Eat Meat or Go Vegetarian? Who and what do you believe about ‘what to eat’? I’d like to share some insight from my journey as a 15-year vegan/vegetarian. Really, I could write a book about it, and I might some day. For now, I'm going to do my best to summarize some important lessons on psychology (beliefs), food, health, environment and ethics of 'paleo or vegan' as well as some personal experiences. These are critical points that people base their worldview on - these are personal, professional, spiritual and global issues. People need to be informed. If we are going to make diet & lifestyle choices, they need to be informed by truth, whether you eat meat or go vegan or are somewhere in between. I’ll start with a brief overview of a few factors that influenced my transition from vegan/vegetarian to eating meat. Then I’ll cover two critical points most people get wrong – nutrition and the environmental issues surrounding eating meat. I will also dispel some myths about the topic so you’ll have real reasons to base your beliefs and guide your diet & lifestyle choices. I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker
I was introduced to organic food and health food stores in Miami Beach when I was 10 years old. At 12, I had my own produce stand in the Florida Keys. At age 16 (1986), I was a punk rocker, started playing in bands, spent some high school in Israel and became a vegetarian. 1986 was also the last time I ate at McDonald’s.
For the next 15 years, I lived a committed vegan/vegetarian lifestyle. I was an outspoken advocate of the vegan/vegetarian diet/lifestyle for ethical, spiritual, health and environmental reasons. This is true vegan/vegetarian living – it’s not a ‘diet’ or a trend for the sincere; it’s a lifestyle, built on beliefs, ideologies & philosophies where compassion is valued and eating red meat is seen as unnatural, unnecessary and dangerous.
This idea & lifestyle was diametrically opposed to the mainstream Standard American Diet (SAD) and most conformist social trends, which I found appealing…
The punk rock community in America during the 1980’s was larger than life, diverse and imbued with innovators, intellectuals, freethinkers, revolutionaries, activists, musicians & characters of all types. This global community was a model for multicultural diversity & tolerance, which the United States has yet to figure out. Although not entirely vegan/vegetarian, there was a strong presence, and it grew into factions; there were militant vegans, anarcho-vegans, spiritual vegan/vegetarians – it was diverse, which was important.
When I was 19, I went to India to learn yoga and embraced what I thought was the most natural, compassionate & spiritual lifestyle. Back home in the states, I played in well-known punk bands, developed a coherent philosophy, rejected most forms of authority and passionately promoted vegan/vegetarian lifestyle.
The punk subculture had varied social and political beliefs associated with it and was primarily concerned with concepts such as rebellion, anti-authoritarianism, individualism, free thought, discontent, drug free living, deep ecology, activism and skepticism.
‘Straight edge’ was a stance against recreational use of drugs, alcohol and meat eating.
The political ideology most often associated with punk is anarchism; punk has also been associated with other leftist ideologies such as socialism and social liberalism. Some punks, anarcho-punks specifically, however, perceive leftists as ineffectual, and sometimes just as objectionable as right-wingers. Philosophical and religious ideologies within the punk subculture include: atheism, agnosticism, Christianity, Islam, Hare Krishna and Rastafarian. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Punk_ideologies
Our drug free and vegan/vegetarian lifestyle was not a trend, it was an empowered, outspoken community delivering a message to the world about human & animal suffering. We were kids, but we were also leaders, authors, artists, performers, teachers, athletes and activists intended on creating social, political, economic and environmental change.
We took a strong stance against an ultra- conformist, celebrity-obsessed, socially distorted, xenophobic, narcissistic consumer culture that demonstrates a type of collective psychopathic behavior disregarding the pain, suffering and death of animals.
I read almost every book (at that time), wrote about it, knew every argument inside and out, took vegetarian cooking classes and worked at health food stores & organic restaurants in-between tours. Like most vegans and modern-day environmentalists, I had a strong sense of righteousness and I knew exactly how to save the planet.
Fast forward to 2010…
A lot has changed! The alternative has quickly become mainstream. This is both good and bad. ‘Going green’ has not only become conventional, but is now a status symbol for consumers. The organic food and beverage industry has grown from $1 billion in 1990 to almost $25 billion in 2009. Movies like ‘Inconvenient Truth’ and ‘Food, Inc’ have made a noticeable impact on the consciousness of society. Memes (ideas) like ‘Eco-friendly’, ‘Meatless Mondays’, ‘Alkaline’ and ‘plant based diet’ have spread through culture like California wildfires. Faulty beliefs about human health, industrial food production (agriculture/biotechnology) and ‘planet-friendly diet’ has spread faster than BP oil in the Gulf.
Articles, blogs, books & documentaries by vegan/vegetarian authors are popping up everywhere like Crossfit Gyms. T. Colin Campbell (China Study), Dean Ornish, M.D. (Eat More, Weigh Less), Joel Fuhrman, M.D.(Eat To Live) and others praise the benefits of a plant based diet and blame saturated fat and cholesterol for the nation’s epidemic of heart disease…and then there’s celebrities and detox, fasting and extremely unnatural diets, but let’s not go there (at least not yet).
Lesson #1: Skepticism of any American social trend is a healthy lifestyle choice.
These days, mainstream society is charmed by these seemingly healthy, natural, green living concepts that reduce our carbon footprint, curb global warming, prevent disease and create a more sustainable future.
Sounds pleasant and seems to make sense, right?
On the surface it does, just like I believed when I was a teenage punk rocker. As I matured, I questioned everything, including the alternative.
In the early 90’s as punk rock was heading towards mainstream, I began a career as a certified fitness trainer and licensed massage therapist. I wasn’t a body builder nor did I teach that methodology. I had my own method of cross training/functional fitness and worked in some exclusive private gyms, elite health clubs and boutique studios. I met a wide variety of people with fitness goals and some health problems that went unsolved by doctors. This is much more common than you may realize.
Most people I encountered in this industry had assumptions they believed about diet, weight loss, health and nature. They were unhealthy, but somehow considered themselves somewhat knowledgeable Their beliefs were the reason why they were not healthy and also why many of them are still unhealthy – yet they didn’t see that. They were convinced they were experts on health, despite their body of evidence that demonstrated otherwise. This would become a common theme and frustration in this field – people (clients, customers, population at large) who are ignorant, yet arrogant and totally unaware of the dissonance.
The most common health issue was long term un-wellness that most doctors provided NO answer or solution for. Since they didn’t have a disease, modern medical doctrine deems these people ‘healthy’, which they clearly were not. I had to question the doctrine, get past the medical dogma and look outside the standardized medical paradigm for nutrition pioneers and real medical experts that were independent thinkers and creative problem solvers. I became a punk rock health coach.
I found few vegans (my friends included) had great energy, worked out, looked good, felt good and appeared relatively healthy. They had no actual proof of anything other than they look and feel good, were not fat or diseased. True, vegans and meat eaters alike can be unhealthy, but I discovered – as a great majority of my new friends and colleagues have found – vegan/vegetarians were generally unhealthy relative to non-vegans. Many female vegans we encountered were radically unhealthy.
Simultaneously, all of them were hell-bent on denying that their diet could be the reason that they weren’t well.
…an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying, blaming, and denying. It is one of the most influential and extensively studied theories in social psychology.
Experience can clash with expectations. A state of dissonance, people may feel surprise, dread, guilt, anger, or embarrassment. People are biased to think of their choices as correct, despite any contrary evidence. This bias gives dissonance theory its predictive power, shedding light on otherwise puzzling irrational and destructive behavior.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance
I quickly learned that myself, like many people, our friends, family, celebrities, authors, experts in the mainstream and alternative, can be sincere, passionate and dead wrong.
I started questioning my beliefs about nutrition, the ‘experts’ I trusted and the ideas I believed. I began in-depth research on everything and reject many ideas that I thought was true about human health and nature.
Lesson #2: Question Everything.
Over the years, I found that when presented with facts that clash with beliefs, a large percentage vegans/vegetarians and trendy environmentalists (semi-vegetarian) tend to selectively ignore, deny or dismiss important facts.
Similarly, they tend to hand pick pieces of the truth or only certain facts that support their beliefs. They can also be fully convinced about mythological accounts of history.
What if these beliefs – held by wonderful, good intentioned people – were built on false or incomplete information?
Lesson #3: Ignoring half the equation makes one ignorant, not informed.
Many popular beliefs about the ‘dangers of red meat’ are built on faulty assumptions, propaganda, half-truths or personal bias.
Lesson #4: Examine your beliefs thoroughly. Make sure you have good reasons for your beliefs, reasons based in truth.
I did a lot of thinking, my transition to eating meat took time and there is much more to discuss. This short article doesn’t even come close to fully explaining it…and of course I’m not saying ‘all’ vegans think or believe this way, these are general trends.
Vegan/vegetarianism is a belief system tied to one’s identity and worldview. Vegans have strong beliefs and are often sensitive on these issues. Questioning their beliefs is seen as a threat. When people are sensitive, they get emotional; when people are emotional, they won’t see the truth. Emotional people tend to selectively ignore, deny, defend or dismiss (dogmatic) ideas that challenge them.
Lesson #5: Balance your emotions when examining the truth about sensitive issues. Whatever you are sensitive about, you may not see the whole truth about.
2001 was a turning point…
I discovered that my years of severe digestive problems were caused by gluten & dairy intolerance – I had to change my diet. I also read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Weston Price – one of the most important books on the topic. I got really excited! This book inspired extensive research into nutrition, natural history, anthropology, evolutionary biology, epidemiology (disease development), food and farming.
I began to question what I believed was ‘natural, what was ‘spiritual’ and what humans are designed to eat. Superstition and personal bias influence the beliefs & choices of most vegan/vegetarians as well as proponents of the Standard American Diet, and the new semi-vegetarianism promoted by government policy and academia today.
In the summer of 2002, a New York Times article ‘What If It’s All Been a Big Fat Lie?’ by Gary Taubes served me a nice hot cup of wtf? and I furthered questioned my previous assumptions (beliefs). I continued a relentless research on the topic.
Lesson #6: Read that article and that book. After that, read ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ by Gary Taubes.
When you understand these works, you will begin to develop a framework from which to understand human health & our natural relationship with this planet. You’ll also get a grasp on the most sustainable farming methods. You’ll know ‘what to eat’ and why people believe the things they do (helpful for industry professionals).
Today, I not only eat meat & eggs (sometimes raw), but I promote, teach and sell pasture raised, grass fed meats. There is a lot more to my transition to eating meat, these are only a few…
I still love my vegan/vegetarian friends, even the ones who think I’ve ‘sold out’. All these issues are still very important to me, but I have grown and today, I’m better educated about human health, nutrition, natural history, biology, environmental sustainability, global politics, world hunger, farming/food production, political propaganda and corporate marketing. I’m more politically active in some of these issues.
Human health and wellness is a component of nature, much less anarchic as many believe. Understanding human health & wellness, requires an understanding of biology and physiology.
Lesson #7: Natural history & evolutionary biology are the framework in which to understand and create human health, wellness and disease prevention.
Bringing up human evolution brings up a lot of misconceptions & fears in a lot of people. More on that later…if you want to understand it, start with this:
I express my inner punk these days by eating grass fed meats, from pastured farming operations, not Big Ag factory farming and I support local/regional Eco Ag (grass fed, pasture farming). You want to be punk rock? Find your farmers market, CSA (community supported agriculture) and local Weston A Price group now. Where your dollar goes can tell you how punk you are…or if you’re being punked.
My diet/lifestyle and my teachings are based on a deeper & broader understanding of human health, ethics & ecology. How I live and what I teach is based in fact, not fiction.
There are a lot of good people going vegetarian these days. There are a lot of people who genuinely want to do the right thing for the planet. There are also plenty of well-intentioned people & professionals who have some misconceptions that have far reaching implications in today’s world.
People, government policies, academic recommendations, experts and the public at large, when discussing ‘red meat’ are often misinformed and often misrepresent (intentionally or not). Here are a few articles on the trendy topic of ‘vegan or paleo’ that is now a global issue.
These articles are not about who is right or wrong. It’s about what is true or false.
Hopefully, this will help you in your decision making process about diet & lifestyle, specifically in regards to eating meat or not, which is also one of the greatest global issues of our time.
Lesson #8 – If you eat food, you are involved in global politics.
Is grass fed, local foods expensive? Yes, it’s worth it.
Is there such a thing as ‘cheap’ food? No, that’s an illusion.
Can most of the world’s population afford organic or grass fed foods? Not the way we experience it in the Northeast/New England region, but most of the world doesn’t live in this region. So we need more than generalizations, sound bites as answers – we need solutions and some are already in place. Much of the poor population in developing regions are already using organic, sustainable farming. Organic farming is growing strong these days and the times they are a changin’.
Two more books I recommend…
The more we raise our voice and support local, organic, pasture-based farming – whether we eat meat, drink milk or not – the sooner factory farming’s externalized cost (ecological destruction and human disease) become more noticeable, less acceptable and real change can happen. It’s already happening and getting stronger every week – real food, eco-friendly diet and sustainable food production are gaining strength and the more this happens, the more valued & affordable real food becomes.
The important issues facing farming in our country right now is our freedom to choose to grow and eat what we want. We want real food from sustainable sources.
Your dollar is your political voice. Your voice is a political weapon. Grass fed, local food is not ‘elitist’ as some are preaching, it is our most responsible and sustainable farming method on the planet today that produces safe & superior quality food.
There is heavy pressure from all directions to conform in this culture, especially with political, health and food related issues.
There is a strong drive to go vegan/vegetarian/semi-veg, simultaneously there is a stronger drive to indoctrinate people into denying the importance of organic food and surrendering to the industrial food pyramid. Choose your diet carefully, based on real reasons that you have studied, whether you go vegan or paleo depends on many factors, but don’t be misled or misinformed.
Lesson #9: Do not be intimated by anyone, ever.
Please share your thoughts on the topic and my article, keep in mind, there are more articles to come, but I would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below.