Since the dawn of humanity, people have eaten meat for food and it has consistently remained a primary source of protein. In recent years, we have witnessed a monumental shift from diets primarily rooted in meat-eating habits to those of vegetarian and vegan. Health rhetoric, news, and medical reports continually advocate the superiority of vegetarian and vegan diets to those containing meat. But are the answers really that black and white? Trying to decipher where the real truth lies can be a challenge.
Research shows that strict vegetarian and vegan diets can be considered unhealthy in many aspects, especially when careful attention is not paid to obtaining proper amounts of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals on a daily basis. This statement does not in any way advocate diets lacking in a sufficient supply of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole sprouted grains — it means merely that diets including healthy meats in moderation are probably going to offer the greatest nutritional support to most people.
Because all people differ slightly in various biological aspects and needs, select care should be taken in tailoring your diet to your body’s specific needs. The Metabolic Typing Diet is a great book which illustrates not a “fad diet” but more of an observatory guide and of how to decide which foods are best for your own needs by applying the right kinds of food in the proper amount.
So, the problem with meat is not that all meat is unhealthy. The problem is how the majority of meat is produced, and the amounts of meat that are demanded by the public, and therefore consumed. Many factors in the raising of meat have changed since the the beginning of time. The reality of conditions in factory farms (those which produce meat in the most horrific conditions available) should be a resounding wake-up call to anyone who claims to be a thinking human being. The amount of waste, disease, abuse of animals, damage to our health and the environment created by the presence of factory farms alone should be enough to make the majority of citizens stand up and cause a revolt.
“Environmental damage caused by industrial farming costs the U.S. more than $34.7 billion a year.”
Environmental Protection Agency
Because the culture of our society is so tied to consuming, changing opinions and habits is not an easy thing to do. But momentum has already begun. Look around in local communities in newspapers, bookstores, health food stores, and online. You’ll be astonished to learn that you can find groups of people in advocacy of cleaning up current farming practices and making changes in many different places.
It’s not too difficult to find documentation detailing the damage to our planet from the existence of commercial or factory farms. As affluence has grown in communities, so does the demand for more and more products – including meat. To produce this horribly mutated food product, we have destroyed millions of acres of rain-forests and other valuable lands, increased the growth of soy, corn, and grain in order to have enough feed for animals, increased our consumption of oil to transport both the feed for animals and meat, contributed to the world’s greenhouse gas issue in a significant way, and caused the development of super-bacteria and other drug resistant strains of illness due to filthy conditions in facilities that administer continued doses of antibiotics and other medications.
The issue of what is being fed to farm animals is of critical importance. Cattle are not designed to consume grains, soy, and corn. These animals are meant to eat grass – and this is far too often the exception than the rule. When cattle eat grass, the meat is lower in fat and therefore, also lower in calories. Meat from grass-fed animals also contains the correct amounts of Omega 3 essential fatty acids. These important fats keep the cardiovascular system functioning properly.
Studies also show that “eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 10 times more Omega 3s” than birds raised in a feed barn. American diets are saturated with too many Omega 6s and Omega 9s, causing the delicate balance in the body to become upset. This disturbance in the amount of Omega 3 fatty acids can also contribute to cancer.
Factors associated with factory-farmed meats have created an adverse outcome on the health of the average individual and the environment. As a nation, we are in a health crisis. Not a trivial amount of it can be connected to the manner in which the process of meat-production has converted its once natural methods and beneficial impact on the earth into something scarcely resembling real farming.
One way to solve some of these issues would be to cut back on meat consumption. In the United States, meat consumption is at about 200 pounds (including fish and poultry) per person annually. Alteration of meat consumption levels would have to rest upon massive educational efforts and a change in the fundamental philosophies held about eating meat. It’s really not about the elimination of meat entirely. The key is in moderation and intelligent efforts to raise high-quality, healthy meat from animals that are treated humanely. We should demand quality over quantity; that is, meat raised in humane, healthy conditions. The outcome would be lower rates of meat production and subsequently less waste of natural resources such as oil, water, and feed, and ultimately a marked reduction in the presence of greenhouse gases in our environment.
In most local areas, consumers can do some research to find out which farmers produce and sell grass-fed, organic meats. Check in health magazines, health food stores, and online. Health food stores often stock healthy meat selections in many areas. By supporting these farmers and merchants, you are making a statement about what’s important in agriculture and health. You are also making it possible for these business people to continue their activities so that you will have healthy meat for the future. Remember, the less you purchase commercially produced meat from factory farms, the more evident it will become that people demand healthy meat on their tables.
Pastured and grazing animals versus those confined in mass amounts where disease and ailments prevail makes more sense from both a health perspective and economic standpoint. It is easy to see why organically and naturally raised animals for meat should be the preferred alternative to the status quo of commercial and factory farms. To learn more about the dangers of factory farming, to become involved and help bring about change, visit The World Animal Foundation. You can also learn about how to be instrumental in bringing about important legislative changes by visiting to The Petition Site and signing an important petition to stop factory farming.
You can read thousands of reports detailing the terrible damage eating meat (red meat is the most targeted) has done to our health – from our colons and digestive systems to cardiovascular and other body systems. What many studies fail to mention is that these problems stem from mass consumption of meat raised in unhealthy conditions. Studies like this advocate eating poultry and fish instead of red meat- but do not bother to discuss whether meat from these animals is healthy to consume in the first place. Chicken and turkeys raised on average feedlots do not yield meat choices that are much improved over their red meat counterparts from similar conditions. If we were to change levels of meat consumption and the way in which our meat was raised, we would see an enormous shift in the health and well-being of all — from ourselves individually to the entire planet.
For more information on factory farms, visit Farmsanctuary. – a site for rescue, education, and action.
Visit Mercola.com for more information on the myths and explanations of those in a vegetarian diet.
To learn more about possible risks and deficiencies of vegetarian diets, visit Epigee.
Suggested reading on this topic: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Pastured Poultry Profits by Joel Salatin.
This article is featured in the March 2008 issue of Healthy Beginnings.