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Sustainable food trumps vegetarian options

| Thursday, March 27, 2014

As a San Francisco Bay Area native, it is no surprise that I have many vegetarian friends. Even at Notre Dame, the vegetarian community is alive and well amidst the looming Midwest corn fields and feedlots that surround our proverbial bubble. Vegetarians and I share many things in common, including a deep respect for the dignity of animals, a concern for our flagrantly exploited environment and a consciousness of personal health and well being (despite what my freezer full of Ben & Jerry’s may suggest). However, my vegetarian comrades and I draw stark contrasts regarding the subject of meat itself. With no intention of changing any opinions, for I have made the attempt many times to no avail, I present an alternative paradigm and course of action for anyone who cares to read on.

Whether your abstention of meat flows from ethical principles, environmental grounds, health considerations or a combination of such, I counter that the choice to eat meat better addresses your issue(s). Furthermore, if that sweeping declaration failed to cause you to furiously crumple your paper or slam your screen down, the choice to eat red meat better addresses your issue(s). Contrary to what many nutritionists, doctors, environmentalists and news headlines will tell you about meat consumption and its evils, a conscious effort to consume sustainable meats not only addresses your concern(s) but also results in positive action that aids in changing the flawed system that dominates American food today.

Yet, attention must be paid to the most important word of my claim: sustainable. Of course this is not an endorsement of McDonalds hamburgers, frozen Tyson chicken nuggets or even the $89 Porterhouse Steak at one of Chicago’s best steak houses, but an effort to introduce an alternative protest to conventionally raised meats that presents a solution to the problem and the freedom to enjoy succulent spare ribs when one so pleases.

Sustainably raised meats come from animals raised in open pastures that have spent their lives consuming materials they have evolved to eat. They have not been force-fed genetically modified corn (grown in monocultures with fossil fuels) and injected with growth hormones, while crammed against each other in rows and rows of concrete slabs. Instead, they have lived their entire lives in a mutual relationship with the land. The animals’ contributions of movement — which plows the soil — and fertilizer — which nourishes it — help foster the diverse ecosystems in which they exist. When raised in their proper habitat with proper management, herd animals benefit and maintain our country’s rich and fertile rangelands far better than any man-made alternative while simultaneously rendering the systematic production of feedlots, and the corn they require, utterly unnecessary. It is also important to note that the soy that many vegetarians and vegans use to substitute for meat is also grown in vast monocultures and requires copious amounts of fossil fuels in cultivation, harvest, packaging and transportation.

In addition to the environmental benefits of sustainable meat, the health benefits abound, as well. Nearly every study that connects [red] meat to Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, heart attacks and so forth is based off of data derived from conventionally raised meats. The composition of these meats, due to the altered diet from grass to corn, is physically different from that of its sustainable counterparts. In fact, grass-fed meats compare far more closely to wild salmon than to their feedlot-raised cousins. Salmon has long been a nutritional darling for its high levels of Vitamin E and “good fats” including Omega-3 Fatty Acids; sustainably raised, grass-fed meats compare to the levels of wild salmon in each of these categories, while grain-fed meats are depleted of nearly all of these super-nutrients over the course of their feedlot tenure.

Finally, the ethics of sustainably raised animals definitively trumps conventional standards. Simply put, there are no cages. There are no cramped, muddy corrals. There are no two-story piles of manure. Sustainably raised animals live their entire lives on open, responsibly managed rangeland. Furthermore, they are treated with the utmost respect and dignity from their first moment to their last by farmers and ranchers who truly honor their existence. With my limited space and skill, I can only introduce the many benefits of sustainable meat consumption as a viable alternative not only to vegetarianism, but to all consumers of food. Writers like Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser, films like “Food, Inc.” and farmers like Joel Salatin are all excellent resources for further exploration of something that is relevant to all, for as Wendell Berry once said, “To be interested in food, but not in food production is clearly absurd.”


Sarah Morris is a sophomore political science and American studies major in Ryan Hall.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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