Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, and an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food. The body, these water heads imagine, is a temple that should not be polluted by animal protein. It’s healthier, they insist, though every vegetarian waiter I’ve worked with is brought down by any rumor of a cold.”
– Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential
Surly star chef Anthony Bourdain sure doesn’t mince words, but don’t we all secretly lament the absence of ‘real food’ at vegetarian parties?
And some of us who were made ill on a well-intended vegetable diet admit we’re fed up with taking flack for our heritage diet.
“Vegetarianism was a tool to curb lust, promoted by a couple of nutcases,” says Sally Fallon, co-founder of the non-profit traditional foods movement, the Weston Price Foundation.
Those who assume the North American vegetarian movement was born out of health concerns will be surprised to find out that Sally’s right. It all began with temperance advocates Sylvester Graham, of graham crackers, and John Kellogg- yep, the Corn Flake man. The vegetarian diet was all about controlling our insatiable… solo habits. Dr. Kellogg’s massive book from the late 1880s, Plain Facts for Old and Young: Embracing the Natural History of Hygiene of Organic Life, is resplendent with dietary admonishments. “Flesh, condiments, eggs, tea, coffee…all stimulants have a powerful influence directly upon the reproductive organs… the passions are aroused,” he writes. Worse, “the helpless infant imbibes the essence of libidinous desires with its mother’s milk.”
So, we’ve got a corn flake and a Graham cracker, both obsessed with lewd thoughts and constipation. In addition to a strict, caffeine-free vegetarian diet, Kellogg advocated mutilating women with carbolic acid to protect them from self-indulgence. Impacted fecal matter, he claimed, was responsible for stimulating sexual desire by causing pressure on the demon organs. (I’m not making this stuff up. I’m fortunate enough to have an 1889 edition of the Plain Facts book, loaded with dietary advice on avoiding the ‘most foul’ conditions of femininity and the debasement of nocturnal emissions.)
And that’s how North American vegetarianism was born.
Maybe you still feel a twinge of guilt every time you choose fish or beef when you dine out. Even if you don’t give a damn about the cow, you care about heart attacks, cholesterol, cancer, and diabetes. You feel like a hypocrite after yoga. You have a friend who keeps inviting you back to the vegetarian side, an idyllic land where the grass grows greener, the lambs leap playfully through the meadow, and no one gets sick. She’s told you how you can get everything you need and none of the stuff you don’t from her rabbit food, and that we evolved as vegetarians anyhow.
It all sounds karma conscious, and very, very healthful. So why then do many one time vegetarians- like myself- come back from that peaceful meadow, ravenous for a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken?
There are a million reasons why people are vegetarians- but what if health isn’t really one of them?
Of course, even the most devoted carnivore knows that a vegetarian diet is the healthy way. We only love meat because we are bloodthirsty, greedy gluttons. Meat causes cancer. Fat causes diabetes. Saturated fat causes heart disease. Vegetarians live longer. Eat tiny portions of meat, and tons of grains and vegetables. Fibre cures cancer. Drink skim milk. Eat ‘clean.’ Eggs are loaded with cholesterol- fat bombs. Most of the world is vegan. Vegetarian countries don’t have disease. Low carbers are lunatics and Atkins died from his own carnivorous greed. Vegetarians don’t get sick, right?
But isn’t vegetarianism the healthiest diet in the world? Isn’t most of the world’s diets plant based?
Isn’t it proven that our greedy meat based diet causes heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and more, and that vegetarians are healthier?
And aren’t we really supposed to be plant eaters, like the chimpanzee?
And can’t you get all the vitamins and minerals you need from plants, while avoiding the worst offenders like fat and cholesterol?
And isn’t the veggie diet more environmentally conscious, and more humane?
No, no, no, no, and yes. Well, one out of five ain’t bad.
I became a vegetarian when I moved across the street from a chicken slaughterhouse. It seemed like an obvious time to make that move toward health. I learned to choke back the soy like a champion and load up on all those healthy grains. The more mysterious ailments I acquired, the more I cut back on the tiny bits of cheese or eggs I was still consuming. I bought ten copies of the great guru John Robbin’s Diet for a New America and passed them out like biblical tracts. I couldn’t imagine such a compassionate man telling anything but the gospel truth. That protein is killing us, and we should subsist on grain, legumes, and veggies. I love vegetables. No one makes 24 Vegetable Soup, but I did. My super salads were sought out far and wide. I used veggies no one else had even heard of. I still do. But still, all I could think of was meat. Underneath my mandatory revulsion- “Gawd, I hope the chicken didn’t touch my plate,”- I secretly dreamed of a giant slab of steak, blue and bloody inside and perfectly charred on the grill. One day I broke down and ran toward that great big bucket in the sky, sat outside with a family pack and scarfed down an entire lifetime’s worth of KFC. My vegetarian days had come to a screeching halt.
I thought I was a greedy, fat slob. It was years before I began to understand that I was starving for meat. And that I’m not the only vegetarian who went out like that.
“For me, it was KFC original recipe drumsticks with mashed potatoes and gravy. I went KFC, got some, and, in your words, tore into it like a starving animal,” says ex-veg Robert Docker, a music education grad student at Penn State University. He was vegetarian for 16 years, a journey that began with a desire for increased health when his dad developed heart problems. He still believes today that he’d be healthier as a vegetarian, but there are few veggie options in his new town.
Star C. Spider, an alternate reality event planner, is an extremely reluctant ex-vegetarian. “I feel sad that we have to eat creatures to have the best possible diet.” She eats as little fish and fowl as possible, but “to be honest I kept craving chicken. When I would smell it I would immediately want it. When I would think about what I wanted to eat I, more often then not, thought about chicken. I kind of took it that my body was trying to tell me something so I had some chicken.” Star was pretty healthy overall but” was anemic off and on throughout my vegetarian life… I believe at one point I was Vitamin B deficient as well, but I never had any major problems. Of course I have no idea what (if any) the long-term effects could be.” A positive thinker, Star hopes technology will create real solutions. “Thanks to genetic modification and various technologies, I am sure it will not be long now until we can get all of our nutrients from guilt free sources.”
Teacher and musician Megan Benjafield went on and off the vegetarian diet for years. “The first time I stopped being a vegetarian, it was because my mother forced me. … After that, it was almost always because of bacon.” While Megan was fairly sure at one time that veg was healthiest, now she’d like to see different kinds of studies. “I believe that the evidence about a vegetarian diet being healthiest is probably as valid as you can get in a study that has as many variables as human diet and health. I believe that before this newest movement towards organic, local, non-factory farmed foods; vegetarians were a demographic that consciously cared more about what they ate. I believe that if you were to currently do a study of vegetarians and ‘100-mile dieters’ you would probably find absolutely no measurable differences.”
While there are plenty of stories on how healthy vegetarians are, there are plenty of stories that show frightening deficiencies.
“Vegans get sick. All vegans. It is a question of how long it takes,” says Dr. Ron Schmid, a Connecticut naturopath who knows ‘natural’ food means animal derived foods.
And Tom Billing, part of Beyond Veg: Transcending Outdated Dogmas, is still a vegetarian, though he has renounced his early experiments in fruitarianism. He uses some raw milk products now and is far healthier for it. Beyond Veg gives forum to those who suffered the extremities of puritanical vegetarian thinking. The site posts all kinds of evidence of our carnivorous past, and gives voice to vegans and vegetarians who have been made sick by propaganda or their own good intentions. The site speaks against the “moral ostracism that makes it difficult for former vegetarians to be heard or believed.”
“No reason to kill animals if you can be healthy without eating them,” Billings tells me. But part of the mission is to set the record straight on the fallacies of radical animal-free diets. “Raw fooders are under a delusion – they are never ‘sick’, it is simply a ‘detox phase’. They are lying to themselves. They see no need for a doctor, instead they think the symptoms will simply pass after they fast or do some other dietary penance/ritual, after which they will surely achieve the exalted state of dietary purity and health that they seek.”
Dean Esmay shares his experience on Beyond Veg. “I suffered from constantly fluctuating energy levels, moodiness, heart palpitations, racing pulse, very low HDL cholesterol, and moderately elevated triglycerides,” he writes, despite a very low fat diet high in plants.
Chris Masterjohn runs a website about “the most demonized nutrient,” cholesterol. He promotes all the essential nutrients in animal foods after he started losing his teeth and having disabling panic attacks on a strict vegan diet. “I thought this dietary change would lead me to a paradise of abundant health, but I was sadly mistaken,” he writes. “I began having several full-blown panic attacks per week … I was overall lethargic and apathetic. And then, I went to the dentist and was struck with the final blow. Fifteen cavities, and two dead teeth needing root canals! How could this be? I had been sure that, since eating animal protein was what caused the body to acidify and leach calcium from bones and teeth, I would be immune to tooth decay. And the phytoestrogens in soy that supposedly help assimilate calcium should have been an extra defense, sealing shut for good the possibility of a cavity.”
And then, like many of us who were starving for nutrients in meat, “I gorged. I ate lots of red meat, and ate it every day. Within two weeks, my panic attacks completely stopped. For good.”
Greg Westbrook, a former proponent of the famous Hallelujah Diet (strictly vegan as per the Garden of Eden) now advocates Plan B- from the rest of the Bible, including animal products. He found endless nutritional deficiencies and illnesses in those on the diet, such as muscle wasting, slumping, scattered thinking, thyroid problems, fatigue, depression, and extreme weight loss. He suffered himself and reconsidered his original vegan hopes. Today he is evangelical about showing vegans the way back to health. “In spite of all the rhetoric from vegan diet teachers, there has never been a civilization in the entire world that has been able to survive on the vegan diet. Every culture depends on some type of animal products to a degree, be it eggs, milk, cheese, or meat (even insects in third world countries). This includes the Hunza people who are often falsely represented as vegan even though they eat dairy and some meat,” he writes. (Learn more about his 360 after his ideals made his whole family and his followers sick, at www.chetday.com.)
There’s a pretty persistent and persuasive faction of health consciousness today refuting much “common knowledge.” While promoting high fat, meat-heavy diets seems tantamount to insanity, the more layers of propaganda you peel away, the more obvious the facts become. Real Food advocate Nina Planck, raw meat promoter Dr. Ron Schmid, fat fanatics Gary Taubes and Jennifer McLagan, and dentist-turned-anthropologist Dr Weston Price and the Weston Price Foundation are not breaking any news. This stuff is old, as old as the human race. In the beginning, we ate meat, fish, fruits, veggies, and raw dairy. We ate far more than we eat now. We were strong and healthy the world over, without cancer, heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, or teeth defects. Today, cultures that rely on fish and meat and bones and yummy weird stuff like brains are incredibly healthy. The briefly trendy idea pushed by Baskin-Robbins heir John Robbins that like our DNA match, the chimpanzee, we are natural born vegetarians is now hopelessly outdated. Indeed, we know the chimp is not a vegetarian after all! Chimps eat…mmm, termites and insects, and each other!
Sally Fallon, whose Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to “restoring nutrient-dense foods to the American diet through education, research and activism,” gets pretty blunt about the alleged studies we think we’re seeing. “What studies? There are no studies. What you find is a lot of junk science.”
For example, we all know those veggie soy centenarians, the Okinawans. To live long, go vegetarian! Except that they aren’t. They eat no artificial foods, lots of raw fish, and loads of lard. Yes, lard.
Toronto author Jennifer McLagan loves lard. Right now she’s in Paris, eating lots of it. Her new book, Fat, celebrates the reviled substance. Most of us hate fat even as we crave it. We think of it as greed and death, but it is the most dense source of nutrients, in the most available form for our body to use. (McLagan’s first book, Bones, is about the forgotten fountain of minerals- animal bones.) Jennifer took some time out of her heart-healthy fat fest (you bet I said it out loud) to talk to me about blubber.
“Fat is just as indispensable to our health as it is to our cooking. Every cell in our body needs fat. Our brain and hormones rely on fat to function, and fat supports our immune system, fights disease, and protects our liver. Fat is the body’s preferred fuel, providing us with more than twice the amount of energy as the same quantity of carbohydrates and protein. It helps the body to absorb nutrients, calcium, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat and protein are found together in nature because it’s the fat that helps us digest the protein. …Animal fats have lots of good fatty acids that fight disease, lower cholesterol, and have a good ratio of essential fatty acids. You can survive quite well eating only well-marbled meat…By replacing animal fat with vegetable oils rich in linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, many of us now consume up to twenty times more omega-6 than omega-3. An excess of omega-6 has been linked to cancer, heart disease, liver damage, learning disorders, weight gain, and malfunction of the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems…When this ratio is out of balance it results in illness and depression. After more than 30 years of reducing our intake of animal fats, we are not healthier, but only heavier.”
Jennifer’s not nuts and these very old-fashioned ideas are just beginning to come back into popularity. Your grandmother knew it. Our ancestors ate way more meat than we eat now. They ate bones, brains, and organs, and prized the fat above all else. Some tribes then and now eat meat and fish nearly exclusively.
Dr. Ron likes fat, too, but the author of Traditional Food Is Your Best Medicine also advocates eating animal glands and bones, and sells supplements of these foods. He also advocates a mixture of raw and cooked meats and vegetables. I asked his advice for those recovering from vegetarian deficiencies. “Lots of animal foods and fats, which contain the critical nutrients missing in modern diets. Avoidance of simple carbohydrates – sweets, including ‘natural’ sweets, refined foods of all kinds, and even most fruit for most people. Eat meat, as undercooked as is enjoyable, seafoods, eggs and butter. Complement that with lots of raw vegetables – salads of mixed greens, etc. Anyone can easily eat like that. Use judiciously chosen supplements like high-vitamin cod liver oil to supply nutrients that are found only in the fat of pasture fed animals and seafood.”
This may seem outlandish to those who have been away from the hunt or the farm for too long. But his work, like that of Sally Fallon, is based on the extraordinary studies of the pioneering Dr. Weston Price. During the 1930s, Dr. Price, an Ontario dentist, searched the world over looking for vegetarian societies, where he expected the most radiant health. To his surprise, he found that without exception, the more meat and fish a culture ate, the healthier they were. Primitive societies of his day, and through history, were free of cancer and heart disease and had strong bones and teeth. Wherever grain foods or artificial foods increased, so did tooth decay, bad bones, and disease. Societies that lived almost entirely on meat were not suffering – they were completely free of chronic disease, dental problems and mental illnesses.
Dr. Ron is one of thousands who now follow the work of Dr. Weston Price, continuing his research. Indeed, the Weston Price Foundation is a growing body of researchers, scientists, advocates, doctors, and concerned citizens who are helping to dismantle the futile and damaging propaganda that has somehow saturated modern society. The foundation questions our skewed belief that animal foods cause disease. We are eating less of them than ever before, and we are all sick. Instead of blaming old-fashioned foods for our health problems, these bright thinkers understand that new foods cause disease. If animal fat caused heart disease and cancer, why was there so little until this past century?
And no, the Foundation is not sold out to the beef or dairy industry. They are independently funded by private donors and consumer advocates. In fact, they do not support the meat or dairy industry at all, but urge the public to support small farms, raw milk purveyors, and pasture-fed animals. Animals must eat their own natural diet in a natural setting to produce the kind of meat we need most. Grass-fed animal products are far more nourishing.
The Foundation produces compelling evidence that disease is caused by sugar, vegetable oils, artificial fats, chemical foods, and unfermented soy products. They also cover thoroughly the deficiencies of an animal-free diet. Did you think B12 was the only thing you couldn’t get from plants?
The old fashioned idea of ‘complete protein’ is still totally relevant to human health. Meat delivers protein in perfectly balanced proportions, with all the amino acids at the right levels. No plant foods are complete proteins…not even soy, which includes all of them but is extremely low in methionine. Sally Fallon explains what goodies are lacking. “Vitamin A, Vitamin D, cholesterol-which is an important nutrient, B12, and special fatty acids like DHA and EPA.”. In addition, she says, “Many nutrients are extremely difficult to absorb from plant foods. These include calcium, zinc, magnesium, copper, iron, and B6.” There’s also carnitine, the very name derived from carne, or meat, its only real source. (There are trace elements of carnitine in some veggies- 0.2 mg in a serving of asparagus, versus 95 mg in a serving of steak.)
What many vegetarians do not know is that the trace elements of these nutrients that appear in plants are not nearly enough for the body. Furthermore, we have been misled to think the body can easily make Vitamin A or DHA or Vitamin D out of other nutrient combinations. But without robust nutrients and animal fat, our bodies have a hard time doing so.
These fat and protein deficiencies and the excessive carbs and vegetable oils lead to “ALL the illnesses,” Sally explains. The diseases we think come from meat are from new foods and from meat deficiency. “Tooth decay, psychological problems like depression and anxiety, fatigue, bone and joint problems…so it begins.”
How to get back on track? “The most important thing is to get back to eating lots of fats from pasture fed animals, drink raw full-fat milk, and take cod liver oil.”
There’s seldom much debate over B12- known as ‘the only nutrient’ you can’t get in plants, though very radical and dangerous vegan advocates will tell you that algae and tempeh have plenty of it. (Plant sources are rare and are not usable by the human body.) We don’t need much B12, and our body stores it up, so deficiency may take some time to reveal itself. But it’s one of the most important nutrients, involved in the metabolism of every cell of the body, in fatty acid synthesis, and energy production. It is structurally the most complicated vitamin, and absorption can be quite difficult. It is also fragile, and easily destroyed by heat. Hence, even diehard carnivores might not be storing it, and that is why raw meat, raw milk, and insects are traditional foods eaten all over the world. Vegan guru John Robbins famously stated that we don’t need to worry about it, as there would be enough of the vitamin on the dirt on our carrots! (This is a fallacy. Vegetable bacteria sources are analogs.) His faulty rhetoric dangerously misled us from questioning how a vegan diet can be nature’s intention, if it’s missing this integral component.
Recent science has shown that in addition to metabolism and DNA protection, B12 is a detoxifier of heavy metals, protecting us from our toxic environment. Plus, it helps the arteries produce heart protective enzymes, and raise methionine levels, also a heart watcher. (Recall that methionine is low in veggie sources.)
Sally Pacholok has a mission to educate people about B12. Her book, Could it be B12? explains the extreme importance of this nutrient in every single function of the brain, from depression to dementia. She argues that malabsorption of this vitamin is exceedingly common.
As for vegan groups who underplay the importance of this nutritional cornerstone, Sally tells me, “Vegetarian societies are really doing a major disservice. It’s a mathematical equation…Eventually you are going to become deficient. There’s a major risk of neurological problems.” Sally says low B12 levels may account for a vast array of today’s health problems, especially psychiatric ones. “I firmly believe every person with a psychiatric issue should be screened.” These can include postpartum depression and old-age dementia. The problem with supplementing is that those who need it are the ones who can’t absorb it through the digestive tract, and so Sally recommends B12 shots. “There’s no money to be made,” she says, “Therapy is cheap. About $12 for a vial. You may have someone who is depressed, and you allow the neurological damage to continue by overlooking the obvious.”
Another fallacy is that we can get adequate DHA from plants. Our brains are made up of DHA- the stuff of fish. Nina Planck explained to me why fish derived DHA is superior to plant sources. “We don’t know yet. We only know that your body has to take the fats in flax seed or walnuts and convert it to DHA. This conversion is slow and uncertain. Some people cannot do it. Trans fats block it. Babies aren’t good at it. And the result is that as little as 1% of the plant-based omega-3 fats (such as ALA) is actually converted to EPA and then DHA. So plants are a poor source. ”
Raw fish? More eggs? Bones and brains? To a culture so far removed from the hunt and the farm, our version of natural comes out of a machine. Our health foods come in boxes with ingredients we can’t pronounce. Our food guide asks us to use nature’s oldest foods most sparingly, and add 8-16 servings of bread or pasta- foods that in history are almost as new as refined sugar! We separate the yolk from the white, or worse, buy artificial chemical eggbeaters, and we think that rancid, artificial soy oil is ‘heart healthy.’ Our healthy, hearty ancestors wouldn’t put this kind of crap into their mouths.
Still, it can be terrifying to make the logical leap back in time, when seemingly every ‘study’ warns us of saturated fat. And teachers like Keith Ackers put forth propaganda that sounds logical. “A diet that can lead to heart attacks, cancer, and numerous other diseases cannot be a natural diet,” he wrote in A Vegetarian Sourcebook. But when you take it all apart, the oldest diet in the world cannot cause the new plagues, no matter how much statistical evidence we hunt for.
If the sources I’ve already mentioned are not ‘hard science’ enough to satisfy your fear of cancer, then pick up science journalist Gary Taubes latest controversy.
In 2002, Taubes asked in New York Times, ‘What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?’ He defended the possibility that we are starving ourselves into disease by denying plenty of animal foods. There was an immediate flood of controversy and stone throwing. But the three-time winner of Science in Society journalism awards and former Discover Magazine editor proclaims in his new book Good Calories, Bad Calories that everything we think about health today is wrong. It’s a fascinating trek through bumbling bureaucracies. He makes the point that upon analysis, the studies that are cited as proof that fat causes disease actually show the opposite. It’s a long, long story that basically ends with the experts finding it impossible to admit they’ve been wrong, costing countless lives.
The book is stuffed with hard facts and dissections of information, with over one hundred pages of footnotes, making it almost boring to read, despite the radical subject matter. “An impressive combination of rigorous logic and no-nonsense empiricism to thwart medical dogmas,” wrote Nassim Taleb.
Though his book makes no mention of Weston Price, Taubes did say in an online interview that he thinks ‘Weston Price is an unimpeachable source.’ He didn’t believe some of Price’s outrageous anthropology stories, so he began to research them. Across the board, the good dentist wasn’t making anything up, and Taubes found his conclusions thorough and accurate.
What it all comes down to is Real Food, and former vegan Nina Planck brings us back to reality with her beautifully written book. Like me, she was led back to health by Sally Fallon’s chock-full cookbook Nourishing Traditions. Like me, she was thrilled with the ancient wisdom in Sally’s book but intimidated by the unapologetic advocacy of animal foods. There was no talk about moderation, but lots of talk about boiling bones and using liberal amounts of butter. Wanting to know for herself, Nina went straight to the “unimpeachable source,” and read Price’s tome, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. So began her journey back to real food.
Nina told me about her vegetarian and vegan years. “I thought it was the healthiest way to eat. I thought that if less meat and less cholesterol and less saturated fat were good, then none at all would be even better. When I (slowly) resumed my omnivorous diet I felt better in every way. Eventually the change was enormous, but it was actually gradual. This was the picture before: 20 pounds overweight, while constantly fighting more weight by running six miles daily, poor digestion, colds and flu each year, dry skin, brittle fingernails, PMS, and depression. Of course no doctor ever suggested that my perfect diet could be responsible for these symptoms. But I want to emphasize that I don’t overeat, I don’t eat much white flour, and I eat a lot of fruit and vegetables every day.”
Nina’s highly readable book explains important stuff in ways we can absorb it. I didn’t know that you require fat to absorb any vitamins, for example, or that milk has its own enzymes that help us digest lactose. Hence, many are ‘lactose intolerant’ only because lactase has been removed from real milk by pasteurization. For those of us who aren’t biochemistry majors, Nina’s work is truly helpful. From simple vs. complex carbs to the evolution of our brain with the help of fish, Nina holds our hand and leads us to the most important legacy that is every human’s right: real food.
But don’t expect any vegetarian bashing. “I admire and respect vegans and vegetarians for their effort and their ethics,” she told me. “We can agree on one thing: industrial food is a rotten business, for animals and people. But I’m compelled to report the facts as I see them.”
It’s interesting that this new faction of natural advocacy – meat – is also at that the forefront of compassionate farming advocacy. Humanely raised animals are far more nutritious, and have a definite ecological advantage over factories. (There’s lots of info online about sustainable farming methods.) Recall the stories of the grateful native hunters who used every part of the caribou and gave thanks. This is definitely my ideal: I don’t want animals to be tortured for our food.
Neither does Marie Crawford, director of the Animal Alliance of Canada, and a longtime vegan who won’t ever go back. “I am fit, healthy, work out six times per week, have tons of energy and feel good both inside and outside for it all. Why on earth would I change?”
Marie became vegan while working for the Alliance. She was asked to investigate the reason factory animals were falling down. She found, “Gangrene, jaundice, prolapsed uterus, tumors in eyes, tumors throughout body, septicemia …broken bones… Then, the last shocker – the report would document which parts of the animal was to be “saved” for human consumption. A sickly, gangrened or jaundiced carcass would still have pieces hacked off to be sold in grocery stores – sometimes just the ‘right hock’ – the rest condemned. This exercise, coinciding with lots of information I had about the benefits of a plant-centered diet, was the main reason I went veg.”
She perceives our national appetite as the result of the “meat industry, creating the market and feeding people way too much of what we don’t need.” She believes that “plants and grains are certainly a more effective and direct way to feed people, and there would be more food to go around if we stopped farming animals. Of course, if the population continues to grow unchecked as it has for so long, perhaps no food source can sustain us.” She is not concerned about any lack of nutrients, careful to “combine my amino acids properly when I make meals (always have a vegetable, a grain and a pulse (kidney beans or the like) with every meal). ” Marie believes that even food like eggs are dangerous because they are “extraordinarily high in saturated fat, and the so-called calcium ‘bonus’ of milk is cancelled out by the extraordinarily high protein content.” Marie says, “When one eats meat they may not have to worry about getting enough iron, protein or B12, but they DO (or should) worry about too much saturated fat, too much protein and an overworked digestive system, not to mention the incredible impact on the environment from the energy sucking drain farming has on the environment.”
History and future science might refute her concerns about saturated fat and excess protein. But Marie knows firsthand what kind of horrifying diseased animals make it to our plate, and the awful suffering they must endure. I don’t believe we should feel guilty for the diet nature gave us, but it is our duty to support humane farming methods. Let’s shift consumer demand from cheap, sick, tortured animals and begin voting for compassion and poison-free food. It is not our duty to abandon the most important part of our diet but to be incredibly grateful and recognize the gift of life. Be willing to pay for that when you can. Support farms that sell free roaming and pasture fed animal foods. Get involved with consumer advocacy for humane treatment of farmed animals. If an animal food means you suffer less pain and disease, try to return the favor. We are accountable to those who suffer for us. (Please see the sources listed below for organic or free roaming source suggestions.)
Venerable Jamyang Khedrup, an ordained Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition, generously shed some wisdom on the issue. Recognizing that all vegetarian cultures have been religious, not health based, he shares some lore from Buddhism- including the surprising fact that the Buddha himself ate flesh if it was offered to him. He says the Dalai Lama rejoices over “vegetarianism and spreading compassion for animals.”
Khedrup says, “My take on this issue is that the modern meat industry has been shown to abuse and exploit animals. Since it has been proven it is possible for most people to live in a healthy way on a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, this seems advisable as it eliminates the suffering we cause in the world (and hence, from a Buddhist perspective, our negative karma), it is also hard for me to meditate on compassion for all sentient beings as advocated in the Mahayana scriptures when I am eating some of those sentient beings. That being said, for those who find their health is compromised by a vegetarian diet, reason would dictate they should take some fish or meat. I wouldn’t want people’s health to suffer due to following these principles… I would like to see factory farms eliminated altogether, and animals that are used for the nourishment of human beings living life as nature intended – under a blue sky in un-crowded conditions. Omnivores should investigate the sources of their meat, and attempt to purchase meat from producers who care about the lives of the animals in their care.”
It can be stressful to sort out conflicting information. The only real way to sort it out is to look back, and look all over the world. And when we do, we find some irrefutable facts that need no sorting: that ideally, we minimize a creature’s suffering before eating it; that vegan eating is a brand new experiment in history that no human society has ever participated in until the 1940s; that all cultures have valued animal foods, seafoods, and fats most highly of their food supply. Celebrations revolved around these foods; that all vegetarian cultures worldwide are so because of religious belief, not out of health intentions. And that none of these are or have been vegan; and that unfermented soy foods, grains, legumes, refined flours, sugar, chemicals, and vegetable oils are the new kids on the block. The diseases we attribute to meat and animal fat have only been around since we cut down on animal foods and began introducing these.
How crazy are we to demand cheap food from tortured diseased sources instead of putting our money where our mouth is? How crazy are we to think artificial processed egg-like chemicals, or egg whites only, are healthier than eggs? Pretty crazy.
We must look back to fully reclaim our human health. As Nina Planck told me, “The future for omnivores is to make our diet clean and ethical, not to remake our biology.” Our DNA has been the same for a very long time, and the health we enjoyed in simpler times can be ours again. We can truly have our steak and eat it, too.
Don’t Take My Word For It
Weston A. Price Foundation has hundreds of articles by various doctors, nutritionists, and consumer advocates: www.westonaprice.org
Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook That Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Sally Fallon and Dr. Mary Enig
Chris Masterjohn’s site on cholesterol’s bad rap. But we can’t live without it: www.cholesterol-and-health.com
Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes
‘What if it’s all been a Big Fat Lie?’ Gary Taubes’ NY Times article.
Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan
Real Food by Nina Planck
The Queen of All Fat: Why Omega-3s were removed from the Western Diet and What we can do to Replace Them by Susan Allport
Could it be B12? by Sally Pacholok
Traditional Foods Are Your Best Medicine, and The Untold Story of Milk by Dr. Ron Schmid
Health Food Junkies by Dr. Steven Bratman
‘The Myths and Truths about Vegetarianism’ by Dr. Stephen Byrnes
American Council on Science and Health, ‘Why I am not a Vegetarian’ by Dr. William T. Jarvis
The Compassionate Carnivore by Catherine Friend
Humane Meat Sources
These listings have an Ontario bias for the most part. Wherever you are in North America, try Googling “pasture fed meat” “grass fed” or local family farms. Don’t be shy to call up a farm nearby and find out their practices. Head to the farmer’s markets and ask each farmer about their use of hormones, antibiotics, and compassion. If you have Mennonite or Amish farmers in your state or province, that’s a great place to start.
www.eatwellguide.org : downloadable pdf files for all over North America, giving some local guides to smaller scale farms, organic food sources, grass-fed pasture animals, or hormone free foods.
www.humanefood.ca: a great web portal about the horrors of factory farming- horrors for our fuzzy friends and those who eat them. Lists ways you can help, grocery sources with more-humane food supplies, current campaigns to reduce animal suffering.
www.eatkind.net: there is a wealth of information here about kinder eating but there is definitely a vegetarian bias. If you are recovering from a vegetarian diet, remember to read health-related information armed with the truth of your ‘new’ ancient knowledge. However, the information on animal treatment and compassion for farm food can only help us move in a more ideal direction.
www.sustainabletable.org: a great celebration of local eating with all kinds of information for sustainable eating.