As I was writing the tags for the a post the other day a thought occurred to me – so far, not much meat has been cooked on this blog. I’ve used the tag “vegetarian” many times and “vegan” a few, but the reason we eat the way we do is more complex, and primarily relates to health reasons and sustainability.
We are not vegetarians, but we very little meat. It is a treat that we indulge in occasionally. My husband makes the world’s best pulled pork, for example, and I love a pot roast drowning in oniony gravy. Also: bacon. Enough said. But we abide pretty closely with Michael Pollan’s famous mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
This is for two reasons: the first is that human beings just don’t need as much meat as conventional wisdom used to tell us. Protein is important, but it comes from all kinds of places besides meat – eggs, beans and nuts, for example. And too much red meat is truly a bad thing for you health-wise. Meat is fat- and calorie-dense. As long as you don’t try to make up for the meat with cheese or carbs, switching to a more plant-based diet will almost assuredly mean an automatic loss of calorie intake.
The second is the fact that the traditional diet of meat at every meal has produced a system of farming animals (and the corn that feeds them) that is not sustainable economically or environmentally. It’s easier to find out where your plant-based foods come from and what exactly is in them. I could stand on my soapbox about this for a very long time, but instead I’ll recommend some books. They cover all angles of the ethics of eating meat – sustainability, humane conditions, health problems, etc:
101 Reasons Why I’m a Vegetarian
This book did not convince me to be a vegetarian, but it has a lot of cold hard facts about how much protein you actually need to consume and the true health consequences of eating large amounts of meat. Written like a news article, it gets more done in a small amount of space than many books I’ve read on the subject.
James McWilliams is my favorite food ethics author because he stays away from extremism at either end. Instead of saying “don’t eat any meat,” he examines smart agriculture like hydroponics and sustainable fish farming. While I’ve found a lot of overlap between some of the major titles on eating sustainably, James McWilliams takes a fresh, smart and nuanced look at feasible, environmentally friendly agriculture.
In Defense of Food
Michael Pollan is the godfather of all food ethics writers, but I like this book because it is practical grocery store knowledge about how the things you buy at the grocery store got there in the first place, and how that affects their healthiness (or lack thereof). I picked this one to focus on, but I recommend reading basically everthing this man has written.