WHY PALEO ISN’T ALL ABOUT MEAT
Welcome to 2018 – and Welcome to January… or, as some would have you believe, Welcome to Veganuary.
Apparently, the most challenging part of Veganuary is supposed to be pronouncing it. However, we here at Paleo In The UK have marvelled at what we see as an even bigger challenge: navigating the Vegan propaganda that has been presented, completely unchallenged, in the media thus far this month.
More than ever, the Vegan message is gaining traction. Veganism is, to all intents and purposes, a very virtuous and ethical stance regarding food consumption – and as such, it is really attractive. However, Veganism has also been responsible for the most unscientific and unvalidated film of 2017, “What the Health” – a film so one-sided and filled with nonsense that even many dietitians within the Vegan community slammed it.
Anyone who disagrees with their point of view portrays Vegans as tree-hugging, deluded advocates of sham pseudoscience. Commonly pitted against Vegans, the Paleo community are equally misrepresented, portrayed as carnivorous (i.e. meat-only-eating) apes whose idea of a meal is bacon slathered in butter.
Neither image is fair, or true. And yet you don’t see Paleo people claiming we should have a “Nutrient-Dense Month” or even a “Eat All The Meat Month”. No, it’s just Vegans (and those who drink alcohol regularly) who perceive the need for an entire month dedicated to their cause of dietary transformation. Yet, what Veganuary misses is that it is not necessary to avoid consuming meat to have a beneficial effect on the planet or on your health.
A Question Of Supply Chain
What do those who follow a Paleo diet feel about the state of our food supply and the meat that we eat?
Well, firstly, Paleo tends to eliminate cow’s milk – so any comment about the appalling treatment of dairy cows can’t actually include the Paleo community at all. In fact, when butter is recommended as a good fat on the Paleo diet, rather than abdicate from this debate altogether we stipulate some very important things about the animals (and the produce of any animals) that we consume.
We expressly specify that in order to be truly healthy for humans to consume, animals and their produce must be fed their natural diet and live in their natural habitat. For almost all animals this means freedom to roam, freedom to graze on (typically uncroppable) lands and freedom from the medication and artificial sustenance that is a feature of modern, intensive agriculture. Grass-fed is not a sexy term to sell expensive meat. It is a prerequisite for nutrient density of all animal produce.
The “which is better for you and the planet, Vegan or Paleo” debate could literally occupy a whole book. And has – many books in fact. The merits of ethical farming versus complete abstinence from animal consumption are ridiculously nuanced and complicated. The internet doesn’t love nuance, it wants easy answers. So we’re here to tell you that in this situation you need to dedicate the time to examine the data and the debate more closely. We are NOT going to do that in this article, however we will briefly précis the arguments below, providing links to full resources where you can explore these points of contention more closely.
Animal Farming Decimates The Planet and Is a Waste of Land
The ‘decimating the planet’ idea is a convenient one because it makes logical sense. Grazing a few animals on a field vs. growing a whole field full of crops seems to be an easy equation: crops feed more for less land. And yet, there are many issues with this over simplistic maths:
- Much of the land in the world is uncroppable. Grazing is possible on all types of uncroppable lands. Moreover, the presence of animals acts as natural fertiliser so land stays fertile and nutrient-filled, also inoculating it via the bacteria in the faeces
- Cropping in modern agriculture tends to mean monocropping – this actually depletes soils of nutrients and topsoil. Topsoil is the essential fuel carrier for plants… without healthy topsoil nothing will grow
- A 1 acre plot of land monocropped to produce grains to feed cows will feed 2 cows per year. That same 1 acre plot of land left to graze actual cattle will feed 2 cows per year. In the former, you will deplete the soil, you will remove all natural vegetation and animal life and you will completely decimate the topsoil. Same land quantity, same animals fed. Utterly different result for the planet. And the latter is the way the Paleo people would recommend breeding animals. Moreover, you don’t actually need the croppable land for the animals – they can graze on much more land.
- Cows drink SO MUCH WATER. But they also urinate a lot. And irrigating crops ain’t water-free. In fact, the way the water tables are being affected by certain companies who are able to tap into the aquifers under certain cities means that the irrigation of crops (specifically, pistachios in the US) is denuding regular houses from their drinking water. Yup, pistachios mean people cannot drink normal water… Go figure…
Great on this topic, as ever, is Diana Rodgers. See her Kale vs. Cow documentary stuff… literally everywhere. Rather than link to this, just tap it into Google – and read any of her interviews, listen to podcasts, look into her Generosity Kickstarter campaign to make a film on this topic.
Animal Farming Contributes to Greenhouse Gases
Apparently, farming produces 18% of Greenhouse Gases… But are these figures accurate, or relevant? Well… they’re not lying, but…
- They include ‘methane production’ from cow farts in these statistics… however, cows actually sequester carbon. This means that in terms of cow gas productions they provide a net gain in terms of carbon emissions because they are sequestering carbon over and above the methane they fart out. This requires accurate farm management because it is the resting of the grasslands that allows for these miracles of replenishment to occur. So again, we’re back at environmentally-friendly farming, rather than boycotting farming
- The transportation of crops is just as overwhelming as the transportation of animals. In fact, because of expiration and refrigeration complications, grains and crops tend to be far more widely exported than animals. Plus… eating local is always prioritised in a healthy, Paleo-style diet. This way of purchasing food effectively minimises the ‘food miles’. But, same too for our vegetables which we also recommend purchasing locally. And seasonally.
Want to know how to run a farm which looks after the planet, the soil, the emissions and the entire ethical argument? Then you need to look into Joel Salatin. Great podcast here – and again, Google Joel Salatin Polyface Farm and you’ll be spoilt for resources. The new book The Pigness of Pigs is an intriguing ethical take (and religious view) of how to actually care for the planet and for God’s creations. And it involves eating Pigs.
Eating Grains and Vegan Proteins Is Better For You
Oh wow, way too much to say here… but our own article on the benefits of meat is here.
Beyond this – further reading:
And yet, beyond all of these arguments of the facts and the evidence for each of these dietary approaches, let’s just return to the original title of this post…
Is Paleo All About Meat?
Beyond the merits of ethical farming, versus industrial farming, versus animal abstinence, it is worth pointing out about Paleo… we DON’T promote all-meat, all-the-time diets. We just don’t. One of our most prolific hashtags is #morevegetablesthanavegetarian …
Nobody in the original Paleo movement or who is utilising Paleo for the health benefits as we promote here at Paleo In The UK, is in the slightest bit interested in a meat-heavy diet. The basic tenet of Paleo is nutrient density. In many ways it is this focus which means that our practices for eating are far more ethical and considerate to the environment than Veganism.
Within the Paleo diet there is a broad array of vegetables. In fact, some would suggest that a typical Paleo diet will contain upwards of 10 portions of fruit and veg per day. Because we don’t choose to consume grains we are effectively NOT relying on the crops which most deplete soils and cover much of our arable lands. Because we are choosing NOT to eat animals raised on soy or grain we are also not interacting with the vast swathes of the planet devoted to producing grain for feed. So we are choosing NOT to provide resources to the practices which are most damaging the planet and are most inhumane for the animals involved.
And, a big plus, is that because we focus on nutrient density we also gain a whole extra element to our foods: flavour.
Consuming the meat, eggs, milk and fish from animals that have been raised in their natural habitat and fed their natural diet literally transforms both the nutritional composition AND THE FLAVOUR of the meat. For more on the nutritional differences when it comes to pastured cows and chickens, read our Deeper Science article here.
When it comes to flavour there is an interesting phenomenon regarding hunger signals. Flavour is directly responsible for altering the sensation of palate fatigue and fullness. Eating food which tastes delicious and full of flavour by default means that we eat less of it because it activates our receptors which signal that we’re eating foods which are dense in nutrition. Nutrition = flavour, so more flavour = more nutritious. And our brains and bodies know this.
Moreover, within the Paleosphere the direct recommendation is that when you are eating meat it is preferable to consume all parts of the animal. This is not 1 chicken, 1 meal. We pretty much avoid chicken in favour of more ruminant animals – and when we consume those ruminants we advocate eating all of the edible parts. This includes sweetbreads and all the organs and then boiling up some broth out of the cartilage and bones. Each cow goes to make countless meals. When it comes to chickens, when we do eat them (rarely, they’re expensive and not greatly nutrient dense) we consume ALL the meat, we cook the gizzards into gravies and then the carcass and remnants go into broths. Same with fish bones.
And the nourishment that can be obtained from the consumption of animals is light years beyond the nutritional availability within grains and vegetable proteins. This is Chris Kresser’s table of the bioavailability of nutrients in various plants versus animals from the above-linked YouTube video. This is not about quantity and comparing gram for gram – this table shows you comparative bioavailability which, in essence, means how much you can get out of the food. This is not adjusted for typical portions… so you can see you will need to eat absolutely tonnes of the plant matter to get certain quantities of nutrients. Grains aren’t on this list… they fall right at the bottom alongside sugar and industrially processed seed oils.
Then there’s the nutrients that you cannot get from plant matter… Vitamin D, Omega-3 Fatty Acids and B12. Without these vitamins your biology will suffer. Judicious supplementation is often demanded. And any diet that cannot sustain human life without supplementation is, in our eyes, deeply questionable.
But that doesn’t mean you need tonnes and tonnes of meat. It just means you need to eat variety. We are omnivores for a reason. We are not ruminant designed to get maximum nutrition from grains and plants. And yet whilst we get so much from meat, we get so many of our micronutrients from the diverse array of plant matter. This is just common sense – we can digest and eat a whole variety of foods. In fact, we thrive on diversity (and so do our microbes). Therefore, varied and diverse diets, with the majority by volume being vegetables and with enough animal produce to supply everything else that we need… this just makes utter sense in terms of nutritional sufficiency for humans.
So What About Veganuary?
At Paleo In The UK, as you will have read last week, we believe that one of the key ingredients to transforming health emerges out of simply paying attention to your own nutrition. If you can start to really understand that the food you eat affects the wellbeing of your body then you are already making progress. The dialogue in medical communities no longer dismisses the fact that diet is important, and any tool that will help you to focus on the food you consume is, actually, a good one.
So the point must be made that anything – any film, any movement, any campaign – that aims to demonstrate to people how depraved the food supply chain can be and how deplorable the state of some farming methods are must also be commended. It is just and fair for the Vegan cohort to criticise the senseless and inhumane practices behind intensive breeding and slaughter of animals.
And yet, when it comes to the environmental question – AND when it comes to health – beyond bringing attention to food and food supply, the Vegan argument does break down. You do not influence and improve the animal supply chain by boycotting the consumption of animals. You also cannot continue not consuming animal products and retain health forever.
Veganuary is, therefore, a month wherein many people may bring more consideration to their nutrition and the way they spend their food budgets. For a month, this may be perfectly fine. In fact, for a month it may even be possible to be a Paleo Vegan.
However, go beyond 30 days and we would question the breadth and nutritional availability within a Vegan approach. Moreover, we would question the necessity of it. We would also deeply and profoundly question the environmental impact of it. This dietary approach really doesn’t help the planet.
We would contend that Paleo approaches are much more in tune with human physiology. However, we would also contend that the way meat is conceived of and consumed on a Paleo diet is also much more in tune with the planetary concerns that most Vegans purport to worry about.
Paleo isn’t all about meat or animal consumption. It is about nutrient density. For a lot of that, read vegetables. For all the protein consumption, understand that this diet isn’t protein-heavy and it isn’t senseless in its arbitrary promotion of endless meat feasts. Instead, Paleo promotes diligent and conscientious animal consumption which cares for both the animals and the planet.
We may never convince the Vegans. But we would advise that you don’t let the Veganuary propaganda convince you that abstinence from eating animals is better – either for you or for the planet. The evidence for these claims just isn’t there. In fact, there is much evidence to the contrary, as you can tell from this post.