The Last Supper
It is finally the last week of posts so Kevin and Blair are going to provide closing statements and a little bit extra for those newly interested in the topics covered. On a side note both Kevin and Blair are curious as to whether there are been any recent Veal purchases or any enrolments into Vegan Academy. Most importantly Kevin and Blair wish to recognise that core to this discussion is thinking critically about our lifestyle choices and how they affect our health, the environment, and other beings (like carrots says Miles).
Kevin’s closing statement (Vegetarian/Vegan)
In the past four weeks both Blair and I have discussed some of the issues surrounding diet and meat consumption. From the Vegetarian/Vegan perspective I have tried to get across that:
1) Vegetarian/Vegan diets are healthy, and contrary to popular belief they are neither difficult nor risky.
2) Meat based agriculture has a significant impact on the environment through contribution of greenhouse gasses and contamination of local ecosystems with hormones, antibiotics, and viruses which would otherwise have not occurred naturally. Also meatless agriculture has much more potential to alleviate hunger and malnutrition throughout the world.
3) People have it in them to treat animals with the dignity and respect they deserve, but whilst we eat meat we further contribute toward a food system that disregards real suffering.
From these points it seems if we as consumers suffer no significant hardships from a meatless diet and if there are large benefits to ourselves, others, and the environment, then we might find ourselves obliged to become Vegetarians or Vegans.
Diet is such an intimate part of our lives as it constitutes not only our nutritional intake but also our culture and social interactions. But it also has a profound effect on the rest of the world and as such our food choices will not always be simply a personal decision independent of other factors. Again, thinking like this is not new as there are many restrictions on how we satisfy other basic needs that we have (think sex).
New or ‘wholesome’ nutrition understands this and as such recommendations extend beyond what is immediately healthy for the individual and help build a framework that is healthy, culturally and socially acceptable, and of course sustainable. Meatless diets are not only compatible with this framework but I would argue that they are what wholesome nutrition should set to attain.
But Kevin! Is it really culturally appropriate for everyone to abstain from meat? I would say yes. With a few exceptions (inuits being one), most cultures around the world include substantial portions of plant foods in their cuisine and as such plant based dishes can provide culturally and socially appropriate sustenance. Furthermore whilst taking meat out might be a small disruption toward some cultural practices (such as removing turkey from Christmas dinner), culture transcends meat and can be expressed just as well without it. This is evident in the many vegetarians and vegans that still hold their culture dear without meat being a part of it.
The following is a list of interesting sources for anyone who wants to know more about Vegetarian and Vegan diets, or just diet in general:
Amato, P.R., & Partridge, S.A. (1989). The New Vegetarians: promoting health and protecting life. New York: Plenum Press. (The detailed findings of a large scale study of vegetarians/vegans, easy and interesting read).
Hursthouse, R. (2000). Ethics, humans and other animals: an introduction with readings. London: Routledge. (good overall look at treatment of animals)
Lappe, F.M. (1982). Diet for a small planet: tenth anniversary edition. Now York: Ballantine books. (An older book that is still very relevant today).
Leitzmann, C. (2005). Wholesome nutrition: a suitable diet for the new nutrition science project. Public Health Nutrition: 8(6A), 753-759.
Mason, J., Singer, P. (2006). The ethics of what we eat. Melbourne: Text Publishing. (Has been published many times under similar names, very extensive and up to date, provides an interesting narrative style of academic writing).
Messina, V., Mangels, R., and Messina, M. (2004). The Dietician’s Guide to Vegetarian Diets: Issues and Applications (2nd ed.). Jones and Bartlett Publishers: Boston. (Good for detailed nutritional information).
Nestle, M. (2006). What to Eat. North Point Press: New York. (Anything by Nestle is interesting, she writes allot about food politics, this book brings diet and food choices into the wider context).
Ost, D. E. (1986). The Case Against Animal Rights. The Southern Journal of Philosophy, 24(3). (Interesting counter argument against Regan’s animal rights approach).
Regan, T. (1988). The case for animal rights. London: Routledge. (A rights based approach).
Sanders, T. (1988). Growth and development of British vegan children. In American Journal of Cinical Nutrition, 48. 822-5. (Just an interesting article that looks at raising vegan children).
Singer, P. (1990). Animal Liberation. New York: New York Review of Books. (Easy reading).
Website for PETA: http://www.peta.org/
Website for Vegetarian Society New Zealand: http://www.vegetarian.org.nz/content/
Movie: ‘Earthlings’ (documentary on animal abuses in our food choices and beyond).
This list is by no means exhaustive, there are many more interesting sources of information out there that are sure to provide information and more.
Blair’s closing statement (Pro-meat/Primal)
So we have discussed plant or meat based diets with respect to the health, sustainability, and ethics of each. I have tried to show that:
- A meat based diet is not unhealthy as many would claim; in fact meat is an excellent source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. So much so that one could survive (and live well) on a diet of only meat.
- Animal products (such as meat) can be sourced sustainably, particularly free range or pastured animals. And that pastured land has a much higher level of biodiversity than a mono-culture grain crops.
- It is morally permissible to eat meat and in doing so we accept our place within nature, and do not attempt to live outside of it to enforce our mastery over nature.
Some people make a choice to move towards a vegetarian or vegan diet based on sustainability, ethics, and their love of animals or simply to pull hot hippy chicks (Robb Wolfe outlines this stage of his life in the Paleo solution diet). They then attempt to justify the health of this diet and the evils of meat by finding ways to claim that meat is unhealthy. From here we get claims against the saturated fat, increases in cancer or that meat leaches calcium from the bones leading to osteoporosis in meat based diets. This last one has been proven wrong so many times it has now been dubbed the vampire myth as it never dies. So many of these claims are misconceptions had half truths thrown around constantly to undermine the place of meat in the diet, when instead they should be looking at their own diets which can be extremely unhealthy unless care and attention are taken.
This kind of argument (conclusion followed by searching for evidence) is reminiscent of religious thinking. Richard Nikoley of free the animal points out that the vegan diet (in particular raw foodies) have all the underpinnings of religion. The guilt, sin and shame (from having eaten animals) which can be saved or absolved with a life of abstinence (from meat) and struggle with a restrictive diet. Don’t allow yourselves to be sucked into this kind of backwards and extremist logic.
Those last two paragraph will have seems rather harsh on vegetarians and vegans but I meant for it to be aimed at particular corners of the vegetarian/vegan camp and not across the board. A vegetarian or vegan diet can, with great care and attention be healthy (or at least resemble health). But claims for health should only be made after an examination of all the choices and evidence on diet and health alone. Considerations of sustainability and ethics should not drive someone to say their diet it healthy. If you make your choice of diet based on sustainability and/or ethics that’s fine, but don’t then spout off about meat leaching calcium from bones and other anti meat myths to justify yourself.
Given my own research an omnivorous diet or meat, vegetables, fruit, huts and seeds (but no grains) appears to be the optimal human diet. This diet is backed up by science as a healthy modern diet. It is easy to follow and gives people amply vitamins, minerals and energy. For more information on primal/paleo eating and lifestyle here are my top 5 sources (alphabetical order):
Good calories bad calories By Gary Taubes
The paleo solution diet by Robb Wolfe
The primal blueprint by Mark Sisson
That wraps it up nicely. For everyone who continued to read and put off their exam study, we appreciate it and hope that you will continue to keep and eye out for future dialogues. Hopefully the RSS will be starting another conversation with an equally interesting topic mid July. Hope you have all passed your exams.
Kevin and Blair