Hi friends. What follows is not a well-researched, heavily linked article on the perils of vegetarianism. I would like to write one of those, but it might take ages, and I also have limited access to academic journals, not currently enrolled in an American academic institution. It is, instead, a bit of a personal statement against vegetarianism. Most paleo dieters are aware of the arguments I make here, but others that I sometimes direct to my blog, such as my family and friends, are less familiar with typical vegetarian versus non vegetarian arguments. I am more than happy to get into grittier details with people if they want. Please email me on the contact form, or prod at me in the comments section.
This is just the surface, and–if you can’t tell–an emotionally charged one as well. However, I want to append that caveat with another caveat: I believe that my strong emotional response to vegetarianism follows the arguments– I see the logic and I get pissed– not the other way around, where I feel angry and then rationalize my anger. I myself was a vegetarian for many years, and I understand how absolutely compelling it is. I was emotionally attached to it. However, once I took a look at the statistics about sustainability and at the information on human health, I was forced, logically, to change my stance and my actions. As such, I believe that vegetarianism is extraordinarily well-intentioned but ultimately misguided. What follows is why.
Gods. Vegetarianism makes me sick. I.. haha. Is that true? I think that’s true. It wasn’t always. The reason I feel that way is because saying “I’m a vegetarian” has all these moral implications, and I remember wearing that title as a student and using it as a means of identification and validation and moral superiority. Who am I to say I’m better than you because I don’t eat animals? That’s not okay, especially if others around me are making the best choices they can with the information provided, too. Let’s not forget that vegetarianism has ascetic and religious roots, and that the idea of abstaining from something appeals to people for psychological and sociological reasons beyond ‘good for the planet.’
And YES, while as a vegetarian I was certainly acting on the best knowledge I had, and definitely trying my best to be moral, it was, essentially, wrong. My vegetarianism wasn’t helping the environment as much as I thought. Still eating eggs and dairy? Fish? I wasn’t, but many vegetarians do. If you practice vegetarianism because of animal rights, consider that consuming milk is probably more abhorrent than consuming meat itself. Milk cows are subject to an entire lifetime of soy products, digestive discomfort, extreme udder discomfort, hormone disregulation, and crowded, dirty, indoor (and, in fact, in-stall) living conditions. On the other hand, if you practice vegetarianism because it is supposed to be more sustainable, consider that while your meat cost more energy than your grain or soy products, the transportation costs of the grains are still enormously high, and your grains are still destroying the incredibly tenuous soil resource. Still eating plants from far away? Bad news bears for transportation costs and pollution and the horrific environmental impact--especially soil depletion--of large scale monocultures. While true that eating meat in excessive amounts is, well, excessive, eating meat to obtain sufficient protein from a local source is, I think, in fact a healthier course of action both for the environment and for our selves. The books Meat: a benign extravagance and The vegetarian myth are excellent rebuttals (or, at least, alternative viewpoints) to contemporary environmentalism. Also, check out this website on the book Against the Grain, which gives a concise summary of the most pertinent arguments against, well, grains.
I think vegetarianism is misguided (duh). Sure, gorging ourselves on grains and not eating cows might help sustainability for another couple decades or so, but when it comes down to it, large scale agriculture is going to destroy the planet just as easily (if not quite as quickly) as raising livestock. Vegetarianism is a band-aid, and a bit of a shitty one, at that. The real answer to sustainability issues is local, cradle to grave husbandry. Grow some plants, pick them, grow some grass to replenish the soil and keep it in place (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do), have cows eat the grass and poop on it to fertilize it (something large scale agriculture doesn’t do) and eat the cows then grow plants there again. While impossible with America’s current subsidy and large-farm system, this type of ecosystem maximizes the health of the planet and our foods and our bodies, while minimizing negative impacts.
Something else to consider when we’re discussing environmental impact of foods is the level of processing. If you’re a vegetarian and still eating foods out of boxes, you are consuming combinations of vegetable oils, different compounds, and all sorts of poisons (hyperbole? perhaps) that required transportation to the facility, manufacture, packaging, and later transportation. Legitimately, very, really, legitimately, if you’re eating foods out of boxes your environmental impact may be much higher than someone eating a whole cow once every couple weeks.
What’s more, American culture tends to prize just a few cuts of meat. This is ridiculous. Organs and other less-celebrated cuts of meat are incredibly nutritious. In fact, the lack of organ-eating in contemporary culture has been attributed to all sorts of nutrient deficiencies, particularly vitamin A, vitamin B12, iron, copper, folate, selenium, zinc, and CoQ10. If people begin eating WHOLE animals, and stopped wasting so much of them, their environmental impact would go WAY, way down. I eat a lot of meat, sure, but my favorite meals are chicken stomachs, chicken hearts, beef liver, and beef tongue. I eat all the parts other people throw away. Does this mean I have “zero” environmental impact? Not really. But it’s a hell of a lot better than eating just a part of an animal and throwing the rest of it away, or even eating, as I mentioned before, anything grown on a monoculture or produced in a factory.
A lot of the literature on vegetarianism comes out of universities and the like, and a culture of sustainability dogma (most of which I’m all for, so long as it’s free thinking). A lot of this sentiment, however, and the cultural zeitgeist comes from industry. We all hear vegetarians talking about the evil powers of the meat industry, but what about the evil powers of the wheat, soy, and corn industries, which are vastly larger than the meat industry, and on which the contemporary meat industry actually depends? American culture with regards to food, sustainability, health, and funding is a giant clusterfuck, and there’s no way around it. The best way, imho, to say ‘fuck you’ to that giant machine is to eat as locally as possible. Or, instead of in my opinion, but in my practice, it’s to move to Taiwan and daily eat a duck Wang Peng butchered and deep fried this morning.
Finally, there are about eight million health reasons to eat animals. Here are a few:
Complete protein, for one. You won’t get it from plants or legumes no matter how much vegetarians tell you otherwise (fuck quinoa!).
Getting enough healthy fat in your diet is another problem with vegetarian diets. Vegetarian diets tend to be low in fat in general, which is BAD for your metabolism, your brain, your blood sugar, and your hormonal function. What’s more, the content of the fat in vegetarian diets itself is high in omega 6-rich vegetable oils, which raise systemic inflammation and leads to all sorts of inflammation related diseases including heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, cancer, and alzheimers.
Another big one is nutrients. Contrary to popular opinion, which is nuts, by the way, meat is full of vitamins and minerals and is in fact far and away more nutrient dense than grains. One important nutrient is iron. Others are zinc, selenium, folic acid and phosphorous. Red meat is rich in vitamins A, Bs (12, the biggie), D, E, and K. B12 is particularly important since it is found in no plants. If you’re a vegetarian and you’re not supplementing, you’re in big trouble.
Note also that all of the vitamins and minerals contained in plants are less readily absorbed by our guts than those found in protein and fats. This is because they are tied up with fiber and must first be broken down by gut flora. Vegetarian literature often espouses that you not only can but SHOULD get all your vitamins and minerals from plants. This is ridiculous. Common vegetarianism asserts, for example, that you get your vitamin A from carrots, but this just isn’t true. Carrots instead have beta carotene in them, which is converted to vitamin A by bacteria in your gut, but only at a rate of, at maximum, 30 percent. There is WAY more vitamin A in animal fat and in animal livers than in plants, and its readily available to use.
Any vitamin that you digest in plant form must first be handled by your gut flora, and then absorbed, but the thing is that plants–especially wheat–often have lectins in them, which inhibit nutrient absorption. This is potentially responsible for all sorts of nutrient deficiencies in developed countries, particular Ca and Mg. Think you have osteoporosis because you don’t eat enough dairy? How come Americans, who consume more dairy than any other country in the world, have the highest rates of osteoporosis in the world, too? How come cultures that have never come in contact with dairy have perfect bone health? That’s because (I assert!) they eat a natural, high fat, relatively high animal, no grain, no sugars diet. For serious.
What about antioxidants? Forget it. You “need” antioxidants to fight free radicals, which are produced primarily by carbohydrate metabolism. If you’re not putting shit like grains and excessive sugars in your body, then you don’t need antioxidants to fight them. Why dig a hole in the ground for your ladder so you can paint your basement windows?
Oh, and as a final remark, if you want to be a vegetarian for religious reasons, be my guest. That’s cool.
And that might be about it for right now, friends. I’m sure there is plenty more. Have more to add on my side? Drop me a line. Want to fight about how poorly cited my diatribe was? Please respond with some links in kind. I 800 percent acknowledge that you might beat me silly with a good argument, so go ahead. I want to be smarter, and I want you to open up my mind.
That said, vegetarianism was so 2008.