Debunking the old Vegetarianisms: Why we eat meat

Posted on October 5, 2011

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A friend sent me this article this morning: “How humans are not physically created to eat meat” and I thought I would take the opportunity to voice my opinion on the subject.  I realize that this article is by no means a comprehensive manifesto of vegetarianism, but rather a good representation of popular arguments and beliefs against meat eating.  Further, my blog cannot be a complete, final, and fully referenced treatise on omnivory, and I intend to stay within the reasonable limitations of a blog that people might actually finish reading. I chose to write this blog today because I think the article sent to me is a good summary of the common arguments for vegetarianism – weak pseudo-scientific arguments that convinced many people including myself at one time.

What I will provide here is my professional opinion based on a lifetime of personal and professional consideration of the arguments for and against meat-eating from innumerable sources. I realize that others have come to different conclusions, but I strongly believe that well balanced omnivory including high quality animal products is both a sustainable choice and essential to human health.

Before we enter the fray, it is also absolutely essential that I express my unequivocal opposition to industrial animal farming, the widespread excessive consumption of it’s products, and all their health, environmental, and ethical perils. I observe that most of the popular arguments against meat are really arguments against industrial farming.

– “Humans are not designed to eat meat.” It is ridiculous to compare humans to tigers and deer; or rather predatory full-carnivores and grass-eating ruminants. However, we absolutely digest meat better than we do grass, which we cannot digest at all! It is a silly comparison. Many apes are omnivores like us. Many, many animals are omnivores, like us. If you try to alter an animals natural diet they generally do not fare well.

– Karl von Linne, the only scientist mentioned in the article, lived in the 18th century. Our understanding of the human body and it’s evolution has changed slightly since then.  The scientific community today generally regards human anatomy as consistent with other omnivores.

– The point form comparison of “the anatomy of man with that of carnivorous and herbivorous animals” does not include the essential comparison to other natural omnivores. It is serves no purpose to compare humans to pure carnivores or grass eating ruminants. It’s like saying we should never ever swim because we don’t have fins and some people drown.

– “Meat putrefies within 4 hours after consumption and the remnants cling to the walls of the intestines for 14-21 days.” Everything we eat putrefies, it’s called digestion. It does not “cling” in a healthy person eating a balanced diet.

– “…eating raw bloody meat disgust us as humans. This is why we must cook it and season it to buffer the taste of the flesh.”  This is ridiculous. Note the popularity of sushi, rare steak, various meat tartars, and other raw delicacies worldwide and the fact that numerous living cultures consider completely raw flesh and blood indispensable. The Inuit and the Masi immediately pop to mind. I believe that if we feel disgust for animal consumption and it’s processes, that this represents a very recent neurotic disconnect from nature that inadvertently permits and perpetuates the reprehensible practices of industrial farming by radical disassociation.

– “Meat raises cholesterol to unhealthy levels“, etc, etc. Again this refers to industrially farmed meat and what are essentially sick animals. The meat of naturally fed and raised animals consumed in moderation does not cause ill effects on human health. To the contrary, fats from healthy animals modulate “bad” cholesterol and are anti-inflammatory.

– “The Chinese believe that the chi or life force in your body is less when you consume meat and so do the Indians with their ancient yogic principles.” False. Animal product consumption is at the foundation of all Asian traditional medicines, and potential risks and syndromes of abstinence can be found discussed in any modern Traditional Chinese Medicine book. In “old-school” TCM books veganism is almost unknown except as a form of anorexia (a mental illness). The only major divergence can be found in Ayurveda (the traditional medicine of India) where vegetarianism is generally encouraged including abundant raw milk and derivatives, never veganism, however some meats and animal parts are considered medicinal. The healthy tolerance of dairy by an entire people has a huge genetic (and of course cultural) factor. The Chinese and other East Asians, like many Caucasians, do not tolerate milk very well, and so small amounts of certain animal products like bones, organs, skin, tendon, and meat; are considered indispensable to good health.

– “What vegetarians don’t get is the excess protein of the traditional American diet. This type of diet leads to liver toxicity, kidney overload and mineral deficiency diseases.” Yes, the “traditional American diet” featuring massive overconsumption of health-damaging  industrial meat and heavily processed foods is vastly excessive, and a vegan diet vastly deficient. Milk and eggs (or vegetarianism) as the “in between” options are not well-tolerated by many individuals and genetic groups, and in the context of industrial farming are just as cruel and unhealthy as the direct consumption of sick, sad, industrial animals.

– “The purpose of spiritual growth is to move away from the animal nature.” This statement is a self-righteous and disconnected affront to many great peoples and cultures around the world. Many deeply spiritual people and cultures eat meat. Even the Dalai Lama eats meat when the need arises; when climate, illness, geography, culture, and social grace dictates it. Traditional societies that maintain spiritual-vegetarian beliefs are of course influenced by geography, climate, historical food-safety issues, genetic factors, and many other factors.

– ALL the health issues mentioned as being “caused by meat consumption” are related, rather, to an unhealthy, unbalanced diet, low-quality animal products as well as a low-quality diet in general; a diet featuring inadequate fiber, nutrients, alkalizing factors, protective nutrients, healthy fats, etc. Exercise is also a major factor in daily bowel clearance and overall health, as well as one’s daily protein requirement.

– “Meat is costly and it is the most wasteful source of resources.” Animals are essential in traditional and biodynamic farming, completing the cycles involved in sustainable, natural farming practice, and providing essential sustenance to those living in colder climates. Where do you think vegetables and fresh fruit are flown in from in the winter, and at what cost to the environment?  Many meat animals survive well through the winter, and when naturally raised need not consume any food that could otherwise go to humans – another old myth.  In this way animals have been essential to human survival in colder climates.  Grazing animals are supposed to eat grass, an abundant renewable resource.  This also produces the most health-promoting meat for our consumption.  Naturally raised animals can consume mostly agricultural byproducts and renewable resources like grass.  This as well as their ability to thrive in most geographies makes them potentially low resource food sources which are essential to the natural cycles of traditional and biodynamic farming.  The problems arise when farming is industrialized and meat is consumed in excess.

– “As a meat eater I was constantly sick, tired, and overweight.” Huh, as a vegetarian I was constantly sick, tired, and overweight. Is it possible that people are all a bit different? Is it possible that health is broadly multifactorial? Is it possible that my ancestors, all of Northern European and Amerindian descent, throughout history, ate very little grain or beans, but rather, abundant meat balanced with green vegetables, roots, and berries, going back tens of thousands of years? And that perhaps I should also look to such a diet for optimal health?

It is fascinating to me that in 2011 in Montreal I now see more chronically ill vegans and vegetarians in my practice than I do those who are ill from excessive meat consumption. In consideration of a client’s innate constitution, genetic background, and health complaints, I find that I am much more likely to encourage the elimination of dairy products, eggs, wheat, refined sugars, or low-quality fats which are mostly from plant sources, than a reduction of meat.  With the modern popularity of vegetarianism and veganism in genetic groups that have no history of these practices, we are starting to see the other side of the coin. I encounter case after case, in study and practice, where increased consumption of carefully chosen animal products is the prescription for the client’s primary complaints.

Chronically ill vegans all present with a similar symptom group; emaciation and/or water retention, edema, anemia, skin conditions, intolerance to cold, frequent infections/colds/flus, low endurance, excessive sleep and/or insomnia, idiopathic pain, nervous conditions, headaches, depression, and anxiety.

Let me be clear that this does not happen to all vegans, at least not immediately.
Why? I think constitution, genetics, and climate are factors in how long a person can tolerate a totally vegan diet.

For an in depth look at raw foods and veganism from a traditional medicine perspective, please have a look at my past article: The Raw Food Conundrum.

So why are so many people such strong promoters of veganism? I believe it comes as a backlash to the meat and processed food preponderant Western diet devised in the last century.

I have a huge library of traditional herbalism and dietetics from around the world and there is not one that encourages veganism. There is simply no culture in human history that has been vegan and thrived. I would go so far as to say that prolonged veganism causes a deterioration of the body’s immune, regenerative, and nervous systems.

Vegetarianism then?  I never recommend a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet.  Eggs and particularly dairy products in their modern manifestations, are not health foods at all, and definitely do not deserve their own food group!  But that is another blog for another day…

I frequently do recommend, however, a diet that is mostly vegan PLUS fish and occasional birds or small game.  This diet seems to promote optimal health for those wishing to minimize meat, or those with a certain constitutional or genetic profile.  I specifically exclude any dairy products at all for those trying to correct acute health situations, however I see no reason to exclude meat entirely.

We have irretrieveably co-evolved with the animals that we are now designed to eat; to steward and propagate their species, to love them through humane husbandry and care of the environment; and finally to kill them with respect and efficiency befitting the gift they offer us and our species, and providing them with a death much less slow and painful of that generally offered outside of human hands.  Sadly modern industrial farming is often a disgusting antithesis to this ideal.

We can change the state of things by carefully choosing where we spend our money, becoming well informed consumers, and by demanding naturally produced, high quality animal products.

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There are many paths to health – there is no one correct path for everyone.  I help my clients choose their optimal diet based on their innate constitution, genetics, specific health concerns, and other factors.

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