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!