Hubris of Nutritionism

There is a fundamental disagreement over diets. It is about one’s philosophical position on humanity and the world, about the kind of society one aspires to. Before getting to nutritionism, let me explain my present understanding that has developed from what I’ve learned. It’s all quite fascinating. There is a deeper reason why, for example, I see vegetarianism as potentially healthy but not veganism (see debate in comments section of my recent post A Fun Experiment), and that distinction will be central in my following argument. There have been some, not many, traditional societies that were vegetarian or rather semi-vegetarian for millennia (e.g., India; see specific comment in the above linked post), but veganism didn’t exist until the Seventh Day Adventists invented it in the late 19th century. Few people know this history. It’s not exactly something most vegan advocates, other than Adventists themselves, would want to mention.

Veganism was a modernization of ancient Greek Galenic theory of humors, having originally been incorporated into mainstream Christian thought during feudalism, especially within the monastic tradition of abstinence and self-denial but also applied to the population at large through food laws. A particular Galenic argument is that, by limiting red meat and increasing plant foods, there would be a suppression or weakening of libido/virility as hot-bloodedness that otherwise threatens to ‘burn’ up the individual. (The outline of this ideology remains within present dietary thought in the warning that too much animal protein will up-regulate mTOR and over-activate IGF-1 which, as it is asserted, will shorten lifespan. Many experts such as Dr. Steven Gundry in The Longevity Paradox, biological anthropologist Stephen Le in 100 Million Years of Food, etc have been parroting Galenic thought without any awareness of the origin of the ideas they espouse. See my posts High vs Low Protein and Low-Carb Diets On The Rise.) Also, it was believed this Galenic strategy would help control problematic behaviors like rowdiness, the reason in the Middle ages that red meat sometimes was banned prior to Carnival (about dietary systems as behavioral manipulation and social control, see Food and Faith in Christian Culture ed. by Ken Albala and Trudy Eden and some commentary about that book at my posts Western Individuality Before the Enlightenment Age and The Crisis of Identity; for similar discussion, also check out The Agricultural Mind, “Yes, tea banished the fairies.”, Autism and the Upper Crust, and Diets and Systems). For the purposes of Christian societies, this has been theologically reinterpreted and reframed. Consider the attempt to protect against the moral sin of masturbation as part of the Adventist moral reform, such that modern cereal was originally formulated specifically for an anti-masturbation campaign — the Breakfast of Champions!

High protein vs low protein is an old conflict, specifically in terms of animal meat and even more specifically as red meat. It’s more of a philosophical or theological disagreement than a scientific debate. The anti-meat argument would never hold such a central position in modern dietary thought if not for the influence of heavily Christianized American culture. It’s part of Christian theology in general. Gary Taubes discusses it in how dieting gets portrayed as the sins of gluttony and sloth: “Of all the dangerous ideas that health officials could have embraced while trying to understand why we get fat, they would have been hard-pressed to find one ultimately more damaging than calories-in/calories-out. That it reinforces what appears to be so obvious – obesity as the penalty for gluttony and sloth – is what makes it so alluring. But it’s misleading and misconceived on so many levels that it’s hard to imagine how it survived unscathed and virtually unchallenged for the last fifty years” (Why We Get Fat). Read mainstream dietary advice and you’ll quickly hear this morality-drenched worldview of fallen humanity and Adam’s sinful body. This goes along with the idea of “no pain, no gain” (an ideology I came to question in seeing how simple and easy are low-carb diets, specifically with how ketosis eliminates endless hunger and cravings while making fat melt away with little effort, not to mention how my decades of drug-resistant and suicidally-prone depression also disappeared, something many others have experienced; so it turns out that for many people great gain can be had with no pain at all). The belief has been that we must suffer and struggle to attain goodness (with physical goodness being an outward sign of moral goodness), such that the weak flesh of the mortal frame must be punished with bodily mortification (i.e., dieting and exercise) to rid it of its inborn sinful nature. Eating meat is a pleasurable temptation in nurturing the ‘fallen’ body and so it must be morally wrong. This Christian theology has become so buried in our collective psyche, even in science itself, that we no longer are able to recognize it for what it is. And because of historical amnesia, we are unaware of where these mind viruses come from.

It’s not only that veganism is a modern ideology in a temporal sense, as a product of post-Enlightenment fundamentalist theology and its secularization. More importantly, it is a broader expression of modern ways of thinking and perceiving, of being in and relating to the world, including but far from limited to how it modernizes and repurposes ancient philosophy (Galen wasn’t advocating veganism, religious or secularized, that is for sure). Besides the crappy Standard American Diet (SAD), veganism is the only other diet entirely dependent on industrialization by way of chemical-laden monoculture, high-tech food processing, and global trade networks — and hence enmeshed in the web of big ag, big food, big oil, and big gov (all of this, veganism and the industrialization that made it possible, surely was far beyond Galen’s imagination). To embrace veganism, no matter how well-intentioned, is to be fully complicit in modernity and all that goes with it — not that it makes individual vegans bad people, as to varying degrees all of us are complicit in this world we are born into. Still, veganism stands out for, within that ideological framework, there is no other choice outside of modern industrialization.

At the heart of veganism, is a techno-utopian vision and technocratic impulse. It’s part of the push for a plant-based diet that began with the Seventh Day Adventists, most infamously Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, who formed the foundation of modern American nutritional research and dietary recommendations (see the research of Bellinda Fettke who made this connection: Ellen G White and Medical EvangelismThou Shalt not discuss Nutrition ‘Science’ without understanding its driving force, and Lifestyle Medicine … where did the meat go?). I don’t say this to be mean or dismissive of vegans. If one insists on being a vegan, there are better ways to do it. But it will never be an optimal diet, neither for the individual nor for the environment (and, yes, industrial agriculture does kill large numbers of animals, whether or not the vegan has to see it in the grocery store or on their plate; see my post Carnivore Is Vegan: if veganism is defined by harming and killing the fewest lives, if veganism is dependent on industrialization that harms and kills large numbers of lives, and if potentially carnivore is the least dependent on said industrialization, then we are forced to come the conclusion that, by definition, “carnivore is vegan”). Still, if vegans insist, they should be informed and honest in embracing industrialization as a strength, rather than hiding it as a weakness, in overtly arguing for techno-utopian and technocratic solutions in the Enlightenment fashion of Whiggish progressivism. Otherwise, this unacknowledged shadow side of veganism remains an Achille’s heel that eventually will take down veganism as a movement when the truth is finally revealed and becomes public knowledge. I don’t care if veganism continues in its influence, but if vegans care about advocating their moral vision they better do some soul-searching about what exactly they are advocating and for what reason and to what end.

Veganism is not limited to being unique as the only specific diet that is fully industrialized (SAD isn’t comparable because it isn’t a specific diet, since one could argue that veganism as an industrialized diet is one variety of SAD). More importantly, what makes veganism unique is its ethical impetus. That is how it originated within the righteously moralizing theology of Adventism (to understand the moral panic of that era, read my post The Crisis of Identity). The Adventist Ellen G. White’s divine visions from God preceded the health arguments. And even those later health arguments within Adventism were predicated upon a moralistic hypothesis of human nature and reality, that is to say theology. Veganism has maintained the essence of that theology of moral health, even though the dietary ideology was quickly sanitized and secularized. Adventists like Dr. Kellogg realized that this new kind of plant-based diet would not spread unless it was made to seem natural and scientific, a common strategy of fundamentalist apologetics such as pseudo-scientific Creationism (I consider this theologically-oriented rhetoric to be a false framing; for damn sure, veganism is not more natural since it is one of the least natural diets humanity was ever attempted). So, although the theology lost its emphasis, one can still sense this religious-like motivation and righteous zeal that remains at the heart of veganism, more than a mere diet but an entire social movement and political force.

Let’s return to the health angle and finally bring in nutritionism. The only way a vegan diet is possible at all is through the industrial agriculture that eliminated the traditional farming practices, including an entire lifestyle as part of farming communities, that was heavily dependent on animal husbandry and pasturage (similar to how fundamentalist religion such as Adventism is also a product of modernity, an argument made by Karen Armstrong; modern fundamentalism is opposed to traditional religion in the way that, as Corey Robin explains, reactionary conservatism is opposed to the ancien regime it attacked and replaced). This is the industrial agriculture that mass produces plant foods through monoculture and chemicals (that, by the way, destroys ecosystems and kills the soil). And on top of that, vegans would quickly die of malnutrition if not for the industrial production of supplements and fortified foods to compensate for the immense deficiencies of their diet. This is based on an ideology of nutritionism, that as clever apes we can outsmart nature, that humanity is separate from and above nature — this is the main point I’m making here, that veganism is unnatural to the human condition formed under millions of years of hominid evolution. This isn’t necessarily a criticism from a Christian perspective since it is believed that the human soul ultimately isn’t at home in this world, but it is problematic when this theology is secularized and turned into pseudo-scientific dogma. This further disconnects us from the natural world and from our own human nature. Hence, veganism is very much a product of modernity and all of its schisms and dissociations, very much seen in American society of the past century or so. Of course, the Adventists want the human soul to be disconnected from the natural world and saved from the fallen nature of Adam’s sin. As for the rest of us who aren’t Adventists, we might have a different view on the matter. This is definitely something atheist or pagan vegans should seriously consider and deeply contemplate. We should all think about how the plant-based and anti-meat argument has come to dominate mainstream thought. Will veganism and industrialization save us? Is that what we want to put our faith in? Is that faith scientifically justified?

It’s not that I’m against plant-based diets in general. I’ve been vegetarian. And when I was doing a paleo diet, I ate more vegetables than I had ever done in my life, far more than most vegetarians. I’m not against plants themselves based on some strange principle. It’s specifically veganism that I’m concerned about. Unlike vegetarianism, there is no way to do veganism with traditional, sustainable, and restorative farming practices. Vegetarianism, omnivory, and carnivory are all fully compatible in the possibility of eliminating industrial agriculture, including factory farming. That is not the case with veganism, a diet that is unique in its place in the modern world. Not all plant-based diets are the same. Veganism is entirely different from plant-heavy diets such as vegetarianism and paleo that also allow animal foods (also, consider the fact that any diet other than carnivore is “plant-based”, a somewhat meaningless label). That is no small point since plant foods are limited in seasonality in all parts of the world, whereas most animal foods are not. If a vegetarian wanted, they could live fairly far north and avoid out-of-season plant foods shipped in from other countries simply by eating lots of eggs and dairy (maybe combined with very small amounts of what few locally-grown plant foods were traditionally and pre-industrially stored over winter: nuts, apples, fermented vegetables, etc; or maybe not even that since, technically, a ‘vegetarian’ diet could be ‘carnivore’ in only eating eggs and dairy). A vegetarian could be fully locavore. A vegan could not, at least not in any Western country, although a vegan near the equator might be able to pull off a locavore diet as long as they could rely upon local industrial agriculture, which at least would eliminate the harm from mass transportation, but it still would be an industrial-based diet with all the problems, including mass suffering and death, that entails.

Veganism in entirely excluding animal foods (and excluding insect foods such as honey) does not allow this option of a fully natural way of eating, both local and seasonal without any industrialization. Even in warmer climes amidst lush foliage, a vegan diet was never possible and never practiced prior to industrialization. Traditional communities, surrounded by plant foods or not, have always found it necessary to include animal and insect foods to survive and thrive. Hunter-gatherers living in the middle of dense jungles (e.g., Piraha) typically get most of their calories from animal foods, as long as they maintain access to their traditional hunting grounds and fishing waters, and as long as poaching and environmental destruction or else hunting laws haven’t disrupted their traditional foodways. The closest to a more fully plant-based diet among traditional people was found among Hindus in India, but even there they unintentionally (prior to chemical insecticides) included insects and insect eggs in their plant foods while intentionally allowing individuals during fertile phases of life to eat meat. So, even traditional (i.e., pre-industrial) Hindus weren’t entirely and strictly vegetarian, much less vegan (see my comment at my post A Fun Experiment), but still high quality eggs and dairy can go a long way toward nourishment, as many healthy traditional societies included such foods, especially dairy from pasture-raised animals (consider Weston A. Price’s early 20th century research of healthy traditional communities; see my post Health From Generation To Generation).

Anyway, one basic point is that plant-based diet is not necessarily and always identical to veganism, in that other plant-based diets exist with various forms of animal foods. This is a distinction many vegan advocates want to confound in muddying the water of public debate. In discussing the just released documentary The Game Changers, Paul Kita writes that it “repeatedly pits a vegan diet against a diet that includes meat. The film does this to such an extent that you slowly realize that “plant-based” is just a masquerade for “vegan.” Either you eat animal products and suffer the consequences or avoid animal products and thrive, the movie argues.” (This New Documentary Says Meat Will Kill You. Here’s Why It’s Wrong.). That is a false dichotomy, a forced choice driven by an ideological-driven agenda. Kita makes a simple point that challenges this entire frame: “Except that there’s another choice: Eat more vegetables” Or simply eat less industrial foods that have been industrially grown, industrially processed, and/or industrially transported — basically, don’t eat heavily processed crap, from either meat or plants (specifically refined starches, added sugar, and vegetable oils) but also don’t eat the unhealthy (toxic and nutrient-depleted) produce of industrial agriculture, that is to say make sure to eat locally and in season. But that advice also translates as: Don’t be vegan. That isn’t the message vegan advocates want you to hear.

Dietary ideologies embody social, political, and economic ideologies, sometimes as all-encompassing cultural worldviews. They can shape our sense of identity and reality, what we perceive as true, what we believe is desirable, and what we imagine is possible. It goes further than that, in fact. Diets can alter our neurocognitive development and so potentially alter the way we think and feel. This is one way mind viruses could quite literally parasitize our brains and come to dominate a society, which I’d argue is what has brought our own society to this point of mass self-harm through dietary dogma of pseudo-scientific “plant-based” claims of health (with possibly hundreds of millions of people who have been harmed and had their lives cut short). A diet is never merely a diet. And we are all prone to getting trapped in ideological systems. In my criticisms of veganism as a diet, that doesn’t make vegans as individuals bad people. And I don’t wish them any ill will, much less failure in their dietary health. But I entirely oppose the ideological worldview and social order that, with conscious intention or not, they are promoting. I have a strong suspicion that the world that vegans are helping to create is not a world I want to live in. It is not their beautiful liberal dream that I criticize and worry about. I’m just not so sure that the reality will turn out to be all that wonderful. So far, the plant-based agenda doesn’t seem to be working out all that well. Americans eat more whole grains and legumes, vegetables and fruits than ever before since data was kept and yet the health epidemic continues to worsen (see my post Malnourished Americans). It was never rational to blame public health concerns on meat and animal fat.

Maybe I’m wrong about veganism and the ultimate outcome of their helping to shape the modern world. Maybe technological innovation and progress will transform and revolutionize industrial agriculture and food processing, the neoliberal trade system and capitalist market in a beneficial way for all involved, for the health and healing of individuals and the whole world. Maybe… but I’m not feeling confident enough to bet the fate of future generations on what, to me, seems like a flimsy promise of vegan idealism borne out of divine visions and theological faith. More simply, veganism doesn’t seem all that healthy on the most basic of levels. No diet that doesn’t support health for the individual will support health for society, as society is built on the functioning of humans. That is the crux of the matter. To return to nutritionism, that is the foundation of veganism — the argument that, in spite of all of the deficiencies of veganism and other varieties of the modern industrial diet, we can simply supplement and fortify the needed nutrients and all will be well. To my mind, that seems like an immense leap of faith. Adding some nutrients back into a nutrient-depleted diet is better than nothing, but comes nowhere close to the nutrition of traditional whole foods. If we have to supplement the deficiencies of a diet, that diet remains deficient and we are merely covering up the worst aspects of it, what we are able to most obviously observe and measure. Still, even with those added vitamins, minerals, cofactors, etc, it doesn’t follow that the body is getting all that it needs for optimal health. In traditional whole foods, there are potentially hundreds or thousands of compounds, most of which have barely been researched or not researched at all. There are certain health conditions that require specific supplements. Sure, use them when necessary, as we are not living under optimal conditions of health in general. But when anyone and everyone on a particular diet is forced to supplement to avoid serious health decline as is the case with veganism, there is a serious problem with that diet.

It’s not exactly that I disagree with the possible solution vegans are offering to this problem, as I remain open to future innovative progress. I’m not a nostalgic reactionary and romantic revisionist seeking to turn back the clock to re-create a past that never existed. I’m not, as William F. Buckley jr. put it, “someone who stands athwart history, yelling Stop”. Change is great — I have nothing against it. And I’m all for experimenting. That’s not where I diverge from the “plant-based” vision of humanity’s salvation. Generally speaking, vegans simply ignore the problem I’ve detailed or pretend it doesn’t exist. They believe that such limitations don’t apply to them. That is a very modern attitude coming from a radically modern diet and the end result would be revolutionary in remaking humanity, a complete overturning of what came before. It’s not to be obsessed with the past, to believe we are limited to evolutionary conditions and historical precedence. But ignoring the past is folly. Our collective amnesia about the traditional world keeps getting us into trouble. We’ve nearly lost all traces of what health once meant, the basic level of health that used to be the birthright of all humans.

My purpose here is to create a new narrative. It isn’t vegans and vegetarians against meat-eaters. The fact of the matter is most Americans eat more plant foods than animal foods, in following this part of dietary advice from the AHA, ADA, and USDA (specifically eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes than ever before measured since data has been kept). When snacking, it is plant foods (crackers, potato chips, cookies, donuts, etc) that we gorge on, not animal foods. Following Upton Sinclair’s writing of The Jungle, the average intake of red meat went on a decline. And since the 1930s, Americans have consumed more industrial seed oils than animal fat. “American eats only about 2oz of red meat per day,” tweets Dr. Shawn Baker, “and consumes more calories from soybean oil than beef!” Even total fat hasn’t increased but remained steady with the only change in the ratio of what kinds of fats, that is to say more industrial seed oils. It’s true that most Americans aren’t vegan, but what they share with vegans is an industrialized diet that is “plant-based”. To push the American diet further in this direction would hardly be a good thing. And it would require ever greater dependence on the approach of nutritionism, of further supplementation and fortification as Americans increasingly become malnourished. That is no real solution to the problem we face.

Instead of scapegoating meat and animal fat, we should return to the traditional American diet or else some other variant of the traditional human diet. The fact of the matter is historically Americans ate massive amounts of meat and, at the time, they were known as the healthiest population around. Meat-eating Americans in past centuries towered over meat-deprived Europeans. And those Americans, even the poor, were far healthier than their demographic counterparts elsewhere in the civilized and increasingly industrialized world. The United States, one of the last Western countries to be fully industrialized and urbanized, was one of the last countries to see the beginning of a health epidemic. The British noticed the first signs of physical decline in the late 1800s, whereas Americans didn’t clearly see this pattern until World War II. With this in mind, it would be more meaningful to speak of animal-based diets, including vegetarianism that allows dairy and eggs. This would be far more meaningful than grouping together supposed “plant-based” diets. Veganism is worlds apart from vegetarianism. Nutritionally speaking, vegetarianism has more in common with the paleo diet or even carnivore diet than with veganism, the latter being depleted of essential nutrients from animal foods (fat-soluble vitamins, EPA, DHA, DPA, choline, cholesterol, etc; yes, we sicken and die without abundant cholesterol in our diet, the reason dementia and other forms of neurocognitive decline are a common symptom of statins in lowering cholesterol levels). To entirely exclude all animal foods is a category unto itself, a category that didn’t exist and was unimaginable until recent history.

* * *

Nutritionism
by Gyorgy Scrinin

In Defense of Food
by Michael Pollan

Vegan Betrayal
by Mara Kahn

The Vegetarian Myth
by Lierre Keith

Mike Mutzel:

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the vegans argue that now we have the technologies like B12, synthetic b12, we can get DHA from algae. So it’s a beautiful time to be be vegan because we don’t need to rely upon animals for these compounds. What would you say to that argument?

Paul Saladino:

I would say that that’s a vast oversimplification of the sum total of human nutrition to think that, if we can get synthetic B12 and synthetic DHA, we’re getting everything in an animal. It’s almost like this reductionist perspective, in my opinion.

I’ve heard some people say that it doesn’t matter what you eat. It’s all about calories in and calories out, and then you can just take a multivitamin for your minerals and vitamins. And I always bristle at that I think that is so reductionist. You really think you’ve got it all figured out that you can just take one multivitamin and your calories and that is the same as real food?

That to me is just a travesty of an intellectual hypothesis or intellectual position to take because that’s clearly not the case. We know that animal foods are much more than the reductionist vitamins and minerals that are in them. And they are the structure or they are the matrix they are the amino acids… they are the amino acid availability… they are the cofactors. And to imagine that you can substitute animal foods with B12 and DHA is just a very scary position for me.

I think this is an intellectual error that we make over and over as humans in our society and this is a broader context… I think that we are smart and because we have had some small victories in medicine and nutrition and health. We’ve made scanning electron microscopes and we’ve understood quarks. I think that we’ve gotten a little too prideful and we imagine that as humans we can outsmart natural the natural world, that we can outsmart nature. And that may sound woo-woo, but I think it’s pretty damn difficult to outsmart 3 million years of natural history and evolution. And any time we try to do that I get worried.

Whether it’s peptides, whether it’s the latest greatest drug, whether it’s the latest greatest hormone or hormone combination, I think you are messing with three million years of the natural world’s wisdom. You really think you’re smarter than that? Just wait just wait, just wait, you’ll see. And to reduce animal foods to B12 and DHA, that’s a really really bad idea.

And as we’ve been talking about all those plant foods that you’re eating on a vegan diet are gonna come with tons of plants toxins. So yes, I think that we are at a time in human history when you can actually eat all plants and not get nutritional deficiencies in the first year or two because you can supplement the heck out of it, right? You can get… but, but… I mean, the list goes on.

Where’s your zinc? Where’s your carnitine? Where’s your carnosine? Where’s your choline? It’s a huge list of things. How much protein are you getting? Are you actually a net positive nitrogen balance? Let’s check your labs. Are you getting enough iodine? Where are you getting iodine from on a vegan diet?

It doesn’t make sense. You have to supplement with probably 27 different things. You have to think about the availability of your protein, the net nitrogen uses of your protein.

And you know people may not know this about me. I was a vegan, I was a raw vegan for about 7 months about 14 years ago. And my problem — and one thing I’ve heard from a lot of other people, in fact my clients, are the same thing today — is that, even if you’re able to eat the foods and perfectly construct micronutrients, you’re going to have so much gas that nobody’s going to want to be around you in the first place.

And I don’t believe that, in any way, shape or form, a synthetic diet is the same as a real foods diet. You can eat plants and take 25 supplements. But then you think what’s in your supplements? And are they bioavailable in the same way? And do they have the cofactors like they do in the food? And to imagine — we’ve done so much in human nutrition — but to imagine that we really understand fully the way that humans eat and digest their food I think is just that’s just pride and that’s just a folly.

Mike Mutzel:

Well, I agree I mean I think there’s a lot more to food than we recognize: micro RNA, transfer RNA, like other molecules that are not quote-unquote macronutrients. Yeah, now I think that’s what you’re getting from plants and animals in a good or bad way that a lot of people don’t think about. For example, you know there’s animal studies that show stress on animals; for example, like pre-slaughter stress affects the transcription patches and various genes in the animal product.

So, I love how you’re bringing to this whole carnivore movement — like the grass-fed movement, eating more organic free-range, things like that — because one of the qualms that I had seeing this thing take off is a lot of people going to fast food were taking the bun off the burger saying that there’s really no difference between grass-fed or a grain-fed. Like meat’s meat, just get what you can afford. I understand that some people… I’ve been in that place financially before in my life where grass-fed was a luxury.

But the other constituents that could potentially be in lower quality foods, both plant and animal. And the other thing about that you, just to hit on one more thing… The supplements —  been in the supplement space since ’06 — they’re not free of iatrogenesis, right. So there is heavy metals, arsenic, lead, mercury, cadmium in supplements; even vegan proteins, for example.

Paul Saladino:

Yeah, highly contaminated. Yeah, people don’t think about the metals in their supplements. And I see a lot of clients with high heavy metals and we think where are you getting this from. I saw a guy the other day with a really high tin and I think it’s in his supplements. And so anyway, that’s a whole other story

Carnivore Is Vegan

“I’ve watched enough harvests to know that cutting a wheat field amounts to more decapitated bunnies under the combine than you would believe.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver

“As I was thinking about the vegan conclusion, I remembered my childhood on the farm and where our food comes from and how it is produced. Specifically, I remembered riding on farm equipment and seeing mice, gophers, and pheasants in the field that were injured or killed every time we worked the fields. Therefore, I realized that animals of the field are killed in large numbers annually to produce food for humans.”
~ Stephen L. Davis

“When I inquired about the lives lost on a mechanized farm, I realized what costs we pay at the supermarket. One Oregon farmer told me that half of the cottontail rabbits went into his combine when he cut a wheat field, that virtually all of the small mammals, ground birds, and reptiles were killed when he harvested his crops. Because most of these animals have been seen as expendable, or not seen at all, few scientific studies have been done measuring agriculture’s effects on their populations.”
~ Ted Kerasote

What diet causes the most harm? If veganism means the avoidance of death, suffering and exploitation of animals, then carnivore is the most vegan diet around. Pastoralism as a food system and way of life kills the fewest animals, fewer than agriculture by far. For every life taken by a carnivore (e.g., a single pasture-raised chicken or cow), a vegan might kill hundreds or thousands (coyotes, deer, rodents, insects, etc). In both cases, the death count is known and so intentional. There is no avoidance of moral culpability. This isn’t about being clever but about what is genuinely least harmful and hence most environmentally sustainable. Rather than a pose of moral righteousness, our concern should be with what brings the greater overall good.

I did do a carnivore diet for a couple of months as an experiment, although I wasn’t strict about it. For a while now, I’ve been back on a diet that is ketogenic, paleo, and traditional foods. My food sourcing is important to me with an emphasis on locally produced, seasonally available, organic, and pasture-raised. This means I regularly shop at the nearby farmers market. So, despite not being carnivore at present, I am heavily biased toward animal foods with plenty of meat and eggs, along with some dairy. The plant foods I eat are also almost entirely from the farmers market, in particular the fermented veggies I enjoy. That translates as eating a greater proportion of plant foods when available in the warm time of the year and more animal foods in winter. Not only is this diet extremely healthy but also highly ethical and environmentally sustainable.

Raising animals on pasture avoids all of the problems associated with industrial agriculture and factory farming. It is actually a net gain for local ecosystems, the biosphere, and the human species. The health of the soil actually improves with pasture and atmospheric carbon is captured. Run-off, erosion, and pollution are eliminated. On top of that, pasture provides habitat for wildlife, as opposed to mass farming and monoculture that destroys habitat and displaces wildlife, not to mention poisons, starves and slaughters immense numbers of wildlife. If you’re pro-life in the broadest sense, the last thing in the world you’d want to be is vegan, as it is dependent on industrial agriculture and mass transportation.

Vegan arguments against harm to animals don’t apply to a pasture-raised or wild-hunted carnivore diet or any local meat-based diet combined with locally and seasonally available plant foods. (By the way, today was the beginning of wild mulberry season — delicious! I was knocked right out of ketosis and was glad for it. That is the reason plants evolved the highly addictive drug called sugar, so that we would eat their fruit and spread their seeds, not so that one day agriculture would make possible industrially-produced and health-destroying high fructose corn syrup.)

Veganism creates a similar disconnect as seen with right-wing “pro-lifers” who oppose abortion. As I’ve pointed out, countries that ban abortions don’t decrease the rate of abortions and sometimes increase them. The main change is whether abortions are legal and safe or illegal and unsafe. But anti-abortionists refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of the policies they support. Similarly, vegans also refuse to accept responsibility for the deaths that their diet incurs. Whether one intentionally or unintentionally cause harm, the harm is equally real. This is how symbolic ideology that makes people feel good trumps practical concerns about what actually makes the world a better place.

“What do plants eat? They eat dead animals; that’s the problem. For me that was a horrifying realization. You want to be an organic gardener, of course, so you keep reading ‘Feed the soil, feed the soil, feed the soil…’

“All right. Well, what does the soil want to eat? Well, it wants manure, and it wants urine, and it wants blood meal and bone meal. And I…could not face that. I wanted my garden to be pure and death-free. It didn’t matter what I wanted: plants wanted those things; they needed those things to grow.”
~ Lierre Keith

“There is no place left for the buffalo to roam. There’s only corn, wheat, and soy. About the only animals that escaped the biotic cleansing of the agriculturalists are small animals like mice and rabbits, and billions of them are killed by the harvesting equipment every year. Unless you’re out there with a scythe, don’t forget to add them to the death toll of your vegetarian meal. They count, and they died for your dinner, along with all the animals that have dwindled past the point of genetic feasibility.”
~ Lierre Keith

There is no reason the world’s population couldn’t live according to the meat-based diet I and many others follow. Very little of the land available can be used for farming. But most of it can be used for grazing. Also, grazing animals for food can be done alongside keeping grazing land open for wild animals as well. Keep in mind that, in North America, there once were more buffalo roaming the continent than there are now cows and the vast herds of buffalo were what kept the prairies healthy. Even in countries that don’t have good farmland, animals can always be raised locally. There is no country in the world that lacks land for grazing. If not cows, then pigs, goats, camels, or whatever else.

Let me put this in perspective, 90% of land in North America can only be used for wildlife and livestock, not farming. In other places (Africa, India, Australia, etc), it’s even higher at 95% of land. So, are we going to try to feed the global population with just 5-10% of the arable land and ignore the rest? In ever more intensively farming, we are destroying what is left of the arable land. That is insanity! Industrial agriculture and factory farming makes no sense, except from a capitalist model of private profit and externalized/socialized costs. A local animal-based diet is the only way to feed the world’s population, maintain optimal health, avoid the greatest harm to animals, and ensure environmental sustainability.

Veganism didn’t exist prior to modern agriculture. Grazing animals, on the other hand, has been the mainstay of the human diet for hundreds of thousands of years. There is no traditional diet that wasn’t centered on animal foods, the source of the most energy-dense and nutrient-dense foods. And when done low-carb as was typical of traditional societies, ketosis allows people to eat less food and go for longer periods of time without eating. Many people on animal-based diets do regular fasting, intermittent and/or extended. In ketosis, I easily skip meals or go several days without food and it doesn’t bother me. Since ketosis allows for smaller intake of food, that is an additional decreased impact on the environment.

The standard American diet (SAD) that is plant-based is neither healthy for the individual nor healthy for the environment. Keep in mind that almost all junk foods are vegan: potato chips, crackers, cookies, candy, pop, etc. This vegan junk food is mass farmed, mass produced, and mass shipped, not to mention mass subsidized. Even most healthier plant-based foods, including whole foods, that vegans rely upon are shipped from distant regions and countries with very little regulation for the health of environment and workers. Veganism contributes to pollution and the need for heavily-subsidized infrastructure.

What is ethical about this? Good intentions are not good enough. We can’t separate ourselves from the world we live in. It’s a fantasy that we can live apart from the natural cycle of life and death. Trying to force that fantasy upon the world, some might call that a nightmare. A diet is part of an ecosystem, all contained within a living biosphere. In pretending to be separate, we cause even more death and suffering. Mass extinction was always inherent to agriculture. “The end,” as Lierre Keith said, “was written into the beginning.” There is no avoiding this, as long as we continue down this path of exploitative civilization. We can embrace that ending, though, and seek a new beginning.

“Agriculture is the biggest mistake in human history,” as put by George Armelagos. And on the same note, Jared Diamond wrote that, “Archaeologists studying the rise of farming have reconstructed a crucial stage at which we made the worst mistake in human history. Forced to choose between limiting population or trying to increase food production, we chose the latter and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” So, are we doomed? Only if we choose to be. Agriculture as we know it can’t continue. Can it be done differently? Others have offered more optimistic answers.

If we hope to find another way before it’s too late, we must look for inspiration in the traditional food systems that still survive. And there most definitely is hope. We already know of ways to reverse the damage and rehabilitate the land. No doubt further understandings will be gained over time that will allow even greater results. But the key is that more animals, wild and domestic, will be needed to make possible this course of action. That is to say, in place of ecological deserts of monocultural farming, we need to return to the environmental norm of biodiversity.

“If we took 75% of the world’s trashed rangeland, we could restore it from agriculture back to functioning prairies — with their animal cohorts — in under fifteen years. We could further sequester all of the carbon that has been released since the beginning of the industrial age. So I find that a hopeful thing because, frankly, we just have to get out of the way. Nature will do the work for us. This planet wants to be grassland and forest. It does not want to be an agricultural mono-crop.”
~ Lierre Keith

“Viewing this global scene, as I have been doing for many years, I will stake my life on it that humanity’s best hope lies in one simple idea that no scientist can sensibly argue against – that management in this 21st century should be holistic and no longer reductionist. And Holistic Management of course includes recognizing that only livestock with Holistic Planned Grazing (or better process when developed) can address global desertification, annual burning of billions of hectares of grasslands and savannas, and regenerate the world’s dying soils and soil life essential to addressing climate change. […]

“Reductionist management, without using livestock managed on the land in a way that addresses global desertification and climate change, will inevitably lead to the doomsday predictions of Wallace-Wells. Billions of people dead and hundreds of cities destroyed and worse in the relatively near future no matter how many hopeful measures we might take.”
~ Allan Savory

* * *

Carnivore Is Vegan:
Bad Vegan Logic: Accidental Deaths vs Intentional Deaths – Carnivore is Vegan
A Carnivore Diet is More Vegan than a Vegan Diet – Carnivore is Vegan
Vegans Use Slave Cows to Make Fertilizer
Stir-Fry Genocide: Mushrooms Are Not Vegan

Field Deaths in Plant Agriculture
by Bob Fischer and Andy Lamey

There’s no such thing as vegan food
by Claire Taylor

Millennial veganism
by Joanna Blythman

But are you truly vegan?
by Matthew Evans

Australia’s vegan lie revealed: How plant-based diets still result in hundreds of thousands of animal deaths a year
by Lauren Ferri

Ordering the vegetarian meal? There’s more animal blood on your hands
by Mike Archer

The Least Harm Principle May Require that Humans Consume a Diet Containing Large Herbivores, Not a Vegan Diet
by Stephen L. Davis

The Least-Harm Fallacy of Veganism
by Karin Lindquist

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability
Chapter 1: Why This Book?
by Lierre Keith

The Hidden Cost of Veganism – Lierre Keith #143
from ReWild Yourself

Lierre Keith & The Agripocalypse
by Lawrence Rosenberg

Any ‘planetary diet’ must also work for the poorest and most vulnerable
by Andrew Salter

Eating Local Meat is Actually More Sustainable than Veganism
from Heartland Fresh Family Farm

Why vegetarianism will not save the world
by Ian MacKenzie

If you care about the planet, eat more beef
by Danielle Smith

Ruminants are more important to the world than you might have thought!
by Troy Downing

Report: Cut red-meat eating by 80 percent to save the planet?
by Anne Mullens and Bret Scher

Can vegetarians save the planet? Why campaigns to ban meat send the wrong message on climate change
by Erin Biba

EAT-Lancet report’s recommendations are at odds with sustainable food production
by Sustainable Food Trust

Report urging less meat in global diet ‘lacks agricultural understanding’
from FarmingUK

War on burgers continues with false environmental impact claims
by Amanda Radke

Testimony before the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry U.S. Senate
by Frank Mitloehner

Sorry, But Giving Up on Meat Is Not Going to Save The Planet
by Frank M. Mitloehner

Don’t Blame Cows For Climate Change
by Sylvia Wright

Cattle and methane: More complicated than first meets the (rib) eye
by Stephan Lewandowsky and Asa Wahlquist

Beef’s ‘Sustainability’ Involves More Than Greenhouse Gases
by Jesse Bussard

Is Agriculture Feeding the World or Destroying It? Dr. Frank Mitloehner Discusses Ag, Climate Change
from Farms.com

Environmental Hoofprint Matters — Frank Mitloehner, UC Davis
from Farm To Table Talk

Sustainable Dish Episode 83: The Truth About Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Livestock Production with Frank Mitloehner
with Diana Rodgers

UN admits flaw in report on meat and climate change
by Alastair Jamieson

Can Dietary Changes Limit Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
by Wyatt Bechtel

Scientist: Don’t blame cows for climate change
by Paul Armstrong

Climate change policy must distinguish (long-lived) carbon dioxide from (short-lived) methane–Oxford study
by Susan MacMillan

Alan Savory @ PV1 – The role of livestock in a new agriculture that can save city-based civilization
by Julia Winter

Effective Livestock Grazing And A Regenerative Future
by Allan Savory

Climate Change – Cause and Remedy
by Allan Savory

Climate Change Best Addressed Planting Trees, Or Regenerating Grasslands?
by Allan Savory

Fate Of City-Based Civilization In The Hands Of Farmers
by Allan Savory

How We Can Offer Hope For Our Grandchildren In A Floundering, Leaderless World
by Allan Savory

Hope For The Future – First Real Hope In Centuries.
by Allan Savory

Response To “Goodbye – And Good Riddance – To Livestock Farming”
by Daniela Ibarra-Howell

Why Homo Sapiens Are A Keystone Predator In Rewilding Projects
by Caroline Grindrod

Red meat bounds down the carbon neutral path
by Shan GoodwinShan Goodwin

Can cows cause more climate change than cars?
by Frédéric Leroy

Climate, Food, Facts
from Animal Agriculture Alliance

The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
by Jared Diamond

Was agriculture the greatest blunder in human history?
by Darren Curnoe

Could Veganism Cause Extinctions?
by Patrice Ayme

It takes 21 litres of water to produce a small chocolate bar. How water-wise is your diet?
by Brad Ridoutt

Dietary Dictocrats of EAT-Lancet
Like water fasts, meat fasts are good for health.
Fasting, Calorie Restriction, and Ketosis
Ketogenic Diet and Neurocognitive Health
The Agricultural Mind