baur argued for the motion, while Joel Salatin and I argued against it. If you missed it, you can watch the video here. It was a great experience, from which I learned a lot. I will be publishing a series of reflections on the debate, the first installment of which is below.

It was an honor to share the stage with my partner Joel, a prominent and brilliant proponent of pasture-based farming and a leader in such farming himself, with John Donvan, an excellent moderator, and with our worthy opponents, Neal and Gene.

I was able to chat with both of our opponents outside the debate and found both of them friendly and personable. I have read most of Gene's book, Farm Sanctuary, which I will be reviewing soon as a guest post on LetThemEatMeat.Com, and had the opportunity to have a lengthy discussion with him later in the night after the debate. Gene and I seem to agree on a lot more than we disagree on when it comes to our relationship with animals, the appropriateness of widespread veganism being the major exception. I genuinely appreciate Neal's commitment to putting the food fork over the surgical knife, emphasizing the importance of nutrition in the prevention and reversal of disease, but he and I have strong disagreements about not only the proper interpretation of scientific research but even what the basic facts are. I will explore those disagreements in further installments of this series.

Here, I'd like to explore what I think Joel and I did well, what we could have improved, and why I think we lost the debate according to the audience vote.

As Rhys Southan pointed out, we were fighting an uphill battle to begin with. I would articulate the primary reasons as follows.

First, although the mainstream nutritional and medical establishments have not embraced veganism, many of the nutritional ideas that proponents can rally in support of it are simply extreme extrapolations of ideas firmly rooted in our nation's nutritional consciousness for the past sixty years. My strongest points about the nutritional value of animal products are unfamiliar and counter-intuitive in this context: when people think of vitamin A, they think of carrots, not butter; young people don't remember the era of cod liver oil and most older people have no idea why they took it as children or that it was the modern obsession with antibiotics, now realized to be wrongheaded, that led to its demise; people think of cholesterol as a cause of disease and not as a potential nutrient; my allusion to nutrients in bone probably confused people if they accomplished anything since I never explained how delicious a soup traditionally made from bone stock can be.

Perhaps most important of all, however, we were fighting an uphill battle on the ethical front. Compassion is rightly compelling. To argue that growing plants on a large scale kills animals or that intentionally increasing the proportion of wild animals and thus the numbers that will die even worse deaths than they die at the hands of humans can appeal to our logic, but the fact that this complicity is less direct means, rightly or wrongly, that it confronts our emotions in a far less powerful way. To argue that killing animals is an ecological necessity appeals to our logic but if it has any emotional impact it is probably more to induce a sense of ecological guilt than anything else.

The battle was uphill for other reasons as well, however, reasons more related to circumstance than the intrinsic dynamics of such a debate. Intelligence Squared declares the team that has the greatest net positive shift in the proportion of the audience that agrees with its position to be the winner. If team A shifts from 90 to 91% and team B shifts from 5 to 7%, team B wins. This is an excellent way of accounting for the baseline bias of the audience and makes the result based on the ability to persuade, especially to swing undecideds. But it also means that the team starting out with the smallest amount of audience agreement has much more room to improve, and therefore a better chance of winning. We started out with 51% of the vote, while the other side started out with 24%, leaving that side with much more room to improve.

One could make a rough analogy between this and the statistical concept of regression to the mean. If you test a completely ineffective drug against a placebo and look at its ability to, say, lower cholesterol, and the baseline cholesterol levels are higher in the treatment group than the placebo group, the likelihood they will either drop in the treatment group or rise in the placebo group is very high. This is why statisticians often recommend comparing the post-treatment values in each group rather than the change each group experienced (I've explained this concept in much more detail here.) The analogy is only a rough one, and persuasion is quite a different process than most pharmacological phenomena, but the high baseline agreement probably hampered us, especially if many of the undecideds were people who came because they were curious about veganism and looking to be convinced.

Given this uphill battle, I think Joel and I did a great job, but I have also learned a lot from this debate. One of my most crucial lessons has been that the skill set required for public speaking in a seminar or lecture format and the skill set required for debate and critical analysis in a written format do not add up to the skill set required for a live debate.

I had some sense of how precious time would be as I was preparing, but I appreciate this concept much more now. Numerous people told me, correctly, that my opening and closing remarks appeared too rehearsed and too read. Ordinarily, I never read anything when I speak, but until this debate I had never had strict time limits of such short durations — seven minutes, two minutes — so I focused my preparation on fitting my remarks into these limits and chose to write out my remarks in detail beforehand. In retrospect, I could have and should have done this in other ways that amounted to a more casual and conversational tone.

If I were to do this all over again, moreover, I would make my opening remarks very different. I chose to tell my personal story as a way of weaving key evidence-based arguments into an illustrative and relational narrative. Now that I realize how difficult it is to make a coherent scientific argument in a minute or a minute and a half, however, and how difficult it is in a debate with such a broad focus to make sure all the most important points get discussion time, I realize how valuable those uninterrupted seven minutes really are. I could have taken half of them to refute the opposition's strongest health-related points — that observational evidence shows the benefits of vegetarianism and the harmfulness of meat, and that intervention studies such as Dean Ornish's show that meat-free diets reverse disease — and taken the other half to present my scientific arguments about traditional disease-free populations all having animal products in their diets, animal products providing important nutrition, and strong individual variation in the ability to harness nutrients from plant foods.

The preciousness of time hit me in two other areas: making the strongest points first, and asserting more influence over the topics being discussed. Quite frequently, I would have two points to make and lead with the weakest one first so I could end with the strongest. I now realize you should always lead with the strongest points in a debate like this, because the time spent on making the weaker point may be just enough time for the other side to interrupt and either take a stab at the weaker point or simply change the subject. For example, I really wanted to discuss the confounders in observational studies looking at vegetarianism and meat-eating, and the fact that large studies attempting to adjust for these confounders suggest these effects are illusions, since this was one of Neal's strongest points, but I instead chose to address Neal's weaker point that not all smokers get cancer by pointing out there are meat-eating populations completely free of cancer. The time I envisioned having to address the epidemiological studies vanished before my eyes.

I also feel that I stayed far too faithful to the immediate points being made when I should have been more savvy in using opportunities to speak to move the discussion onto topics I considered most important, or interrupted other people at appropriate times to steer the conversation in a more desirable direction. The other three debaters were adept at this, and in some cases I think Neal and Gene went overboard by steering the conversation back to factory farming, but it is a skill that can be used very effectively in a debate like this and one I definitely need to develop and utilize better.

This again crippled my ability to fit in critical points about the observational studies or Dean Ornish's intervention trial. When John first asked me to respond to Neal on the basic science, I should have taken the point back to the basic science in his opening remarks, which would have allowed me to bring these issues up, but I instead responded directly to the points Neal had made immediately before that.

When Gene said that the only nutrient vegans need to worry about is B12, I should have interrupted him to ask, “Where is someone who is genetically unable to convert beta-carotene to vitamin A supposed to get vitamin A from?” Instead I let the conversation become dominated by B12 and let the point I made about vitamin A in my opening remarks completely fade from memory.

When I responded about the China Study, I should have taken the opportunity to talk about Campbell's animal experiments. Instead I responded directly to Gene's immediate comment about the China Project itself, but it was a weak point because you can't prove a negative, and you can't explain why the convoluted statistical arguments in the book are wrong without tediously parsing them. Had I pointed out that Campbell showed in his experimental research that animal and plant proteins act identically in their promotion of cancer, that high-protein diets protect against the initiation of cancer, and that in the most realistic animal experiments the only reason the low-protein animals don't get cancer is because they just get sick and die instead, this would have been a stronger point. Perhaps I could have concluded by quoting Campbell's 1972 paper that the changes experienced by his low-protein animals were “similar to the retardation of brain cell growth of young malnourished animals” for a nice sound bite.

There were a couple places where I should have chosen my words more carefully. During the discussion of B12, I said I wanted to bring the conversation “back down to earth,” by which I meant that I wanted to move it from theoretical abstractions to the real, on-the-ground, practically relevant data, but it seemed to come across as an insult to the value of the discussion up to that point. It also seems that saying the efficacy of Neal's diet for weight loss was “mediocre” and “run-of-the-mill” may have influenced John's perception that it was a personal attack, even though I had genuinely lauded Neal for the good design and reporting of his studies and was making a point about the efficacy of the diet shown in his data, and trying to make a point that the positive effects are due mostly to weight loss, and perhaps in some cases to increases in the intakes of certain nutrients, and not to veganism per se. Perhaps if I had chosen a few words more adeptly I could have completed that point.

Overall, I think my strongest nutritional argument was for biochemical individuality. Anecdotally, some of the vegans thought this was my strongest point but that I never developed it very far. I think I could have made a much stronger nutritional case if I had steered the conversation back to this point more assertively and really hammered it home.

My second strongest argument would have been my analysis of the epidemiology of meat and vegetarianism and of intervention trials that supposedly support vegetarianism or veganism, such as Ornish's, but I missed making those entirely until I hastily rushed them into my closing statement.

I think Joel's strongest ethical and ecological point was that animals are necessary components of an ecologically sustainable agricultural system, and that each animal has an ecological niche it occupies, with most non-human animals becoming prey to another species as part of that niche. An ethic that violates the basic ecology can't offer a coherent and sustainable alternative. Joel and Gene had a very brief discussion about veganic farming, and I wish they had fleshed the issue out in more depth. I think Joel's point that plants have forms of communication and response was thought-provoking, but could have been delivered more effectively if he had stressed that communication is a continuum, without suggesting actual and absolute equality in the morality of killing something on that continuum regardless of what point it occupies.

Joel and I both made the point that producing plants leads to animal death. As Rhys pointed out, I made a quantitative claim that more animals die for the production of plants, and this is unclear. I don't think it hurt us because the other side didn't dispute it with numbers, but I should have just left it as a qualitative point: raising plants kills animals. Joel could have made his point more effectively if he had left the billions of bacteria out of it and focused on animals, especially small mammals that people have more sympathy for. I think both of us could have made these points more effectively if we had prepared a specific argument addressing whether and to what extent animals die during production of plants outside of industrial monocropping, and whether six to seven billion people can be fed a vegan diet without any industrial monocropping. When Gene said he didn't support industrial plant agriculture, I think Joel and I should have assertively pressed him to articulate how he would feed the world on his veganic farming model. Similarly, I wish that the other side had put less effort into going back to CAFOs and had instead expended that effort pressing Joel and me to articulate how our model could feed a large and densely populated world.

On a similar note, I think I could have benefited our side with appropriate and limited use of snappy one-liners interpreting the other side's statements. Joel did a great job with lines like, “So the thing is, don't wash your kale.” When I asked Gene if his vision of a post-animal farming world involved the extinction of all domesticated farm animals and he alluded to American cows being replaced by buffalo, I should have interjected to clarify whether he meant American breeds of cows should all go extinct, because I think that point may have slipped through the cracks. If the one-liner brought the floor back to me, as it did for Joel when he made the kale comment, I could have asked him whether people on other continents should be vegans, and if so, what happens to the cow on a global scale. Extinction?

Of course, no post-mortem analysis of a lost debate or even a won debate will ever be free of critcism. A live, on-the-spot debate where you have to think on your feet at every moment precludes “perfect” performance.

This was my first ever debating experience and I am incredibly grateful to Intelligence Squared for the honor to participate in the debate and to learn these important lessons.

In future installments in this series, I will cross-post my review of Gene's book and explore some of my interpretive and factual disagreements with Neal in more depth.

Your thoughts? Please share them in the comments!


Visit Us
Follow Me

You may also like


  1. I just watched this & found the lack of time to discuss confounds in the studies cited almost unbearable. I think emotional appeals usually win debates because careful thought requires time. I agree with your assessment, and thank you for your careful thoughtfulness on the topic and willingness to debate it.

  2. So your opposition gets a victory meal of salad while you get salad AND delicious meat.

    When vegetarians mention meat studies and their links to disease, they fail to mention carbohydrate intake.

  3. I'd always heard it as "don't eat anything that runs away from you." Which always raised the question of, well, suppose you can coax it up to you and clobber it?

    Seriously, I turned vegetarian in 1969 when I got a good, close look at the meat and poultry industries. I think it's fine to eat meat–if you have the guts to raise it and then kill it yourself. But the meat industry itself is sickening, but buying slabs of beef wrapped in plastic at Safeway presents me with a serious moral problem.

    Maybe others feel differently. I know that I can go to a winery, tour the facilities and vineyards, and then enjoy a glass of wine afterwards.

    I think that meat-eaters should see if they can tour a slaughterhouse and then see if they can settle down to a nice, juicy steak.

    1. Yes, I could, and relish it every chewy, luscious bite, dripping with fat.
      I worked in a meat room where the butchers were cutting up meat and I was wrapping it for the meat case out in the store. I've watched many an exposé of inhumane and deplorable factory farming and feedlot/slaughterhouse conditions. And while the way we get our meat, at present, is, yes, WRONG, the meat is not the wrong, the productions methods are. Migrant agricultural workers work & LIVE in deplorable, inhumane conditions. Yet, I am sure you haven't quit eating lettuce or oranges. Grain farming is just as factory-oriented as any other farming, with the small farmer being pushed out of existence. GMOs and pesticide/poison-ridden crops are taking over the lansdscape Yet, you eat bread, of some sort, every meal.
      The issue of correct food production is actually something omnivores and vegans have in common.
      The issue of the need for animal products is an aside, once proper land & animal management becomes the focus.

  4. Chris, I enjoyed watching the debate. I probably don't have the guts to do something like that, so it's great not only that you did the debate, but that you posted some very good reflections on it. You've got the brains, I think all you need is practice.

    Insects have faces, and billions (trillions even) are killed in order to do this thing called agriculture. I don't recall this even being mentioned. Insects are a vitally important source of nutrition for people in many parts of the world, so it could have been mentioned along with the importance of livestock for so much of the world's poor. I'm sure it probably wouldn't help to question the very premise of agriculture in this particular debate, but being repetitive about the violence of agriculture and the necessary complexity of ecosystems certainly wouldn't have hurt. There is no rational, much less research-based, reason to believe that agriculture without animals can be ecologically viable.

    The ethical appeals to avoid killing are also worth hammering on repetitively, again going back to the violence of agriculture. It's okay to be blunt, even graphic, about the starvation, dehydration, poisoning, and predation required to keep plant-eating animals from destroying crops. How many birds and squirrels and deer would you have die so you can eat plants? Beyond that, things that die of natural causes are perfectly edible from an ethical standpoint. You could even argue that it would be unethical to eat them because of their tremendous nutrient density and the tremendous solar energy input required to sustain them in life. But really, not killing animals directly is a total cop-out given the wide-scale indirect killing required to sustain agriculture, and that's worth mentioning several times so it will stick in the audience's minds.

    By this point, the only way to sustain the proposition ("don't eat anything with a face") is to then point to weak scientific evidence about how meat is harmful. The appeal to smoking I thought was terrible and was worth beating them up over: avoiding meat doesn't cut your heart disease risk 20-fold, not even close. The quality of the science is simply not comparable, and it borders on dishonesty even to attempt it. The Adventist studies show that vegetarianism (plus a variety of lifestyle confounders) only delays the onset of chronic degenerative diseases, it doesn't prevent them. Good science is reproducible: after all this time, who has replicated these tiny studies that show benefits when sick people switching to veganism? If we're going to support the proposition on the basis of science, we're not even close to the arena of something like smoking.

    Anyway, those are more or less the bounds that I would confine myself if I were ever to attempt a debate like this. The proposition was very strong, and the support for it was very weak in comparison. Picking a few key points and being really repetitive is probably the best that can be done in that kind of situation.

  5. Hey Chris,

    I congratulate you on publicly reviewing your 'performance' and openly recognising the importance of swaying minds in a debate setting compared to making an argument in a scientific journal (for example). That sort of self-awareness and honesty is reassuring (although, it should never make us complacent).

    I STRONGLY suggest you listen to Christopher Hitchens debating his 'opposition' (he's not alive anymore unfortunately). Regardless of your political/spiritual/religious views I'd be ASTOUNDED if you didn't find any value in learning from this mans capacity for debating even the most dogmatic 'opponents'. He is truly one of a kind when it comes to the art of rhetoric and logical argumentation.

    I hope to see you engaged in more debates in the future. Good luck & cheers!

  6. Chris,
    First, thank you for your blog. I appreciate your sharing your own personal nutritional journey and especially the education relating to "biology/metabolism" of human nutrition.
    Second, I enjoyed the debate. I have read books and articles from each of the presenters so it was nice to see each of you "in person". Unfortunately, while a debate such as that hopefully triggers thoughts in the audience, (and the presenters too), I don't think that the most important thing was to win the debate so much as to have the debate and raise issues/awareness (don't get me wrong, if I were in your shoes, I'd want to win and hone my debate skills as well.) My labored point is that the best thing the debate could do was raise issues and generate more questions. I think that all four of you are intelligent, concerned, and have good intentions. In some cases there may have to be an agreement to disagree, but I do think as you pointed out there was more to agree on than not. It would be nice if more issues could be explored in a more "rational" way than "entertaining" but I realize that is part of the environment of the debate.
    As a currently practicing vegetarian, I want to keep an open mind. I think there are obvious pitfalls in the "modern" American diet. My doctor, whom I respect, chided me about weight gain, cholesterol levels, blood pressure rising, and blood sugar elevations. He was right, but his recommendation was Lipitor and I wanted to avoid that. So I switched to a vegetarian diet. It has helped me drop 15-20 pounds and maintain a stable weight. My blood pressure, sugar level, and cholesterol levels have dropped.
    Despite all of those benefits, I am still concerned that I may be missing out on nutrients by restricting my diet. I am eliminating some of the obvious bad habits and by paying attention to fresh fruit, vegetables, and whole wheat, hopefully increasing my nutritional intake but I don't want to fall victim to unsubstantiated theories and mistake short term benefits for long term sustainable habits. The human body is an amazingly complex organism and I don't think we will ever completely understand it, but it does make for an incredible challenge!

  7. We can't argue with success. Eating a plant based diet has reversed heart disease, with resulting cessation of drugs under a physician's direction. Blood tests and heart function tests, along with ultrasound confirmed the reversal. After only a year of 95% plant based eating, there is no sign of the damage from two previous heart attacks.
    In addition E.D. was reversed after suffering from disfunction for twenty years!

  8. As a former debater and coach, I find your analysis encouraging for your future success in a debate format. You are absolutely correct, debating requires a different skill set than presenting in an unchallenged format. One of those skills is an accurate post-mortem. Most novice debaters can't recognize where they lost.

    Leading with your strongest point is very important. If you plot the attention span of a listener it would resemble an inverse bell curve. Attention is highest at the very beginning and the very end of a speech.

    As for the debate itself, I found it disappointing as a learning opportunity . . . at least in terms of veganism. I found the the affirmatives insistence to coach their response to the resolution as CAFO-only disingenuous. As I consider my own dietary choices–what balance of animals and vegetables to eat–I crave accurate insight into the effects of differing foods on the body.

    If I interpret IntelligenceSquared's mission correctly–to present honest, thoughtful discussion on critical issues, the Affirmative sacrificed an opportunity to educate in order to win the debate.

  9. Hi Chris, are you currently working with and organizations to see if your beliefs truly work or not? Also i was curious to hear more about when Barnard mentioned you had health issues before you changed your diet and many of us don't know what you truly ate as a vegan/vegetarian?

  10. Please don't think that more "snappy one-liners" like Salatin's would have helped your cause. My previous familiarity with Salatin was through Michael Pollan's work – seeing him speak for himself, I lost respect for him. I think his reliance on ludicrous red herrings and cutesy comments cost you in a crowd of people who are intelligent enough to want to sit through a serious debate of that length. You were definitely the stronger debater on your side.

  11. Chris, could you do an article on pork and liver problems, probably from hepatits E in it.
    Did you see paul jaminet article on trouble with pork and the graph of countries with liver chirosis and pork consumption
    This is a topic that is really interesting to and almost nothing on the internet

  12. i did not listen to the debate because I know how close minded and "know it all" that Dr. Barnard is and I always want to yell at him. Many vegans have the same attitude. It is a way of life that many times gives them that superior attitude.

  13. As a long time WAPF member I am worried about the number of young (under 10 years old) children who have chosen to be vegetarians. I meet them all the time. In most cases, their parents are not vegetarians. There is some mechanism by which these young children are being influenced and their parents are going along with it. My best guess is that so many people have been so far removed from where food comes from that they start to see all animals as the beloved family dog. Yet they would have no problem stepping on a cockroach. Despite "loosing" the debate I'm glad that the topic is being debated. I think the time has passed to politely agree to disagree because it will be disastrous for the children. So, thank you Chris for your efforts!!

  14. Getting someone to not eat meat is like getting someone to change their religious belief. If you have felt that way all your life it is going to take more than an hour long debate. But for those that do decide to adopt a vegan diet, they should do it with their eyes wide open. I adopted a vegan diet after a lot of research. After the research, I casually mentioned it to my endocrinologist expecting him to say that it was not worth it and he said he thought it would be a good idea for me. I was surprised considering that my doctor is far from being a vegan. Just one look at him and you can see the man loves his meat. My decision to go vegan was way before I heard of Dr. Barnard. I did it to get rid of my Type 2 diabetes, which I am happy to report is gone. I was and still am under doctor's supervision because this is not a diet that every doctor comes into contact with every day. Both of my parents had Type 2 diabetes. One died because of complications from the disease and the other from breast cancer. I knew I didn't want to die that way. After being a diabetic for more than 15 years, I'm happy to diabetes free. I did it for me and nobody else. No animal rights agenda. I really don't give a damn about PETA and their pushy agenda. I don't tell my friends what they should or should not eat. I do get more protein than my meat eating friends and I am happy when they don't belittle me for my health choices. I think people try things on a whim without full knowledge of the consequences like a fad diet and end up sick or dead. People have died from every diet out there. Everybody is different. I don't believe there is one diet that fits all. People do need to learn to respect each other's choices to live their life as they see fit.

  15. Apologies if this point has been raised elsewhere, but another reason that you're fighting an uphill battle is that you are presenting to an audience of "people" that eat meat, and "vegetarians".

    By that, I mean that "being a vegetarian" is typically a very important part of an individual's sense of self (I used to be one myself, so can speak from experience).

    Admitting that your beliefs may have been wrong, that you've been avoiding meat unnecessarily is a huge psychological step, plus it may alienate you from your peers.

    For your average person, who happens to eat meat, just like almost everyone else, there's no stigma attached to saying "maybe this isn't such a good idea". On the contrary, due to the commonly held (incorrect) beliefs about meat eating, they'll probably garner respect.

    A better test of the effectiveness of the debate, would be to somehow track the numbers (not percentages) of actually changing their eating habits. It's easy to say "OK, maybe eating meat is not such a great thing", but actually not eating meat is another kettle of tofu altogether.

    Great work anyway, and your arguments certainly helped me reconfirm my beliefs and decision to change from veggie, to ethical pasture raised meat eater 😉

    1. Yes, Simon, but I also think that for some of us who have been eating a WAPF type of diet for a long time, and who have really thought about it and learned about it, our approach can also be a very important part of our sense of self as well.

  16. No one really loses a debate. Why watch a debate? To strengthen and refine your own ideas.
    Debate is a good way to get exposer for your ideas not the best place to explain them and be declared right.

  17. Chris, you did an excellent job in the debate, and this analysis is good as well. I think you're too hard on yourself, but that's just the ticket to making yourself a skilled debater. While the moderator was good, I think he was too hyper-sensitive. Attacking a study or its conclusions is very much a part of a debate, and it's too bad he didn't recognize it. Still, your recognition of the triggers will make you more adept at attacking your opponent's position without confusion about whom or what you're attacking. Kudos, and keep on.

  18. Debate an ideologue? Futile. He has had years of practice controlling the debate to highlight his points, simply and convincingly. You are a scientist who can effectively counter those points in a 70 page paper. Do it your way.
    Ira Edwards Author of Honest Nutrition.

  19. Personally I think the fundamental problem is that public debate is not a very effective way to convey a good understand of a subject to an audience. Charisma and fallacious arguments are highly effective in that format, and there just isn't enough time to form clear arguments on complex scientific subjects or deconstruct weak arguments that are superficially compelling. It's fairly analogous to political debates: the debaters rely heavily on charisma and fallacious logic because they know that there usually isn't enough time for the opponent to clearly deconstruct the fallacy while leaving room for his own key points. In other words, in that format, "winning" the argument isn't about being right. IMO the best you can reasonably hope for is to get people excited about your topic.

  20. The debate format is not one basically aimed at finding the truth. It is more like a sport designed to test the comprtitive skills of the participants. Something like a panel discussion can potentially be more honest, but often just becomes the same thing as a debate. Ultimately undecided people have to have the energy to seek ou the truth on their own.

  21. I wish I could edit my comment! 🙂 Saying Keith's perspective is a distortion is a poor choice of words. Because any human being interprets the world from a particular perspective and has certain inherent biases. I don't know what perspective Simon Fairlie or Stephen Budiansky have. If you read their bios and their introductions in the books you do get some idea. But with Keith, she seems to be going in the direction of condemning agriculture as a whole and perhaps looking at some of the problems in terms of male domination. And one might not agree with some of her analysis and conclusions, there is much food for thought in her book.

  22. Thanks for such an interesting post. I haven't read all the comments but on the ethics and morality issue I believe the strongest arguments can be found in understanding the co-evolution of humans and domesticated plants and animals. Three books do a nice job of analyzing these issues: Meat a Benign Extravagance by Simon Fairlie; Covenant of the Wild by Stephen Budiansky, (and The Origins of Agriculture by David Rindos – heavily referenced by Budiansky) and The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. (although she dips into radical feminist theory in her book which provides some distortions that one needs to take into account.) The key point about vegans is they are profoundly ignorant about life and the living web of which we are all part. In debates with vegans, one needs to have the concepts from these books in your head to truly counter their ill-formed notions.

  23. Another thing that would have been very interesting to have seen mentioned, particularly in the context of that debate, where the only thing that had to be shown was a single example of it being ok to eat something with a face, is the study by Mike Archer, Professor at the Evolution of Earth and Life Systems Research Group at the University of New South Wales, which found that in Australia, for every kilo of useable protein produced, at least 25 times more sentient creatures die in plant ag than in pasturing ruminants! The study found that there was vastly more suffering in plant ag as well. The study is specific to Australia, but in the context of that debate, that's irrelevant, because it is a clear example, and that is all that was required.

    Archer, a former Dean of Science, is a world renowned medal of science winner, so his credentials are impeccable, and his disclosure statement showed that he had no conflicting interests, so it is a very damning example for the vegan side. Here is a link:

  24. Barnard lost all credibility for me with his anecdote re. the prevalence of dementia in his family and the death of his grandfather who suffered a heart attack aged 65: 'we always ate roast beef, baked potatoes and corn, every single day'. He was implying that the meat is the issue whereas i was just hearing 'baked potatoes and corn, baked potatoes and corn, baked potatoes and corn, every single day' over and over again!!

    Amazing job chris, as always!

  25. You lost, because dr. Barnard was brought as the all knowing doctor and you were introduced as (just) a nutrition scientist/blogger. You did not really got the room to go in depth and make your points. The points you made were dismissed. Helas, but the big public still believes the holy doctor and does not have a clue about the science. It was an easy job for dr. Barnard.

    1. I agree that this was part of why the "for" side won, but I think its contribution is relatively small compared to all the other factors that have been discussed here.

  26. Will Hui, my eyes practically popped out of my head when I saw Barnard making that argument, and I was really disappointed that Chris didn't get a chance to set that nonsense straight. Apparently Barnard was referring to the fact that studies have shown that when severe B12 deficiencies have been seen in vegan children, adding meat back to the diet does not reverse all of the damage:

    In other words, Barnard's argument was essentially that although being a vegan makes a person vastly, vastly more likely to suffer from severe B12 deficiency, the damage can't be reversed by eating meat, so people shouldn't eat meat! It is pure insanity.

    Really, Barnard's entire B12 argument was a joke. If you go to the websites that try to coach vegans in how to argue for their cause, they instruct people to use the deceptive argument that he was using. This is how Barnard's smokescreen of disinformation worked like a charm:

    He referred to studies about how low-level B12 deficiency is very common in the US, for both omnivores and vegetarians. He then used that research to argue that since it is common among everybody, vegans shouldn't be singled out for B12 deficiency. The problem is, severe B12 deficiency is vastly, vastly more prevalent among vegans, which makes his entire argument a total joke, but Chris was cut off before he was ever allowed to make that point. Chris started to make the point that rates were very high for vegans, but he was cut off, and in and of itself that point was useless, because Barnard had already talked about how the rates were high for everybody.

    Here are two separate studies that found that staggeringly, more than half of all the vegans tested were suffering from substantial B12 deficiency, regardless of supplementation, compared to less than one percent of omnivores! For vegans who didn't supplement, the numbers were much, much higher:

    I also really wish that Gene Bauer had been held accountable for his assertion that vegans can get plenty of B12 from plant foods and don't need to worry much about supplementing. He put innocent and ignorant vegans' lives at risk by perpetuating that nonsense, and somebody should have called him on it more directly.

    1. Anonymous, I didn't read the whole article, but it seems to be saying that "after therapy" the symptoms don't all improve. Does it discuss feeding meat to vegetarians?

      Yes, I got cut off right before I was about to say that the rate of B12 deficiency among omnivores is very low.


    2. Chris, as I recall, a study cited in that article found that after children with severe B12 deficiency had meat introduced back in their diet, it did not fix what appeared to be permanent neurological damage. I hope that was the right link. I'm multitasking, and apologize for not being very thorough. If not, this one should have that info:

    3. Interesting. You're right, vegans do like to use this logic for B12. I remember reading the same type of reasoning on Ginny Messina's blog.

      BTW, the link you posted in your second comment just now is identical to the one you posted originally 🙂 I scanned it too but didn't find a reference to meat.

    4. Interestingly, a recent study out of Harvard that has been trying to spin meat and dairy consumption into a bad thing, may in fact be bad news for vegans. The study found that people who eat more meat and dairy produce more stomach acid, and therefore produce more bilophila in the digestive system that feeds on it. The study assumes that increased bilophila is a bad thing, because it has been shown to increas inflammation in mice, but it ignores the fact that stomach acid is essential for the effective absorption of vitamin B12, so not surprisingly, people who are low in B12, vegans, suffer from astronomically higher rates of severe B12 deficiency than omnivores.

      Here is an NPR link about the story. NPR really likes to exaggerate the significance of anti-meat stories, so I am beginning to expect that someone there has an agenda:

  27. Hi Chris,

    Do you know what studies Dr. Barnard was referring to when he claimed that feeding meat to B12-deficient children doesn't actually improve their B12 status? I asked Dr. Barnard over Twitter but I did not get a reply. I wonder if he was merely bluffing.

    1. I suspect it was a sleight of hand (to put it extremely mildly) arguing that since meat wouldn't resolve B12 deficiency in someone who has it because of malabsorption, that it wouldn't in vegetarianism, even though the two are completely different phenomena and the only reason the vast majority of vegetarians and most vegans are deficient is because they don't eat any of it. Also, in most cases of malabsorption, the problem is with digesting protein-bound B12 so it isn't actually correct anyway and a person could reverse it by being selective about their animal products and choosing products with free B12.

      Consistent with my deficient interruption with snappy one-liners, I wish that when John Donvan, looking perplexed, said, "wait, is that true?" and Barnard said "It's true" I had said, "No it isn't."

    2. Thanks for the replies, Chris. That reminds me: you also said B12 acts synergistically with key amino acids found in meat – can you pass along the reference for that? Did you mean they act synergistically to improve b12 absorption? The increased difficulty of absorbing protein-bound B12 seems to argue against that.

    3. Chris, to put a fine point on it, I don't think he was trying to argue that veganism inherently causes irreversible damage any more than omnivorism. I think he meant that research shows that severe B12 deficiency itself, whether seen in a vegan or omnivore, causes irreversible damage, and research on vegan children has shown that introducing meat back into the diets of young vegans with severe B12 deficiency doesn't seem to fully reverse that damage.

      You are absolutely right that it is an astoundingly duplicitous argument, because what he ignores there is the research is actually quite clear that veganism was the cause of the severe B12 deficiency in children the first place, and though an omnivorous diet may not have protected against low-level B12 deficiency, it almost certainly would have protected against that sort of severe deficiency from ever having occurred in the first place, especially in children.

      Unfortunately, considering that Barnard created a fake physician's org with a purposely misleading name, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, almost none of which are actual physicians, for PeTA, while he used the PeTA Foundation to siphon money from one org to another and into the hands of terrorists, that sort of deception is small potatoes for him. If you read up on the sort of stuff that he has been involved with, like the takeover of NEAVS, lying about B12 studies is very small potatoes for him.

      As Donald Liddick's book on eco-terrorism says, referring to Barnard, who is considered to be one of the top three aboveground representatives of animal rights extremists:

      "PeTA provides most of the aboveground leadership for the ALF. Aside from rather innocuous program activities like running "Helping Animals 101" seminars in cities throughout the world, PeTA has from its inception provided vocal support and a range of critical services for underground direct-action operatives, including funding. In fact, a good deal of money flows to animal rights causes from a variety of foundations. These funds trickle down from legitimate sources to animal rights activists through the management of a group of interlocking nonprofit organizations such as PeTA and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)."

      In other words, Barnard siphons money to the nation's foremost domestic terrorist organizations (according to FBI statistics) for a living, and essentially runs PR for them as their aboveground representation, so fudging on some medical facts is the least of his deceptions. If someone was at the top of fund raising and PR for the Al-Qaeda org, they wouldn't be taken very seriously as a scientist, yet as the AMA has said, amazingly, Barnard continues to hoodwink the American public.

  28. The very title of the debate was emotion-based, and so were most of the arguments by the proponents. It is difficult, if not impossible, to apply left-brained statistics to emotions, as they can't be measured. I would like to see a "Round 2" of this debate!

  29. Was in a rural area with spotty connection watching the debate, but thought you did quite well, Chris. I found Barnard to be uber slick and distasteful.

    As an herbalist, plant communication is a huge part of my work and anecdotally, plants do have "presence" and communicate. Study of plant communication is relatively new, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out. The argument about compassion for not killing living things is always specious when it comes to animals or plants. Life and death are like yin and yang, one moving into the next, moving into the next. (One reason I'd love to have a natural burial for myself is so that I, too, could feed others.) And, frankly, domesticated species (whether plant or animal) are in a category of their own. We and they are INTERdependent, meaning we really wouldn't live very long without one another. That's why preserving various breeds is so incredibly important in this time of climate chaos. Obviously, there are a lot of other points that could be made. I hope the next kind of debate like this is less broad than this one, so that perhaps the opportunities to make false arguments are nil or next to nil.

    1. I agree, Neal Barnard is a very polished public speaker and able to sway people with his manner. The disappointing part is how many people cannot see tell the difference between that and charisma that is real (Joel) and science that is sound (Chris).

  30. Did you see the debate between Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Westman? If you go to the question and answer session at the end, you will hear Dr. Campbell admit that he is not a true vegan because he eats fish "sometimes." Vegans point to him as proof that the diet is healthful–which obviously doesn't prove that at all. It is here:

  31. Chris,
    Do you know if the control Neil Barnard referenced when referring to diabetes reversal was only different in that they ate meat? Or did it also include other SAD foods-like processed food, etc. Also, did it include the changes in exercise and well-being included in the Ornish approach?

    1. No it wasn't only different in that they ate meat, but the idea he has developed a diet that "reverses diabetes" by doing anything other than promoting weight loss, that it does this "better than any diet," is preposterous nonsense.

    2. To play Monday morning quarterback for a moment, I think that a slam dunk point in this regard, particularly because of the "anything with a face" terms of the debate, would have been to point out that the heart attack capitol of the world, and by some accounts the diabetes capitol of the world as well, India, also has the largest vegetarian population in the world, so the notion that quitting eating animals would solve those health problems is beyond laughable. In fact, the problem is so bad there, that the WHO has projected that more than half of the heart attacks on the entire planet will take place in just one single country, India. Here is one of many articles about India being both the heart disease and diabetes capitols of the world:
      India is world's coronary, diabetic capital, says expert

      Conversely, a recent study listed the 10 countries with the longest lived populations. Four of them were among the top ten meat consumers per capita, and most of them were among the top 20 largest meat consuming countries. One country, Japan, was in the middle, and not a single one of the countries in the top ten for long-lived people was even in the bottom third of meat consumption per capita.

    3. I also really would have loved to have seen something about the research led by Dariush Mozaffarian of Harvard, which found that people in the highest quintile of consumption of full-fat dairy, benefit from an enormous, 60% reduction in incidence of diabetes over people who consume no dairy or only fat free dairy. As Mozaffarian pointed out, that is a bigger difference than is seen in any known diabetes medication!

  32. By the way, Gene Bauer's criticisms of biodiverse eco ag aren't only based on McWilliams. They are also based on the writings of his vegan philosopher friend, Jeff McMahan. Among other things, McMahan is infamous for advocating the systematic removal of all predator species on Earth:

    That pretty much answers your question about Bauer and extinction. It also gives you a glimpse of just how completely insane and dangerous Bauer really is.

    For what it's worth, Ingrid Newkirk of PeTA and others from the org are on record saying that they would be fine with domestic cows becoming extinct.

    1. And I hope if those sources are supplied, they are posted here, as I would be interested in seeing them too (I'm a different 'Anonymous' from the postings immediately above). I have often wondered about possible involvement of "big-ag" in militant vegan groups, including the soy industry and Monsanto. Is that simply a paranoid thought, or not?

    2. Some good references from a few links here:

      We have all seen how Barnard interprets science into something more than it is, and his take on everything from Ornish to Campbell is as spell binding as it is vegan evangelism, if only you could call it honest, discriminating, reflective science. Instead of being polite about it, I think you actually have a duty to call him out on this stuff… I am sure the New York Times would love an op-ed piece from you post debate! Frankly, if you don't do it, I fear that Barnard will….

    3. Chris, you will have to be more specific about which specific things you want to know more about. The relationship between PeTA, Farm Sanctuary, and the ALF is hardly a secret. I hope you aren't seriously questioning if there is a connection between PeTA, Farm Sanctuary, and animal rights terrorism. Again, Farm Sanctuary's Director of Strategic Initiatives is none other than Bruce Friedrich of all people! Among other things, Bruce Friedrich's infamous defense of the ALF's bombing and arson was featured prominently on the ALF's website to justify their actions for years. When he was confronted about it, it was taken down within hours? How many people do you know with close enough direct ties to the nation's largest domestic terrorist organization that they could get them to take something down off of their website because it became a political liability, within moments?

      And speaking of the ALF, again, PeTA publicly offered to pay the legal fees of anyone even accused of an ALF related crime while Barnard was in control of its finances, so that relationship is not exactly secret either. It isn't just the offer either; PeTA did in fact pay for the defense of animal rights terrorists, such as the arsonist Rodney Coronado, while Barnard was in charge of PeTA's purse strings.

      I already provided a link about Farm Sanctuary's campaign of terror on the Sustainable Ag Dept at Green Mountain College.

      There is plenty on the web about James McWilliams and Farm Sanctuary's "happy meat" campaign. If you want to learn some more about McWilliams, you should read Tom Philpott's piece in Grist, "Meet James McWilliams, meat-industry defender — and aggrieved vegan?"

      This was Philpott's conclusion:
      "Whatever his reasoning, this moralistic vegan must live with the fact that the net effect of his public-intellectual work has been to serve the interests of an industry that treats live animals as industrial inputs, ruthlessly exploiting them while trashing land, water, and public health in the process. McWilliams’ career may be benefiting from this strategy, but his stature as a defender of animal welfare is nil."

      There are numerous other pieces slamming McWilliam's war on eco-ag and localism as well. Unfortunately, all of the world's sustainable ag experts combined don't get the massive media coverage that McWilliams has been getting, and I agree with Philpott that McWilliams, who has no ag credentials whatsoever, is cashing in on the fact that shilling for big ag is what made that possible.

      Sorry that the anonymous moniker is so confusing. I have contributed extensively to a number of books on sustainable food issues, and my spouse is a very public figure in that world, so I have to be careful. I have been threatened, had people go after my spouse's publisher, and have numerous friends that have been directly affected, so I have learned that anonymity is important when dealing with animal rights terrorists. I have learned to take them very seriously.

    4. "Instead of being killed quickly by predators, the members of species that once were prey would die slowly, painfully, and in greater numbers from starvation and disease."

      WOW – you're right about McMahan – what a nutjob.

    5. Anonymous, I'm not "questioning" anything — I'm asking for documentation. After all I'm reviewing Gene's book so it would be a major oversight not to try to objectively address this in at least a small part of the review.


    6. I will give that some thought. In the meantime, I am happy to try to help you with any documentation that you are looking for. Most everything that I know is publicly available; for example, PeTA's paying the legal fees of serial arsonist Rodney Coronado is no secret.

      Here is a relevant excerpt on Barnard's role in the ALF from Donald R Liddick's book on eco-terrorism:

      "Although the methods of groups like ALF tend toward leaderless resistance and underground direct actions, some highly public individuals also play important roles. Academics such as Tom Regan, Steve Best, and Peter Singer provide the groups with their ideological arguments. In addition, support in the form of media exposure, education, public relations, and funding is arranged by a class of professional advocates that includes Ingrid Newkirk, Alex Pacheco, and Neal Barnard. In short, there is, in fact, a significant aboveground leadership in the animal rights movement."

      The book extensively details PeTA's covert actions and funding of animal rights terrorists:

      You may already know that ALF supporters regularly try to infiltrate the Weston Price Foundation. They aren't always very subtle. For example, when people with ham-fisted pseudo-support of animal ag start randomly asking for administrative duties on the comments section of the WPF's facebook page, that is who that is. Among other things, they like take over other organizations, as with the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, where they flew in all of their people and appointed Neal Barnard onto their Board of Directors, then radicalized the agenda, and drained the org's substantial funds.

      Rodney Coronado worked with PeTA employees that were being payed to pose as security guards at one of the places that he burnt down. PeTA not only paid Coronado's $45,200 legal bill, they gave Coronado's father $25k.

      They actually have some pretty good hackers, because they love that sort of stuff, which is part of what makes me a bit hesitant about contacting you directly.

      The book also discusses how Alex Pacheco, the cofounder of PeTA, revealed that PeTA serves as the ALF's public relations firm (with Barnard at the helm of the PeTA Foundation, controlling the purse strings).

    7. I'm reading the Activist Cash link on Farm Sanctuary and I have to say I am not impressed with this organization. They seem to take industry propaganda at face value. For example, they say that veal calves are essentially treated humanely and not fed fiber or iron because it is bad for their digestive tracts. This seems bizarre to me, as a calf's natural diet is mother's milk and transition to grass. Baur's critique of the industry studies — that they used veal calves whose digestive system had been messed up and couldn't tolerate grass because they hadn't been fed any, and thus showed that they are "intolerant" of fiber — seems compelling to me, in the absence of having read the studies myself. I suspect Activist Cash is worth reading for some of their documentation but they deserve quite a skeptical eye, it seems to me.


    8. Activist Cash is basically a right wing organization, and I have no love for them or their agenda, but the links that they point to connecting Bauer and Barnard to animal rights terrorist organizations is essentially incontrovertible. Not only do they have tax records and direct quotes, in some cases they literally have voice recordings, as with this recording of Bruce Friedrich, who was PeTA's head propagandist while Barnard was head of the PeTA Foundation, and is now the Director of Dtrategic Initiatives at Farm Sanctuary, in his own voice, saying this:

      "“If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then, of course we’re going to be, as a movement, blowing things up and smashing windows … I think it’s a great way to bring about animal liberation … I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories, and the banks that fund them exploded tomorrow. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through the windows … Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it."

      Listen to the link here:

      Frankly, when you act as an apologist for Bauer and his org, as if he is harmless, you further that agenda. Did you read about Farm Sanctuary's campaign of terror on the Sustainable ag dept at Green Mountain College?

    9. Thanks for your contributions, Anon. I have to wonder about Activist Cash, though…Wikipedia describes its creator: "The Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF), formerly the Guest Choice Network, is an American non-profit firm that lobbies on behalf of the fast food, meat, alcohol and tobacco industries" They have a reference to a Washington Post article that describes these links. Doesn't mean they are making up things, but I'm not sure I put much more trust in CCF's word than PCRM's or PETA's.

    10. Tom Jeanne, for what it's worth, someone else, behealthynow, originally cited Activist Cash. As mentioned, I have know love for them, and would definitely recommend taking anything that they say with a grain of salt. That said, much of whatr they say about the PCRM and Farm Sanctuary is a matter of public record, and the quotes that they cite speak for themselves.

      The book that I referenced, Eco-Terrorism by Donald Liddick is a more scholarly approac. It details the terrorist connections between the PCRM, PeTA, and the ALF, the FBI's number one domestic terrorist threat, in great detail:

  33. cont…

    I have personally known farmers and sustainable ag supporters who have been deeply effected by the animal rights terrorism being funded by Farm Sanctuary and PeTA's phony physician's organization, the PCRM, so I take it very, very seriously.

    A shift towards more sustainable systems of food production is more important now than ever, and far and away the largest threat to sustainable ag right now is the massive propaganda war on eco-ag launched by Bauer and McWilliams.

  34. I am trying my best not to get too worked up about this, but to be honest, it isn't easy. It seems that you don't really know who you were debating. Neil Barnard is the former head of the PeTA Foundation, which controls PeTA's purse strings amd siphons money into the PCRM, the phony physicians org that he created to dupe the public into thinking that a legitimate physican's org believes the propganda that they spout. It isn't a legitimate physician's org by any stretch of the imagination. Less than 1% are actual physicians! You really think stacking an audience is beyond him, or are you just trying to be polite by ignoring the obvious fact that that is exactly what happened? Do you have any idea of the extent of clandestine activism that they pride themselves on? For meat's sake, Bruce Friedrich is the current head of propaganda at Farm Sanctuary!

    As head of the head of the PeTA Foundation and the PCRM, Barnard siphons money directly to terrorists committing arson, bombings, death threats, mailing envelopes with poisonous razorblades, kidnapping, and on and on. That is not a conspiracy, it is a very well established fact. In fact, with Barnard in charge of PeTA's purse string's, PeTA made a public offer to fully pay the legal fees of anyone accused of an ALF-related crime!!

    Anyone who knows anything at all about how PeTA and Farm Sanctuary work knows perfectly well that of course, they filled the audience with ringers to fix the results of the debate. As you yourself pointed out, the terms of the debate were quite clear, and it wasn't a popularity contest. In reality, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that most of the people walked into that room as omnivores that day, and walked out vowing never to eat another bite of meat again because they were actually convinced that any amount of meat in the diet, no matter how small, is ethically unjustifiable, which was the specific terms of the debate.

    It wouldn't bother me so much if the dangers weren't very real, which you don't seem to realize. Gene Bauer is not harmless, and to be honest, I think you make a very big mistake by portraying him that way here, let alone plugging his heinous book. Do you seriously believe that Bauer thinks that veganic gardening is going to feed the world? Then why has he put a war chest of money and manpower into his massive campaign to discredit sustainable agriculture? He literally put none other than the most infamous anti-localism, anti-sustainable ag Monsanto shill in the world, James McWilliams, at the helm of that initiative!!! Does that sound like someone who supports eco ag?!

    Vegan activist McWilliams knows perfectly well that the Achilles heal of veganism is the essential importance of animals in every major system of sustainable agriculture, and that veganic gardening is virtually indefensible, so he bashes sustainable agriculture, with the help of Farm Sanctuary, as a full-time job. The scary thing is that it is really working. Farm Sanctuary's anti "happy meat" campaign against sustainable ag has been terrifyingly effective so far. As Tom Philpott of Grist and others have pointed out, by saying what Monsanto wants him to say, McWilliams, a history teacher with no agricultural experience or education whatsoever, gets more major press than all of the world's foremost sustainable ag experts combined.

    The real vegan agriculture is industrial, chemical ag. When you give Bauer and the network of demented petting zoos that he created as a front to raise money for animal rights terrorism legitimacy, you are doing more harm than good. You are not obliged in any way to suck up to them, and they certainly weren't interested in blowing smoke up your butt in return.

  35. Chris, you are an inspiration to all of us and you did a great job along with Joel. You were under a lot of pressure to perform well and you did. We all know the cards were stacked against our side unfairly a bit the way it was set up. I cannot believe Gene did not know who Weston Price was. Did he not do any research ahead of time as to who he was debating? That floored me.

    What difference does it make what kind of argument Neal or Gene were making? Most of their argument was going back to factory farming and observational studies. Forge a new direction in your points by coming back with the best argument FOR eating animal foods and nutritionally Weston Price's work is the key to this.

    The key thing that convinced me how important animal foods are is how without them there is physical degeneration that includes narrowing of the pallet which creates crowding of the teeth, lengthening of the spine, and narrowing of the pelvis leading to difficulty in giving birth. This has also been shown to happen in animals when they are deprived of certain nutrients. Compound this over generations and you have physical degeneration…eventually threatening a species. I would be scared to be a vegan knowing it could affect my offspring like this.

    You can certainly go on to explain why modern day omnivores have these same skeletal deformations due to lack of fat soluble vitamins and minerals and which types of animal foods we are no longer eating here in America that could prevent this. Explaining how Price actually healed cavities would be an important point. I also would have brought up the meta analysis that proves saturated fat does not cause heart disease because to most people, this is the generally accepted "demon" of animal foods.

    It's not all about replying to their specific points. Its about making your important points come across to the audience one way or another. Their side used some effective scare tactics which are based on bogus science. Our side has scare tactics that are valid that we need to use too. Overall, the general population should be scared of being a vegan. Seriously.

  36. I think you and Joel did an excellent job, though your self criticism made some valid points The moderator did you an injustice by cutting you off by claiming you were engaging in a personal attack. If he had let you finish your point it would have been clear that it wasn't. Frankly I think the whole premise of the debate was flawed to begin with. The ethics of the issue need to be separated from the question of health/nutrition. The question should have been: 1) what is healthier – strict plant based diet or pasture-raised animal based diet. The morality of eating animals is a personal issue and should have been left out. If someone tells me they are vegan/vegetarian for moral reasons it's not a debate I want to engage in, if they say it's healthier, well that's another story….

    1. Richard – I completely agree with you that the premise of the debate was flawed, and pointed this out in my comments before the debate took place. Chris, Richard is correct that trying to debate the morality/ethics of eating animals (while it may be interesting to some) has very little to do with science, and has no place in a science-based debate. Emotionalism will always take the forefront in that kind of debate. We should stick to debating whether eating a diet including both animals and plants is healthier than a vegan diet. The science is clearly supportive of our side in that kind of debate. Also, the whole issue of whether a diet that includes a significant animal component can realistically feed everyone on this overpopulated planet is not relevant to what kind of diet is healthiest for individuals, either. I understand that it's probably not feasible for every human being on the planet to eat as I do (unless and until we get human population down to a level that the planet's resources can sustain), but that doesn't mean that the diet I consume is inherently unhealthy; on the contrary, you can make a strong case that it is the optimum diet for human health (on an individual basis).

    2. Well it was frustrating to watch. How many times did Barnard smugly equate eating meat with smoking and insist the science was settled on it? It was obvious that his mind is totally closed to alternative theories. As Gary Taubes has so often pointed out, bad science happens when a researcher has already made up his mind.

  37. Chris — to have your first formal debate be in such a high-profile, high-visibility situation and do as well as you did is commendable! Be proud of yourself, first and foremost. Many of us might feel like we know a thing or two about ancestral health and the WAPF principles, but very few of us would have the courage to get up in front of a live audience and try to state the case.

    Were there some shortcomings? Sure. But this was a huge learning experience, and you'll only get better and better.

    I was disappointed that things kept getting steered toward the ethics angle. The moderator even stated more than once that no one was arguing in favor of industrial scale farming, so for the vegan team to constantly be harping on CAFOs and using all that grain to feed livestock instead of people was disingenuous and took time away from what I wished had been the true focus of the debate: nutrition. Had things stayed closer to that, and maybe if the issue of meat eating and the "expensive tissue"/"big brain" hypothesis had been brought up, there's just no way a vegan argument makes sense. Like you said about poor conversion of beta-carotene to vitamin A — and there are countless similar examples — to issue blanket statements about everyone across the board thriving on a vegan diet is just not logical, and I would go so far as to say it's bad medical practice on Dr. Barnard's part. If there had been more time to get into K2 and the other fat-soluble activators, EPA/DHA, etc., I think a lot of people's eyes would have been opened to a whole new world.

    Gene looked very good. I wonder if he does any special supplementation or other intensive interventions to remain that way after 20+ years as a vegan. (Other than not washing his kale, of course.) 😉

    Looking forward to your future posts on the debate…especially your scientific disagreements with Dr. Barnard. In the meantime, don't be too hard on yourself. Like I said — it's easy for us to be Monday morning quarterbacks, but very few of us have the confidence (not to mention academic credentials or breadth and depth of knowledge!) to get on the fields ourselves. Thanks for speaking up for us. If nothing else, maybe a couple of people will check out your site because of the debate. Your personal story will resonate a lot more that way and they'll find all that fantastic information about cholesterol and animal fats.

  38. Excellent reflection. I imagine debates with you, Chris, in the future will be even better; you've clearly used the experience to grow as a debater and presenter. (You're already an excellent analyst and brilliant mind.) I second what Ramiel Nagel said: "keep practising"! Mark Fromberg is right that the only way to get better is to do more debates. Clearly Barnard has a lot of presenting under his belt, which has made him good at manipulating his audience. There are studies out there that show that as long as a speech (or presentation, or what have you) is delivered by a person who is confident and speaking with authority (and seemingly with knowledge), the audience will probably believe them even if the presenter is spouting nonsense that sounds faintly plausible or scientific. (There is a section in 'White Coat, Black Hat' by Carl Elliott that talks about this in more depth, actually…)

    I've taken part in Oxford-style debates in the past, and although it is true that emotions can cloud an audience's judgement, you can overrule that a bit if the logical argument is presented convincingly enough. Michael (above) is right about the debate on Wednesday in that "[it] was a victory of style over substance". If you can combine the two (style and substance) you will be a masterful debater. (Unfortunately style seems to be the sole factor that determines debate victors more often than it should be.)

    Most of the good points about the debate have been covered. I also wished that Joel had stayed away from the idea that plants [might] have sentience, or that they communicate at the same level that humans (or other animals) do. He had really good points, as someone else mentioned, about how humans fit into the ecosystem that is our world, and how we cannot just wake up one day and decide not to participate in the circle of life. He knows his stuff, obviously.

    Anyhow, both you and Joel still did an amazing job – especially given your opponents and the circumstances. I thought it was kind of funny at the beginning when Donvan was wondering how you could be with someone who's a vegan while you're an omnivore (as if that shouldn't be possible or something?!). Great response on your part!

  39. Excellent job Chris. It's awesome that you took the time right away to critique your debate. Unfortunately, the vegan side is a very emotional argument, and though you and Joel clearly won the logical argument, many people can't hear the logic when they're focused on emotions.

  40. I thought Barnard was shameful. His whole schtick about meat and cancer should've been smashed to pieces easily and I'm sad it wasn't. His claims about meat probably only apply to certain kinds of cooking and other processing, not meat in general. His whole case reduces to something like "hot dogs cause cancer", which is irrelevant to the debate for the same reasons factory farming is irrelevant. Until he has any argument against eating raw, steamed, boiled, etc meat in the whole-animal tradition witnessed by countless cuisines around the globe, he is just wasting our time with his rudimentary anti-junk-food dietetics parading as scientific anti-carnivory. It's profound scientific dishonesty for him to confound such obviously significant variables, yet project such confidence in his conclusions about meat. And his use of personal anecdotes ("my parents died young") and sloganeering ("satured fat is bad", "that hard atherosclerotic stuff is your breakfast sausage", "letting people eat meat in a study would be unethical", etc) straight out of an infomercial.

    The debaters spent most of the time changing the subject back to their preferred spiel instead of locking onto specific arguments and actually debating them. And then the mostly moronic or irrelevant audience questions just distracted the discussion even more. I thought the whole thing was a waste of time, but on the positive side I thought Chris was the only one of the four who performed well in terms in terms of actual content. He didn't have that smooth talking vegan persona, but his presentation was still quite confident and generally focused, articulate, smooth and clear. Best of all, Chris was earnest and demonstrated scientific integrity. Contrast that with Barnard's argument-by-authority soundbytes. While I agree with Salatin on almost everything, he threw out way too many irrelevant, weak or flippant ideas that diluted his really strong points. By far the best "move" in the whole debate was Chris' succinct demolition of any anti-carnivorous interpretation of Ornish. The same reasoning should've been developed to crush Barnard's fantasy world of academic prestige and confirmation bias gone haywire.

    The only worthwhile contribution from the audience was the brilliant question from the woman about eating animals who died naturally. It plainly exposed Baur's arbitrary meat-is-murder emotionalism-as-ethics.

    1. Wow, well put, Mike! Couldn't agree more. I love your term "emotionalism-as-ethics" because it sums up the "for" side's talking points so well.

      I wish Chris had pointed out that cooking plant foods can also produce carcinogens (e.g., acrylamide).

      Here are some other ludicrous utterances by Barnard:

      Humans started meat eating as scavenging (and if true, so what?)

      "We have pre-stone age bodies." This is either meaningless or wrong. He appears to think Homo sapiens never evolved (since the species didn't exist until the middle stone age) and we are still tree-dwelling primates. It's actually quite amazing how factually inaccurate, yet how great a sound byte it is!

      "If your life expectancy is 35 or 40, it doesn't matter" if you get heart disease. This ignores the fact that life expectancy beyond infancy was actually quite long in many pre-industrial peoples.

      "Meat eaters have poor nutrition. They don't get many vitamins, don't get complex carbohydrates, don't get fiber." Pure bullcrap. Chris responded to some of this but I wish he'd had time to do more.

    2. Hi Tom,

      Yes, thanks for your comments. Based on my watching the video, we all got roughly equal time, and I may have gotten slightly more than Barnard, so I don't think I could have responded to additional points. I think what I needed to do was commandeer the conversation in the directions I wanted it to go better rather than trying to respond to whatever was immediately stated before I was talking, as if I would somehow win points for being faithful to the flow of conversation.

      I actually did try to address acrylamide. I interrupted to force in a comment to Neal something along the lines of, "So are you just as opposed to potatoes as you are to meat?" but I think a few people were talking over me at the same time and it may not even have been perceptible in the video unfortunately, but naturally he didn't respond to it. I should have been more assertive on that point. Joel made it, but I could have made it more effectively by describing the details.


    3. That does seem to be the chief take-home point: have but a few simple talking points and don't stray from them, only respond directly to things you can't afford to ignore or deflect, and carefully place as many one-liners and applause-getters as you can that make the audience like you. Perhaps watch some old debates (Reagan's "There you go again" comes to mind.) Cynical but true. Again, despite your and our constructive criticism, you did admirably, Chris, and you're going to do even better next time, refining your style and tactics to support the message that we know is supported by science.

  41. The question I have is, what kind of people were present in the audience? I couldn't find any information on the Intelligence Squared website that tells us who they were.

    By what I can gather from their website is that you have to buy a ticket to be part of the live audience?

    I bring this up because, if just any persons or organizations can just buy an unlimited amount of seats to the debate, that makes me highly suspicious of the results. Even so, if it was just a wide selection of locals near by, it's Manhattan, New York. There certainly would be no shortage of privileged, affluent, more liberal leaning individuals being highly represented, people without any limitations as to the level of lifestyles they blissfully enjoy.

    "Why isn't species-ism the same as racism?" I thought that question by an audience member was quite revealing as to the kind of land-slide result you received. ROTFLMAO

    Joel's political leanings were quite humorously on display after saying, "Well, I believe everything the US government says" while dripping with sarcasm, and after saying, "I wouldn't trust the UN as far as I could throw a bull by the tail, which isn't very far." That probably wasn't well received with this kind of venue either. I think it would not be far-fetched to say that if this debate were held in a location like Wyoming or Texas, where it would have been much better represented by people from more rural, conservative, small-farm rich territories, the result would have been far different.

    I have to say, the most ridiculous statement came from Dr. Neal Barnard, when he said, "it is so clear that meat eating is linked to cancer, (like with smoking) ethically you can't do (a randomized) study (like we can't do with smoking.) The evidence is overwhelming, we know smoking causes a cancer risk, like we know eating meat causes a cancer risk… I think there will come a time when our generation is going to say, wholly cow, we know food is an issue and we need to do (oops!) … we got to deal with it." Did he really mean to say we need to do something about it? Is that his ultimate goal? To convince law makers that we need to do something about this issue by passing laws that force us to consume less animal products for our own protection? That the government needs to do something like they've done with smoking, and like they're doing with soft drinks, salt, and trans fats in New York? That part was very disturbing.

    1. There are plenty of us liberal, idealistic, non-government-hating urbanites who side with Chris and Joel, at least of the younger generations who are intellectually curious and read and discuss such matters on the "Internets". But you are probably right about venue–if only because a Texas cattle rancher, for example, is not going to be very sympathetic to a position that attacks his way of life.

    2. Agreed, Tom, and also of the *older* generation of liberal, idealistic,
      non-government-hating urbanites. I'm 62, have been following WAPF principles for 14 years, and side firmly with Chris and Joel!

    3. I was in attendance at the IQ2 debate. The concert hall is very small, holding under 450 people. I maintain a season subscription and attend most of the debates with family or friends. I can recognize a lot of the people in the audience as regulars. Two rows are also usually taken up by kids from school debate clubs on field trips.

      These are social events, and people generally arrive with open minds. There's an upcoming debate this March on the state of Russia. Do you think everyone in the audience will arrive with opinions, and will be going just to express their opinions through the voting keypad? No, they won't- but I assure you there will be a message board afterwards arguing something to that effect.
      Another note – The banks debate a few months ago had people ticketing outside, but none of those people actually went inside.

      We go just to learn. This is not a confirmation bias audience. Everyone has prejudices. The point of the debate is to dispel them. I've certainly been swayed by a good debate before. Debaters on both sides usually have valid points (and surely points they wish they'd made). They should all be commended. I give Chris Masterjohn credit for putting himself out there, with people who don't share his views.

      The argument made about how it's more difficult to persuade or maintain a majority vote is also cheap. Not to appeal to observational evidence (ha!), but look at recent debates. Many of the "winners" began with the majority. The goal for both sides is to win over the undecideds and hold on to the people you already have.

    4. Hi Anonymous,

      Thank you for sharing your experience and thoughts. Since most of this post is self-criticism, I don't think one can plausibly argue that I was making excuses. From among many factors, I think the baseline voting matters for the reasons I stated. The anecdotes you cite do not indicate otherwise — perhaps those people simply did a better job fighting an uphill battle. A battle being uphill doesn't mean you are doomed to lose. That was just one small part of why our battle was uphill, and I've outlined some of the major flaws in our (particularly my) approach that I think explain why we didn't win the winnable yet uphill battle.


  42. Good, honest, reflective analysis. For you, or anyone, to get better at debating, you just have to do it more. I have heard many brilliant people bomb in these environments because they don't think in clever retorts, sound bites or counter punches, nor are they naturally funny or even able to think well or quickly on their feet. Given how huge the topic of healthy nutrition is, and how well and how deeply one has to dig to get at the valuable take-home nuggets, it is very difficult to go to your tremendously large repository of relevant knowledge with an instantly delivered fact that skewers the opposing side's argument.
    Billie Jean King knew she would be a world champion when she lost her first Grand Slam final. Once you have played against the supposed masters, you get to know their weaknesses.
    Neal has been doing this gig aggressively for two decades, and having heard him speak several times, it is remarkable how little his talks change, since he has come to know through experience what points get the audience attentive, and which ones don't. You notice that he dug out a quick point on impotence seemingly out of the blue? Because he has scored big points with it in the past–in fact, he has even boasted about that!

    Keep practicing. Do Toastmasters. Learn from the stand up comedians, who can turn things around on a dime. And never forget to appeal and make eye contact with the audience–it is their hearts and minds you are trying to win, not Neal's and Gene's.

  43. You did a fabulous job bringing a complex message to an environment that is unfamiliar with the message. The opposing side came across as religious zealots. Thanks for all of your good work.

  44. changes in %s are interesting. You can't double percentages over 50 – but you can always halve the leftover %. For instance 60%->80% once you divide the 40% leftover by 2. And you can do it again go from 80% to 90%. In a similar way, we can look at the "% of increase/decrease of opponents" – going from 90% to 91% means opponents change from 10% to 9% which is a 10% decrease. That beats the pants of the case where we go from 5% to 7%, the opponents go from 95% to 93%, and that is only a 2.1% decrease.

    1. Not a good idea imo as Denise is (or was) Chris's girlfriend. Her China Study analysis is good, but Chris can only be perceived as biased in that case.

    2. So, once a woman has been involved with a man, she must retire from public life, in order that he not compromise his integrity? Or does that only apply for topics in which the man has expertise?

      I'm assuming (hoping) you don't really think this … but please consider the logical conclusion of your suggestion here.

    3. No, he can refer to her work as much as he likes, but in that kind of stacked debate, where only soundbites and entrenched beliefs are peddled, him referencing his girl-friend will only be rejected without further consideration. It's sad, but that's what would happen.

    4. But we live in a celeb-dominated society. Denise is brilliant, but, more important, Denise is hot.

      So, unfair as it may be, this can only enhance his cred. (cf. As Seen On TV.)

  45. I really enjoyed the debate and I thought you and Joel did a great job. You were both very respectful of your opponents and moderator and showed great class. I felt that Dr. Barnard was a little childish and disrespectful in his tone and successfully manipulated the debate and the moderator to help their side. I will say that emotionalism will almost always win over science in a public forum. Science is boring (and hard to understand) for the public. Looking forward to future debates!

    1. Angela
      I agree on your point about Dr. Barnard manipulating the moderator. There were some moments where this was quite apparent. I am biased as all humans usually are but it was hard to ignore.

  46. The debate was a victory of style over substance, talking points and sound bytes over facts. The vegan camp has more experience selling their points. I would have raised the question as to why there are no reproducing vegan cultures. I would have made the point that hunter gatherers, man living in his most natural state, get on average 2/3 of their calories from animal foods. I would have also pointed out that the exponential increases in degenerative diseases in the last century is not paralleled by an increase in the animal foods supposedly causing these diseases. The foodstuffs that have increased are refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils. Also bear this in mind, veganism is a form of insanity. It is based on a distorted view of nature. It is an intellectual and emotional construct, that actively negates the body and its nutritional requirements. There is no real reasoning with these people.

  47. Good debate performance and post-mortem. I also had come to the conclusion that the statistic used to determine the debate winner was skewed against your side. To take a simple, illustrative example, Suppose the Con (your) side had 90% of the votes before the debate and the Pro side had 10%. Suppose further that each side persuaded 10% of those who were opposed to their view over to their side. Then the Con side would pick up an additional 9% while only losing 1%, for a net gain of 8%, even though both sides were equally effective in converting opponents. That said, I did not publish this analysis earlier, since I think other factors likely had a bigger impact on the debate outcome.

  48. Thanks for reflecting and sharing your thoughts like this, Chris. I have waited a long time to see the PCRM debate the WAPF. To be honest, I have no real respect for Barnard or his colleagues in the PCRM because of their reliance on observational data, the heavy usage of a false dichotomy, and their strange habit with misinterpreting study results.

    I debate a lot, but I've never been in a live debate like what you experienced. I think that overall you did great. That said, just some general advice from hindsight:

    * I would've called on Barnard and Bauer every time they use observational data and especially when they try to invoke a false dichotomy.
    * At one point you and Joel really went nuclear on them after the dozenth time they tried using a false dichotomy. I admit, I lol'd. I loved it. But realistically, it probably would've been better to either challenge them directly to eat their words (ie: who here is defending factory farming?) or just complain straight to John (maybe not the best tactic).
    * It's a shame that you weren't able to talk about The China Study more. This is basically every vegan's ace, and you know very well how flimsy that is. Especially since you've written more about Campbell's rat study than anyone else, I believe.
    *I would've challenged Barnard to name all the RCT's done on a whole-food omnivorous diet where the omnivores were still dropping like flies. He relies on observational data way too much, and personally, I wouldn't mind calling him on it (of course, I come from the position of someone that has much less respect for him, but still, I'm sure you understand what I'm saying)
    * As you mentioned, you should've challenged him on the observational data in his opening remarks. I knew he was going to do that, and I personally would have planned for that in my opening remark,
    * More mention perhaps should've been had on the poor conversion of vitamin A as well as EPA and DHA. I did an analysis of Fuhrman's diet in Cron and found that even after following all the rules (and being generous when possible), I was still left with only a 60% RDA for vitamin A (assuming an extremely unlikely best-case-scenario of 50% conversion). Of course, this discussion is dynamic and you had to go with the flow and deal with time constraints.
    * If at all possible, you should have perhaps tried to steer the topic of Cancer (observational) to Heart Disease (RCT) where there really isn't any evidence of heart disease from SFA/cholesterol. If there was no way to turn the subject to a different disease, I would've mentioned studies from other countries that don't involve a SAD (which you may have done; I was watching and taking notes at the same time), as well as mention how CLA, vitamin D, A, and other nutrients in meat are anti-cancerous.
    * Barnard relied a lot on HCA, but this evidence is based on very large dosages.
    * As you said, it would have been better if you were more dynamic with your opening and closing statements. But at least you recognize that and you can learn from it.

    You did good Chris! Don't forget it!

    – Josh

  49. I was surprised that poor conversion from ala to dha wasn't brought up. Fishes have faces, and I don't think chia seeds cut it.

    1. I was hoping to make this part of my biochemical individuality point, since there are numerous genetic polymorphisms identified in this conversion, and numerous hormonal and nutrient influences, just like with vitamin A.


    2. hi chris, we had lost because they had already "framed" the debate.
      don't think of an elephant – George lakoff – the audience was not going to get the title our of their mind. Unfar from the beginning

      marlese carroll, nc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.