On the series I’ve been working on involving vegetarians and paleos, it has led me on a vegan blog patrol. I find this enjoyable. On one such post, I found the need to respond out of sheer correction but also out of want for looking up more research. I’m a nerd in that way.
The post I found gives twelve reasons why animal products are just as bad as smoking for the human body. I’ll cover some of them, maybe not all of them, but I had to start with #2. The author is obviously an educated and great woman, but her arguments aren’t very well-structured in a seemingly stereotypical vegan fashion. I have found some very weighted, balanced vegans and I appreciate very much their arguments. Sometimes, however, I feel as if vegan writing is highly emotional in order to supplement the community with motivation for following such a strict and heart-centric diet.
Here is the second point of the twelve and my unraveling thereof.
“2. Industry rejects responsibility for the harm it causes in the face of overwhelming evidence. The tobacco, meat, and dairy industries deny their products are hazardous for as long as possible. These corporations blame heredity and every other theory they can fabricate for the effects of their deadly offerings. Tobacco companies have battled every legal attempt to hold them accountable for creating and marketing a deadly product. Now that lawsuits are threatening fast food giants, those companies are reacting the same way.”
First of all, I would like to point out a choice of language. This comes up over and over (and over) again in vegetarian, vegan, and climate change circles. A lack of clarification in language creates things like “Meatless Monday” and “eat less meat” advice that can deter people from a very sustainable form of eating. “Meat,” in the year 2011 is too general of a term. “Meat,” in today’s language can mean “industrially produced meat” (a.k.a CAFO meat or factory farmed meat) or it can mean grass-finished ruminant, pastured chicken/pork, or even wild game. All of these types of meat are different and should not be lumped into one category (as I am sure that there are different types of vegans and all should not be judged as one in the same.) “Meatless Monday” should really be “Conventional Meat-less Monday” and “eat less meat” should be “eat less industrially-produced meats” or “eat less meat fed with grain” These are the meats that harm the climate, pollute the water, and release methane into the atmosphere. Industrial meats are the one that may not be as good for us as other meats (which I will get into in another post). Just a point of clarification.
In this particular coupled comparison, Dr. Stanger is comparing the meat and dairy industries to the tobacco industry and the fast food industry and listing their faults (they cause harm, they are hazardous, and they are deadly). I will ignore her comparison to the fast food industry, because it’s not a strong association. Fast food was an invention in the 20th century, so it is unlike tobacco and meat/dairy. People ate meat before these industry lobbies existed and were written into some sort of politically-driven dietary guideline released by the USDA and thrived cognatively with limitations on life due to lack of modern medicine/harsh surroundings (though some say that Neanderthals lived the same lifespan!). Like meat, people smoked tobacco before an industry was created.This is a decent comparison, but not and ideal one because meat has existed in almost every human society since the beginning of our species’ ingestion, whereas tobacco was a plant that only lived in North and South America and was an herb used as a drug for toothaches. This rips another hole in her argument for the purposes her argument because neither comparison is adequate, but let’s ignore that for a moment.
Essentially, however, Dr. Stanger is reiterating how these industries release propaganda and refuse to believe/communicate that there are negative health effects attached to their product and swing all the money they can to delay that message, even though the truth marches on and we are slowly strangling their hold on our health. Taking what we all know about the tobacco industry, she claims we should know that the meat and dairy industries are doing the same thing. Like cigarettes, Stanger says that meat and dairy, effectively, are “deadly.”
The central claim needs to be examined. The “meat” of it, if you will. The claim is that meat, like cigarettes, is harmful, hazardous, and deadly. I don’t want to write about this because it has already been sufficiently and eloquently done by individuals that have greater nutritional knowledge than I do. One version of the same thing can be found here (for the record, whether I agree with her or not, Denise Minger is a nutritional journalist in the making and I respect her enormously). The essential idea that you will find, with examination, is that the low-fat hypothesis isn’t as rock solid as we are led to believe. Meat, in addition, is not ruled out because of fat, and has an incredible amount of nutrients that we naturally crave. We have been eating it for about two and a half million years (see sources above), and it is credited to our brain expansion (also above). That doesn’t sound deadly except that we got too smart for our own good.
I want to put the science aside, because I believe that Dr. Stanger is attacking the wrong object of this argument. It ties into my frustration with the incorrect or ambiguous use of the word “meat.” Principally, Dr. Stanger’s argument is misguided because she ties lobbies exclusively to these products with her language as if they are only and mutually associated with one another. Stanger should in fact be attacking industry, not meat (or just industrial meat) for the issues she surfaces. Yes, there are large meat lobbies. Yes, there are large dairy lobbies. Yes, there are industries for both (that drive these lobbies). However, lobbies do not, in fact, represent the entirety of either of these products.
Wasn’t it the creation of the cigarette industry and the ads and promotions that came with it that caused the issue? Native Americans smoke tobacco occasionally and ceremonially but can live long lives. Is it fair to condemn this form of organic, locally-grown tobacco free from industry control simply because an industry has controlled a product from the same plant somewhere else? If it was the industry that brought about the rampant abuse of this product she so closely associates with meat, then isn’t it safe to make the same assumption about industry bringing about the destruction of a type of meat? I find it unfair to condemn the meat or dairy as products because somewhere the same sort of products have been industrialized and grown/produced in a different manner than traditionally (and even healthfully) done, without even considering the fact that meat is meant to be ingested by humans and tobacco is not really a historical part of our longevity, but a cultural medicine/spiritual substance. Tobacco and meat are not comparable, neither are the effects on health.
In sum, this is not some sparkling post on why factory farming is okay. Nor is it a post that claims a great deal of nutritional knowledge. That’s not the point. The point is that vegans, vegetarians, and climate change advocates need to stop co-opting the word “meat” when they are hurting small-scale sustainable meat and dairy growers therein. In addition, the purpose of this post is to hold accountable a vegan Ph.D. for making claims that a nutritional part of the human diet is the same as inhaling a toxic substance over and over. This is not fair. It’s not fair and, arguably, counterproductive. we all want the same thing: “food, justice, and sustainability”–as Lierre Keith subtitles her book. May it be so.