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Why I Eat Meat (and You Might Want to Also)

Many people assume I’m a vegetarian. Some people even equate “organic” with “vegetarian.” I’ve experimented with vegetarian eating over the years. I’ve even dated vegetarians (well, one). Aside from the fact that I think it’s challenging to eat well and healthfully without eating meat, I truly enjoy eating meat and find it physically satisfying.

But I also love animals and believe they are conscious, emotional, and aware beings who suffer just like we do…even chickens! And I absolutely loathe the practice of raising animals in Confined Animal Factory Operations (CAFO’s) just for the sake of cheap meat. I haven’t bought nonorganic meat in many years, though I’m sure I’ve eaten it at restaurants.

I do think, from what I’ve read, that part of our evolutionary advantage comes from our ability to cook and eat meat. I know at times I feel like I really need it for my body or my brain to function fully. (Interestingly, the older I get, the less often I feel this need.) A report today on Rodale.com says that teens who eat a vegetarian diet have a much higher likelihood of developing eating disorders. That’s not good. Especially because most vegetarian teens say they are giving up meat for environmental reasons.

A lot of people become vegetarians for environmental reasons. And I’ve done my homework on this one: It’s the CAFO’s that are the problem, not the animals. Until the last 100 years or so, animals have always been an essential, integrated part of any farm and farm family. Chickens keep bugs under control and provide eggs. Pigs eat slop and leftovers, and provide pork as well as lard, which was an essential cooking ingredient before olive oil became widely available. Cows provide beef, milk, butter, and cheese, and manure to fertilize the garden and farm fields. Goats keep the brush clear and also provide milk and cheese. Sheep provide meat and wool and keep the lawn mowed. All these animals provide warm and protective leathers. Smoked and preserved meats and cheeses provide food and excellent nutrition for people through the winter months when fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce.

Just yesterday I was visiting my friend Laura, who is a Mennonite (a Christian denomination similar to Amish). We were talking about this whole meat thing and she said, “Why, a farm is not a farm without animals!” As I pulled out of her driveway, two ducks were getting it on in her front yard.

Most of us don’t live like the Amish or Mennonites anymore, but there is an even more important reason than tradition to eat organic meat. Organically managed pasture land is an important way to store—rather than emit—carbon. New research is showing that the negative contribution to global warming that comes from eating meat is the byproduct of idiotic and destructive CAFO farming methods. It’s not just how they overcrowd animals as they try to raise thousands of cows in muddy concrete factories; it’s also how they feed them. CAFO animals are raised on chemically produced, genetically modified (GM) corn. Millions of acres of corn are planted using seed that’s been genetically altered to resist the effects of weed-killing chemicals like Roundup, which allows the fields to be doused with higher levels of herbicides. These chemicals are contaminating our soil, our water, our bodies, and our children’s future. And cows don’t even like corn! Cows stomachs were meant to eat grass. So corn (and the other garbage they get fed) makes cows sick and leads to the rampant use of antibiotics, which leads to antibiotic-resistant diseases like MRSA that kill humans (18,000 a year). Raising meats organically on well-managed organic pasture is actually good for the environment and good for cows. That’s why I think we should turn all of Iowa into grazing pastures instead of corn fields.

I always come back to what Bill Mollison, the founder of the Permaculture Institute, told me once: “Everything eats.” Even carrots have to “eat” nutrients in the soil (and maybe carrots have feelings we can’t see!). To be alive is to eat. To be conscious of ourselves and our world is to be aware of what and how we eat and of its impact on our bodies, our environment, and our future. For me, that means eating organic. Burgers included.

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22 Responses to Why I Eat Meat (and You Might Want to Also)

  1. Kate April 22, 2009 at 9:49 am #

    When I was a teenager, I tried being a vegetarian. I really had no idea what that meant other than “I didn’t eat anything that had a mother.” Looking back it wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did because I didn’t know how to supplement my diet correctly. For teens now, there’s more information available about protein sources, so maybe it’s easier for them.

  2. sarah barstow April 22, 2009 at 10:09 am #

    If you want an alternative to killing animals, an organic free range egg is the perfect food, and contains all of the vitamins, minerals, and amino acids you would find in that burger you’re talking about.

    Here’s just one study, but there are plenty supporting this: http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-02/epr-nrs021309.php

    I don’t know how anyone who writes about how much they love animals and then ends with eating burgers can have overseen this easy, affordable, and healthy way to be a vegetarian.

  3. Maya April 22, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    My thoughts and feelings exactly! Maria, that post nicely sums up a lot of Big Books on the topic; I’ll be sure to recommend people read this whenever I get into the meat good/meat bad debate.

  4. Columbine April 22, 2009 at 1:06 pm #

    Until I can afford to eat organic, humanely-raised meat, I’ve cut back on my meat consumption (haven’t managed to kick it, though). The economic aspect is very real. You have to find your own balance. Not everyone can afford to be perfect.

  5. Maya April 22, 2009 at 2:07 pm #

    That’s a really good point about the expense, Columbine. Even though in the long run organic meat might cost less (in terms of health & environmental benefits) it still costs more up front. Hopefully that will change one day soon!

  6. Emily April 22, 2009 at 2:14 pm #

    I too am happy to see a balance between wanting safe meat and being kind to the environment.
    I am a member of a CSA (community supported agriculture) and thanks to them, I have not bought meat in the grocery store in a couple of years. I predict these arrangements with family farmers will grow in the coming years. It actually makes eating organic more affordable- and it helps sustain the family farms that made America great!

  7. Sam April 22, 2009 at 2:39 pm #

    this article makes it seem as if we are still living in a pre-grocery store era. Now we can get fruits and vegetables year round, so eating meat in the winter does not have to compensate for lack of fruits and vegatables this time of year. I’ve been a vegetarian for almost fifteen years, and since i’ve made this decision there is almost a vegetarian alternative to any kind of meat/dairy product. Eating meat is not necessary for humans anymore, our bodies have evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands of years, and there are too many health risks linked to eating meat such as high cholesterol, obesity and heart disease. Also it’s contradictory to say you love animals but enjoy eating them-just because you’re not the one killing it doesn’t make it okay to eat it.

  8. Maria April 22, 2009 at 4:26 pm #

    Just remember that if you are eating non organic soy products (like meat substitutes or veggie burgers) you are eating genetically modified food!

  9. kara April 22, 2009 at 6:52 pm #

    right on Sam, this post was probably created to attract visitors/be controversial, I just wish it took the more enlightened viewpoint. Must be all that meat they are eating over there!

  10. Nancy April 22, 2009 at 9:31 pm #

    I agree with Maria (and animal-behavior specialist Temple Grandin) that there is a place in our diets for humanely raised meat and dairy products. However, land that is suitable for cultivation of food crops should not be grazed. Marginal grasslands that cannot be cultivated without risk of serious erosion but can be safely grazed if well managed should be used for this purpose.

  11. Lemrick April 23, 2009 at 2:59 am #

    This is why I don’t eat meat: http://meat.org

  12. Phtentehal April 23, 2009 at 5:46 am #

    I am sorely disappointed by this post, particularly that Rodale presents itself as vanguard for the improvement of our health and the world around us. I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly a decade, (transitioned during my teenage years too), a vegan for more than half of that time, and for the past six months I have been experimenting with raw vegan diets (with great success).

    If there is one conclusion I have reached over the years of dietary experiments, it is that meat has NO place whatsoever in our diets. Actually, if one examines our anatomy (which, I must add, includes our psychological tendencies toward compassion), you will find that arguments against meat are far more compelling than those for it. We humans tend to grasp to the most unbelievable of excuses to justify our habits, regardless of how destructive they can be. If there is one truth in your post, it is that you “truly enjoy eating meat and find it physically satisfying,” which is why any reasoning that followed that statement is an attempt to justify it.

    As for the health argument, being a very athletic person, I can only say that my performance skyrocketed after eliminating meat and all animal products from my diet (and was further improved with increasing the amount of raw foods in my diet). There is no place for meat or dairy in a healthy body.

    Environmentally, I am even shocked that meat and environment are placed on the same front today. Surely, a few banana leaves do a better job than cow manure! Any “organic” matter works. And anyways, you can farm them, but you don’t have to kill them.

    But the most important point I must point to is the disturbing oxymoron many organic living adherents make: “humanely-raised meat.” There is nothing humane about slaughter, organic, kosher, cheesecake, or any other form it might take. Animal rights activists might site factory farming cruelty as a means to an end, to kick the meat industry in the shin, but we all know that this cruelty is a mere evolution of a preexisting prejudice against animals which, unfortunately, is clearly mirrored your post. And I feel that prejudice has no place in a “healthy” society.

    I sincerely apologize if my response seems blunt, but this should show you the severity of my disappointment.

  13. jerry April 29, 2009 at 9:23 am #

    Sorry, but with all we now know, there is absolutely no way to justify human beings eating meat. Your ramblings smack of a lot of Rodal rump-kissing for the meat industry.

  14. meaty April 29, 2009 at 2:43 pm #

    so at the end of the day we are all caught up in our prejudices eh? if there is such a thing i can agree on is this statement

    “…You have to find your own balance. Not everyone can afford to be perfect….”

  15. burger girl May 1, 2009 at 9:14 am #

    thanks, meaty, for summing up all of this so neatly.

    i respect this post a lot. i think most people who are reading this are trying to be more healthy and more environmentally friendly than our counterparts. but i don’t see the need for all this harsh berating about why, as humans, we shouldn’t eat meat–why not make some helpful suggestions rather than just criticizing? i am sorely disappointed by the lack of respect shown in these responses.

    i recycle. i try to buy mostly organic. i don’t eat out often. i try to cook healthy meals for my family. and i love my fresh fruits and veggies. but i still EAT MEAT. but at least it’s organic and raised on a local farm (so i’m supporting the community AND trying to keep as many unnecessary chemicals/antibiotics/hormones out of my body as possible).

    the point is: what may work for you may not work for me. i don’t live in a place where i can even get all those wonderful substitutions for meat that you can get. and i probably don’t have the $$ (especially during this time) to make such a drastic change (like a raw, vegan diet). but i do what i can. and considering that i’m well aware of how the other half of America eats, i think i’m on the right path. it just may take me a few more steps to get there.

    and i can still enjoy my organic burgers (with whole wheat buns and organic lettuce and tomatoes from a local grower) on the back porch of the farm on a nice summer day without guilt.

  16. Lee September 1, 2009 at 5:27 pm #

    Well you are right about one thing, that is how things were done up until about the 1960’s, but now a days we have what are usually called factory farms. First it may be proven that if enough methane gas is emitted in to the atmosphere it could contribute to “global warming”, speaking of “global warming” most of you guys are old enough to remember in the 1970’s and early 1980’s the was a rumor started from the same group of people that are now saying “global warming” is happening. There a many more scientists saying that “global warming” isn’t happening but the Earth is just going through a phase that it does every 1,000 years as there are scientists saying it is happening. But back to subject, if you guys would’ve done you “homework” you would have known that cows that are used for their flesh or meat are NOT kept in a ” muddy concrete factory”, but instead kept in heard OUTSIDE IN THE OPEN. Also whoever told you cows don’t like corn are IDIOTS because I myself live on a farm and we feed cows corn on the cob, and didn’t you ever think of what’s in cow feed? GROUND UP CORN. I you looked it up MRSA comes from infected open sores not from GMOs (genitcly modified organisms). And if you didn’t know All of the food that you eat, unless you eat all food labeled organic, like milk corn, beans and all the other foods that you eat is from GENITICLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS. All that I have stated are true facts and are NOT fiction, thanks for hearing me out.

  17. Paula July 21, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    So Sam, and others,

    Is it okay to eat meat I slaughter myself, i.e. if I take responsibility for killing? If not, is it okay to swat a fly? How about accidentally breathe in a gnat? How about destroy multiple habitats to build a house? There are religious sects that say, no it’s not okay, and take appropriate measures to avoid these deeds, but I think a healthier approach is to realize that we are beings on this earth and that we inflict suffering as much as suffering is inflicted on us. We can minimize the suffering we inflict, but never eliminate it. Our job, the way I see it, is to come to terms with that fact and respect our fellow beings here, even if we do eat some of them or harm them in a myriad of other ways that have nothing to do with eating. Respect means to thank those animals and eat their flesh mindfully. To me, the lack of respect is the problem that leads to CAFOs and the whole rest of the horror.

  18. Amber July 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    I was a vegetarian from 2 to 8 years old. My mom had me watch this horrible movie when I was about 3 that was about the CAFO’s so I agreed with being vegetarian. When I was 8 we met people who hunted and fished and that was completely acceptable to me so I tried it and I have been a carnivore ever since. I want to raise my own, probably chickens to start with. Thanks Maria for your inspiration. I have learned a lot about pesticides through your blog.

  19. Kristi C July 21, 2011 at 1:23 pm #

    I SOOOOO agree. Nuff said!

  20. Kristi C July 21, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

    Phtentehal, I must say, that if you examine anatomy like you say we should, and the history behind our evolution, you would see that there is a physiological need for HEATHY animal fats and proteins for most all humans. (Notice I said “HEALTHY.”) We are all individuals with individual needs. Some do very well with very little animal foods, but most of us do not. Most of us need this for our physiology to function optimally. I have studied this in depth as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. Maria is right on with her article.

    Kristi Cooke, NTP

  21. Lacy July 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    Well thought-out article, Maria! My husband eats meat and I do not, so my comfort level is to feed him organic, humanely raised beef and chicken. But we all must seek the level with which we are comfortable. When I hosted the family Thanksgiving dinner, I was asked to NOT make a Tofurky. My husband questioned a charge on the credit card, $63.00 to Organic Prairie. It was the organic, free-range turkey. He asked what was wrong with the $.29 a pound turkey at Publix, and I had to educate him that it was pumped with steroids to grow a bigger breast, since Americans love that white meat, and antibiotics because it came from Tyson, one of the CAFOs. It is much more expensive to eat organic, but tempered with local and seasonal farmer’s market veggies, fruit, fresh eggs, locally caught seafood and lots of organic beans, it is doable, even on a limited budget.

  22. Laura B. July 21, 2011 at 6:41 pm #

    Sorry, not for me. I’ve been a very healthy vegetarian since 16. I’m 48 now &
    will NEVER go back.

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