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.
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).
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