Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why I eat meat, and other living foods

In essence, I eat meat because I really, really like to eat meat, and see nothing particularly wrong with eating meat. I’m a living thing, a cow is a living thing, and so is a tomato plant. All of our lives are precious to ourselves, I assume, while knowing that consciousness is subjective and that I can’t ever really know what it is to be a plant or another animal. We’re all going to die, and death is not the enemy: without death, there wouldn’t be life. If no living thing ate another living thing, there would be no room to evolve. We’d all be single-celled organisms that live on sunshine until either we cover the Earth and smother one another—to death—or we rely on some of us to die off so the rest of us can get enough sun. While we all have the right to try to thrive—to pursue life—there are limited resources, including the limits of our own bodies.
And we don’t get to choose to be amoebas or trees, anyway: we’re humans, a different animal, one designed to thrive on a diet with regular inputs of animal protein. There are cultures where the people live on animal products almost exclusively; there are people who are allergic to dairy, or wheat, or nuts; there are no vegan societies, and there are no people who are allergic to meat. I accept these as scientific facts: that humans thrive on a diet that includes meat; that all human diets result in the deaths, directly and indirectly, of plants and animals; and that death is a necessary part of individual and collective life on Earth. Based on that, eating animals is fine. To say it’s okay to kill thousands of plants and insects, but not a single vertebrate, is a perversion of respect for life. And while I respect the desire to avoid killing, it’s impossible, because it defies nature. We should do what we can to limit suffering in the world, but we should not try to limit death: the 1:1 ratio is sustainable; life without death is not.
A happy life is one in which you are in concert with your desires. Pretending you don’t have a desire, always subverting and tricking it, shoving it underground, and never satisfying yourself—none of that is healthy behavior. You’d know it about any other area of your life, so don’t play games with your food. Respect your animal body, the vigor of drives that keep us alive, and the pleasures that make life worth living. Feed it properly, and listen to it.
We’ve made changes in our diet and lifestyle over the course of human history. The people I know, by and large, do not ever squat, and squatting is arguably the most natural human movement; before chairs and indoor toilets, it was something we each did, many times a day. But the people I know, they don’t do many of the kinds or intensities of exercise that humans have historically done, and hardly even any walking. Our bodies are heavier: we eat much more food, which is much more energy dense and much easier to get: we rarely fast or endure periods of deprivation. Most people pay no attention to their cravings, indigestion, or bowel movements, and these are all irrelevant to how most people choose what to eat and when. They don’t sleep enough. They live and work in isolation from other people, nature, and their own bodies. They worry too much, and are exposed to all kinds of toxins: prescribed medications, chemicals in the food, water, and air; they carry devices that emit tetratogenic rays.
Our bodies may be incomparable to what they were in our beginnings as a species, despite the genetic similarities. It’s not a given that what made a human healthy even 10,000 years ago will work on an adult raised in a post-industrial society.
We’ve made compromises to our ideal diet, and adapted to them: somewhat. Many people can tolerate dairy and wheat, recent additions to our diets. Some people don’t get sick on industrial diets, either. You may not realize you’re even sick, if everyone around you feels the same way. I take a much more conservative approach to the more recent innovations to our diets like refined foods, than to agricultural products some of our ancestors have eaten for millennia. The agricultural compromise early farmers made in leaving the nomadic lifestyle and adopting as staples foods like potatoes, lentils, corn, and rice brought some costs with them that, as a society, we’ve accepted with not too many problems. We’re shorter, and if we don’t include enough animal products we become malnourished and deformed.
By comparison, the Standard American Diet, the latest revolution in human diet, has brought an epidemic of disease that threatens to overwhelm society. Maybe there’s a compromise suitable to the 21st century, an amount of plant-based food that is ideal, not just for me, but for ensuring everyone has enough to eat and that the Earth can sustain our food production. I’ve been researching it for months, trying to determine the costs to health and available resources required to make enough high quality food for everyone. I am just not buying the line that we can’t feed all of us if we don’t go GMO, or all go vegan, or adopt Quorn or Chickie Nobs or whatever actually does come next. We agree on many points about what qualifies as food, but I don’t even necessarily agree with Michael Pollan’s famous dictum to eat “mostly plants,” when historical evidence suggests a meat-based diet is more natural to us.
So I keep reading, trying to get to that place of deep knowledge, so I can confidently tell you to go eat meat and, as well as knowing that it’s the best thing for you and me, know that it’s the best thing for everyone: today, into the future, for people, other living things, and the whole living world.