Tiffin Project

All We are Sayin’, is Give Meat a Chance…

by Todd Caldecott on September 23, 2010

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If any food could be said to define the evolution of the human species, it must surely be meat. If we are at least willing to consider our origin as tree-dwelling primates that gradually moved into the African savanna, the only logical way by which we could have supported the rapid development of our comparatively huge brains is to have a local abundance of high quality nutrition, rich in proteins and fats. While some proffer a vision of a fruitarian evolution or an otherwise exclusively vegetarian vision of early humanity, this is as much a fantasy as baby Jesus riding a velociraptor. The anthropological record clearly indicates that hunting and eating meat was an important and natural event in our evolution. Our primate ancestors moved up the food chain from eating insects, to eating reptiles, rodents and eventually larger mammals such as rabbits, deer and even the mighty mammoth. Whatever ethical issues are raised, meat is in every respect a native part of our diet, as it is in all primates that bear any resemblance to us, such as bonobos, chimps and gorillas.

Meat is lauded as the prime source of nutrition in every system of traditional medicine, such as Chinese medicine, which supplies us with a meticulously detailed exegesis on the different types of animal products. Even in the supposedly vegetarian Ayurveda, the ancient shastras (texts) are replete with references to meat-eating, with every disease described in Ayurveda mentioning the utility of some kind of meat in its treatment. In all the Asian systems of medicine, including Unani and ancient Egyptian medicine, meat and animal products are considered to nourish the vital essence, and are the medicine of choice in any kind deficiency state such as wasting diseases. Meat and animal products are the most tissue-nourishing and anabolic of all the foods, promoting nourishment, greasiness and warmth of body.

For a few generations now it has been government policy to encourage us to eat grains and cereals as our primary source of nutrition. If you were born in 1980 or earlier you might remember the four food groups, but all of us know about the food “pyramid” which was developed by the United States Department of Agriculture in 1992. According to this model grains and cereals form the foundation of the pyramid, and as such, we have been told for years now that these foods should dominate our diet. This emphasis on a high carb diet has been a huge boon to the food industry, which has used this opportunity to market a plethora of food products prepared from a tiny diversity of agricultural staples such as wheat, corn and soy. Cheered on by government and industry, modern medicine has for the most part thrown their weight behind this dietary scheme, bolstered by a cavalcade of weak science based on the factually incorrect premise that meat consumption directly increases serum cholesterol, and that this causes heart disease. And over this last 75 years during which both medicine and government have sought to limit our fat and meat consumption, we have borne witness to a massive increase in obesity, vascular disease, cancer and diabetes, not just here in North America, but in every single country that has either consciously or unconsciously adopted USDA dietary policy and the inevitable logic that leads it to a high carb, fast food culture.

What is so curious about this low-fat, high-carb dietary policy is that it offers itself as a solution for the very problem it causes, maligning the very food that serves as the cure. A decade of research now shows that obesity, diabetes, vascular disease and cancer are all linked to chronically elevated blood sugar and insulin levels. The cholesterol accumulation noted by early researchers that causes the arterial blockages that damage the heart and brain doesn’t come from the cholesterol in your diet. It was as early as 1950s that researchers such as Ancel Keys clearly articulated that there was no association between eating cholesterol and serum cholesterol – and yet most people with high serum cholesterol are told to eat less cholesterol. In short, much of what you have heard about the connection between meat, fat and cholesterol was disproved over 50 years ago.

Unlike the rapidly digesting carbs found in bread, pasta and potatoes, proteins and fats are broken down much more slowly and thus release their energy over a longer period of time. If glucose is the energy currency of the body, eating rapidly digesting carbs is like Ben Bernake dropping a trillion dollars of cash on the economy. After digestion simple sugars flood across the gut wall into the blood, promoting a massive spike in blood sugar that results in an equally massive spike in insulin secretion, leading to dramatically lowered blood sugar levels, which usually kicks off another high carb binge. Sounds a lot like bubble economics, doesn’t it? In contrast, getting your energy from proteins and fats is more like storing your wealth as gold, and then converting it to cash as needed. Unlike carbohydrates, proteins and fats need to be transformed through a rate limiting mechanism in the liver called gluconeogenesis, which ensures that while the supply of glucose is maintained to provide energy, it never floods the system in the same way, providing a consistent and even source of energy.

While I am an advocate for eating meat, I am acutely aware that the industrial production of meat is totally unsustainable, and yields a product that is both cruel and unhealthy. But this argument doesn’t necessarily warrant distancing ourselves for millions of years of human evolution. There is a middle way. Measures can be taken now to dramatically improve the quality of all the foods we eat, through sustainable organic agriculture. On this scale however, the industrial food chain will not be able to meet our needs. Instead we need local producers that can feed local consumers, even if it means producing our own eggs in the city. For example, I am getting 1/4 side of grass-fed beef and a whack of grass-fed chickens from North Valley Farm in Abbotsford. Raised solely on grass and silage, this meat is naturally rich in cancer-preventative nutrients such as CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), and unlike grain-finished meat, lacks the same marbling of muscle tissue that indicates fatty degeneration. Organically grown and truly free-range, such animal products reflect the adage “you are what you eat”. Thus in the same way, if you eat pork that has been raised among thousands of other pigs, living out their brief existence in cramped squalid conditions, never seeing the sun, herded with prods to their inevitable demise in an orgy of human greed that repeats itself day after day in a never-ending 24 hour cycle – then you know exactly what you are made of. Same goes for conventional milk, beef, chicken and farmed salmon. Happy meat begets happy humans. Give meat a chance!

~ Todd Caldecott

toddcaldecott.com

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Canucklehead September 23, 2010 at 11:35 am

Great balanced piece on meat consumption. From a personal perspective, my family has gone from consuming,literally, buckets of white rice to being much more focused on organic vegetables and high quality meat. I sometimes wonder if consuming all that rice is behind the high incidence of Type 2 diabetes in my family (despite a mostly high level of physical fitness). As far as beef is concerned, I have found good quality grass fed beef to taste much better than grain finished beef despite the lack of marbling. Win Win!

Todd Caldecott September 23, 2010 at 1:02 pm

Thanks Canucklehead – you must be in my demographic! For those looking for local grass-fed resources, I highly recommend checkout eatwild.org:

http://www.eatwild.com/products/canada.html#BC

Jason September 23, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Very nice article. I wish my friends and co-workers were more familiar with this science, as when I tell them why I’m cutting back on bread, rice, and pasta (i.e., sugar) they tell me that I’ve fallen for yet another fad diet.

It’s interesting to think about what harm the lipid hypothesis has done to health in wealthy countries.

And good job with the grassfed beef. It also has a much more favorable proportion of omega-3s as compared to the industrial cornfed stuff

Almond September 24, 2010 at 12:06 am

Where can i find the texts where Ayurveda discusses meat cures for diseases?
Nice article, well put.

memebersonly September 24, 2010 at 10:33 am

Outstanding article. The part that is left out is, how do you feed 30 million Canadians and a soon to be 10 billion worldwide people with sustainable meat.
Where does the water come from to grow the grass? Where does the land come from for free run cattle eating grass?
Even with some of the highest levels of farm subsidy in the western world our producers have been unable to keep the food chain safe from BSE, ECOLI and the unknown effects of antibiotics. What level of subsidy would be required to produce the gold standard described in your piece to feed the world?
To make the case that not eating meat leads to health problems assumes those that chose not to eat meat make bad choices.

Eating meat and dairy is the leading cause colon cancer, the deadliest cancer in our society. Ask anyone in the business of telling people their shitter is diseased and they will tell you the same thing. Food from animal sources is poison to our stomachs. Being fat and drinking alcohol are problems too.
A balanced diet has grains and fruits at its base, but the choices within are the key. Avoiding beans, broccoli and leafy greens and choosing starchy breads and sugar filled fruits is counterproductive.
As an anthropological discussion, hunting certainly advanced our society in tool making and dominance of our environment.
The end game of those advancements that has lead to destructive behaviours that if left unchecked will solve our population explosion with disease, despair and a war over food resources in our lifetime.

Canucklehead September 24, 2010 at 3:12 pm

Membersonly – I certainly don’t disrespect your choice in not consuming meat. But I think some of the issues you raise are related to the industrial production of meat – something that I am trying to avoid as much as possible myself. I think the key is to eat the best, mostly mindfully raised meat that you can afford – but eat much less of it. I certainly eat much less meat in general vs 20 years ago. And you bring up a good point with water resources, and that is another reason why I’ve cut back on rice in particular – which is an incredibly thirsty crop.

Also – I would not lay the blame of our hunting ways for our violent tendencies. The Mayans were largely agragrian society – yet the wars they waged to control arable land and the blood sacrifies made in the name of good crops and land fertility where pretty up there in terms of brutality.

At the end of the day – we make our own choices. Regardless of where you stand on the issue of meat consumption – we all need to make smarter and more mindful choices.

toddcaldecott September 24, 2010 at 3:31 pm

Hi Almond – name the disease, and I will find the reference. Most diseases in Ayurveda refer to the medicinal properties of meat broths, a similar approach found in TCM, and even home cooking (Jewish penicillin anyone?) . I use bone and seaweed broths for osteoporosis, and medicated marrow broths for people with immunodeficiency. Some of these things aren’t strictly Ayurvedic, but make sense from an Ayurvedic perspective… if you know what I mean :-)

Toddcaldecott September 24, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Membersonly: please note that my article referred to grass-fed, pastured-raised animals, not feed-lot meat. In fact, pasture-fed animals rotated on native grasses require less overall energy to produce than corn and wheat, not only in terms of basic resources, but also with regard to the amount fossil fuels required. The eatwild.com website has several references on this topic you might be interested to read:

http://eatwild.com/environment.html

I would agree that feed lot meat is stupid. It’s approximately seven times more stupid than industrial farming, which is already a stupid idea. But it was “green” revolution and industrial farming that brought about the massive growth of the human population, not the consumption of grass-fed meat. At one time the entire North American continent was a vast pasture land filled with more 60 million buffalo and other fauna, and none of these creatures needed any more resources than what the local environment could produce. Could humans improve this? Well maybe not by much, but I bet we can tweak it a little. And that’s still a lot meat, not to mention what can be produced in other areas, by local people. Not to mention what we could add if we all started eating bugs as well. Seriously, what’s the difference between a shrimp and witjuti grub, an insect that was a staple for the Australian aborigines? I would love to see a chef in Vancouver play with this one!

As far as the science that debates the merits and demerits of diet, this is a huge subject that is addressed in great detail elsewhere. I suggest you review the work of Dr Gerald Reaven, who first noted the association between diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, with chronic hyperglycemia and hyperinsulinemia. You won’t hear too much about it in the media because the food industry wants you to eat carbs and the drug industry wants you to take statins, and that’s where advertising dollars come from But the evidence is there – just google “metabolic syndrome”, or review the monograph on my website: http://www.toddcaldecott.com/index.php/healing/conditions/222-metabolic-syndrome

And the claim that dairy and meat are at cause for cancer or vascular disease? You need to look a little deeper. Take look at the study design. What counts for “meat”? Well, most Americans like hamburgers, so yes they eat meat. Check that box in the survey. But they also eat a white puffy bun with sugar-laden condiments, with starchy potatoes fried in refined oils washed down with 14 ounces of sugar water. In 5 minutes. How many well-designed trials have you seen with people eating grass-fed meat, lots of veggies and comparatively fewer starches? Well, NONE, except the epidemiological studies on the few hunter gatherers peoples that still exist on earth. And what we see is an absence of chronic degenerative disease that is the hallmark of agricultural, sedentary society. Most of the science out there on vascular disease is just plain silly. First serum cholesterol, then LDL:HDL ratios, then oxidized LDL, then lipoprotein A, on and on the list goes on, the holy grail continues, and billions upon billions of dollars are spent chasing a faulty premise. But the science IS starting to reflect a more enlightened perspective – you might want to catch up.

paulkamon October 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm

A very interesting read:

“A Farmer Speaks: Debunking the meat/climate change myth”

http://www.grist.org/article/2009-08-07-debunking-meat-climate-change-myth/

toddcaldecott October 7, 2010 at 8:17 am

Another article by George Monbiot, recanting his former position on veganism, mostly based on Simon Fairlie’s new book “Meat: A Benign Extravagance”:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/sep/06/meat-production-veganism-deforestation

mrtyunjaya777 July 22, 2013 at 11:16 am

hi Todd,
I did a cursory read of your article and I have three comments: 1. While I would not advocate a high carb diet, you seem to equate consumption of high carb food stuffs with consumption of foods that only have simple carbs rather than complex carbs. Consumption of complex carbs (whole grains with the bran and germ intact) are much harder to digest than simple carbs and they do not cause the pike in blood sugar levels you mentioned, so you should qualify your statements.
2. Regardless of USDA recommendations, I think it is fair to say that the typical American diet (which includes a high consumption of fast foods and prepackaged foods) is high in both meat intake and simple carbs. I think we can both agree that a diet high in simple carbs and meat from factory farms is bad.
3. The parts of the animal that are highest in nutritional content tend to be the internal organs of the animal (liver, kidneys, etc.) not external muscle tissue and fat. Your arguments in favor of meat consumption would be much more plausible if you accounted for this fact.
Kevin Lopez

Todd Caldecott July 27, 2013 at 7:00 pm

Hi Kevin

You also wrote in with multiple comments on my site (http://www.toddcaldecott.com/index.php/todds-blog/49-2011/558-review-of-meat-by-simon-fairlie). But yet, as is the case on my site, you don’t actually present anything I can debate with, just unsubstantiated conjectures. But in brief, I will address your points:

1. Complex carbs can still raise blood sugar significantly. For example, brown rice has a glycemic index of 55, which is the same as long grain white rice. While not as high as white bread it is still significant. Currently I have a 40 year old female patient with PCOS with acne as a major symptom, and she has tried the complex vegetarian CHO diet without success for years. Currently, I have her following a modified ketogenic diet, and only after a few weeks she has noted a dramatic improvement in her skin. Likewise, high CHO foods are contraindicated in other diseases associated with elevated blood sugar and the accumulation of advanced glycation end-products, e.g. diabetes, CVD, aging. Similarly, a high CHO that elevated BS provokes insulin resistance and mitochondrial dysfunction, and has a dramatically negative impact on cancer. But regardless of the carbohydrates, whole cereals contain a plethora of antinutrient factors that interfere with digestion and absorption, and can impair nutrient status, especially if one isn’t careful to properly ferment them. You should mention this, but perhaps you are unaware of the issue.

2. All of the data fingering red meat as a cause of CVD are based on epidemiological studies, and if you know anything about this science, then you should know that association does not prove causation. There is no clinical evidence that eating meat is BAD for you – if it was, then we wouldn’t evolved as humans, and traditional peoples including the Blood and Cree, who by anthropometric measure were the healthiest and strongest of the First Nations groups, would not have thrived on buffalo. You might review this study from the 1930s: http://m.jbc.org/content/87/3/651.full.pdf
You might also note that he countries with the lowest rates of diabetes, i.e. that matches that of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, are Iceland and Mongolia, where animal products are a staple simple due to ecological factors.

3. This was a short blog post for UD, not a complete exegesis on the subject of meat. However, if you took the time to read my book Food As Medicine, then you will have noted that I am very familiar with nutritional importance of organ meats.

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