So I’m not a vegetarian and neither am I a vegan.
I feel that admitting being a meat eater is becoming more and more loaded but that might just be in the circles I move in (or maybe it’s just in my head). Like many modern-life issues the issue of what to consume has become somewhat politically loaded and is no longer a case of ‘meat and two veg because that’s just what we eat’ it’s more a weighing up of environmental, health, budget and social justice issues.
Will I have eggs for breakfast?
Well if I do I have to accept that the boy chicks are ground up alive after hatching just to keep my egg choice cheap, cheap.
Lamb, beef, chicken or Kangaroo?
Well lamb is tasty but lambs are heavy hoofed and they are helping to destroy our fragile soils here in Australia. Beef? Well that contributes to the global methane cloud and they require so much land for feed (grain) I mean that can’t be good for the environment. Chicken, nice but I no longer trust the ‘free roaming/ free range’ stickers when I see them. Kangaroo? Should it be farmed? Should we eat one half of our national emblem?
Milk with your tea madam?
Cow’s milk? Yes please but do you know if the farmers got paid fairly? And how old are the calves when they are separated from their mothers? Do they cry for long? Do you think they get over it? Do the cows mind being milked?
And then there’s the inevitable death question.
How do you feel that something died so that you could eat that?
Ummmmmm well OK.
Yes but it is so cruel, have you seen the secret footage?
Well yes, I do feel bad about factory farming and I do try to buy my meat from farmers markets or butchers that can tell me where the animals came from and a bit about their processing but I have to admit it is a hard part of the food chain to handle as a meat eater?
And then the other big one.
But would you be prepared to kill your own?
And to that I’d have to say ‘yes’ but that doesn’t mean I’d like it or do it gratuitously.
Game over, friendship lost in some cases.
Peculiar judgements from others including the secret fear that I am actually some blood thirsty animal torturer who feels it is their god given right to take life.
And do you know what makes it all the more complicated? It’s the myriad of pro-veggie websites that publish misleading information to further complicate what is already quite a complex issue – believe me, there are lots of legitimate reasons to give up meat without resorting to fabrications. I just happen not to want to at this point in time and that is partly because of my families and my complicated allergy issues which includes but isn’t limited to fish, nuts, garlic, onion, alcohol, banana, mango, melon, gluten, soy and sesame.
Anyway, this is the type of erroneous information available to those who are debating if to ditch the meat or those who are looking for pro-veggie arguments:
This table has formed the basis for hundreds of articles and has been widely shared. When I first saw it I, like I’m sure many people would, thought WOW, that is quite compelling isn’t it? But then I thought ‘but humans have been eating meat for thousands of years and if it is that bad for us surely we wouldn’t be thriving like we are?’
And I say that even though I know full well about the other scientific studies that have shown that meat eaters get more cancer etc…. I have researched that too and my conclusion was to keep eating meat but to feel OK about not being able to drink alcohol and to steer clear of refined sugar and poor quality processed meats. Easy as I do that already.
Anyway with regards to this table I did want to look into some of these comparisons just to get a general feel of the thing. As someone who enjoys eating a diet that includes meat I have a bias towards this table being wrong but as a science minded individual I have a desire to find out the truth. After all, I have adapted my meat-eating behaviour based on research before and am happy to do it again.
So I found a lot of interesting stuff and plenty of reasonable explanations as to why some of these things are so and some thing that are misleading. For example, the fourth point about the jaw muscles is misleading because humans use four muscle groups in their jaws – Massetter, two types of Pterygolds and Temporalis. That our human teeth have got smaller over time due to evolutionary changes in our diet. That the use of tools, cooking (we’ve been doing our own human masterchef classes for over 200,000 years) and pottery (making it possibly to eat very mushy food) has all played its part in shaping our dental history. This part was expecially interesting to me as our eldest child is currently undergoing dental work and has had issues with her jaw muscles in the past! In addition I found that our development of verbal language has also helped shape our mouths and teeth!
Another interesting thing I found was to do with the metabolism of vitamin A. The table is right and humans can’t detoxify vitamin A but vitamin A is usually found within the offal of an animal rather than the meat so it is most likely our ability to detoxify vitamin A is a mute point being as though we practically never chow down on a diet of liver these days and even eating cooked liver is not something most people do daily or even weekly. So we still can’t go past evolution in this regard. Omnivorous animals such as some pigs, badgers, bears, squirrels, mice and rats can probably detoxify Vitamin A because they are often scavenging or exert a large amount of energy to catch prey and so require all the calories they can get from the kill. We have shops.
So if I can dismiss a good proportion of the information on that table as bias half-truth’s or misleading by omission does that justify my decision to eat meat and does it make me feel any better about my choice?
No and No.
It’s not that I feel BAD for eating meat, it’s more that I feel the weight of that responsibility heavily, that I don’t take eating meat for granted and that I am working towards full mitigation of as many of the negatives as I can – choosing meat that is less environmentally impactful, less cruel, less glutonous (not eating so much) and healthier. That said there is one impact that I cannot mitigate for and that’s the death of the animal.
Death of anything is not a subject that many people want to talk about and I totally understand that but I am not entirely sure that is helpful to our emotional development as humans. Death is as much a part of the cycle as birth, indeed history has shown us that the two can often come together. The way I see meat-eating is somewhat primal and earthy. I see humans as part of a cycle of nature that gives and takes, that is born and that dies. I feel that as humans we all too readily work that system to our advantage, take the benefits without counting or taking responsibility for the costs. I to do this with my meat as I’m yet to kill and eat my own (and I’m not in a desperate rush to start either although I am curious about this side of the food chain and the detail and art involved it). I remember watching a documentary about an organic farmer who was setting rat traps in his veggie patches then ploughing the dead rats back into the soil. I wondered what the vegetarians would think of that, of the blood and bone enriched broccoli? And it was a serious, sober wondering, the kind you do with compassion and trepidation. The circle of life.
But we don’t need to eat meat these days, we can find all of our nutrition in plants and keep ourselves very healthy, in fact we can thrive thanks to our ingenuity, ability to source from the global food bowl and our problem solving abilities. So that really does leave the meat-eater with just one question and that’s ‘do you eat it or not?’ Because if you say yes you know the animal is going to have to die for you and we have to start taking responsibility for that.