The Changing Food Landscape–Revisiting the Animal Foods Question

I am usually quite proud to belong to a counter-culture which works to expose and transform our American inheritance of racism, sexism, exploitation, militarism, mechanization, corporatism, “patriotic consumption,” pursuit of affluence at all costs. My friends and community regularly question the so-called “truths” spouting from the mouths of government and mainstream media. So I am left wondering, why do we allow dialogue about health and nutrition to be so truncated, so dead-ended by fundamentalism and privacy issues? Why, in such a rapidly changing food landscape are our conversations so stale?

I’m craving dialogues that go beyond the brown-n-serve eating strategies that dangerously misrepresent our place in–and responsibility towards–the food “chain,” as well as the broad spectrum of choices available today for eating ethically. In alternative food circles, we can no longer allow ourselves to believe that all our problems will be solved by eating a “plant based diet.” Sorry folks, but it ain’t that simple.

With the burgeoning of local food movements in the USA (and worldwide,) we now have many, many options for pastured, humanely raised meat, dairy, eggs, etc. that were not “on the table” when Moore-Lappe wrote, Diet for a Small Planet. Pastured meat is being found on more and more mainstream menus, (such as the Chipotle Grill and Hilton Hotels) which constitutes very good news for local economies and ecologies, including the ecologies inside our bodies.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/05/31/154084442/antibiotic-free-meat-business-is-booming-thanks-to-chipotle

I wonder if my vegan, vegetarian and raw-foodie comrades realize that in advocating for the same whole grain and vegetable basis of the “food pyramid”, they are actually doing the USDAs bidding? I guess the low-fat, anti-meat propaganda of the 70s and 80s was ubereffective, because many of my otherwise radical friends do not seem to understand that their food choices do nothing to challenge big agriculture, pharma, finance, oil, or the chemical industry giants and government policy.

On the contrary, the “eating low on the food chain” strategy so often trumpeted by those who claim to stand on the moral high ground actually helps to perpetuate dangerous societal habits such as the huge grain subsidies that are killing small farmers in every nation, including our own. And it completely misses the point that the monocultures of grain and vegetables that are the basis of a vegan diet are necessarily biocidal, as the native vegetation, animals and insects are cleared and drowned in fertilizer (all the better for Dow and Monsanto!) to create “crop land.” Agriculture is arguably the most destructive practice on our planet. How can vegans ignore this enormous elephant in the room?

Add to this major oversight the growing mountains of evidence that carbohydrate-laden diets are the basis of an epidemic of degenerative diseases—diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety, and a whole panoply of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders never seen before the advent of agriculture. And because both rely heavily on carbohydrates for the bulk of food consumed, a vegetarian diet is still disturbingly close to the Standard American Diet (SAD) of convenience food, despite the fact that it eschews meat.

Has anyone noticed the skyrocketing incidence of “gluten intolerance” and celiac disease? I would hope that it is obvious that humans are NOT ruminants. We have no extra stomach chamber designed to ferment and breakdown cellulose, which is indigestible to humans. No amount of wishful thinking will help us grown a rumen. Here’s an idea: How about we let the cows graze happily on their native prairie (saving ourselves all the nasty work of clearing land, spraying pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, going to war to get the petrochemicals, etc.) then harvest beef instead of grain? But dare I say that publicly? That wouldn’t be polite! It would be far better if I remained silent. We are adults after all, and everyone is entitled to make their own food choices.

But, I feel the pain of this silence everyday as I see people I love suffering from mood disorders, tooth decay, autism, obesity, chronic fatigue, eczema, and “inexplicable” allergy attacks. And these health problems occur just as much with vegans as those eating the SAD. Both groups are eating foods full of either toxins or allergens, usually both. And both somehow miss the connection of their dis-ease to what they are eating (and not eating!)

And I feel even worse when I see these health problems in children, who by virtue of their youth are often unable to understand, much less consent, to the food they are served. Culturally, it is not “kosher” for me to offer unwanted advice or opinions on what parents feed to their children, but I sometimes wonder about my complicity in their health problems? Where does my responsibility to these children begin and end? No easy answers here, either.

Rather than talk explicitly to parents about their children’s health and diet, I have at times broached the subject with friends-of-friends-of-friends of these kids, hoping to at least create a climate of casual conversation about it that might indirectly affect the situation, but even that has aroused the fury of veggie friends.

This discussion takes on a whole new holistic level once we consider that bringing grazing animals back to the dustbowls and deserts–which were caused by agriculture in the first place!– could well be the answer to global warming. Allan Savory has been successful at restoring millions of acres of the world’s prairies, savannas and grasslands with no technology other than livestock. Savory’s team has run the numbers and–get this: we could sequester ALL the carbon spewed into the air since the industrial revolution simply by allowing ruminants to do what they were born to do–EAT GRASS! I often wonder why Savory’s amazingly straightforward and hopeful work with Holistic Range Management is not more part of the regular fare of food justice and activist discussion? For those who are craving simple answers, look towards livestock, not veganism.

Holistic Range Management is very good news for North America with its vast prairie aching to be freed from agricultural bondage–and good news for our health (and tastebuds!) too, as it translates to a lot of grass-fed nutrition, with none of the attending problems of maintaining croplands. And, importantly, it amounts to a huge toppling of the vegetarian off the high ground of “ecological eating.” After all, monocropped soy, wheat, and corn ends up destroying natural prairie ecosystems. And feeding corn to captive feedlot steer amounts to torture. Set them free, and heal the prairie!

If eating low in the food chain is actually perpetuating an agriculture that pollutes aquifers and waterways, and destroys both soil ecology and gut ecology, it seems that we are desperately in need of meaningful civic discussion of the far reaching ramifications of our food choices. Yet we willingly cooperate with the gag order on real discussion, fighting amongst ourselves about non-issues and purity fantasies, while BigAg is all to happy to encourage diversion from the obvious: that agriculture’s poor nutritional profile and toxification of our environment lead to devastating health problems–for humans, for animals, for planetary ecosystems.

Any ideas about how to encourage honest and real dialogue about the issues mentioned in this post? Interested in searching for strategies to heal our beleaguered bodies, food systems and health? I’m all ears… Meanwhile I leave you with the conscious carnivore’s rallying cry—“Stop climate change–Bring back the buffalo!!”

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