Cutting out sugars and refined flours, as we talked about last time, probably offers the most significant opportunity to improve your diet. Unlike sugar, meat is not all bad. It does in fact have nutrients in it which are readily used by your body.
Unfortunately for steak lovers (my former self included), the negatives associated with eating meat far outweigh the positives (including that buttery rich taste that we all love so much).
There are two major problems with eating meat is well as the issue of animal rights, which I'll get into at the end.
Animal protein is ascribed supernatural powers. It's what makes men manly. It's what builds muscles. Fat and carbs have been targeted as dietary land mines, but no fad diet has targeted protein.
And, indeed, protein is extremely important to our bodies. Protein is used to repair our cells and build new ones. Without protein we would all die.
So the argument for veganism, which is the complete removal of all animal products from the diet, is not an argument for giving up protein.
Animal proteins are often recommended over plant proteins because they're complete proteins, meaning they contain all of the amino acids we need.
In reality, these argument doesn't carry much practical weight. A decent vegan meal will contain all of the amino acids you'll need.
The one thing that plant protein DOESN'T have is the ability to kill you.
Dr. Campbell, who I mentioned in the introduction, discovered a direct correlation between eating animal proteins and things like cancer, heart disease, stroke and most other early life-enders readers of this site are likely to meet with eventually.
Plant proteins had no similar effects. It's important to remember that these conclusions came from lab experiments with rats as well as data obtained from many thousands of people. It represents science's most current understanding.
The explanation for why this is the case and the experiments that lead to the discoveries can be read in his book, "The China Study". It is so compelling that I became a vegan the day after reading it.
Where Meat Comes From
Disgusting. That's really the only word that can be used to describe the current method of producing meat.
Animals are born indoors and very frequently never leave the building they were born in until they are slaughtered. They never go outside. In fact, they barely move at all.
Besides not being a lot of fun for the pig, this poses other problems. The pigs are fed such a strong concoction of antibiotics and drugs that their feces turn bright pink. This pink sludge flows out of the facilities where the pigs are housed, but not before filling the air with noxious fumes that can literally be smelled for miles.
Because of the filthy living conditions and tight quarters, so close that the pigs are usually in contact with each other, they develop festering sores on their skin. That's not the extent of the disease the pigs experience, either. The great majority are diseased when they are killed.
The one major requirement is that the animals must be able to move to the slaughter house by their own power. This is encouraged through beating and electrocution.
By time that piglet becomes bacon it has been abused by any definition of the word, and has lived in a level of squalor and disease that is totally unfit for food to be in. This is true even of milk cows, whose milk can legally be sold with small amounts of blood and pus in it.
Further compounding the problem, these animals are not fed their natural diet. They're fed genetically modified corn and soy, which they would never eat in the wild. Cows, for example, have a specially evolved digestive system for digesting grass. It doesn't work with corn, so they are pumped full of drugs to help digest the food.
This is how the overwhelming majority of livestock in the world, and especially the United States, are raised. This is not the exception. Even "free range" and organic meats are far from the innocence they connotate.
There is fierce competition in the industry, which means that the name of the game is packing as many animals into the smallest area possible without killing too many, pumping them full of any substance that will grow more meat, and doing it as inexpensively as possible.
This does not produce a product that you want to eat. It is sanitized and removed from its original context by the time you get it, but realize that every piece of meat you eat, no matter how nice and juicy it looks, has been through this process.
Dairy is no better. Milk has to be pasteurized to kill all of the gross bacteria that come out of a farm cow. It's illegal to sell it otherwise. Milk was actually used for several of the studies in the China Study.
Fish are supposed to be the healthiest meat. They may have been in the past, may possibly still be now, but they are far from actually being healthy.
Fish have the same proteins we talked about earlier which contribute to all of those diseases that the meat eater will almost inevitably succumb to.
But in recent years, things have gotten even worse. They are farm raised in filthy pools, and fed corn because it is cheap. Think about that. How would a fish ever naturally get corn?
Wild caught fish aren't much better. Pollution levels are so extreme that it's a fair assumption that any fish you may eat is contaminated. Some fish, like tuna, have heavy metals in them which, once in your body, will never leave.
In the middle of the pacific is a huge sludge of trash that humans have produced. It's larger than Texas, which is pretty darn big. The sludge is made of everything from plastic bottles to couches and TVs which float on the surface. No nation will take responsibility for the sludge, since it is in international waters, so it continues to grow every year.
The poisons from the trash leach out into the water, accumulate and concentrate in the fish, and are then delivered to you on your plate.
I'm torn on the issue of animal rights, although as I have stopped seeing animals as food and have started seeing them as amazing creations of nature, I have found myself emotionally more attached and more disgusted by the way they are treated.
If animals were supremely healthy for me, I would eat them. I would find farms that breed them in sanitary conditions with no weird drugs, and I would buy from them.
That's not to say that I would be happy that the animals are being killed, but I realize that this is part of the food chain, and I will always put my well being over that of animals if push comes to shove.
The current system, however, is nothing short of repulsive. Many of the employees of these factories are sadistic and enjoy beating the animals. On peta.com (who I disagree with on a great number of things and would not use as a guide for diet), you can see videos of people bashing animals' heads in with cinder blocks, cutting them and violating them in every way possible. It will make your stomach churn.
The Bottom Line
I've only barely scratched the surface of the meat issue. When you delve into it you also realize that the amount of pollution, energy, water, and food used for raising animals dwarfs the amount created and used for an equivalent amount of plant crops.
Whether you decide to stop eating animals because it's nearly impossible to get animals not tainted by our meat producing factories, because eating it WILL eventually kill you, or because you love animals and don't want to contribute to the atrocious conditions they live their lives in, you're making a good choice.
After removing animal products from my diet, one question always nagged me. What about high quality farm raised cows who have never been treated with hormones or drugs, and who have always been fed their natural diet? I wrote to Dr. Campbell to ask if those might be healthy, and he replied,
Certain meats may be slightly better under certain conditions for certain people at certain times but we just don't have any evidence that such differences are anything more than trivial. They certainly are not predictable.
Are these foods delicious? Yes, although they've now lost most of their appeal to me. My friend Jeffy once said, "Once you have self respect, it's inevitable that you'll become healthy".
I believe that completely.
Removing meat from your diet is an act of self respect, essentially saying, "I care enough to give up superficial pleasures like a steak for a healthier and longer life."
Continued in Part IV, "What to Eat?"