I started writing about food because I was tired of vegetarians and vegans telling me I should stop eating meat all together, as my carnivorous consumption was inhumane and contrary to humanities’ evolution as a species. I eat meat. I will continue to eat meat. And I think you should too.
One of my quickest responses to the vegetarian/vegan anti-meat rhetoric is that if we were all vegetarians, there would be no fertilizer and then eventually no plants. If we only consumed plants, all the farmland now used to raise livestock would have to be used to raise edible plants, which could mean no livestock and in turn, no fertilizer from that livestock. In the long term, this would mean no plants. Or plants only raised on artificially produced fertilizers, which would also mean polluted waters.
Of course, it’s a lot more complicated than this. And there are much better arguments for why to eat meat. Vegetarians and vegans often focus their anti-meat campaigns on the cattle industry, so I am going to focus mostly on beef production.
Before I continue, there is bad beef and good beef, and I only eat good beef. We have all read the news articles and watched the horrifying videos about cows who are so sick and malnourished that they cannot walk or even stand up, but are then pushed by a forklift to be slaughtered and made into steaks. I don’t eat these and I don’t think you should either. There are such things as happy cows—cows raised on grass-only diets in open, green pastures.
Bad beef is raised on corn meal, which cows stomachs have not evolved to digest properly, which often leaves cows with serious stomach problems. On the other hand, cows’ ruminant digestive systems are well evolved to digest grass; The cow’s digestive system has two stomachs in which the food is softened first before being fully digested in the second stomach. In this manner, feeding cows food other than grass messes with their natural digestive process; one of the reasons why cows are given so many antibiotics now is because feeding them corn and other food that their stomachs aren’t meant to digest causes an upset in their bodies natural chemistry, thus opening them up to infection.
Another important thing to note is that humans, among most other species without rumens, cannot digest grass. Michael Pollan, in his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, visits Polyface Farm, which raises grass-fed beef along with a whole slew of other livestock raised on their natural food. Without going into a long description of the merits of Polyface Farm, Pollan’s discussion of the advantages of feeding cows grass, from the perspective of energy consumption, is one of the strongest arguments for eating meat. At Polyface Farm, the cows are rotationally grazed, which means that the cows are allowed to eat in one area of the pasture before being moved to another area of the farm to eat the following day. In this manner, the cows partially eat the grass stem, but not the whole stalk. As a result, the grass grows back much faster than it would if the cows were allowed to stay on one plot of land for an extended period of time and ate the grass stalks to the ground. Because of this constant trimming and growth cycle, the pastures at Polyface Farm, and at other farms that rotationally graze their livestock, produce more biomass than the same plot of land would if corn were raised in its place.
One of the strong arguments against eating meat is that great amount of food energy wasted every time an animal eats another animal (a nine-to-one ratio), but in the case of cows that are grass-fed, they are eating biomass from which we cannot glean food calories. In addition, the energy to grow grass comes from the sun, which means cows are, in essence, converting the sun’s energy, through the venue of grass, into food energy that we can consume. And, importantly, grass fed beefy is mighty tasty.
And to my final reason for eating meat: It tastes good. I crave it. I am lethargic both physically and mentally without it. I also have canine teeth. Vegetarians and vegans often say that humans have evolved to a point where they don’t need to eat meat to survive. While I would be able to live without meat, my life would not be as good. Just as cows can live on corn meal rather than grass, humans can live only plants, but maybe they shouldn’t. I believe there is a biological reason I crave meat: My body needs it.
I will reiterate, however, that there is good and bad meat. I am only encouraging you to eat good meat. Yes, I realize it’s more expensive, so I urge you to eat good meat less frequently or in smaller portions. Eating a cow that was pushed on a forklift and eventually onto your plate is unhealthy for you and inhumane to the cow. Doesn’t it seem better to eat a smaller, healthier, happier steak than a forklift-ed one?
Further, the energy argument I stated above is only valid for rotationally grass grazed cows. I guess my frustration with the vegetarian/vegan anti-meat rhetoric is that it’s too narrow; there are ways to eat meat responsibly that are arguably better for the environment and for our food system than being a vegetarian or vegan.
And so, I will now say again: I eat meat. I will continue to eat meat. And I think you should too.
Originally published on Chef’s Blade