Vegetarian Diets vs. Meat

It is an old story that a vegetarian diet is linked to a more efficient use of resources than a meat-rich diet. One of the reasons cited for this is that meat is taken from a higher level on the food chain, and thus about one tenth of the energy that enters the system is used per culinary unit (calorie, meal, whatever) than for vegetables. However, this argument, while partly true, overlooks a lot of other factors. For instance, the meat is a more efficiently used package for some purposes than the veggies. Think about it this way: A certain percentage of the food you eat is used to build tissues, including tissues used in growth (for growing individuals), for repair of tissues, as well as for immune system products. Meat is essentially the same ?stuff? as is produced in these processes, so the balance of amino acids, co-enzymes, etc. in a chunk of meat is very closely matched to the need. Most of the food we eat is used as an energy source, and both meat and veggies have such energy in them, to varying degrees. With respect to energy alone, the most efficient diet may be something like pure sugar produced from prairie grasses or something along those lines.


A repost

Another thing about the vegetarian diet that I always found annoying (not really annoyed at the diet, but rather, the actual vegetarians) is the linkage between a vegetarian diet and a ?natural? approach to life in general and food in particular. The most annoying aspect of this is the promotion by some vegetarians of soy products. Soy is actually pretty inedible, and only by extensive and intensive processing can it be made useful for human consumption. Soy is probably among the least ?natural? foods we can eat. Plus, I mean, give me a break ? can you really eat tofu? I mean, really?

Tofu aside, consider this: Most natural habitats across the world do not produce a vegetarian diet that includes the necessary macro and micro nutrients for sustenance, especially in infants and growing children. If we add to these natural habitats plants that have been domesticated in that habitat, locally, and grown there, we get only minor improvements. Hunter-gatherers living in any of these habitats absolutely required meat as part of their diet, especially for children.

The modern vegetarian diet is possibly only because of two things: 1) All of the domesticates from across the world are available for production in any other part of the world, limited only by growing conditions. Every garden grown using traditional techniques for subsistence farming in tropical Central America includes many crops that were domesticated in Africa and Asia. The same can be said for like gardens in Africa. And Asia. And, of course, the same can be said for temperate gardens. If biogeography (even with the unnatural act of domestication considered) counts as part of ?nature? (and it does!) then there are no ?natural? vegetarian diets. The natural nature of vegetarianism is a post-hoc cultural construction.

Now, a recent study is out that suggests that a certain amount of meat added to an otherwise vegetarian diet decreases the environmental footprint of that diet:

This deduction stems from the findings of their new study, which concludes that if everyone in New York state followed a low-fat vegetarian diet, the state could directly support almost 50 percent more people, or about 32 percent of its population, agriculturally. With today?s high-meat, high-dairy diet, the state is able to support directly only 22 percent of its population, say the researchers.

[source]

One of the reasons for this is that many of the key elements in the vegetarian diet ? fruits and grains ? need to be grown on very high quality land, while meat products are generally produced on lower quality grazing land.

Beyond this, I?d like to add: If the meat included more wild game, the diet would be even more efficient, and more healthful. Wild game has many health benefits over industrially produced domestic animals, and even some health benefits over ?naturally raised? domestic animals. With respect to the issue at hand ? footprint size of the cuisine ? wild animals living in their natural habitat often produce a more efficient product.

And finally, this. This thought occurred to me the other day while I was eating a very nice buffalo (bison) burger at a local restaurant. You know those feedlots, where a zillion cattle are crammed to feed them up before slaughter? Have you been to Nebraska? Did you notice that smell? That was the feedlots. What I was thinking is that no self respecting bison would stand for that. One way to eliminate the feedlot problem is to switch to bison and stop growing cattle here in North America where the bison are the native, natural animal anyway. The bison would be the most effective advocates against feedlot strategies, which as lot of people think, I believe reasonably, to be abusive and possibly in the long term (with respect to infectious diseases) a health risk.

Comments

  1. #1 symball
    October 23, 2009

    Hmmmm, methinks you protest too loudly- are you feeling guilty?

    I can fully understand your hatred of sanctimonious vegetarians, but please don’t think that they are the majority- they are just a vocal minority- just like your ‘republicans’

    Your talk about meat being ‘better packaged’ and arable land needing to be of higher quality only sustains your argument so far- a few numbers or links to numbers might help. and appealing to our stone age ancestors is missing a quite important fact- they ate meat rarely as an occasional supplement to their subsistence diet of fruit and roots. today’s meat and agricultural carbs filled western diet is a long way from their hunter gatherer diet.

    whether vegetarian diets are less carbon intensive than one with some meat is an argument i’ll leave to others, but please try a bit harder with your argument- this is SCIENCEblogs.com -not fox news /daily mail forums

  2. #2 SQB
    October 23, 2009

    I am a vegetarian and I agree with you on this. To me, vegetarianism is an ethical choice. All rationalizations are post-hoc cultural constructions, which to me look a lot like the rationalizations of religious groups trying to justify their beliefs. I accept that our society enables me to make this choice without suffering malnutrition and am thankful for it.

    By the way, you were going to give two reasons why a modern vegetarian diet is possible; what is the second?

  3. #3 rpsms
    October 23, 2009

    My wife has been a non-sanctimonious vegetarian since we were 18. For the most part, our kitchen at home has been meat free. One positive thing I can say about a vegetarian diet is that your kitchen trash does not smell like a rotting corpse when you forget to take it out.

  4. #4 Stephanie Z
    October 23, 2009

    Oh, symball. Do you have any idea what Greg’s research is actually in? Seen his publication history?

  5. #5 David
    October 23, 2009

    I agree with SQB. I’m a vegetarian (working on vegan) for ethical reasons only. I don’t have a problem with predation on other animals, but I do have a problem with factory farming’s cruelty to animals. Granted, my vegetarian lifestyle saves me money, makes me feel healthier (I know that’s totally subjective), and makes cooking much easier (meat has to be sealed and chilled to last for any length of time, whereas you can leave a sack of pinto beans on a shelf for a year and they’ll be fine). But I realize that these are merely fringe benefits, and that I’m pretty sure I would still be a vegetarian even if it didn’t entail these extras.

    PS: I don’t know that I agree with your characterization that soy is only edible with tons of processing. Unless I’m missing something, you can get end product from just shelling and roasting them with some salt (roasted soybeans AKA “soy nuts”) or boiling in salt water (edamame).

  6. #6 rob
    October 23, 2009

    i don’t advocate vegetarianism because i think it is a morally superior ethical choice.

    i support vegetarianism because I HATE PLANTS!!!!! GRRRR!!!

  7. #7 becca
    October 23, 2009

    I truly like Tofu- not all forms, but some very much so. But it’s not natural, just ancient.

    Realistically, if someone wants to reduce their food-related carbon footprint, I suspect the most effective stuff is to shop locally/eat foods that are grown efficiently and nearby when possible, not eat things that come wrapped in plastics, use reusable containers for bringing things home from the store (like, have a flour-sack to bring to the food co-op and refill; not just the cloth grocery bags [although those are wonderfully better than plastic in all ways]) and cook at home.
    I worry about my packaging consumption much more than my tofu:meat ratio, from an environmental standpoint.

    Stephanie, I gotta agree with symball on this one. If this is Greg’s research, it’ll be easy for him to provide citations. But a lot of people make identical arguments to Greg… without having any actual data.
    Speaking of which, what exactly are the health benefits of wild game? I mean, I’ve seen a wild turkey. I’ve seen modern factory farmed turkeys. There’s no question which looks healthier and tastier. But where are the double blind trials?

  8. #8 David
    October 23, 2009

    many of the key elements in the vegetarian diet … need to be grown on very high quality land, while meat products are generally produced on lower quality grazing land.

    I spent much of my younger life in grazing land “out west.” It’s the highest quality place on earth. Just not in the utilitarian sense of being agriculturally productive.

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Symball, you are asking me for documentation of the few statements I’ve made but then you are telling me how much meat hunter-gatherers eat? Without references? Interesting. I don’t suppose I should mention my PhD on the topic, that might seem too much like appealing to authority.

    Is it your intention to argue that the amino acid and co-enzyme constituents of meat from, say, cattle, antelopes, etc. is different than from humans? That is astonishing.

    Foragers have a wide range of diets with different amounts of meat in them, but very few forager diets (or quite possibly none) would be sufficient for normal growth and development (especially of neural tissue) based on only the plants. The meat is critical for normal development of fetus, baby, children, and for ongoing repair, immune system function, etc in adults.

    For the Efe Pygmies with whom I lived for a few years, the Ache, the Ju/’Hoansi, and the other well known foragers, yes, they ate/eat meat “rarely” as long as “rarely” is never more than once a day, rarely less than four or five times a week.

    And yes, this is science blogs. And I’m a scientist who has studied hunter-gatherers. Lucky you.

    Jeesh.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    SQB: Hmmm… I don’t know. This is a repost of something I wrote some time ago. I don’t remember.

    David: I doubt your sense of health is totally subjective. If you are a vegetarian, for instance, you probably eat very little fat. (And zero animal fat). That probably impacts how you feel, as just one feature.

    “Edamame” soy beans are not even remotely unprocessed. Unprocessed soy beans are toxic. Please to not pick and eat the raw soy beans!

    It may be that edamame is not totally free of the toxins that would be removed to make tofu, but I’m not sure of that. I’ve also heard that some tofu products, including soy milk, have some things added, that you may or may not want to ingest, due to the processing. Again, I’m not sure of that.

  11. #11 IanW
    October 23, 2009

    Meanwhile grain which could feed literally thousands of starving children wordlwide is being fed instead to animals so we can enjoy that luxurious diet which you praise so highly….

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Becca, no, I’m not a librarian… I’m an authetic expert on some stuff who occasionally spouts a blog post on an area I’m an expert in. Take it or leave it. I get very annoyed at librarian trolling.

    I promise you that almost every source I could spoon feed my readers is not available on the internet. The vast majority of related forager research came out in a huge spate from 1968 to 1988, it is on paper, not on the internet. Someday I’ll probably go through the trouble of writing a post with links to information but the topic is so large (and interesting) that it is not going to happen on demand.

    However, in answer to your question of wild vs. domesticated: There are three advantages to wild, potentially. I’m going to put these forward as hypotheses so that no one can legitimately ask me to do their library work for them!

    1) Big ag can’t put hormones and stuff in a wild deer. But they can in a domestic steer. (Of course, they can in a kept bison, and there are ‘natural’ steer, so this is not simple)

    2) Many domesticated breeds are fattier. If we want to reduce fat, that is an issue. this applies to chickens, turkeys, swine, and cattle.

    3) Wild game living in its native habitat grows with less environmental impact and probably more efficiently. Vast habitats have been ruined (and species extincted, etc.) to grow cattle in non-cattle areas, for instance (as is also true for growing plants as invasive, i.e., wheat in Arkansas, or whatever).

    It would be absurd to state that these advantages are “big” or “small.” The actual value of these differences is very, very context dependent.

  13. #13 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    David[8]: There is almost no land west of the Mississippi that is used in plant agriculture that is not irrigated. I’ve never heard of cattle range land that is irrigated.

    IanW [11] That may be true, but it also is probably irrelevant, unfortunately. Do you know how the grain would get to the starving children? There a huge flaws in the redistribution system that would need to be fixed for that to happen. also, people’s ethnicity is often linked with issues of digestibility and allergy. Are you sure you want to send piles of wheat to starving people in South America? So they can all get diabetes?

    There is a kernel (sorry) of truth in what you say but it is vastly oversimplified.

  14. #14 Colin
    October 23, 2009

    LOL!!!!!!! Greg v. Symball. I haven’t seen an internet spanking like that in a long time.

    One thing that has always interested me in those who ethically are against eating animals. Why are humans “special” in that we can’t kill animals but every other carnivore does it and does it ruthlessly? Even other primates will rip other primates apart while still alive (youtube has footage if you’re into that).

    Killing and dying is the natural order of life. Ethics is a human construct so we use it to excuse ourself and berate others?

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    I should add to the above two thing: First, when I’m asked for “references” or “sources” on this blog, it has so far ALWAYS really meant “a link I can click on” … so my reaction is to that request, which I assume is the actual request.

    Second, if you actually want to see data, start here: The Foraging Spectrum: Diversity in Hunter-Gatherer Lifeways and check for links therein. Kelly’s book is a very data oriented summary of research up to the point of its publication. What I have said above about tropical and subtropical foragers is backed up there.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Ha! And when I say “links” therein, I mean “references” there in.

    … I am LOLing at myself….

  17. #17 becca
    October 23, 2009

    Greg, I didn’t know you had a Ph.D. in nutrition too! How wonderful!
    But that makes me especially confused by some of your statements…
    Is it your intention to argue that the amino acids in tofu are different from those in humans? Are there some D forms hanging around that I haven’t heard about (mmm, nummy nummy cone snails)? Or that the hormones in modern industrially raised cattle are substantially different in chemical nature from those in humans?
    (speaking of hormones [just to show I’m not a hopelessly biased tofufan]- if you ever want to have a really funny conversation, talk with a bunch of male vegetarians about the phytoestrogens in soy, and the effects on neurological degeneration, or lack there of, in men vs. women)
    ;-)

    I know that, in the context of my palate, hypothesis 2 is important (and likely valid). I’m still not sure how there’s a health benefit with the other two.

    My mistake on the citation plz request. It’s not legit to call it trolling though- I’d like to learn more about this stuff independent from this discussion. Still, not your job to package the info for me. I forget not everyone likes to demonstrate their library-fu; I’ve always gotten off on providing citations. It’s a weakness of mine, I know.

    Colin- the simple answer to your question is that many carnivores eat their young too. I don’t recommend advocating infantcide canibalism. People give you funny looks. But I, at least, won’t berate you for it.

  18. #18 Alex
    October 23, 2009

    I see you’ve mentioned them already, Greg, but I used to do some work with the Ache hunter-gatherers in Paraguay and their diet consists largely of game meat.

  19. #19 Colin
    October 23, 2009

    becca, I don’t see that you answered my question.

    Assuming you are correct about infanticide cannibalism, “many carnivores” implies there are some that do not eat their young. Why are we more special than those that do not? Why does some species eating their young necessitate that eating other animals is wrong if we don’t eat our young?

    Does eating meat become a slippery slope to eating our babies? I think history would say “NO!” to that one, but I’ll leave that to Greg.

    “A” kills “B” for food. Sometimes “A” kills “a” for food, ergo “C” shouldn’t eat A/a/B/b” at all. I don’t follow this logic at all.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Becca, my PhD is in Biological Anthropology and Archaeology. There is a huge amount of overlap between what I studied in PHUD school and what you call “nutrition” but I do not have a PhD in nutrition, and I am not a lab scientist.

    Is it your intention to argue that the amino acids in tofu are different from those in humans?

    No.

    Or that the hormones in modern industrially raised cattle are substantially different in chemical nature from those in humans?

    Get real. I said nothing like this.

    I’m still not sure how there’s a health benefit with the other two.

    The health issues of big ag putting stuff in beef vs. not is probably not something that should be ignored. I have no strong opinion on it at the moment. I do worry about the consequences of industrial cattle production as it is done now leading to a crash in the system. The third item is not proffered as a health issue (this post is not strictly about health risks/benefits).

    I’m personally less impressed than many others regarding hormones added to meat because of the simple fact that steroid hormones tend to get pretty messed up in the digestive process. But on the other hand there is evidence that such things can get past the digestive ‘barrier’ but I’m not very familiar with that literature.

    Alex: Well, then, we probably have some friends/colleagues in common! Ever come across Rick Bribiescas? He worked with Kim Hill. When the numbers came out for the Ache for meat consumption, I was shocked. Shocked! I assumed something was wrong with the data (and so did everyone else, frankly). But apparently not.

    Come back when you have serious questions.

    Regarding Becca’s comments on carnivores eating their young: I had no idea you had a PhD in zoology!!!!!!!

    (Ha!)

    I will say this: I’ve not had a good piece of veal in years. But one of my best culinary experiences ever was a few years back when I had the opportunity to (legally) eat a fawn!

  21. #21 itzac
    October 23, 2009

    Hey Greg, what about insects? I heard on NPR or something that pound for pound, they have almost three times more protein than most livestock. And given that they mature in less than a season, I imagine they have a much lower environmental impact.

    Did insects factor in to the diets of any of the peoples you’ve studied? Do you think they could serve well as a substitute for meat?

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    itzac,

    I have a fantasy of getting really rich and trying this idea: Go out to the southern Sudan (with an Amry, I assume) and set up huge wind- and solar-powered lights on big towers in late November. Turn the lights on through December and attraced several thousand metric tons of “locust” (actually a different genus, but whatever shows up) which are dried and ground up for use as chicken feed. Then raise chickens, freeze them and ship them all around East and Central Africa as a protein source, thus reducing bushmeat flow.

    The Efe eat a few different insects but the total amount in the diet is not great. Other groups probably about the same or less.

    I do think it is an underutilized resource.

  23. #23 itzac
    October 23, 2009

    That’s a good idea. If your chickens only eat the insects you harvest, then their impact is about that of the insects. I wonder how much efficiency you lose in order to have something more appetizing, though.

    I’ve had a similar fantasy for a while, though you’ve clearly thought it through much more than I have.

  24. #24 Virgil Samms
    October 23, 2009

    Now, a recent study is out…

    Actually, the linked press release is from 2007.

  25. #25 Virgil Samms
    October 23, 2009

    A repost

    OK, I just noticed that bit.

  26. #26 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    … and, 2007 is still pretty recent, depending on one’s perspective and needs…

  27. #27 becca
    October 23, 2009

    Colin- we don’t have to act like other animals, and sometimes to do so would be considered immoral. It invalidates your argument that simply because certain animals (carnivores) do A, that it’s ok for us to follow suit. It’s really that simple.

    Greg- you are trying to say “I’m an expert in what people in various cultures eat, ERGO you should listen to me about what people in our culture should eat”. Fail. It’s definitely related expertise- I’m sure you’re able to describe several diets that different healthy groups eat. That would give us a great start- if we wanted to adopt other culture’s diets and lifestyles as a package deal. Not to mention, I haven’t seen a lot of solid data on the whole collective-carbon-footprint issue; they’re not simple numbers.

    Also, I’m not saying anyone should listen to me about what animals do (zoology)*, I’m expressing why people shouldn’t agree with Colin’s argument about why we should eat meat. Can I get a Ph.D. in calling bullshit? Cause I would totally dot hat.

    *The fact that some carnivores eat their young is pretty common knowledge, and not under dispute here.

  28. #28 Toaster
    October 23, 2009

    I tried vegetarianism for 3 years. I didn’t mind not eating meat, but unless I loaded up on massive amounts of dairy I simply was not able to eat enough calories in a day. I wound up losing 30lb and with a BMI of 16odd. My metabolism can’t do a vegetarian diet.

  29. #29 Virgil Samms
    October 23, 2009

    Greg- you are trying to say “I’m an expert in what people in various cultures eat, ERGO you should listen to me about what people in our culture should eat”.

    Revisionism takes the fast track. The way it actually went down is:

    symball: and appealing to our stone age ancestors is missing a quite important fact- they ate meat rarely as an occasional supplement to their subsistence diet of fruit and roots. today’s meat and agricultural carbs filled western diet is a long way from their hunter gatherer diet.

    Followed by

    Greg Laden: Symball, you are asking me for documentation of the few statements I’ve made but then you are telling me how much meat hunter-gatherers eat? Without references? Interesting. I don’t suppose I should mention my PhD on the topic, that might seem too much like appealing to authority.

    Laden did not claim to be an expert on what we should eat. He did rightly claim some expertise as to what hunter-gatherer societies eat. He does point out a 2007 of someone else who has expertise in the ecological footprint of various diets. And if you have no interest in his opinions on various topics, maybe you shouldn’t be hanging out at his blog. It is a perfectly normal and natural thing for bloggers to express opinions on their own blogs. You seem to be searching hard for something to grumble about. maybe you should **** your own *****.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Becca, I’m not going to get into a fight with you about what I know and don’t know. In any event, I’m only using common knowledge in my arguments so far. any time I don’t use common knowledge you’ll know it because I’ll provide a citation.*

    Carnivores hardly ever eat their young. But it is a strategy many carnivores (and by carnivore I assume we are speaking of the taxon) are believed to follow, though there are hardly any field studies that clearly demonstrate this. Behavior in captivity is alway suspect for drawing generalizations. Also, it is necessary to define what is meant by “eat” and “their” and “young.” Eating new borns by the mother (rare) is really just late resorbtion, and is a strategy found more often in some species of Murid rodents and a couple of carnivores, maybe. (Oh, I happen to be an expert in rodent diet. Seriously.) Eating each other’s young competitively is a whole ‘nuther ballgame. Where do you place one offspring eating another under parental supervision? Energetically, similar to the first case and should be considered in the mix. I don’t think anyone should be considering these diverse behaviors as similar or overlapping strategies just because young are eaten in all cases. And of all the people here on this thread, I’m the only one who has studied wild carnivores in the field. So there.

    *The citation will look something like this.

  31. #31 SQB
    October 23, 2009

    David, I’ve been vegan for about a year or so. I found not so hard on myself, but it was very hard on others, in the sense that it was very difficult to go out to dinner, or even to cook for me.

    And yes, Colin, ethics is indeed a human construct. As Becca pointed out, there are some things other animals do that we don’t (and vice versa). I’d say that love and religion are human constructs, too. Should either eb an argument to change our behaviour?

  32. #32 sailor
    October 23, 2009

    Well let us look it another way.

    We are changing the earth’s climate, this is possible because there are a lot of us. If we had never started agriculture, thus displacing most other species, and remained hunter gatherers, there is no way the few million of us the world would support would be effing it up.

    Therefore the problem is agriculture. If we manage to support more people by eliminating meat, we will have more people and the problem of climate change will be worse.

  33. #33 Jeff
    October 23, 2009

    Greg, you said:

    “One way to eliminate the feedlot problem is to switch to bison and stop growing cattle here in North America where the bison are the native, natural animal anyway.”

    My concern is that if we switched over to Bison, wouldn’t there all of a sudden be a high demand for Bison, leading to growing more Bison, leading to cramming more Bison on the land, etc.?

    How many more Bison can you get per acre? That would be an interesing stat.

  34. #34 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Jeff: I was being a little snarky but not completely. My point here is that you can’t do with bison what you can do with cattle. They would not allow it.

    (Which is probably an overstatement, once they are castrated.)

    But yes, Bison can probably use wild rangeland more efficiently than cattle and would have different overwintering requirements. For range fed animals, bison would almost certainly out-perform cattle. But we don’t eat range fed cattle much. Growth hormone fed feed lot cattle reach a 2.5 to 3 year size in about 12 months, right? I suppose one could get bison to do the same thing.

  35. #35 Stephanie Z
    October 23, 2009

    There’s a bison farm nearby that used to be a dairy farm. They have a store on premises, and the person ringing up my purchase was most emphatic that nobody is sorry to see any of the bison go come slaughter day (one a week on Tuesdays). I don’t think castration matters much.

  36. #36 David (same as #8)
    October 23, 2009

    Greg, my comment about grazing lands being high quality was meant to call out the awesome beauty of Colorado Plateau and Basin & Range, where I grew up. There is no finer place. The quality of land can be set by more than its utilitarian value at producing food.

  37. #37 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    That’s the thing. Castration matters a LOT in all members of that family above a certain body size. So, they are very happy to see the Bison-steer go to slaughter, but if they were not castrated, they may not live to see the day!!!!

    I have been run out of a field by a bull, I’ve been chased on foot and in a vehicle by bison (I’m guessing bull) and I’ve been charged numerous times by cape buffalo. From my own personal experience, in non-winter weather, the bulls (cattle, uncastrated adult male) are very very nasty but not nearly as nasty as cape buffalo (adult uncastrated, wild males). It is hard to put bison on that scale because my experience is limited, but I think they were more like the cape buffalo. (But not in the winter…. they seem much calmer in the winter)

    So, if a castrated bison is hard, imagine a bull!

  38. #38 SQB
    October 23, 2009

    Sorry, I should clarify that. I was a vegan for about a year or so. English is not my native tongue.

  39. #39 Stephanie Z
    October 23, 2009

    Yes, I wasn’t very specific. What I meant to say is that, uncastrated or no, I agree that no one’s getting the buffalo into feedlot conditions and keeping them there.

  40. #40 Rabdex Za
    October 23, 2009

    Dr. Laden you say “Soy is actually pretty inedible, and only by extensive and intensive processing can it be made useful for human consumption. Soy is probably among the least “natural” foods we can eat. Plus, I mean, give me a break … can you really eat tofu? I mean, really?

    Your point about in edibility of soy as a raw bean is based in fact. Raw beans have a trypsin inhibitor as do raw avian egg whites. The inhibitor value for raw egg white and raw soybeans is the same.

    The process soybeans need for Tofu is: soak your dry soybeans in water for 12 to 18 hours. Drain the water and grind the beans into a fine pulp (called okara). Add water and cook the pulp, hold at 180 degrees for 7 minutes. Squeeze the cook water from the okara. The cook water is now called soymilk. Heat the soymilk to 170 degrees (kills trypsin inhibitor), remove from heat and add a coagulant such as vinegar, lemon juice, sea salt extracts (nigari) or calcium. The coagulant separates the curds and whey like in cheese production. Remove the curds and press as much water out of the curds as you want for the density of tofu you want.

    This mild process is easy on the producers and creates four products, soymilk, okara, tofu (many densities) and the whey is useful as a mild soap.

    Tempeh is even easier and more nutrious, soak the dry beans for 12 to 18 hours, dehull the beans by breaking them in half and removing the hull. Cook the dehulled beans in water for 40 minutes at a full boil. Cool the beans to 88 degrees and inoculate the beans with aspergillus oryzae. Ferment the bean mass for 24 hours at 88 degrees and eat. Fermentation kills the trypsin inhibitor and companions to the aspergillus mold produce b-12.

    Both of these foods are highly nutritious and easy for your body to digest and convert into you. If you juxtapose these methods against a typical cow, pig, or chicken I believe you’ll find much more of your “extensive and intensive production” has hooves and feet.

    As for a vegetarian diet being easier on the earth, well it’s all about the variables in production methods.

    Full disclosure I produce fermented food products for vegetarian and vegans. Flexatarians welcome as well.

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    David: Gotcha.

  42. #42 Alcari
    October 23, 2009

    I’m what could be called a convenience vegetarian (or a slacker). I don’t buy meat at home, but if someone happens to be serving fried chicken while I’m there, I’m fine with that. Mostly because of carbonfootpring/farmland/fossil fuel/yadayada reasons.

    You said soybeans need a lot of processing, but I wonder how it stacks up with, say, a hamburger or fish sticks, I can’t seem to find anything on the energy/time requirements. Same for comparison to other meat substitutes, like fungi products or wheat gluten or the plain old “eat more other stuff” method.

    As for the “natural diet” vegetarians, I like to point to my incisors and canines and ask which plants I’m supposed to use them for.

  43. #43 inverse_agonist
    October 23, 2009

    If the argument in the first paragraph were true, meat-only diets would be healthy. I’m by no means a nutritional expert, but please do tell me if any nutritionists think Atkins type diets are good for you. The Inuit diet may be a counter-example, but the meat in that diet is eaten raw in very cold conditions. I’m not aware that anyone has seriously proposed a diet of raw beef and chicken.

    The first paragraph’s argument also seems to assume that meat is just lying there next to plants, and we can just choose which “package” to get our nutrients from. There is absolutely no sense in which feeding enormous amounts of grain and soy to animals in order to eat the animals is efficient, no matter the energy/nutrient density of meat.

    I have no desire to defend a “natural” lifestyle by typing on a computer, so that point is well-taken. The naturalistic fallacy is…a fallacy. However, the important point here is that, right now, a vegan diet IS possible. Therefore, we can compare it to other possible diets. What always seems to be missing in vegetarianism flame wars is a rational argument for why we SHOULD eat meat, if we don’t have to. Towards the end of the article linked in the original post, even the study authors say that the optimum amount of meat would be a third of what the average person eats, and that meat would be grass-fed, not fed the way most of the animals we eat are in fact fed.

    The grasslands that used to support huge bison herds aren’t there anymore. We used them to grow cows and corn to feed the cows, among other things.

    http://blog.nature.org/2009/03/state-of-the-birds-grassland-birds-are-not-looking-good/

    The bottom line is: if you have a choice between eating plants and eating meat produced in ways that are indisputably cruel and cause enormous greenhouse gas emissions, why would you eat the meat? We aren’t hunter-gatherers. We’re sitting in front of computers.

    Oh, the tragedy of eating tofu! How would I ever survive without ice cream and Meat Lover’s pizza from Pizza Hut? The emasculation I would suffer! Woe is me!

    It’s amazing to me how readily we’ll entertain far-fetched schemes involving solar panels and “geo-engineering” and hybrid cars, but “just stop eating this crap” is unthinkable because it involves “sacrifice.” Agriculture is mostly exempted from discussions about carbon emissions because…we like nachos and they have money. It’s stupid.

    Being vegan is not hard, I promise. It’s not necessary to accept radical animal rights views, either. As a practical matter, being vegan is simpler for an average relatively broke person living in a large city than seeking out specialty artisan meats and going hunting. Some wild animals that we might eat are being killed by algal blooms from agricultural runoff. Animal agriculture has some blame in that.

    All of these disadvantages of eating meat are pretty straightforward, but we’ll bend over backwards to justify the practice. Plant harvesting kills some rodents! The theoretically optimal use of land involves goats! In principle this is a lot like global warming denial. Our lifestyles are killing us. They’re more comfortable in the short term. Therefore, muster any and all excuses for not changing our lifestyles. I can relate. I drive my car to work because “I don’t have an extra 60-90 minutes each day to take the bus.”

  44. #44 daedalus2u
    October 23, 2009

    I think there is a problem with the idea of locust fed chickens. My understanding (from reading multi-hand and non-peer reviewed accounts of North American experiences) is that a diet of locusts in chickens and pigs results in a characteristic taste which is considered objectionable.

    Don’t just about all mammals eat the placenta after giving birth? I found references online that cows do. I presume that all carnivores do. Is there any mammal that doesn’t eat its placenta (other than humans)?

  45. #45 becca
    October 23, 2009

    @Virgil Samms
    A#1- you can be interested in opinions and disagree with them. But I really don’t give a rodent’s posterior about yours (unlike Greg’s). Go soak your head.

    More to the point, you say: “Laden did not claim to be an expert on what we should eat. He did rightly claim some expertise as to what hunter-gatherer societies eat.”

    Greg Laden says:“I’m an authetic expert on some stuff who occasionally spouts a blog post on an area I’m an expert in.”

    Is this a blog post about what other cultures eat, or about what we should eat? If it’s the former, it has an awful lot of extraneous stuff.
    Also, I’m perfectly on board with the idea that the designation “natural” is a post-hoc cultural construction- that seems to me to be the only claim that studying other cultures was directly germane to.

    This claim is the one I’m not on board with:
    “Wild game has many health benefits over industrially produced domestic animals, and even some health benefits over “naturally raised” domestic animals.”
    Greg- this does not constitute ‘common knowledge’. Nor are you an expert on health benefits, methinks.

    You also completely ignored my point in replying to Colin. Let’s put it this way, if Colin says “Hyena cubs can eat their siblings, why can’t I eat my siblings? We’re both animals!”, he’s not using a relevant moral framework (for our culture, anyway). For many vegetarians “Carnivores can eat meat, why can’t I eat meat?” is not a relevant moral framework for the culture they want to live in. Murder, fratricide, canibalism, rape… animals do them all. That doesn’t mean we’re justified in living like animals (not that human animals don’t do these things, just that such behavior is generally frowned upon around these parts).

  46. #46 ER Doc
    October 23, 2009

    Greg @ 13: I suggest you move one major river west; very little of the corn & soybean land in Iowa and southern Minnesota is irrigated. Moving further north, the mid-Minnesota land that alternates between potatoes and corn/soybeans is largely irrigated. Most, but not all, of the cropland in South Dakota and Nebraska is also irrigated. But most of Iowa is not.

  47. #47 psweet
    October 23, 2009

    Greg, in general I agree with the points you’ve brought up here. One thing I might add is that, compared to many of our food animals, we simply aren’t very efficient vegetarians — we generally eat only high-energy parts of plants and leave the rest in the ground.

    However, I think you could have found a better clip from that article. The part you included actually seems to support a purely vegetarian diet.

    On the other hand, it gave me extra incentive to go read the article.

  48. #48 Rich Wilson
    October 23, 2009

    I eat meat like I a drive a car. I do it, but not nearly as much as the average American.

    Part of the feed lot problem is the sheer volume of meat we eat. I suspect (and I don’t have PhD in anything) that both we and the planet would do well to cut down our meat consumption just a bit.

  49. #49 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    al[42]

    “You said soybeans need a lot of processing, but I wonder how it stacks up with, say, a hamburger or fish sticks”

    My only point here was that in comparison to other plants (when considering platns vs. meat) I have found that many people have put forward soy as the answer to meat. which it may well be, but they are poisonous. Most seeds/fruits/above ground plants that we eat are not poisonous. (Soy is not the only toxic plant that we eat a lot of, but it is pretty rare in terms of volume.)

    I think the canines are to keep potential interlopers away from your mate while you eat your salad.

  50. #50 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    daedalus2u : Indeed, but these southern Sudanese critters are not locust. They are Tettigoniidae and taste absolutely nothing like locust. Well, I’ve never eaten locust but I’ve eaten piles of these Tettigoniidae critters, and they are very tasty and I’m sure the chick would be fine. And chickens seem to be OK with eating them, as I’ve fed them to chickens. (And actuallhy, the chickens ate a lot of them and I don’t remember the chickens tasting bad, but I can’t say for sure I ate chicken that had eaten enough Tettigoniidae critters to matter).

  51. #51 Adela
    October 23, 2009

    Isn’t there a waste product from soy processing and fermentation that needs to be dealt with as well. I can think of more efficient uses for potable water than to make soy edible.

  52. #52 Anne Gilbert
    October 23, 2009

    I have gotten extremely tired, of late, with what I have come to call “professional vegetarians”. These people are all over the place, telling you how much more “helthful”, “envirnmentally sound” etc., vegtarianism is, and how horrible and unhealthy eating any kind of meat-based product, or chicken, or fish, is. The repetition of this theme gets dreary. I have no problem with people who make their own choices to be vegetarian. I even like some vegetarian dishes, and am all for eating “meat free” at least some of the time(in the name of “balance” if nothing else). I don’t particularly care for tofu, but I”ve eaten it from time to tim. To these “professioal vegetarians” I say just shut up! To the others, peace! Both to meat eaters and vegetarians who don’t go on and on about it.
    Anne G

  53. #53 Ana
    October 23, 2009

    This may be my least favorite of all your posts, of all time, Greg – and not because I have a thing for soy. Gross.

  54. #54 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Becca! Is this a blog post about what other cultures eat, or about what we should eat? If it’s the former, it has an awful lot of extraneous stuff.

    That is not an either or I’m comfortable with. It is a blog post that deals with human behavioral ecology and biology in connection with the history and evolution of the human diet, all subjects that are very dear to me and that I’m a world recognized expert on, so stop asking so many questions and just trust me!!!

    Also, I’m perfectly on board with the idea that the designation “natural” is a post-hoc cultural construction- that seems to me to be the only claim that studying other cultures was directly germane to.

    Yes, that’s a key part of all of this. The naturalist fallacy does not obviate the fact that if human foragers around the world (in temperate, subtrop, and tropical areas) all do certain things the same (or almost the same) regarding their diet, that we should pay attention. It does not automatically mean that they are doin’ it right, or that what they do can be applied elsewhere, but it is something to not ignore. Eaton, Shostak and Konner predicted the ideal modern human nutritional requirements from forager data before the USDA settled on their current suggested pattern, and the USDA and Boyd et al came to the same conclusion, the former on the basis of the “forager assumption” and the latter on the basis of all that expensive and time consuming research.

    There is good theory connecting the forager way of life and making sense of the modern world. It is not just a random positive hit.

    But yes, the naturalistic fallacy is to be avoided.

    “Wild game has many health benefits over industrially produced domestic animals, and even some health benefits over “naturally raised” domestic animals.”
    Greg- this does not constitute ‘common knowledge’. Nor are you an expert on health benefits, methinks.

    Again, no, you don’t get to provide a stamp of approval or unapproval on my knowledge, expertise, or the validity of my opnion … I’m not even a tiny bit interested in your certification or lack thereof (or anyone else’s). (And I’m pretty sure you do not know what a biolgical anthropologist does because you keep missing on that.) So enough of that.

    Regarding the statement, we might be closer than youthink. one of the main bad bits of the US diet is excessive fat. The biggest difference, and it is a huge difference, between wild game and the domestic equivalents is fat content. My most recent foray in this area is work on wild vs. domestic pigs with Melanie Filios (unpublished … she was my PhD student and we have a draft of a paper on this we’ll finish some day, but this is also in her thesis which is a BAR volume as well). It’s really true, that really is a difference and it really is a health benefit if you consider that human behavior is what it is.

    Regarding the other issues such as hormones, the anti-biotic thing, etc. I do not have a strong opinion on that and industrial food additives is not in my main area of research or experience at all (not evevn close) but I am uneasy with eating large quantities of animal tissues that have been soaked in stuff I would not sprinkled on my food. That is not based on experience, expertise, or scientific fact. It’s just that I’ve been to Nebraska. Ick.

    I would love an update on the science of growth hormones and antibiotics in meat (preferably not produced by the beef industry). Can you give us that? Is there a guest post in this?

    Regarding the carnivore eating their young point you made, I didn’t ignore it. I read it, it was funny, it was true, and I totally agree with you on it. So, officially, yeah, that’s right. BTW, maybe there is a way to get morality from biology, but in attempting to do so, I’d stay away from both the hyenas and the soy bean plants.

    ER Doc: Yes, you are referring to a line that has a name and I can never remember the name of the damn line. The something-something line. It is the line beyond which you need irrigation. It is approximately the edge of the green bit on this map:

    http://www.geog.nau.edu/courses/alew/ggr346/text/maps/us_precip.jpg

    and you are right, it is not the Mississippi. Except where I am sitting right now, where it is the river.

  55. #55 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Ana: Wait until you see what I have to say about seafood! You may like that much less!

  56. #56 Michael
    October 23, 2009

    It is an old story that a vegetarian diet is linked to a more efficient use of resources than a meat-rich diet.

    When I read that first sentence I immediately wondered: “Does he mean resources within the human body? In which case it doesn’t — or does he mean agricultural resources, in which case it does [with the appropriate caveats].”

    Because of this interplay, the discussion can easily get at cross-purposes.

    Forgetting pound for pound, and forgetting extremes that aren’t going to happen any time soon (like all-meat diets or the whole world becoming 100% vegetarian), it is still the case that reducing meat consumption will greatly increase the overall efficiency in food production. Eg: I think a huge chunk of the soybeans (which I thoroughly enjoy as a vegetarian) are grown as cattle feed, esp in Brazil.

    Whatever the opinions going around, there are no quick fixes to the tangled mess that is food production: but I don’t think it’s controversial reducing the amount of meat eaten in industrialised countries (eg. halving it) will do a lot more good than harm. Or does someone disagree?

  57. #57 RoySV
    October 23, 2009

    I’m sympathetic to wanting to feel good about eating meat. Really, our family used to buy a half steer at a time. But the seeming total lack of references to any sort of science would place this post in the cranky-letter-to-the-editor category. With the hideous impact of cattle on climate, un-supported wiseguy remarks are just plain unflattering. Case study: SuperFreakonomics. Google if you dare. Have I missed something?

  58. #58 Jeremy
    October 23, 2009

    I’m almost a vegetarian and although I’ve always been aware of the arguments Greg has put forward, the reason I’ve become a vegetarian is this;

    We recently saw a massive food crisis, especially in South East Asia. For the first time in a long time the relative and real numbers of people facing food shortages went up instead of down. This was attributed to a growing demand for biofuels and meat, both of which use a lot of grain.

    Although most of the meat that I could eat is grown locally and grass fed, lots of that meat is exported as well, and it’s competing with grain fed meat. If I eat less meat in total, there is more meat available on the market and so less meat needs to be produced, so less grains are used for feed, so the grain price goes down and less people face food shortages.

    Clearing forest to grow crops to be used for feeding meat is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. I came to realise a couple of years ago that global warming is going to have a massive effect on the third world (and is already) while the developed world will cope a lot better. Given that we’ve pretty much entirely caused the problem this seems like an enormous injustice and I’m not prepared to put my comfort ahead of the billions of people (over generations) who bare no responsibility but will suffer the most.

    I would love to know that I’m wrong about this and go back to eating meat, because I love it. I’m aware that the impact that just one person will have is tiny, but I’m still not happy contributing to other people’s suffering.

  59. #59 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Michael: I don’t think anyone disagrees that by some very valid measures of energy flow that more calories per unit area come from harvesting plants than from harvesting animals. But that statement by itself is more than a little too simple to be useful.

  60. #60 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    RoySV: Yes, you’ve missed reading the post, commenting on anything said in the post, and checking your own (apparent) desire to spew out a well rehearsed belief that somehow makes you feel good, or at least, so I suspect. You may have also missed reading the comments between the post and your missive. A post like this tends to produce a combination of interesting discussion (which you will see above) and relatively useless remarks that reveal nothing other than the beliefs the commenter comes to the table with (also see above). What can you give us other than a rather out of place and embarssing (to you) scolding?

  61. #61 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Jeremy, it may well end up that the biofuel issue swamps the meat/veggie issue in time.

  62. #62 Mal Adapted
    October 23, 2009

    If we had never started agriculture, thus displacing most other species, and remained hunter gatherers, there is no way the few million of us the world would support would be effing it up.

    You said a mouthful (pun intended – duh)! You’re not the first, of course. I recommend Jared Diamond’s piece “The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race” published in the May 1987 issue of Discover Magazine.

    Summarizing Diamond: humanity’s true Original Sin was the invention of agriculture. Agriculture is what first enabled local populations of Homo sapiens to exceed the local long-term ecological carrying capacity. Agriculture led to our estrangement from nature, as competitor species became enemies; and from each other, as the need to tend fixed food-growing plots, and the storage of seasonal food surpluses, created opportunities for the strong to dominate the weak.

    Because agriculture simplifies ecosystems (otherwise, why bother?), each acre of land brought under cultivation meant habitat lost for other species living on it. Hence the sixth great extinction in the history of the biosphere got under way.

    The need to defend food-growing locations and stores was the impetus for developing sedentary living, social hierarchies, and war: what’s often called “civilization”, a word rich with irony as readers of this blog know well.

    Of course, it’s too late to go back to our foraging ways, without causing tragedy for billions. The Garden is lost forever. Personally, I feel that’s a high price to pay for “progress”, but YMMV.

  63. #63 Badger3k
    October 23, 2009

    Incisors are like teeth on a T-rex. For cutting up leafy vegetables before the Fall. Just ask Ken Ham!

    Interesting thread, and spat, too. Just in time for me to leave work, get gas, and grab a hamburger and fries for the drive home. What can I say, I like meat. :)

  64. #64 cm
    October 23, 2009

    Greg, do you really not eat tofu? Really? Hit up a good Chinese restaurant and blast off with a big ol’ dish of Family Style Bean Curd (which is tofu, I believe). Or a side of golden tofu triangles with peanut satay sauce. And then a big dish of Soy Delicious brand soy “ice cream”. A fine evening. (I eat an absurd amount of processed soy, unintentionally running my own chronic exposure to phytoestrogens experiment, it would seem).

  65. #65 Epistaxis
    October 23, 2009

    Meat is essentially the same “stuff” as is produced in these processes, so the balance of amino acids, co-enzymes, etc. in a chunk of meat is very closely matched to the need.

    Could you show us your data on the bioavailability of “stuff” found in meat that’s not found in plants? And how much more efficient it is to have livestock convert plants into animal tissue and then be eaten by us than to eat the plants directly and produce the same compounds ourselves? It’s quite clear that meat production is harmful to the environment (e.g. the IPCC’s findings), but it’s hard to weigh that against the energy-usage issues you’ve raised without seeing the numbers you’ve used for your analysis.

    Plus, I mean, give me a break … can you really eat tofu? I mean, really?

    Yes. Yes, I can. It’s quite delicious, prepared well. Greg, can you really cook tofu? I mean really?

    One of the reasons for this is that many of the key elements in the vegetarian diet — fruits and grains — need to be grown on very high quality land, while meat products are generally produced on lower quality grazing land.

    “Meat products” are generally “produced” in large factory-like buildings where said “products” never see a plot of grazing land in their short lives. And what do the “meat products” eat? And where is that grown?

    If the meat included more wild game, the diet would be even more efficient, and more healthful.

    Are you proposing that we could reduce humanity’s environmental impact by going into what’s left of the wilderness and eating all the animals?

  66. #66 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    cm: Remember, this is a repost of an older post. I’ve since been edumicated on tofu a bit more and there are some dishes in some places that I think are quite good. Starting with the tofu here:

    http://quichemoraine.com/2009/02/midoris-floating-world-cafe/

    in the soup.

  67. #67 becca
    October 23, 2009

    Greg- just to be clear, when you wanna blog about what various diets in different cultures look like, I’ll eat it up, so to speak (and I’m surprised this wasn’t asked yet… did the non-locust buggies taste like chicken??).
    I’m just skeptical as to how informative that is in terms of figuring out what we should eat to be healthy (assuming we aren’t willing to live a much more hunter-gatherer like lifestyle to go with it- I could be wrong, I don’t have a biological anthropology Ph.D. or anything, but I’m guessing that the number of cultures where people consume more calories/get less exercise than us are relatively few and far between. Right?).

    “It’s just that I’ve been to Nebraska. Ick.”
    Lol. Fair enough. But then I’d feel that way about Nebraska even without the cattle.

    I haven’t really looked into the agricultural use of antibiotics for a few years. My concern was more as a microbiologist worried about resistance, instead of entertaining the notion that use of antibiotics does serious harm to humans. Although, as we’re using metagenomics to understand the effects of personal gut microbiota on disease risks (including things like obesity), it might well be worth revisiting.
    The hormone aspect is interesting to me, I may have to look into it more. I just don’t want to get bogged down with people who are annoyed with rBGH because of the ZOMG GMO RUN! type attitude.

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Epistaxis: Are you seriously asking me to prove to you that the biomolecules that make up a cow are the same as the biomlecules that make up a human in terms of both presence/absence and proportion? Are you advocating some kind of special human exceptionalism in which we are made up of different stuff?

    I think actually you’ve simply missed my point. You can put together a plate of plant-only food that reflects, in terms of presence/absence and proportion of biomolecules that exist in animal tissue, or the replacement molecules for, say, immune system maintenance, etc. but that is much much harder than simply slicing off a slab of beef or munching on a bag of rodents or something. If uou don’t have the basic biology down and understood at that level then you’re in the wrong conversation!!! (But rather I think this is just a case of not getting my point, probably my fault).

    I’m not saying that meat production is not harmful to the environment. Wherever did you get that idea.

    I am saying that adding a bit of meat to the diet to match growth/development and immune systen needs in part is less costly than most people think. Let me add this idea as well: If you removed meat from the diet entirely, you’d be starving a lot of poor people because it takes at least middle class level wealth to muck around with a pure veggie diet and not end up with low-IQ kids with crappy immune systems. Shame on you for wanting to do that!

    “Meat products” are generally “produced” in large factory-like buildings where said “products” never see a plot of grazing land in their short lives. And what do the “meat products” eat? And where is that grown?

    Yes, and that’s bad, and I don’t know why you are saying that like I don’t know that and like we have not already been through this. I’ve been to Nebraska, OK?

    It’s Becca that likes the industrio-burgers!

    Are you proposing that we could reduce humanity’s environmental impact by going into what’s left of the wilderness and eating all the animals?

    Get serious. Have you not heard of game farming? It is quite an effective way of managing vast wild lands and extracting a reasonable amount of animal meat.

  69. #69 Jeremy
    October 23, 2009

    @63

    I read somewhere recently that the diet we evolved eating was mainly invertebrates and fruit – with not much real meat, and that our teeth reflect this. This also makes sense as it’s essentially the same diet as all of our closest relatives.

    Of course it’s not an argument for not eating meat at all, despite sometimes being phrased as that, and our ancestors probably did eat meat whenever they got the chance.

    I’m fairly convinced that the healthiest diet you can have means eating some amount of meat, including red meat – just not for every meal. I like to divide food eaters into three groups – people who don’t care very much about eating healthy food, people who do care and eat meat, and vegetarians. Of these three groups the middle group is the healthiest, very closely followed by vegetarians (who are generally forced to care about the nutritional value of their food by their diet choice). Comparing the health of meat eaters to vegetarians is meaningless because the “average” of meat eaters is drawn down by all the people who don’t care about what they eat.

  70. #70 Epistaxis
    October 23, 2009

    You can put together a plate of plant-only food that reflects, in terms of presence/absence and proportion of biomolecules that exist in animal tissue, or the replacement molecules for, say, immune system maintenance, etc. but that is much much harder than simply slicing off a slab of beef or munching on a bag of rodents or something. If uou don’t have the basic biology down and understood at that level then you’re in the wrong conversation!!!

    Indeed, I guess I did misunderstand. Assuming an infinite supply of both vegetables and meat, you are correct that it is most efficient per unit of… mass? … for us to eat meat. But meat doesn’t grow on trees; at some step along the way plants have to be converted into animals. By eating meat you’ve simply moved that process elsewhere, and added a middleman that actually reduces the efficiency of the system. So if you consider the total costs of producing meat, it is harder to see the advantage.

    If you removed meat from the diet entirely, you’d be starving a lot of poor people because it takes at least middle class level wealth to muck around with a pure veggie diet and not end up with low-IQ kids with crappy immune systems. Shame on you for wanting to do that!

    You don’t need to argue with a strawman anymore; there’s a real live vegetarian here. I did not propose taking meat away from the poor. My opinion is that people who can afford to choose what food they eat should seek the least cruel and most sustainable option. Michael Pollan calls this the “omnivore’s dilemma” – with a wide variety of foods available in supermarkets, affluent people now have a decision to make about what they eat. Pollan doesn’t seriously explore the meat issue, but his treatment of it is still less facile than yours. At any rate, I’m sure we agree that one reason for the well-off to consider production efficiency in their diets is that the resources freed up by our decisions could allow more food to be produced and give more people the same opportunity.

  71. #71 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Epi: We consume food for two purposes: Energy and stuff. (Stuff = growth, immune system function, repair, etc.)

    Ideally we would get zero energy from animal products … 100% of that should be from plants. Of the other needs, there is a relationship between what is needed and what is available that will be very complex, will vary across space and time and will be different depending on the individual doingthe eating (i.e., toddlers vs prime adults!)

    Putting issues of cruelty and taste aside, it is probably the case that a modicum of meat in an otherwise vegetarian diet is both most healthful and most efficient. (Most efficient need not equal most healthful, of course).

    In the mean time, there are a lot of beliefs out there that are simply not true, like the 1:10 ratio of animal to plant productivity per land area, the idea that such a ratio would persist across all habitats and conditions, and as you clearly agree, the idea that it is fairly easy, efficient, and low cost to come up with an adequate growth diet from plants only without a lot of shipping and processing and such.

    “Eat Local” would never work without meat if “Eat Local” was extended to “And grow only native crops”!!!

    (“Eat Local” is pretty limited in an area like Minnesota anyway …. ice and snow have almost no nutritional value).

    My point is, really, that I’m a bit frustrated with falsehood piled on falsehood piled on falsehood to create an utterly useless though well meaning model that is very quickly reconstructed by anybody who want do do so simply because the pertinent facts are more a product of old information coated in wishful thinking than anything else.

  72. #72 Greg Laden
    October 23, 2009

    Jeremy: Depends on when in our evolutionary history one wants to pick, but I’d stick with the last two million years since the invention of fire to cook food with rather than the bug and fruit phase of our ancestry, which mostly ended well before five or ten million years ago, and is probably actually about 30 million years ago!

    Anyway, I count insects as ‘meat.’

    I agree that meat eating is linked to overall bad habits to a large degree. Not for me, of course. I eat just the right amount.

  73. #73 Stephanie Z
    October 24, 2009

    There’s also the problem, among those who advocate that everyone should be vegetarians (and no, I’m not saying that the vegetarians in this thread are all saying that), that many of the most common non-meat sources of protein are also among the most common allergens. Wheat, soy, dairy, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts–all of them are dangerous for lots and lots of people. A vegetarian diet is not necessarily a simple, healthful thing.

  74. #74 DD
    October 24, 2009

    “Wait until you see what I have to say about seafood! You may like that much less!” GL

    OK Greg, you have my attention. Please inform. I figure the ancestral hominin-human diet included sedge & water lily tubers & ground fruits/herbs combined with snails, clams, frogs; seasonally moving between freshwater inland and seashores foraging as opportunistic omnivores.

  75. #75 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    OK Greg, you have my attention. Please inform.

    Actually, I’m going for Ana’s attention here … But actually, DD, I wonder if you just read a paper that has not been published yet that I have one of the only copies of…. unless maybe you are one of the authors ….. hmmm….

    …. Reveal Yourself!!!

  76. #76 DDeden
    October 24, 2009

    OK, didn’t mean to interfere, see my post at the ARC
    http://the-arc-ddeden.blogspot.com/2009/10/marine-rift-conduit.html

  77. #77 Marc Abian
    October 24, 2009

    many of the most common non-meat sources of protein are also among the most common allergens

    If you can’t follow a vegetarian diet (instead of won’t), our moralising is not directed at you.

    If you removed meat from the diet entirely, you’d be starving a lot of poor people because it takes at least middle class level wealth to muck around with a pure veggie diet and not end up with low-IQ kids with crappy immune systems. Shame on you for wanting to do that!

    Actually I think you’ll find tht if you removed meat entirely you’d end up with a lot less starving poor people.

    Though again, if you can’t give up meat for reasons of health, then eat less of it, which will also benefit your health.

  78. #78 Beverly Bonta
    October 24, 2009

    I gave up a meat based diet at the urgings of one of my doctors and his recommendation of the China Study, in which the diets of the rural Chinese were compared to the diets of Western civilizations. (I am proud to say that I have lost almost 60 lbs.) The Chinese were long lived and healthy on vegetarian diets, but got sick when they would switch to our lifestyle. The book made an impression on me, but I’m not sure that giving up fish and some grassfed meat will be beneficial for the body or the planet.

    Your writing is interesting and I am trying to see things from your perspective Greg, and I have put that book you recommended on my wishlist. Thanks for the tip. But forgive me if I just go ahead and ask you a simple question without reading it first.

    What I really want to know is, how does the China Study compare to studies of hunter/gatherers? I don’t know the longevity of the Ache people, but I think it’s relevant to making a decision about how much meat to eat (and what kind.) I am under the impression that studies like yours have a weakness in them, because the subjects do not live very long and we do not fully understand the full effects of their diet on their health. Could you address this question?

    Thanks, Beverly

  79. #79 Michael Spencer
    October 24, 2009

    Wow! This topic sure brings out the passion in folks…look, I’ve been veggie for decades, and I promise I am not underweight. I’ll also say that there are those smug veggies that irritate the hell out of me, too.

    One more thing: because we aren’t raised as vegetarians, most folks don’t know how to cook like a vegetarian, meaning that the incredible richness and variety of our diet isn’t really well known.

    And I DO understand that some, like me, the issue is deeply ethical, part of a larger commitment. I wrote about it here, if anyone is interested:

    http://www.msadesign.com/msadesign/Blog/Entries/2009/10/18_Farewell_to_Dorothy,_RIP.html

  80. #80 JediBear
    October 24, 2009

    @Greg:
    The raw soybean is poisonous, but the simple act of cooking it obliterates the poison and renders it fit for human consumption, much as with the potato. Soy nuts (dry-roasted soy beans) are a safe and nutritious snack, though nowhere near as tasty as peanuts prepared the same way. FWIW, I love tofu.

    Your annoyance with the “natural approach” is understandable, but somewhat misdirected at vegetarians. It is of no import whether the vegetarian diet is natural. Rather, it is imporatant to note that the distinction between the natural and the artificial is arbitrary, subjective, and has no relationship to the health or environmental impact of the practice in question.

    The article you cite actually mostly comes out against your position, noting that the diet of the average New Yorker contains far too much meat (therefore, converting a New Yorker to veganism improves New York’s long-term sustainability) and finding a low-fat meat-containing diet superior only to higher-fat vegetarian options, not to the low-fat vegetarian diet also mentioned.

    Somewhat obviously, if our diets incoporated more game meat, meat would be somewhat harder to come by. Industrial meat production exists for a reason. Nor is the human power of domestication so diminished that we could not with careful breeding render the bison into the same kind of docile, stupid animal we currently use for such industrial processes. The wild ancestor of our domestic cattle was almost certainly a great deal smarter and surlier, and would have been no more likely to tolerate its present condition than the bison.

    @14: Humans are special. Our large brains give us a superior capacity for moral agency, and our large numbers give us a greater responsibility to excersise it. A wolf is simply a wolf, and is unavoidably inflexible in its needs and habits. A man is a man, and is therefore fortuitously equipped with the capacity for both reason and veganism.

    @41, 63: Ah, the old “Incisors! Hah!” argument. I hate to break it to you, but the incisor is an herbivore tooth. Animals with large incisors are herbivores without exception, while carnivores barely have incisors and basically don’t use them. Ours (though in fact the moderate incisor of the omnivorous primate) are more akin to those of a rabbit or horse than to those of a dog or cat.

    As to the canines, it’s worth noting that the herbivorous gorilla has canines bigger than ours. It’s a primate thing. Humans have the dainty dentition of an omnivorous fruit-eater who uses technology (simple tools, fire) to pulverize our more difficult food before consuming it. Our teeth serve no predatory function at all. Rather, our hands are our instruments of predation.

    Personally, I use my incisors to cut vegetables and my canines to open recalcitrant soda bottles. YMMV.

  81. #81 Stephanie Z
    October 24, 2009

    If you can’t follow a vegetarian diet (instead of won’t), our moralising is not directed at you.

    Really, Marc? Because I’ve never heard a vegetarian who was preaching about the benefits of vegetarianism say, “You should know that a vegetarian diet isn’t the best choice for everyone.” And I’ve never heard one ask anyone about dietary restrictions before starting a lecture. It’s much like this:

    Though again, if you can’t give up meat for reasons of health, then eat less of it, which will also benefit your health.

    You haven’t got any idea how much meat I eat or what kind or the state of my health, but you’re happy to make generalizations. Toaster, upthread, has already explained why he needs to eat meat, and this statement doesn’t remotely address his needs. Your statement is simply based on the idea that meat = bad, without any support or regard for factual accuracy.

  82. #82 Shirakawasuna
    October 24, 2009

    Edamame has almost no processing, Greg… they’re picked young and boiled (that’s the processing) in your house.

  83. #83 Onkel Bob
    October 24, 2009

    I see we agree on something… that’s not good Dr. Laden, you are coming over to the dark side…
    Everything – everything – in moderation is usually a good thing. When confronted by vegetarians bound and determined to enforce their lifestyle, I simply say B-12. You cannot get it naturally from any plant source. The vegetarians of India unknowingly obtained their B-12 from insects in the grains. Nonetheless, without B-12, humans experience birth defects, miscarriages, and generally fatal reproduction problems. Vegetarianism is not natural in the sense you cannot go out on the savanna, steppe, grassland, or whatever, and just eat plants. Well you can, but your children will not live to reproductive ages, and your gene lineage will die out.
    Everything in moderation – a little wine with that Steak Frites, not everyday, and not even every week, but not in my lifetime? Life ain’t worth living then.
    BTW – you need animals – yeast to ferment that tofu, as well as the wine and beer. They may not have a face per se, but they are animals just the same.

  84. #84 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    A quick note to all readers: For some reason, this page (with comments) became invisible (during the wee hours of this morning) possibly because of a certain comment added to the thread. I am looking into this now. So, if you see strange things going on with comments, that is the reason. Probably a bad bit of HTML code.

    Regarding soy bean processing, we now have two or three comments added to the thread (though temporarily removed as I try to fix the above mentioned problem) saying that soybeans need no processing or very little processing. This is at odds with everything I’ve read about soybeans. But I”m not an expert on soy beans . I’m worried, however, that this is part of what I suspect is a pro-soy beans anti-skeptics movement intended to make soy beans look good.

    Or, it may be simply that case that soy beans are quite edible off the plant. If it turns out that I was wrong about soy beans having a number of toxins that must be removed before you eat them, and so on, then I’ll post that information and apologize to the soy beans. If it turns out that these recent comments telling us that soy beans only have to be rinsed off, or that soy beans are not really very toxic at all, are fakes, then the people who wrote those comments will be hunted down and forced to eat internet shit until the end of their days, because I won’t tolerate this site being exploited as a way to tell mindless yuppies that it is OK to give their babies phyotoxins for breakfast.

    That is all.

  85. #85 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    Marc: Regarding starving poor people: This is exactly what the primary thrust of this post is about. I’m trying to suggest that we think beyond the knee-jerk models inherited from the first people to start thinking about this sort of thing. It really is true that in a lot of communities arund the world, meat is the primary source for certain key nutrients important in normal prenatal development and child development, and that there is no way in place to replace that if meat were suddenly removed from the diet. But that is a reality that purist middle class privileged vegetarians prefer to not recognize, quite often, and that is unacceptable.

  86. #86 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    Beverly: Good question. I don’t know the China Study. I can tell you that for the most part, the foragers I’m speaking of here do not have a longevity issue related to diet. They don’t get cancer. The don’t get heart disease. There is not reliable longivity data from people who live so thinly scattered on the landscape, where no single study (except one) was long term, and where the one long term study crossed a transiton where everyone was herded into missions, forced to eat a crappy diet (mainly vegearian, by the way, no meat, lots of corn) and got TB and died.

    It is commonly believed that foragers have short lifespans. This lifespan is very hard to estimate, and this really is a case of people believing what is convenient for them to believe.

    Foragers don’t die from their diet. They die from other things. Many get quite old, and they still don’t seem to die from their diet (i.e. cardiovascular disease and cancer).

  87. #87 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    JediBear: My position is that people eat way way too much meat for their own good and for the good of the planet. I’m surprised that you find that objectionable.

  88. #88 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    Michael: One more thing: because we aren’t raised as vegetarians, most folks don’t know how to cook like a vegetarian, meaning that the incredible richness and variety of our diet isn’t really well known.

    Very good point.

  89. #89 borednow
    October 24, 2009

    “Vegetarian Diets vs. Meat”

    What a promising title!

    And what an empty waste of time.

    There’s no content here, Greg. There’s nothing being said. As usual from you, there’s no way for me to learn anything here. Everything you say is either trivial, asserted without reference to the literature, or so vague as to be useless. It appears that you and becca might have had a discussion, but if so, it was full of so many insiders’ assumptions that it was inaccessable to me.

    “all subjects that are very dear to me and that I’m a world recognized expert on, so stop asking so many questions and just trust me!!!”

    If this is the way you want to run things, fine. It’s my fault that I made the mistake of coming back here. I should have known better.

    Would you please change your blog’s name to “Greg Laden wastes your time” so that I won’t forget again?

  90. #90 Eric
    October 24, 2009

    Borednow, why read several posts on a blog that you do not like (the blog and/or the posts) and spend the trouble complaining about it? Are sick in the head?

  91. #91 amphiox
    October 24, 2009

    Regarding soybeans, it really just a spectrum of processing to makes foods more edible, is it not? Fundamentally speaking, there isn’t really any qualitative difference between boiling,etc soybeans to remove toxins, whatever it is we do to almonds to get rid of the cyanide, removing the neural tissues from cattle to avoid prions, barbecuing a steak, and chopping up the lettuce leaves to make the salad.

    Which reminds me of a joke I once heard: many cultures across the world have developed various means of varying complexity to convert soybeans into edible protein for human consumption. In some cultures the mechanism involves boiling, pressing, grinding, and numerous recipes. In other cultures, the mechanism is called a cow.

  92. #92 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    amphiox: No, it is different in two ways:

    1) Most beans (but not all) that we eat are edible in most forms, and soy beans are way off the charts as to the range, diversity, and severity of toxins in them for any above ground plant food humans eat. Removing the neurons is not a good analogy. We “remove” the leaves and tree trunk from an apple when we eat it too! Yes, there is a range of toxicity in our foods, and a range of processing is applied, and in my experience dealing with young folks and science education, I’d estimate that close to 100% of the US population has no idea that some of our food will kill them if not properly processed. But, my understanding is that soy beans are extreme (for above ground plants).

    2: (and this is based on informal experiments I did while teaching a large intro evo course) Many people grew up eating tofu (or adopted it later in life) and ate it because it was the right thing to do, the more ethical food, etc. etc., and came to believe (incorrectly, and for no particular reason) was “natural” and good and all that stuff. Applying the naturalistic fallacy, as such folks did in spades, it became impossible to consider that soy beans were anything other than wholesome and clean and pure and wonderful, and their production was typically organic and natural, and that eating tofu all the time was wonderful and natural and so on and so forth.

    The tofu, it’s clean-ness, it’s natural-ness, and it’s ethicality became part of how such folks defined themselves as good people.

    Then, when it is proposed that soy beans are toxic on the plant require much more processing than people expect or imagine, these folks realize that their own personal spirituality and shit is at risk. They are un clean, un good, un whatever-whatever.

    Then they get mad and start the denial, the making stuff up, the whole thing.

    Of all the offensive (calculated as such) statements I ever made in front of that class of 500 (statements designed to make the students think) one resulted in legislation being introduced to illegalize my class, several resulted in threatening or nasty notes nailed to my office door, etc., but the tofu one resulted in the most red-faced angry vegetarians mobbing me at the front of the room.

    Most of whom eventually understood and adopted a new, more viable perspective and some of whom actually became life long friends.

  93. #93 amphiox
    October 24, 2009

    “one resulted in legislation being introduced to illegalize my class”

    Now I’m really curious as to what it was you said that provoked this!

    I do agree with you about the naturalistic fallacy regarding soybeans. I’ve eaten tofu all my life and I quite like it (I also love seafood – your hints on future blog subjects is setting me spine tingling with dread). But tofu is sold in little white cubes floating in water in usually a sealed plastic container, and soymilk is in a bottle! How can anyone look at that and think that it isn’t a processed food?

  94. #94 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    Now I’m really curious as to what it was you said that provoked this!

    Something like “Anthropogenic global warming is real, and that is a testable fact for the midterm”

    How can anyone look at that and think that it isn’t a processed food?

    I know! Seriously!

  95. #95 Paul D.
    October 24, 2009

    It makes sense that there would be an equilibrium that would be more efficient with some meat than without any meat.

  96. #96 Robert
    October 24, 2009

    People seriously underestimate the negative effects of plant agriculture on the environment. These plants to not grow themselves, but are grown with the use of tons and tons of chemicals.

  97. #97 Mike from Ottawa
    October 24, 2009

    And folk forget, or make themselves forget to get past the horror of it, that fresh fruit and vegetables (like salad!) are still alive when you eat them. At least I don’t eat meat while the animal is stil alive.

    Carrot juice is murder! V-8’s genocide!

  98. #98 daedalus2u
    October 24, 2009

    The issue of antibiotics in animal feed touches on my research. There is still no generally recognized mechanism for why they work. That they do work has been quite robustly demonstrated in multiple species. Animals fed a broad range of antibiotics in their diet grow faster and to a larger size, reach sexual maturity faster, and have greater efficiency at converting feed into biomass. Antibiotics are less effective in animals raised under high cleanliness conditions.

    There are several suggestions, (taken from DOI: 10.1128/CMR.16.2.175–188.2003)

    (i) nutrients may be protected against bacterial destruction;
    (ii) absorption of nutrients may improve because of a thinning of the small intestinal barrier;
    (iii) the antibiotics may decrease the production of toxins by intestinal bacteria; and
    (iv) there may be a reduction in the incidence of subclinical intestinal infections

    However farm animals are fed ad lib, if they wanted to eat more, they could eat more. Unless they are limited in food, then consumption of nutrients by bacteria can’t be an issue, neither can absorption of nutrients. There are no known toxins, and if there was an infection, then a therapeutic dose would clear it, and the animals would not need continued antibiotic treatment. In any case, why would multiple animal species be affected by “toxins” in the exact same ways when treated with multiple different antibiotics?

    My hypothesis is that the mechanism is via the bacteria I am working with, the autotrophic ammonia oxidizing bacteria which live on the external skin and convert ammonia and urea into nitrite and nitric oxide. This sets the basal NO level. The basal NO level then regulates things like steroid synthesis, including androgenic steroids. NO inhibits the production of testosterone, low NO causes high testosterone. High androgen levels cause expansion of androgen sensitive hair, the hair that provides the main niche for the bacteria I am working with. The niche expands, there is more NO/NOx, testosterone levels go down.

    These bacteria do the first step in the process of nitrification, the oxidation of ammonia into nitrite. They are autotrophic so they don’t grow on any media used to isolate pathogens which is why I think they have not been identified as commensals before I did.

    What antibiotics do is suppress these bacteria and induce a state of low NO which mimics a high stress state. That accelerates growth and development (when under high stress, it is a good idea to grow up fast and to grow up big). Eating more is a good short-term adaption to stress, in the long term it is not so good.

    I think that bathing has done to humans what feeding antibiotics to farm animals does to them, make them grow big and fat, mature sooner and convert food to biomass more efficiently. In 1850, the average age of menarche was almost 17 in Norway, now it is ~13 or less.

  99. #99 amphiox
    October 24, 2009

    “Something like “Anthropogenic global warming is real, and that is a testable fact for the midterm””

    And thus my null hypothesis that the comment would have had to have at least obliquely been related to some religion is blown out of the water.

  100. #100 Tsu Dho Nimh
    October 24, 2009

    @65 – And how much more efficient it is to have livestock convert plants into animal tissue and then be eaten by us than to eat the plants directly and produce the same compounds ourselves? People are literally “cherry-pickers” when it comes to using plants, taking the high-energy parts and leaving the rest. When was the last time you ate the leaves of a soy plant, or the cob of corn?

    There are many plants we can’t eat. Period. First-cut alfalfa, for example, is 22% protein (dry weight) of which very little is available to humans because we are not ruminants. We can’t break down the cellulose to get to the proteins.

    Ruminants can thrive and fatten on pasture land, eating grasses we would starve on. Yes, it may take several acres (to dozens of acres) of pasture to support each ruminant, but that land also takes no cultivation, irrigation or harvesting. It’s called “range-fed beef”, it’s lean and it’s tasty and it doesn’t need growth hormones or antibiotics.

    And, no matter how many plants we eat, our bodies can’t make Vitamin B12. There are no reliable vegan sources of B12 that I know of (even tempeh’s B12 is produced by contaminating bacteria, and it is not reliably present in useful quantities). To live as a vegan requires a high-tech society that can provide you with B12 supplemented food.

  101. #101 Adela
    October 24, 2009

    This gives you some clues to follow on the issues of soy.
    http://www.westonaprice.org/soy/tragedy.html
    I see it is the most quoted layman accessible article on the net for soy dangers. This version has the references list to follow.

  102. #102 JediBear
    October 24, 2009

    @Greg, that may be your position generally, but it’s not your position here. I know. I read it. Twice.

    Your position here is that vegetarians annoy you and that vegetarianism is inferior to a diet that includes some meat.

    It’s possible that’s not what you meant to say, but it is undeniably what you said.

    If you’d said “people eat way way too much meat for their own good and for the good of the planet, but vegetarianism isn’t right for everyone and moderate meat consumption may actually be better for long-term sustainability than universal veganism” I’d have agreed with you, right down to denouncing the sanctimonious vegetarians.

    Well, not on tofu. The soybean is one of the hardest to use of above-ground plants, but tofu is far from the least “natural” or least appealing thing we eat. Soy products really are about the same level of processing as peanut products. Tofu is comparable to peanut butter.

    My beef, in other words, wasn’t with your opinions (which I’m sure I had no way of knowing) but with your statements and how you supported them.

  103. #103 Tulse
    October 24, 2009

    I don’t understand your emphasis on game meat as an alternative. There is no way, even with modern conservation and game farming techniques, that game meat could provide anything more than a tiny fraction of current meat consumption. Industrial beef production, with all its vast inefficiencies, exists precisely because such extreme processes are necessary to fulfill demand.

  104. #104 Tsu Dho Nimh
    October 24, 2009

    Greg – There are several plants, Scarlet Runner Beans as an example, that are edible raw in one phase of growth and require cooking or other processing in a different phase of growth because of the chemicals they have at that stage of the life cycle.

    It’s quite possible that soybeans develop the anti-trypsin as they mature and dry.

    There is also a heat-stable component of soybeans that can cause severe symptoms in some people.

    I can eat “real tofu” processed the Japanese way, because the water soluble whateveritis is carried off in the rinsing and the whey. Tofu made by another process that uses whole soy milk will drop me to the floor in agony in a few minutes. And I don’t want to think about eating TVP, veggie-burgers, soyflour, or tofurkey.

  105. #105 Adela
    October 24, 2009

    JediBear, in no way is tofu comparable to peanut butter, cheese maybe but not nut butters. You are reaching. If I want nut butter of any kind all I have to do is throw some nuts into the grinder on the counter and that is not the case with tofu.

    Tulse, demand is the key word there. The demand for a certain quantity of meat rather than the need for a certain quantity. Modern meat consumption is excessive.
    The required 75-200g a day is a tiny fraction of what people are actually eating. Also the demand is only for the yummy prime bits of the animal. Things would be a lot more viable if everyone weren’t after a 16oz prime rib steak every meal.

    I know from the animals ranched on the family farm that a little goes a long way. Pasture beef on a quarter section in climate zone 4b without irrigation supports 20 head of shorthorn year round. One animal feeds 4 adults for 3 years eating beef for dinner everyday. The same time it takes for the replacement rate of calf to full size steer.

  106. #106 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    102: Honestly, I pretty much know what my position is. I really do. I know. I wrote it. Twice.

    It is simply absurd to say that vegetarians annoy me. Some of my best friends are vegetarians. No kidding. I don’t let anyone who annoys me be my friend.

    There certainly are people who are vegetarians that annoy me with their inability to understand subtleties or to be open to discussion about their sanctimonious beliefs.

    “vegetarianism is inferior to a diet that includes some meat.”… yes, that is what I’m proposing as an idea. It is not my “position.” I am not a politician running on some platform, nor am I a priest with immutable beliefs. I simply feel that this idea has merit. But that ivolves a subtly that many of the more annoying dogmatic vegetarians will never get.

    It is true that this post does not express those opinions as the major point. That is because this post was about something else. This post was about the oversimplification of the plant/animal comparison, about misunderstandings that arise from the naturalistic fallacy, and a couple of other things. But, the points I make in this response to you are clearly made in the various comments elsewhere.

    Tulse: You are probably correct about the amount of meat available from game, but you probably underestimate the amount of wild game that is eaten today and could be eaten. I have not proposed that wild game replace domestic game.

    Tsu: Yes, clearly we collectively know very little about what is actually going on with soy beans. This is part of my annoyance. Show me the openAccess source of information that is not bullshit about soybeans! Hard to find.

  107. #107 Ben
    October 24, 2009

    Woot. Quite a lot of hostility to you Greg!

    I’m going to slap down one of the distractions.

    Let’s see, a typical disinformed reference to Atkins. I mean seriously, have these people even read his book and recipe books? He recommended a diet high in protein, high in fats, low in carbohydrates. What people tend to forget is that he emphasizes _lots_ of nutritionally and dietary fiber dense plant foods, such as nuts, berries, peppers, okra, etc. Dark greens, certain tubers, flaxseed, etc. Drinking basically water and caffeine free teas.

    He certainly didn’t say you shouldn’t exercise. Medium impact like simply walking/jogging the dog for an hour or two a day, coupled with swimming and simple aerobics are more than decent enough to tone your body. Atkins certainly had no problems with higher intensity exercise.

    Regarding toxins in our foods, atkins wasn’t gung-ho about it, but certainly didn’t think people who preferred organic/free-range/wild meats/veggies were coo-coo. He wrote of ways for serious vegetarians to access organic free-range unfertilized chicken eggs, dairy, etc.

    The “low-carb” craze was a “testing of the waters” so to speak by Big Agra. Problem was, most people who are well-off enough to do low-carb the right way also do local and organic. That nipped things in the bud. Imagine if the entire country demanded cheap, organic free-range livestock
    and lots of cheap, organic high nutrition density plants, all non-GMOs. It would collapse or force a drastic re-organization of the Big Agro industry and open the way for countless small local farms and ranchs. Farming techniques like permaculture and edible forest gardens, urban gardens (individual and communal), etc. would explode across the landscape.

    Atkins did push his own vitamins and packaged comfort foods; but stated that a simple daily multivitamin coupled with his dietary and exercise advice was probably all you needed to remain healthy and fit under normal circumstances.

    Much of what atkins/scarsdale and other low carbohydrate diet advisers state is actually what our hunter/gatherer ancestors ate. *Homo sapiens* and predecessors going back nearly 3 million years have been predatory omnivores. Even today, the average percentage of meat in the rare few traditional hunter/gatherer dietary cultures usually doesn’t fall below 50%. The plant foods that are eaten are extremely diverse, eaten at the time of year when they are most packed with nutrition versus natural toxins usually.

    On Big Agra, anyone who says they have to right to practice agriculture the way they do is clearly misinformed or has pathological thought processes. The amount of resources sucked up for industrial agriculture is completely un-sustainable, pollutive and nutritionally drained. Not to mention toxic and immune-suppresive to our foodstuffs and extremely likely to induce disease over the long-term. The insidious concept of “terminator” seeds alone should be a huge double-take for everyone. We’re not discussing a luxury item, clean food is a basic, absolutely essential resource; like clean water and air. We will collectively suffer lower quality of life and eventually begin to die at younger ages if we go without it. Advanced medicine can only do so much after the fact. That makes us hostages at this point in our civilization’s history.

  108. #108 Binho
    October 24, 2009

    Ummm, forgive me saying but might the issue in countries like the US and the UK also be all the condiments and the way it is all cooked?

    Would switching to lower fat cooking oils (ie. Olive oil), or not putting ranch dressing or mayonnaise on everything considerably cut down on the intake of fats and salts? What about cuts of steak with less fat on them? Or thinner cut steaks that can actually be properly cooked? Or putting less salt on everything?

    Is this even considered in these sorts of arguments? Isn’t it the mayonnaise and the french fries what kill you, and not the burger meat itself?

  109. #109 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    Binho: Animal fats (including those in eggs, and thus, in mayo and maybe Ranch dressing … I’m not sure what’s in that….) are more of the problem than plant fats, more or less. If only we could genetically engineer cows to use olive oil as their adipose tissue….

    (remember, you heard that idea here FIRST)

  110. #110 Hank Roberts
    October 24, 2009

    > if only we could

    Evolution’s already done basically that for us; we had it, let it slip away, and it’s being rediscovered:

    http://www.badgersett.com/info/chestnuts/chestnutspork.html

    —excerpt follows—

    “… Even before the chestnut blight killed off the chestnut forests in the eastern US, though, consumers turned away from forest finished hogs. The lard rendered from such hogs turns out to be much softer at room temperature than lard from corn finished hogs, and sometimes it was even reported to be liquid. (This is fact, not folk-tale. One good reference is the book “Tree Crops” by J. Russell Smith.) Housewives were taught that hard white lard was what they wanted for making biscuits and pie crusts, and the practice of finishing hogs in the forests disappeared. There were other reasons why forest finishing declined, of course, including changing forest ownership and other sociological aspects.

    Those of you who remember anything from your college course in Organic Chemistry should be perking up your ears right now. Soft-liquid at room temperature? Almost certainly, that translates into “much less saturated fats”. That is, they are probably much healthier fats for humans to be eating.

    It turns out that the hogs in Spain that are finished on acorns (pata negra pigs) have had their fat tested. It turns out that, indeed, fat from pata negra pigs is less saturated than regular lard. It even contains the two holy-grails of current fat-fashion, mono-unsaturated and Omega-3 fatty acids. “Olive trees on four hooves” one web site puts it!

    Two points: This is about acorn fed hogs. Chestnuts are closely related to acorns, though, and in fact, most of the forests in Spain contain chestnut trees right beside the oaks, so the realities here are a little hard to sort out yet.

    There is more than a little reason to hope that chestnut fed pork will be healthier food, as well as tastier. We’re hoping to have some of the lard from these pigs analyzed for exactly these factors….”
    —end excerpt—

  111. #111 octopod
    October 24, 2009

    “Plus, I mean, give me a break … can you really eat tofu? I mean, really?”

    …Seriously?

    Fuck You Very Much, iggerant white boy!

  112. #112 octopod
    October 24, 2009

    That said, I agree with you 100% about the bison.

  113. #113 Greg Laden
    October 24, 2009

    Remember, this post is a repost. I’ve since discovered a couple of places with good tofu. This place is exceptional:

    http://quichemoraine.com/2009/04/dinner-at-azia/

    and I already mentioned this one:

    http://quichemoraine.com/2009/02/midoris-floating-world-cafe/

  114. #114 Bud
    October 25, 2009

    “Plus, I mean, give me a break … can you really eat tofu? I mean, really?”

    Yeah I can. Then again, I’m a vegetarian with reasonable culinary skills who is open to arguments on all side of the dietary debate, not a two-bit blogger with a hatchet job to write. For God’s sake man, grow up!

  115. #115 Pierce R. Butler
    October 25, 2009

    Isn’t it amazing how much overlap there is between the reflexes provoked by food issues and those of religion?

    Open question: should Prof. Laden be more accommodating to those of different views?

    *ducks*

  116. #116 Elizabeth
    October 25, 2009

    Perhaps a lack of meat in the diet causes people’s skin to grow thin.

  117. #117 Mike
    October 25, 2009
  118. #119 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    Thanks Pam!

    Pierce. Elizabeth: I don’t mind having a nice argument with someone over something. But I find the response: “He is saying something that is not part of our vegetarian dogma therefore everything he thinks and says is wrong and whatever sources he is using for his information are evil” to be revealing of the fact that some dietary paradigms are indeed based on the same sociocultural and cognitive processes as religion, woo, and that sort of thing.

    I am someone who thinks that vegetarianism is great, but that it is easier to do that wrong than a diet with meat, so you better freakin’ do it right if you are feeding other people with your particular dietary dogma. Otherwise you are an ass and should be stopped. But if you are doing it right good for you. Short of that, I’m someone who thinks that if you are going to eat meat you should eat a lot less than you do.

    I’m shocked and amazed at the ignorance displayed above about game farming. One would think people who are sauntering around on the internet telling other people what to think about food would know something about that. Perhaps that is because people in the US tend to have a US centered view and it is mainly an African thing. Don’t get me started on that problem…

    (Regarding the dogmatic veggie: check with me before you assume I’m talking about you! It occurs to me, for instance, that Becca might think that I think this of her, and of course, that would be impossible).

    As far as edamame goes, it does seem that they might be fairly edible with minimal processing, but I’ve not seen any reports on trypsin inhibitor amounts native to the bean at the time of picking or if these inhibitors are broken down by the kind of processing they normally get (I doubt it very much). Hopefully they have not developed yet at the time of picking. If not, it is possible that edemame may be the sort of thing yo can eat and it will have little obvious effect, but if trypsin inhibitors are sufficiently plentiful there might be a nutritional deficit.

    Which is a subtlety. A complexity. Something knee jerk vegetarians do not really want to know about, so just go ahead and eat them and don’t worry. Do look for protein deficiency symptoms in your babies and children if you feed a lot of edamame to them, just in case.

    Oh, and of course, there is that one study that seems to show a change in sperm concentration but don’t worry, that’s only one study and it was done by Urologists, so it is probably part of the Conspiracy….

  119. #120 Mike
    October 25, 2009

    As for the question of “how green is tofu?” Slate just ran a good article on this:
    http://www.slate.com/id/2232916/

    The author cites a Dutch study showing that tofu sold in the Netherlands produces about 2 kgCO2eq/kg compared to 3 kgCO2eq/kg for Dutch chicken:
    http://www.blonkmilieuadvies.nl/pdf/english%20summary%20protein-rich%20products.pdf

    So tofu is still somewhat better than chicken, but not as good as just eating whole plants, and of course either tofu or chicken is way better than eating feedlot raised beef.

  120. #121 becca
    October 25, 2009

    First of all, it irks me when people conflate “strict vegans” with “all vegetarians”. It’s about as logical as conflating “stereotypical atkins self-designated ‘carnivore'” with “all non-vegetarians”. B-12 is not an issue for anyone who eats omelets or ice cream. And yeast are not animals, just as mushrooms are not animals.

    Greg, you’re not going to like this one, but I have to ask. What evidence is there vegetarianism is detrimental for the immune system? My Ph.D. work is on the innate immune response to Plasmodium. Given the prevalence of both vegetarianism and malaria in India, I should think it quite relevant to public health. I PubMed searched “vegetarian” and “immune” and there are only a couple dozen hits, most of them not relevant (a couple on veganism come close, but most of the others are weird, e.g. bladder cancer). I have talked with some of the iron researchers, so that aspect I’ve considered, but I’d invite anyone who knows more about iron and the immune system to comment.

    I think the soybean toxin issue is basically beside the point. Personally, I enjoy fruit rollups. I have no delusions about requiring unprocessed food. Most of the food I eat, and probably I’m not alone in this thread on this issue, is way more processed than tofu. I wouldn’t eat raw soybeans, or raw kidney beans, or raw pork. Duh.
    Also, actual small babies should be eating breast milk or (extremely highly processed) formula, not edamame. (Greg- if you think vegetarians are sanctimonious, just think of breast milk vs. formula)

    @Stephanie Z- I think Toaster has elsewhere admitted his real problem is inadequate affinity for cake/pie/ice cream (or something along those lines).
    ;-)

    Elizabeth (@116)- perhaps an excess of industrially produced meat in the diet increases corticosteroid levels and assholishness.

    “Show me the openAccess source of information that is not bullshit about soybeans! Hard to find.”
    Pubmed-> search “soybeans”-> click tab “free full text” (4497 articles)
    See, I told you I like doing library work for people.

    Greg, I understand why you think it’s easier to mess up a vegetarian diet than a diet that includes meat. But that’s very culturally biased. In this country, most people who can cook at all, can cook meat (I can’t; I learned to cook in a vegetarian co-op, so I don’t bother with meat unless it’s precooked or comes with very good instructions). Most people don’t know the requisite number of hours to soak kidney beans to avoid the hemaglutinins. Or the dangers of pressure cooking them. In some populations in India, I’d bet the knowledge ratio is reversed.
    If you say in a large number of traditional cultures people get what they need most easily by including meat, I absolutely believe you. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s easiest for everyone in your audience to get what they need by including meat. Or that, even if it’s easy, it’s the best way of doing things (in the US, it’s arguably easiest to subsist on ramen + beef jerky + little debbie snack cakes; not recommended though)

    @JediBear- wrt soy vs. peanuts, depends on what you mean. Perfect peanuts require less processing than perfect soybeans. On the other hand, I don’t know of aflatoxin problems with soy. Although don’t mess with fusarium infected soybeans either. Poor soybeans.

  121. #122 mike
    October 25, 2009

    I have one question about greenhouse gas emissions from cattle that I’ve always wondered about: why aren’t GHG emissions from cattle offset by the carbon drawn out of the atmosphere by the plants they eat? Shouldn’t carbon in equal carbon out? Is it just because the cattle convert the CO2 to CH4 which is a more potent greenhouse gas? If so, would collecting that CH4 and burning it to convert to CO2 and H2O neutralize the problem and produce useful energy in the process? Or do plants draw carbon out of the soil which the cattle then release into the atmosphere?

    Thanks to anyone who can help resolve this for me!

  122. #123 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    Becca, you need to ask me questions about what I said, not what I didn’t say! Vegetarianism is not detrimental to anything. It is a dietary strategy, and it is one that someone can fuck up (i.e., end up with a deficiency of some sort) or not. Fucking up is potentially detrimental to any of a number of different health related strategies.

    Greg- if you think vegetarians are sanctimonious, just think of breast milk vs. formula

    I have one daughter and a kid on the way, and one PhD student writing a lactation thesis. So, yeah, I’ve seen that! Have they been following you around lately?

    I understand why you think it’s easier to mess up a vegetarian diet than a diet that includes meat. But that’s very culturally biased.

    I don’t see how a generalization can be culturally biased. That is just how you chose to see things. That this is a culturally embedded phenomenon is certainly true. Calling it culturally biased is simply because you can’t stand me being right about anything, ever. Which is very charming up to a point.

    it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s easiest for everyone in your audience to get what they need by including meat.

    I think the average (AVERAGE!!) American vegetarian’s child might actually do better with some meat than they do now, but that is just a guess. But you are right, they would probably fuck that up by using Slim Jims as the meat. Indeed, a person who bothers to be a vegetarian is probably doing everything smarter regarding health, as long as they are taking a fairly rational/scientific approach. The woo-lovers, however, may be doing something different. Just a guess on my part.

    Mike: The concern should be about fossil fuels and carbon sinks. All other data is bullshit and arm waving.

  123. #124 ThirtyFiveUp
    October 25, 2009

    For some perfidy in one of my previous lives, I had to eat a macrobiotic meal. There was a wedding reception for my nephew and it was the only food offered. But, hey, the watermelon was good.

    My family of six escaped to a restaurant and we all ordered pie. The chocolate whipped cream pie was the preferred choice.

    Maybe the rice and bean stew would have been fine except there was some of that fermented fish sauce permeating the dish.

  124. #125 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    So, a healthy diet can be very bad for you… it drives you to eat pie.

  125. #126 Mike
    October 25, 2009

    Greg:”The concern should be about fossil fuels and carbon sinks. All other data is bullshit and arm waving.”

    According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock production accounts for about %18 of global GHG emissions (more than transportation), 25% of which is due to enteric fermentation by ruminants:

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=4&ved=0CBcQFjAD&url=ftp%3A%2F%2Fftp.fao.org%2Fdocrep%2Ffao%2F010%2Fa0701e%2Fa0701e00.pdf&ei=gZjkSp75LJXcNcXQ-awB&usg=AFQjCNFW_mqPCkFzRvJ6-mhgII0_a9CQdA

    I agree that fossil fuels are the biggest concern in mitigating global warming, but that still seams pretty significant to me. In terms of personal choices, removing meat from your diet may be the most powerful and easiest way to reduce your contribution to global warming:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kathy-freston/vegetarian-is-the-new-pri_b_39014.html

    I am still unsure about the question I asked in my previous post though, and am open to more information about this. Thanks!

  126. #127 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    Mike: For the most part, we are concerned with carbon being converted to fixed in solid or liquid form in fossil fuels to being in gas form (as CO2).

    There are other issues such as carbon sinks, but the output of C into the atmosphere from cows, who ate the C from plants which fixed it from the atmosphere (where the cows put it) is not the same thing as releasing Jurasic (or whatever) carbon that has been trapped for tens or hundreds of millions of years back into the atmosphere. See the difference?

  127. #128 daedalus2u
    October 25, 2009

    This thread has started to devolve in how to solve global warming, the only solution that I see is to use genetic engineering to generate plants that can grow in sea water and have gigantic floating plantations on the equator to fix CO2 and generate both food and fuel. This would then free up land for wildlife habitat.

    You would want to use the equator first because storms tend to not cross the equator so the equator is relatively calm. Once you have started to cover a significant fraction of the ocean, then weather patterns become affected and even controllable by your farming operations.

    I think this is the only way that sufficient biomass can be generated to supply the entire world’s population with a decent standard of living that they will find acceptable.

    I appreciate that it destroys the sea habitat where the floating farms are. Any agricultural use of land destroys the wild habitat that used to be there.

    I am aware of no other suggestions that come anywhere close to supplying the world’s population with a sustainable and decent standard of living, short of killing most of the population, a path I consider unacceptable.

  128. #129 becca
    October 25, 2009

    “So, a healthy diet can be very bad for you… it drives you to eat pie. “
    Eating pie can never be bad for you. Well, maybe Mrs. Sweeney’s. Then again, if we’re looking for efficient…

  129. #130 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    Eating pie can never be bad for you.

    Truer words have never been spoken.

  130. #131 Xenithrys
    October 25, 2009

    Here in New Zealand we raise a lot of beef and lamb on land that is unsuited to agriculture. Nearly all the animals are grass-fed, which means free range, all year round. As a geologically active, hilly to mountainous landscape, one of our biggest environmental problems is soil erosion; I believe this farming method is kinder to the soil and kinder to the animals than alternatives.

  131. #132 llwelly
    October 25, 2009

    Greg Laden | October 23, 2009 1:01 PM:

    I’ve never heard of cattle range land that is irrigated.

    However, a great deal of cattle feed (particularly alfalfa) is grown on irrigated fields .

  132. #133 Mike
    October 25, 2009

    Greg: “but the output of C into the atmosphere from cows, who ate the C from plants which fixed it from the atmosphere (where the cows put it)…”

    Yes, that’s what made me question the finding of the UN study that livestock contribute GHG to the atmosphere. I’ve been thinking about the chemistry more though and it seems that for every molecule of CH4 burped by a cow there would be one molecule of CO2 sequestered by a plant. But since CH4 has 23 times the heat trapping power of CO2, the system should be amplifying global warming. I haven’t done any chemistry since high school, so I was hoping someone who understands the science better could confirm this for me.

    FYI according to that UN study, the other primary contributions to global warming from livestock are nitrous oxide from manure (296 times as powerful as CO2) and deforestation for land used to raise livestock.

  133. #134 llewelly
    October 25, 2009

    There are other issues such as carbon sinks, but the output of C into the atmosphere from cows, who ate the C from plants which fixed it from the atmosphere (where the cows put it) is not the same thing as releasing Jurasic (or whatever) carbon that has been trapped for tens or hundreds of millions of years back into the atmosphere.

    This ignores a couple of important problems with most beef production.

    (0) When forest land is converted to range land, most of the CO2 formerly trapped in the trees and forest soil is released into the atmosphere. The post-deforestation cattle, grasses, and soils can hold only a fraction of the carbon the forest did. Obviously this isn’t an issue for cattle raised on the N. American high plains, but a large portion of current range land was forest less than 50 years ago. Cattle rangeland is still being rapidly expanded at the cost of forests, especially in places like Brazil.

    (1) Ruminants emit a substantial portion of the carbon they emit in the form of methane. Methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2. (25 times more powerful is the most commonly used figure, but it is strongly dependent on lifetime estimates.)

    (3) A larege portion of livestock feed is grown with fossil-fuel produced fertilizers and pesticides.

    (4) livestock production requires a great many fossil fuel powered vehicles, tractors, and other machines.

    In theory, it’s possible to produce beef so that (0), (2), (3), and (4) are not issues. However – the methane issue cannot be resolved without some sort of exotic change to ruminants digestion, and addressing the other issues is a problem similar in scale to going without oil – definately achievable in the mid to long term, but in the mean time you really can reduce your greenhosue gas output by eating less beef.

    Most other meat – particularly chicken – is much less carbon intensive than beef (but not rally carbon free).

    More detail here.

  134. #135 llewelly
    October 25, 2009

    Greg, one of my comments is in the moderation queue due to a single link. Would you please fix your policy so that those of us who want to refer to something can at least link one or two documents without going into the moderation queue?

  135. #136 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    llewelly: I have very little control over how the comment policy works. As long as I don’t have user registration, there is an oversensitivity to links (which comes and goes). In theory, posts with three or more links are stopped. Your comment must have looked like spam for reasons including the link, but perhaps going beyond that as well.

    Regarding the issue you brought up, actually the quoted paragraph does cover most of what you say but in less detail! (you are mostly talking about carbon syncs) But yes, those are all relevant points, but …. methane breaks down and it can also be recovered and burned as fuel, so it can be dealt with. And the C in methane is still not from fossil carbon. I’ll be very happy to have only the global warming caused by livestock and zero from fossil fuels. It would hardly be noticed.

    The conversion of forest to other habitat covers removes a sink but it really depends on what you end up with. A developing temperate grassland is actually quite a good sink if there is not too much acid rain. The removal of forest in the tropics is probably a very large shift in carbon sink.

    The use of fossil fuels to produce meat is real, but one has to make valid, complete comparisons (again, comlex reality strikes!). Here in Minnesota, if I go to the store in one month from now and buy a chicken from GoldenPlump and a set of fresh vegetables with the same complement of amino acids as the chicken, what is the difference in fossil fuel use? I drive by the chicken farm twice a week. I can see the chickens. Well, they’re in side during the winter…. But these fresh veggies will be from Argentina or someplace. To equal the amino acid (and co-enzyme) compliment in a local chicken here in the north country might be very costly in terms of fossil carbon!

  136. #137 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    Mike: Yes, those atoms reconfigured can be more of a heat sink in the atmosphere, but again, there is no added carbon. There has been enormous resistance from the cattle industry (as far as I can tell) but these giant lagoons of manaure in Nebraska can actually be used to produce usable biofuel. Then, of course, when burning the biofuel C is released, but as CO and CO2, which is less of a heat sink than methane, and gets you fire without using fossil fuels.

    I keep sounding like I’m defending meat hear, and I’m not. Again, I repeat; I’ve been to Nebraska!!!!! (and anyone who has not should go there and see!) But, again, this is not a simple black and white issue.

    See comment above: How do we get a “whole protein” componant of a meal in, say, the Canadian Winter in February using local animal product vs. shipped in plant product. If the raw comparison at a theoretical point location is one baseline, this is another. Ulness we use oxen to ship the broccoli, beans, and rice from Peru. And then eat the oxen.

  137. #138 Steve L
    October 25, 2009

    I prefer bison to cows because you don’t have to kill wolves to protect bison, so I agree with Greg on preferring the indigenous critter (in North America). I’m a “mostly vegetarian” — I sometimes eat domesticated meat but try to eat wild (eg wild salmon, but I eat pretty much any meat if someone else is going to throw some out). I rarely suggest to others that they should be vegetarians, but if everyone was like me the world would be better (of course). I think it would be better for the planet if folks focused on getting others to reduce their meat consumption by, say, two thirds rather than trying to get folks to quit.

  138. #139 Paul D.
    October 25, 2009

    All we need is for McDonalds to decide to make it happen and it will happen.

  139. #140 daedalus2u
    October 25, 2009

    In principle #1, the production of CH4 in ruminant gut can be modified by changing the bacteria in the gut. That results in reductions in feed use (feed is converted into biomass instead of CH4) so there are incentives for producers to do it.

    The production of CH4 from flooded land is a problem in hydropower also. There are some estimates that because of the CH4 emissions from flooded land, that hydropower is worse than coal as far as greenhouse gas emission goes.

    One of the earlier suggestions, raising pork on nuts from trees makes a great deal of sense. In principle a forest should be able to fix more CO2 per year than a single season field because much of the support structure is already there. If you gathered the leaves and raised earthworms on them, and fed the earthworms to chickens, you could produce significant edible biomass from non-edible agricultural residues.

    I think that in Africa, changes in subsistence farming of annuals to more sustainable tree crops could help increase food supplies there. A major problem is that the soils are so poor because of all the leaching. Trees can grow better on poor soils because the deep roots can reach into the subsoil which is not so badly leached. That is where the potassium and phosphorus comes from during a fallow period. There are nitrogen fixing trees too. Tree biomass could be converted efficiently into edible biomass, via worms (worms are essentially cold-blooded ruminants), or fungal growth.

    If a portion of the woody growth could be converted to charcoal and added to the soil, it would permanently improve it. A major deficit in the highly leached laterites is cationic exchange capacity (to hold K+, NH4+, Mg++, Ca++, etc). Black carbon has cationic exchange capacity. It also has a high surface area which supports bacterial growth and the bacteria retain nutrients too. It also provides aeration. In the Amazon, terra preta is still fertile a thousand years after it was made.

  140. #141 Mike
    October 25, 2009

    “To equal the amino acid (and co-enzyme) compliment in a local chicken here in the north country might be very costly in terms of fossil carbon!”

    I’m not sure about about the hypothetical situation you pose (it would be interesting if someone could do the calculation), but in general, I think greenhouse gas emissions from transporting food are much less significant than emissions from production. One study of the issue found that, on average, only 4% of a food’s total emissions came from final transportation to market, and that switching from red meat to vegetables one day a week would have a greater impact than eating an all-local diet:

    http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn13741

    I do appreciate that you recognize this isn’t a black and white issue. I for one try to eat vegetarian when it is convenient and to choose chicken instead of beef when possible.

  141. #142 Eric K
    October 25, 2009

    How do we get a “whole protein” componant of a meal in, say, the Canadian Winter in February using local animal product vs. shipped in plant product.

    I’m not an expert in Canadian agriculture, but couldn’t you rely on the “Three Sisters” (maize, beans and winter squash)? IIRC, they should provide all the essential amino acids, and they store easily enough through the winter. All three grow well in the extreme northern US.

    Not that I have any problem with the local chicken, mind you. But at least in southern Canada, I think that complete local protein is achievable year round, using only pre-Columbian plant species.

  142. #143 llewelly
    October 25, 2009

    llewelly: I have very little control over how the comment policy works.

    My apologies. I didn’t know that. Thank you for rescuing my comment.

  143. #144 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    Mike: I’ll have to look at that link. I’m sure in my example the chicken wins because I can see the freakin chicken! It’s only a chicken! BUt on averge, yeah, who knows.

    Eric, in my extreme example I specify fresh food. So it has to be flown or driven in from beyond the frost line, at least.

  144. #145 Mike
    October 25, 2009

    “I’m sure in my example the chicken wins because I can see the freakin chicken!”

    I’m not actually so sure, because you can’t see where all of the feed that goes to those chickens comes from, how much fertilizer was used to produce it, how far that fertilizer had to travel, etc. This is in addition to the already higher emissions cost of chicken verses vegetables and the cost of keeping Minnesota chickens warm in December.

  145. #146 Greg Laden
    October 25, 2009

    No, I can see the feed too. And right up the street is the corn ethonol plant. I’m sure everything is fine.

    And it’s a young chicken, hatched in July.

    Remember the condition I set: An amino-acid and co-enzyme equivilant pile of plant matter. Not just mass or calories. Flown in from southern Peru. I can not be sure my chicken wins, but it does.

  146. #147 Kim
    October 26, 2009

    I’m surprised none of the many paleo/primal diet enthusiasts on the internet have descended upon this post.

    The thing that convinced me to give up thoughts of being vegetarian myself ever again was reading the excellent “Becoming Vegetarian”, which lays out in detail how to construct a nutritionally adequate vegan diet. It made me acutely aware that doing so would be not only somewhat difficult and fragile — particularly in that I’m already unable to eat wheat products — but also without fail require foods with greater travel and processing input. In terms of my personal value system, that bothered me more than consuming some locally-raised animals and eggs.

    It’s hard to disentangle what is about accommodating my wheat issues rather than other factors, but I am without a doubt healthier as a meat eater than I ever was as a vegetarian. I’m also healthier eating more fat than I had before (but the quality of the fat is good: more fish and grass-fed meat). At this point, it would take a very compelling ethical/ecological argument indeed to give up my improved well being.

  147. #148 Rr
    October 26, 2009

    Gotta love the fascinating discussion here! Great job on reposting an interesting post that has stirred an even more interesting comment section, Greg. :-) Always interesting to read your posts, even though I almost never comment.

    Becca: Huh, do you by any chance have a food blog? I’d love to follow it if so. Knowing more about the pitfalls of processing a wider range of plant-based foodstuffs would be good, as I currently am only decent at cooking common meats and generic common veggies.

  148. #149 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2009

    Becca does not seem to have a blog which is a huge disappointment.

  149. #150 Tsu Dho Nimh
    October 26, 2009

    but couldn’t you rely on the “Three Sisters” (maize, beans and winter squash)? IIRC, they should provide all the essential amino acids, and they store easily enough through the winter. All three grow well in the extreme northern US.

    On paper, they should, but in real life, they don’t. It takes a small amount of protein from animals to turn the corn/beans/squash diet into something you can eat without getting pellagra. Or you can treat the corn with harsh chemicals to make the niacin bio-available, but a steady diet of masa is boring.

    When you look at the dietary habits of the Aztecs, they had a predominantly vegetarian cuisine, but regularly ate small quantities of fish, domestic fowl (turkeys), or wild game.

    Also, where are you going to get your B12 from? The Canadian tribes that farmed also hunted. Animals are the only source of b12 (unless you get into making supplements).

  150. #151 Lise
    October 26, 2009

    Since you are only touting we vegetarians compare tofu to meat.. May I introduce you to Quinoa. It is a seed.. sometimes called a grain that provides amino acid.. it is high in iron.. and many other nutrients. However as far as processing.. Meat uses much more natural resources before AND after slaughter. Soybeans are easy on the earth.. for one they are a nitrogen fixer in the soil and don’t need much nutrient to grow.. and only need shelling and boiling to eat.
    You also fail to understand the toxicity of meats. Look up the colon cancer studies and its relation to eating beef.

  151. #152 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2009

    Soybeans are easy on the earth..

    I drive through soybean field two or three times a week during the growing season. I have to be careful and watch the horizon at all times because on never knows when the cropduster loaded with neruotoxin is going to swoop in.

    What you are not getting is that while on average a reduction in meat in the diet has piles of advantages, there is a more complex reality that the sort of inaccurate blanket statements and woo you seem to be conveying in your post does not address. Keep thinking like your thinking. Cargill appreciates it!

  152. #153 PeterM
    October 26, 2009

    Like toaster above, medically a vegetarian diet is out for me. I’ve even lived for months at a time on little more than over-processed white bread and honey (a “zero elimination” diet). My gastroenterologist was pretty specific – the human bowel can’t handle the throughput required by a vegetarian diet and in my case it could be life threatening.

    I don’t get out so often now but a few years ago I used to be able to pick out the vegetarians at parties – they were the ones with grey teeth. When I would ask if they were and explain how I knew you would be surprised at how quickly vegetarians turn back into omnivores (generally just a quick rush to check in the bathroom mirror). Vanity trumps fashion and ethics in way too many people.

    I try to eat ‘roo once a week (average), its one of the best sources of meat for lots of reasons. CSIRO are working on non-CH4 producing cows, but they aren’t there yet. Ultimately I think the only solution will be to decouple human activity from the environment – vat-grown meat (a tech in its infancy), hydro based fodder factories (low water reqs) and we need to get the whole aquaculture industry based on plant foods and farmed feedfish.

    Methane digesters fed with manure (human, cow, whatever) and waste (plant and animal) can produce biogas for use in SOFC type fuel cells (see http://www.cfcl.com.au ) can massively increase the energy yields and form the backbone of a distributed “virtual” power plant producing domestic hot water as a byproduct of electricity production in addition to supplying national baseload power.

    The biofuels vs food is a no-starter. The real world produces ethanol from sugar – not corn and does it far, far cheaper than the USA, mired in the politics of sucking up to inefficient corn farmers chasing endless government grants and subsidies and preventing imported ethanol through draconian tax burdens. In 5 years Craig Venter will be shipping his first GM liquid fuels, within 20 years he will (in partnership with oil companies) own the industry – kudos to him I say (provided he kicks the shit out of Francis Collins again if only for the lulz) – check out http://www.syntheticgenomics.com/

    Metabolix is also doing great stuff. We can (if we act fast enough) sequester C in bio-plastics. Handled properly plastics and metals are forever. DuPont suck but they also produce bio-plastics (well, they licence it).

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. We actually have all the solutions in hand now, they just haven’t made it to market or reached mass production yet. Integrating them all will be a nightmare. Things like vat-meat need fine tuning, but at present they can already supplement free range and reduce the impact. The major (and potentially show-stopping) problem is political (lobbying by fossil fuel companies, climate deniers etc). Spineless politicians.

    Its approaching 3am here so I will need to crash and check back tomorrow.

  153. #154 Marc Abian
    October 26, 2009

    Really, Marc? Because I’ve never heard a vegetarian who was preaching about the benefits of vegetarianism say, “You should know that a vegetarian diet isn’t the best choice for everyone.”

    Because it’s obvious. Do you complain people saying running is healthy because they’re not explicitly saying “but not if your leg is broken”?

    You haven’t got any idea how much meat I eat or what kind or the state of my health, but you’re happy to make generalizations.

    Yes, yes I am happy to make generalisations. If you don’t fall within those generalisations, then what I’m saying doesn’t apply. Do you want every comment to be tailored to your situation?

    Greg

    It really is true that in a lot of communities arund the world, meat is the primary source for certain key nutrients important in normal prenatal development and child development, and that there is no way in place to replace that if meat were suddenly removed from the diet. But that is a reality that purist middle class privileged vegetarians prefer to not recognize, quite often, and that is unacceptable.

    Is anyone talking about removing the meat from the diet of everyone suddenly?
    Are middle class vegetarians saying we stop poor people from eating meat? I’ve never heard anyone say it.

    Then again, I’ve never heard a lot of things…

  154. #155 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2009

    Is anyone talking about removing the meat from the diet of everyone suddenly?

    It would not be hard to find this position advocated strongly.

    Are middle class vegetarians saying we stop poor people from eating meat? I’ve never heard anyone say it.

    Not saying it, and not thinking about it either. It does not take much for middle class whateverians to apply their personal experience and values to other people in inappropriate ways. Even the smallest bit of exposure to the most thinly spread facts can lead quickly to the most inappropriate conclusions. Unless conversations like the ones we are having here happen.

  155. #156 Mike
    October 26, 2009

    Rr: If you’re looking for a good blog on food issues, I would check out:
    http://www.lavidalocavore.org/

    Lise: I love Quinoa too!

  156. #157 Stephanie Z
    October 26, 2009

    Marc, untrue generalizations about matters of health hurt people, particularly when they’re couched in moral terms. Even with regard to running, people who are ethical about giving exercise advice tell you to consult a doctor before taking it up. It isn’t good for everyone. It’s actively damaging to some people (including me), and not just those with something as obvious as a broken leg.

    Vegetarianism is far more complicated than running in terms of its effects on the body. It’s also far more difficult to determine the cause of changes to health. Peter noted the gray teeth. You’ll see he also noted that he had to tell people why their teeth were gray. Whether vegetarianism is good for you is much harder to figure out than whether you’ve got a broken leg. Putting the question in moral terms just makes people more likely to ignore what warning signals they do get.

    Also unlike running, vegetarianism can’t just be stopped. Adding meat back to one’s diet is uncomfortable at best for most people. I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with diabetes. He’s 6’7″ and big, which makes it already difficult for him to get enough calories from his vegetarian diet. Doing it in a way that doesn’t cause problems with his diabetes is almost impossible. However, he’s stuck. Even reintroducing a tiny amount of meat makes him very ill, and he can’t control his blood sugar if he has nausea and diarrhea.

    This is why I save my generalizations for comic effect.

  157. #158 MartinB
    October 26, 2009

    Here is possibly the simplest (and one of the most tasty) way of cooking with tofu: Heat some oil in a coated pan. Fry the tofu until it starts to get brown (but not until it is burned to a piece of coal) and becomes a bit dry. Add some soy sauce and sherry (if you want true asiatic style, use rice wine) and let the tofu soak it up. You need to play around with the amount of oil, sherry and soy sauce to hit you personal taste, but the outcome is nice and tasty – goes very well with mushrooms and rice, for example.

  158. #159 History Punk
    October 26, 2009

    Humans have eyes on the front of their heads like every other mammalian predator. It’s a useful feature for a game hunter.

  159. #160 Greg Laden
    October 26, 2009

    History punk: Yeah but…. human eye/head arrangement is identical to monkey and ape eye/head arrangement.

  160. #161 skeptifem
    October 27, 2009

    “The bison would be the most effective advocates against feedlot strategies, which as lot of people think, I believe reasonably, to be abusive and possibly in the long term (with respect to infectious diseases) a health risk.”

    I saw all the posts where you are watching the corporation- you have to know that there simply isn’t a way for meat production to work in such a way currently. The nature of business in america is to grow and increase profit, and that means that the conditions get shittier for the animals, the cages shrink, the government $$ pours in to make people buy more, the health studies are sponsored by groups like the american dairy counsel, etc.

    complaining about vegetarian arguments missing some piece of key information is kind of weird in a post that doesn’t seem to address the contribution to climate at all. The sheer scope of meat consumption is freaking insane also, it makes a difference in how relevant the amount of land that is used to grow feed for animals and what quality we can assume all that land to be.

    as for colin-
    “One thing that has always interested me in those who ethically are against eating animals. Why are humans “special” in that we can’t kill animals but every other carnivore does it and does it ruthlessly? Even other primates will rip other primates apart while still alive (youtube has footage if you’re into that).”

    Suffering is wrong, and the way that meat animals are treated causes them suffering. I am against torturing animals for the same reason. i don’t care very much about the morality of the actual killing of animals or what farming *could* be, this is how it works right now. the global impact of climate change is causing suffering right now for other people in the world and meat is a part of that, and it is something most of us can avoid participating in. Arguing for actual rights for animals is tricky and difficult and I am not really very convinced by most arguments of that sort (it seems to be what you are arguing against), but the whole causing pain when you don’t have to thing really got to me after having to read about it and discuss it with other people.

  161. #162 Greg Laden
    October 27, 2009

    skeptifem,

    complaining about vegetarian arguments missing some piece of key information is kind of weird in a post that doesn’t seem to address the contribution to climate at all.

    Not really. This is a post that was originally written to highlight a potentially interesting, very specific research result, and put it in a context that would generate discussion. This is also a post about a topic that is centered in a nexus of issues. Look at all the comments above that demand that I say something a reader was thinking. I would still be drafting this!

    I agree with you, sf: I’ve been to Nebraska. This is not a subtle issue of animal rights, and what I add to the argument above is that this is not even an issue of some magic ten to one ratio of plant productivity to animal productivity (because that is a gross, and counterproductive oversimplification). Everyone should go to Nebraska for a couple of days and find out where meat comes from.

    Once I drove through Nebraska with my family and we stopped at a Perkins-like place for food on the way out of state (maybe in Colorado?). We all ordered chicken. That has not happened before or since.

    Corporations can’t avoid doing what they do (as per The Corporation), but they can be made to live in a different regulatory environment. Also, the system can collapse. That is the most likely outcome, in my mind. (The system of feedlot meat production, that is.)

    The denialism found in the vegan and purist vegetarian world is easily matched or exceeded in intensity by the denialism that fuels decision making in the world of industrial food production.

    My mother in law works for one such company. When Tillman’s paper on prairie grasses being better than corn in the Upper Midwest US for ethanol came out a few years ago, ‘economists’ working for the company went to every unit and gave a talk about how no plant can ever be better than corn for this purpose. My mother in law’s department has absolutely nothing to do with food production. Her entire unit could be detached and grafted onto absolutely any large corporation in the world and it would function fine. Her unit is no more related to the corporate business focus than yellow paint is wedded to a particular John Deere tractor. But everyone in her unit had to listen to the corn speech. The ink was not yet dry on Tillman’s paper and everyone in the corporation had to be programmed to see it as the evil machinations of some ill informed academic who wants to ruin everything.

    But if the system collapses that would be different. One of the main points of The Corporation is that collapse does happen, and it is the main corporate “strategy” for fundamental change. Which is the problem.

  162. #163 SQB
    October 27, 2009

    I don’t get out so often now but a few years ago I used to be able to pick out the vegetarians at parties – they were the ones with grey teeth. When I would ask if they were and explain how I knew you would be surprised at how quickly vegetarians turn back into omnivores (generally just a quick rush to check in the bathroom mirror). Vanity trumps fashion and ethics in way too many people.

    I am very curious to know about the grey teeth. Google turned up nothing, except for a few testimonies of (former) raw vegans, who reported the problem but had no idea of the cause.

    Though a vegetarian myself, I’ve never noticed any greyness. Could you please enlighten me?

  163. #164 PeterM
    October 27, 2009

    Though a vegetarian myself, I’ve never noticed any greyness. Could you please enlighten me?

    I had never noticed it myself. My brother pointed it out to me and I surreptiously started looking. I know a number of vegetarians (and they all have different things they exclude or include). Some seem to have a translucentness to the enamel – I think the grey is more an absence of white (if that makes sense). It doesn’t seem to be all vegetarians. I had a friend in San Francisco that took a fair amount of care with her diet – including B12 shots and she seemed to have it. But then I have known vegetarians that don’t seem to show any change – at best it is anecdotal. Others have occasionally mentioned this to me also, so I don’t think its imaginary. If you don’t notice it yourself, it probably isn’t an issue (but the evil side of me would ask “have you noticed any deterioration in your eyesight?”)

    It certainly doesn’t appear to cause any problems – they seem just as strong and have a normal healthy sheen, but then I have no idea of their dental record and most bite my fingers when I try to examine them closer ;) The last time I noticed was at a (pre)xmas party hosted by a professional magician (and roughly 20 of the guests were stage entertainers). Maybe its related to eating fire? Swallowing swords can’t be that good for your teeth either.

    My own teeth are so stained from cigarettes and coffee I have given up with whiteners, but for something as mild as this, I doubt it would take much to restore any colour change.

  164. #165 Greg Laden
    October 27, 2009

    I do not know about this grey teeth thing.

    Your adult teeth are formed early in life, mostly after birth but before age 4/5. During this period, things can happen that determine tooth color, and that is indirectly caused by one of three factors (I am oversimplifying): 1) insufficient calcium or some other cause of enamel agenesis. So, you get thin or no enamel. This can probably be caused by infections; 2) Replacement of calcium with some other mineral during enamel formation. Depending, this would probably change the color of the teeth; 3) Addition of some chemical or another that causes a discoloration. This can be caused by certain drugs. When it was discovered that tetracycline did this they stopped giving it to pregnant women and young children, but there is a whole generation of people walking around with tetracycline stains on their teeth!

    Tooth color is also genetic, and it is also changed by what people do.

    The inherent color of your teeth can not change because of stuff that happens after they are formed (i.e., there is no tooth analog to a funny ripple, line, weakness, or discoloration in the fingernails that indicates a trauma, stress, etc.) But of course they can be covered with something that stains them.

    This may be one of those situations ripe for confirmation bias.

  165. #166 PeterM
    October 27, 2009

    This may be one of those situations ripe for confirmation bias.

    Shhhh Greg – I can see SQB reaching for a steak (or bacon) ;)

    More seriously, I tend to agree. Anyone I notice it in is someone that has just indicated they are vegetarian. Typically the observation is made with no prior knowledge of what the pre-vegetarian teeth looked like. The same confirmation bias will likely cause the vegetarian to see their teeth as grey thereafter also.

    I have seen a few older (North) Vietnamese women that had dyed their teeth black (for fashion). A friend said her mother had taken steel wool to her teeth when she arrived in Australia (without much success and severely damaging them).

    Betel Nut tends to stain teeth red. I googled tetracycline and some mild cases, with slight darkening, may be what I notice. One source claimed that minocycline can cause a colour change after tooth eruption – without any understanding of the mechanism. I’m not sure how accurate the source is and I’m about to tumble into bed (so I won’t be researching it more tonight). nite.

    (the link btw is)
    http://www.dentalgentlecare.com/what_ages_teeth.htm#Tetracycline%20Staining

  166. #167 symball
    October 27, 2009

    Can I creep back to apologise to greg for what was a crass and hasty comment. In my defence I have been suffering from a bad case of ignorant co-worker recently and I stupidly transposed their argument(meat tastes good therefore you should eat it)onto gregs post.

  167. #168 Greg Laden
    October 27, 2009

    Symball, no worries.

    Becca, it’s your turn to apologize for disagreeing with me.

    OK, I’m leaving for a while now….

  168. #169 passionlessDrone
    October 27, 2009

    Hello friends –

    Very interesting discussion.

    @Greg Laden: You should definitely check out The China Study; it doesn’t leave much wiggle room for the development of diseases of affluence being associated with an animal protein rich diet. It was, in large part, responsible for me taking up a “veganesque” diet. I would recommend it to everyone.

    I’m generally bothered by the ‘but we have canines’ argument; it doesn’t seem to make much sense to me evolutionarily when we look at our closest available ancestors in terms of how frequently they eat meat. Compared to actual carnivores, our mouths are woefully designed for rending flesh; I doubt anyone who makes this argument has tried eating a raw flank from a steer sans flame or steel. Our inability to eat a diet of uncooked flesh without terrible pathogen problems, again seemingly quite different from most predators (?), makes this arguement a bit flacid to me.

    As far as the nutritional needs for early development, again, I’m struggling to see how this fits into our early ancestors. Unless I’m wildly mistaken (?), primates don’t feed their infants meat with any frequency; are our developmental needs so different that we must have it?

    – pD

  169. #170 Dacks
    October 28, 2009

    Edemame:I grow and eat it. The pods are picked when filled, but still green, boiled for 5-10 minutes, then the beans are slipped from the pod and eaten with salt. Yummy!

    I’ve never heard about beans being toxic before processing. Perhaps this pertains mostly to soybeans that are grown as cattle feed? I grow and eat several kinds of dried beans, that are only soaked before cooking to slough off the gas-causing compounds. I’ve cooked soybeans this way as well.

  170. #171 Greg Laden
    October 28, 2009

    Once again I remind people that nutritional or dietary advice should not be gleaned from anonomous commenters on this thread!

    Dacks: You may or may not be right about the young beans. Secondary compounds often kick in at a certain time during development, and heat may break many down. However, the fact that you eat these things and don’t drop dead minutes later does not objectively measure toxin level. May be you ave gray teeth or something… :-[

  171. #172 Dacks
    October 28, 2009

    I am not trying to argue from anecdote, simply wondering if mature soybeans are different from the varieties used for edemame. I just looked at the reprint of Tofu and Soymilk Production by William Shurtleff (on Google books) and they do go into quite a bit of detail on the importance of removing trypsin during processing.

    So, if dry soybeans contain these toxic chemicals, do other dried beans also contain them? Or is the amount of processing – soaking and cooking thoroughly enough to get rid of them?

    Beans have been a major part of my diet ever since I reached adulthood, and I’m trying to find out if I’ve been misinformed all these years.

  172. #173 Dacks
    October 28, 2009

    BTW, the varieties of Edamame that I grow come from reputable seed sources, like Johnny’s, and I harvest and cook them as recommended by the seed companies.

    And a bit of an exaggeration by me:I have cooked dry soybeans, but not often. I do grow and eat Jacob’s Cattle, Borlotti (sp?), Taylor Dwarf Horticulural, Tiger Eye beans, etc. These beans are left on the vine to dry as long as possible, shelled and stored dry, then soaked and boiled.

  173. #174 Greg Laden
    October 28, 2009

    Dacks: I’m pretty sure beans are good, younger beans will have less of anything, and so on. What I don’t know about is when Trypsin kicks in, or if there are varietals that have low trypsin to begin with. That would be worth knowing. I’ve been kinda hoping someone who knows the literature on that question would chime in.

  174. #175 SQB
    October 28, 2009

    Not reaching for a steak yet. Were I to start eating meat, I’d probably start with fish.
    Regarding the teeth, I do have some anti-biotic (possibly tetracycline) stains. That, and what an American friend called “European teeth”. He observed that European teeth are, in general, less white than American teeth. He also said there was a point of no return, after which American teeth have become European. But I don’t think we have any fluoride in our water. It’s in our toothpaste, though.

  175. #176 Jim Thomerson
    October 28, 2009

    I’m pretty much a carnivore. However I developed gout and was advised to cut back on red meat, shellfish, and milk products. I’m also on a blood-thinner and not supposed to eat high vitamin k foods; cabage, blueberries, peas, etc. So I eat mostly fish and chicken, some pork (which I have decided on my own is not red meat), and veggies not on the various bad lists. I also eat barbecued beef briskit from time to time. Texans have the highest consumption of beef briskit of any state. A recent study, done at A&M, has shown that briskit is a health food as it is high in omea-3 fatty acids.

    The limit on dryland corn is the 20 inch/year rain line. West of that line irrigation is necessary.

    As a child, growing up on the ranch, I often used to eat cotton seed cake we had for stock feed. I didn’t know it was supposed to be poison for non-ruminants. I see that a variety with non-poison seeds has been engineered.

  176. #177 Eric K
    October 29, 2009

    Eric, in my extreme example I specify fresh food. So it has to be flown or driven in from beyond the frost line, at least.

    Ah, OK. I do like some nice, fresh greenery every once in a while, too. :-) This gets a bit trickier than simply relying on the pre-Columbian staple crops and winter storage.

    Most of my gardening experience (and local food-buying experience) comes from Zone 4. The inhabited parts of Canada tend to be mostly in Zone 3.

    In Zone 3, it’s just marginally possible to get fresh greens for most of the year, at least according to Elliot Coleman[1]. He recommends using movable, unheated greenhouses and floating row covers. His deepest-winter crops are cold-tolerant greens like mâche and claytonia. Mâche, in particular, will survive down to about -30°F, and it can be harvested even when frozen solid. (It’s also really tasty.) For commercial growing, Coleman also recommends using low-output heaters on the coldest nights of the winter: He says this gains him an extra 5°F on those -25°F nights, and keeps a few more crops alive and unblemished.

    In Zones 4 and 5, these techniques will keep you supplied with a pretty wide range of fresh greens from early March through late December, and with at least mâche and claytonia in January and February.

    But if you want to rule out this kind of seriously clever farming, and still eat local plants, you’ll have to rely on overwinter storage. Personally, I’m quite fond of winter squash; it keeps well, and it’s still delicious in February. You also have root vegetables[2], legumes and grains.

    So even though I’m a meat eater, I don’t think that southern Canadian vegetarians are necessarily doomed to energy-intensive imports. As another poster pointed out, they do still need to worry about vitamin B12, etc., like any other vegetarians. But the vegetable options really aren’t that bad.

    [1] Elliot Coleman is a hugely influential organic farmer who runs a four-season farm in coastal Maine (Zone 5). His previous farm was up in northern Vermont (Zone 3).

    [2] Carrots are actually much tastier after the first frost, because their starches begin to covert to simpler sugars. Just be sure to dig ‘em before the ground freezes solid.

  177. #178 Greg Laden
    October 29, 2009

    Zone 3 in Canada? Seriously? You guys are fudging the system! I live in Zone 5 and you are NORTH of me!!! Way north!!!

    Oh, no, wait, I’m holding the map upside down.

    I am totally on board with the greenhouse thing. It’s the way to go. There are a lot of ways to do it and they are potentially very impressive.

  178. #179 becca
    October 29, 2009

    @Greg and Ducks- you mean trypsin INHIBITORS. Trypsin would be just fine with respect to helping you digest proteins.

    Random lab scientist note:
    Trypsin inhibitors *should* be denatured by heating. And the fact that they’d give you gas and make it hard to digest proteins does not mean they are ZOMG! The POISONOUS!

    Ranting about ‘toxin levels’ without actually investigating chemical and molecular composition is total Woo.

    If we’re going to use non-scientific reasoning, how about this. Apparently trypsin inhibitor concentrations are especially high in barley, and ergo beer. So that would make beer worse for you than soybeans. Obviously, beer is good for us (proof that, if there were a god, she’d want us to be happy, and all that), ergo soybeans must not be bad for us because of trypsin inhibitors.

    *glares*

    Anyway, back to the original topic. My copy of Foraging Spectrum just came in via ILL and I have a few bones to pick.
    1) Are there any hunter-gatherer societies that have an *excess* of fat? Cause there’s a good deal of evidence that suggests fat content is key reason meat was so widely prized. (Do you know how much I’ll pay for a pound of cashew nuts (mmmmm cashew nuts)?) But anyway, that’s kinda THE OPPOSITE of the rationale you gave Greg. You’re all like “oh we should all eats the lean meats!”. Didn’t I say that if we had a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, we should eat hunter-gatherer food?

    ‘Most humans historically benefit from meat’ does not imply ‘most (fatass) Americans should eat meat’.

    2) Book says there’s sometimes good reasons to just optimal diets using “most calories/amount effort” rather than going into assumptions about getting minimal protein and nutrients (basically, in some balanced diets they all correlate so it’s a valid simplification). Which sounds kind of like THE OPPOSITE of assuming we need to think diets involving fewer metabolic steps are intrinsically superior.
    Although I suppose it’s possible they just make that simplification because biological anthropologists are lazy.

    3) If you are gonna model an optimal diet by factoring in necessary nutrients, in some cases the limiting vitamin is gonna be vitamin C- not B12 or any meaty shenanigans.
    (conclusion from 2 and 3- we aren’t sure how to best model optimal diets in most cultures)

    4) Ok, this was one you were right on (though I didn’t really contend this one). The Power of Bugs.
    Best return rate (kcal/hr) of any food? Grasshoppers in the Great Basin (up to 714,409 kcal/hr. The next closest thing in any environment was sheep in the Great Basin at up to 31,450). Grasshoppers FTW!

    Random factoid that does not directly bear on our discussion:
    Getting too high a percentage of your calories from protein keeps you from using it as protein, perversely leading to protein deficiency (assuming you are low on total calories- not a concern in our society, obviously, but potentially a valid reason that the fat thing was so emphasized).

    Good book.

    You may apologize to me now, Greg.

  179. #180 Dacks
    October 29, 2009

    @becca,
    Thanks for bringing some facts into this discussion – I think we were experiencing a reality deficiency. So, am I right in thinking that beans supply a reasonable protein source with not much more processing than we give to meat – i.e., thorough cooking?
    BTW – it’s Dacks, as in Adiron(dacks), not Ducks! :)

  180. #181 Greg Laden
    October 29, 2009

    Becca, I’m not quite sure how telling everyone else that they should have more facts embedded in a statement that has no new facts helps. Please go get some more facts! (about soy beans)

    Regarding your first forager comment, I’m having a bit of trouble parsing what you are saying. eg, when you ask “are there no forager societies with excess fat” do you mean body mass wise or in their diet?

    I can’t answer your question because I don’t quite get it, but let me lay this out for you as it might help: First, we are mainly concerned (in using an evo-beh-bio approach) with subtropcial and tropical foragers, for various reasons. Mainly, subarctic and arctic groups are recent and derived, and thus interesting but not good for generalization. This leaves out the Inuit who both eat big huge piles of fat and often have lots of fat on their bodies in their traditional lifeway. We also leave out the Tlingit and other NW coast foragers for various reasons, such as foragers with slavery, complex societies and kingships are hard to work with.

    Having said that, the meat that is eaten by the remaining foragers is lean, and the people are lean. But, they are psychologically very oriented towards fat, and probably have thrifty genotypes to the extent that there is such a thing. So when they settle into certain socioeconomic settings, they tend to munch out on fat and get fat. Just like everybody else.

    Tell me if that does/does not cover item 1.

    Item 2: Ah, foraging theory. Here, when we look at foragers, we are not comparing diets across taxa that might have different steps or processes, or across vastly different economies in human groups. But there are enough differences between forager groups that you can’t compare them without a currency of some sort, and the big debate in forager studies over the last couple of decades (which you have, maybe appropriately maybe not, written off as “they’re too lazy”) has been about that currency. By the time TFS was published, the calories per hour school had mostly prevailed and as a result most foraging studies show little connection between human behavior and foraging theory. That has shifted more recently, and there are more studies of detailed macro and micro nutrients, energetics, toxins, and so on. When I worked with the Efe, I built a field lab to accomodate a nutritionist who was eliminated from the project and thus never came to the field, and later on at Harvard we added a full blown nutritional analysis lab, staffed with a couple of experts and everything. The work I published with Wrangham was co-authored by NL Brittain-Conlkin, for instance. Our work on roots is based in a large way on Chas. Peters’ work, and so on. So the role of actual studies of actual nutritional values in forager diets and theoretical human ancestors’ diets is something that emerged just in the last 15 to 20 years and is still catching up. Most new studies that look at forager diets now are sophisticated in this way.

    3) Not in most tropical diets or subtropical diets documented for foragers. Or any, probably. But it is of course important to recognize that “the” limiting factor may vary across time, habitat, other aspects of space, technology, and culture. Which we pretty much do.

    4) No, I was right on with all the other points as well, if we extract and burn your various ad hoc strawpeople!!!11!!

    The protein starvation thing is very interesting. There is also a huge debate about that which TFS does not develop much. There are human forager groups that eat more protein for extended periods than they are supposed to be able to. At the same time, there are people who got sick from protein fad diets, and there’s cases of people lost on various expeditions where all they had was protein, and they got “rabbit fever” (rabbits are very lean, and many of these cases are in the tiaga or tundra where lagomorphs abound in some years). They all died, of course. In one case, Forblisher expedition, the competing hypotheses for them all being dead before the end of the expedition were rabbit fever vs. lead poisoning from the canned meat. I think it turned out to be both (the first several to die were buried below permafrost, and thus could be found, dug up, and tested).

    Apologies accepted.

  181. #182 becca
    October 30, 2009

    Soybeans:
    *Snark:
    “Soybean trypsin inhibitors can cause gastrointestional distress” is a fact.
    “Soybean trypsin is a toxin” is not a fact.

    Please do not omit words and substitute vague categories to distort facts into non-facts.

    Communication flaws aside, your big problem is that you think getting more facts and data lead to better conclusions, while simultaneously drawing questionable conclusions from the data you have available.

    Data:
    Soybeans contain trypsin inhibitors (http://www.mdpi.com/1424-8220/7/1/67/pdf)
    Greg’s Interpretation: Soybeans are TOXIC!
    Correct interpretation: Soybeans contain compounds that can modify physiology in interesting ways

    “It has been suggested that the Kunitz (KTI) and Bowman-Birk (BBI)
    trypsin inhibitors suppress both initiation and promotion stages of carcinogenesis [8]

    (random side note- a friend is working on serine protease inhibitor treatment for cervical cancer; trypsin inhibitors are one type of serine protease inhibitors)

    Assuming you do want to remove the trypsin inhibitors (and for most dietary purposes, I don’t dispute that you’re much better off without them), you have to be pretty lazy to think it’s ZOMG SO HARD!

    Data:
    If you want to get rid of trypsin inhibitors in soybeans, you can
    1) Nuke em. “Microwave treatment is an effective way for inactivation of protease inhibitor activity in cracked soybeans. Roasting for only two minutes reduced the trypsin inhibitor activity to 13.33% of the initial value.”
    (http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=17144664)
    2) Add pressure + heat “A 90% TIA inactivation with treatment times of <2 min can be reached at temperatures between 77 and 90 °C and pressures between 750 and 525 MPa." (http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf048577d)
    3) Pop em in an ultrasound machine (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6TW3-4R29FRN-1&_user=3071133&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1071359440&_rerunOrigin=google&_acct=C000014439&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=3071133&md5=1142771e8f806c7969caa9d214fe2f94)
    4) And if you want to argue that’s most of us don’t have an ultrasound lying around, you can even use polyphenols from green tea (inactivated ~68% of the trypsin inhibitor; http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/106599434/abstract)

    Or you could just pick the soybeans with low levels of the compounds to start with (http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=958515)

  182. #183 becca
    October 30, 2009

    Dacks (sorry about the vowel mixup!)- there are plenty of ways to eat soybeans that are generally safe (it seems thorough cooking is fine to make them palatable). Although, I’m sure some methods are probably more optimal than others when it comes to getting maximal nutritional bang/unit weight for protein adsorption purposes (too much processing/heating can also impair utilization of protein- it’s a Goldilocks thing).

    Greg- I understand that the people are lean. That the meat they ate is lean compared to what ranchers can get now is irrelevant… the book implies that a large majority of all foragers prize the fattiest meat most highly, and that the majority of all foragers need the extra calories. If the former is due primarily to the later, it does not follow that most of your audience will benefit from meat for the same reasons foragers did.

    My point with both 2) and 3) is that this stuff is tricky. I’m not at all convinced that nutrition has reached a state where it can be prescriptive for optimal diets (in either a forager environment, or at my local grocery). I hope descriptive nutrition and anthropology can be used for this in the long run, but it’ll have to get beyond “foragers ate X, ergo we should eat X”.

    Also, I think that what happened to the Forblisher expedition folks is obvious- the avenging lagomorphs of doom decided to smite them. You gotta watch out for Sam. Or is it Max?

  183. #184 Stephanie Z
    October 30, 2009

    If it’s smiting, it’s definitely Max.

  184. #185 Greg Laden
    October 30, 2009

    Becca, I now understand where you’ve gone wrong. You are conflating energy (from fat) with other nutritional needs.

    Yes, it is all very tricky.

    Now, as for prescriptive nutrition, check out Boyd, Shostack and Konner’s papers and books. They are not new but they are insightful. (The name of the book is the Paleolithic Prescription, and the seminal paper is Eaton, S. Boyd, and Konner, Melvin (1985) “Paleolithic nutrition: a consideration of its nature and current implications.” The New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 312, no. 5 (Jan. 31, 1985), pp. 283-289.)

    There were a lot of unexplained fractures to the ankles with the Forblisher remains.

  185. #186 Jason Thibeault
    October 30, 2009

    If I may chime in — yeah. Stephanie’s right. The “hyperkinetic rabbity thing” with sadistic tendencies is assuredly Max.

  186. #187 daedalus2u
    October 30, 2009

    The reason an all protein diet is lethal is because the liver doesn’t have the metabolic capacity to convert the ammonia released from deaminating all those amino acids to urea for disposal. Too much ends up as ammonia which can’t be gotten rid of.

    That is why calories from fat or carbohydrate are absolutely essential.

  187. #188 becca
    October 30, 2009

    Greg- Let’s try this another way. For every 21g protein, grasshoppers have ~6g fat, while bison have ~13g. Why do foragers who have access to both prefer to eat bison, even though it’s so much more work (on a kcal/hr), if it’s not because fat is delicious?
    I should think that if your argument hinges on the notion that we should eat meat because fat is delicious, I should strive to maximize pie consumption in my diet as well.

    Just to spell things out:
    This is how I see Greg’s hypothesis: Meatstuffs are more like humans than plantstuffs, so it was most advantageous/efficient for foragers to eat meatstuffs. This tells us we should eat meatstuffs; and if we are worried particularly about efficiency, we should definitely eat more grasshoppers.

    My hypothesis: Easily available meatstuffs contain more fats/higher calorie densities than easily available plantstuffs, so it was important for lean and hungry foragers to eat meatstuffs. This tells us we should eat pie if we exercise as much as foragers. Or meat, if you must. But if you are lazyAmerican(tm), you need to think carefully about pie and meat. And especially Mrs. Sweeney’s meatpies.

  188. #189 Greg Laden
    October 30, 2009

    For every 21g protein, grasshoppers have ~6g fat, while bison have ~13g. Why do foragers who have access to both prefer to eat bison, even though it’s so much more work (on a kcal/hr), if it’s not because fat is delicious?

    It is because they perceive fat as delicious, and they perceive this because fat is good and humans are selected to seek it out and prefer it.

    I should think that if your argument hinges on the notion that we should eat meat because fat is delicious, I should strive to maximize pie consumption in my diet as well.

    Yes. That would be why we stuff ourselves with pie even after we’ve stuffed ourselves with the larded bison loin with a side of roasted USOs.

    Meatstuffs are more like humans than plantstuffs, so it was most advantageous/efficient for foragers to eat meatstuffs. This tells us we should eat meatstuffs; and if we are worried particularly about efficiency, we should definitely eat more grasshoppers.

    Step away from the straw. Again, you are conflating a general nutrient based argument with a calorie based argument. It might be helpful if you rethink this separating out the fat entirely. Think of a bison as two things. A pile of protein and a smaller pile of fat, and a forager would reap entirely different benefits from these two things.

  189. #190 becca
    October 30, 2009

    “That would be why we stuff ourselves with pie even after we’ve stuffed ourselves with the larded bison loin with a side of roasted USOs.”
    This puts your nutritional advice into the proper context.

    I’m not conflating anything, except perhaps in the grasshopper quip (intended as a humorous digression).

    My point is, the “general nutrients” you postulate don’t necessarily exist.
    You are proposing that there are one or more necessary nutrients that are *currently* in relatively limited supply in our diets that are only efficiently available from meatstuffs. Correct?
    Yet you don’t specify what this would be in any way shape or form.

    I demonstrated why it isn’t reasonable to assume that the reason people have historically eaten meat is necessarily related to your putative ‘vitamin G’, because there are calorie/energy density reasons people needed meat in the past.

    Since we know that most forms of meatstuffs have a larger carbon footprint per weight unit than most plantstuffs, your putative vitamin G (or vitamin Gs? It needn’t be one thing, I suppose) must be quite a lot more abundant (at least in a bioavailable sense) in the meatstuffs than the plantstuffs for it to be more efficient in an ecological sense.

    Your hypothesis is poorly defined (what on earth do you think this general nutrient(s) is anyway?).
    You do not have direct evidence for your hypothesis.
    The indirect evidence you put forth to support your hypothesis better* supports a hypothesis that leads to opposite recommendations.
    Even if you are correct that some things are easier to get from meat (possible vitamin Gs), such nutrients must be MUCH easier to get in meat vs. plants in order for your conclusion to be reasonable ecological advice.

    *By “better supports” I mean that the book you yourself recommended provides an alternative explanation for the presence of meat in the human diet.

  190. #191 Greg Laden
    October 30, 2009

    You are proposing that there are one or more necessary nutrients that are *currently* in relatively limited supply in our diets that are only efficiently available from meatstuffs.

    No,if anything we have too much of everything in ourdiet.

  191. #192 Greg Laden
    October 30, 2009

    OK, Becca, you are correct in everything you say, I was wrong in everything you say, so we’ve pretty much settled that. Thank you very much for this thoughtful discussion.

  192. #193 becca
    October 31, 2009

    *sigh*
    That was like sex without an orgasm.

  193. #194 Relep
    November 2, 2009

    I’m surprised nobody mentioned single celled proteins (and fats and carbs). They beat the pants off any other food production method. I recently read a patent about a fungus that could convert corn stalks extremely fast into a 17% protein containing stuff (fairly balanced protein). Without sunlight (but it needs fertilizer of course). The patent writer claims it can convert the blenderized corn stalks into 98% fungal biomass in only 24 hours.

    Would be fun to try that in the kitchen.

    Also check out the nasa CELLS system, apparently they can produce enough food to feed a human on about 24 square meters of land (greenhoused.) So rooftop size!

  194. #195 DDeden
    November 9, 2009

    @ 75 – Guess this is the paper Greg is referring to?

    Shallow-water habitats as sources of fallback foods for hominins
    R Wrangham, D Cheney, R Seyfarth & E Sarmiento 2009 AJPA 140:630-642

    USO’s consumed by hominins could have included both underwater and underground storage organs, ie, from both aquatic and terrestrial habitats. Shallow aquatic habitats tend to offer high plant growth rates, high densities, and relatively continuous availability throughout the year.

  195. #196 Greg Laden
    November 9, 2009

    No, the paper I was referring to was probably either Laden and Wrangham 2005 (http://gregladen.com/wordpress/wp-content/pdf/Laden_Wrangham_Roots.pdf) or Wrangham, Jones, Laden, Pilbeam and Conklin-Britain (http://gregladen.com/wordpress/wp-content/pdf/WranghamEtAl.pdf) or both.

  196. #197 Jason Thibeault
    November 9, 2009

    Papers, by you!? Butbutbut I thought you were a blogger because you weren’t doing any academia, and were instead living in your mom’s basement staining the keyboard with Cheetos! I thought you were a nobody whose opinions mattered for nothing and your liberal ideologies proved that you were shiftless and probably on the dole, looking for government handouts for health care and other such socialist services, which real, good red-blooded Americans would pay triple the rest of the world for, just to prove how good of capitalists they are!

    My worldview is shattered.

  197. #198 Greg Laden
    November 9, 2009

    Most of that is true, of course.

  198. #199 DDeden
    November 9, 2009

    Oh, I thought those had been published. You’d mentioned ‘not been published yet’ so I figured you meant a very recent paper. Oh, I forgot to include crayfish & crab.

  199. #200 Greg Laden
    November 9, 2009

    Oh that. Right. I can’t say what that is on the internet. But maybe you said it. I’m not sayin’

  200. #201 DDeden
    November 9, 2009

    Ok.

  201. #202 natepolean
    February 11, 2011

    I’m not a vegetarian, but I agree that meat production and eating has a tremendous cost that is not apparent in the most consumers mind. When meat is too cheap and doesn’t reflect the true cost of its production, it encourages waste and overeating. I don’t think we should condemn heavy meat eaters or price control meat because it’s not possible to legislate good behaviour. I’m a true believer in the power of economics which really drives behaviour. If we can just factor the true cost of meat into the price that we pay for, then people’s eating behavior would also adjust.

    Nathan
    http://www.imperfecteconomy.com/?p=477

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