Ethical eating–meat or veggies?

in Editorial/Opinion by

“Become a vegetarian” is one of America’s most popular New Year’s resolutions. You may even try it yourself after putting away a few too many pounds of turkey this holiday season. But you don’t have to become a vegetarian to make a positive impact on the planet or on your health.
Instead of automatically axing all meat from the diet, potential vegetarians should first look at the positive aspects of what many meat eaters have in common with vegetarians.
Most of us want healthy, tasty, nutritious foods for ourselves and our loved ones, and we want to do what’s right for the environment. Vegetarianism does not hold exclusive rights to ethical eating. One can be a healthy and responsible person while still eating animals.
There are studies showing that vegetarians are healthier than the average person, and there are studies showing the polar opposite. Why not try for yourself and see what your body tells you, rather than going by conflicting studies or outside pressure to control your body and your dietary choices?
One can address environmental concerns with any diet. Free-range and wild meat have less of an ecological impact than certain plant products, such as flood-grown cranberries and irrigated pecans. Meat can likewise be terrible for the environment–look at the manure output of any industrial slaughterhouse and the resulting aquatic pollution.
It’s wrong to cause an animal needless suffering, but a humanely raised creature has a relatively pleasant life, while experiencing a far less painful death than it would being mauled by a wolf or slowly starving in the endless Minnesota winter. Properly raised animals have longer, healthier lives than their wild counterparts.
Factory farming needs to go. From the strictest vegan to the toothiest carnivore, we must recognize that keeping animals in cramped, indoor conditions, force-feeding them grain and medicine, and then slaughtering them factory-style are not healthy circumstances for animals or the people who eat them.
Factory farming of grains and vegetables also causes enormous environmental damage, and may lead to the killing of more animals than raising meat. Thrashers and modern grain processing technology slaughter small mammals and insects by the thousands, and destroy the habitat of countless organisms on every acre of land harvested.
Still, some may argue that any kind of plant food is inherently healthier and more responsible than any animal products. But does anyone think that fresh trout or wild turkey is bad for you? It would be intellectually dishonest to claim that these or similar natural foods, which have been eaten by traditional societies around the world since the dawn of human history, are unhealthy.
Look at the original diets of the Dakota and Chippewa peoples in our area, or the Neolithic hunter-gatherers of Northern Europe, or the !Kung people of Southern Africa, or the Australian Aborigines. Eating meat was a significant part of pre-agricultural diets across the globe.
Look at the natural history of humanity. The primates most similar to humans eat animals, ranging from insects to birds to mammals. Ancient human campsites are littered with animal remains, and the tools necessary to gouge open bones and skulls to eat the fatty marrow and brain contained within.
There is scant evidence of vegetarianism until isolated groups in the past few millennia adopted it for quasi-religious reasons. Vegetarianism is a cultural construct, not a natural occurrence.
One can be healthy as a vegetarian, so long as appropriate care is taken to consume adequate protein from eggs, extra nuts and seeds, and some cheese. Vegetarianism may bring weight loss, financial savings, and a clear conscience.
For others, eating nutritious meat and fish can foment robust health, wellbeing, and a renewed appreciation for where our food comes from. Whatever eating lifestyle you choose, focus on the positive aspects you share with people who differ from you.
We must evaluate all dietary claims to see hidden motives. Whether it is the first lady encourages children to consume certain vegetarian products, some of which are produced by companies who pay her as a board member; or a former president and vice president relentlessly promote vegetarianism to address climate and environmental concerns while profiting millions of dollars for speaking on related topics; or Hollywood celebrities release vegetarian cookbooks–people with no scientific or nutritional training are leading the cause of vegetarianism and making money in the process.
Respect the bodies of others and respect your own body in deciding what to eat. It’s okay if you find yourself feeling happier and healthier from consuming meat–it’s part of your natural diet, and is enjoyed by the vast majority of your fellow humans around the world.
Whatever you choose, we have common ground, and we can work together for a better food supply and a healthier planet.