In Defense of Meat by Liz Harroun

An overhead image of a raw piece of red meat drizzled with cooking oil and surrounded by peppercorns, garlic and rosemary.

 

Polarization dominates modern society—be it within political, economic, or philosophical realms. Instead of dedicating our now-abundant human resources toward meaningful (or at least fulfilling) pursuits, we spend much of our time thinking about our opinions and then debating them with others who have formed different perspectives. Even seemingly obvious topics like climate change are surrounded by heated debates. Nations, organizations, and families are divided by differences in beliefs. It’s hard enough to agree on the nuances of such important topics, but when we cannot even agree on the best course of action—paralyzation ensues.

 

This polarization has become rampant even among dietary choices. Vegans versus protein-seeking bodybuilders versus intuitive eaters. Who is right? Should you ask your neighbor what she eats, since she always seems so vibrant and energized? Or perhaps a nutritionist who has devoted years of study to the topic?

 

First, your dietary choices do not define you any more than your political preferences do. Unless you consciously seek out a community and events that validate the way you eat, it’s simply that—the way you eat. However, over the past few decades, many of us have started to identify with our dietary choices. This causes more polarization with an especially personal twist. 

 

Much of the resulting discourse is a waste of time. You can now find information or a group of people who will back up your current beliefs about nutrition, whatever they might be. What is important is investing some time into determining what truly aligns most with your body’s needs, as well as personal belief systems. Just as it’s best to go into the voting booth with some information about the candidates, consider your dietary options as a human (who needs food for survival) before eating tens of thousands of meals over a lifetime.

 

The research and personal experimentation that goes into making a decision that feels right for you (whether it be dietary choices, lifestyle habits, religious/spiritual practices, or political beliefs) is much more important than debating whatever belief you land on.

 

When we look at meat consumption, we see a prime example of how a topic got swept away by competing arguments without honoring the nuances of the topic itself. Conventional meat practices are at odds with making the world better. Animals are treated horrifically, in ways that many of us would rather not think about. The land is degraded by industrial farming and concentrated animal feeding operations, which leach carbon into the atmosphere. Humans are blindly (but willingly) consuming this meat. Meanwhile, chronic diseases are on the rise, and those related to diet and nutrition present the greatest global health burden.1 These include obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, and dental diseases.

 

Up to this point, the current medical system and dietary guidelines have not solved the chronic disease and obesity epidemics. People are getting sicker, despite more accessible information than ever. More food is not the answer either. Factory farmed meat and monocropped produce is destroying the land while creating food laden with  antibiotics and pesticides. Meanwhile, food waste represents 30 to 40 percent of food supply in the United States.2 Ignoring the importance of the way our food is grown and transported is ignorant, lazy, and dangerous.

 

I understand the lure of vegetarianism. In fact, I was a vegetarian for many years throughout my teens and into my early 20s. By avoiding animal products, most of which I had come to learn were produced in horrific ways, I thought I was doing better for my body and the planet. And in some ways, I was. I had limited access to organic, grass-fed, and pastured meats during these times in my life, and cutting out certain foods taught me how to read labels and be a conscious consumer.

 

But my body and brain deteriorated when following a strict vegetarian (and eventually vegan) diet. I became underweight and depressed every time I cut out meat for long periods of time. Meat was not the cure-all in my healing journey, but allowing myself permission to consume it at a point of desperation was a huge first step. The introduction of grass-fed red meat (beef, lamb, and bison) into my diet was particularly helpful. However, I still believe that being intentional about what animal products you consume (and where they come from), is paramount to health and conscious consumerism. However you choose to eat, the type of agricultural systems you support through the food you buy is an important vote for the future of humanity. And it’s a vote you get to make on a daily basis. While in college, I chose to eat less meat in favor of affording higher quality cuts. When I got my first full-time job, I invested in kitchen essentials that allowed me to make my own bone broth and grind organ meats from the farmers market.

 

This is just my story—but it is one I’ve come to learn resonates with the stories of many others, including the EPIC Provisions co-founders. I do not believe that one diet is for everyone, nor do I think that people who choose to cut out food groups are better or worse than those who don’t. Still, when I learned that there was a way to produce meat in ways that were better for the environment, I was ecstatic. I could eat what made me feel good without feeling guilty for potential environmental destruction that I had seen depicted in countless pro-vegan documentaries. I began buying exclusively grass-fed and humanely raised meat. When I learned about regenerative agriculture and holistic management, which have the potential to make a net positive impact on the environment, I became even more confortable as a regular meat consumer.

 

Conventional dietary advice against consumption of red meat is often unsupported by evidence that eating red meat regularly is linked to an increase in disease. However, what I learned after I reintroduced meat into my diet was affirming of how much better I felt. For one, I learned how humans have evolved as a species to eat an omnivorous diet, containing both plants and animals.3 Meat provides protein with all nine essential amino acids. While you can get amino acids from both plant- and animal-based foods, animal protein tends to have more of the essential amino acids needed to support healthy muscles and tissues.4 As a source of protein, meat helps promote satiety and muscle growth. Red meat specifically is full of nutrients, including vitamin B12 and highly bioavailable iron.5

 

The benefits do not stop there. However, a fundamental question for making a dietary decision is how you feel when you eat more or less meat. Do you crave red meat? Does your energy or digestion change when you eat meat once per week versus two times each day? Though answering these questions may take time, they’re important first steps toward understanding your body’s needs.

 

The media and others will likely continue to denounce meat, especially red meat. So I urge you to think for yourself. Ultimately, your food choices do not make you a better or worse human. What might make you better is understanding that, as a cell in the human species, your food choices do come with impact—and using that understanding to become an empowered consumer is a responsibility we all bear. 

 

1 “The Global Burden of Chronic Disease.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 22 June 2007, https://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/2_background/en/.

2  “OCE: U.S. Food Waste Challenge: FAQ’s.” USDA, https://www.usda.gov/oce/foodwaste/faqs.htm.

3 Luca, F et al. “Evolutionary adaptations to dietary changes.” Annual review of nutrition vol. 30 (2010): 291-314. doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141048

4  Górska-warsewicz H, Laskowski W, Kulykovets O, Kudlińska-chylak A, Czeczotko M, Rejman K. “Food Products as Sources of Protein and Amino Acids-The Case of Poland.” Nutrients. 2018;10(12)

5 Wyness L. “The role of red meat in the diet: nutrition and health benefits.” Proc Nutr Soc. 2016;75(3):227-32.

Liz Harroun is a writer, marketer, and nutritionist—living the dream in Austin, Texas. She holds degrees in business and Spanish from the University of Texas. Since environment and nutrition have long been two of her most consistent fascinations, Liz officially landed her dream job when she started working for EPIC Provisions. Liz seeks adventure and joy in her daily life. Outside of the office and kitchen, you’ll find her cycling, rock climbing, or teaching yoga.

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