I’m a Kiwi, aka a New Zealander. Back home there aren’t any questions about whether your beef or lamb has been pasture raised and grass-fed. It just is. All our cows and sheep spend their lives munching green grass, on rolling picturesque pastures. It’s pretty awesome.
New Zealand remains virtually untouched by any serious environmental problems and legislation has tight rules on the use of growth promoting hormones.
That being said, New Zealand’s farming practices aren’t perfect. The agriculture sector emits more greenhouse gases than all transport combined, pesticides are prevalent and there is a push to focus more on completely organic farming.
My point is, I grew up eating meat. But I’ve always been a little fickle.
In 2008 I moved to the United States. One week into my new life here I drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco, up the I-5 Freeway through land primarily used for agriculture. Appropriately although horrendously, this region has been nicknamed “Cowschwitz” and it was a road-trip that scarred me for life.
The first thing that gets you is the smell.
It creeps in through the air-conditioning, strangely sweet at first. As you drive further it intensifies, developing into a pungent combination of feces, rotting flesh, death and I swear, fear. The smell’s crescendo reaches a point that would threaten even the most iron-clad of constitutions. All you can do is mouth-breathe, drive and take in the horrific sights around you.
There’s no grass. Not even one blade. Just fenced off dirt enclosures rammed with cows standing knee-deep in dirt and poop. Which gets you to thinking, “What do these guys eat?” It’s a good question and one that has a lengthy and fascinating answer.
Most cows in the US are grain-fed, corn or soy mostly but there’s also bits and pieces added in to make the food go further. Including but not limited to: poultry litter, remains of dead animals, animal poop or out-of-date pet food. A year ago farmers found that cookies, gummy worms, marshmallows, fruit loops were a cheaper option so they threw that in with the grain. No joke.
To combat the diseases that spring up because of this awful diet and overcrowding, the animals are pumped full of antibiotics and are also pumped full of hormones to make them grow faster. This meat is the meat that 99% of America eats. It’s cheaper than the other healthier grass-fed options, so the general public buy it and feed it to their families. Petrifying.
It’s not just cows that are farmed this way but pigs, sheep and poultry. These animals are not designed for these kinds of diets and it plays havoc with their systems and makes them sick. It changes the composition of their bodies, ruining the meat and making it downright unhealthy for human consumption. There’s a whole lot of science behind it, but I won’t go into that right now.
I came to the conclusion that my diet was going to have to change living here in the States. I stopped eating meat gradually. Bacon had gone years ago because I love pigs, sappy but true. Beef and lamb went next and then chicken and everything else in between. I was pretty adamant and vocal about my distaste for the disgusting way these animals lived and were killed. I just made it a blanket rule. Meat = Bad. I felt meat was bad for my health and also very, very bad for the animal. A vegetarian was born.
I had also been raised on the traditional food pyramid, the one that tells us fats and meat need to be consumed with caution. My Mum always bought non-fat pasteurized dairy, took the skin off our chicken and removed the fatty parts of the steak. We were told by advertisements on TV that too much red meat would probably give us a heart attack and/or cancer. More than one egg a day was also very dangerous territory.
I felt that the choice to not eat meat wasn’t just an ethical one, but a healthier option for my body too. A win-win situation for everyone involved.
So I focused on a low-fat, veggie-dense, lots of soy, grains and fruit based diet. I cut out a lot of dairy, preferring almond milk, soy yoghurt and a whole lot of granola. I thought I was the pillar of health and very ethically sound.
It’s amazing what we just believe, without ever doing much research.
In January this year I met my boyfriend Luke. One of the first things he showed me the first time I visited his home/gym/wellness studio was his meat freezer, filled to the brim with pounds of beef. The vegetarian in me recoiled. He explained that the meat was grass-fed, organic and shipped down specially from a humane farm in Oregon. To me it was still fatty, animally meat.
After a few dates it was clear that this man lived on beef, lamb, eggs and some veggies here and there. He put butter and coconut oil in his coffee. The amount of meat and fat he consumed shocked and disturbed me, “Surely your cholesterol must be off the richter?!” I asked after he had bacon for breakfast again. He just smiled and gave me some books to read.
And my re-education began.
It started with the Vegetarian Myth and then moved to books like Deep Nutrition (blew my mind), Nourishing Traditions and The Better Baby Book. The work of Weston A. Price astounded me, and the tall and the short of it became that I didn’t know enough. If the truth be told this was the first proper reading I’d done regarding food and food production other than Fast Food Nation and a few other cliche food related books. I also had been a tad brainwashed by documentaries such as Forks over Knives and had become convinced that veggies + fruit = awesome. They are awesome, just not by themselves.
Even though I was concerned with farming practices I hadn’t thought about where my soy was coming from or if soy was even good for me. Soy has been marketed as the health food of champions, it’s actually pretty toxic. I hadn’t thought about mass agriculture, whether it be of soy crops or cattle, is damaging to people, animals and the environment. Read TomatoLand by Barry Estabrook and you’ll be looking at your fruit and vegetables sideways.
I learned that cholesterol isn’t the devil it’s made out to be. In fact it’s a necessary part of being healthy and alive. We are miseducated to believe high cholesterol is unhealthy and caused by eating too much fat. It’s not. Clogged arteries (not cholesterol) are caused by inflammation, which is caused by stress, high sugar, toxic diets and being lazy. Definitely not from too many egg yolks or the fat from your steak. Cholesterol gets a bad rap and in fact having super low cholesterol is frankly dangerous. Putting people on cholesterol lowering medication is not treating the root of the problem and completely misses the point altogether.
I had always assumed that whole grains, especially oatmeal, were an essential part of a healthy person’s diet. So many minerals and fiber! Ummmm, nope. Grains are fundamentally just sugar and sugar is one thing we really, really don’t thrive on. As human grain consumption has risen our health has not. The fact the grains, cereal, pasta are at the base of the typical food pyramid would be funny, if it wasn’t damaging people so much.
After some serious reading and researching I had to reassess the food pyramid I grew up with. It’s really hard to get it in your head that the ‘facts’ you have grown up with you whole life are complete bullsh*it. It’s hard to swallow the fact that fat is good and too much fruit, not so good.
I learned that red meat is one of the healthiest things you can eat. Just as long as it’s from a healthy animal.
Our bodies are mostly made of water, fat, proteins and minerals. So our food should be made up of mostly these things. It’s common sense. You can’t make muscle out of macaroni. Healthy animal protein and healthy saturated fats are the most nutrient dense foods we can consume. Forget fruit and veggies, beef is where it’s at.
The healthiest humans eat healthy Omega-3 fats. The healthiest humans do not eat soda, bread, sugar, grains, pasta or pasteurized dairy. They most definitely do not eat Tofurky or Soy-Nuggets. The healthiest humans eat Real Food, from clean, natural, mindfully grown and humanely raised sources, whether plant or animal.
And then there was the scientific proof, our blood tests – our third date. Luke’s red-blooded, steak twice a day with lashings of butter, bacon and coconut oil (all from organic, grass-fed, humane sources) versus my vegetarian, low-fat, tofu loving, grain saturated blood. Guess who was ‘healthier’. It wasn’t me.
I was anaemic, my lipid (fat) chemistry blew and my Vitamin D as well as B levels sucked. Luke’s cholesterol was healthier than mine, shocking as I had watched him eat bacon on a daily basis with a smirk on his face in anticipation of the blood tests. But at this point I actually understood what cholesterol was and what it’s job is in the body. In the scheme of things, I was relatively healthy but I’m a perfectionist. I also wanted to have children in the next year or so and I wanted them to be given the best start possible.
So I started to re-think this vegetarianism. I started adding organic, pasture-raised meat back into my diet from places we knew were humane. It was really hard. It made me feel sick and fat. I got constipated because my tummy enzymes didn’t work like they should anymore but I persevered and with the help of some pro-biotics and digestive enzymes I got through it. I felt horrible for a while and then had the idea that ‘life eats life’ stuck with me. What do we fertilize plants with? Dead animals of course. I wanted to be a healthy human. One who ate mindfully and appreciated where her nourishment had come from.
After a few weeks I felt better. My energy skyrocketed, my body got leaner and so much stronger. My hair became thicker and skin more radiant. I fell pregnant in one try. I feel like my baby has a better start because of these choices. That’s all they are, my choices.
We only get one body in this lifetime, I want mine to thrive not just survive.
Now I laugh in the face of ‘low-fat’ and pour butter and coconut oil into my coffee. I drink glasses of raw full fat creamy milk and big slices of raw cheese. No more cooked and ruined dairy for this body or baby. I have at least four eggs from pasture raised hens a day as egg yolks are almost a perfect food.
Everyone has different opinions, religious beliefs, knowledge and bodies, you have to find what works for you. But no matter what your dietary preference, you can make a conscious choice to select the right sources for your food. Industrialization is bad whether you’re eating soy or beef.
Of course, finding grass-fed beef, raw milk and buying your veggies from a reputable source can get difficult, it can be expensive and amazingly Americans spend less on food than people in any other country in the world. But perhaps economy isn’t the way to look at it? Perhaps spending more money on Real Food is a better idea than spending it on meals out, alcohol, expensive clothes or cable television? If you buy healthy, humane food you may find yourself spending less in other health related areas of you life. You never know.