Eating meat can be healthy and sustainable
Eating meat or animal foods in general is often blamed for wasting precious resources, for contributing to climate change and for causing health problems. This is certainly true for factory-farmed or even some "organic" meats from animals raised mainly on soy, corn or wheat. But if we talk about meat from (mainly) grass-fed animals, this is another story! This type of meat is not necessarily bad for your health nor for the planet!
Nutritional point of view
- Meat, especially red meat, is rich in proteins, saturated & mono-insaturated fats and cholesterol. Opposed to what is usually said, those are NOT the bad guys nor the culprits for our modern diseases. Quite to the contrary: it is the excess of (rancid) poly-unsaturated fats and (refined) carbohydrates that are to blame. Read more here.
- Red meat does have some poly-unsaturated fats as well, but relatively little. Poly-unsaturated fats are essential in SMALL quantities, however, in large quantities they risk to increase our exposure to free radicals, because poly-unsaturated fatty acids are highly instable and reactive - they oxidize (= turn rancid) easily.
- Red meat is rich in B-vitamins (esp. vitamin B12), iron and zinc.
- IF the animals are (mainly) feeding outside on grasslands, their meat will contain less overall fat, but more of the essential omega 3 and "CLA" fatty acids (conjugated linoleic acid). It will be richer in vitamins E, D, A, K2, zinc and iron. It will contain anti-oxidants like gluthatione that are completely absent from factory-farmed meat.
- Red meat doesn't necessarily make you “acid” either. It all depends on whether or not red meat is good for your individual Metabolic Type or not.
- Health-wise, there is a huge difference between eating "real cuts" of meat vs. eating lots of processed sausage or charcuterie.
Sustainability point of view
- Animals raised on pasture according to guidelines of sustainable grazing (as studied and promoted by the Savory Institute) or used for the maintenance of natural reserves (such as the Natuurpunt Galloway cows) contribute to INCREASE rather than decrease the fertility of the soil. This is because the plants receive a growth-impulse when being eaten, the soil is loosened by the animals walking on it and their manure is a nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer. The more fertile a soil, the higher its capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere (a process called "carbon sequestration"). There are models showing how intelligently grazing animals could reverse climate change to pre-industrial levels within one generation! For more information, read this document.
- It's when we transform grasslands into farmland (and it doesn't matter whether the crops we grow are meant for human or animal consumption) that enormous amounts of nitrogen are liberated into the atmosphere (nitrogen is much worse than the often quoted methane). If on top the fields are fertilized with synthetic fertilizer containing nitrogen, THAT'S the real catastrophe for the climate. So eating non-organic plants can actually be MUCH worse than eating grass-fed animal foods...
Ethical point of view
I wrote extensively about how eating meat can even be ethical here.
We need to support what we want to keep and what we want to see grow. If you want farmers to raise animals on grass, you have to support them by buying their meat, milk, cheese, eggs... . The organic label is NOT a guarantee for grass-fed unfortunately. Organic animals can still be held in a stable most of the time and being fed organic grains.This is why it is so much better to buy directly from a farm (where you can SEE and ASK) instead of relying on a label in a shop...
OK, but are we not just too many to cover our needs for animal proteins with pasture-fed animals?? Is factory farming not a logical consequence of our high meat consumption in combination with a rising population? NOT NECESSARILY.
- First of all, it is a WRONG idea that it is an "either - or". Cows (or other animals) were never meant to compete with humans for food, but to live together with us in a symbiotic system of giving and taking. It is our man-made food system that takes the animals OFF the grass lands and puts them apart in feed lots to then turn the former grass land into fields where crops are grown to feed the exact animals that could have perfectly lived on those former grass lands.
- Second, there are calculations that IF we turned all those fields that are currently used to grow soy or corn for animal feed (consuming enormous amounts of water and fossil fuel) back into grass lands, we could raise the SAME number of animals (when done correctly according to sustainable grazing guidelines)! So we wouldn't even necessarily "lose" quantity of animal foods, while increasing its quality AND reversing climate change to pre-industrial levels (click here for more info).
- Last but not least, reducing WASTE is another key aspect when talking about sustainability. Currently 20-30% of all animal foods end up in the bin somewhere along the production line! Re-learning to eat from "head-to-tail" will reduce waste, allow us to benefit from the nutrients of " less popular" cuts, such as bones (there is nothing as nourishing as bone broth!), soup meat, organ meats... and save you money on top. It doesn't always have to be the steak!
Chances are all of that sounds pretty "un-real" to you. After all, if it was so easy, why are we not just doing it? Well, because the system as it is today is highly profitable... Growing crops and feeding them to animals is just much more lucrative than just letting the animals graze on the same land.
- Since we are no longer talking about small family-farms, but big industrial farms (when before >50% of people were farmers, today it's less than 2%), farmers need to buy pesticides (pests develop easier in large monocultures) and fertilizer (since there are no more animals to fertilize the soil). With the invention of GMOs, farmers even need to buy their seeds each season...
- Meanwhile the animals in the feed lots have to be treated with anti-biotics and all other kinds of medication (that are often produced by the same pesticide producing companies) to prevent them dying to soon from all the stress, inadequate diet, horrible hygiene, lack of sunshine, movement and social interaction...
- When we buy those poor creatures (after they have been killed and processed) for seemingly little money, and consume them (often accompanied by other highly processed foods, such as sodas, buns, sauces etc.), of course we also get sick eventually, having to buy medication for ourselves (guess from whom...).
- IF we decide to opt out from that cycle, we can be sure to marketed "health foods", such as meat alternatives, soy yogurt, gluten-free baked goods, protein powders... often benefiting the same companies (although they may be called differently). So we move from the left pocket to the right pocket.
- Still we might end up being sick eventually, because even in the "health-food world" saturated fats, cholesterol and animal proteins tend to be demonized while it is recommended to consume a lot of whole grains, fruit, vegetable oils...
I am aware that this description is rather black and white. But my point is to make you realize that what you're being told in mainstream is not necessarily in YOUR best interest, but in the interest of the agro-alimentary-industries. Unfortunately they have very strong lobbies and ties to (supposedly independent) governmental, political and even scientific institutions shaping our opinions and determining to a large extent the information available to us.
Let's not loose our common sense: Eating animal foods has been around long before agriculture even existed. It has allowed us to develop our brains and to evolve as human beings to what we are today. Without our ancestors having eaten animals, we wouldn't even be able to lead a discussion about whether or not eating meat is healthy or sustainable.
All tribes around the world have lived from what nature provided to them: We were hunters & gatherers. While diets did indeed vary from region to region depending on food availabilities, there was not ONE single population EVER that has lived solely on plants. Dr. Weston Price's studies of isolated populations in the 1930s confirmed that in general they enjoyed much better health than "modernized" civilizations.
Eating meat is not the problem. Eating factory-farmed meat is.
Support what you want to see grow. Support grass-fed animal farmers by buying your animal foods from them.