This is a post I don’t want to write. Why? Because it can be such a heated topic, especially for those who are devoted to their vegetarian and vegan dietary convictions. Why write it? Because I reference my recommendations against vegetarian and vegan diets often and I need a place to refer my readers regarding this topic.
And let me add…I love eating and cooking with plant foods just as much as you do! I love eating vegetarian and vegan dishes. I even make and post vegetarian and vegan recipes here sometimes. 🙂
My Vegetarian/Vegan Experiment
First let me explain that I was at one time in life a vegetarian, and even a vegan for a while. The main reason was because of my passion for animal rights. I took one look at the world of commercial farming and knew I had to do something to fight the cruel madness that was (and is) happening. I was also almost a professional dancer at the time, dancing some days over 6 hours straight and also going to school. I noticed a change in my health after about a year of being a vegetarian, and not a good one. When I tried being a vegan for a few weeks I was completely unable to dance and my physician mother demanded I eat animal foods again. I chose to go back to being a “regular” vegetarian and very soon after that I began fainting in my dance classes. Now that I look back (as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) I know that I was dealing with a plethora of dietary-induced health problems, and fainting was just one symptom. At that time I was diagnosed with severe hypoglycemia and to this day I struggle to keep my blood sugar and hormone levels balanced. Soon I started eating meat again.
Discovering Real Food
It’s been quite a few years since my vegetarian days, but I didn’t become a full blown meat eater after that. For many years as a professional dancer and singer I followed a low calorie diet of mostly plant foods, low fat meat and dairy, pre-made diet foods, coffee and sugar. One fateful day I read a recommendation in an Oprah magazine to read a book called “Real Food” by Nina Planck. I honestly don’t know why in the world I wanted to read this book (let alone reading that magazine). I wasn’t a fan of reading at the time (besides celebrity magazines) and I thought I knew what “healthy” was, but I had developed a serious interest in cooking as a newly married lady and made it a hobby to find and make authentic Italian recipes for my new hubby, which I noticed only used whole food ingredients- especially meat, butter and cheese. I began to think that possibly what I thought I knew about food and nutrition was wrong because my health problems had only been getting worse over the years on my “healthy” diet. I continued to have terrible acne, horrible digestive problems, horrible blood sugar issues, mood swings, and countless injuries that I wasn’t recovering from.
The “Real Food” book started me on a journey that eventually led to the completion of a bachelor’s degree in health arts and sciences with a certification as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), and to becoming a passionate teacher of whole, traditional foods as they relate to human health. In the book “Real Food”, Nina discusses her long history of vegetarianism/veganism and how she began the first farmers’ markets in London. Because of her own health issues, she embarked on a journey that led her to write a book (and a subsequent book specifically for Mom and Baby) that emphasizes the importance of animal foods in the diet, specifically raw dairy foods like butter, cheese and cream, as well as pasture-raised meat including lard, in addition to organic fruits, vegetables and plant foods. She discusses the evils of commercial farming and the industrialized food industry and why choosing a balanced diet of traditional, organic foods from quality sources is the best option for your health.
I always recommend “Real Food” as the perfect, gentle introduction to a “real food” diet. After reading it I became a reading fiend- diving into books like the Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan and Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon Morell. Through those books I discovered the Weston A. Price Foundation and Dr. Price’s book, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. I also discovered several nutrition organizations and resources, and since then my dietary life and profession changed completely.
Finally there was an answer for why my vegetarian ideas of a “healthy diet” had caused my years of deteriorating health and a bleak future- and I was still in my early twenties! Finally there was also an answer for my desire to eat animal foods while still being able to whole-heartedly respect and honor animals and fight against the crime of commercial farming and animal cruelty. Finally I was reading journals and research articles that made diet and nutrition SIMPLE yet completely supported by SCIENCE!
Dang…You Gotta Fight For The Right To Be A Healthy Meat Eater
I quickly discovered that my newfound passion for whole food, or “traditional food” nutrition was completely politically incorrect, especially in the world we live in where vegetarian-ness is next to godliness. We are indoctrinated in the belief that meat is bad, saturated fat is bad, and only plant foods are truly good. It even seems that many in our culture believe that those who reach the level of vegetarianism, and even better, veganism, are the nutritionally “enlightened” and truly compassionate eaters of the earth.
Now that I live and work in the nutrition world, I know that the meat-eating debate is a passionate one and usually has a lot of emotion tied to it. After all, it takes a lot of devotion and determination to be a vegetarian, especially a vegan, and naturally you are going to defend your convictions and life choices when someone tries to tell you that you are not making the best decisions for your health. But let me tell you that I’ve been studying comparative nutrition for a long time and conversed *lovingly and respectfully* with many vegetarian and vegan friends over the years. I spent a full semester in college researching and reporting on the “meat eating debate”, reading credible books from all perspectives. Believe me when I say I’ve read all the official vegetarian “evidence” books (The China Study, Food Revolution, etc.) and while I was in school, a large percentage of my peers were devout vegans. While I’m absolutely convinced- based on research, my clinical work with Nutritional Therapy clients, and my personal experience- that eating animal foods is necessary, even essential for human health in most people, I still respect and honor your opinions and your choice (and right) to avoid animal foods. However…
I ask that as you might consider spending some time re-evaluating your convictions. I have learned that I can only keep my passions alive if I continue to study, research, and question everything I believe. If you stop questioning, you lose passion. You become complacent, apathetic, arrogant, and an ineffective witness to others.
(I’m saying this from personal experience in many areas of my life.)
Instead of writing my own extensive and long-winded thesis here for eating animal foods, I’m going to present my perspective first by listing the basic reasons I believe a balanced diet that includes plenty of organic plant foods AND properly raised, quality sources of animal foods is best for human health and for the environment. After that I will give a list of links to well-cited articles, books, studies, and other credible resources that you can dive into on your own time.
Let me be clear on my nutritional stance on vegetarianism and veganism:
I do believe you can be a very healthy vegetarian if eggs, raw and/or cultured dairy and even fish are included in the diet. BUT you must go through the extra effort to obtain specific nutrients and cofactors (often from animal sources) that will be deficient in such a diet. I do not believe you can be a healthy vegan long term without synthetic nutrient supplementation, and even then the diet will be deficient in necessary cofactors for nutrient absorption. Vegan and vegetarian diets can be beneficial for short amounts of time as therapeutic diets, such as cleansing or detox periods and recovery from serious illness like cancer, but not as an optimal long-term or life-long option or preventive diet.
Why I Am Convinced It’s Best To Be A (Sustainable) Omnivore:
*Sustainable means eating animal foods from healthy, humanely raised animals that were respected in life and death, and making every effort not to waste any usable part of their bodies.
- Animal foods are the best source of some of the most important nutrients our bodies need for optimal health, such as fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K and many B-vitamins. While these individual nutrients may be obtained from plant foods, often the same nutrients found in the animal foods contain necessary cofactors that make the nutrient bioavailable and efficiently absorbed by the body. Even if those cofactors can be found in plant foods, it typically takes an inedible amount of servings of the plant food to provide what is offered in one serving of the animal food (particularly these fat soluble vitamins and b-vitamins, but also macronutrients like protein and essential fatty acids).
- Vegetarian and vegan diets typically lack the nutrients needed for optimal reproductive health and can hinder fertility, pregnancy, lactation and early child developmental health. (See Vitamins for Fetal Development by Dr. Chris Masterjohn)
- Vegetarians and vegans- based on scientific data and my personal clinical experience with vegetarians and vegans- often suffer from tooth decay, bone loss, mood swings, depression, infertility, and poor development in children.
- While commercial animal farms contribute to environmental pollution and soil depletion, commercial plant farming is equally guilty of these crimes. Over 87% of fruit and vegetable sales in America are non-organic, meaning they are raised with pesticides and herbicides that damage our health and contaminate our environment. Many of the non-organic plant foods (especially corn and soy) are most likely genetically modified as well (GMO), which is jeopardizing the existence of natural, organic and heirloom varieties of plants. (Watch Food, Inc. to understand this.) Large scale plant farms use chemical fertilizers and completely deplete the soil of organic nutrients, rendering the soil (the earth) entirely infertile, or dead. *You cannot raise traditional plants without animals fertilizing the soil- large animals, insects and microscopic animals- so truly vegan farming is almost impossible. Some vegan soil farming techniques are being developed, but they are completely unsustainable financially and the amount of resources needed.
- The government (via our tax dollars) subsidizes large scale plant farms (mainly non-organic, GMO corn and soy farms) to support the food industry which supplies American supermarkets with limitless corn and soy-based processed foods. These plant based foods are not “cheap” as they appear, they just seem to be because our tax dollars are covering part of the bill. These subsidized crops are also what make up the animal feed for the large commercial farms, so the “cheap” prices of supermarket animal foods is also not actually “cheap” but covered in part by your tax dollars. This is destroying the small family farmer, by the way, so if you want to support small family farms, buy local organic food- whether it’s plant or animal foods. (Again, watch Food, Inc. to understand.)
- Sustainable livestock farming produces more food calories on land that remains fertile than vegan farming (learn about sustainable farming from Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms). The best answer for world hunger is sustainable livestock farming with small organic plant food gardens that do not require more water than the land can offer. The answer to world hunger is not large scale plant farms and vegetarianism. If the world were to become vegetarian, there is no possible way enough food calories could be produced on this earth to sustain us, not to mention the deterioration of health and fertility that would result.
- It takes way more effort and resources to raise plants than livestock animals. This point on food sustainability is personal. I lived on a 3-acre homestead in southern California. I raised chickens, ducks, goats and a garden of plants. Due to the lack of and/or expense of water, dry soil and pests, I produced only a few small handfuls of plant food in a year- barely enough to add as side dishes to a few meals. I could have made a bigger effort growing plants, but with almost no effort I made breakfast every day from my chickens’ eggs…all year ’round. I raised a few turkeys for meat that gave us weeks of nutrient-desnse food from the meat and stock from the bones and edible organs. My husband even used feathers to make arrows. If I didn’t suck so much at balancing city life with homesteading life, I would have started milking my goats and made a plan to use the other 2 acres to raise more food before we moved away (I was only actually using less than one of the acres for all of this.) On those extra 2 acres- which were dry, full of gophers and made up of steep hills- I could have raised many goats for milk and meat and enjoyed more fertile soil from them grazing on the grass and turning the grass into nutrient-dense food for us humans (via their milk and meat). They also would eliminate the need for us to use diesel fuel for mowing. Now we’re in a small urban apartment with a little yard. We have a small vegetable and herb garden (which takes up most of the yard space), and I love my Tower Garden for raising plant food with aeroponics. But what actually provides sustainable food on such a small speck of land is our rabbits that we’ve started to raise for meat and fur. We plan to start a beehive here, too, to pollinate our plants and provide delicious raw honey and useful wax. If it were the “end of the world” we could probably survive here with our few hundred square feet of backyard space because of those animal foods. If we had to rely on this little bit of land to sustain us on plants alone then we’d surely die. Animal food is sustainable and nutrient-dense. Plant foods are fun, delicious, nutrient-dense, but not sustainable like properly raised animals.
- Is is possible to get all the nutrition you need from only plants? Almost yes…you cannot get adequate natural sources of Vitamin A and Vitamin B12, specifically the essential versions of these nutrients that come from animals, not plants. But- when you consider that specific nutrients that certain animal foods provide in small amounts can only be compared to the plant version in very large amounts, the animal source is easier, less expensive, is way more sustainable for our environment, and is a wiser and more diligent way to use the resources we have here on earth. Would you encourage a poor African family with very little land and water to farm an acre of land with the one plant they need to provide a year’s worth of vitamins A and D? Or would you encourage this family to raise a goat for milk which is rich in vitamins A and D while you still use the acre to raise a plethora of crops that would provide a vast variety of plant nutrients for the family and the goat? Not to mention the goat’s nutrient-dense fertilizer, composting/recycling of food scraps, and generations of more goats via procreation to provide meat and milk for the family.
Bottom line from me: It is simply more sustainable, more efficient, more earth-friendly and more satisfying (hello butter and cheese!) to eat a sustainable omnivorous diet rich in both organic, nutrient-dense, sustainably raised animal foods and plant foods. If you choose to avoid all animal foods, I respect your choice, but it’s just possible that my choice is actually the more ethical and nutritious option.
General Health and Information About Vegetarianism and/or Veganism
- Vegetarianism and Nutrient Deficiencies by Dr. Chris Masterjohn (start here!)
- “Vegetarian Myths” by By Stephen Byrnes, ND, PhD, RNCP
- “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability” by Lierre Keith (book)
- “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan (book)
- “Food For Thought: The Debate over Eating Meat”, a book of excellent essays presenting the many sides of the meat-eating debate, including vegan perspectives and ethical meat eating perspectives
- Review of “The China Study”, Dr. Joseph Mercola
- An exhaustive critique of The China Study by Michael R. Eades, M.D.
- Review of the movie, “Forks Over Knives”, Dr. Joseph Mercola
- Dangers of a Vegetarian Diet in Teens by Dr. Joseph Mercola
- Dr. Mercola discusses Vitamin B12 Deficiency in Vegans and Vegetarians
- “5 Brain Nutrients Found Only In Meat, Fish and Eggs (Not Plants)” by Authority Nutrition
- “8 Ridiculous Myths About Meat Consumption” by The Paleo Mama
- “Is Cow’s Milk Good For Humans” by Weed’em & Reap
- “Are Vegetarian Diets Really Healthier?” by Ramiel Nagel of Cure Tooth Decay
Reproduction: Fertility, Pregnancy, Lactation and Early Childhood
- Vitamins for Fetal Development by Dr. Chris Masterjohn
- Child exclusively breastfed by vegan mother dies of vitamin deficiency
- “Do Plant Based Diets Cause Infertility?” by Ancestral Nutrition
Ethical Meat Eating: Resources for respecting animals as a meat-eater
- Animal Welfare FAQ’s by Michael Pollan
- Ethical Omnivore Movement (Facebook page)
- New York Times winner of essay contest for “Ethics of Eating Meat”
- New York Times finalists’ essays from “Ethics of Eating Meat” contest
- “The Kind Diet: Is eating VEGAN the only way to be truly kind?” by Weed’em & Reap
Is Vegetarianism BETTER for the environment or WORSE?
- Why Vegetarianism Will Not Save The World, Dr. Joseph Mercola
- “The (Vegan Ecological) Wasteland” by Mark Purdey
- “The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability” by Lierre Keith
- Allan Savory’s TED talk: “How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change” (with grass fed cows)
- The Savory Institute: Promoting large-scale restoration of the world’s grasslands
If I had to choose between eating commercially raised meat or being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian, I would choose being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian.
After all of my research and confirmation that eating animal foods- including meat- are necessary for my family’s proper health, when it comes to my convictions of animal rights and sustainability, I would choose being a lacto-ovo-vegetarain (meaning a vegetarian that eats dairy foods and eggs) over eating meat from commercial sources. This report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirms that being a lacto-ovo-vegetarian is more sustainable than the “typical American meat eating diet”. Of course that’s true! Americans eat too much commercial meat and WASTE too much commercial meat. There’s no way I could eat as much beef as the standard American meat eater because I’m paying $12 for my burger with grass-fed beef and cheese while they’re paying $1 for their Big Mac. Government subsidies and agriculture (“big-ag”) politics make it possible to make the $1 burger made with cows fed GMO grain, soy and corn. Meanwhile my local grass-fed beef farmer doesn’t get any help from the government since he needs to OWN acres of LAND to feed his animals. See, the TRUE cost of properly raised livestock controls the consumption (since most people won’t be ordering two $12 burgers), eliminates waste (you think I’m going to waste any of my $12 burger?!), protects the animal, protects my health and benefits the environment. That is what a “sustainable” food cycle is. And rest assured that most, if not all, grass-fed beef farmers ensure that every part of the animal is used and utilized. It costs a lot to raise a cow on grass. Every last bit of the animal is going to have a purpose. When the animal is cheap and invaluable, their life and body is invaluable, and that is why you only see a handful of cuts available in the super market. When you buy a cow (that can feed a large family for a year)- you get ground beef, ribs, steaks, roasts, bones for stocks, tallow for cooking or body care products, and organ meats (which are safe and FULL of nutrients from grass-fed cows).
If I didn’t have access to sustainable meat, I would make the effort to eat only eggs and dairy because the cost of commercial meat to my health, the animal and the earth is far too high. If that is a choice you have to make, then at least make the very small investment in eggs and dairy from sustainable farms with animals that graze and live on pasture. Make sure you are daily eating plenty of raw and/or cultured whole-milk dairy like from the best sources possible, and rich, dark-yolk eggs from pasture-raised hens. I would also suggest *religiously* supplementing your diet with fermented cod liver oil/high vitamin butter oil blend and raw desiccated liver capsules (from grass-fed cows).
I love discussion and respectful debate, so please leave your comments and questions. Thank you for joining the conversation! We all are entitled to our own opinions…or life would be really boring, right?
BUT if you are rude, profane, insulting or offensive, I will delete your comment. Remember I still had to read it before deleting, so if you are a decent human being with compassion for others, including me, please hold your “tongue”.