…or Beans, or Sugar
I’ve considered differing titles for this post including “From Guilt-y to Guilt-Free Omnivorism”, or “Gasp! I’m a Meat Eater” (my fave), and one more, “Why Did I Buy Into Conventional Wisdom For So Long?”. I know that last one is going to rub some folks (notably, some of my veg*n and environmental friends) the wrong way. Speaking for myself, my intent is not to convert anyone to omnivorism, but I thought it worthwhile to share my thoughts on the issue because environmental lifestyle choices often fall under extreme scrutiny. Personally, I’m less concerned with what my fellow humans think about my own choices, though I thought I could lend a sympathetic voice to others who struggle each day with making the “right” choices in regards to eating, their health, and the environment. After all, we’re all on the same planet together, doing the best we can, right?
For the record, I was a vegetarian for a year when I was a young adult, then moved on to being a sporadic and often penitent meat eater. My diet over the last twenty years has centered on vegetables, fruit, dairy, beans, and whole grains with small amounts of meat here and there. Of course I indulged (it really wasn’t indulging, more like repeatedly dipping my toe in the poisonous vat) in processed foods on more occasions than one. Overall, I considered myself relatively healthy and my eating habits superior to most. Yes, I’ve been smug too. I have several vegetarian cook books that I love and have created wonderful dishes from, never missing the meat. It goes without saying that as a student of sustainability, I’ve also been well indoctrinated in the ideology that we can feed more people with grains than meat and if everyone just ate less meat the world would be a better place. (As an aside, the first part of that last sentence may indeed be true, but we never stop to ask if we should. The second part of the sentence is simply preposterous for lots of reasons. One reason is that no one can get everyone to do something, unless it’s by mechanisms of control.) I’ve also bumped up against the attitude that I am somehow less than, because I partake in the eating of sentient beings. I’m not as moral or ethical or pure as my fellow non-sentient (though sentient creatures become collateral damage during the harvesting of some plants) eating peers.
I’m moving in a different direction. In fact, beyond the issue of meat, I’m rethinking much of what I believed to be evident about the environmental movement. In this post, I’ll simply focus on meat and leave you to wonder about the rest.
Why have I been an occasional meat eater even though I enjoy vegetarian fare and why am I now a full fledged primal eater – I like the sound of of eco-agricultural lifestyler too? It started with David Holmgren’s first principle of permaculture: observe and interact with your environment. Curiously enough, I’ve been trying to figure out what to eat for years. I’ve dipped in and out of raw foodism, vegetarianism, clean eating, juicing, sprouting, and WAPFing (Weston A. Price Foundation) all on the quest for better health with the attached concern for other humans and species. Through observation and directly interacting with my natural environment, my food interests eventually wandered into foraging, wild edibles, edible perennials, and what-will-I-eat-post-apocalypse/end:civ, with a dabble in rewilding the human spirit and freeing it from domestication. That took me all the way back to the original human diet, pre-agriculture. Agriculture and civilization – ahem, domestication – are inextricably tied to each other with the advent of both appearing approximately 10,000 years ago. Jared Diamond, Lierre Keith, and others have written extensively on this issue, so I won’t repeat their analysis here. Suffice to say, I’m now firmly in the camp of those who believe that agriculture has enabled the conditions for planetary overshoot; and a population dependent on agriculture will continue to yield the same: population growth (until we’re physically unable to expand our grain production) and declining natural resources with resulting wars, famine, and disease.
That’s a bold assertion and a lot to unpack. Don’t necessarily take my word for it. My position is based on what I’ve read and I highly recommend that each of us embark on our own research and quest for the truth in the shadow of Conventional Wisdom.
I believe there is something even more insidious at work here, beyond the simple observation that agriculture may be causing our demise. To be clear, when I speak of agriculture, I’m referring to conventional grain and meat production, think CAFO’s and monocrops (wheat, soy, corn) that destroy the natural environment. Yes, I’m painfully aware that a lot of that grain goes to feed livestock. The world is awash in cheap grains – thanks to “…omnipotent government and its creation and perpetuation of the medical-pharmaceutical-nutritional-corporate state complex that makes people sick and keeps them sick for the sake of market share and continuing profits.” – that are foisted on developing countries, severing their abilities to sustain themselves; processed into fuels for first worlder’s, further increasing the illusion that fuel is cheap and abundant; and made into additives and fillers that make up a large portion of the Standard American Diet. Courtesy of the USDA, we have a new food “plate” that squarely puts grains on par with vegetables, something humans NEVER ate before the advent of agriculture. Think about it. In every way, grains are inferior to nutrient dense meat. Many grains (and legumes) are not only inferior, but actually decrease absorption of minerals unless they are processed in some way. Again, don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Why are we hoodwinked into thinking that grains are a dietary requirement? They simply aren’t necessary…ever and there is more and more evidence pointing to their potential harm.
I started to look at my own diet even more closely after reading Lierre Keith’s book, _The Vegetarian Myth_. She felt physically better after she ate meat. So do I, even after guilty meat consumption. She exposes the truth that big agriculture kills sentient beings like birds, mice, snakes and millions of bugs in the process, not to mention the fact that it decimates topsoil and pollutes the environment thereby indirectly destroying untold species through habitat reduction and degradation. You may be thinking this has nothing to do with you because you don’t support big Ag or maybe you don’t eat wheat, or maybe you only eat organic. Unless you are not eating any grain or legume products (organic or conventional – organic has the same monocultural effects minus the harmful chemicals), processed foods, CAFO meat, and steer clear of commercial Ethanol and Biodiesel when filling up, you are a willing or unwilling participant in big Ag’s grand scheme to dominate all living things.
One could certainly go the route of being a veg*n and relying on nuts, seeds, dairy (not the vegans), and supplements for protein, fats, and micro-nutrients. In order to maintain muscle, most veg*ns know to eat adequate amounts of protein through food combining. Though not impossible on the diet mentioned previously – sans grains and beans, this may not be a viable or preferable option for everyone, nor is it the morally and ethically superior diet we’ve been guilted into believing. Eating nuts, seeds, avocados, and coconuts are wonderful sources of protein and good fats, but are only made possible to most of the developed world by long supply chains and inexpensive fuel. Meat, on the other hand can be raised locally and humanely or in the case of fish, wild harvested responsibly in specific regions. Be sure to read George Monbiat’s article for the Guardian, “I Was Wrong About Veganism” for a very open-minded and evidence-based look at eating ethically. Whether we eat meat or not, there is an undeniable truth that life is only made possible through the waste of others. By choosing to eat meat from animals that are humanely raised or wild caught, we create a meaningful connection with their life force. We take responsibility for the way they are treated and their impact on the environment. We become participants in a better way of living for the whole community of beings and we become advocates for food freedom, self reliance, and self ownership. Both veg*ns and omnivores can be these things. The path is not singular.
My Personal Diet
After doing my research, I chose to implement a complete primal lifestyle in order to attempt to correct some annoying, though minor health issues. What I got was not what I expected. My energy has soared beyond what I ever remember, even as a child. My general disposition has drastically improved. Some of those annoying health issues have vanished. I feel better than I have in over twenty years. I’m not planning on going back to eating grains, beans, or sugar…ever, though certainly there will be some reasonable modifications to my diet as I further fine tune. I primarily eat vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, nuts, good fats, some fruit, some dairy, some seeds, and some fermented foods. I grow some of my own vegetables and choose organic whenever possible. I choose grass-fed meats and wild caught fish. Eggs are from happy, pastured chickens. I make my own cheese and yogurt from grass-fed cow’s milk. I also make my own fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir. I drastically limit sugar and never use artificial substitutes. When I don’t have access to these foods, I make the best decisions I can in the moment and move on.
Isn’t this expensive and therefore an elitist diet? When health becomes a priority in your life and you have the means to implement a plan to restore and maintain your health, I think that is just called living life to its fullest and being responsible for your own being, kind of like having health insurance. May my views change over time? Possibly. New information may sway me back to some other variation of eating, but for now, this is where I am.
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