Sceptically Fit

02/01/2012

Want to save Animal Life? Eat Meat, not Wheat!

Filed under: Health and Nutrition — Tags: , , , , — Sceptically Me @ 18:16

I’m an animal lover, I’m an environmentalist. I recycle, I buy organic and free-range where possible, I donate to non-religiously affiliated charities. I believe in actively doing what we can to make the world a better place. I’ve tried being vegetarian, and even when I wasn’t, found it hard to associate the meat I was eating with the living animal if I was going to be able to eat it.

While compared to your average westerner diet of refined carbs, sugar and industrial oil, a decent vegetarian diet will be healthy (hey – vegetables!), I do believe that the evidence is there that we are evolved to be healthiest on a diet rich in animal products. Anecdotally, I look, feel and perform better when I’m eating a paleo-style diet – ie high in vegetables and animal products.

But what about the animals? Am I just too selfish to choose my increased health over an animals whole life? To a certain extent, I’d come to terms with a naturalistic philosophy of the circle of life. That to live, others must die. By the time I came across the Vegetarian Myth I’d already understood most of the points raised. Its still a book I’d recommend to any vegetarian/vegan friend – the heavy soul-searching and emotional outpouring would be irritating to those investigating the issues more objectively, but for those fighting those feeling, its helpful to be able to accept the non-biased interpretation that yes, fields of wheat is more damaging than any herd of cattle being pastured.

But so much of the internet in general, and especially the paleo/primal online community is US based. What about the UK and Australia. Surely that’s different? And it is. Australia does not have the huge industrial feedlots for beef  – the kind that actually do give the vegetarian argument much sway. Unfortunately pigs are still routinely industrially farmed in Australia – so please seriously consider going without pork products (yes bacon too) if you can’t buy organic or free-range.

Mark linked to an article examining the Australian beef vs wheat industry.

Agriculture to produce wheat, rice and pulses requires clear-felling native vegetation. That act alone results in the deaths of thousands of Australian animals and plants per hectare. Since Europeans arrived on this continent we have lost more than half of Australia’s unique native vegetation, mostly to increase production of monocultures of introduced species for human consumption.

Most of Australia’s arable land is already in use. If more Australians want their nutritional needs to be met by plants, our arable land will need to be even more intensely farmed. This will require a net increase in the use of fertilisers, herbicides, pesticides and other threats to biodiversity and environmental health. Or, if existing laws are changed, more native vegetation could be cleared for agriculture (an area the size of Victoria plus Tasmania would be needed to produce the additional amount of plant-based food required).

Most cattle slaughtered in Australia feed solely on pasture. This is usually rangelands, which constitute about 70% of the continent.

Grazing occurs on primarily native ecosystems. These have and maintain far higher levels of native biodiversity than croplands. The rangelands can’t be used to produce crops, so production of meat here doesn’t limit production of plant foods. Grazing is the only way humans can get substantial nutrients from 70% of the continent.

In some cases rangelands have been substantially altered to increase the percentage of stock-friendly plants. Grazing can also cause significant damage such as soil loss and erosion. But it doesn’t result in the native ecosystem “blitzkrieg” required to grow crops.

The UK is also fortunate to have escaped the cruel and damaging feedlot industry of beef production and after the BSE scare the use of feeding herbivores other animals has been banned.. According the the FSA most animals are fed mainly on pasture , organic beef stipulates at least 60% pasture diet. Considering they had to ban the mulching up of sheep, I’m inclined to think this is one of the happy coincidences of living in a country that it rains all the time. Unfortunately pigs and poultry still miss out in the standard farming techniques – so look for free-range and organic for your health and ethical well-being.

 

Update – just came across the Australian Sustainable Seafood Guide – start experimenting

05/12/2011

Half-Arsed Health System

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , , — Sceptically Me @ 18:42

I finally got around to getting my cholesterol results from a test I had back in June. I needed to see a doctor for an unrelated reason recently and while there was told they came back fine except for the fact that  have a low enough count of red blood cells to be borderline anaemic

Now that I knew what the letters I’d been ignoring were, I bothered to make an appointment with the nurse for a follow up test. She gave me a printout of the original test results and explained that my serum cholesterol is below what’s considered good in the UK, and my HDL cholesterol is higher than the good range for the UK, to such an extent that they can’t give me a ratio. So, yay for me and my saturated fat consumption.

Now here’s where the story of my half-arsed approach ends, and the NHS’s begins.  There was no LDL cholesterol count – not just no differentiation between good and bad LDL, no LDL at all.  Why not?

Maybe it’s not cost effective. It’s not cost effective is the reason given for why they don’t test for HIV, (or hepatitis or syphilis which is usually in the same test) in the UK. Despite all the advertising from health groups; despite the awareness campaigns based on how you can’t tell by looking at someone and you can’t know yourself until you’re tested; despite the advertising saying the earlier you start treatment the better; if you want to be sure without being a gay man or an African immigrant you need to argue for it. The nurse explained that they normally only test if you have symptoms like a sore throat that won’t go away. If you are pregnant you’ll be offered a test – the nurse didn’t really get my point that knowing before pregnancy might be a better public health policy.

I am a huge supporter of the NHS despite my personal experience of it. Free public healthcare is the cornerstone of a modern society. We may not be able to do away with the massive inequality of wealth but at least we can make sure people can be healthy regardless of their ability to pay for it.  I also realise that there’s a limited budget (though I think it’s obvious that’s due to government mishandling like prioritising banks…) but prevention is cheaper. And I realise doctors only have a limited time – so I’m not offended that my doctor doesn’t remember me from visit to visit, that he doesn’t know any of the details of my history and that he doesn’t have time to read anything in my file before he sees me. In general, I’m ok with that. I don’t need to pretend someone is taking vital interest in me – not for me the attention-giving quackery of homoeopathy – but when of your patients decides they want to find out about their health why can’t you at least run a decent test? A cholesterol test is not like asking for a full body mri. A basic std screen is not like asking to be genetically screened.

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