Thursday, July 17, 2014

Eating Meat is the New (and Old) Eating Healthful

As an advocate of eating meat, I am often forwarded a slew articles by many people stating how bad meat is for you. I also get to be called some pretty horrific things by some spineless people who like to hide behind anonymous twitter names, blogs, etc. Fortunately I have thick skin. However, when another article found its way to my doorstep I wanted to take the time to respond to it.

Written by a "strong, healthy ultra endurance athlete on a 100% organic, real food, plant-based lifestyle" named Sarah Stanley, this article is entitled "Why Going Meatless Is The New Black." (Edit: Unfortunately, this article has been removed so some of my points referencing things said might be a bit confusing. Believe me, reading the article wouldn't make any more sense anyway.). Eye-rolling at the title aside, I thought I would give it a read as I like to hear opposing viewpoints. It helps me learn things or at least hear the newest ludicrousness. In addition, I have never met Ms. Stanley but I am almost positive we have exchanged an email or two as we both lived in the same neck of the woods as athletes for about four years.

Because Ms. Stanley touts her athletic record I thought I would take some time to look it up. She is a perfectly fine athlete having run a a variety of races. It did, however, take a little searching to find any of her results. Now, I am not looking up her times to belittle her. I only look up someone's race times when they want to use their results as proof for how their diet is superior. The average person doesn't know what times for marathons and the like are and as so many "can't run down the block", they don't know enough to call bullshit on someone who need it. So I found her races.

While this list is not exhaustive, it appears Ms. Stanley has a finished a 100 miler race just a hair shy of 25 hours, a 50 mile race just over 10 hours and one marathon (out of a handful over 4 hours) in 3:40. Solid times. Nothing to sneeze at. Nothing to necessary brag about as being proof of the superiority of your diet either, but there they are.

Now, I want to address each one of the points she makes in the article and if I can't disagree with her, I will say so.

1. Her first point is that it takes ~ 2,500 gallons of clean water to produce one pound of beef. Well, first off, it takes a lot of water to produce many things (I touched on a similar claim in another article here.) While I found conflicting sources (one said it takes 5000 litres to produce a kilogram of beef, which is the same as saying 590 gallons to produce one pound of beef) it appears it takes much closer to 450 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. Or 1/5 what the claim was. (Just as an FYI it takes 1.1 gallons to produce ONE FREAKING ALMOND.  Look at this chart to see how much water it takes to produce tiny little things (e.g, 5.4 gallons to produce a single damn head of broccoli.) Furthermore, the stats means the amount of water used to create the food for cattle, as well as all the water a cattle drinks during its entire lifetime. It is taking into account every single aspect of water which eventually goes into cattle. So in other words, it sounds like it takes a lot of water to produce beef until you realize it takes a lot of water to produce most things. (Please note: it would take this amount of water for the cattle to simple be alive and not be turned into food as well. In fact, since they live longer if not slaughtered, they would consume more water.  But don't let that nugget get in the way of your misinformed righteousness, Ms. Stanley.)

2) Sarah's second point is so rife with error and conjecture I could write an article about every word in it but I want to keep it concise. She states that 99% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms. For citation she uses the ASPCA for this statistic. Of course, that particular article just says it is true with no evidence or study. It doesn't say what it is basing this statistic on. It just says it is true. So in other words it is unfounded and complete and utter bullcrap. 

I do know I have been to many feed lots in the US including the biggest one in Idaho in Grand View. What I saw were healthy, happy animals with enormous amounts of land to run around in. And if there is a roof that covers 750 acres of land, I must have missed it. (See picture.)

And I want to take an aside here about "hormones" which the usage of the word and how appalled people get over it just makes me cringe. Let's do a quick experiment:

Make a dot the size of a ladybug.  That is approximately how much hormones are given to a cattle prior to its slaughter. Note, however, those hormones must be completely out of its system before it is killed for food. That cow will weigh around 1400 lbs. Now take the same dot. Give it to a 140 person 21 days out of every 28. What do you have? Birth control. (Of course Hobby Lobby will love this argument but that is not my point. And it really confuses the hell out of people when I put down both vegetarians and the religious right in the same article but there you go.)  My point is that "hormones" at least when it comes to cattle, barely exist. Stop thinking they are horrible. They keep the animals healthy and strong and give you a good end product that is healthful.

I am also not negating that 80% of the antibiotics used in America are used in Animals. It takes a great deal of antibiotics to keep a lot of animals healthy. There are nearly 90 million head of cattle in America. There are also over 2 billion (with a "b") chickens in the US. They will require more antibiotics than human just by sheer numbers. So when you say 80%, know what you are talking about.

3) Sarah then says that  most people aren't even eating "real meat". This is like when the Huffington Post says that thin women are not "real women".  Yes, they are. And yes the meat is.  Just stop it.

4) I have no idea what her fourth point is about other than saying life is connected.  OK. I agree.

5) Her fifth point is that if you are an awful human being and must simply eat meat then make sure it is always "organic".  Most people haven't the foggiest clue what organic is.  Calling something organic does not make it wonderful. Want to know what is organic? Cancer.

6) She says there is no compelling reason to make meat the center of attraction.  Other than the fact that there are a plethora of reasons, she is 100% correct. Meat, especially lean beef (here is a list of the 29 cuts of beef that are leaner than skinless chicken thigh; yes, you read that right) is low in calories, high in protein, zinc and iron, and tastes good. I think those are all good reasons.

7) According to some studies, it does appear that a vegetarian lifestyle reduces greenhouse gases, even though the amount is up for debate. That said, I have always despised the argument that we are caring for the Earth. No, we are caring for the Earth in a way that makes sure it sustains life for us oxygen-breathing creatures. I don't mean to get off-point here but the Earth will ALWAYS be fine. If we turn our atmosphere into nothing but methane, I am sure a methane-breathing creature will arise. Now I don't want to kill off the human race but let's stop with the earth-hugging. The Earth doesn't love us.  It hits us with volcanoes and earthquakes and tornadoes. The Earth is kind of a dick. But yes, there could be less greenhouse gases (possibly) if there was zero production of meat.

8) Sarah says that going meat free helps prevent cancer in spite of this report by a small college no one has heard of called Harvard Medical School that says "large amounts of red meat can produce genetic damage to colon cells in just a few weeks, but it does not prove that red meat causes cancer."   There is, however, a clear and unarguable link between alcohol and cancer and many drink away, including holier-than-thou vegetarians.

9) The next attack is on the fast food chains, Lunchables and hotdogs. OK, virtually no one eating a hot dog is doing it for health reasons. As for Lunchables, come on. Is the argument so weak that you are going after a product called "Lunchables"? And knocking fast food joints really is knocking the things that people eat that they would put on no-meat products anyway. Sauces, oils, dressing, etc. Meat is not the problem.

10) Her tenth and final point is a heart strings one. It talks about compassion. I have zero problem stating that in order to eat an animal you must kill it. There is no sugar-coating that in my life. However, I have seen the way in which these animals live and by a HUGE percentage, they live wonderful lives.

Now, will this get read as much as something that is not Sarah Stanley-approved.  God I hope so. I don't have the (quizzically) large twitter follower numbers she has but I do get around.


I (Dane) am a decently good, healthy endurance athlete on a healthy diet consisting of meats, vegetables and somewhat less healthy diet sometimes consisting of Little Debbie Swiss Cake Rolls. But I have a course record in a 50 mile race and ran 52 Marathons in a year. Proof that eating lean beef really is awesome.


wilsonIRC said...

Love it!

Lauren said...

Yay! Very much enjoyed this post.

Margaret Dunn said...

Just awesome. Thanks Dane!

Ancient Chinese Secret said...

You should add this: too.

If she keep eating plant only, she might turn into a zombie athlete that a toxic diet consisting defensive vegetable.

Kyle Kranz said...

Well written Dane.

I have been vegetarian for nearly 8 years but have never recommended it to someone for health reasons, because I'm not convinced there are any. Your article is proof that for every health/environmental benefit of avoiding meat there's a perfectly credible counter argument. If a person is swayed to a plant based diet for health reasons I feel they can just as easily be swayed to paleo or any other diet for health reasons if the articles they are reading that week are good enough.

There are different types of meat. Instead of meat vs not meat I think a better way to think is crappy food vs healthier options. There is a huge health and environmental difference between the cheapest meat at the grocery store and what you can buy from the local butcher.

I avoid animal products for ethical reasons, primarily factory farming and the conditions the majority of our meat/dairy/eggs come from. I'm not entirely sure I would call your Grandview image a good place to live, but there are certainly worse. I grew up on a small dairy farm myself. I have much less issue with free range, fishing, or hunting (for the right reasons).

Daren Williams said...

Kyle, I appreciate your reasoned response. We need more rational discussion on the emotional issue of raising animals to produce food. I would like to challenge your thinking on the issue of "cheap beef" and environmental impact. The US model of raising cattle on grass (all are) and finishing on grass and grain in a feedyard (95% are) actually conserves resources. We produce more beef with less land, wAter, feed and fuel

Carrie said...

I've always wondered where these overcrowded, filthy, factory farms are where cattle never get to see sunshine are. I have never seen one, and I've been in a lot of feedlots. Mr. Kranz, I invite you to show me one.

My problem with the words "organic" and "natural" as it applies to food is that arsenic and cyanide are natural, but I wouldn't recommend anyone eat that.

If one chooses to live a "natural", "organic", vegetarian, or vegan lifestyle, that's great. Just please don't tell me I'm wrong for choosing to feed my family a healthy diet consisting of animal products.

Kyle Kranz said...

@ Carrie - I could probably round up a photo or two of my father's old farm where the main indoor area for the cows to have shelter had them walking and sitting in their own shit.

Of course they spent time outside. But there's something about being raised to have your nipples sucked on by machines or to be slaughtered that seems wrong to me.

But as I said, I agree with Dane MUCH more than I disagree with him.

Matt Barker said...

Good take on this Dane, I think the only point I would add that the American Diet in general is probably too dependent on meat and not enough of other items. That said anyone that spends time competing as an athlete makes sacrifices in food for their athletics, i.e. organic stuff, more fruit and vegetables, less fat ect.