meat eating and health

This morning, I read a post over on The Great Fitness Experiment that got me thinking. Charlotte talked about her own vegetarian / carnivore experience in “Are Vegetarians Really Less Healthy than Meat Eaters? New Study Says Yes.”

Like Charlotte, I’ve dabbled in vegetarianism. Also like her, every once in a while I struggle with the decision I’ve made to start eating meat again. I really enjoyed her post, which talked about a new study from Austria that found better health and quality of life amongst meat-eaters than those following a veggie diet. Charlotte made some really important posts when it comes to reading and interpreting these kinds of articles where one diet or eating approach is labelled superior to another, including a reminder of how the health argument is always changing: from lean skinless, boneless chicken breasts to the fattiest but grass-fed, organic beef you can get–the flavour of the day for what’s the “healthiest” meat choice will change and change and change again.

Nowadays, there are (conspiracy) theories about why we eat what we eat–from the corn farmers to the meat industry to the vegans, everyone seems to be out to get us. There are books that tell us that vegetarianism is the way to be–for our health, for our planet, for our pocketbooks, for our appearance. Ditto for the ones calling us to eat more meat–dive into the paleo cookbooks at the store if you want to see these in action! There are plenty of books that make the other way of eating wrong, but I think what’s important here is to decide what really is the “right” way to eat–for you.

It’s really tricky to define “good for you”–especially if we’re talking about something as generalizable as meat eaters vs. vegetarians. I know plenty of people who would identify as veggies who don’t give much thought to their diets and plenty of people who eat meat who are intentional about it. And vice versa. But if you don’t agree with eating meat on an ethical, religious, personal—whatever—basis, should health be used as a way to try to convince you to go against that? As Charlotte says, what’s healthy seems to change along with the diet trends.

It admittedly makes me nervous that the diet trends and the research go hand in hand in the way Charlotte says they do – with paleo/primal/atkins getting more popular and THEN research to back them up seeming to materialize. Diet industry, I’m onto you. Sadly, it’s easy to do the same for ourselves. I know–and have read–the books that take a solid stance for going veg and I know the ones that I turned to when I was feeling guilty about my decision to start eating meat again. It’s easy to cherry pick to support what we’ve already made up our minds to do or to believe.

When it comes to generalizable statements on diet, I think we need to look at why we’re making them. Will those vegetarians be so harmed from not eating meat that we need to make their choice wrong? I don’t think so. So why do that to ’em? More steak for you, and move on. Chances are, whether you choose to add meat into a healthy diet or choose not to, you can make up a pretty darn healthy diet–if you put in the effort. Deciding on purpose to eat or not eat meat, and deciding to hold to that decision in the midst of these narratives about how meat eating is killing you or the planet or how vegetarianism will just ravage your body (we’ve all seen both sides of the extreme argument) might not be easy. I think we are wasting our energy though, and I think that the more time we spend tearing each other’s approaches down, the less time we have to focus on what we’re actually trying to accomplish by eating that way in the first place. Stand for something, not just against something else, ya know?

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-Are you a vegetarian?
-Would you keep eating this way even if it was definitively proven that it’s not as “good for you” as having meat in your diet?

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