Veggieism…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about vegetarians, vegans, carnivores, etc.  I’ve come to the realization that making a radical choice about what you eat exists soley because of the incredible abundance that we have available to us in our current culture.  You can only be a vegan because we have unlimited choices available to us, and we have companies who are willing to invest in making alternatives to meat based products.  Additionally, if you choose to be a carnivore you can essentially only do that because of the incredible amount of meat that we are able to efficiently “grow” (not withstanding the environmental aspects of such a food production system). 

We can choose to exclude certain food choices from our diet, if we wish, because there is plenty leftover to make up for that caloric shortfall.  I think our future will different in this regard, and I think we’ll see a decrease in the amount of extreme diets that exist in the world.

For example, take the fats we choose to use.  If you are a vegan today you are required to use vegetable based fats.  I would guess that these would be mostly vegetable oils and olive oil.  Prior to our industrial age only olive oil existed in mostly useable quantities.  As our energy resources constrict will we lose some of these sources?  Will we have to shut down the manufacturing of vegetable oils because that crop is needed as a food supply?  Or is it possible that we wouldn’t even have the resouces to manufacture such oils?  If that happens I would expect we would see a shift back to animal products as our source of cooking fat, and that would make being a vegan very difficult.

The same could be said for sweeteners.  Hard core vegans won’t use honey, because the bees are exploited.  Does that mean that you will only use sugar and maple syrup?  And how available will those products be when it’s near impossible to ship products around the world as we require?  Sugar is an item that will ship fairly well, but it’s supply will still be more difficult than it is now.  Maple syrup?  I don’t know about that one.

Additionally, if you choose to live a life mostly based on meat (ala the Atkins people) is that even feasible in a world where CAFOs won’t operate?  Grazing animals takes a lot of pasture space, and if you don’t have access to the land would you be able to make this work somehow?  It would seem like you will have to eat other items so that you would have sufficient calories.  Meat will be more scarce in our future.  There is no other way for it to be.  This would have to impact what you eat.

Lately I’ve been playing around with being mostly meat free.  I’ve been eating it maybe 2 or 3 times for the past couple of weeks.  I am still eating cheese and butter, and also eggs.  Occassionally I will use millk in something.  I have noticed a marked difference in a number of things.  Things like my energy level (it’s really true), my hunger level (more fiber = less hunger it would seem) and my trips to the restroom (I’ll give no more information on that one), but I think it’s an interesting perspective.  I had always figured all those claims were a bunch of PR phooey.  But it appears to be true.  (To be fair, the Atkins people make the same claims, so believe who you want.)

I think I’ll keep eating this way.  I like it and it’s easier than cooking meat.  It really is.  But I know I’ll keep eating meat.  I don’t agree with those who say that you can get all your nutritional needs from plant products.  While it sounds good in theory, if you search our evolutionary history the last one of our ancestors that existed solely on a plant diet was around 2.5 million years ago, and they died off when the meat eating animals took over power.  The energy available from the meat in their diet allowed them the slight caloric edge to advance past the animals that were strictly plant eaters.  Most importantly it gave them the extra energy necessary to power the huge brains they would eventually process. 

This time period was before the time of agriculture, which was founded around 10,000 years ago.  Is it possible that we produce enough calories now that we farm to obtain all our calories from plant sources?  Absolutely.  What isn’t possible is for our body to evolve in 10,000 years to something different than it was 10,000 years ago.  If we needed animal products in our diet to progress 10,001 years ago (and it appears that we did) our bodies will need some animal products still today.  At least to me this seems to be the case.

My understanding of all of these things drives my food decisions.  I know I’ll eat meat, but when I do I’ll make sure to use as much of the animal as I can.  I also know that I’m going to treat it as more of a special occasion item than something you have to have with every meal, and I’ll make sure the animal was humanely raised before it was killed.

I agree with others that eating a more plant centric life is more healthy, but I don’t think going to the extreme of only eating plants is healthy either.  I believe you need a balance of nutrients, and some of these important nutrients are found in their best source in animal products.

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9 responses to “Veggieism…

  1. My thinking is along the exact same lines — while I commend people for being vegans and vegetarians (even several in my family), it likely won’t be a matter of choice in the future. Only a very few will have the resources and the nutritional know-how to make a vegetarian diet practical and healthy. By the same token, it’s very clear that meat is not needed at every meal (something that was not so clear to me when I was growing up in Iowa!), and we’ve worked to reduce our own consumption down to just a couple times a week. It’s been great for the food budget…

  2. Good post… I agree with Kunstler’s take that people in the future will think that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad calorie.’ Meat consumption will probably fall over time simply due to market conditions… Too expensive to produce and therefore limited to special meals, or as a garnish rather than the focal point of a meal.

  3. All things in moderation. I don’t agree with “diets.” I think we should all strive for balance, and by that I do not mean what the USDA tries to make us believe constitutes a balanced diet.

    Figure out what’s in your local food shed and build your diet around that. That’s what I think :).

  4. AH moderation~if only I could attain it! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  5. While I think the evolutionary tales of our ancestors is bunk, I have to agree with you that today’s dietary religions are based on a freedom of choice and availability of technology that is so far unparalleled. I have often wondered how our diets would change if we were suddenly catapulted into eating off our own land/locale again. The human body is so adaptable as to be able to live well on almost any healthy foods, as a brief survey of world cultures proves. I sure hope you are right that environmental concerns and so forth will usher us back into a “normal” view of food again. I think we all sure could use the break…

  6. I agree with you Matt that in the future we will probably see fewer people eating extreme diets; completely excluding for instance meat, as vegetarians do. And I also agree that certain diets, like vegan eating, would be really, really difficult without a modern agricultural system that relies heavily on global transport. But I think you’re wrong when you say that such diets are possible only because of the abundance of choice we have concerning what we eat. (Ben Franklin was a vegetarian.) In fact I think it is exactly the opposite. Most vegetarians I know do not eat meat for one or several of the following reason.

    1. They don’t have the option of eating responsibly raised animals.
    2. They don’t have the option of eating animals that are raised without enormous energy and resource inputs.
    3. They don’t have the option of eating meat without ingesting growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and preservatives.

    Saying that people follow such dietary limitations simply because they have so many other choices misses the real point. People chose to eat this way because the option of responsibly raised meat, free from poisons and raised in a low impact manner hadbecome almost impossible to acquire in the age of industrial farming. It’s about a lack of choices, not an abundance of them.

    As more people reject this model of raising animals and as oil peaks and the realizations of climate change make CAFOs less attractive, more vegetarians will begin to eat meat again. They will do it because the option of ‘Just Meat’ will be available to them again.

    Omnivores will probably point to this reduction in vegetarianism and say it was simply all the soy products available at the local grocery store, suddenly less available in a post peak world. And sure that will play a role, but I think that fails to address the question of why extreme eaters made their decisions in the first place. They noticed this system was broken long before most of us. And as it heals they’ll return to more mainstream patterns of eating.

    Aaron
    (who is thinking of returning to meat after years without eating it.)

  7. a few other comments.

    if you’re not growing Stevia you should. it’s a perennial here in NC but even in colder climates it should be an easy annual. it seeds like crazy and is easy to sprout. it is very, very sweet and could be a great sugar substitute.

    in a low energy future, it might be imperative that we allow animals to graze marginal lands and transform plants we can’t digest into meat we can.

    also peter bane recently did this great calculation on the salatin farm, polyface, in which he estimated that if all the farmers east of the dakotas farmed like joel salatin, they would sequester more carbon each year than the US emits. in other words, raising pastured poultry, pigs and cows on perennial grasses might be a serious tool in the effort to remove carbon from the atmosphere. this is an astounding realization.

  8. Good points everyone.

    Aaron–It’s only the outlying food choices that I’m mostly concerned with. Vegetarianism could be more sustainable than veganism, or carnivoreism. (Is that a word??) Not eating meat isn’t the big issue to me. It’s the fat you need in your diet. Without manufactured oils I don’t think a vegan diet could be sustained.

    Vegetarians could drink milk or eat eggs, which would allow them to get some fat in a world without vegetable oils.

    You make valid points about not being able to find quality meat products, as I found out this weekend driving across Iowa and seeing hog barn after hog barn, but that’s a different choice than just simply whether or not a diet choice is even possible.

  9. Nuts! Don’t forget the Nuts!

    Our 2 little uns have been veg since birth-great bills of health all around. Vegan without oil would be hard. Lacto-Ovo Vegetarian? Not hard at all. Complete Proteins (mix whole grains and legumes) and fats from dairy, or if your lacto averse like my family, lots of nuts and eggs.
    We researched the snickers out of this (our son had surgery when he was 3 mo. so nutrition was uber important) and with some planning going totally vegetarian is nutritionally sound, even for the high fat needs of little’uns growing brains.

    That said in my children’s generation, low grade meat will most likely be a necessity for all but the rich, just a it is now in the third world.
    -Rob

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