(For any of you who read this blog, just be forwarned: just about everything, in one way or another, is going to tie back to veganism. That’s just how I operate.)
When I get into debates and conversations about whether or not humans need to eat meat, one point that often comes up is that our ancestors survived on meat for millenia: it was what allowed them to live in harsh climates where agriculture wasn’t possible. The discovery of fire and the ability to cook meat certainly played an enormous and formative role in how our species has evolved and how our society has developed. Certainly, humans are still surving on meat today. But there are a few questions I want to pose in response to this.
First of all, is surviving the same thing as thriving? For instance, if you were an astronaut, living in a very unusual climate (a space shuttle or space station), and you had been eating “space food” for weeks and weeks, what would be the first thing you would eat as soon as you got back to Earth? My guess is probably not space food! You would probably want something fresh and delicious, the best thing available to you, right? My houseplants, by the grace of God and forces unknown, have managed to cling to life in the crappy Ikea potting soil they were packed in, watered with Chicago municipal tap water. But how much healthier would they be if I re-potted them in good soil, fertilized them with fresh compost and watered them with filtered water (or rain water)? They would probably look much better!
When I go out in public and look at the general state of the crowd, I get the sense that we’re surviving on a standard western diet, but we’re certainly not thriving. For all the pills and gadgets and books and diets and miracle procedures and all these supposedly health improving things available to us, rates of lifestyle diseases are still on the rise; the people around me look tired, ill, and unhappy.
Our ancestors that survived on meat did so as an adaptation to their environment: it was the best they could do with the technology they had. But our environment today is very different: we live in a global community, and we have the potential to focus our resources on producing abundant, nutritious food (what we have is abundant, but not nutritious). So why are we still clinging to the survival food of the past (or using the past as an excuse to eat too much factory-farmed meat), when we could enjoy a better quality of life by using our new knowlege and resources (which, ironically, is oftent the knowledge that some things are best left to nature and the test of time)? We have clinical and observational data from all over the world that shows that people thrive–they live the longest with the lowest incidence of disease–on the Pollan-esque tri-fecta of food principles: eating enough but not too much, mostly plants (here’s where the benefit of being vegan, or at very least, boycotting factory farming comes in), and eating real food, free of processed ingredients that place a toxic burden on the body. This may be oversimplifying things, but if you had the choice between merely surviving and experiencing great health and longevity, which would you choose? At very least, if we insist on keeping animals in our diet, we owe it to ourselves and the earth to eat real animals, not the genetic mutants suffering (just barely surving, not thriving in the least) in factory farms. Hold off for wild game and authentically free range meat (don’t just hope the supermarket label is true–check the source). At the risk of simplifying things too much, it really does seem that the only way to thrive is to eat a thriving creature from a thriving earth, preferably plants. We can do better than our ancestors did. We have the wisdom we inherited from them in addition to the information and technology of the present. So why are we using the past as an excuse to stay unhealthy instead of a lesson in our quest to thrive?