In a recent New York Times op-ed titled “The End of Meat is Here,” author Jonathan Foer claims that “If you care about the working poor, about racial justice, and about climate change, you have to stop eating animals.”
This isn’t quite right.
When the “food pyramid” was released in 1970, we thought we finally understood the problem with red meat. Since then, Americans have dutifully followed the food pyramid, and red meat consumption per capita is down almost 30 percent.
We now have sickest population in the history of the world. I was one of those sick people.
Over $1.7 trillion is spent annually on chronic disease in the US. This tidal wave of sickness has only accelerated with dietary recommendations to continue to limit red meat and fat intake.
There is growing body of evidence that maybe there is another path forward. I only eat beef. My body was so riddled with autoimmune issues that this is the only way I can be healthy. It’s a vegan’s worst nightmare but it shouldn’t be – and I’ll outline the reasons below. I reversed severe rheumatoid arthritis and depression by doing the exact opposite of what the mainstream recommends. It’s nearly impossible to believe and I wouldn’t have believed it 5 years ago, but here I am.
The real problem with red meat is that we’re not eating enough of it.
Let us explain.
We’ve been misled by poor, associational data that has been misinterpreted since the 1960s.
According to Jonathan: “We can live longer, healthier lives without it. Most American adults eat roughly twice the recommended intake of protein — including vegetarians, who consume 70 percent more than they need. People who eat diets high in animal protein are more likely to die of heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure.” Almost none of this is true.
Approximately 75 percent of calories around the globe come from plant foods and there have been dozens of studies debunking the claim that red meat causes disease. This paper reviewed randomized controlled trials that evaluated red meats effect on cancer and cardiovascular outcomes. The authors found no significant links between red meat intake and increased risk of heart disease or cancer. In 2019, after reviewing all available evidence, 19 BMJ researchers called for us to retract guidance on reducing saturated fat as evidence no longer supports it. New studies show that diets high in red meat may be associated with longer lives. Red meat consumption is even associated with longer telomeres (a known anti-aging factor).
Last year’s PURE study of 140,000 individuals from 18 countries revealed the following:
- Animal protein is associated with lower risk of mortality.
- Saturated fat is associated with lower risk of coronary vascular disease.
- The highest fat intake is associated with 20 percent lower risk of death.
- The highest carb intake is associated with 28 percent higher risk of death.
By comparison, the study that informed the food pyramid was only conducted on seven countries and is littered with flaws.
Eight Asian studies following 300,000 people for 6 to 15 years found that “red meat intake was INVERSELY associated with CVD mortality in men and with cancer mortality in women.” This study of 56,000 British individuals found no significant difference in death rates between vegetarians and meat eaters. The claim that high-protein diets damage kidney function? This meta-analysis of almost 2,000 people showed that high-protein diets do not adversely affect kidney function.
Studies of plant-based diets consistently show lower levels of vitamins and minerals including zinc, copper, selenium, iron, calcium, vitamin a and vitamin b12. These are critical for all metabolic processes. The vegan diet likely to be deficient (sometimes even absent) in a number of nutrients. You need to supplement on a vegan diet.
Zinc, DHA, Vitamin B12, Iron and Vitamin B6 deficiencies have all been linked to depression and gut disorders [*] [*]. DHA, one of the most important nutrients for your brain, is almost completely absent from plant foods (other than algae, which I’m sure we can all agree is not a practical fixture in anyone’s diet). Plants contain ALA and EPA, which have to be converted to DHA. This is an inefficient process when you can just eat animal products.
The Mayo Clinic underscores this argument, asserting: “Vegans may be at increased risk for deficiencies in vitamin B12, iron, calcium, vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and protein.”
Plants are also deficient in nutritionally essential amino acids and bioactives such as taurine, carnosine and creatine, all three of which are essential for cognitive function and antioxidant status. This study even found that vegetarians who supplemented creatine improved their working memory (creatine supplementation did not affect those who already consumed meat). Another study found that carnitine supplementation resolved depressive symptoms better than a placebo.
Protein is also another issue with the vegan and vegetarian movement. According to this study, almost 1 billion people worldwide suffer from protein deficiencies. Plant protein alone cannot rectify these issues. It’s a poor source of amino acids.
Bottom line: Plants, contrary to popular belief, aren’t the superfood they’ve been made out to be.
Red meat, on the other hand, is critical for health and loaded with the nutrients many people are deficient in.
But what about the climate? Will we even have a world to live in if we all eat red meat?
In Foer’s article, he claims “We cannot protect our environment while continuing to eat meat regularly. This is not a refutable perspective, but a banal truism.”
This oft cited “truism” is factually false. According to a full lifecycle analysis conducted by the EPA, all of agriculture combined produces 9 percent of greenhouse gases in the US. Livestock accounts for 4 percent of those emissions. Now some simple math: what would that put plant-based agriculture at? Yes, 5 percent. More than livestock. Meanwhile, transportation alone produces 28 percent of greenhouse gases.
Red meat is a red herring when it comes to climate change -- just another attempt to rescue the failed hypothesis that red meat causes disease. Now, it is true that some of this monocrop agriculture is going to feedlot-raised livestock. However, 66 percent of this feed goes to humans, and this number increases if we transform our farming to more regenerative practices. Foer goes on to quote: “eating a plant-based diet is ‘the most important contribution every individual can make to reversing global warming.’ But according to the National Academy of Sciences, if we eliminated all animal-based agriculture, we’d only reduce greenhouse gases by 2.6 percent. What then?
Foer is right that a large portion of climate change and greenhouses gases do come from the food industry. But they don’t come from cows. Monocrop agriculture, the common practice of growing a single crop year after year on the same land, is decimating our soil. According to physician Mark Hyman in his book Food Fix, “a third to 40 percent of all the carbon in the atmosphere today that’s causing climate volatility is from the loss of soil.” Monocrop agriculture destroys the soil and kills the living matter in it, preventing it from adequately storing carbon. Soil is the biggest problem and the most promising solution when it comes to climate change.
A new study from the National Academy of Sciences estimated that we’ve lost 133 billion tonnes of carbon from soil erosion since the agricultural revolution. The UN claims we only have 60 years of harvests left because of our disastrous soil management practices. 24 billion metric tons of topsoil worldwide are lost due to erosion every year. This is equivalent to removing six inches of soil from an area the size of Iceland every single year. And there’s nowhere left to go.
According to James P.S Neel, most of the world’s arable land is already in production. Fertilizer plays a major part in this destruction. By removing livestock from the agriculture process, farms need to use artificial fertilizers to fix nitrogen in the soil. Fertilizer also releases nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than traditional greenhouse gases. Fertilizer is one of the largest consumers of natural gas, with fertilizer companies like Yara and Mosaic using more natural gas than Exxon.
This is what is unsustainable.
So what is the way forward?
Regenerative livestock-based agriculture.
Restoring the climate comes down to soil, and cattle are veritable soil magicians. Why? They’re natural fertilizer machines. Cow poop is the black gold of the soil revolution. Natural livestock grazing and foraging can help fertilize the soil with manure and restore it to its natural health, rejuvenating the soil and enabling it to sequester more carbon. Dennis Hancock estimates that we could sequester 4.5tg of carbon a year back into the soil with better livestock agriculture practices – that’s equivalent to taking 3.4 billion cars off the road.
According to the UN, we could take 2 million degraded hectares of land around the world and use regenerative agriculture to restore the soil and delay the progression of climate change for about 20 years. By mimicking nature and allowing livestock to roam freely over soil and fertilize it with manure, we can press the reverse button on climate change. All the while, we can provide people with some of the most nutritious food in the world. In 2018, the government of Andhra Pradesh, India, announced they were going to transition 8 million hectares of land from conventional agriculture to “Zero Budget” regenerative agriculture. General Mills has allotted 1 million acres of land for regenerative agriculture practices, and the nonprofit group Regeneration International has 250 global partners.
Regenerative farm White Oak Pastures, for instance, sequestered 3.5 CO2 e2 kg per kg of beef versus emitting 4 CO2 e2 kg per kg for the Beyond Burger.
The argument that this model is not scalable is scientifically inaccurate.
There is a lot of land on the planet, and a significant portion of it (almost 25 percent of the globe) is not suitable for cultivating crops. However, it’s perfectly suited for livestock-based agriculture. Ruminants (animals with multi-compartmental stomachs and a rumen) are incredible machines that can upcycle human-inedible cellulose—the most prevalent carbohydrate on the planet in the form of grass—and turn it into steaks, milk and delicious nutrients. When these herbivores roam freely, you eliminate the need for tillage and fertilizer. Cows replenish nitrogen to the soil naturally.
So the truth is: the vegan diet will not restore the environment. In fact, it will continue the deadly progression of soil erosion and the gradual destruction of the climate.
It’s important we touch on animal cruelty. The last core tenet of veganism is that eating meat is unethical; vegan activists will plaster photos and videos of the animals you eat all over the Internet and terrify you into avoiding animals. I completely and utterly disagree. If eating red meat increases human health, and reduces disease, that should be our focus. There’s nothing like the suffering disease causes.
However, if you’re still worried about animal cruelty, the best thing you can do is become a meat eater, focusing on grass fed, locally raised meat. Where we do agree with Jonathan and many vegan activists is that factory farming is cruel in many ways and there are most certainly better ways. However, even with factory farming, the vegan diet still kills more animals if you actually look at the statistics. The soil-tilling process alone is deadly for many living things. To clear the soil to plant crops, farmers must till it, removing any animals residing on that land. Farmers spray their fields with pesticides to kill off even more insects. Not only do these pesticides decimate insect life, but they’re also very damaging to human health.
In fact, Monsanto just settled a $2 billion lawsuit because their pesticide, RoundUp, the most commonly used pesticide in the world, causes cancer. That is real cruelty. Artificial fertilizer runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that has killed over 200,000 metric tons of fish. This is unprecedented slaughter on a grand scale, all caused by our plant-based agriculture practices. According to Mike Archer, a Professor at the University of NSW, 25 times more animals die to produce an equal weight of wheat protein and beef protein. On the other hand, a cow can produce ~500 lbs of human-edible, trimmed beef. That would give one person access to 1.36 lbs of meat a day, or food for an entire year. And incredibly, the only input a properly managed process like this requires is sun, rainfall and grass -- three things that already exist in nature harmoniously.
It’s time to restore our diet and agriculture practices to their natural roots. Only then can we restore the health of humanity and the health of our beautiful planet.
So to conclude, I only eat beef and I’m more vegan than vegans.