To Meat or Not to Meat

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As I announced last week I have made a change in my life that I expect will vastly improve my health, which in turn should reduce my health care costs.  It’s a change in diet that will also reduce my carbon foot print since all meals will be plant-based.  The amount of carbon-based fuel to process meat and dairy is quite excessive and the manure from large animal factories adds significantly to CO2 levels in the atmosphere.   To me it’s a win-win-win situation but when presented to friends and relatives, I become something of a pariah to them.   Or so it seems.

Eyes roll at the mention of a meatless, dairy-less diet and I am considered a prime target for an intervention, much like someone who has been swept up by a godless cult and who people fear will proselytize their children.  I can deal with that for the most part because I am older and care less now about what most people think.  One of the few gifts with aging is that you no longer feel motivated to “fit in” with things that are often based on traditions and custom which most people know little about.

I thought I would have a difficult time removing steaks and fried chicken from my menu.  I was used to making either a ham, turkey or pastrami sandwich with cheese and chips each day for lunch.  Every Sunday I would make a special breakfast of two eggs, sausage or bacon, hash browns and an english muffin.  I love chocolate chip cookies and any kind of cake, both accompanied with a cold glass of 2% milk.  But this transition has been made easier by a strong personal will to make it happen and the fact that plant-based substitutes exists to fill the void (for the most part anyway) where meat and dairy once reigned.

There are of course those who will insist that such a diet goes against mankind’s “natural” instincts.  I am always willing to listen to such arguments but thus far I have found none that provide enough substance to override my decision.  One such argument is the paleo diet.  A diet that includes meat, dairy, vegetables and fruit but no grain.

This diet is supposed to represent the eating habits that our earliest ancestors lived off of during a period that preceded recorded history.

The paleolithic diet (abbreviated paleo diet or paleodiet), also popularly referred to as the caveman diet, Stone Age diet and hunter-gatherer diet, is a modern nutritional plan based on the presumed ancient diet of wild plants and animals that various hominid species habitually consumed during the Paleolithic era—a period of about 2.5 million years which ended around 10,000 years ago with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets. In common usage, such terms as the “Paleolithic diet” also refer to the actual ancestral human diet.    SOURCE   

Recent supplemental information also suggests that modern diets which include a lot of carbs are the cause for a spike in dental problems following the advent of farming.  Researchers, through the examination of 34 prehistoric human skeletons from northern Europe, have determined that the “DNA trapped in the tartar [of these pre-historic skeletons] reveals that the meat-dominated, grain-free diet of the hunter gatherers gave our ancestors much healthier mouths”.

Published in Nature Genetics, the research shows declining oral health can be pegged to major changes in the way humans lived and ate, with the start of farming in the Neolithic age and the industrial revolution being key turning points.

The arrival of farming in Europe about 8000 years ago and the industrial revolution in the 1800s each increased the amount of refined carbohydrates and sugars humans consumed, which led to our mouths being dominated by cavity-causing bacteria.     SOURCE   

These arguments present a dilemma for someone who has concluded that meat and dairy contribute significantly to heart disease and many cancers.  But when you look beyond the claims of such pronouncements there is room to be skeptical.  In fact, it is presumptuous to suggest that reverting to eating habits that have disappeared over time will serve as example of how we need to eat today.

No doubt that the modern diet with its processed foods loaded with various kinds of sugars, especially the proliferate use of corn-based, hi-fructose syrups, have a debilitating effect on our physical and oral health.  Few would argue with this but few would also make the necessary changes to eliminate these items from their diet.  Eating habits that existed from birth are not easily overturned.

caveman-diet

But the notion that meat and dairy are still essential to a healthy diet will be even more difficult to overturn.  And any arguments that suggest early man benefitted from such meat-rich diets will ensure even deeper entrenchment for those whose consumption of oil and fatty meat diets is self evident in the layers of skin hanging from their frames.  Yet, if we compare the caveman diet with modern man we will find that trying to replicate this in our time will actually do more harm than good.

The fact that a diet with casein, the protein found in most dairy products, is related to heart disease and animal proteins that are high in saturated fat cause cancer is pretty much indisputable.  The exhaustive research by the pioneers of a plant-based diet, Drs. T. Colin Campbell and Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr. have demonstrated this.

A study that gives greater credence to these findings showed that when Nazi Germany occupied Norway their troops depleted Norwegian livestock, leaving the native population to survive on a plant-based diet.  During this roughly 5-year period of time heart disease among the Norwegians dropped dramatically then rose again to pre-war levels after the occupation of their country ended in 1945, where meat once again dominated their diets, as the graph below shows

norway_wwii

Add to all of this the findings that lower heart disease rates in Kenya and Papua New Guinea exists where meat is not part of their diets and you have even greater credibility to the premise that fewer diseases will be found in cultures who eschew meat, unlike most people in western cultures.

So what makes the claims of the paleo diet supporters weak along with the notion that current diets heavy laden with carbs are detrimental to good oral hygiene?  Seems like a no-brainer to me.  We’re not prehistoric humans any longer.

In most contemporary western cultures people live longer as a result of better health care services.  But even these lives are cut shorter due to diets that bring on heart disease, cancer and diabetes from obesity.  Unlike our early farming ancestors we have ample water supplies with fluoride in them and are better educated about oral hygiene, thus diminishing the threat of dental problems resulting from a high carb diet.

Eating large amounts of meat in a single sitting isn’t unhealthy either when you’re not sure where your next meal is coming from.  Cavemen pretty much had to walk, or in some cases, run, in order to find sources of animal food.  It may have been days before ample supplies were located, killed, dragged back to camp, skinned and prepared to eat.  This expended a lot of energy and prevented fat from meat and dairy getting stored up in our guts and butts.  Unlike today’s human, there was no supermarket or convenience food outlet to run down to when an empty stomach sent signals to your brain that is was time to feed it.

caveman

Our lifestyles are different today and there are countermeasures to offset the ill-effects that come from more sedentary behaviors.  But even though we may live longer, those who eat meat and dairy along with processed foods, do so less vigorously and by spending a larger portion of their income on health care to offset the damage done to their bodies that comes from eating food sources conducive to damaging vital body organs.

I don’t mean to come across as some idealist nor as someone whose own life reflects the advantages of a plant-based diet.  I haven’t been at it long enough.  I still add a slice of cheese to some of my lunch meals and have yet to eliminate the high-cholesterol Sunday breakfast, although I have replaced the meat sausage with plant-based patties.

I suspect I will have bouts of craving animal food for some time to come.  It was the same when I quit smoking in 1980.  For at least a decade after I would have the occasional urges to light up.  I don’t know how many times I would sit up in the middle of the night after having a nightmare where I visualized myself sucking down that soothing smoke from choice tobacco products.

Our bodies don’t forget easily the life it has become accustomed to.  Like the amputee who still dreams that he has all of his appendages and for the longest time keeps reaching across to scratch an itch on his opposite forearm that’s no longer there, the mind acts as if nothing has changed until enough time has elapsed and it conditions itself to the current reality.  It is also this way I figure with people who cast a doubtful eye towards me when I inform them I have sworn off meats and dairy.  It just doesn’t register as a something that “normal” people do.

Maybe not.   But a year or two from now if I’m down some 40 pounds to my ideal weight, sleep all night without pharmaceutical aids, haven’t seen a doctor for any reason, and experience more energy than I have in the last twenty years, then in all likelihood, everything else being equal, it’s probably safe to attribute the change to a different approach in how I feed nutrients to my body.

Maybe then those who would have plotted to pack me off to a rehab center will be less resistant to ignore the benefits of making such a simple but life-altering change.  Then again maybe not and the bane of living a longer, healthier life will be standing by the grave sight of those friends and relatives, watching their casket being lowered six feet into the earth.

mid section view of a man sitting on a bench in a park

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28 responses to “To Meat or Not to Meat

  1. You know Larry: it is whatever floats your boat and makes you feel good in mind and body. I applaud your decision to try it out. A long time ago, someone wanted me to do a macrobiotic diet for a health reason and this meant no cookies. I thought about the pros and cons and realized that I might be healthier in the long run, but I might kill someone in my withdrawal from dessert, so I opted to keep the cookies and watch my diet in other ways. I think the world is safer for that decision and I’m still here. HA HA

    • And may you be here for a long time to come Donna.

      Don’t want to burst your bubble though. The damage to endothelial cells that line serous cavities, lymph vessels, and blood vessels will damage from meat and dairy diets before you recognize serious health issues. I’m not sure what it is for women but for men, the canary in the mine that these cells are damaged, ultimately leading to more serious heart diseases and cancers is erectile dysfunction. Men think this has something to do with aging and depression but it is actually a biological reaction to damaged cells in areas where blood flows, which is often the result of a meat-based diet.

      Please don’t think me a cultist and plot to have me committed. 😀

  2. No one is going to feel sorry for me with this … but, when I’ve tried to go meatless in the past … It wasn’t protein that was the problem … but simply not getting enough calories. My metabolism is abnormally fast. I start to shrivel away quickly. Any advice?

    • I’m really not authorized to give specific advise on this guy. But what it sounds like you have is something similar to what I have too – a mild form of diabetes, perhaps better known as a “low sugar count”.

      When my body gets low on sugar calories I wolf down sweets or hi-protein foods like peanut butter crackers to stop the tremors. I remember as a young adult having one of these “attacks” while playing basketball alone in an apartment complex. I literally had to crawl the last few feet to a coke machine and down to 7-Ups to regain my strength.

      My wife is a type II diabetic and yet she has had some success with this plant-based diet we’re trying. But no two metabolisms are identical so my advice is to get expert help about your condition either from your physician or a registered dietician.

  3. I’m not trying to be a body builder … what do I care if I get a little skinny …

    I appreciate your mission with this.

    We’ve got to start making conscious steps towards progressive evolution at some point, don’t we?. The fact that we started out meat eaters, is not an argument for continuing to be (just restating what you already have). I think part of the issue is that most of us don’t try to include the entire species in our identity. We are all worried about ourselves, our friends, our family … what about the 7 billion others? 7 billion minus 150 … 150, I believe is roughly the amount of meaningful human connections we are capable of creating in our brains.

    If we cared about the 7 billion … 10,000 years from now might matter to some of us a little more.

    I think perhaps most of us also assume that evolution is inherently progressive … that no matter what we do, God will take care of us … that God wants us to flourish … If only it were possible to show people where we are headed (that old, residual Catholic wishful thinking. useless, but I still turn to it).

  4. You will be surprised how easy it really is to curb the meat. I was a “veggie” for five years (when it wasn’t popular), I have cut the red meats, I never touch anything that resembles a Disney critter.. Like Bambi &Thumper, or Warner Brothers’ Porky Pig & Daffy…

    Have you investigated the Gluten free arena? I am thinking of changing to that diet as it is also a protein genre.

    Great post LB!

    • “Have you investigated the Gluten free arena? I am thinking of changing to that diet as it is also a protein genre.”

      I think gluten free is an inherent part of the plant-based diet CW with the exception of whole grain wheat, but no, I haven’t thoroughly checked out a gluten free diet per se. I’ll do that and thanks for the tip.

      Let me know how it goes with you.

  5. Larry…I think you’re on the right track and will feel better and be healthier as a result. I’m on a low fat – high fiber diet, am not overweight, exercise daily and feel great. Stick with it and you’ll feel great too.

  6. You go, guy! The evidence that we are on the opposite end of the vegetarian-carnivor axis (of the great apes) from gorillas is pretty compelling (size and type of gut, teeth, etc.). That doesn’t mean we have to eat meat, just that we were designed by evolution to do just that (along with anything else we can find–we are omnivores).

    The dairy exclusion is only sensable because no mammal needs any dairy after they are weaned. What paleolithic person had a source of dairy products? How were they stored? Utter nonsense that we “need” any dairy products, just a number of damned big indistries making money that way.

    Good luck!

  7. Larry, I understand the health issues……but you know the older we get the more prone to diseases….I have seen all the studies with this item protects against dementia or that item is good for the health of your colon …..and eating well and sensible is probably a good idea I just do not think that it will make that much difference in the long run…..Good luck and wish you well with the lifestyle…..

  8. very interesting……….poverty changed my diet. I cut out all fast food, all soda, ate ‘less’ meat…….cut out 90% of shit food like potato chips and such…..walked and biked as much as possible…..and …..lost 28 pounds. I still have issues from stuff……past injuries …but overall I think I am on my way to my ultimate goal. I WANT TO BE A 60 YEAR OLD STUFF MUFFIN! well, that hasn’t happened, but ya, ya everyone needs a goal. Good thing beer is not dairy or meat.

  9. My hat’s off to you Larry. I know you are heading in the right direction. Wish I had the willpower to do it, but I don’t. I’m doing my best to eat healthier and more plants at least. Keep us posted. You inspire!

  10. I suppose I’ve been lucky in that I’ve never been fond of meat. Still like the occasional dairy product, but mostly do the plant based diet especially during the harvest months when I get divine stuff from my local CSA. One thing to watch for is that plant based diets don’t provide your B-12. If I forget to take my supplement of that vitamin for an extended amount of time (sublingual is best), I’m usually reminded when I start noticing tremors in my hands.)

    • “One thing to watch for is that plant based diets don’t provide your B-12. “

      That’s a good point Gunta. In fact Vitamin B-12 was the only supplement the experts on the Forks over Knives documentary suggested that you purchase. We don’t require it that often because it stores itself in our bodies for years but plant-based diets don’t provide this essential vitamin. Vegan food sources can be fortified with it like in soy milk so its important that if you’re on a strict plant-based diet that you buy products that have added this vitamin

  11. One of the problems with the paleodiet is that to be bluntly honest, it’s considered to be a fad more than reality. We pretty much ate whatever was available at the time. Along with that, many of the “meatless diet” claims – like in the Omnivore’s Dilemma, have been shown to use “cooked figures.” For example, the amount of corn in a chicken nugget that was cited includes all the corn used to feed the chicken. There used to be a figure for the amount of water to produce a pound of beef, which was based on the amount of water used to grow the corn – irrigated, at that – that you would feed the cow from weaning to slaughter with only corn, the water the animal drank, and the water used to process it. 🙄

    Our modern diet is much more carbon producing, not just because of meat. Consider all the “fresh veggies” you see in your local grocery store. They didn’t come from local farmers, they were often shipped from long distances – even from other countries. It wasn’t that long ago that you didn’t really have fresh all year, you mostly had canned when it was “out of season.” The problem today is not so much processed food, it’s that we have too much of it for a lifestyle that’s increasingly “couch potato.”

    • “Our modern diet is much more carbon producing, not just because of meat. Consider all the “fresh veggies” you see in your local grocery store. They didn’t come from local farmers, they were often shipped from long distances – even from other countries”

      Agreed. It’s up to the shopper to inspect their produce to see where it comes from. If you can keep supplies within a 500 mile radius, especially in the off-season, you’ve accomplished a lot in reducing the carbon foot print from those shoppers who select what appeals to them without regard to its point of origin. I shop when I can at farmers markets and food co-ops. I plant tomatoes each year and will be adding carrots and cucumbers this year. I’ll can some of it to carry me over as long as possible.

      But on a comparative scale it consumes much more carbon-based energy to produce meat products than it does plant food. The refrigeration costs alone to keep and transport meat products is something that few plant foods require. There are I believe only five major meat packers/producers in the country so location of origin is far more limited than it is to plant food producers.

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