"On Meat Eating" (1870)


Fukuzawa Yukichi

Translated by Michael Bourdaghs



            Among the animals who live between heaven and earth, there are those that eat meat and those that do not.  Those such as lions, tigers, dogs and cats take meat as their food, while those such as cows, horses and sheep eat the five grains and the fruits of plants and trees.  In all cases, this is a matter of naturally endowed disposition.  Human beings, as the lords of creation, eat all of the kinds of food, including the fruits of grains, plants, and trees, the meat of birds, fish, and beasts.    This too is a matter of naturally endowed disposition, and if one turns against this disposition and eats only meats, or again, eats only the fruits of grains, plants and trees, then without fail one will fall into a state of physical weakness, be afflicted by unexpected diseases and die.  Even if one's life is not shortened in this way, one will live a worthless life as an invalid, a life without pleasure.


            Since ancient times, our nation of Japan has engaged in agriculture, and people have taken the five grains as their staple food, with meat being eaten only rarely, giving rise to an a nutritional imbalance in peoples' bodies, which naturally produced many ill and weakened persons.  But now, with the development of methods for farming cattle and sheep, we should expect to supplement this nutritional deficiency by using the meat and drinking the milk that will be produced.  And yet, there remain many people who blindly dislike this, saying that meat eating is filthy, in accordance with the customs our nation has followed for many long centuries.  This is a specious argument born out of ignorant blindness that demonstrates a lack of knowledge about the natural disposition of human beings and a failure to discern the principles of the human body.  


            Or, is it the case that those who dislike meat eating do so because they can't bear to see large animals such as pigs and cows slaughtered?  If that is so, which is larger, a cow or a whale?  People never express such misgivings when we catch whales and eat their meat.  Or again, some might say, don't you think it is cruel when you see a living creature slaughtered?  Yet isn't it just as painful for a living eel to have its backbone cut out of it, or for a mud turtle to have its neck chopped off?   Or again, some ask if the meat and milk of cows isn't filthy.  Yet cows and sheep themselves eat only the five grains and the fruits of plants and trees, and they drink only water.  There is no need to argue about the cleanliness of their meat. 


            Moreover, if one investigates the particulars closely, isn't it the case that many of the foods commonly eaten turn out to be filthy?  The kamaboko fish paste sold at Nihonbashi in Tokyo is manufactured with the meat of sharks that eat the corpses of people who drowned.  If you were to ask about the seafood soup made with black sea bream, they are fish that cluster around great ships and eat human feces.   If we talk about the fragrance of green vegetables in springtime, isn't it the case that just a few days ago those leaves were deeply seeped in urine?   Or yet again, some say that meat and milk from cows has too strong a taste, but aren't katsuo dried bonito flakes strongly salty -- and isn't dried horse mackerel even worse?  And what about the dish that has been handed down to us from our ancestors that mixes sweet miso and maggots together with freshly pickled eggplant and daikon root?   


            The only difference between all of these things is that peoples' ears, eyes, noses and mouths have grown accustomed to some of them, and not to others.   The things we to which we are accustomed we call good, the things to which we are not accustomed we call bad.  To refuse to allow meat "soup" to pass through a mouth that laps up its own homemade miso [pun:  homemade miso=self-flattery] is the height of absurd reasoning.  It is not entirely specious to say that one prefers not to use meat simply to remain in accordance with our nation's customs, without bothering to ask after the benefits and harms of meat eating in and of itself.  But today in our country, the lack of meat eating is producing malnutrition, and not a few persons suffer from diminished vitality.  In short, it is a national loss.  And if one already knows about this loss and moreover has available measures that would compensate for it, what could possibly be the reason for not implementing those measures?   If there was a household that said that having a large number of sick persons is our family tradition and which therefore declined to use medicine, could we call them wise? 


            Our company [this essay was originally written to advertise a new dairy company] has already implemented methods for farming cattle and sheep, and recently we have been active in producing various milk products for the purpose of educating the public in the ways of using milk.   These include cheese, butter, milk powder, condensed milk, and others.  In general, milk is even more effective than meat.  Among the fine products that are indispensable to those who are suffering from a weakening of the body such as fever or fatigue, although there may be some fine medicine available, if they do not cultivate their perseverance by drinking milk, the medicine will not be able to produce its beneficial effects.   In fact, we should call it the one medicine that works for all diseases.  In the various countries of the West, it is not merely used for medicinal purposes -- milk, of course, is part of their daily diet, and beyond that they use such products as cheese and butter in the same way that we use katsuo dried bonito flakes in our country.  In such places as Switzerland, a mountain country with very little fish, people living in mountainous regions are able to maintain a nutritious diet using only meat. 


            That being so, if the people of our nation too from this day forth were to open their eyes and devote their minds to learning the ways of using milk, we would achieve cures for incurable diseases, a long lifespan with no aging, bodily health and spiritual animation, and for the first time we will not feel ashamed to be called Japanese.