Ian Dury and the Blockheads gave us “Reasons to be Cheerful”. Frank Turner gave us “Reasons Not to be an Idiot”. Nobody’s yet explored “Reasons Not to be a Vegetarian”. Until now.
I don’t completely get vegetarians. I understand why someone might consider converting to a meat-free existence on the grounds of animal welfare or cruelty. Fair enough, it’s barbaric. Injecting growth hormones doesn’t seem a very good idea; something that I’m sure will become commonplace if the TTIP regulations over food and environmental safety ever come to fruition. Raising ruminants solely for consumption also produces vast quantities of CH4 (methane) and N2O, both of which are far worse from an ecological standpoint than CO2. Cars and industry, not cows FTW!
For over a decade, I’ve had this nagging thought that feeding our ridiculously over-populated planet with current intensive farming methods is unsustainable. Nature is fighting back with every drop of pesticide we inflict upon her. That’s why I almost exclusively eat organic fruit, veg and milk, and buy higher quality, more ecologically sound meat whenever possible. Just less of the latter, because it’s so damned expensive (which, incidentally, is the true cost of meat, not your four-burgers-for-a-quid that you get at Iceland).
But what I totally don’t understand are the vegetarians who lambaste me for eating meat on health grounds. You know who you are.
For omnivores like us, eating healthily under a totally meat-free existence is hard work; harder still if you step into the murky world of veganism or fruitarianism. This has little to do with availability, or price, or supply and demand, it is simply very difficult to obtain the level of B-vitamins and other fatty acids essential for our bodies from plant sources alone. Sure, I could eat nuts and mushroom derivatives (though I dislike both of them). Sure I could be a halfway vegetarian and eat fish, or supplement my diet with pills to bolster the nutritional shortfall, but both have ecological and health drawbacks.
I have friends who are vegetarian, and I respect their life choices. Some I respect further, as they don’t even inflict their veggie beliefs on their children, preparing meat dishes for them because they recognise it is important for a youngster’s development. At such time the child is old enough to make their own decisions on food groups, they can do so with a balanced viewpoint.
But the crowd that leave me scratching my head are the vegetarians who stare me in the face and tell me the reason they eat vegetables alone is because it’s healthier to do so.
The ‘all veg is good for you’ myth
If you’re going to get all high and mighty with me over the health benefits of a non-meat lifestyle, you’d better be eating organic fruit and veg. Anything else is so drenched in pesticides and growth additives to speed up development that the long-term health benefits of a meat-free existence are likely negligible. Although I have very little data to back this up (primarily because it’s unavailable in sufficient depth, or kept quiet by standards bodies with vested interests in traditional methods of food production), I suspect it may be more damaging for your body than a little meat every now and again.
That’s not to mention you’re fuelling the destruction of the planet. Every non-organic piece of veg you buy gives supermarkets and growers more incentive to employ intensive farming methods, creating larger patches of land that destroy vital hedgerows housing wildlife and predators that could otherwise combat the pests that chemicals purportedly keep at bay.
Under intensive year-on-year cultivation, normally arable soil breaks down. Yields and vegetable quality suffer as a result. With fewer natural predators, pesticides become a crutch used by farmers to bolster yields and stave off the pests that see free meal tickets in fields. But herbicides seep into the food, and ultimately make their way into our bodies. On top of that, farmers and seed manufacturers employ systemic pesticides which cannot be washed off, as the seeds or plants are soaked in the stuff to kill anything that takes a bite. Does that include us, over time?
The long-term health effects of such “pesticide abuse” on the body is currently unknown, but logic dictates that it can’t be a happy ending. Any non-natural toxins in our body will gradually build up and manifest themselves as health issues. Manufacturers’ claim that pesticides are “safe” for human consumption, as long as they are used as stated on the label. So answer me this: how many farmers who wish to be paid, will stick to the dosage when faced with an epidemic of blight or blackfly or pollen beetle, and stringent demand for their goods?
Not only that, pesticides drain into the soil, damaging it further. It seeps into the water table contaminating our water supply, which ultimately ends in the oceans. Then as rain on the crops. We all studied the water life cycle at school; it’s a closed-loop system we cannot escape.
One (in)famous story that Guy Watson of Riverford Organic Farms likes is one where he and a non-organic farmer were roaming the land owned by the non-organic operator. Ever curious about flavour, Mr. Watson bent to pick a leaf of lettuce and taste it. The grower stopped him: “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, boy”. What kind of person grows a lettuce that’s so laden with chemicals it’s a) unsafe to be eaten straight from the ground, and b) they won’t try it themselves?
Sidestepping the other issue that supermarkets reject tonnes of perfectly good food every day based on aesthetics that consumers allegedly “don’t want”, pests become resistant to pesticides over time, meaning the latter need to be constantly tweaked to be effective. That’s a whole branch of the agri/pharma industry given more impetus to develop harder and more damaging pest control products, fuelled by vegetarians who consume larger quantities of vegetables than those of us that eat a more balanced diet, or one that’s in tune with nature. I suspect vast swathes of land and vegetation are destroyed by agri-companies to extract the necessary ingredients to synthesise their poisonous concoctions in the lab. All direct contributions from non-organic vegetarians.
And so it goes on. Yes, meat and animal rearing damages the environment too. But by consuming intensively-farmed produce, vegetarians are similarly directly responsible for the destruction of our food and water supply by greedy pharma/agricultural companies, supermarkets, and farmers caught in the middle of the supply chain.
Plus, fruit and veg on supermarket shelves is not seasonal. Want strawberries in January? No problem, they’ll either be air-freighted from afar, or grown locally in hot houses, both methods of which deplete fossil fuels and increase the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. That doesn’t sound very ethical to me, given the reasons for becoming vegetarian are often that it’s healthier for the individual and for the planet.
So the message is clear: before you tell me how healthy and wholesome your lifestyle choice is, consider how much of your food intake is organic. When you eat from only ethically-sourced, long-term sustainable sources that are free of added pesticides and chemicals, then, and only then, do you have a case.