An atheist, a vegan and a CrossFitter walk into a bar. I only know because they told everyone within two minutes. This joke was making the rounds on social media for a while and, for those of you who have no sense of sarcasm, pokes fun at the preachiness of these three groups. And as much as I love to hassle CrossFitters for finding any excuse to rip off their shirts or the irony of a group of people who do not believe in a specific religion being preachy about it, this post examines (and, quite frankly, tries to tear down) the moral high ground on which many vegetarians place themselves.
Some people are vegetarians for religious purposes. Some just don’t like the idea of eating animals. Fair enough. Obviously anyone should be able to adhere to their religious traditions. And not being able to separate the thought of petting a Pug from eating a Porterhouse does not make for appetizing dinner. But if you aren’t eating meat because of the environmental stress of meat farming or the tragically poor conditions that animals endure when being raised as future food you don’t really have a moral leg to stand on.
While we are on the topic, farming meat is not without a host of serious, serious problems. Animals are often raised in tragically brutal conditions. Growing food to feed these animals requires a lot of environmental resources. Farmer workers often struggle to make a living under brutal working conditions.
But nearly the exact problems can be stated about agricultural farming.
You know that carbon footprint that everyone keeps worrying about? Well lettuce emits more carbon per calorie than that order of bacon you’re downing at IHOP every Sunday morning.
In Peru, the world’s number one exporter of asparagus, companies are expanding production by siphoning water away communities who now find themselves with drought conditions.
Beans are sprayed with a quarter billion pounds of a specific insecticide which the World Health Organization has categorized as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”
In order to keep up supply of those Thanksgiving Day cranberries, farmers have altered wetlands and have upset their ecosystem by displacing insects and fungi at the expense of native birds, fish and plants.
Growing a single pound of avocados requires 72 gallons of water. And speaking of those healthy fats, most avocados are grown in a Mexican state run by a drug cartel that extorts it’s own workers.
Terrible work conditions are certainly not limited to Mexico. Many American egg farmers are forced into bidding wars against each other by supply companies which bankrupts some farms while forcing the owners of others to live at poverty levels. A toxic spill at a bagged salad processing plant in California lead to the hospitalization of 20 employees (many of whom complained of health problems before the spill). And workers at Driscoll Farms, a leading supplier of strawberries and blueberries, have claimed that wage theft and sexual harassment run rampant through the company.
So what’s a good omnivore to do? Meat quality and farming conditions are poor. The ocean environment is being destroyed by over-fishing and irresponsible techniques. And the above is just a short list of the toll that farming takes on both the earth and those responsible for supplying us with our fruits and vegetables.
I wish I had a good answer. From a health perspective it seems that for most people a mixed diet of vegetables, fish and meat seems to be quite beneficial. We most easily satisfy our required amino acids and protein from meat and fish. Micronutrients abound in plant life. Healthy fats that we need for cellular health are readily found in avocados and olives (which are often dyed with chemicals that have been deemed dangerous for human consumption – as if you needed more bad news).
Ultimately the choice is yours. But none of us, not the steak eaters nor those who sprout their own grains, can stand on an imaginary moral high ground that our nutrition choices have a lesser negative impact on the environment or humanity than the alternative choice.
Sorry to bum you out. Maybe I should go back and put some sort of “If you ever want to feel good about eating again, do not read this post” warning at the beginning. This way maybe you wouldn’t have to be faced with these scratch-the-surface handful of truths about our food supply.
When it comes to your nutrition, ignorance is bliss. Tasty, tasty bliss.