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Ruminating on Ruminants

Image by Leslie Kuenne

The grumpy adolescent boy looked at the kale and quinoa on his plate and then stared me down with indignant brown eyes.  Mum, you’re going to have to choose between your cute little vegetables and me.  I’m a growing teenage boy and I NEED MEAT.

My own offspring was reading me the Riot Act. Never mind that I had been preaching the gospel of less meat, more lentils, less meat, more greens, less meat, more carrots, kohlrabi and cabbage.  Possibly because of all my preaching (he is a teenager after all) this progeny was begging for a steak, a hamburger, meatballs, OMG, Mum, SOMETHING with meat in it!   Since this is a kid who will happily munch on fennel, endive and sushi, I figured he wasn’t being finicky.  I put it down to a growth spurt and gave him some beef.

The next week my uber-rational husband went caveman on me.  It all started with a book he was reading called The New Evolution Diet, which posits that our digestive system has not evolved from our stone age selves when we foraged for greens while hunting down the occasional wildebeest.  The author suggests that meat and leafy greens are our natural diet. Great, now I had a spouse who was eschewing the whole grains, pulses and legumes I have been celebrating, and a son whose mantra was ‘meat, meat, meat‘.

Just to make sure they were driving me completely crazy, a few days later the carnivorous youth showed me a video. Not just any video, the meat video.   I am not posting a link here because this video contains truly disturbing scenes of brutality to factory-farmed cows, pigs and chickens.  If you are upset about Mitt Romney’s dog, you may want to consider what corporate farming methods are purportedly doing to the animals you feed to your darlings.

“I’m confused”,  I admitted.  “This video is sponsored by vegans; I thought you wanted to eat meat!”  Yes,  but this is appalling. We don’t eat meat that has lived and died in a factory like that, do we, Mum?

So, face-to-face with these meaty issues I have been thinking about meat consumption recently and my thoughts boil down to this:  If you are going to eat meat, make sure it is grassfed or  pasture-based  from a local source.  

But the expense!  Yes, thank goodness for the expense, it will help us all eat less of it.  It is better for all of us to eat less food that costs more. Good, nutritious food requires time and energy to cultivate.  Livestock are no exception.

Cows are meant to eat grass.  Mucking with that concept opens a Pandora’s box of all sorts of problems.   Among them:

  • Most factory-fed cattle are fed grain.  They have difficulty digesting grain, so they become ill, and often have to be given antibiotics, which they pass on to the next creatures on the food chain.  Click here  for an article on a recent study published by the American Society for Microbology, confirming that antibiotics given to livestock are creating antibiotic resistance in the humans who eat them.
  • Factory-raised livestock are often given growth-inducing hormones, which are also passed on to the next creatures on the food chain.
  • Finally, there is a theory that the terror of the mass slaughterhouse triggers stress hormones within the animals, which are then passed on to the next creature in the food chain. A surfeit of these hormones can wreak havoc with your endocrine system.

In contrast, grassfed, pasture-based beef is low in cholesterol and saturated fat and is high in omega-3 contentVitamin E and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid).   The farmers of grassfed animals with whom I have spoken bend over backwards to make sure that their livestock meet a respectful end.

I’m not even going to talk about the fact that factory farming of livestock is one of the largest contributors of greenhouse gasses or that the farm-to-table miles of beef grown many states or a country away are substantial, or that the waste fed into the water supply by factory farms is one of the top causes of water pollution.

Scientists have not been able to reach consensus about whether or not we should eat meat.  Respected and well-known doctors and nutrition experts are all over the map on how much protein we need:  Dr. Joel Furhman suggests that we eat a small amount — small enough to fit in the palm of your hand —  of animal protein (i.e eggs, fish, fowl or meat) every other day, Dr. Atkins that we eat protein at almost every meal, Dr. Neal Bernard that we eat none at all.

Without science to guide us, my thoughts about meat intake stray to older civilizations:  in many ancient texts, the slaughter of meat is described as a sacred ritual, in other words it was a BIG DEAL, did not happen very often and was worth a stanza in an epic poem.  I agree with at least one tenet of The New Evolution Diet, that meat was not as readily available to our ancestors as it is to us. Our forbears ate meat, they just ate much less of it.

Your age, gender, genetic blueprint and cultural priorities should be your guide in how much and what type of protein you eat.  A teenage boy is going to have different protein requirements than a middle aged woman.  I have listened to cattle ranchers that have become vegans, and vegetarians that suddenly crave meat.  There is no one solution that is going to work for everyone.

What does work for everyone is to make sure that your food is responsibly grown, fed the food it naturally wants, and slaughtered in a respectful manner.  It is better for the animal, better for the farmer,  better for the environment and better for you.

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