Why Eating Meat is Healthy and Good for the Environment
The Meat of the Issue
I am a convinced carnivore. I eat meat. I like meat, particularly lean, red, meat, and I'm not going to become a vegetarian. I tried it once about twenty years ago and I felt lousy. I was bloated and fuzzy after meals and ravinously hungry between them. It just doesn't work for me. Don't get me wrong. I love my fruits and veggies--and cake and cookies too--but I also like meat and believe that our bodies were designed to digest it. Normally, I don't think much about being a meat eater,but recently, since "green" has become the most overused word in the English language, I'm hearing a lot from the environmentally sensitive crowd about how selfish and wasteful it is to eat meat and how vegetarianism is far superior. I certainly agree that Americans eat too much meat and that a Big Mac with fries is not a healthy meal--but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is a lot to be said for meat ( and poultry fish and eggs too) and there is a dark side to living on oats and groats.
Not long ago, over a veggie burger and power smoothie lunch at my local healthfood emporium, my friend Ellen and I had a talk about this. Ellen has been vegan for years and swears that a strict vegetarian diet has improved her life and her health. Ok. That's just fine. I believe her. No problem. She has inivited me to her house for some delicious mushroom and grain casseroles. We sip herbal tea together and I don't call Ellen when I want someone to share chocolate cake with. All has been well for years. But recently, there is a new stridancy in Ellen's stance. She maintains these days( with a certain self rightousness, I might add) that eating her way will improve the planet and the way I eat will destroy it. I disagree.
Her main argument is an environmental one. To wit: The primary cause of global warming is increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere due to carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels. Raising beef cattle requires three to ten times as much fossil fuel as raising grain and vegetable crops to feed the same number of people. In addition, cows produce an amazing amount of methane gas which is also toxic to the environment. Raising cattle takes much more water and much more land than raising crops thus is wasteful of natural resources. Ergo--don't eat beef. Ellen doesn't stop with beef, of course. She maintains that veal, pork, and poultry are equally bad.
Now, I'm thinking, how do they measure all this? I mean cows eat grass but their manure is wonderful fertilizer for crops. Does that get taken into consideration? Yes, it takes a lot of land to graze them, but could farmers grow crops on that pasture land? Does grazing cattle on land make it more fertile for crops another year? There are so many variables. It takes a lot of land to grow soybeans too and think of all the fossil fuel used by farm machinery. How about those crop dusting planes, and aren't chemical fertilizers and pesticides made with petroleum? How does Ellen know that it takes five times more energy to produce meat than soybeans?Whose figures is she using? I did a quick google search and found a welter of differing statistics and points of view. I just don't buy the simplicity of meat bad--veggies good and as I mentioned to Ellen, if you are so worried about animals, why are you wearing leather shoes?
Vegan vs. Meateater Debate with Steven Rinella
The Benefits of Meat
There are some very good reasons why our caveman ancesters hunted more than they gathered and ate meat whenever they could find it.
- Meat protein is highly efficient and compact. It may take more resources to produce beef than grain, but eating meat gives the human body much more bang for the buck. One ounce of red meat provides much more energy than five times the amount of rice and beans, which sort of cancels out the natural resources usage imbalance.
- Red meat contains lots of iron and B vitamins in a form that is easily absorbed by the human body. Vegetarians have a much harder time getting these nutriants and usually take B12 and iron supplements.
- Humans cannot live without consuming protein. The protein in meat is not only condensed, it is complete. This is true not only of red meat but also of poultry and fish. Plant proteins are incomplete, meaning that they do not contain all of the amino acids needed by the human body to create energy. Vegetarians have to be careful to eat a combination of grains and legumes at each meal in order to get the complete protein necessary to sustain human life.
Thus I conclude that we evolved as meat eaters and that eating meat, albeit in moderation, is good for us and not bad for the planet either. Ellen maintains that human beings were not designed to eat meat because we don't have huge canine teeth to rip at carcasses like wolves and we do have molers to grind grasses and grains like cows.
This is a really silly argument if you ask me. I mean, we also do not have two stomachs like cows and we do not chew cuds and graze on grass because we are omnivores not carnivores or herbavores. We are an eminantly adaptable species that has survived so well because we can eat almost anything. Historically we have always been meat eaters--at least when there was meat around to eat.
Carnivore Links and Hubs
- Why Vegetarians Are Eating Meat
A growing number of vegetarians are starting to eat humanely raised meat. Find out why.
- Meat Eaters Without The Guilt
A fascinating newspaper article on meat
- Health Benefits of Eating Meat
Check out the advantages of eating meat.
- The Differences between Conventional, Organic, and G...
What are the differences between conventionally raised, organic, grass fed, and pastured raised beef? Most of all, which is best for your family?
- How to Shop for Red Meat
If you don't know what you are really looking for when you go meat shopping, you may end up unhappy. Learn how to save money and get the most out of your beef purchase. You can also learn how to avoid the money making tricks the butchers use against
Which brings me to my last topic-- treating the animals we eat with respect. Here in America and in most of the developed world, we have introduced some amazingly cruel practices to maximaze production and lower price that have resulted not only in cruelty to the animals, but also in a reduction in the quality of the meat they produce. I firmly believe that cooping up animals in pens and feedlots, injecting them with hormones and force feeding them with stuff they would never eat in the wild is wrong from both a moral and practical standpoint. I further submit that the mass production of meat is what is ruining the planet, not eating meat itself.
Personally, I never buy beef at the supermarket. I buy excellent beef from a local farm that raises it's own cattle--grass fed and hormone free. It costs more and I don't eat it that often, but when I do I want the best. I buy organic chickens from the same source and eggs from the son of a friend of mine who is raising his own chickens. His hens run around and scratch for a living and live without anti-biotics or hormones. The eggs they produce have deep yellow yolks and taste like heaven.
I'm as "green" as anybody else. I recycle, carry my own grocery bags to the store, drive a fuel efficient car and buy organic food locally whenever I can. I have friends and relatives who eat meat and others who don't and I believe that food preferences are a personal choice and need to be respected. Different strokes for different folks, I say. However, I don't believe that when it comes to saving the planet, there are any simple solutions and I certainly don't believe that if we all stopped eating meat tomorrow, the world would be a better place. It just isn't that easy. There are lots of things we can all do to help save the planet, but avoiding meat is not one of them. Anyone want to join me for a hamburger?