Thoughts on food. Part 1.
Posted On May 7, 2009
This is in response to an LJ friend who is vegan for ethical reasons. I wrote a novel of a response to her, and I thought I’d copy it here, as part one of my "thoughts on food" series. Here goes, let me know your thoughts. I’d also like to say that there is no judgment here- well, alright, a little judgment, but I believe people do the best they can with the tools they have, so my goal is really to learn and just try to find truth here.
Oh, for some background, she cites that it takes 16 pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef, and also that vegan diets can help reduce the risk of heart disease etc. She also talks a little about CO2 emissions, which I sort of just respond to in terms of overall environmental impact. I don’t know much about the specifics of the emissions, but I’ll research that soon.
I actually really respect your reasoning behind this, and I fully understand where you’re coming from. I feel the same way in terms of environmental and health stuff, and also the evils of commercially raised livestock, etc., only that’s precisely why I DO eat meat. I believe that a conventional American diet is unsustainable and not healthy, but I also feel the same way about a vegan diet.
It would take a while to explain this, but I’ll do my best to sum it up. I eat only pasture raised, local meat, and I buy it in bulk once a year from people I trust and from farms I’ve seen myself. I eat vegetarian when I go out to eat, which is not often. I believe that we really need to localize our economies in order to live ethically on this planet, and that includes localizing our sources of food. In order to sustainably live in Michigan, I need to eat lots of whole foods- beans, whole grains, fresh veggies in the summer and fall and stored (canned or dried) in the winter, and also some meat. This does not mean meat every meal, and it does not mean the "cuts" that are most desirable. I use stock to cook rice and other grains, and I make lots of soup in the winter. I save special cuts for guests or special occasions, etc.
Basically, when I eat, I have to take into account a couple of things- first, what is healthy for me? Second- is what I’m eating sustainable, are there any moral issues that arise from my consumption, and by eating this what am I supporting in terms of business, etc, that could be unethical. To touch on the first issue, there are different schools of thought on this- I believe that we are omnivores, and need some animal fats to be healthy. I’ve done a great deal of research on this, and so I won’t bore you with details, but I think most vegans agree that some supplementation is necessary to stay balanced, and I would argue that vegans are unable to absorb many of the nutrients from supplements due to the lack of animal products in their diets. I believe in the long term they suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, not to mention the issues I have with the use of soy products, which I believe are harmful in unfermented forms (tempeh and miso are good examples of fermented soy). For more info on just soy, check here: http://www.soyonlineservice.co.nz/
This is not to say that the average meat eater is healthy- I think the conventional American diet is horrendous, and people would probably be better off to eat a vegan diet. I think they drink milk from diseased cows, they eat diseased meat and far far too much of it, not to mention their confusing marriage to refined foods and HFCS (I say confusing because it causes health problems and obesity, and since when did we eat food that makes us sick?). Basically, I agree with you- the whole thing. Gross. Wrong. However, I don’t think that by abstaining from meat we do our bodies any favors. Certainly it’s worth thinking about how we eat our meat, and what kind of meat we eat, but we are omnivores.
Now, I am more inclined to ignore what my body needs in light of what the planet needs. I feel more of a responsibility to my planet and world than I do to my body. If I really thought that a vegan diet would help the planet, then I would happily be that. However, it requires that foods be produced many many miles away from us in huge farms that use pesticides and chemicals and fertilizers and GMOs that deplete soil (a natural resource that is in danger), and present a host of health concerns. Not to mention all of the animals that suffer and lose their habitats and are poisoned by our corrupt farming practices (poisoning air, water, soil, all of it), and wipe out diverse ecosystems in the name of feeding many with huge crops like corn, soy, etc. On the flip side, managed grazing can build up soil, fertilizing it naturally and nourishing healthy animals.
Rotating diverse crops onto that land help grow better vegetables, organically and livestock can graze on land that is otherwise unable to be farmed. The argument that so much grain produces so much beef is only true in terms of unsustainable production of livestock (who’s stomachs are not even equipped to digest corn/other grains in the first place). There are also all sorts of cultures that need animals to survive, as the land only naturally produces so much vegetation.
I believe the true problem are all the things you are opposed to, in addition to mass production of crops that are wiping out seed diversity and leaving us with nutritionally devoid foods in addition to severely damaged lands. We had it right when we developed the simple and mutually beneficial relationship between farm and free-range livestock. We also need to learn that we can’t just eat whatever we want, that includes Big Macs and mangos alike- what’s unsustainable is simply unsustainable. I believe that traditional diets are a great model for how to ethically eat- it takes more work and more planning and some flexibility, but it’s rewarding both in terms of health and also by leaving less of an impact on the planet.
So yeah. Part one.